Sunday, February 29, 2004

Trashing Ashes Tom Conry's song gets a heap of criticism, and unjustly so. "Ashes" has become an anthem of sorts for Ash Wednesday, an automatic insert, a no-brainer for music planners. I might take exception to the blind planning of that hymn year after year. But it's not a bad option, even though it's not one of my personal favorites. One critic of some contemporary liturgical music has even suggested that the label "heresy" might be applied in some cases. My good friend Fr Jeff goes way off the boat in this. Here's why: Liturgical songs are not sung in isolation. They are hardly ever intended to ever be complete without the context of liturgy. People complain about Conry's line "We rise again from ashes to create ourselves anew." Does the song really suggest that people actually re-create themselves outside the agency of God? Of course not. Taken in context of the whole, Conry is clearly stating that a Christian has a responsibility to cooperate with God's grace, not to sit around on our ashes and wait for God to do it for us. May I suggest that critics here are a little worried that there's not enough "Catholic action" in their own lives? "Bread and wine" songs also get a lot of bad press. And I don't understand why. Critics would be far more uneasy about banning Eucharistic Prayer I (and most of the others) for its post-institution "heresy," referring to the consecrated elements as "bread" and "cup." A lamentable literalism has gagged the conservative wing of the Catholic Church. It's not pretty. And it's a threat to good liturgy for the entire Church. I don't have an attention-grabbing headline like "Heresy!" to attract your notice. But without a poetic expression of language in the rites and songs, we will find liturgy to be a far drier exercise, and hardly a worthy one of authentic worship. If I wanted a guarantor of phrase-by-phrase fidelity, I'd just chant the catechism recto tono every day. Here's my suggestion for those so ready to use the h-word. Try doing a better job yourself -- without quoting the catechism. If you don't like a song, there's a simple solution: just admit it's a question of personal taste and don't sing it or plan it.

Saturday, February 28, 2004

Some sports musings I remember watching the Marvin Miller spots on Ken Burns' Baseball, especially intrigued with how he and the players union tricked the owners into accepting limited free agency in 1976. Miller was quite astute to see that this scheme would drive up player salaries higher than a completely open system (a system in which a player's contract length is the sole determining factor of tenure with a team -- in other words, when a contract is up, both team and player are free to pursue renewal or other options). For the sake of us mid-city sports fans, a method of revenue-sharing is essential. Take football, for example: the wealth of management is not the main determining factor of success. Baseball, in contrast, allows a rich, not-too-bright owner to pile up playoff appearances in New York. Baseball was at its zenith in the 80's, when any team had a decent chance of success and players were relatively free to earn their worth. Football may still be at its zenith. Sad to say, hockey has yet to see the foothills. I can't get excited about watching the NHL on TV. So when I hear about the impending lockout of the players so the owners can get out of the financial holes they've dug themselves, I can't get too concerned. All of the teams on my sidebar will still be functioning next year, and I can tune in radio broadcasts on the net and follow the standings on the teams' pages. Still no sign of hockey in Kansas City, so my viewing habits (tv and live) will probably not be radically altered. I've never seen the virtue of rich dudes owning sports teams. It makes no sense to me. The baseball team where I grew up was community-owned, and still is. That makes the most sense: for a community to own a team. That way it never moves (unless it goes bankrupt). And the stockholding fans determine the worth of their players, not billionaires who can't find a middle ground with their toys.

