Podcasts of the Week Ending September 8


StarTalk :: The Stars that Guide Us

Discussion of the traditions of celestial navigation used by Polynesian voyagers to traverse wide expanses of the Pacific Ocean.

To The Best of Our Knowledge :: What’s Wrong With Work?

Work is bunk.  Find out why employment is meaningless and “work ethic” is just there to control us, along with some more human alternatives.

Hidden Brain :: Bullshit Jobs

Another podcast goes in depth on how meaningless work is wearing us down.  I sense a theme.

Twenty Thousand Hertz :: Jingles

Catchy tunes have been used to sell things since the early days of radio.  This episode also offers a good deep dive into the phenomena of earworms and how to defeat them.

Hub History :: War, Plague, and the World Series

I’ve long been fascinated by the great number of significant events that happened in Boston around 1918-1919.  This episode is an interview with Skip Desjardins who wrote a book about what in just September 1918.

99% Invisible :: The First Straw

Drinking straws have been in the news lately as they’re being banned for being a pollutant.  This episode explores the origin of straws, their beneficial purposes, and possible alternatives to straws.

99% Invisible :: Double Standards

Yes, a double dose of 99 P.I. this week! This episode discusses blepharoplasty, a controversial cosmetic surgery which makes the eyes of people of Asian descent look more “Western.”

Decoder Ring :: The Paper Doll Club

Paper dolls are a toy that has fallen out of popularity with children, but there are sizable communities of adults who collect and design paper dolls, and a surprising connection with queer identity.

Risk! :: Man at Hawaii

Risk! host Kevin Allison tells the story of how his Catholic high school missionary trip lead him to become a storyteller.

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Book Review: As It Was in the Beginning by Robert McClory


Author: Robert McClory
Title:  As It Was in the Beginning
Publication Info: New York : Crossroad Pub., c2007.
ISBN: 9780824524197

Books by the same author: Faithful Dissenters
Summary/Review: McClory boldly declares that democratization is coming to the Catholic Church, and soon, something not readily evident by the Church hierarchy’s growing conservatism in the past 3 to 4 decades.  His patient and hopeful thesis is built on a well-researched historical record of changing structures within the Church that have always returned to consensus fidelium.  Examples range from the efforts of the people to support the teachings of the Council of Nicea against bishops who campaigned for a contrary teaching to reform of the 20th century evident in the Second Vatican Council.  McClory illustrates a possible future in which the laity is included in a way that seems not just hopeful, but even possible.
Favorite Passages:

If modernity stressed reason, the church stressed faith.  If modernity stressed human progress, the church stressed original sin.  If modernity stressed freedom of thought, the church stressed the binding nature of its dogmas.  If modernity stressed democracy, the church stressed authority.  This stress-filled stalemate was to perdure for the better part of four hundred years.  If there had been even a small opening for discussion and dialogue between these two rivals, I think the church might well have served as a helpful brake on the runaway exuberance of modernity that led to riots, wars, and mass executions, of which the French Revolution is one well-known example.  By the same token, some discussion and dialogue between the two sides might have helped the church realize that many Enlightenment insights were not fundamentally different from some of its own foundational values. – p. 118-19

Recommended books: Catholic Does Not Equal the Vatican: A Vision for Progressive Catholicism by Rosemary Radford Ruether and Why You Can Disagree & Remain a Faithful Catholic by Philip S. Kaufman
Rating: ***

Book Review: Why you can disagree– and remain a faithful Catholic by Philip S. Kaufman


Author: Philip S. Kaufman
Title: Why you can disagree– and remain a faithful Catholic
Publication Info: Bloomington, IN : Meyer-Stone Books, c1989.
ISBN: 0940989239
Summary/Review:

A provocative title but a well-researched and informed look at many of the issues that divide the Catholic Church hierarchy and many of the faithful today.  Kaufman  explores the development of conscience among the people of the church over the centuries and how it has always been valued when regarding moral questions.  The idea of infallibility in teachings of the church has always had to consider the sense of the faithful (sensus fidelium) something that has not been considered or reached in many of the controversial issues of today.  These issues include birth control, divorce & remarriage, and democracy within the church.  Kaufman addresses each of these issues in detail exploring Biblical and traditional takes on the issues and how they’ve changed over time.  This is a good book to get an informed look at issues affecting the Church today and realizing that they’re not always as simple or clear-cut as they’ve been presented.
Favorite Passages:

