Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Men With No Reasons

Once again I'm caught relying on Charles Pierce for my material (although he commits some howlers in his discussion of this latest move by the "clan of the red beanie", to wit:  "The Civil Rights Movement was an exercise of political pressure that used for its philosophical underpinnings certain religious themes and rhetoric. (And 'the light of the Gospels'? Well, partly, but, in his strategy of nonviolent resistance, which was the actual work of the movement, King was a student of Gandhi, who liked Christ, but didn't trust Christians.)" was the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.   Re-read that Birmingham letter, Mr. Pierce; it's by a Christian pastor directed to Christian pastors (the "My Dear Fellow Clergymen" should be your first clue), and nowhere in it does the Rev. Dr. mention Ghandi.  I did hear John Lewis on Diane Rehm this morning mention how the movement studied (he emphasized "studied") the ideas of Gandhi, as well as Thoreau, as well as the Gospels.  To toss Christianity out of a movement that was largely based in black CHRISTIAN churches on the thin thread of lessons learned from Mahatma Gandhi and what he thought of Christianity, is, well, really, just pathetic.  But I digress....)

Anyway, this is what the Bishops in the U.S. are up to:
“Some unjust laws impose such injustices on individuals and organizations that disobeying the laws may be justified,” the bishops state in a document developed to be inserted into church bulletins in Catholic parishes around the country in June.

“Every effort must be made to repeal them,” the bishops say in the document, which is already posted on the website of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “When fundamental human goods, such as the right of conscience, are at stake, we may need to witness to the truth by resisting the law and incurring its penalties.”
 Now seriously:  is publishing a flyer to be distributed into churches around the country likely to get police dogs and water cannons turned on you in the streets?  Is any Bishop likely to go to jail because they don't want to provide insurance to Pierce's Presbyterian charwoman so she can get birth control pills?  Is anybody's liberty threatened by this rule from the Obama Administration?

We have a theological term for this.  We call it "Bullgeshichte."

As the article notes:

The bulletin insert the bishops have prepared to distribute in parishes around the country in June specifically references the late Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., who was imprisoned in Birmingham, Ala., on Good Friday 1963 for marching without a permit to protest the racist segregation laws enforced in Alabama in that period.
So yes, it just gets worse.

 “In his famous ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail’ in 1963,” the bishops says, “Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. boldly said, ‘The goal of America is freedom.’ As a Christian pastor, he argued that to call America to the full measure of that freedom was the specific contribution Christians are obliged to make. He rooted his legal and constitutional arguments about justice in the long Christian tradition: ‘I would agree with Saint Augustine that ‘An unjust law is no law at all.’… A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law.’”
 Excuse me while I throw up in my mouth a little.   Can there seriously be a comparison between the laws Dr. King opposed, and this ruling on insurance coverage?  Well, let's see.  Here's what President Obama said about it:

"We don’t need another political fight about ending a woman’s right to choose, or getting rid of Planned Parenthood or taking away affordable birth control," Obama said. "We don’t need that. I want women to control their own health choices, just like I want my daughters to have the same economic opportunities as my sons. We’re not turning back the clock. We're not going back there."
And this is the paragraph that precedes Dr. King's analysis of just and unjust laws the Bishops are referring to:

We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, "Wait." But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: "Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?"; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading "white" and "colored"; when your first name becomes "nigger," your middle name becomes "boy" (however old you are) and your last name becomes "John," and your wife and mother are never given the respected title "Mrs."; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of "nobodiness"--then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience. You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court's decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "an unjust law is no law at all."
You can see the Bishops are suffering just like Dr. King and his ancestors did for 340 years.  Why, you can't slip a piece of paper between the difference between them; it's that close. Requiring all employers to provide the same health care coverage to all of their employees is just like suffering from lynch mobs and segregated amusement parks and people calling you "nigger."

Yup.  I can see that, now.

