Monday, July 31, 2006

Cantus Firmus

Ruth Gledhill, the religion correspondent for the Times (UK) has a blog which has been resident in my aggregator for a while. I found her coverage, especially during the recent contretemps of the convention of the Episcopal Church to be quite helpful, and have followed her blog regularly since.

Once in a while, a real beautiful gem sticks out. In today's post, she links to an interview with the retired (Anglican) Dean of Westminster Abbey, Michael Mayne, who is dying of the cancer of the jaw. It is a deeply moving piece, and even at that distance, the radiant beauty and deep faith of this clergyman shine powerfully through.
But, in the end, the arts are perhaps of most spiritual significance to him. While speaking of his idea of God, “a God of love, but never an imposing love. It is so important to understand what freedom means in any loving relationship”, he cites Love, by George Herbert, and relates how a few weeks earlier he stood with his friend, the novelist Vikram Seth, outside Herbert’s house, which Seth has bought and renovated.

“I asked him to read Love and Vikram said, ‘I don’t need to’ and recited it by heart. That’s my idea of the spiritual: Vikram, brought up in the Hindu faith, loving this great Christian poem.”
Ms. Gledhill also links to a sermon given by Rev. Mayne in 2004 (Microsoft Word), entitled the Enduring Melody (which is also the title if his forthcoming book), where he develops the theme of faith as the enduring melody, the cantus firmus around which, in counterpoint, life ebbs and grows.
When the disciples ask Jesus to teach them how to pray, and a little later, when he shows them how he wants to be remembered, he gives them a cantus firmus which is universal and timeless. He gives them the Lord's Prayer and the Eucharist. In the Lord's Prayer he gives them a form of words which will form a deep bond of unity between them and among all Christians ever after - a kind of signature tune, if you like; and it contains all we will ever need to express our trusting relationship with God and our dependence on him. And in the eucharist he spells out the four actions of taking, giving thanks, breaking and blessing which have been the four marks of his life, a cantus firmus for all who follow him and are prepared for their lives to be shaped in this same pattern. The pattern of a life taken and offered back to God, a life lived thankfully, a life broken and shared in the costly service of others.
I was immediately reminded of Henri Nouwen's "Life of the Beloved". In the morning, I must share this with dad. (And, I should add: just last week I made some derisory noises about the Anglican communion, motivated, in part, by irritation. As a friend gently reminded me, and as witnesses such as these clearly demonstrate, there is much to give thanks for in the lives of our "separated brethren.")

Ms. Gledhill also provides some delightful quotes from Peter Plymley's Letters, written by an early 19th century Anglican cleric who fought for Catholic emancipation. The quotes she provides (one has a "Hath not a Jew eyes?" quality about it) is certainly apposite and thought-provoking for today. She then lists six books by clergy that she recommends. And though it's not a book, per se, I would suggest adding the poems of Gerald Manley Hopkins, SJ.

Here's George Herbert's, Love.

Oh sweet Lord, so much wonderful stuff to read!

Sancte Iganti, ora pro nobis!

Today is the Feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus. As a product of Jesuit education since the 5th grade, this has always been a special day. St. Ignatius is also my Confirmation patron, and I am truly grateful for all the Jesuits that I have had the privilege of knowing, and am particularly grateful that it was their witness that drew me to faith and the fountain of life in baptism.

The Catholic blogosphere is abuzz with information on this day, as it should be. I would recommending heading over to Mark Mossa's and search his archives for his really insightful commentaries on (along with the full text of) St. Ignatius' Spiritual Exercises. (Mark, this will be a book soon, right? :)).

The Jesuits of the Bombay Province have a special place in my heart -- especially the years that I spent under their tutelage at St. Xavier's, and the many hours of erudite (and less-than-erudite) conversation at De Nobili College, their Formation House in Pune. And, thanks to the Bombay Jesuits, we have these wonderful witty Jesuit humor pages online:
Jeswits (If I recall correctly the artwork is by Fr. Myron Pereira, whose arwork also adorns there little booklets, called "Ah! These Jesuits" which provide a humorous introduction to Jesuit life. They were used (maybe they still are?) to promote vocations to the Society ... and I still have a set lying around)

This year is also the anniversary of three founders of the Society: the 500th anniversary of the birth of St. Francis Xavier and Bl. Peter Faber and the 450th anniversary of the death of St. Ignatius (today). The US Jesuits have a Jubilee site chock-full of information.

Here's a link to a post I put up in January, about the impact a famous hymn (much derided in some sections of the Catholic blogosphere) written by a Jesuit, had on me, years ago, on this Feast Day.

A while back, I found myself at the cave in Manresa, Catalonia, where St. Ignatius wrote his exercises. It was a beautiful visit, and I was very grateful to be able to pray one of his well-known prayers, from the end of the Spiritual Exercises, which quite possibly every alum of a Jesuit institution knows, which is also one of my very favorite hymns.
Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding, and my entire will.
All I have and call my own.
Whatever I have or hold, you have given to me.
I restore it all to you and surrender it wholly
to be governed under your will.
Give me only your love and grace
and I am rich enough and ask for nothing more.
Happy Feast!

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We take democracy seriously ...

... or at least if the West Wing is to be believed. Interesting column at the Telegraph.
At its most sententious, it should have been absurd, but it was not. If you listened properly - and they did talk very fast - you could learn an enormous amount, not only about how liberals would like to see themselves, but also about America's reverence for democratic institutions, an issue of immediate relevance to the global crisis in which we are now immersed.

What must have been thrilling, not to say startling, for British politicians was this view of politics - of the democratic process - as driven by an unembarrassed, overwhelming desire to do the right thing.
What must have been quite astonishing to a British audience was how seriously everybody in American politics appeared to take the concept of democratic government itself. Government of the people, by the people and for the people seemed to be engraved on the heart of every politician of every party.

There was no paternalistic noblesse oblige, no elitist assumption that an enlightened class had a right to take decisions for a benighted country - even though Bartlett himself was from the sort of privileged background that would almost inevitably give rise to such attitudes in Britain.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Getting men to church ...

Some thoughts (from an evangelical Protestant view) on getting men to church. (Via Bill Cork).
What do I mean? Most churches offer a safe, nurturing community, an oasis of stability and predictability. Studies show that women and seniors are the groups most likely to seek these things. Our comforting congregations provide women with what they long for, so naturally they show up in large numbers.

On the other hand, men and young adults are drawn to risk, challenge, and daring. While our official mission is one of adventure, the actual mission of most congregations is making people feel comfortable and safe – especially longtime members (Pastors, can I have an amen?) Church insiders routinely block anything challenging or innovative because it might make people feel uncomfortable or unsafe. This caution keeps the peace in the short term, but it drives men and young adults away over the long term.

Then there's our reputation as a place for little old ladies of both sexes. Many guys feel church is a "women's thing." Most men are introduced to Christianity by women – nuns, nursery workers, Sunday school teachers, and mom. Boys meet a feminized Jesus – a tender, sweet man in a shining white dress. Most volunteer opportunities in church involve traditionally female roles: singing, sewing, cooking, caring for children, teaching, planning social gatherings, etc. There's nothing for a guy to do – unless he has a passion for attending meetings or passing out bulletins.