Friday, February 27, 2004

Peace, all. The Clergy Abuse report made front page headlines in my local paper this morning. I'm not sure I wanted to get into a charged topic during Lent, but here goes anyway. (More interesting than doing my taxes.) I'm concerned that too narrow an interpretation of this report will follow: that 1950 was the advent of sexual crimes by church folk against children (I would fall over in a faint if it were), that homosexuality, not opportunism is the reason for the bulk of crimes committed against boys, that four-plus percent of priests were predators is cause for a present-day witch-hunt. Many people who have firmly-made-up opinions will look through the report, find confirmation for their pet view, and embrace it. Result: no new insights, no progress on real root causes. My observations: - I've worked with many good diocesan priests through the years, but I can't say I necessarily find them more holy as a group than any other subset of intentional Catholics. In fact, I would say certain aspects of the modern dicoesan priest's lifestyle are more obstacles to holiness. - Foremost, the opportunity for lack of personal discipline is a big problem for a lot of guys. I know it would be for me. My sacramental commitment to my wife and child, my accountability to my parish and my pastor/employer are factors which make me more effective and fruitful as a minister, and far more grounded in reality than when I was single and "free." From my two years in rural ministry, I can see huge temptations in a lack of direct accountability. More accountability to the local parish is essential for a priest. Without it, an undisciplined pastor roams between grave misconduct (when the bishop steps in) and saintliness (when the money rolls in?), with a lot of room in between for persistent incompetency and self-indulgence. - I can't help but think that closing seminaries to all twenty-somethings and most thirty-somethings would be a good idea. Sure, you have an occasional prodigy who could handle the demands of modern parish ministry. But couldn't a seminary candidate under 40 go to school, get a specialized degree (say, in canon law, or liturgy, or something) and work for the chancery for ten or fifteen years? Couldn't these people be steered to lay ecclesial ministry or a monastery, depending on their sensibilities? Test them for ten years or so: see if they really have the right stuff. I've met a lot of the young, so-called conservative "new" priests. Good guys, really, and some are even holy. But in the last mid-century, these priests were curates for two decades or so before they tackled real responsibility as a pastor. Fifty years ago they would be youth ministers, liturgists, religious education directors, and the like. I wonder: when they get the 5-parishes-in-2-county assignment will they have the staying power? My real hope as this report surfaces is that we will go beyond a talk show reaction to it (getting caught up in politics, feelings (especially anger) and self-righteous self-applause) and make some progress. As a liberal, I don't want to see the hierarchy fade into scandal, incompetence, and irrelevancy. Good leadership is needed. Good examples of holiness are needed even more. If this report doesn't spark some true soul-searching and lead to significant reform, then it will have been a waste of time and paper.

Thursday, February 26, 2004

Peace, all. I thought I would see it, but now I'm leaning against it. Some friends want to go out to see The Passion of the Christ on Friday, and as fortune would have it, our daughter will be at a friend's home for a sleepover. So the movie followed by dinner is well within the realm of possibility (except perhaps for the meal after the movie idea). It's hard not to bump into a movie review somewhere, and I admit these comments color my choice on this movie, especially the violence. I'm thinking Gibson's extended scenes of imagined scourging are not going to play well in my imagination. My wife, sensibly enough, seems dead-set against going, which may give me a convenient out. Once I heard a teacher rehearsing a young class for Stations. My heart sickened as the little kids were urged to shout with enthusiasm, "Crucify him, crucify him," and I had to leave the church. Not that I duck out for Holy Week, but I have to say that when I was preparing to become a Catholic in 1970, the people's participation as the crowd never rang right with me. When I was a teen, I started non-participation in the missalette stuff, and I continue my closed mouth today. Many years ago I was struck by a Palm Sunday strip of Lynn Johnston's For Better or For Worse in which the boy is watching a Jesus film, and his mother finds him upset by it. Michael professes he would never have participated in the mob demanding death. I felt confirmed in my non-compliance with Paluch. I'm moved by the profound liturgies of Holy Week, and I wouldn't dream of missing my diet of two liturgical Passions a year. A skilled single person proclaiming the Passion is always better than the semi-Passion plays we're force-fed by missalette publishers and the Roman Missal. But thankfully, the Church gives us 364 days a year with the Last Supper commemoration, and only two with the Passion. Maybe there's some perspective there. In one day, Mel has made back half his investment on his cinematic passion play. Good for him, I guess. I'm inclined to believe that keeping Jesus' suffering on screen or the stage might make it easier to stay blinded to the ways in which we enact cruel tortures on the other sons and daughters of God around us. The issue for me is not Gibson's anti-Semitism, but the devilish inhumanity around us we keep quiet about. Yesterday, two girls returned to school from a brief duty at the beginning of 8:15 Mass upset that they had done something wrong, when in reality an older priest did not review his outline sheet in detail. Their only fault was to get caught between a few confused adults, one of whom found the Mass to be an occasion to be publicly upset over a simple misunderstanding. So maybe this Lent will be a better time for doing, rather than spectating. WWJD? Probably not sitting in a theatre. Maybe I'll keep watch for little kids getting trampled by today's angry mobs. But I'm interested to hear if anyone had a significant experience, either by going or staying home.

