Tuesday, November 30, 2004

The Mass Under a Microscope: Silence Jazz great Miles Davis understood as much as anyone the value of silence in music. We could use more like him in liturgy. "The Liturgy of the Word is to be celebrated in such a way as to promote meditation, and so any sort of haste that hinders recollection must clearly be avoided. During the Liturgy of the Word, it is also appropriate to include brief periods of silence, accommodated to the gathered assembly, in which, at the prompting of the Holy Spirit, the word of God may be grasped by the heart and a response through prayer may be prepared. It may be appropriate to observe such periods of silence, for example, before the Liturgy of the Word itself begins, after the first and second reading, and lastly at the conclusion of the homily." My criticism of the last sentence is this: each element of the Liturgy of the Word is deserving of a cultivated silence as an interstitial. I'd prefer silence-first reading-silence-psalm-silence-second reading-silence-gospel acclamation-gospel-silence-homily-silence, appropriate to the formation of the worshipping community, of course. A side-note about Music in Catholic Worship and Liturgical Music Today, documents produced under the auspices of the USCCB in 1972 and 1982. They were composed with the approval of the US bishops and their wisdom (or lack thereof) is due to the hands-on experience of their contributors -- liturgists in the trenches immediately after Vatican II. They have the authority of experience: flawed at times, occasionally insightful, often a bit controversial or opinionated. Lacking direction from bishops and parish pastors, they were all the documents many parish liturgy people had. Were they elevated to an undeserved level of curia-like authority? I couldn't say that. As I became more involved in liturgy in the early 80's and better-read on the whole spectrum of liturgical history and Roman documents, I found what I believed were flaws in MCW and LMT. Edward Foley's overview in the LTP compilation is fazirly accurate, I'd say. My own article on them was published several years ago in Ministry & Liturgy. I think people hang on the words of their gurus. At times, the newest favorite on the CTA, EWTN, FDLC, or Medjugorje circuit is likened to the source for the Word of God. Personally, I tend to be an iconoclast when it comes to heroes. But I think MCW and LMT fall somewhere in between the demonic and iconic extremes.
Rustle up those Midwestern Vocations The AP reported on my region's (Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, Kansas) bishops and their return from ad limina visits to Rome: "... Pope John Paul II told them he's worried about the declining number of US priests. He told a group of visiting American bishops on Friday that the challenge can't be ignored. The pope is calling for a national day of prayer for priestly vocations, as well as new ways to recruit priests." About ten years ago, Andrew Greeley published a sociological report on recruiting. He said the decline in ordinations from the previous generation was due to two factors: the lack of parental encouragement and weak efforts from the clergy themselves on the recruiting front. A few years ago, I saw results from another study that suggested that the postponement of life decisions in young adults as well as a precipitous drop in people who choose a lifelong career are also obstacles traditional vocations efforts have overlooked. Three generations ago, most people barely out of puberty were married, having kids, and working. Most vocations were not "delayed" because most people were not delaying their entry into adult life. We didn't have large numbers of people going to college and grad school or hanging out with their "Friends" to live a slacker's life in a coffeehouse. While not a sudden shift, this young adult trend was mostly ignored by those who long populated vocations offices. When I was 23, I was considered an unusual prospect for priesthood, not because of my liberal views, but because I had not gone to college seminary. When I dropped out of the post-college discernment group after a year, seven of us had gone on to seminary, one had discerned out, and that left me. I didn't sense I was any further along the path than I was the previous summer, and though dicoesan vocations director assured me I could remain in the program and hang with the crop of next year's guys, I didn't feel I was aligned with the flow. It seemed to me my seven friends already had decided to go to seminary and were just jumping the hoop of a year of "discernment." My assigned spiritual director, Fr John, was leading me to a path of a prayerful life, but priesthood just wasn't on the horizon at that time. So I walked another path. In my rest of my twenties, only three people suggested I had a vocation: a Trappist postulant whom I helped unload a truckful of Monk's Bread one afternoon, an estranged friend who was leaving a marriage to explore religious life, and an older lady who was a social gospel Catholic in the mold of Dorothy Day. My non-Catholic parents clearly didn't have a motivating role, other than assuring me of their support in anything I chose to do with my life. And despite knowing several priests fairly well from doing liturgical music in their parishes, none of them ever asked me if I had thought of becoming a priest. In my first three years as a full-time liturgist, I worked for a pastor who was somewhat conservative. He went to Medjugorje and was involved in associated things. Sad to say, as a parish priest and administrator, he was not an inspiration; more the opposite. He was in a prime position to encourage his new liturgist to consider a vocation. But he was more interested in keeping his growing suburban Chicago parish in full pews on a miser's budget. And those are the nice stories I can actually tell you; the others were enough to turn a soul out of the Church entirely. So when the pope is calling for new ways to recruit priests, I hope he sent these bishops home with some ideas. I'd give them an earful, but I doubt they'll come blogging to Catholic Sensibility. I could tell them they'll need to get a lot more creative in inviting young people to explore what the life of a parish priest actually is. They'll need to be prepared to discern some of their better candidates into a religious order. They'll need to actually befriend young people and gently, subtly steer them to practices of prayer and meditation. What is not lacking in young people today is the willingness to sacrifice for a good cause. Also not lacking is the desire for a holy and spiritual life. What is lacking in today's priesthood is creativity, credibility, tenacity, and kindliness when it comes to drumming up vocations. And as for the parental role, I think the bishops need to realize they have a lot more work ahead to rehabilitate their own reputations before parents (particularly mothers, according to Greeley) will encourage priesthood as a real alternative.