The "gender gap" is pretty visible in the US Catholic Church, and in Western Europe, I'd say (Especially when it comes to mid-level church workers!) Not so, at least in my brief experience, here in India, based on Mass attendance. Something to do with secularization? As the cultural pressure for church attendance decreases, males stop being involved? I dunno. t does seem to be more of a problem in the West than in parts of the Global South, at least as far as Asia and Africa go. In the experience of my (Hindu) family, as far as ritual participation goes, the women do everything, while the men look on. Not that Hinduism is a "women's religion" (in as much as one can call it a religion). And certainly not Islam. And besides, gender-role distinctions are pretty strong in Indian society. Sorry, couldn't resist the superficial insta-analysis. :)

Anyway, I don't know exactly how to define the problem, don't know enough about the history of such trends, or how to change things. In Catholic circles sometimes the discussion tends to focus on "manly priests" as opposed to those who seem enamored by too much lace. One thing on the site made me smile: the suggestion that sermons be short. At least in my experience, Catholic homilies are rarely much longer! And, at least as far as I can tell, in many African-American congregation, the sermons are much longer. Is that a deterrent to black men participating in church? I don't know.

Most what I've read makes me want to go, like a fake pirate, "Arrr! We need to be more masculine!" and flex my (non-existent) muscles, belch loudly and reach for the nearest can of Bud.

Not quite Flight Simulator ...

Virtual View Aids Plane Landings (Wired)

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People search for the darndest things ...

Of late, an increasing amount of traffic to this site has been coming from Google (Hey, that means I'm well indexed by their little crawlers! :)) ... one is always curious as to what people are looking for when the click on a link to this space ...

Here's a sample from the past couple of days:

  • Aidan Kavanaugh (quite a few of those! RIP!

  • Stephen Colbert

  • gregorian chant radio (a recurring favorite!)

  • denver parish world youth day miracle multiplication

  • list the postive and negative responses from catholicity with reference to Indian church

  • pollution due to plastic bags in Vasai

  • dig radio at president house wodehouse road colaba

  • and ... drumroll please ...

  • naked scenes of deepa sahi in films

Well, I hope y'all found what you're looking for. I suspect the last one moved on elsewhere ... :)

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Sprucing up the blog ...

... going to be playing around with the organization of things a bit.

Longer posts will have a "Continue read" jump link so that the main page of the blog doesn't get swamped by a long post. (No, I never write long posts :)).

If you notice, on the right I've put the RSS feeds and Technorati buttons up front.

There's also a list of common keywords that will do a Google blog search on this blog and pull up posts with that keyword.

And starting now, I'll be tagging each post with Technorati tags (associated with the blog). I don't intend to back-tag the 915 posts I've produced so far (since the blog started in September) ... I probably will for a few major favorite posts ... but once things are tagged, you click on it, and all the posts with that tag will be displayed in a new window.

Yes, I love all this geek stuff, and it satsifies the inner bureaucrat. So, enjoy! :)

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Saturday, July 29, 2006

Bring out the umbrella ...

It's kinda like last month ... raining non-stop since Thursday night. The streets outside the subdivision underwater. I wonder if I'll be able to make it to Mass on the morrow?

Actually, regionally, this is much worse.

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Sex, Priests and Secret Codes ...

A book that claims to trace the history of sexual abuse by clergy over the centuries.
More than 20 years ago, the Rev. Thomas P. Doyle, a lawyer assigned to the Vatican Embassy, tried to warn the Vatican that it was facing a potential scandal involving children and allegations of sexual abuse by priests.

Since then, the priest has worked with 2,000 victims of clerical sexual abuse and testified on behalf of victims in 200 court cases.

A new book co-written by Doyle, "Sex, Priests and Secret Codes: The Catholic Church's 2,000-Year Paper Trail of Sexual Abuse," makes a case that sexual abuse has been a problem in the Catholic Church since its earliest days — even the fourth century.

Papal decrees were issued in an attempt to regulate the sex lives of the clergy, the authors say. "In days when priests were allowed to marry, we find laws telling them to avoid sex; when celibacy became mandatory for the clergy, we find laws against concubinage. We also find condemnations of homosexuality in the ranks of the clergy; the sexual abuse of minors; and the solicitation of sex by priests in the confessional."

"I knew it went back decades; I just didn't know how far," said Doyle, who recently retired as a U.S. Air Force chaplain. "There is evidence that the bishops tried to stop these things and discipline priests, but there is (little) mention of any discipline against those who cover it up."
Well I think everyone suspected that this wasn't just a modern phenomenon (and I don't buy the whole "dissent caused the crisis." It may have enabled it, but it didn't cause it. Besides, the main crisis was the shameful cover up.) ... so I'm not sure what the point here really is. Here's the publisher's site. A bit sensationalist? And what does this mean?
The sexual abuse crisis is not isolated from the questions of the celibate practice of all Catholic clergy and the moral questions that involve marriage and all human sexual behaviors. These are the main, yet unspoken, reasons why sexual abuse has been such an inflammatory and dangerous issue for the hierarchy.

Elastic loaves

More sage wisdom from Ahmadinejad Iranian leader bans usage of foreign words - Yahoo! News
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has ordered government and cultural bodies to use modified Persian words to replace foreign words that have crept into the language, such as "pizzas" which will now be known as "elastic loaves," state media reported Saturday.

The presidential decree, issued earlier this week, orders all governmental agencies, newspapers and publications to use words deemed more appropriate by the official language watchdog, the Farhangestan Zaban e Farsi, or Persian Academy, the Irna official news agency reported.
[Though, um. "Farhangestan Zaban e Farsi" really is "Foreign languages and Persian"?] Arabic, the Holy language is exempt.

Speaking of Ahmadinejad, Cardinal Kasper has criticized his holocaust-denial stance. Good for Kasper!

On Israel, Palestine and Lebanon: from a friend

In the comments below, friend and commenter Assiniboine has left a pretty extensive note on Israel. It's worth reproducing here.

Well, the Telegraph would say that, wouldnt it. The trouble with much English opinion on Israel (the Telegraph apart) is that it is over-the-top one-sided the other way. (The occasional banning of apolitical Israeli academics from British academic conferences being a particularly egregious expression of that position.) So I suppose it's not a bad thing that there is the Telegraph to go whole hog in partisanship of Israel.

However. Good debating points, maybe, but not much of a way to get anyone to listen to the other person's viewpoint and talking about the issues. Oh for the avowedly Zionist but English-gentleman-to-his-bootstraps Sir Isaiah Berlin, who when introduced to Menachem Begin in Jerusalem put his hand behind his back and said, "I don't shake hands with terrorists." Or even kindly, simple King George VI who said, a propos of the 1916 Balfour Declaration which really got Jewish immigration to Palestine going strong, "Balfour was such a silly old man, promising things to people which already belonged to others." [G: If this was around 1916, shouldn't it be George V? George VI didn't come along till 1937, if I recall correctly, after that contretemps with Edward VIII.]

The old canard about the Israeli free press and universal suffrage, though, isn't very compelling. David Grossman is a very unusual Israeli journalist. Opinion just isnt' very free there, as the extremely mild Archbishop Tutu discovered when he -- who knows Apartheid when he sees it -- used the A. word and found himself being stoned by religious Jews and called a black Nazi on the steps of Jerusalem Cathedral.

And have you been to Israel? It's a shocker, let me tell you: try suggesting that you want to visit a Palestinian church and see what sort of reaction you get! My Jewish wife and I found it difficult to keep our mouths shut and succeeded in doing so precisely because anything less than uncritical support from outsiders is perceived to be hostility.