Monday, February 23, 2004

Peace to all. Back to work today: server and lector schedules out in the mail. BIG shipment of music arrived at the house: some soundtracks for my wife and various things for me. No classical music this time, but a thrilling album by Jerry Douglas entitled Lookout For Hope. When I was a dj in the 80's, I played his early stuff on my show. Terrific musician. Hoping to spend a quiet few days getting ready for Lent, both spiritually and at the parish. I try to stay way ahead of things in ministry, so when I do get sidetracked by illness, vacation, etc., much of the slack has already been taken care of. I miss making music at Sunday Mass, though. If you're interested in hearing me play, a good friend is releasing an album of original Christian music in a few months. By then, I'm hoping to upgrade the site, and put a few of her songs on it, where you can hear me play various keyboards. (My one guitar song was saved for her second cd.) Of course, my hope is to have my wife sing a few of my songs, and we'll put these on the net, too. However, any serious computer work will have to wait for after Lent. Given our busy schedule after that, it could be a longer wait than Easter week.

Saturday, February 21, 2004

Peace, all. I've been recovering from back-to-back strains of viral flu this week, hence no new ideas to pop up here on CS. My wife Anita said if I had what she had on Sunday, it would be over in 24 hours, but I would suffer a lot while I had it. In between naps, I've been catching up on some reading (mostly science non-fiction) and listening (mostly classical). For the first few days this week, it was a bit of a relief to be home from work, but yesterday and today, I've been very antsy ... or at least as antsy as one can be when one's sinuses are threatening to break one's cheekbones. Anita picked up a few travel videos from the library on Australia. Since I was ten, I've wanted to go to Australia. Every so often, I go to expedia and price a three-person trip for six to twelve weeks. Then I smirk, shake my head, and meditate on the simpler life of a parish liturgist: vacations in backyards, and dropping on on family or friends. Enjoy the last days before Lent. And try to avoid the flu, if possible. And if you get to Australia, please give everyone my regards and regrets.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Rather than disinviting ... ... pro-choice speakers from Catholic venues, I have an alternative suggestion for bishops. What would be the reaction if a bishop himself attended such an event? The purpose would be to offer a public disclaimer on the speaker's position, and reiterate the church's position on abortion. Or the Iraq War. Or another divisive moral issue on which it might be felt Catholics are unclear. Since I cannot remember the last time I read or heard of a bishop volunteering to productively work in favor of life (though I know of several anti-abortion protesters), this would give the prelate an opportunity to actually perform a work of mercy. (Getting a secretary to write to a college president or make a press release doesn't qualify in my book.) And importantly, people would see a bishop doing something that actually took some effort and sacrifice. Mind you, a bishop would not have to do this all the time. And he still could write letters or make press releases, too. But it would be something different. Something unworthy of a yawn or a "so what?"

Monday, February 16, 2004

Music for the month Peace all. I hate when this happens: my music club caught me for not sending an internet reply, so I found a cd in the mail. But you know, it was quite great. Never had a recording of Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto. Young pianist, Lang Lang makes my mouth water. Can't remember the orchestra, but until you listen about ten times to this, who notices the orchestra anyway? Also revisited the Chicago Symphony's rendition of Rhapsody in Blue, the original Ferde Grofe wind arrangement that was played at that wonderful debut concert in ... 1924? Gershwin was sheer genius. I never appreciated him until about five or six years ago, and now I keep wishing I had more. I'm convinced he would have overshadowed Ellington as America's greatest composer if he had lived a few more decades. Surely Gershwin would have eventually tackled writing symphonies in his forties and fifties. (I can't imagine him writing pop music in the decades of Elvis and the Beatles.) Not much to speak of in popular music this month. I'm not really listening to very much these days anyway. Have you heard any good music lately? Any of your own thoughts on America's greatest composer(s)?

Saturday, February 14, 2004

WWF taught us everything we know Actually, progressive Catholics might have picked it up from pre-conciliar clergy. Vatican II done in a Vatican I way, as my wife often comments. I was reading comments from conservative/traditional Catholics who believe the progressive sensibility has a "stranglehold" on the Church. When I think of my many liturgist or musician colleagues, though, who through the years, have been ousted unjustly from fine ministries, I have to scratch my head over this stranglehold notion. That said, I do candidly admit many of my colleagues look very distrustfully upon Catholics who bring a conservative sensibility in their active faith life. I know many people who have been bludgeoned by leaders who promote "their liberal way or the highway," often at deep cost to many good people whose only fault is to prefer to pray, pay, or obey as they were taught and are accustomed to doing. This is just wrong. And if we are to look at one of the causes of backlash against our vision of Vatican II, some of us (maybe most all of us) need look no farther than the mirror. I don't really have a soapbox in my parish to say this, so I can say it here: conservative Catholics will always be welcome in my parish: on my committees, involved in liturgical ministries, and part of decision-making processes for the good of all. I would hope that their prayerful sensibility and personal gifts will enhance our parish worship life and provide an important contribution to the local church. Likewise, conservative Catholics should consider themselves welcome to visit, read, post on my blog, or otherwise correspond with me on matters in which I need enlightenment or balance. If I weren't a true liberal, I would have to otherwise strangle all your beliefs and views and shape them into My Supreme View of the World. But thanks be to God, I am, and there is no View. So always expect a sensible welcome mat here.