“It is a sobering thing to contemplate our government enacting an unjust law,” the bishops said. “An unjust law cannot be obeyed. In the face of an unjust law, an accommodation is not to be sought, especially by resorting to equivocal words and deceptive practices. If we face today the prospect of unjust laws, then Catholics in America, in solidarity with our fellow citizens, must have the courage not to obey them. No American desires this. No Catholic welcomes it. But if it should fall upon us, we must discharge it as a duty of citizenship and an obligation of faith.”
And I'm sure the penalty will be a very serious fine.  A very serious fine.  Maybe as they write the check for it, the Bishops will find time to scratch out a letter on hidden bits of paper and sneak it out of their bishoprics to be published in defiance of the overwhelming burden of governmental regulations.  And please note, this is the slippery slope to closing Catholic churches altogether:

What we ask is nothing more than the right to follow our consciences as we live out our teaching. This right is not only about our ability to go to Mass on Sunday or pray the Rosary at home.
 Today, it's insurance coverage for non-Catholic employees of non-religious (i.e., non-ecclesiastical) institutions; tomorrow, they'll come for your rosary rings.  Because:

What is at stake is whether America will continue to have a free, creative, and robust civil society—or whether the state alone will determine who gets to contribute to the common good, and how they get to do it.
And the common good is not benefited by treating all non-religious employees as equally as possible. 

I wanted to end with some clever, sharp comment; but honestly, I think the Bishops have simply lost their minds.

It must be something in the water.


  1. Is it just me, or does anyone else view this absurd campaign by the bishops to scream, "Persecution!", even as they freely go about their daily business of attempting to prevent birth control coverage for women by health insurance companies as a red herring to distract from the the news of the massive cover-up of child abuse by the RCC, which story is not, by any means, over.

    Or is it possible that the bishops wish to turn us away from the Vatican bank scandal (The butler did it!), which is now sweeping the newspapers?

    The fantasy comparison by the RC bishops of their political posturings to MLK and others who put themselves in real danger in the struggle for civil rights makes me want to throw up, too.

  2. Seems to me that it is a legitimate question to what extent Congress may compel religious organizations to participate in activities abhorrent to their stated teachings, and I certainly don't have any problem with the bishops raising the issue in the good old American fashion of testing the law in litigation.

    Have they gone overboard in wrapping themselves in the mantle of Dr. King? Yeah, probably. But since they are quite commonly portrayed in mainstream and social media as medieval child-raping woman-haters, I'm afraid the rhetoric has already been raised to a rather incendiary temperature.

  3. Rick, is there anything at all that the pope or the RC bishops could do that would move you to call them to account? Anything?

    Is there not one bishop who will break ranks and say, "Stop. You go too far." As for me, I'll take my lessons in morality from elsewhere, because the bishops here in the US have lost all moral credibility.

  4. Mimi, I have no problem holding anyone accountable. We are not Cathars, and do not consider our clergy "perfecti"--their sins are in all likelihood more deadly than most. I am grateful to be a layman.

    What I don't understand is how the bishops are at fault making what seems to me a reasonable claim about the reach of Congress under the free exercise clause. Nobody's claiming persecution, so far as I can tell. The whole point of the lawsuit is to get a decision far in advance of any such possibility. Makes perfect sense to me.

    I do wish you would explain to me what offense poor old Benedict is supposed to have committed on this butler business. I can't make head or tail of it. I read some story today that said that he was spending way too much time writing theology instead of reforming the bank. Like theology should be his hobby.

    The great offense of the Catholic Church is that it continues to preach a virtue of chastity that most of the world now finds hopelessly outdated. It's not something that Benedict or the bishops pulled out of a hat; it derives from scripture as developed by the Fathers and Doctors and Scolastics and Saints, up to and including Vatican II. No one not a member of the Catholic Church need pay any heed to it, of course. But it is not something that most people--or even most Catholics--particularly want to hear.

    I suppose what we are seeing, or will see, is a return to the Church's earlier position in this country. The Catholic institutions of America were built in a largely hostile, more confidently Protestant society. In the last century the Church has gained much respectability, and the extensive Catholic network of schools, universities, and hospitals has increasingly been integrated into a more secular society. But that integration cannot last as the values of the Church and the society diverge. I still think that reasonable compromises are possible, that a divorce will not necessarily take place. But I can't see the future, and in some ways I'm astonished that this conflict has gone as far as it has.