(Indeed, in a Haifa supermarket some old ladies were indignantly nattering away in Yiddish about the outrage of an obviously Jewish girl being with an obvious goy; she was getting sick by this time of having Turks and Syrians and Jordanians insisting that she was Ali McGraw in "Love Story" and demanding her autograph, and she hollered back at them, "Bist du meshuggenah?" and they promptly switched to Hebrew so we didn't hear what else they had to say. And my hitherto rather Zionist brother-in-law (WIZO did after all set them up in business when they arrived in Australia as holocaust survivors after the War) was frogmarched under guard to a plane home to Australia when he made bold to be less than enthusiastic about the condition of the Palestinians during his stint on the kibbutz!)

We needless to say were vastly more sympathetic to Alice, the lovely Palestinian lady who ran the hostel in Old Jerusalem that we stayed in. We were up at dawn every day to rush off and see holy sites before the other tourists (and the rapacious clergy!) got on the job. She not entirely correctly assumed that we were religious pilgrims, and began getting up even earlier than us to have breakfast on the table, and said, "Do pray for us!" (Odd that she didn't spot us for a mixed-religion couple, but then a Palestinian Christian friend of mine in Montreal recently to his vast amusement found his paparrazi-ed photo in a Jewish student magazine with the caption, "Typical Sephardic Jew." He takes it as a compliment, however unknowing.)

Ah well, I just politely declined an invitation from the neighbours, whose Shi'ite relatives in southern Lebanon are dropping like flies: news had arrived that ALL of their villages had been flattened. I had had to assist with getting their key into their door a while back after they had perhaps not unreasonably responded to the first news of their families and friends by going out and getting totally blotto, and I didn't really think that tonight's conversation would be very edifying.

But this is the trouble. There are two quite irreconcileable views to try and reconcile regarding Israel, and nobody, it seems, can be at all temperate. Jews for a Just Peace is perceived as a Fifth Columnist sell-out by uncompromising supporters of Israel; Muslims consider the Holocaust to be a myth; Christian Palestinians safely and prosperously established in Dubai and Montreal and Chicago grieve for their confiscated homes in Haifa and Nazareth but figure what's past is past and let's get on with life, shall we. But that's the counsel of despair, I guess, however prosperous, and the less financially favoured and exportable professionally qualified Muslim Palestinians don't have that luxury. (Christian Palestinians are, indeed, simply vanishing: in the West they are simply undifferentiated white people and they quickly intermarry and that's the end of them as a people. Of course, Israel used to consider that the Palestinians were simply undifferentiated Arabs and why couldn't they just melt away into Jordan and Syria and Lebanon.)

On the other hand. Bethlehem and the Church of the Natifity. After the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, with its Latin- and Greek-rite monastics bellowing out their respective liturgies not to the glory of God but to drown out the competition, perhaps anything would have been relatively inspiring. But we were mildly disquieted at the tourist-trap elements of it all, and were about to decamp when a lovely Ethiopian Orthodox priest -- they have an extremely impoverished but extremely inspiring presence there -- came up and said, "Never mind all this; come with me." And he led us up a staircase to the roof, and said, "Yes, those are the hills. Where the shepherds watched their flocks by night. I will lock the door so you are not interrupted. Knock when you have finished praying; I will wait for you. No, no, please don't give us any money. It is enough that you are here with us."

Why, though, Gashwin, ARE you, as you say, mildly disposed to favour the Israelis in all this? I think we need to step back, we who are surely by definition disinterested, and be very careful about whose side we take, lest our voice become an irrelevance. Holy Rollers take the view that Jews' occupation of the Holy Land is a prerequisite to Armageddon and all that nonsense but surely we don't want to go there.

I have not, I think, previously shared this outrageous letter to Dawn (the Pakistani equivalent of Time and Newsweek) from a former friend of mine, now settled in Toronto. It was, in fact, this sort of thing that made it clear to me that we couldn't really ever see eye to eye, critical -- but sympathetically so -- though I am of Israel. I don't think he's very successfully acculturating!

(Read on if you don't mind weeping; otherwise stop right here.)

‘Freedom of the press’

GERMAN Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has said the 25-nation European Union strongly supports freedom of the press and freedom of expression but added: “We regret that other people’s religious feelings have been hurt.” (Dawn, Feb 28).

Has anyone asked him why, if “freedom of press and freedom of expression” is so sacrosanct in Germany, does the country have the strictest laws in the world against denying or minimizing the “Holocaust”?

Every European country has laws restricting “freedom of expression” when it comes to that topic. Even if a person condemns the killing of Jews by Hitler (a Christian), but says that the number of Jews killed is less than the self-stated six million, he can be thrown into jail for years.

It seems as if the European countries trot out the “freedom of expression” litany whenever it suits them.

Scarborough, Ontario

Return to the main blog page.

Scary ...

I was doing a search for Bishop Romero Pose, auxilliary bishop of Madrid (trying to find the interview with the Italian Publication Il Regno that Sandro Magister mentioned). This was one of the links that Google spat back. Yahoo! Answers - Will I burn in hell, if I take dirty magazines with me to church ? I don't know which is scarier. The questioner? Or the responders?

More on the Spanish instruction ...

[The one that Sandro Magister mentions in his newsletter below.] I read through the thing. 200 footnotes, 69 paragraphs. Despite what Magister seems to imply, there's no subsequent section listing any "cures" or pastoral strategies of how to deal with this. As Amy put it, "What I don't see (and might be there - he's got a link to the full document, but I don't, obviously, read that level of Spanish) is the next step of the critique, which is a hard look on how this ends up working itself into the ministry of the Church on the ground." Well, as far as I can tell (unless there's some section of the document hidden somewhere), it's a long list identifying the "sickness" -- incorrect theology and lits what the correct belief is and what the erroneous ideas floating around are.

Most of it isn't new. The document quotes liberally from Vatican II, and the writings of Pope John Paul II, and to a lesser extent from the Catechism, Vatican I, Benedict XVI, the Fathers, and various CDF instructions, and is peppered with appropriate Scriptural quotes. Some stuff that I hadn't quite seen put together quite so clearly in a Magsiterial document: such as the promotion of a culture of dissent in the Church, the idea that the people of God are oppressed by the hierarchy and that religious life is a witness of prophetic action against the hierarchy.

I must say that after going through it (and there was nothing in there that I really had a problem with. Perhaps that repetitious solicitiousness regarding "confusion among the faithful" was a little tiresome. Let's acknowledge some intelligence out there, maybe?), I was a little disappointed (Of course, the Spanish bishops were addressing their people, not me!) Well, I'm glad that the Bishops are being forthright about the problem. But "secularization" isn't just about bad theology, or about erroneous philosophical assumptions, even though identifying these is good. But, simply repeating the errors is not going to convince anyone, I don't think.

And just who let all these ideas in, anyway? (Not that ideas can somehow just be stopped at the gate.) Why is religious education what it is? Is there anyway things could have been different? What about the witness of the Church? Of the laity, yes, but the clergy? The Bishops? The alliance between the Church and State? Why are these secular philosophies so attractive, and the Church's message seemingly so archaic and boring or, worse, evil?

What to do? Where do we go from here?

Oh I'm sure there are as many answers as there are questioners ...

Cheap and Immoral

Telegraph | Opinion | The tall story we Europeans now tell ourselves about Israel
What is happening in Lebanon? After the kidnapping of two of its soldiers and the firing of hundreds of rockets against its people from across the Lebanese border, Israel is trying to crush the Hizbollah fighters who have perpetrated these acts. In doing so, it has also killed civilians. Some 500 people have died in Lebanon as a result.

