samedi, juin 10, 2006

Do you have an inner European?

I wasn't aware I had an inner European. I'm glad to see, however, that we are allowed to utter the word "French" in America once more. There's a lot of superficiality on the Internet, isn't there? At the same time, frivolity like this allows us to blow off steam, to connect, and to indulge in that amazing American pastime...taking personality quizzes! If you don't know who you are yet, check out "Blogthings" and find out if you really are the love addict you thought you were, could stand to lose that twenty pounds, or fear someoone might find you really really scary.

Who’s Your Inner European?

Or check this one out if you want to scare yourself:

I'd love to hear from anyone who finds out something they didn't already know.

Ain't no cure for the summertime pews?

Last week I received an email from one of the editors at the Philadelphia Inquirer asking me to write an essay for the local opinion page on why the pews empty out during the summertime. This is a question which has bemused clergy for millenia, probably since the advent of paved road allowed the Roman gentry to escape to summer villas. If our laypeople escape in droves, perhaps they imagine that God is going along with them. But "where does God go on summer vacation?" Forgive me my touch of irreverence, but take a minute and imagine Does He rent a condo at the Jersey Shore? Or maybe He appreciates the quiet of the Canadian woods. Could He be hiking in Colorado or hanging out at a cafe in Paris? I asked some clergy friends to share some wisdom on why people flee church in the summer, even when they are at home, and the reasons they give. So far my responses have been exceedingly few. I would love to hear from readers! Do you attend church in the summertime? If not, why not? If so, why? Are there programs the church could offer that would encourage you to attend? What does it feel like to sit in a half-empty church with other parishioners? Do you feel virtuous for showing up? How about you slackers? What are you doing on Sunday mornings that is more exciting than worshipping with your brother and sister Christians (keep it clean, please)? Of course, we know that God is everywhere, but what are your most "divinely infused" places to meet Him during the summer when you aren't in the pew? Thanks for your help!

jeudi, juin 08, 2006

No complacency about evil

"After twice narrowly escaping capture by American troops in the past 18 months, Mr. Zarqawi became increasingly bold in recent months, issuing videotaped speeches on Islamic militant Web sites, vowing victory against the "crusaders" who had invaded Iraq, meaning American, British and other Western forces. The speeches also called on Sunni Arabs to kill "converters," meaning Iraqi Shiites, effectively inciting civil war here.
American military commanders have said that Mr. Zarqawi personally beheaded some of those kidnapped by his followers, and identified him as the mastermind of one of the first major suicide bombing attacks, a strike in August 2003 that destroyed the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad and killed 22 people, including Sergio Viera de Mello, the head of the United Nations Mission here.
A message posted by Al Qaeda on one of its Web sites, confirming Mr. Zarqawi's death, vowed to continue what it called "the holy war" in Iraq. "We want to give you the joyous news of the martyrdom of the mujahid sheikh Abu Musab al-Zarqawi," the message said. It was signed by a man calling himself Abu Abdel-Rahman al-Iraqi," who was identified as the deputy "emir," or leader, of Al Qaeda in Iraq."
Excerpt from NY Times article June 8, 2006
Early this morning we learned officially that international forces, operating collaboratively in Baghad, had killed Abu Musab al-Zarqaqi, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq. News like this often makes death-penalty opponents like me squirm. On the one hand, I ascribe to the tradtional Catholic creed that life is sacred, from before birth to the end of life. Yet my first reaction was one I probably shared with millions of my fellow Americans. I was thankful that someone filled with this much hate was gone
Driven by the power of a religious ideology or by hate, or by both, Mr. Zarqawi apparently hoped to establish a strict Islamic "caliphate" under" in Iraq. He personally beheaded contractor Nicholas Berg, and was responsible for many bombing attacks that claimed untold Iraqi lives. As one commentator said, he was "the face of evil" in Iraq.
On the whole, I'm very glad that coalition forces pursued Mr. Zarqawi. Though we should be under no illusion that his death will mean a stop to the torture and murder of innocent civilians, one potent force for evil is gone. Like others, I have become dulled by the constant news about casaulties. I may have even given in to the temptation to think that in a misbegotten war such horror was inevitable. Yet Christians, wherever they are, have a duty to be on guard against evil, whether it is in their own hearts or lurking in a safe house in a foreign country. We cannot let ourselves become numbed to the horrors being visited on innocents, or give in to the notion that we have no role in combatting evil. Every believer has a duty to oppose hatred and protect the innocent.
Having said that doesn't mean that I approve of this war, or of the rhetoric used to justify it, or of the abuses that accompany it. Those in themselves may be sinful. But I do think that passivity is not a choice for the faithful Christian. If our brother or sister is suffering, our place is beside them in the name of the Christ who defended the vulnerable, and the poor, and the innocent ones most precious to him. At the same time, it is comforting to remember that He is the one in charge...not only now, but for eternity.

mardi, juin 06, 2006

Paris with a little ethanol on the side?