  5. Rick, I suppose it depends upon what you mean by reasonable.

    I did not say that poor old Benedict had anything to do with the butler other than being the recipient of the butler's service. I spoke of the rot at the top in the Vatican circle itself, with the Vatican banking business which has quite a long history of irregular practices.

    What does preventing access to birth control for women who are not even Roman Catholic have to do with preaching chastity? Perhaps the bishops might want to consider the practice of charity toward their own employees. You'd think the bishops were being forced to give out birth control pills and IUDs with their own hands, when they are so many times removed from from the actual exchange that their objections seem absurd.

  6. Another thought: RCC health insurance has paid for birth control for years in states like California which mandate the coverage. Why the fuss and litigation now? Was providing the earlier coverage not sinful, but now has suddenly become sinful?

    Also, would not, could not the principle of the two-fold effect be applied? Our intention is to provide health insurance for our employees. The rules require that health insurance pay for birth control, however that is not our intention. Our intention is simply to provide insurance.

    The church permits ending an ectopic pregnancy by the use of the two-fold effect principle. Why not in this instance? Is the church pushing for a fight, or is it using the issue to try to regain the authority which it has so obviously lost over a good many of its members?

    As for the church being pushed to the margins, it seems to me that the margins is exactly the place where the Roman church, along with the other churches, ought to be, standing in opposition to the powers.

  7. He’s [JPII] left the Catholic Church with probably the worst crop of bishops it’s had in centuries." Fr. Richard McBrien (His entire archive of columns "Essays in Theology" is available and worth reading,

    The bishops are blatantly trying to insert themselves into American presidential politics in exactly the way JFK said he wouldn't allow. It remains to be seen how much influence they still have with the disillusioned Catholic Church, The People. They'll be grabbed on to as a tool of Republicans, which is what they've become.

    I always say "The Rev. Martin Luther King" instead of "Dr. King" now exactly because of the atheist campaign to turn him into something other than who he was. I always try to remember to say "Minister Malcolm X, Sr. Rev. Fr. ..." for the same reason. Disappearing their religious life, among their most important parts, is the same thing as disappearing them from history. It's a falsification of them.

  8. I hesitate to step into this for reasons of respect for my great good friend. And I deeply respect his reverence for the personages of the Catholic church. But being clergy myself, I have a hard time sharing it (all the while wishing I had been the recipient of a bit more of it when I was in a pulpit. Then again, it was Lord Acton writing to the then-Pope when he created his famous dictum about power and corruption, so....)


    Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York authorized payments of as much as $20,000 to sexually abusive priests as an incentive for them to agree to dismissal from the priesthood when he was the archbishop of Milwaukee.

    Questioned at the time about the news that one particularly notorious pedophile cleric had been given a “payoff” to leave the priesthood, Cardinal Dolan, then the archbishop, responded that such an inference was “false, preposterous and unjust.”

    But a document unearthed during bankruptcy proceedings for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and made public by victims’ advocates reveals that the archdiocese did make such payments to multiple accused priests to encourage them to seek dismissal, thereby allowing the church to remove them from the payroll.

    And then this:

    Coercing religious ministries and citizens to pay directly for actions that violate their teaching is an unprecedented incursion into freedom of conscience.

    The words of Cardinal Dolan in the WSJ, via Charles Pierce (because the WSJ is behind a pay wall).

    The Church says the payments were an act of charity. Charity in spite of the crimes and sins of the priests; which is charity I can understand, quite honestly. But no such charity motivates them in the case of paying for insurance that allows Protestant non-religious employees to get birth control coverage.

    That is a definition of charity that, frankly, I cannot understand. Indeed, it sounds more and more like taking care of one's own, and refusing charity in like manner to those who are not of one's group. Which is a limited definition of charity, indeed.

  9. ...standing in opposition to the powers.