What was the "Nazi atrocity on the Jewish quarter in Warsaw"? There were many, of course. But Sir Peter was probably referring to the events of April-May 1943. The Nazis had earlier deported 300,000 Polish Jews to Treblinka. As news of their fate reached Jews in Warsaw, they decided to revolt against further round-ups. For about a month, they resisted. They were subdued: 7,000 of them were killed and 56,000 were sent to the camps.
You could criticise Israel's recent attack for many things. Some argue that it is disproportionate, or too indiscriminate. Others think that it is ill-planned militarily. Others hold that it will give more power to extremists in the Arab world, and will hamper a wider peace settlement. These are all reasonable, though not necessarily correct positions to hold. But European discourse on the subject seems to have been overwhelmed by something else - a narrative, told most powerfully by the way television pictures are selected, that makes Israel out as a senseless, imperialist, mass-murdering, racist bully.

Not only is this analysis wrong - if the Israelis are such imperialists, why did they withdraw from Lebanon for six years, only returning when threatened once again? How many genocidal regimes do you know that have a free press and free elections? - it is also morally imbecilic. It makes no distinction between the tough, sometimes nasty things all countries do when hard-pressed and the profoundly evil intent of some ideologies and regimes. It says nothing about the fanaticism and the immediacy of the threat to Israel. Sir Peter has somehow managed to live on this planet for 75 years without spotting the difference between what Israel is doing in Lebanon and "unlimited war".
There follows an analysis of the sectarian differences between Shias and Sunnis and comparision with the Suez affair of 1956 ... and then
It is as if, having relinquished power, we Europeans now wish our own powerlessness upon the rest of the world. We make vaporous and offensive Nazi comparisons. We preach that unilateral action is always wrong. That position can be maintained only by people who do not have to make life-and-death decisions. It is cheap and immoral.

Only in America ....

When Prime Minister Blair is at the White House, President Bush will have to take some time out to meet the ten finalists of American Idol. Maybe they can be sent to Lebanon and sing a cease-fire into existence?

[Nope, never been a fan of American Idol. I don't get it.)

Going back home

Saw this post linked at Desipundit, where M shares his thoughts on coming back to India for a visit. Well written, and brings the sights, sounds and, yes, smells, to life. I identify with a lot of it (Not the coughing part. Maybe Bombay just isn't as polluted as Calcutta! Well, I've not really spent a whole lot of time in Bombay ...). Of course, in the twelve years since I moved to the US, I've been back nine times. Three of those within the last calendar year. And this current visit (now over two months long) is the longest. I think I felt closer to what M describes maybe on my second or third visit back ... now, as I've mentioned before, it's like there's a switch. Turn the US off, turn India back on: the accent, the body language, the expectations, the driving skills, etc. The transition isn't too difficult.

Besides, the distances have shrunk. Calls are so cheap. Email and chat are ubiquitous. I've seen the mobile phone revolution unfold in front of me, exponentially growing, on each visit. When I first arrived in the US we wrote, yes wrote, letters. There would be the monthly aerogram (remember those?) from home, updates on the family, inquiries about health, and studies, and, of course, "are you eating well? Enough?" At some point, they stopped. The weekly, or more frequent, telephone call took over. Then, friends who'd been working up the corporate ladder in India's IT revolution started visiting the US on work, or staying, for a few months, or a few years (but, invariably, always itching to go back. Kya batanaa yaar. What to say? It's easier there). The dazzle of "impoted" consumer goods has all but vanished. Besides, one can get everything that one wants from the Alpha store in Irla, so why bother? (As it is, pretty much everything one would get would be made in China anyway!)

The gulf between here and there has narrowed to a mere river or stream, and so many bridges effortlessly cross the span.

Yes, I laughed out loud when the NDTV anchor cheerily said one evening, "And Bombay will be a pleasant 31C tomorrow." Who the heck would think that 88F is "pleasant?" So, one gets used to sweat, and especially in Bombay, that constant layer of sweat and grime clinging to your body, your clothes, everywhere. And now, two months into it, the 80F weather in Baroda in the rains does feel "pleasant" ...

And yes, (and this is more in Bombay than here in Baroda), what is it about hawkers? They must have some NRI sensor. Especially over in the vicinity of Colaba or DN Road. All those stalls selling pirated CDs and DVDs and the owners chirp into bad English as I pass by, "Yessh? DVD? Pliss look!" Now they didn't do that for the smartly dressed office worker type strutting ahead of me ... ! Maybe it's just my camera, I console myself. I can't yet be completely phoren And gosh, coming off the train or out of the airport with my backpack? No matter how natural my Bambaiyya Hindi sounds, the taxi fare goes through the roof. I want to scream, "Boss apun idhar kahich hai! (I'm from 'round here!)

But then, on occasion -- when driving (especially while driving!), or waiting in line somewhere (there's always lines), or when something simple that really shouldn't be such an issue just doesn't work, I find myself blurting out, sometimes to myself, sometimes under my breath, sometimes loudly, but always in proper American, "What the bleeping hell is wrong with this country!"

Sorry boss, apun phoren ka hai.

[The determinant, for me at least is this: when in Europe, which accent do I speak with? American.]

Friday, July 28, 2006


Ok ... I think these late nights sitting up blogging mean that my body-clock is now somewhere in Central Europe. Should help with the transition a few weeks hence. Anyway, earlier in the day dad dug up a little paperback volume we'd picked up at a used bookstore in Boston a few years back: 100 favorite poems. So we went through a few ... this one by Emily Dickinson I really liked for some reason!
I'm Nobody! Who are you?
Are you—Nobody—Too?
Then there's a pair of us!
Don't tell! they'd advertise—you know!

How dreary—to be—Somebody!
How public—like a Frog—
To tell one's name—the livelong June—
To an admiring Bog!
His quip: "Change that to blog" :-) ¡Buenas noches!

Continued prayers for Cardinal George ...

Who's been undergoing extensive surgery for bladder cancer ... Whispers keeps us up to date.

Vote on a cover ...

... and maybe win a book. Bethune Catholic (also publishers: Requiem Press) is asking for comments on their three cover designs for an upcoming book by William May: Standing with Peter. All those commenting get a chance to win a copy of the book.

And yes, that's Bethune as in Bethune SC ... up there on Hwy 1 heading to the Pee Dee. I've passed through Bethune on a few occasions when driving up to Cheraw. A Catholic publisher out of Bethune ... who'dathunk!

[Note to self: add to blogroll soon!]

Cardinal Arinze in Charleston ...

Francis Cardinal Arinze was in my home diocese of Charleston (SC, not WV! Which, anyway, is the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston) last week, visiting Bishop Baker on his way to give a keynote at Family Honor's annual conference in Jacksonville, FL. Oh man! How I wish I could have been there! Anyway, the Diocese of Charleston website has a link to a wmv of the Mass that the Cardinal celebrated at the historic Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Charleston.

I am rather pleased to see that the Diocese is trying to use the Net more!

Here's a link to the website of the Family Honor conference. The organization was started in Columbia a few years back to promote the Church's teaching on chastity, particularly in the context of families. It's annual summer conference has grown tremendously, both in attendance and its profile. I never managed to attend, because I tended to be traveling in July!