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Mass Under a Microscope: Communion Song By popular request, a treatment of the communion song. In IGRM 86 we read: "During the priest’s reception of communion, the communion song is begun." Please notice the proper practice of not watching the priest's and other ministers' communion in silence. For several years now, I've instructed songleaders to announce the song or the accompanist to begin it as soon as the people make their response, "Lord I am not worthy ..." "Its function is to express outwardly the communicants’ union in spirit by means of the unity of their voices, to give evidence of joy of heart and to highlight more the "communitarian" character of the communion procession." I fail to see the lack of clarity here. The people sing it. "Outwardly." And with "unity" of voice. It is an outward sign of a sacramental event that has both a public character and an individual moment of encounter. Granted, many parishes find ill luck in getting people to sing at Communion time. But I still think it an effort worth making, and making gently and persistently. "The song continues while the Sacrament is being ministered to the faithful. But the communion song should be ended in good time whenever there is to be a hymn after communion. Care must be taken that cantors are also able to receive communion conveniently." Sensible shoes, Roman style. Do our parish EM's wait for the choir and cantor? If there is a loft, are EM's assigned to serve the choir? GIRM 87 continues with a hierarchy of preferences: 1. "An antiphon from the Graduale Romanum may also be used for the communion song, with (the psalm)" 2. "... or without the psalm," 3. "... or an antiphon with psalm from Graduale Simplex" 4. "... or another suitable liturgical song approved by the Conference of Bishops may be used." 5. "If there is no singing, the communion antiphon in the Missal may be recited either by the faithful, 6. "... or by a group of them," 7. "... or by a reader." 8. "Otherwise the priest himself says it after he has received communion and before he gives communion to them." First, I note that a choral anthem comes in at least ninth on this eight-part list. It is simply not provided for. Second, I note that it is clear the two volumes of chant are pretty much indispensible for a parish music ministry. Any other comments?
At Saturn http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/cgi-bin/gs2.cgi?path=../multimedia/images/large-moons/images/PIA06142.jpg&type=image Feast your eyes on this image. Lots of higher resolution shots of Saturn's moons have been posted this past week. I tend to be more of a moon man than a ring man, but the image linked above is undeniably great. It will probably be one of those hallmark images of the Cassini mission.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

The Mass Under a Microscope: Gloria IGRM 53: "The Gloria is the ancient and venerable hymn in which the Church, assembled in the Holy Spirit, praises and entreats God the Father and the Lamb. The text of this hymn is not to be replaced by any other." I don't know if the link has ever been verified, but a grad school prof of mine suggested the early Church sang a psalm for the beginning of Mass, adding a doxology at the end to "Christianize" the music. As time went on, the psalm gradually was reduced to the single antiphon, and the doxology expanded with some credal elements into the hymn we know as the Gloria. A friend of mine once wondered why the early Christians never developed their own New Testament corrollary to the Psalter, a collection of 150 inspired hymns and canticles in praise of Christ. I can think of several reasons why that didn't happen, but industrious Scripture scholars could probably comb through the NT and find about 30 to 40 expressions of sung prayer to satisfy themselves, if they wanted. "The Gloria is begun by the priest or, as needs dictate, by a cantor or a choir..." Okay, a clear hierarchy of preference: priest, cantor, then choir, in that order. Another hierarchy: 1. "... but is sung by everyone together," 2. "... or by the people alternately with the choir," 3. "... or by the choir alone." To me, this would abrogate a consistent practice of a choir singing the Gloria alone. I've gotten into a few tussles with folks who consider the "responsorial" Glorias a bad idea. If the quality of the composition is high, that's not too bothersome to me, but I do prefer "through-composed," that is, a straight through setting without repeats. IGRM clearly puts a choral Gloria under the rung of a responsorial Gloria. So there, I guess. "If not sung, it is to be recited either by all or by two parts of the congregation responding to each other. The Gloria is sung or said on Sundays outside Advent and Lent, on solemnities and feasts, and in special, more solemn celebrations." My new pastor favors singing the Gloria every week. At present three separate settings circulate amongst our parish cantors and choirs, these being used only on big feasts. In Iowa, I got used to singing a weekly Gloria. They did it before I hit town and I certainly saw no problem with changing that fine practice. We found the Alstott through-composed setting to be easily learned and very durable. The repertoire also had the Creation setting and Haas' from Mass of Light. I didn't find the twinning of Entrance Song and Gloria to be unduly weighty. We'll likely be making the addition here, once we can agree on some more consistency in the settings and get people used to it.