    When the powers exhibit more charity than the church, and I do not refer only to the RC church, then it is a sad state of affairs, indeed.

  10. Windhorse2:17 PM

    The Cathars are an ironic choice for comparison, given that the Catholic bishops and their proxies hunted down and murdered them all - tens of thousands of them, in fact - for the mere crime of having different religious beliefs. Religious liberty indeed.

    The further irony is that no less than the great St. Dominic himself, after spending time unsuccessfully trying to convert the Cathari, observed that they were immune to (re)conversion because they possessed true humility, zeal, and piety - virtues which he acknowledged were exceedingly rare among his fellow Catholics.  And so he founded a religious order in an attempt to mimic and recreate the observance of these virtues among his devotees so he could convert effort which, sadly, failed.

    There's no need to dip so deep into history to uncover the staggering hypocrisy of the Church hierarchy. Just in the last fifty years they have committed serious crimes, crimes of such magnitude that they are rightly considered crimes against humanity. For starters, for ten years starting in the 1950's the Church stole English children from their parents and sent them to Australia where they were used physical and sexual slavery in Australia, beaten if they tried to escape, and then abandoned to live in abject poverty and in many cases homelessness. This was all done because the Church was worried that Australia was becoming too populated with non-whites, threatening their religious and cultural power.

    In Spain, the Church allied itself with a right-wing dictator and for a period of sixty years stole thousands of newborn infants who were born in Catholic hospitals from their parents - who were told they'd died in childbirth - and given to right-wing families. This horrid, unbelievable practice became so engrained it continued long after Franco was gone even into the 1990's.

    This same Church can't allow the government to reimburse it for employees health care because of its tender moral concerns? Please. As we discuss this the Catholic bishops are paying lobbyists to fight changes to statutes of limitations which would allow victims of priest-molesters to seek justice. It is shredding documents and stonewalling investigators and prosecutors. It has removed a number of the worst offenders out of the country and beyond the reach of the law. And at the same time it is violating its requirements for tax exemptions by preaching politics from the pulpit - all in order to thwart justice and accountability for its actions. 

    To breezily wave away these crimes and indeed horrors with a casual admission that the Church hierarchy isn't "perfect" is, frankly, outrageous.  

    These observations and critiques have nothing to do with the teachings of Christ, the sacraments, or the moral theology of the Church. They have everything to do with a corrupt hierarchy committing and covering up its crimes whilst demanding that non-Catholics abide by rules which it has suddenly, capriciously, and opportunistically decided to enforce. 

    As a former Catholic raised in an ultra-conservative, traditional, and orthodox home and who spent time in an ultra-conservative, traditional and orthodox religious order, I believe I'm not only qualified to speak on these issues, I have some insight into the psychology of the people perpetrating and/or defending them. 

  11. Windhorse2:19 PM

    rmj, I know I tend to overstep my bounds here on the Catholic issue, so if you find my comment too inflammatory please don't hesitate to remove it.

  12. Windhorse--

    No, no. Rick is my oldest friend, and I respect his opinions even when I disagree with him.

    But then, I respect everyone else's opinions here, even when I disagree with them.

    Rick has a special place, though, for me. And if I thought a comment was too harsh, I would remove it. But only if it was too sharply personal (and I'm the only one likely to violate that rule, because friends know easiest how to be too hard on friends).

    I find the conversation fascinating. I have no wish to bash the RC, any more than I would bash the SBC (with whom I disagree on almost everything, including fundamental theological tenets). If I don't find the Bishop's positions, as I've outlined, tenable, I mean no disrespect to the office they hold (and I'm in no position to critique the men who hold those offices.) I try to keep my critique only to their public statements, but there's nothing disrespectful in pointing out the sins of the Church.

    So long as we keep in mind every church has such sins. I mean only to keep that boundary around the discussion: that no church is the source of evil in the world. I've seen that argument too many times.

    But I'm not seeing it here. Thank you for the history lesson. Thanks as well as to everyone else, for the civil conversation.