As is well known to most of y'all, I am not a huge fan of the Bush administration. However, there's a few things that I will doff my (proverbial) hat to when it comes to the President. One of those was the first exercise of his right to veto, when he vetoed a bill that would loosen the restriction on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. Over here, the coverage was uniformly negative, combined with the instinctive anti-Bush attitude of the English media, and the pervasive anti-Americanism of the English-speaking elite. Opposition to embryonic stem cell research is perceived, it seems, in the same way as if one were proposing the reintroduction of slavery, say. It's all about "backwards dogmatism" versus "scientific progress" and how this is an opportunity for the Indian scientific establishment to shine, since the medieval-minded US President has shut down such activity in the US. [Not really. There's tons of ESCR going on in the US, privately]

Not surprisingly, the EU voted the other way, to expand funding for ESCR. John Allen's column explores the Catholic angle (the countries voting no were Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Lithuania, all majority Catholic. Spain, of course, voted for. No surprises there). In today's Tablet there's a very thoughtful piece (by John Cornwell, who's a scientist) on the issue, in light of the European bishops' call to Catholics to engage the issue in the public square. He mentions issues such as the mythic language that proponents of ESCR use, as well as the fact that the only research that has shown real scinetific promise is adult stem-cell research (which is morally unproblematic). The heart of the article seems to be about calling for an appreciation of individuation: the biological process by which the embryonic cells actually form individual organs and the uniqure individual characteristic of the person. He compares this to the idea of "ensoulment"
More persuasive on the score of embryonic experiments are those researchers, such as Professor Roger Pedersen of Cambridge University, who argue that reliable stem-cell therapies must be preceded by fundamental scientific understanding of the process of development from conception to birth. That we as Catholics should continue to listen to the scientists, especially when they speak about human development in the womb (although not necessarily by exploiting human embryos), is important, for many of our ethicists continue to fashion their arguments from notions of development harking back to a bygone age.

Those conversant with Thomas Aquinas on the subject are aware that he believed that "infusion" of the soul by God occurred in the male foetus at 40 days (and at 90 days for females). An area in which Catholic reproductive ethics might expand and prosper relates precisely to this matter of "ensoulment", which is often viewed simplistically as a process whereby an immaterial soul is introduced to a physical machine like a body in an instantaneous act of divine creation.

Through the latter half of the twentieth century Catholic theology, and papal teaching, set out to repudiate body-soul dualism, a return rather than a U-turn to an earlier view, shared by Judaism, that the soul is entirely embodied, that human identity is unitary and not dualistic. The notion of the soul, whether dualistic or unitary, has always been largely associated, moreover, with what makes us individual, what makes each one of us a unique member of the human race. Attention to what contemporary developmental biology has to say on diversity, uniqueness, individuation, is thus crucial.
He is careful to say that this attention does not mean that one would support the destruction of human embryos ...
The tendency to think of the individuation, or the ensoulment, of an embryo as an instantaneous act of God, may have served to obscure the reality of the complex biological process involved in the physical formation of physical individuality.To understand the soul, as embodied, and to grant that in many important respects individuality is the end of the process rather than an act of instantaneous creation does not mean, of course, that one would readily accept the destruction of human embryos for research. It might well result in a deepening of one's convictions against such projects.
If I understand correctly the point is that one should understand the biology better, since this can better inform ethics, and one's voice will be more palatable to those on the other side of the issue, rather than seeming to come out of the dark ages (Hence the analogy with creationists). One can hope.

Allen's interview with Bishop Wenski

Interview with Bishop Thomas Wenski of Orlando, Fla., chair of the Committee on International Policy for the U.S. bishops on the statement his Committee issued in response to the war in Lebanon. Here's the part where he talks about the doctrinal weight of the statement:
What kind of authority does the statement have? Are Catholics obliged to accept it?
This isn’t something that’s going to be added as an appendix to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It does not bind the consciences of American Catholics, but it helps them to form their consciences. Many Americans are troubled by the situation in the Middle East, and are looking for their shepherds to say something. Of course, there will be people who don’t agree with us. Some may say that we’re just trying to “bash Bush” and so on. Actually, I suspect that sometimes his cheerleaders get more upset than he does. We’re not trying to bash anybody, we just want to contribute to the debate.

So Catholics are free to disagree?
I don’t know if they’re free to say, for example, ‘Israel should bomb Lebanon back to the Stone Age.’ I don’t see how they can find any comfort for that view. The Catechism doesn’t say anything about bombing back to the Stone Age.

So the burden is on them to show how a different conclusion would flow from the teaching of the church?
Yes, that’s right. Our statement also called upon the United States to exercise greater leadership, and there might be some Catholics who are isolationists who might not welcome that, but I don’t think they can find much support for that.

I know this is a very difficult situation, and it’s easy for me in Orlando to write and say things. But we also have to remember that there are patriarchs and a cardinal in Lebanon who are dealing with this on the ground; it’s very tough for them.
Well that's a very clear indication of just what the intention of this statement is: to help American Catholics form their consciences. I also like the "burden of proof" resting on the hawkish side, so to speak.

I don't know that I completely agree with the last line of the interview: "Many of the anarchists of the day [the time of Benedict XV] were anti-globalists, so then as now terrorism is, in a sense, a reaction to globalization." In a sense, maybe. Taken further, this kind of thinking simply ends up being: it's all our fault! We are the terrorists! [And at some point I want to go into the whole "poverty causes terrorism" thing. Hogwash!]

A Deformation of the Mystery of Christ

Sandro Magister gives us some excerpts of a new document put forth by the bishops of Spain that tries to analyze the state of the faith in their country, and what ails the church there. Apparently, this document was drafted with the input of the CDF, and is being presented as a model for other episcopal conferences.

What ails the church? The answer, in one word: secularization. Particularly in four areas
– the interpretation of Scripture,
– Jesus Christ as the only savior of all men,
– the Church as the Body of Christ,
– moral life.
I read through the excerpts (all from the "this is what's wrong" section, so, in a sense, reading a bit like a modern Syllabus of Errors) on Magister's site. Wow. Quite comprehensive and pulling no punches. It's pure "Against a Dictatorship of Relativism" here ... I'll have more when I've read the original Spanish text (I'm particularly interested in what "cure" they suggest)... but for now, a few things that struck me:

a) the critique of the over-reliance on the historical-critical method in the interpretation of Scripture

b) a very Dominus Iesus like critique of inter-religious relativism

c) a direct confrontation of the idea that the Church and the Gospel are necessarily opposed, or the idea that the Gospel means purely liberation from oppressive structures, and the labeling of the hierarchy as one of these oppressive structures

d) a critique of an attitude, particularly in consecrated life that equates "being prophetic" with criticism of Magisterial teaching.

Just one other thought: Magister hopes that in Spain this instruction "could be the basis for the Church's return to doctrinal order." Important as that is (extremely!) I think there's a very important aspect of ecclesial witness, particularly the witness of priests and bishops, that, I would suspect, would also have an important role to play in any thing that would hope to inspire a "re-evangelization" in the secularized Church.

Here's a link to the Spanish text: Teología y secularización en España. [Hmm. In the pdf form it's 26 pages long. I think I'll print it out at a cafe and read it offline. It's late here ... ]

China to halt Illicit Ordinations

According to a Hong Kong Auxilliary Bishop, reports The Tablet. Well, that would be a good first step. Let's hope the good Bishop's information is correct.