Friday, November 26, 2004

What's cooking Turkey leftovers, what else? Soup with carrots, garlic, and alphabet pasta added to yesterday's meat and potatoes. What's playing Terry Riley's Requiem for Adam by the Kronos Quartet came in the mail the other day. Looking forward to some good listening later today. What's viewing Anita scratched off one present on her list by getting the latest Harry Potter on dvd. Watched up to Nott sharpening the execution blade, then went to bed. All of us went to see The Polar Express Wednesday while the power was still out in our neighborhood. I missed about 15 minutes with two catnaps, but I did enjoy what I saw. I didn't fathom the point of Tom Hanks playing five roles, until Anita mentioned all those roles were essentially Santa Claus. Okay. I think I get it. What's reading I'm slowly getting through Perdido Street Station which seems as pessimistic as its sequel, The Scar. The quality of the writing and the imagination is undeniable. Very reminiscent of Mervyn Peake, for whom the author China Mieville admits a deep admiration. As for the rest of the day, laundry, food shopping (no, I'm not going within a mile of a mall today), and more loafing around the house. Enjoy the holiday weekend, and always be thankful.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Maybe a lockout is a good thing for hockey In hockey news, Kansas City's Outlaws finish up a six-week "road trip" (I'm sure they came home in between weekends) just in time for a Turkey Day game, 8:30 start to avoid football and tryptophan comas (as if the Cowboys wouldn't do it for you this year). We can go downtown to watch the lighting of the Big Tree at the Crown Center, then catch the game. Brittany is thrilled, of course, with the prospect of staying up till midnight watching hockey players shower ice in her direction and wave during warm-ups. I think we might take a pass on the "traditional" Outlaw Thanksgiving game and check things out Friday instead. Either way, I'll get to see the Kalamazoo Wings for the first time since I left Michigan in '95. In light of Nicollette dropping her towel for T.O. and tv viewers and a few basketball players dropping fans in Detroit, maybe the best thing for hockey is to just stay dormant on the ML level for awhile. How can I not think this is like the major sports battering themselves into nuclear oblivion. The NHL can just emerge from the fallout shelter next year and clean up, right? Or is this just wishful thinking on my part? Tell me the truth. Remember now, it's been ten years since the benches cleared in the NHL. Baseball has a hard time going a week without some needful act of machismo rousing guys from rally cap land into an imitation of Slap Shot. Anyway, if hockey can't resurrect itself in the current environment of sports thuggery and sex, then they'll be worse than the Democrats running against W. Local sportswriter Jason Whitlock nails the issue of the day here: http://www.kansascity.com/mld/kansascity/sports/10235219.htm. I tune in to his afternoon sports show (Did I mention KC has two sports stations? Don't know how they survive in a market this size, but I like the variety.) and generally like what he has to say. Oh, and the Bills won today.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

What's Playing Mark O'Connor's The American Seasons. His web site is here: http://www.markoconnor.com/. I remember his contributions to "spacegrass" music in the 80's. I enjoy his forays into classical music as much, if not more. Naqoyqatsi by Philip Glass, too. Got a call from the symphony last night while I was cooking dinner. They want to sell ticket packages. Nice person who was knowledgeable about classical music (not always a given on these calls) and science fiction (we talked about sf stories in which timeline jumpers brought back recordings of the Beatles (who never broke up) doing things like "Jet," "Imagine", "It Don't Come Easy" and "All Things Must Pass" from an alternate universe). Then I started thinking, what if Gershwin's brain condition had been diagnosed in time in 1938? Would this year's concert schedule include Symphony no 4 (1966)? Another timeline, I guess. If the local symphony programmed more American music outside of its Pops series, I'd consider one of those partial subscriptions. A new director will bring a new emphasis (I hope), but without more American music on their docket, I'd rather listen to great new cd's like O'Connor's, and pick and choose the one or two really interesting programs they put together.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Bishops show liturgical sensibility Amy Welborn's excellent blog sent me here: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/04322/412957.stm for the story of the surprise election of Bishop Trautman to liturgy chair for the USCCB. Maybe the bishops are tired of getting pushed around by the curia.
The dark side of the moon Go here: http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/cgi-bin/gs2.cgi?path=../multimedia/images/large-moons/images/PIA06521.jpg&type=image for the latest Cassini image of Iapetus, moon of Saturn. Observant amateur astronomers can see the difference in the moon observing from earth. The brightness differs by about two orders of magnitude, if I remember correctly. That's a little more than the difference between the brightest and dimmest stars in the Big Dipper. John Varley, in his sf novel Titan, described a vast living organism that was responsible for the black hemisphere of Iapetus, and that in the 2010's, it had mysteriously cleared up. The human expedition to Saturn investigates, but gets caught up in a whole other story, finding themselves at the mercy of one of the moon-sized beings responsible for various antics in the outer solar system. A good read, but no longer scientifically accurate. Many great sf stories have been rendered scientifically obsolete by new discoveries these past few decades. But I'm curious to see what Cassini really finds on Iapetus. I think a close look is planned in a few years after the probe gets a few dozen Saturnian orbits with the planned flybys of Titan under its belt. The Cassini web site has tons of fascinating information, including scads of images. While you're in the neighborhood there, check out the home site for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) too. I like to keep up with the Mars rovers and results from the Spitzer telescope. What great times for a space buff to live in!