Friday, February 13, 2004

Music software advice and a little contest Peace, all. I went to a demonstration of the Sibelius3 software at a workshop last weekend. I was impressed. My current software of choice is concertware, which has many annoying quirks I've learned to work around in the past eight years. They passed out demonstration cd's of Sibelius3, which was even more impressive when it ran on my office computer (though the narration sounded very much like Nigel Tufnel of Spinal Tap). It also makes my old printouts look like the stone age. I can scan hundreds of old files on ConcertWare into the new program, clean up the glitches, and do some serious arranging for instruments and voices. Then I realized that I could seriously upgrade my web site, add music (sights and sounds) and even get into some serious long-range collaboration. So last night I unshelved my old musical for the first time in months and started dreaming again of completion, rehearsals, and a nice little pit band playing for a cast of twenty-something. I need more work on the humorous songs, and the group numbers, for sure. The finale needs another jolt of energy (Nigel, turn it up to eleven, will you please?) to really raise the roof. And I need to decide once for all if the duet in the middle of act 1 can actually be composed and staged as I had first thought in 1999: two distinct simultaneous songs prayed by an older man and a young woman separated by hundreds of miles. That might get me past the hump. Depending on how picky I want to be I still need about six to ten more songs to bring this puppy to a choreographer and director. Anyway, I thought this new software would really get my creative juices going. Loyal readers could hear songs in progress. Any opinion on this software? Any thoughts on what this musical might be? Four tickets to opening night for the first correct guess ... Now off to the piano.
Searching for Lenten ideas Not liturgy ideas today, but spiritual ones. Ideally, it would be like my Lent of 1986, when I spent the first ten days of it at Madonna House in Combermere, Ontario. It is much more difficult for a liturgist with a family to withdraw from the world at this time of year. I've been trying to take my first ten to fifteen minutes at work each day in prayer: before we open for calls, my colleagues arrive, etc.. That works on the days we don't have snow, my daughter or wife isn't sick or needs to be run to the doctor. Not that my family is sickly -- far from it, but it seems like a two-to-four-day-a-week attempt isn't covering the bases. Something truly Lentish needs to be a daily effort. Giving up things has been fruitful on the surface. On occasion, a good habit has stuck with me after Easter. But taking a break from the internet, games, tv, or other peripheral things, even if temporary, has added to the spiritual experience. But ... I'm looking for something different this year. Any ideas?

Friday, February 06, 2004

Venus and Phoebe Peace, all. I'm looking forward to the week of June 6th, and not just because it might be the first week of summer vacation. For the first time in 121 years, Venus will pass directly between the earth and the sun. There's a good bit of fascinating history behind the transits of Venus, which helped astronomers determine the distance from the earth to the sun. Notably, the great English explorer William Cook was dispatched to the South Pacific, in part, to view the 1769 event. Sadly, Kansas City is nearly on the sidelines for 2004 happening; I will need to wake at dawn, find a clear horizon to set up my small telescope and projector. Obligatory caution: looking at the sun, even at sunrise, is generally not a good idea, unless you like fried retina for breakfast. Another comes up on 2012. If I miss these two, I will need to wait until the eve of my 159th birthday to catch the third. For her first appearance on my blog, please welcome Phoebe. Three days after the Venus event, the Cassini probe will pass very close to this unusual moon of Saturn. I hope to see the crisp, new photos of Phoebe on this web site. But I will also remember my struggles for domination of the solar system over my friend Christopher in Illinois, and the times when control of Phoebe and her sisters were the focus of our Solar Quest marathons.
Guilty until proven orthodox Peace, all. This just slays me. A bishop is alleged to have had an affair with an adult man, and denies it, but some aren't so sure. Mark Shea weighs in with the question: "Do I believe or trust him as far as I could throw him?" Gerard Serafin adds a voice of reason to an otherwise contentious thread which has veered off into all kinds of great insights about liberal bishops being the scourge of the Church, not to mention the Source of All Things Scandalous and Sinful. People can be blind to their heroes, but on the other hand, something other than virtue is operating when a person is quite willing to accept a hero's denial of guilt (such as those of the conservative bishops Law or Pell) but quite ready to lop the knees off a bishop found to be lacking in some "orthodox" respect. I remember a conservative Catholic friend who was simply gleeful when allegations against Bernardin popped up in the mid 90's. Though these accusations were later found false, it didn't stop them from being mentioned by those "Catholic and Enjoying It." While misbehaving and sinful clergy certainly do need to account for their actions, it is entirely another matter when people professing Christianity can be so pleased at the failings of others. Wasn't anybody in church the other weekend when Saint Paul's lesson on body parts was proclaimed? Maybe that's not in the orthodox canon ...