Airline service

Last month I vented a bit about US airline service versus foreign airlines. Now Salon's Patrick Smith has a two part series reviewing the slow changes in attitude US carriers are making. Ask the pilot | Salon Technology
But if you ask me, there's something systemic at hand that transcends the basic profit/performance correlation. The airline business is nothing if not cyclical, and it's easy to assume that with a falloff in profits comes a falloff in the quality of your product. But it's crucial to note that a general decline in service has not necessarily correlated with the industry's bottom line. What we have today is the nadir of a prolonged slide that was ongoing even through the mid-1990s -- the most profitable period for airlines in the history of commercial aviation. Overseas it works much the same way: Many of the most consistently stable carriers, a number of them subsidized by their governments, are among the worst performers. Conversely, financially struggling companies are often able to uphold their reputations. For example, Malaysia Airlines, one of only four names at SkyTrax to maintain a perfect five-star quality ranking, will soon be laying off up to a fifth of its employees in response to intense pressure from low-cost upstart AirAsia.

Looking around the interior of a U.S. jetliner, you'll often see that they are filthy and neglected in ways that minimal upkeep and common sense could remedy. The incentive to pick a gum wrapper off the carpet, wipe away a coffee ring or reattach a piece of molding should have nothing to do with whether the ink is running black or red. For want of a better term, it's a culture thing.
Oh yes.

Contiental internationally isn't too bad -- it's better than Northwest for sure (and much better than the Northwest to Bombay using those ancient DC-10s). Their coach seats do tend to have more legroom as well, certainly more than Delta internationally (oh gosh! I still shudder at that 11.5 hour cramped flight from Rome to Atlanta a couple of years back!).
Continental still provides hot meals in economy, on international and intra-U.S. routes, and proudly boasts that pillows and blankets shall remain on board for anyone who wants them. Continental is living proof that the worst of the worst is capable of turnaround. Arguably the most resilient and successful of the embattled majors, this is a former industry disgrace that twice slogged through bankruptcy.
Still, miles away from the industry leaders
So things are getting better, albeit slightly, on the aft side of the curtain as well. Here too, however, we're still nowhere close to that pantheon of elites. Maybe it's no coincidence that the carriers offering the most lauded first and business classes also offer a superior economy class. Singapore's long-haul economy has, along with several other helpful accouterments, buffet bars and wide-screen personal video with a choice of 500 programming options. The closest we come to that level of in-flight entertainment might just be those seat-back TVs at Delta. (JetBlue, of course, has them too.) Call me cynical, but while Singapore's riders can pick among hundreds of movies and songs, we Americans, par for the course, can watch television.
As for me: I can't afford to travel Business. The reason I'm choose Northworst (and its FF partners: Delta, Continental and (never again!) Alitalia) is I have all kinds of things that fill up my World Perks mileage balance. As an Elite flier I get treated well on all NW and partner flights: priority boarding, at some airports, a separate check-in line, and (more important) security line, and better bag handling. On NW domestic flights I have a chance to get upgraded to First Class (which happens quite often). And those miles help -- for instance, the trip to Rome in March and to China/India last winter were award trips. And I just might have enough miles to pull off a free ticket for the next visit to the folks.

Of course, starting with the lifestyle change next month, I think my flying days might be curtailed a bit ... :-)

Isn't it ironic ...

No, not Alanis Morrisett ... The Danish Imam who toured the Middle East inciting anger over the cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed is now evacuated from Lebanon ... by the very Danish Embassy his actions helped burn down. Hoo boy. lgf: Denmark Celebrates Diversity (Via Relapsed Catholic)

The Cedars of Lebanon ...

Ok, I'm obsessed with trying to follow the war. Or rather the different opinions on the war. Most of what I'm reading is supportive of Israel (reflecting my own bias, I suppose).

First some roundups:
Christopher Blosser (Cardinal Ratzinger Fan Club) has a huge roundup ... mostly pro-Israeili (a little ironic, given the Vatican's stance :)).

He also provides links to huge round-ups: Blogs of War -- media coverage of the conflict and Truth Laid Bare -- Palestinian, Lebanese and Israeli blogs opining on the war (which are, more or less, quite predictable in their views. The Lebanese are horrified at the attack, though some loath Hezbollah. The Palestianians hate Israel. Israelis generally feel justified in their response).

I missed this op-ed in the WSJ by Lebanese-American academic, Foaud Ajami: this is Nasrallah's doing.

The New Republic is completely pro-Israel: Just Cause (by Martin Peretz, editor-in-chief). There's also an article making parallels with India. Hezbollah attacks Israel and Israel goes after them. Terrorists, almost certainly based in (supported by?) Pakistan attack Bombay and India does nothing. Of course there are huge differences, one being the Bomb. (If Lebanon were a nuclear state, Israel wouldn't be doing this. If Lebanon were a nuclear state, either Hezbollah wouldn't exist, or, would have the bomb!)

Amy started a post inviting comments on Iraqi Prime Minister Al-Maliki's speech to Congress and the Lebanon war. Nothing really there about Iraq but lots of good commentary on Israel, Palestine and Lebanon and some serious attempts to engage Catholic teaching. One comment that I found particularly informative was Tom Haessler's (July 27, 3:08 pm) on the narrowing of the criteria for the use of force in recent Magisterial pronouncements, going back to Pacem in Terris.

Zenit has an interview with Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo (who was one of the observers of the Holy See in the Rome conference), expressing his disappointment at the outcome, but trying to highlight the positive aspects of the meeting. Bottom line: "An immediate suspension of hostilities is possible, and, therefore, necessary." I'm not sure I really follow the Archbishop's reasoning. Israel should cease hostilities so that Hezbollah, which has no interest in peace, can resume them? How does one get Hezbollah to stop what its doing, or get Syria or Iran to stop their murderous advance of agression? Is there ever a situation where suspension of hostilities is "not possible?" (More in the comboxes at Amy's on Lajolo's statement)

The situation seems intractable ... here's an Open Letter to Israel from a Palestinian blogger (or maybe an American living in Palestine?) -- the narrative of victimhood is so different from that on the other side.

Finally -- here's a picture that's being called the Lebanese Pietà (Pictures from NYT, via this post at Amy's. Load it. Then weep. And pray.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

St. Pius College, Bombay

(That's Pope St. Pius X.) The Archdiocesan Seminary. (No website) On Aarey Road in Goregaon (E). On Monday a week ago (my last day in Bombay), I went out to visit a good friend of mine, a Jesuit priest, who teaches at the Seminary. I've known Fr. K for years now, from back when he was a Deacon assigned to Station Parish (Our Lady of Perpetual Help, right across from the main railway station. One grew used to the train horns during Mass) in Pune, and worked with the youth group (that was the year I was taking formal classes to prepare for Baptism, from a Dutch missionary of the Mill Hill congregation). One memorable trip was to visit the little village of Jejuri, a pilgrimage center for the popular local god Khandoba. It's there that K said something that I still remember. "Hinduism deifies everything. Except one's fellow human being!" K later studied in the US, and I got to visit him there as well.

Seminarians playing carom

St. Pius is situated on a large, green, tree-covered plot, not too far from Goregaon Station, on a long winding driveway away from the noise of Aarey Rd. (a major E-W thoroughfare in the northwest. It passes the Western Express Hwy to go on to the Aarey Dairy, and, if I'm not mistaken, is also one of the access points to Film City, the heart of Bollywood.) K is waiting to greet me, and takes me up to a cafeteria for some chai and Shrewsbury biscuits (just sent over from the nuns at the hill resort of Mathearn!). As we chat, several of the faculty (all priests) come in and out and join us for a bit, including one of the Auxiliary Bishops (who also teaches here). There's a lot of curiosity about the Church in the US. A few priests who've been there comment appreciatively about the vibrancy that they've encountered (one compares it to France where he'd been most recently).