Monday, November 15, 2004

The Mass Under a Microscope: Penitential Rite & Kyrie Possibly, but not necessarily the same item. A liturgy prof told us that the excalamation "Kyrie eleison!" was shouted as the Roman legal official (or even the emperor) was entering the building. People were hopeful a lusty shout would attract good attention (as my daughter puts it) and a favorable or at least a speedy judgment. The IGRM says: 51 Then the priest invites them to take part in the penitential rite, which, after a brief pause for silence, the entire community carries out through a formula of general confession, and which is concluded with the priest’s absolution. This latter, however, lacks the efficacy of the sacrament of penance. Don't forget the pause for silence. On Sunday, especially in Easter time, in place of the customary penitential rite, the blessing and sprinkling with water may occasionally be performed to recall baptism. The understanding is not to do both, and not to overuse the Sprinking Rite. I've been in parishes that only use it on Sundays of Easter and rarely if ever outside of the Fifty Days. 52 Then the Kyrie always begins, unless it has already been included as part of the penitential rite. Since it is a liturgical song by which the faithful praise the Lord and implore his mercy, it is ordinarily prayed by all, that is, alternately by the congregation and the choir or cantor. This would ordinarily leave out the option of a choir-only Kyrie. As a rule each of the acclamations is repeated twice, though it may be repeated more, because of different languages, the music, or other circumstances. When the Kyrie is sung as a part of the penitential act, a trope may be inserted before each acclamation. Looks like some composer creativity and pastoral judgment are allowed for. My practice has been most often to sing it during Lent and sometimes Advent. I was thinking something like this is under-used in form II celebrations of Reconciliation. One notable time when priests seem to add it when not called for is on Ash Wednesday. Mass on that day does not include the Penitential Rite, but just about every autopilot presider I know has been unable to help himself from adding it.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

The Mass Under a Microscope: Entrance Music From IGRM 47: After the people have gathered, the opening liturgical song begins as the priest with the deacon and ministers come in. Straightforward enough. The purpose of this liturgical song is to ... 1. ... open the celebration, 2. ... intensify the unity of those who have assembled, 3. ... lead their thoughts to the mystery of the season or feast, 4. ... and accompany the procession of priest and ministers. Good priorities to keep in mind. Number one is obvious. Number two suggests to me such songs must be well familiar. Here are my thoughts on number three: it can be done with text or with musical style. It can also be done with a careful arrangement of voices and instruments. For example, you might not need Eight consecutive Easter carols leading off your Masses between Triduum and Pentecost, but I would consider a noticeable festivity with all eight of those opening liturgical songs. A hymn concertato for Easter Sunday? Then I'd use similar fancy arrangements on the subsequent Sundays, leading the people's "thoughts to the mystery of the season" not by text alone. Number four is subject to the first three considerations. We don't sing songs to "greet Father." Now for IGRM 48: A. The opening liturgical song is sung ... 1. ... alternately either by the choir and the people 2. ... or by the cantor and the people; 3. ... or it is sung entirely by the people 4. ... or by the choir alone. Then you get a repertoire hint: B. 1. The antiphon and psalm of the Graduale Romanum or ... 2. ... the Simple Gradual may be used, 3. ... or another liturgical song that is suited to this part of the Mass, 4. ... the day or 5. ... the season and that has a text approved by the Conference of Bishops.* If there is no singing for the entrance... 6. ... the antiphon in the Missal is recited either by the faithful, 7. ... by some of them, 8. ... or by a reader; 9. ... otherwise, it is recited by the priest himself, who may also 10. ... incorporate it into his introductory remarks Ten options. Wow. That's before you get to specific pieces of music. So your first choice is to sing the special antiphon and accompanying psalm the Roman Missal gives you as special to the day. For Catholics who don't sing daily liturgy, it would be difficult (but not impossible) to prepare that antiphon and have the choir sing the verses of the psalm on a weekly basis. But it could be done. Lots of parishes do it, and the IGRM's first two suggestions, choir + people and cantor + people cater to that option. Most American parishes choose A3 from the first menu, and B3, B4, or B5 from the second. It probably dates back to the hymn singing at Low Masses before the Council, the first piece of bread of our original "four-hymn sandwich." That makes sense. If you're singing a piece of music designed to be a hymn, then it doesn't work as well to have the people and choir alternate, though I've done that rarely and seen it done on occasion. My personal preference for priorities would be B5, B4, B3: looking for a seasonal hymn first, looking for a hymn suggestive of the day (it's Scriptures, homily, etc.), and lastly picking a "gathering" hymn. My parish music committee pretty much sticks to "gathering" songs, and we'll use seasonal songs for Advent, Lent, Easter, and obviously Christmas. I suppose if there's little to say about the day, a gathering song works okay. If it were a holy day preempting an ordinary Sunday, I'd feel very strongly about using a hymn reflective of the feast. One word on option A4. I can't imagine it getting used. Ever. If the choir is singing alone, they should put on a concert or do it before Mass. * The USCCB has never approved a set of texts for singing hymns and songs at Mass. Supposedly such a list is to be formulated by 2006, but my sources tell me it has been scarcely considered.