  13. Windhorse2:52 PM

    rmj --

    Thank you for your equanimity. I don't have any desire to bash Catholicism either. In fact, I'd like nothing more to see the Church reform and flourish, as I believe it has a great deal to offer to the world in terms of liturgy, theology, and social work. I even believe there is a place, if just a niche, for some of the historic liturgies and devotions which are uniquely Catholic and promote an interior prayer life: the Tridentine Mass, veneration of the Blessed Sacrament, the practice of the Rosary, et al. Tradition and the devotional life, however, can not come at the expense of social justice, accountability, or a mature treatment of the human psyche when ministering to people. And it's not that pockets of these qualities don't exist in the Church, it's just that a critical mass of the current leaders are not invested in them, and like the Tea Partiers are focused on rigid control and attempting to grasp onto the past. 

    My personal and fervent hope is that the African church is able to have an increasing impact on the church universal, in that it is much more grounded, communal, and people-focused. After all, people matter more than ideas, as a blogger and minister I'm familiar with is fond of saying. 

  14. I even believe there is a place, if just a niche, for some of the historic liturgies and devotions which are uniquely Catholic and promote an interior prayer life: the Tridentine Mass, veneration of the Blessed Sacrament, the practice of the Rosary, et al.

    The historical liturgies (if not the rest of what you mention) came into Protestantism via Luther, and made their way to the UCC via the German Evangelical Church (which was both Reformed and Lutheran). I tried to revive their observance when I had a pulpit: one church liked it (somewhat), the other didn't. And my interest in them was precisely the effort promote an interior, and exterior, prayer life.

    They can, as Reformed Protestants often complain (baselessly, as any practice of worship can become this), become empty ritual: form without meaning, gesture without motion, as Eliot said (or almost did). But I think, too, and this is rich in Catholicism, and so good it must be praised, promote a life of social justice and focus on people. I truly believe a devout focus on God leads one both back to people (how could God ever lead us away from people, if the parable of the sheep and the goats is to be believed?) and to humility.

    Which is probably why I don't practice it nearly as much as I should, misanthrope that I naturally am. (Which gets us into other concepts of selfhood the RC established for us; rather foolish of those who bash the historical Church (and I don't mean you, I mean the ignorant) to do so in the very terms the Church established for them to understand themselves and the world they live in.)

    But so it goes....

  15. Windhorse4:58 PM

    The historical liturgies (if not the rest of what you mention) came into Protestantism via Luther, and made their way to the UCC via the German Evangelical Church (which was both Reformed and Lutheran). I tried to revive their observance when I had a pulpit

    That is truly fascinating. I had no idea that some of the "younger" and more liberal protestant churches might employ some of the older liturgies, although it makes sense if the UCC. I admire your efforts to synthesize an historic liturgical approach with service to the world and what I'm guessing based on your writing here was a mature approach to Scripture grounded in biblical criticism. To be honest, it sounds awesome. 

    The challenges around how to minister to people when considering high church versus low church or a communal approach versus a mystical versus a sacramental versus a mission model are the thorniest of issues. As you've related there are any number of difficulties in attempting to institute devotional practices, and this is true as much much of Catholics in some ways these days as of Protestants as the Catholic Church has 'Protestantized" itself a bit since Vatican II. I guess not the least of these challenges in a more democratically-minded Protestant church is that members might simply vote not to do it. But the issue of ritual, ceremony and devotions becoming rote, along with the related issue of spiritual dryness, are real challenges. Before I entered the seminary I prayed using beads (Rosary, chaplets) and found that it put me in a good space and could induce any number of positive interior states: calm, contemplation, and a feeling of Divine Communion or spiritual exaltedness. I actually enjoyed engaging in this practice.