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

On the Passion Peace, all. Finding the St Blog discussions on Mel Gibson's new movie a bit contentious, I thought I'd import some opinions here. Here's what I like about Mel Gibson and his new movie: - I've always liked his serious acting, from the time I saw Tim and long before Mad Max or Riggs. - I enjoy an underdog achieving, including an action film star making and directing serious movies. - Mel may well have invested $39M of his own bank account in the making of this movie, but I suspect he relishes all the publicity he's getting because he knows it will translate into box office receipts. Mel is no innocent rube. - Not having seen The Passion yet, I have nothing good to say about it yet. Here's what I dislike: - As a filmmaker, Mel has painted villains very, very convincingly. The British come off as real scumbags in Braveheart and The Patriot. I can stomach that to some degree because though these films are about serious subjects, heroic people, and real historical villains, bottom line is that these flicks are about entertainment, not documentary histories. Sight unseen, I can perceive why some critics might not like Gibson's portrayal of Jewish leaders. But I will wait till I see The Passion before making a final judgment. - Little facts about the film make me wonder: the use of Latin instead of Greek (If I see a Last Supper with Jesus speaking in Latin, it will break the mood of solemnity for me, no question.), the use of hypertraditionalist apocryphal material to "fill in" some details, being the two that come to mind. - That in many internet circles, all one has to do is wonder if the ADL or other critics may indeed have valid questions, and one is immediately tarred with the anti-Catholic brush. Above all, I try to keep some perspective. This is a film, not a fifth gospel. Gibson is a talented film star and able director, not a prophet.
The fishing industry has branched off into catering From the AP : "Sperm whales have the largest brain of any animal and some in the Gulf of Alaska are proving it at mealtimes: letting humans do all the work. Researchers are now investigating what commercial fisherman have long noticed, that the whales have learned to pluck sablefish off hooks attached to their long fishing lines. "They somehow just pick them off like grapes," said fisherman Dick Curran, who has fished the gulf's deep waters for decades. "I don't know how they do it." A few things: Gary Larson could probably do a great job with this. It also reminds me of the crows who have learned to drop nuts on busy streets so cars can break the shells. More than that, crows have also learned to drop nuts at traffic lights so they have time to pick through the goodies before the traffic starts up again. Don't look now, but your cat is watching you.

Monday, February 02, 2004

Peace, all. I'd thought I'd share my non-Blog rabble-rousing with you. I sent this e-mail to CBS today: Greetings, friends. You're no doubt hearing tons of complaints about the Super Bowl fiasco of half-time. Add my complaint to the list. You know why. I'll be glad to take a number. I was almost as disturbed by your choice of commercials: wholly inappropriate for family viewing. My seven-year-old often reminds me when a TV Commercial is on, "Um, Dad, that's bad for me. Turn it off." If she hadn't been "grounded from TV" yesterday, I would have been angrier and she might have said the same thing to you. My requests are these: - If you insist on showing graphic and violent commercials, see if you can get the NFL to move the game to 10PM EST, and tape delay for the other time zones. And after they laugh in your faces over that, I would urge you to consider more appropriate, if not lawful, commercial fare. I cannot control the crass nature of television advertising, but you can tell your corporate sponsors I'm more than glad to use the little button on my remote to mute or channel surf at will. - Second, I would urge you not to wait for the FCC to come down with its $27,500 fine per CBS affiliate. Do the right thing and write the checks out now. Send that amount to a charity for each CBS station in the US. Do it tomorrow. If you e-mail me, I can suggest a worthy kids' charity in Kansas City that does good work. I'm sure the Chiefs or any of the other NFL teams would put you on the right track in their towns.

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