[Incidentally, no one wears a Roman collar. Black is oppresive in India. I've only seen a priest in a Roman collar once -- on stage, during last month's celebration honoring Cardinal Dias. He was the MC (the priest, not the Cardinal!), if I recall correctly. Most priests wear street clothes, or white cassocks. The swish of a white cassock on the long halls of St. Xavier's College, my alma mater, is almost legendary! Many Jesuits also have their own informal uniform of a kurta over trousers or jeans and sandals. This is also the stereotypical outfit of generally progressive NGO types and social workers, called jholawallas after the regulation jhola or cloth bag, slung from the shoulder. This was my uniform in college and what I wear most of the time, minus the jhola [I've graduated to a backpack!], in India.]

Crucifix on the main altar of the chapel. The chapel is from the 1950s. Bright and worshipful. The mosaics of the Last Supper are pretty good too!

K had asked me to talk about my spiritual journey to two of his classes. I spend a few minutes in his room putting my thoughts together. About 40 or so students (and a couple of faculty, including a genial old Jesuit from Barcelona) show up, almost all seminarians, with a couple of religious sisters and one laywoman. I stick to the timetable -- 25 minutes of talking followed by Q&A. I thought it was generally well received. The questions were about my own story, ("What do your family and relatives think?") or about the US ("are the youth engaged with the Church?" "what is formation like in US seminaries?" [Like I know!]). I thought it a little strange that suddenly I was the spokesman for the Catholic Church in the United States!

The main chapel. A bunch of seminarians were practising. They sounded good! Now if only such singing went to the parishes ... :)

I joined the seminarians and faculty for lunch -- preceded by the Angelu and the blessing. Faculty and students sit together in groups of a dozen or so scattered across a large airy hall. The food was simple but nutritious and filling, and I took a huge helping of crispy Bombay Duck (No, it's not fowl).

After lunch and the obligatory walk around the gardens (must be a custom in Indian seminaries -- the driveway at the Jesuit formation house in Pune, De Nobili College, was full of perambulating seminarians after a meal!) we went back up to K's room and solved the various problems plaguing the church and society. Satisfied that the world would be so much better if we were in charge, I took a rick back to Goregaon Station.

Icon gifted to the Seminary by Pope John Paul II on his visit in 1986.

A tale of two camps

Refugee camps i.e.

In Israel, where according to some estimates 6% of the (total 7 million) population has been displaced by the Hezbollah attacks, it's more like a beach party at this particular camp.
Ilan and his buddies live in a crowded refugee camp set up on the beach in Ashkelon, Israel. All along the street, flags flap in the breeze from the sea. People here seem to love showing off their gym-toned bodies. Tents have been set up everywhere. In one, people practice yoga; next to it others are getting their bodies painted. In another tent Orthodox Jews try to recruit young people. One could easily mistake the place for a nightclub if it weren't for the fact that everyone here has been displaced by a war. Hordes of young people under 25 mill around wearing the same kind of colorful armbands you might see in a hip urban club.

Ilan isn't happy with the color of his armband -- the blue has already faded. Worse yet, blue means he's scheduled for the day's earliest meal-time. Organizers in fact adopted the idea of arm bands from night clubs; here, though, it's a way of arranging staggered mealtimes. In the end that's only difference between this camp at the Israeli beach resort of Ashkelon, just south of Tel Aviv, and an all-inclusive holiday resort.
[Read more: Club Med for Refugees -- Partying in Israel's War Zone from Der Spiegel]

Then there's this camp in Lebanon. Set up for those who fled Palestine. Established in 1950. And it's getting shelled.
Zakia Hamad was three years old when her pregnant mother was killed by the Israeli army on the journey from their home in the occupied Palestinian territories to a life of refuge in Lebanon. In 1988, 40 years later, Hamad's husband, daughter and son were killed by the Israeli military during its occupation of southern Lebanon.

Today, the elderly woman sits slumped on the floor of an underground bunker, in the claustrophobia of the Borj al Barajneh camp south of Beirut. Established in 1950, two years after the creation of Israel drove millions of Palestinians into exile, Borj al Barajneh is home to an estimated 20,000 Palestinians. It's the biggest refugee camp in Lebanon.

All of a sudden, a small boy runs into Hamad's room clutching a red-hot piece of shrapnel from Israeli shells that are exploding metres away with news that her aunt has been wounded by flying glass.

"Oh god," screams Hamad, with tears in her eyes as she waves her arms frantically. "What am I to do? My family has died, my grandchildren have left me. I have nothing here but my medicine and my Quran."
"This camp is a disaster area," says Abu Zaher al-Habet, a member of the Popular Committee that organises camp affairs and deals with NGOs, including the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). "Ninety percent of the people are unemployed. Sixty percent live below the poverty line. We have no running water normally, only water trucks, and now even those are not making deliveries."
I'm not making a point here, necessarily, putting these two stories together. I'm still generally sympathetic of Israel, though, the misery in Lebanon is real and I don't know that it can justbe shrugged away. Each side in this bitter conflict has its share of narratives of horrific pain. Nor have I ever been a refugee ... I guess, if I were a refugee in a rich country (like the ones in Israel in the article) I'd try to party away to distract me from reality. And yes, I guess, I'd rather be a refugee in a rich country than a refugee in a poor country which is now getting shelled.

Back to our hero from the first camp
Ilan, for his part, wants to stay. In Ukraine he never would have had the money to enjoy this kind of Mediterranean vacation. And with his cheap eastern European clothes and his Ukranian accent he wouldn't have been such a hit with the ladies. Anyone, after all, can use a girlfriend or a boyfriend, and tonight before sunset Ilan wants to find someone to lie down with on the beach. "In the dunes I almost always get lucky," he says, before going back on the make.
[Incidentally, according to UNRWA, about ten percent of Lebanon's population is made of Palestinian refugees, nearly some 400000 people!]

They're dirty and carry germs ...

... and are public health hazard. The homeless i.e. So, the City of Orlando has banned charitable organizations from giving food to them in parks downtown, and other public property within two miles of City Hall without a permit. (With a permit the public health hazard is reduced? Or are permits just not going to be given?)

I got this via Greg Kreihbel's blog who thinks this was a good idea. The comments there are ... um ... not very nice, IMO. Here's what I wrote there ...
I agree that some kind of real incentive to work is important (though I cannot think of too many employers who’d want to hire someone without an address). Nor do I have any grand solutions for eliminating homelessness (and poverty) (I tend to be suspicious of grand solutions. The 20th century is full of the corpses caused by grand solutions) … but preventing charitable organizations (including, presumably churches who’re carrying out a Coroporal Work of Mercy) from feeding the poor? In the hope that they (the homeless) go … where? Somewhere else? Because they’re dirty? So that the more fortunate can enjoy their clean parks?

These people should be locked up — i.e. fed on taxpayer money instead? What about those who’re mentally ill (but not ill enough to be locked up)?

I’m currently in India. If you thought Orlando was bad, just drive on any Indian city street or walk on the (generally nonexistence) sidewalk. It’s heartbreaking and those of us who grew up here learn how to ignore the children carrying infants asking for money. There’s all kind of admirable charitable organizations (many Christian) ones who try to break the cycle of poverty — but it’s a huge and almost impossible task. In the meanwhile, as a Christian, what do I do when I encounter a fellow human being who asks for help? Ask the city to drive him somewhere else? And go about my uncontaminated life, brushing off whatever horrible germs that dirty Image of Christ carried?