    The seminary, however, broke me of both the habit and the enjoyment. We were required to recite the Rosary publicly daily, as fast and as mechanically as humanly possible, as if blurting out words in a staccato fashion were engaging either the spiritual centers in ourselves or the spiritual powers in the universe. (Was the emphasis on speed over sincerity to get us to dinner more quickly? I never really found out). I realize that it's not quite as simple as all that and that the use and benefit of spiritual methodologies often boil down to preference or psychological makeup of the individuals involved, and that, for instance, one might need to sit in boring Zen meditation for years  before sensing any benefits or go through long periods of "spiritual dryness" on the endless path of self-improvement. And that's OK, because humanity is a garden and there are many varieties of souls which flourish in different environments, and which is one reason so many flavors of religion and spiritual traditions have evolved. That doesn't make the challenges of creating a church experience that is authentic and spiritually beneficial any less vexing, however. People can be trained to duplicate most any behavior, but attempting to engineer growth is another story altogether, be it in oneself or another, and which may be - paradoxically - where we rely on rote and wait on the Spirit.

    Cheers from one misanthrope to another....

  16. Windhorse5:00 PM

    Forgot to finish a thought I meant to say "....although it makes sense if the UCC evolved partly out of the Lutheran Church."

  17. Quick history of the UCC (in five sentences or less!).

    German Evangelical Church came out of Prussia, a forced merger of Lutheran and Reformed Prussian churches because the King was L, his new wife R (or was it the other way around?). It forced a reconciliation over communion (Lutheran substance and Reformed symbolism) and led to one of my favorite sentences of ecumenism in their communion liturgy (I used it myself), after the words of institution and as part of the invitation: "Let it be unto you according to your faith."

    That church, now called "Evangelical," came to America and soon merged with the German Reformed church to become the German E&R church (the church of Reinhold Niebuhr and his brother Richard). The E&R eventually merged with the Congregational church (a merger that began between and E&R church and a Congregational church in Webster Groves, MO, down the street from Eden Seminary, one of my alma maters and an E&R seminary), and led to the formation of the UCC.

    Was that five sentences?

  18. Before I entered the seminary I prayed using beads (Rosary, chaplets) and found that it put me in a good space and could induce any number of positive interior states: calm, contemplation, and a feeling of Divine Communion or spiritual exaltedness. I actually enjoyed engaging in this practice.

    Lectio divina
    for me. But I discovered it after seminary. There was no spiritual tradition at Eden (not even Pietism, which you'd think would be in their background), and our attempts to establish it were pitiful because we only knew from Protestantism, which is thorny soil indeed (ironically, not in the E&R traditions, but we also learned that much too late)

    And I'm lousy at keeping up with lectio anymore. I am, unfortunately, a creature of habit; and most of them are bad ones.

  19. Windhorse5:49 PM

    Very interesting stuff, not the least of which was I'd completely not made the connection between Niebuhr's church and the UCC of today. I always thought of him as a sort of disembodied German theologian who existed outside of any denomination, if not space and time itself. And once again you've surprised me: I truly had no idea non-Catholics used the Lectio Divina. Very cool. The Norbertine house with which I was briefly affiliated followed the Liturgy of the Hours, thankfully according to a schedule which accommodated more modern sensibilities (i.e. no 3:30AM Compline).

    As for Eden, I am a recent albeit temporary transplant to Missouri and have lived in St. Charles for just over a year. My wife and I sometimes go to Webster for breakfast right down the street from the lovely Eden campus before moving on to the farmers market in Kirkwood. It's a small world after all!

    And we are all creatures of bad habits, which is why we need these tools and reminders in the first place, as a Sufi friend often reminds me. In this life, there is no end to picking ourselves up and dusting ourselves off. 

  20. Having spent most of my life in the RCC and spent 16 years in RC schools, including university, I gained much of value during that time. I also suffered unnecessarily from what I can only call brainwashing, which, for far too long, I was not strong enough to resist. I left over the child abuse scandal, but more so over the cover-up. One day the light bulb came on, and I realized that covering up was the actual policy of the church. After that, I could no longer remain. If I had not left 16 or 17 years ago, I would have left several times over other matters during those years, the present nonsense over supplying birth control for women through health insurance being one of them. The undue political pressure by bishops on RCC members would seem to me to place their tax-exempt status under risk. The bishops look to be all but saying, "Do not vote for Obama".