The Mass Under a Microscope The title is from a workshop I did for a retreat center several years ago. The purpose was to encourage participants to carefully and lovingly scrutinize their parish's celebration of Sunday Mass. From the draft English translation of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (IGRM, Latin acronym): The rites preceding the liturgy of the word, namely, the opening liturgical song, greeting, penitential rite, Kyrie, Gloria, and opening prayer or collect, have the character of a beginning, introduction, and preparation. Their purpose is that the faithful coming together take on the form of a community and prepare themselves to listen properly to God’s word and to celebrate the Eucharist worthily. (section 46) Often one finds in the liturgical documents a list of given options. These lists are not usually accidental in the order of things. So when the IGRM lists two purposes for the beginning of Mass, community formation and preparation, you can be assured that these options are either roughly equal or they are listed in order of importance. Those who minimize the importance of "the faithful coming together take on the form of a community" are missing the barque. That said, community formation should be a mature and serious undertaking. It is not about outward signs only, though in contemporary American culture, a degree of public expression is generally expected. And it is not always about gladhanding before Mass (although it could be in some places). But community formation shouldn't be overlooked. The IGRM seems to suggest it is a necessary component for the celebration of liturgy. Five hundred people pointing in the same general direction in one large room might not cut it. If people are expected to sing, then the music chosen needs to be very well known. Long-ish dialogues tend to fragment people into the eager listeners, the bored, the distracted, and such. I used to think that Mass announcements belonged at the beginning, before things got started. I feel some doubt about that as I reflect a bit more on the need for community and preparation. I think sticking to the script is vital here. The Introductory Rites aren't about commentary, catechesis, or anything that puffs up this time as being anything more than a "beginning, introduction, and preparation." I noted the difference in that last word in the quote, "worthily." In the 1975 IGRM, it was translated as "properly." Not sure exactly what the shift means, but when I was involved with some consultation work, I carefully noted all variations (updates?) from the previous document. As this series continues, I'll have more comments about specifics.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Liberals and their morals Most accurately, I can only talk about one liberal and his morals. But I can still scratch my head about the suggestion that liberals are basically amoral, hypocritical snobs who pitched the 2004 elections pretty much across the board because they treated conservatives like brainless boobs. Some liberal positions are indeed informed by Christian morality. Historically, I can think of abolitionism, the Catholic Worker movement, the various Civil Rights efforts, and the anti-Nuclear movement of the 80's. I suppose there have been millions of liberals who would see their support of women's rights or their opposition to lynching as being essentially informed by faith. Maybe some liberals have economics as a prime motivator: they think thousands of warheads is a waste of money, or that as women, they would just like their fair share of the payroll budget, please. I think an insightful person should look a little more carefully. My opposition to abortion and the Iraq War are liberal positions springing from my philosophy of pacifism. I suppose a person could have the same views, but be a conservative, preferring instead that a woman have no rights to secure an abortion, or that the Bush Administration is making war on the wrong country. I guess if you're looking for moral values voters, you might have to peek at something other than the bottom line. So in the media commentary I've seen about arrogance and name-calling, I have to say I'm not terribly sympathetic (though I am empathetic). I've been called names before, by both liberals and conservatives. I've been misjudged, too. It doesn't bother me too much, because in real life, I work with both camps. And the neglected middle ground in between, too. So if Dan Rather or your favorite guru seems to be in a pout for the next two to four years, my suggestion is to let 'em be. One whole week into our latest New Morning, and I have yet to receive a call to join up and build a better moral society. I think it's time to roll up sleeves and get to work improving things. What do you say?