"WASHINGTON, June 5 — Congressional aides took $30 million in trips paid for by private groups from 2000 through mid-2005, surpassing the privately sponsored travel of their bosses by nearly $10 million over the same time, according to a new analysis of publicly disclosed travel expenses.
Together, aides and members of the House and Senate filed 23,000 public disclosure forms on their individual trips, the survey found, for an estimated price tag of about $50 million. Among the most popular destinations were Paris (at least 200 times), Hawaii (150) and Italy (140).
Congressional travel paid for by outside organizations like trade groups and corporations has been under intense scrutiny following scandals involving the lobbyist Jack Abramoff. While much attention has been focused on elected officials and corporate jet travel with lobbyists, the new study, conducted by the Center for Public Integrity, Medill News Service of Northwestern University and American Public Media programs, is the most extensive in recent years because it tallied the costs, purpose and destinations of trips by Congressional aides and politicians.
The study concluded that about 90 of the trips were paid for by lobbyists, which is an ethical violation, during the five and a half years examined. About 500 trips cost $10,000 or more each, and 16 cost $25,000 or more apiece, the study showed. About $20 million was spent on overseas travel." New York Times, June 6, 2006 Are we on outrage overload? Are our circuits about to blow?

If my immediate reaction to the news of a huge Congressional scandal in the making is any indicator of the way the American public thinks, then we are right here in the danger zone.

When I first heard on the radio yesterday that members of Congressional staffs were being bought and sold with costly junkets from lobbyists, and that many of the "fact-finding" trips were upfront ethics violations, my first feeling wasn't rage. Instead I thought, rather cooly..."of course they'd go after the staff, doofus."

Who are your decision-makers? It's the probably senior staff, rather than the pretty faces in Congress. The staff are also probably more likely to be susceptible to the lure of a nice vacation in Paris or Hawaii than some of the multimillionaires in the House and Senate.

As we can see from recent news about Senator Harry Reid and the allegations about Congressman William Jefferson, Democrats have no reason to gloat. Nonetheless, if there is going to be reform, it will probably have to come from the minority party (if and when they ever become the majority).

I'm not quite willing to throw up my hands and cede our democracy. Not yet. I'd like to think that we have something to say in which companies get huge tax breaks, who gets to pollute our air, and what products get safety recalls. But before I rail against the cynicism in of the American citizen, it would probably be therapeutic for me to get up, put in my contact lenses and take a long the mirror.

dimanche, juin 04, 2006

Catholicism at the crossroads: the changing face of an ancient church

Almost since its founding, America has been a place of escape for religious individualists, eccentrics and revisionists (not in the negative sense). There's a good reason for that. So many of our ancestors, be they Quaker, Jewish, or Catholic, came to this nation fleeing some kind of religious or ethnic persecution (except, of course for African-Americans, who came here as slaves and worshipped under the watchful eye of the foreman or the slavemaster.) Individualism breeds creativity and spunkiness, but it can be extremely problematic for churches, like my own, that are based in some measure of the forcible consensus engendered by hierarchy. It has been also been a dilemma for American Catholics as they relate to the centralized authority of the Curia. A series of articles in today's Philadelphia Inquirer highlighted some of the issues facing American Catholicism in the 21st century. I'm going to put some of what I gleaned from the article out here, not as a polemical arguement, but in the hope that it will provoke some conversation. There's a tension between Catholicism and American culture" said Chester Gillis (chair of the theology department at Georgetown University) "American culture is winning out."

A Zogby poll in March of 1,901 Catholics in this country found that although the vast majority thought of themselves as Catholic, thought being Catholic was special and that it was important for new generations to grow up Catholic, fewer than half of the young adults said they attend Mass weekly, go to confession at all, or consider it important that priests be unmarried.

Less than half believe that same sex relationships are always wrong, and about a quarter either believe that the church has the final say on sex outside marriage or support the prohibition against artificial birth control.

Bishop Joseph Galante of the Camden (NJ) Diocese commented that the dissatisfaction of American Catholics had evolved out of a "minimalist" understanding of the faith. In other words, they didn't understand the difference between church doctrine (as in the Creeds) and discipline (obligatory Sunday mass, confession and meatless Fridays). Once the discipline of a meatless Friday was relaxed, people felt "hoodwinked" and began to wonder if practices like the Mass and confession were made up, said Galante. "Until we get serious...bringing people to a much better understanding of what it means to be Catholic, we're going to be spinning our wheels."

On the other hand, to those outside the US, the American church "looks robust to Catholic leaders."

"The percentage of Mass attendance is much higher than in Europe, parish life is relatively vital, your fraternal organizations, like the Knights of Columbus, are flourishing," said Archbishop John Foley.
Here's one other quote from an expert on church growth at Fuller Seminary, Eddie Gibbs. I found this one particularly provocative, because it speaks to anyone who wants to reach young adults. "The under-35s represent a culture of networking and empowerment, while the church represents a culture of hierarchy and control."

When I talk to my Roman Catholic friends I hear various themes: strong identification as Catholics, a sense of betrayal over the sexual abuse committed by a minority of priests (the vast majority are faithful men of God), love, tolerance or dislike for their local pastor (so very Protestant), and a feisty unwillingness to march in lockstep with the Vatican (however much they love the Pope, as they did John Paul II). I see an imperfect earthly Church aspiring to model itself on the eternal perfect one which is Christ's bride.

As an outsider, the glass looks more than half full to me. What does it look like to you?