    During the days of the old Tridentine mass, especially at daily masses with not very many people present, I experienced wonderful moments of communion with God, even as a teenager. Those memories have never left me.

    I don't wish to bash the RCC, but so many of the actions of the leadership in recent years seem to me outrageous, so far beyond the pale, that I cannot remain silent. I want the church to be better, because it still has much to offer. The present crop of bishops do not offer much hope, because as The Thought Criminal said, the great majority were appointed by JPII to suit his extreme conservative agenda.

    I have not hesitated to criticize the leadership of my own church, the Episcopal Church, when I believe it is warranted.

    As for meditation, I've given up trying, because I've been singularly unsuccessful. The times of close communion with God come as the wind of the Spirit blows, through an image, through music, through words, often during my walk in the evening. I try to do formal prayer in the form of The Daily Office, either in the morning or the evening, and I pray quick prayers throughout the day, mostly pleas for help, less often in thanksgiving, more's the pity.

  21. I have to say it: what a wonderful thread of comments. This sort of thing doesn't happen often. Cherish it, Rmj.

  22. I kind of hestitate to return to the thread that was running before I ran off to work. But I guess I should say....

    1. Nobody has offended me. Don't ever worry about that.

    2. On the particulars of the wickedness of the Catholic clergy, seems to me that's it's pretty irrelevant. Grant that Tim Dolan is bribing abusive priests, and that fascist Catholic clergy kidnapped kids in Franco's Spain. What's that got to do with whether the current mandate violates the free exercise clause? To go on and on about contemptable prelates seems to me nothing but endless ad hominems. It's what we've come to expect in our public discourse, of course, but it throws no light on what seems to me a serious question.

    3. I am rather sick that the health care issue has been allowed, against all intentions, to get sidetracked into the most vexing social/sexual issues, again. The health care crisis was not, and is not, that people can't get or afford the pill. It's that people sicken and die because they can't afford care, or they are financially ruined because of illness. And there's plenty of blame to go around for our no longer making that priority number one.

    4. I don't understand those who insist that the bishops have become shills for the Republicans. Of course this particular controversy will be used against the president. But so far as I can tell this is permitted issue advocacy. And whoever the bishops feel they should vote for, I feel no contraint whatsoever, and I don't know why anyone else should. They have a defined competence and authority with easily understood limits. For myself, I'll be voting for, and working for, the president this fall, despite my disagreement with him on this issue and some others. Our choice is not abstract issues, but one of two guys, and I still think him the better of the two. It's something I am entirely happy with despite my reactionary penchant for scripture and tradition.

    5. On the topic that came in of personal devotions, my own background is Presbyterian (like our host's), so, in addition to garden variety mass attendance, I try to read the scriptures regularly in the early morning, finding much satisfaction in being able to somewhat decipher the original langauges, and I also very irregularly pray the Liturgia Horarum in Latin, a set of which I bought at an outrageous price some twenty years ago. So I try to retain what seems best from my Protestant background, while at least occasionally dipping into the monastic routine.

  23. Okay, in no particular order:

    Spent two years living on Eden campus. Used to walk down to Hogoboom's in the evenings for snow cones, and to the burger joint (whose name escapes me) and to Einstein's Bagels, where I'd write sermons in the noise and bustle while eating a bagel. Something about the setting helped me concentrate.

    And I was a student pastor at the UCC church in Kirkwood for a year, before decamping to southern Illinois, just across the river, to a farming community of 150, where I was their pastor and still a student.

    The St. Louis area is a lovely place to live.

    And Mimi--I do. Cherish this, that is.

    And Rick: "1. Nobody has offended me. Don't ever worry about that."

    I still will. I have a sharper tongue than I should, and I know it. If I haven't offended, it's because I kept deleting my replies until I knew I was reacting to what was said, and didn't sound like I was reacting to who was saying it.

  24. Oh, and I'm not so sure a penchant for scripture and tradition are: a) reactionary or b) that "reactionary" is a pejorative term in that context.

    I'm still that much of a clergyman, you know.....