The list of moral questions on which authoritative teaching has changed is long.  Defenders of a call for absolute obedience to all such teaching often hold that the doctrines taught were correct for their own time and circumstances, but that changed conditions and further enlightenment led to the formulation of new positions.  But such a justification can hardly be applied to Pope St. Gregory the Great’s condemnation of pleasure in marital intercourse, Innocent IV’s teaching on witches and the use of torture in judicial interrogations, or Pius IX’s condemnation of the proposition “that freedom of conscience and of worship is the proper right of each man, and that this should be proclaimed and asserted in every rightly constituted society. – p. 21

It is often argued that scandal will be given by a relaxation of current practice [regarding divorce & remarriage].  If available statistics are any indication, lack of compassion toward people in great suffering and need gives even greater scandal.  It is a question of who is being scandalized.  Should our concern be only for those who will not accept change in church teaching?  What of the scandal of those who ask: Is it moral in the face of so much suffering by so many millions of the church’s own members to maintain a discipline with such a weak biblical, historical, and doctrinal foundation? – p. 115

Since God does not govern the church directly, however, but through human beings, it is legitimate and necessary to ask what type of government comes closest to realizing the New Testament ideal.  I doubt that autocracy, in which the educated, privileged few teach and control the uneducated masses, the so-called simple faithful, ever realized that ideal.  Autocracy is particularly inappropriate in the modern world.  The form of church government that accords best with the gospel spirit is democracy. – p. 119

Recommended books: Catholic Does Not Equal the Vatican: A Vision for Progressive Catholicism by Rosemary Radford Ruether, Faithful Dissenters: Stories of Men and Women Who Loved and Changed the Church by Robert McClory, and Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit by Garry Wills.
Rating: ***1/2

Retropost: Confessions of a St. Patrick’s Day Curmudgeon


In honor of this special day let’s revisit one of my favorite posts.

While most kids look forward to Christmas, when I was a child, St. Patrick’s Day (along with Thanksgiving) was one of my favorite days of the year.  It was a big day in my family usually involving going to the parade in New York and seeing family and friends we hadn’t seen in a while.  Then there was the music, the stories of St. Patrick, the history of Ireland and the Irish in America.  Growing up in a town where the dominant population was Ital … Read More

Related Posts:

Book Review: From the Pews in the Back edited by Kate Dugan and Jennifer Owens


Author: Kate Dugan and Jennifer Owens
Title: From the Pews in the Back
Publication Info:  Collegeville, Minn. : Liturgical Press, c2009.
ISBN: 9780814632581

Summary/Review:

This excellent collection of essays allows young women to focus on their lives and identity in the Catholic faith (Full disclosure: I know Jen Owens from when we both part of the same church community in Boston).  29 women share their stories which are rich and diverse despite many of them coming from similar backgrounds (all but one of the writers are “cradle Catholics”).  They reflect on growing up Catholic, putting their faith into service and social justice, the call to vocation, and the importance of liturgy, the sacraments and Catholic identity.  They also tell how they deal with the conflict of the official Church teachings on things like women’s ordination and sexuality and how they’ve dealt with questions of faith and doubt.  This is a beautiful and powerful work and really left me thirsting for more.

Favorite Passages:

The thing about Catholic school, about growing up Catholic, is that it prioritizes the sacred, the ceremonious, the ability to create something holy out of otherwise profane time.  What we are taught as easily as biology, as matter-of-factly as mathematics, is a sense of wonder, that there is a transcendent and overarching God at play, that love is what propels the universe. – p. 39, Sarah Keller

Ironically, I am almost grateful to a church for inadvertently shaping me into a strong-willed feminist.  By simultaneously encouraging me to use all of my gifts and then barring me, and many other women, from doing so, the church provides exactly the right blend of factors to motivate me to action. – p. 143, Kate Henley Averett.