Saturday, November 06, 2004

A small piece of prudential judgment First, I think it's been too often used as an alibi, rather than a philosophical application. Even by bishops, it seems. An issue which might be a matter of prudential judgment, the war in Iraq is often cited, does not mean it is a matter of passing on judgment. I thought Iraq War I was immoral. There was no doubt in my mind that Iraq War II was as well. "Imprudent" as well. I've seen the counterarguments that as opposed to abortion, fewer lives are being taken in the Middle East, therefore the bloodier transgression requires proportionately more attention. I don't think one can measure out proportionality, even for where one gives one's charity dollar or time or letter writing or blogging. A pacifist approach to the commandment "You shall not kill" would be quite literal, by definition. A pacifist might say the Just War approach is "cafeteria Christianity." I would trend to the former, and try my best to withhold judgment publicly on the latter. Even if I weren't a pacifist, Iraq War II raises important issues about the proper justification for war, the proper conduct of a war, and the ongoing ability to resolve conflict in the wider Middle East. Prudential judgment implies that when a person is confronted with the facts and details of an issue, and that when the time is right, a judgment, rather than a non-judgment is made. Saying that we can debate the Bush administration's motivation for starting the war is true. But at some point an amount of evidence will collect at a decision-making time. And a decision must be made. On some issues, the moral transgression is clearly wrong. On some, the matter can be torturously unsettled (abortion in the case of danger to the life of the mother strikes me as a no-win scenario for the parents). But on many, we're called to decide when the time comes (Election Day, the doctor's final report, etc.) and I doubt we'll be getting personal input from our favorite gurus at those times.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Moral Issues so soon forgotten (subtitle: millions of Christian fiddles out of work) I finally read the morning paper. And I checked a few online news pages. Here's what I read as being our president's second-term priorities: reworking social security, medical malpractice, tax cuts, terrorists. I searched a little bit. (Maybe you've searched a little bit more; if so, please enlighten me.) Nothing on abortion, even partial-birth abortion. Nothing on stem cell research. Three out of four biggies had to do with money. Isn't that interesting. What do you make of it?
C-words A quick tour of St Blog's this week shows me very little has changed. On one web site, a priest called Senators Kerry and Edwards "weasels," and later updated his blog with a joke about it. In Amy's still-contentious comment boxes, though I stated I acceded to Church teaching on homosexual activity, it was too much that I harbored doubts about the situation of people who are clearly born gay or determined to be gay so early in their lives, there is no personal culpability for their sexual orientation. Conformity to the magisterium is insufficient; now alignment with blogosphere groupthink is required. While showering this morning (and a fine, crisp, sunny Kansas City morning it is) I was reflecting on some qualities, both substantial and trivial, that would keep up my spirits in the confirmation of conservative culture in the US. Conformity: still not required. Call it an achilles' heel, if you will, but I didn't think much of conformity in high school when it meant wearing denim, not going to Sunday Mass, liberally using the f-word, and the other stuff. I don't think much of it now when St Bloggers get into nuclear arguments about absolute congruency of thought on moral issues, not to mention rage, golden gild on vestments and ostensoria, and other fussy trivia. I navigated against the current when I was a kid, and in my whole life since. I haven't gotten totally lost in thirty-five years. I'm going to keep the faith and steer by my own stars, thank you. Calm. This is a quality I've tried to cultivate actively for about fifteen years now. I've avoided reading the paper and internet news sites much the past three days. I still don't know who won Iowa, though I'm curious. I caught a whiff of Republican factionalism because Senator Specter is moving for the judiciary committee or something. Heck, if he's good enough for the president and Rick Santorum, why should I object? I calmly fold my hands, a small smile on my face, and with eyes closed, imagine the fur flying. Only two days after Wictory? This could be a very entertaining four years. But I think the calm and serene person will be able to appreciate it more. Concession. Not a quality, really, but a useful attitude to have. Conservative candidates didn't landslide their way in, but there was a substantial and unmistakeable wave about them. I say fine. The people decided (power to the people, remember?) and that's the way it should be. There are times to be an activist and an agitator, and there are times to work quietly and tenaciously for what one believes in. While I still believe that progress is better for our society, and the US has a lot of ways to improve ourselves, the people aren't ready just now. I concede for this year, and keep calm. Charity. Always a virtue. Clearly a struggle for some. Calling defeated candidates "weasels" shows something of the measure of a person (something counted in millimeters, instead of miles, I suspect). Being gracious in victory is never costly in competition. Being a competitor (and a long-time fan of underdogs) I appreciate the wisdom in avoiding crude and cruel expressions. Comment boxes have been rather slow the past few days. Nothing to share?

