Archive | May, 2011

Socially approved cheap shots

May 28, 2011

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One wonders: Is anti-Catholicism the last permitted prejudice? Sample the approved and publicly flaunted ignorance of the facts. Recently, 75 Catholic academics signed a letter criticizing House Speaker John Boehner for his legislative record on alleviating poverty. Left-handed compliments came swift and sure, with the Syracuse Post Standard Editorial Board providing a sample: “It is a welcome change to see a Roman Catholic politician challenged for a position on an issue other than abortion.”

These routine inaccuracies are getting boring. The US Catholic hierarchy took the side of the labor unions in Wisconsin; the bishops wrote a letter to Congress in general to remember the “least of these;” they published a Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church in 2005, very little of which dwelled on abortion and much of which implies radical societal change. And then there are all those soup kitchens and hospitals and charities and … Never mind. Doesn’t matter. See no good; hear no good. We’ll throw our cheap shots left and right because people wearing red drapes make easy targets.

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Seeing what we want to see

May 25, 2011

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Question: What’s our take-away lesson from the recent wave of pointlessness? The answer: There’s a little Harold Camping in each of us.

We could dismiss the 89-year-old would-be prophet with phrases invoking sheets to the wind or top-floor elevators or loons or crackers or bonkers, but no publicly available evidence suggests he’s clinically crazy. Perhaps he’d pass the MMPI test with flying colors – and he’s got obvious skills: initiative, stick-to-itiveness, a laser-focus and an entrepreneurial spirit. The man is a great marketer and shows “gathering” potential. Sign him up as a church planter. Besides, what’s wrong with punching the calculator with biblical numbers in an attempt to time Christianity’s eschatological events? Isaac Newton did it. His statue still sits on the top shelf of our cultural pantheon.

Camping’s dilemma is not irrationality but his own grid through which he sees the universe. It’s a kind of rationality on steroids: The Bible is true; the Bible has numbers in it and, because the Bible is true, therefore the numbers are true; since the numbers are true, we’ll add them up and find the date of the so-called “rapture.” And since a physical rapture did not occur on May 21, 2011, it must have been “spiritual,” with the definitive finality scheduled for October.

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A theological/sociological/anthropological Kim Kardashian interval

May 22, 2011

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This weekend was the weekend of the un-moment, the weekend of the non-event event, the weekend in which television hosts and writers frazzled themselves over a looming non-incident everyone knew would not occur – and, when it did not happen, bloggers blogged about how a predominantly silent clique should think twice before it fanned the flames of panic again. Never have so many talk-headed so much for so long about something they all knew was nothing.

I speak, of course, of Harold Camping’s prediction that the so-called “rapture” would sweep born-again Christians off the Earth and into the sky on May 21. I write this on May 22 – and I’m totally non-surprised to be here a day after my un-disappointment. What’s more, I preached at my church of mostly born-again Christians this morning. Almost all were there (a few had the sniffles; a couple temporary heathens played hooky; no one was in the clouds). We all knew Brother Camping was the equivalent of the bearded doom-and-gloom guy with the sandwich board in LA’s Griffith Park – or the poor soul who bundled up in winter clothing in August and marched the city streets where I once lived, screaming, “REEEEEPENT! THE LAWD IS COM-ING!” We’re aware of Acts 1:7: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority,” and, like many evangelical Christians, we doubt all this talk of the “pre-tribulation rapture.” We think Left Behind should be left behind.

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Saintly heights and wretched depths: Catholicism’s triumph and despair

May 20, 2011

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Don’t stop me. I’m doing it. I’m throwing every stitch of clothing into a pack, including those wool socks for polar weather and the straw hat to fend off Amazon bugs. I’m on a world-wide quest, an expedition, a voyage, a mission. I will find the great reset button in the sky and I will press it. Brace yourself for a sudden jolt and then bathe in Wonderland’s warmth: Closeted skeletons will vanish and doors will creak open and formerly crazy aunts will roam free. Best of all, cardinals and bishops won’t listen to attorneys any more. They’ll remember the Church is strongest when it embraces weakness and they’ll follow their Lord to the cross, not their lawyers to the negotiating table.

I must find the button because things are now askew. On the one hand, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops rang eloquent in a May 5th letter in which they called budget-debating senators to remember the poor; on the other, fallout in the wake of recent indictments involving the Philadelphia archdiocese suggest magisterium still doesn’t get it. They’ve stalled. They’ve withheld information from its own sexual-abuse review board. They’ve tarnished the church’s reputation while skating the legal ice, naïve of their own harm and supplying fodder for their many opponents. Just to confuse things even more, a

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Learning From The Mother Church

May 13, 2011

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Much ink has been spilled over Roman Catholicism’s wrongs – especially the colossal priest sex scandals. They cannot be minimized. And yet I still see hope. The Mother Church has much to teach evangelicals and other so-called “Bible believing” Protestants. Her doctrine still upholds what we call “traditional family values,” including a pro-life abortion stance, then delves deeper and advocates Christ’s burden for the poor and the environment. Thus, she can speak prophetically to both American political parties.

A group of Catholic academics wrote a letter to Republican House Speaker and church member John Boehner before his commencement speech to The Catholic University of America. They pulled no punches. “We write in the hope that this visit will reawaken your familiarity with the teachings of your Church on matters of faith and morals as they relate to governance.” They say his voting record “is at variance from one of the Church’s most ancient moral teachings. From the apostles to the present, the Magisterium of the Church has insisted that those in power are morally obliged to preference the needs of the poor. Your record in support of legislation to address the desperate needs of the poor is among the worst in Congress.”

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I don’t wanna brag or anything, but …

May 11, 2011

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We’re not exactly taking over the world, but The Alternative Mainstream is emerging from its dingy cyberspace cranny. Just the facts: We chalked up 3,126 visits all last year; 3,354 visitors have filed through in 2011. Only a measly average of four people per day deigned to visit last May; that figure stands at 59 even as we speak. We were ever-so-proud when we were hit 577 times last September, which was 2010’s high. That’s so last year. The hit total was 1,052 in March and 1,069 in April. We’re now at 618 so far this month, with 215 jamming the lines on May 3.

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Ready-mix moralism + bland generalizations = ethical tofu

May 8, 2011

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A question: Do three fingers still point back at me when I wag at society’s I-told-you-so finger-waggers? We hear their scolds when they crawl from the think-tank lair in times of strife and doubt, spewing reprimands. They know nothing of the Freudian id’s dark elation. All borders are black lines; all days are bright; there is no moral murk and fog. Their memories are cleansed of New York’s volcano-like plumes, which I saw from the Tappan Zee Bridge and the Garden State Parkway on September 11, 2001, and they feel no ambivalence over the death of a mass murderer and a self-made symbol. Even worse, they’re blind to their own insensitivity as they argue for compassion. They haul out their favorite Bible verses (Proverbs 24:17: “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles.”), but neglect Scripture’s ambivalence (Proverbs 11:10: “When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices, and when the wicked perish there are shouts of gladness.”). Their lack of empathy swallows the merits of their arguments.

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When death brings celebration

May 2, 2011

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I won’t deny that gushing “Yes!” and that sense of awe: Osama Bin Laden is dead and those Navy Seals were great! But then comes the ambivalence …

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