Recommended books: The Possibilities of Sainthood by Donna Freitas, The Long Loneliness by Dorothy Day, and Catholic Does Not Equal the Vatican: A Vision for Progressive Catholicism by Rosemary Radford Ruether.
Rating: ****

Book Review: Catholic Does Not Equal the Vatican by Rosemary Radford Ruether


Author: Rosemary Radford Ruether
Title: Catholic Does Not Equal the Vatican
Publication Info: New York : New Press, c2008
ISBN: 978-1-59558-406-9

Summary/Review:

This short “manifesto-style” book is a call for a more authentic experience of church in the Catholic tradition.  The author  – a scholar, activist, and feminist theologian – compiles a half-dozen essays that tell her life story, explore the experiences of women in Catholicism, critique the inconsistencies of the post-Vatican II papacy, and set forth an alternate vision to the Vatican’s paradigm.  The book is uneven and a lot of the essays could and should be explicated into a longer work, but this book serves well as an introduction to progressive Catholicism.

Recommended books: Faithful Dissenters: Stories of Men and Women Who Loved and Changed the Church by Robert McClory and Why I Am a Catholic by Garry Wills.
Rating: ***

Book Review: Brideshead Revisited


The William & Mary Boston Alumni Chapter selected the Evelyn Waugh classic Brideshead Revisited (1945) for our May meeting. The novel is the reflections of Charles Ryder upon his relationship with the aristocratic Marchmain family after coming upon their crumbling homestead Brideshead while serving in the military in wartime England.

In the first section Ryder flashes back to forming a friendship with the younger son Sebastian Flyte while they both studied at Oxford (I use “studied” loosely here as they spend much of their time partying).  Sebastian has two characteristics that stand out: one he is Catholic, and two he is barking mad (or batshit insane as we’d say here in the States).  A third characteristic emerges over the course of the novel.  Sebastian is a depressive alcoholic and Charles is his codependent enabler.

The second part of the novel is much less interesting as Sebastian, the novel’s most interesting character, is only discussed second hand.  Here Charles returns from traveling abroad for his art, indifferent to his wife and children and instead strikes up an affair with Sebastian’s sister Julia.  This leads to the climax of the novel in which deus ex machina leads Julia to remember she’s a practicing Catholic and calls off the affair and plans for divorce.

From what I understand about Waugh, he was a convert to Catholicism and wrote this as a Catholic allegory.  Yet the Catholics in this novel are portrayed as lazy, selfish, drunken, and foolish.  That the novel is told from the point of view of the unsympathetic agnostic doesn’t bode well for a positive image of Catholicism either.  One of my  book club friends felt the Catholic message of this novel is that “God will get you in the end.”  That may be.  As a critique of England’s crumbling aristocracy, the novel’s other theme, this book works much better.  But overall I’m none too impressed.

Author : Waugh, Evelyn, 1903-1966.
Title : Brideshead revisited : the sacred and profane memories of Captain Charles Ryder, a novel / by Evelyn Waugh.
Published : London : Chapman & Hall and the Book Society, 1945.

Book Review: Quest for the Living God by Elizabeth A. Johnson


Elizabeth A. Johnson, C.S.J. explores the many ideas of God that have emerged in the past century in Quest for the Living God: Mapping Frontiers in the Theology of God (2007).  The book functions as a quick summary of these many “new” theologies of God – albeit rooted in ancient tradition and faithful to scripture. They include:

  • the modern, secular world with a focus on Karl Rahner
  • the suffering of the Holocaust and three post-war German theologians: Jurgen Moltmann, Dorothee Soelle, and Johann Baptist Metz.
  • liberation theology in the the post-colonial, still exploited developing world in which Oscar Romero is a major figure.
  • women and the feminine divine
  • the African American church that sings of freedom although rooted in slavery and segregation
  • the God of fiesta and la lucha in the Latin American church
  • religious pluralism
  • the natural world and science
  • the Trinity

Each chapter includes a selection of recommended reading on the theology and prominent thinkers in that area.  Johnson also makes some interesting, incisive statements about the idolatry of some of the current accepted practices of the Church (such as the concept of God as an old, bearded white man). Johnson’s writing is energetic and positive which adds to its inspirational quality.