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Moral values and authenticity Bear with me as I draw a few thoughts together on the pope's recent letter, the elections, and the Catholic approaches to morality and justice. First, the end of 28th section of Mane Nobiscum Domine: "We cannot delude ourselves: by our mutual love and, in particular, by our concern for those in need we will be recognized as true followers of Christ (cf. Jn 13:35; Mt 25:31-46). This will be the criterion by which the authenticity of our Eucharistic celebrations is judged." Pope John Paul uses a somewhat different approach than legalists who focus on validity and liceity. We can do an isolated act of worship correctly and properly and with spiritual intent. But without a connection to charity and justice, the whole effectiveness and purpose of what we do is called into question. Rightly so, I think. Second, my observation that the so-called moral values issue of this year's election is possibly too easy. What I mean: it is easier for a person to decry another's immorality--their abortions, their gay lifestyle, even their harboring of sexual predators. Do we muster the same passion for our own failings? I suspect we should. At least, I know I should. But maybe we don't. And I know I don't always. I was getting into a point with Rich Leonardi on Open Book about this. I find myself suspicious of the alleged "moral stance" of the country in the wake of Bush's reelection and other Republican successes. Not because I harbor feelings in favor of abortion on demand, but because I question the authenticity of those who use (or perhaps boast on) the "moral" vote while harboring no intent to look within to reform lives as they ask others to do the same. While I have no doubt that numerous repentant Christians lined up with the president against gay marriage and widespread abortion, I feel deeply doubtful about the morality on the political or cultural end. I wonder too if it's more personal discomfort with gays moving in next door with two children and a minivan. I wonder if it's more personal discomfort with racks of embryos grown in laboratories for harvesting. I wonder if it's more personal discomfort with millions of abortions that just don't seem to be improving poverty, women's rights, or really much of anything in society. After all, it's easier to condemn a person we don't know for what we don't do. I suspect we get a little softer when our own son or daughter turns out gay, or when we believe the rhetoric that some embryo's stem cells might turn our parent back from the onset of Alzheimer's, or when somebody close to us is pregnant with a rapists child. That doesn't mean the moral decision is different. It's just harder to get where we might need to be. Then I came back to that last comment in MND 28: "This will be the criterion by which the authenticity of our Eucharistic celebrations is judged." And perhaps this applies to our politics as well. We pat ourselves on the back for a job well done Tuesday: a stand for moral values. But without the drive and concern for our own moral values, perhaps our own stand loses a bit of authenticity. This is what liberals are driving at who criticize those Republicans who seem to protect life only until it gets out of the womb. If you or I or anyone are going to live and die on the moral high ground, we need to be authentic. After getting moral call right, I think the authenticity factor is just about as important as it gets.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Maybe the Dems are dead The cat kept falling asleep on me as I watched the final election results about 2AM here in Kansas City. It was pretty much over the hour before, but I was curious to see where Iowa fell, immaterial as it became. Being neither a Kerry nor a Bush supporter, I found it interesting to sit back and take it all in last night. From what I heard, only three states changed hands since 2000, the candidates trading the relatively small prizes of New Hampshire, New Mexico, and maybe Iowa I think. The four million vote swing for Mr Bush looks impressive. But I think those who pick on one issue to account for it are probably overlooking several others. Non-factors, I think: both men are upper crust, vaguely religious, well-liked politically, and not particularly outstanding as leaders. By that last crack, I mean they seem fairly well monitored by their advisers. VP candidates a non-factor as well. While the Republicans eventually found their way out of their personal morass of the sixties, the D's have yet to do so. While they might have the skepticism of the country on the war, the Republicans certainly took full advantage of troubled times. I think the edge of a sitting president is stronger than a sitting vice president. I think the Republicans were smarter. I think the Democrats still have a harder time defining what they are about. Nader has the measure of them: going Big Money has hurt them, making them look like Junior Republicans. But my big point is that the Democrats have lost their perspective on many pet issues. The 60's counterculture was a product of the relatively comfortable 50's. Affluent America had time and stomach (more or less) to consider feminism, racism, and the other liberating issues of the day. I think there's a lasting sting from Vietnam, and a present uncertainty about the Muslim World. I don't think the US is comfortable enough to consider civil rights issues that will break solidly from the past. Gay marriage and widespread abortion are appealing issues, but also a significant break from where we have been (or might want to be). I can appreciate the fairness of the sense that people who are born gay should be able to live as other committed monogamous heterosexuals do. But now is not the time to consider the issue. The overwhelming majority of Americans who oppose gay marriage tells me that people just aren't ready for a paradigm shift of that magnitude. I don't think it's a moral issue as much as it is a comfort issue. Maybe it would be like having a black or woman president in the US in the mid-20th century: not a wrong thing, but not something people were ready for. When your polling is running 70-30 against you on an issue, you give it up, unless you're a king. (In which case, if you insist, you might worry.) With the uncertainty of terrorism, overseas wars, the assault of the Culture of Death (partly due to Republican support) I can see that people would be very nervous about wholescale change that doiesn't appear to have obvious benefits to spread around. If their daughter or nephew commits to a gay relationship, that's one thing, and a handleable thing. But every tenth house on the block? Even if it were moral, we're just not ready as a society. That's not prejudice to admit it, just reality. It might be prejudice or more likely ignorance as it stands in most of our hearts, but not-ready is still not-ready. One commentator I heard said that Clinton was able to distance himself decently from abortion rights. The mantra "safe, legal, and rare" was just enough to convince people the economic good times were worth the moral dilemma. Kerry