Favorite Passages

First off, a person can no longer be a Christian out of social convention or inherited custom.  To be a Christian now requires a personal decision, the kind of decision that brings about a change of heart and sustains long-term commitment.  Not cultural Christianity but a diaspora church, scattered among unbelievers and believers of various stripes, becomes the setting for this free act of faith.  Furthermore, when a person does come to engage belief in a personal way society makes this difficult to do…. When, nevertheless persons do make a free act of faith, the factors characteristic of the modern world impart a distinctive stamp to their spiritual experience.  This is not surprising, since the path to God always winds through the historical circumstances of peoples’ times and places. Inhabiting a secular, pluralistic culture, breathing its atmosphere and conducting their daily lives according to its pragmatic tenets, Christians today have absorbed the concrete pattern of modernity into their very soul. – p. 29

Mystical and practical, Christian life then becomes a passion for God that encompasses the suffering, the passion, of others, committing people to resistance against injustice for the living in hope of universal justice even for the dead.  The mystery of iniquity is not thereby resolved.  Theological reasoning remains unreconciled to the surd of evil.  It keeps on judging: this should not be.  But God is love and has promised to prove it.  The dangerous memory of the crucified and risen Jesus in solidarity with all the dead keeps the question open while laying down a hopeful, compassionate path for mature discipleship.  Thus has Metz proposed that we speak of God with our face rather than our back turned to the terrible event of Auschwitz. – p. 67

A simple thought experiment may bring home he depth of this biblical revelation about the nature of God.  Is there a single text where in vigorous “thus says the Lord” fashion people are counseled to oppress the poor, to rob from the widow, to put on a big show of sacrifice at the expense of doing justice?  Is there a text where God delights in seeing people — or any creatures — in agony?  Suffering happens; indeed some texts interpret war and exile as divine punishment for the sin of the people as a whole, sin that includes precisely the acts of oppressing the poor.  But even here, God’s anger lasts for a moment, divine mercy for ten thousand years.  Taken from start to finish, as a whole, the Bible reveals God as compassionate lover of justice, on the side of the oppressed to the point where “those who oppress the poor insult their Maker” (Prov 14:31). – p. 76

Far from being silly or faddish, the theological approach women are pioneering goes forward with the conviction that only if God is named in this more complete way, only if the full reality of historical women of all races and classes enters into our symbol of the divine, only then will the idolatrous fixation on one image of God be broken, will women be empowered at their deepest core, and will religious and civic communities be converted toward healing justice in the concrete.  Along the way, every female naming of the Holy produces one more fragment of the truth of the mystery of divine Sophia’s gracious hospitality toward all human beings and the earth. – p. 110

For many moons of centuries, theology dismissed other religions as pagan inventions or condescended to them as deficient ways people had of stumbling toward the divine.  Actual dialogic encounter with other religions leads to a different view.  Assuming that the real presence of grace and truth can only have a diving origin, the religions can be sen as God’s handiwork.  In them we catch a first glimpse of the overflowing generosity of the God who has left no people abandoned but has bestowed divine love on every culture.  This is the grace of our age: encountering multiple religious tradtions widens the horizon wherein we catch sight of God’s loving plenitude.  Thus we are enabled to approach the mystery every more deeply. – p. 163

Author : Johnson, Elizabeth A., 1941-
Title : Quest for the living God : mapping frontiers in the theology of God / Elizabeth A. Johnson.
Published : New York : Continuum, 2007.
Description : xiii, 234 p. ; 24 cm.
Contents : Ancient story, new chapter — Gracious mystery, ever greater, ever nearer — The crucified God of compassion — Liberating God of life — God acting womanish — God who breaks chains — Accompanying God of fiesta — Generous God of the religions — Creator spirit in the evolving world — Trinity : the living God of love.
Notes : Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN : 9780826417701 (hardcover : alk. paper)
0826417701 (hardcover : alk. paper)

Confessions of a St. Patrick’s Day Curmudgeon


While most kids look forward to Christmas, when I was a child, St. Patrick’s Day (along with Thanksgiving) was one of my favorite days of the year.  It was a big day in my family usually involving going to the parade in New York and seeing family and friends we hadn’t seen in a while.  Then there was the music, the stories of St. Patrick, the history of Ireland and the Irish in America.  Growing up in a town where the dominant population was Italian-American, it also helped that there was one day a year where everyone wanted to be Irish.  The element of pride was strong.