blundered badly, perhaps fatally, by waving the banner of Roe v Wade. So far as we can see, abortion on demand hasn't improved society. We still have unplanned pregnancies, abused and abandoned and neglected children, children and single mothers in poverty, women earning less than men, high rates of divorce from early marriages, etc.. I'm not sure the blue bleeding in Congress is entirely due to the loss of pro-life Dems, but numbers are undeniably close. The issue is worth putting on the table, but is there anybody left at the party willing to do that? Hard-core pro-choicers have to consider their own vehemence might have put the very things they sought to protect at risk. This time, they can't blame Nader. The Republicans have taken advantage of the politics of fear. And I don't mean that in a bad way. It's not a secret that Nixon was far safer for the US as a 1968 president. Ditto Reagan in 1980. And Bush yesterday. When the world is uncertain, battles must be picked and chosen carefully, and this is something many Democrats don't do. The Republicans did. When they decide to be progressive, they initiate voodoo economics: feels good, goes down smooth, and the nation's economy isn't in the trash can (yet). Okay, say the People, we can handle this. I'm convinced that instead of looking for new gains in liberalizing society, the alternative party to the Republicans must do these things: 1. Find a pragmatic and more practical approach in politics: what will work to improve life a little bit for a lot of people. What the Dems do now is try to improve things substantially for small portions of society. Sort of like the Republicans, actually. The R's' small portions, though, have money, so if your chemical industry wants to be able to pour toxins in the river, generally it can get done. The R-alternative must find a small and practical gain for a large swath of people. Bush's tax rebate a few years back was a token and probably not a bad example. I know I appreciated mine: I think it paid off a credit card one month. But the Democrats have tried and failed to get a lot of benefits for a relatively few people. They could try getting a little bit for a lot of people. 2. Radical abortion rights is killing the Dems. An alternative party to the Republicans must recognize a diversity of opinions exist on abortion and live with it. Just like the R's. Just like Catholics. True pro-life politicians must be able to demonstrate not only an ability to legislate reasonable restrictions (as a start) but they must address supply side dynamics, too. The R's Achilles heel is that they protect life till its born, then they milk it for every capitalistic advantage. That can be attacked more effectively. 3. Civility, civility, civility. Another commentator was talking about the anger of those who have now been twice defeated by Reagan, once by Gingrich, and three times by the Bush dynasty. By my count, in the big elections since 1980, the Dems are 2-6. (If not for Clinton, they might be like those dozens of NBA teams that lost to the Celtics in the 50' and 60's. Or the Bills.) Anger has worked for conservatives for many years, but I think its unbecoming to liberals. We just don't do anger as well as Limbaugh and the crew. Progressives need to go back to the drawing board and assess if Democratic Party leadership is taking the team anywhere. Personally, I think it's time for some bloodletting at the top. And if somebody is getting too angry about yesterday, I'd suggest joining a drumming group and hike out into the wilderness with it. Maybe take up yoga. The dialogue needs to get more civil, unilaterally, if nothing else. The high ground is worth it. I think the Democrats are a little closer to dying than the Republicans, but I wonder if both parties are hanging on a bit past their normal lifespans. It's been over 150 years since the last major shift in major parties. Maybe it's time for one or both to die off. Karl Rove seems to have his life-support unit operating pretty well. It will be interesting to see how the party handles internal squabbling over abortion and spending: a fight which has to be inevitable. Even the Super Bowl winners fight a little bit before the dynasty breaks down. I really think we'd be better off with about four or five parties. Let 'em align to get things accomplished; it would certainly cut down on bipartisan bickering and stubbornness. The radicals on the ends would be happy. The way the national elections have been heading the past twenty-five years, it couldn't be much worse for progressives if the Dem's died out--they pretty much function as a collective of alliances anyway. Something starting fresh from the ashes: I could get on board with that. My parents were Roosevelt Democrats, and I wish I could say I was one too. Though I voted D more than R yesterday, the blues lost me years ago. Andmy numbers are millions. Power to the people!

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Power to the People, Baby! Got up early, piled in the car, and all three of us voted. I didn't mind the long line, though Brittany was ten minutes late for school, even though we got there a few minutes after seven. They didn't have "Kids Voting" when I was young. Brit was the first kid in the precinct to vote and then watched me punch holes in the voting card forty minutes later. Mom and Dad never told us whom they voted for. We would ask. We would campaign. We would try to weasel the info out of them. I think it was only in '68 that Dad finally confessed he couldn't bring himself to vote for Nixon that we knew where his ballot landed. (Though he did joke with us about voting for George Wallace!) Brit asked me which presidential candidate I voted for, but I shushed her as I moved on to other pages. If she had been paying attention, she would have seen, but I'll leave you all in the dark as much as she is. (Hint: did you pay attention?) In the 80's, it was my tradition to get up early and vote just after polls opened at 6AM. My old grammar school gym sure seemed small. I liked being among the first five or ten voters. In all my years of voting, I never saw a watcher or lawyer, though. Nobody ever wrote down my license number. Back to '68: my parents let me stay up for those returns. When I fell asleep on the couch, Nixon hadn't pulled it out yet. A change of presidency for the first time in my memory. I will admit I'm more of a tv junkie on election night than even on Super Bowl Sunday or the Stanley Cup Playoffs. I drive Anita crazy flipping between a dozen or so stations. I don't keep a color-coded map any more. And election results from places I've never lived in fascinate me. And when the pundits start talking, I start pressing buttons. So after All Soul's Mass tonight, I'm speeding home, popping some popcorn, pulling out a beer, and drinking to one of the great nights of the year. I'm going to enjoy watching party operatives and commentators get confounded (at least this year they're a lot more conservative about predictions) and whenever a race is settled, I'm taking a sip and toasting, "Power to the people, baby!"

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