Things started to change when I moved to Virginia.  If people celebrated St. Patrick’s day at all it was at a most superficial and sterotypical levely.  Mostly it was just an excuse to get drunk.  I thought St. Patrick’s Day would be better when I moved to Boston, but even in this most Irish of American cities I find the magic of my childhood lacking.  I still look forward to St. Patrick’s Day but usually end up a little disappointed.  Here are some things that contribute to my ambivalence:

  • Wearing of the green – not bad in itself although some people really stretch the definition of green to include lime, chartreuse, olive drab and teal.  Worse, they wear all those colors at once.  I’m more perturbed by the self-imposed enforcers who critcize anyone in green.  In years past I’ve worn sweaters made in Ireland thinking it more authentic, but there’s no pleasing the Green Team.  Which brings me to:
  • Pinching – Who came up with this crock?  I lived 18-years in an Irish-American family interacting with Irish-American communities before I ever heard of the idea that you pinch people who don’t wear green when I started college.  People act as if it’s some ancient Irish tradition, but I’m certain it’s a fairly recently innovation created to appeal to everyone’s inner sadist and I hope it goes away soon.
  • Beads – It seems that wearing cheap plastic green beads is the thing to do these days on St. Patrick’s Day, even though it’s an obvious rip-off of New Orlean’s Mardi Gras.  Granted, both holidays are about a month a part, have Catholic roots, and have a lot of revelry, but IIRC even in Mardi Gras the beads are a cheapening of a richer holiday tradition.  Lets can this one too.
  • 364 days a year, one can visit a pub in the greater Boston and hear a great performance of Irish music – traditional or contemporary – and meet interesting people while quaffing a tasty Irish beer.  One day a year you can wedge yourself into an Irish pub with a bunch of drunken frat boys, listen to cheezy Oirish music and drink green-dyed Corona and pay a 20$ (or more) cover charge for the privilege.  Guess which day this is?
  • Danny Boy – once upon a time this was probably a lovely song, but these days this performance is not too far off the mark:
  • Parades on St. Patrick’s day are a good way to celebrate the arts, culture, faith, and history of the Irish people but (in America at least) they are tainted by homophobia, militarism, and racism.
  • The stupid t-shirts

Could be I’m just a grump.  I’m cheered though that my wife brought home Dubliner cheese and Irish soda bread for supper which we enjoyed with (German) beer and (Italian) pasta.  Then we danced to some Irish music with our little boy.  I’ll need to find some new traditions to make St. Patrick’s Day as memorable for him as it was for me.

Previously:

Book Review: A Portrait of Jesus by Joseph Girzone


In A Portrait of Jesus(1998), Joseph Girzone uses a similar approach that he uses in his fictional series of Joshua novels to understanding the historical Jesus.  That is, to avoid theology, doctrine, and Christology and look at Jesus as a real person who came to earth to spread His message of love and freedom through creating relationships with other people.  It’s a simple yet revolutionary approach and proves very enlightening and inspirational, especially in the early chapters.  Yet, even as something of a Fr. Girzone fan I have to admit that while full of faith and prayerful contemplation, Fr. Girzone is not the best writer and comes across a bit hokey.  In the later chapters he sort of recreates the Gospels in a more common language, but kind of cherry picks stories from all the Gospels into one narrative.  Fr. Girzone also depicts Jesus as unique in relationship with the poor, oppressed, and women against a rule-following, monolithic Jewish religious leadership, which is a fallacy according to what I read last Lent in Amy-Jill Levine’s The Misunderstood Jew.  Still, for all it’s flaws this is a good inspirational book.

Favorite Passages

Even though you may be weak, are you focused on God, are you sensitive to the pain and hurt all around you?  This is the essence of the person who is pleasing to God.   Not that accuracy in belief and disciplining human weakness are not important, but loving the Father in heaven and caring for others is absolutely essential  They were the teachings that were critical to Jesus.  Jesus realized few people will ever have an accurate understanding of the nature of God and even the identity of the Son of God, but He knew that it was within the heard of everyone to care for others.  – p. 32-33

And in telling His followers to love as He loved, it constrains us to continually deepen our intimacy with Him so we can understand Him and what He expects of us as His friends, and grow as love grows, naturally from within, without imposing on ourselves artificial imperatives from outside.

As a result, following Jesus and knowing what is expected will always be confusing, as walking in faith is destined to be, Jesus may have explained things more clearly to the apostles, as the writings of the early Fathers of the Church indicate, but even the apostles did not comprehend everything the way we would have desired. – p. 91

Author : Girzone, Joseph F.
Title : A portrait of Jesus / Joseph F. Grizone.
Edition : 1st ed.
Published : New York : Doubleday, 1998.
Description : 179 p. ; 22 cm.
ISBN : 0385482639