[Anyway I’m sure I’ll be dismissed as a bleeding heart so I’ll stop … ]
This was always a perennial source of discussion in the parish office -- in the heart of downtown -- how to balance charity with safety. That's one thing. Simply turning one's backs -- no matter how inconvenient -- wasn't an option.

To be fair, in that comment above I was reacting more to what I saw on the Crowhill blog than to the Orlando piece itself. However, to prevent charitable organizations from giving out food -- to outlaw charity! -- in a nation where so many pride themselves on being Christian! -- seems to me to be shameful at best. Civic promotion of the idea that the homeless, the poor --- citizens! -- are inconvenient? Dirty? Better out of sight? And don't get me started on the public health thing ... pretty soon the City or the State will be mandate a certain number of showers for all inhabitants.

The late Bishop Kenneth Untener of Saginaw wrote this beautiful Catholic Update: How Should We Think About the Poor? [Oh dear, I can hear the screeches now. "He was a LIBERAL!"] that I read periodically. It's always refreshing.

And there's Mother Teresa's admonition: to see the face of Christ in everyone one meets, especially in the poorest.

And how can one forget what St. James wrote?
If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled," without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. (Jas 2:15-17)
[And all of the above is in the context of the US. I've had this essay bubbling at the back of my mind about poverty in India. It'll emerge one of these days ... ]

Speaking of Aviation ...

The Bishop of London recently said that flying is a sin. The Anglican Bishop. Yes, he used the word "sin." :-) Ok, I'm going to try to not be snarky. Here's the story from the Times UK:
Chartres, who chairs the bishops’ panel on the environment, said: “There is now an overriding imperative to walk more lightly upon the earth and we need to make our lifestyle decisions in that light.

“Making selfish choices such as flying on holiday or buying a large car are a symptom of sin. Sin is not just a restricted list of moral mistakes. It is living a life turned in on itself where people ignore the consequences of their actions.”

Chartres, the third most senior bishop in the Church of England, has declared his views as it prepares to publish Treasures on Earth, a booklet on environmental matters to be sent to every diocese for distribution.

Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, said: “We stand before God’s judgment on these matters. In life we have to make moral choices over our sex life and over our domestic and financial affairs. We make choices of moral significance and our relation to the environment is no exception.”

The booklet will say that scientific research supporting predictions that the earth faces serious climate change is “overwhelming”. It will also detail practical ways for Christians to cut their carbon emissions, at church and at home, including trying to walk or cycle to communion.

The church’s advisers on the environment say that offsetting your carbon dioxide emissions against “green” actions such as planting trees is a first step towards becoming sustainable but is not a long-term answer.
Well I'm sure Paula is cheering :-), and yes, of course, one has to understand stewardship of the environment as an integral part of the Christian life. But. Come on, really! Wink and nod when it comes to fornication, divorce, abortion. But, hey, drive an SUV? On your way to hell bubba! Does anyone take the Church of England seriously anymore?

The Times also had a column that supports the Bishop (I really can't say if it's being satirical or not. I hope it was ... ):
But at least his words were stronger than the milk-and-water follow-up from the Church of Scotland, which bleated that “our souls are not in any imminent danger from large cars or flying”. Why ever not? I should have thought that if God did indeed create the heavens, the earth and all that is therein, he would be mightily displeased to see us collectively disabling it. The Kirk seems to have forgotten its own Westminster Confession of 1646, which teaches that “every sin, both original and actual, being a transgression of the law of God and contrary thereunto, doth, in its own nature, bring guilt upon the sinner, whereby he is bound over to the wrath of God and curse of the law, and so made subject to death, with all miseries, spiritual, temporal and eternal”.
And he seems to have a quirky sense of guilt
Guilt may be national as well as personal. It can end slavery, make reparation for the crimes of a previous regime or motivate the world’s aid agencies in their endless attempt to eradicate world poverty. It contributed to the decision of Nato countries to intervene in Kosovo, and shamed the Security Council that failed to do the same in Rwanda. Guilt may eventually force Condoleezza Rice to lean on Israel to stop the bombing of Lebanon, and it just might persuade the world’s governments to restrict rather than encourage air travel.
That's it. The Liberal cause celebres must now be motivated by guilt -- which is, however, evil and psycologically harmful when Christians try to suggest that it's not in one's best interest to go around boinking everything in sight ... The Telegraph probably has a more palatable (to me!) take on things:
So air travel is a sin. It is up there with stealing, adultery, murder and coveting thy neighbour's oxen, according to the Bishop of London. Richard Chartres wants vicars to stop their congregations making "selfish choices such as flying on holiday". Boarding a plane is worse than drugs, alcohol or smoking, all mere vices, the bishop appears to be saying: flying is a full-blown sin.
This surely can't be the same bishop who accepted a freebie luxury cruise - including flights - over Easter, when he was supposed to be ministering to his flock. If he suggests flying is a sin, his hypocrisy is worse. The Bishop of London and his fellow churchmen think nothing of popping on a plane to Africa or America to bore on about the rights and wrongs of homosexuality in the Church of England. Yet he is saying to the poor, cooped-up workers that they can't have their two weeks away in the sun. Parents are being selfish for saving up to take their children to Spain, Italy or Greece. They must stay at home and never see the world, unless they are prepared to travel by mule or bicycle, or have the time to take a slow boat to China.
I was reminded of this piece that appeared on Zenit last year ... a review of the book "Decadence: The Passing of Personal Virtue and its Replacement by Political and Psychological Slogans."
A first section contains essays on the "old" virtues, such as prudence, love and courage. The second deals with the "new" virtues, centered on the environment, caring, therapy and being critical.

The book does not pretend to give a complete analysis of any of the virtues, and the authors of the chapters differ in their approach to the subject matter. Readers could also disagree about some of the interpretations of the virtues. Overall, however, the book provides a stimulating reflection on the dangers of discarding the tried-and-true virtues for passing fads.

In the introduction, Anderson explains that the old virtues were genuine ones, in that they demanded of people specific types of behavior. The new ones, in contrast, often fall into the category of slogans or rhetorical appeals. Or, if in some cases they do contain elements of true virtue, they tend to elevate a trivial aspect into the main virtue.
Now I'm not an expert on environmental anything. And yes, I'm sure things such as carbon footprints have value, and, as I said above, one does have to be conscious of being stewards of creation. And yes, Christian ascesis is a hugely countercultural witness. But seriously, is the Bishop suggesting that the best way to deal with the problem is to return to the 19th century? Or to the 12th? Is that at all serious advice to his flock? Spare me the faddish jargon and give me those time tested old virtues, the real ones, the ones with heft and bite. Prudence. Temperance. Fortitude. Justice. And lets not forget the theological ones ... Faith, Hope and Love. Command me to love God above all and one's neighbor as oneself. I'll find a way to manage my carbon footprint therein.

And in a couple of weeks, I'll be getting on that Boeing 777 at New Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport with a light spring in my step. I love flying. I'll wave at you when we pass over the British Isles, Bishop!

[:: UPDATE :: Found a page on the Diocese of London website where the Bishop tries to clarify things. Not very successfully, I'm afraid. Here's the website of the CofE campaign: Shrinking the Footprint. (Surely they used an environmentally friendly Webdesign for that slick site. Whatever that might mean.) Oh yah, I checked out my carbon footprint, using parameters from when I had an apartment in Columbia. The results? My footprint is 26 (acres?) ... if all in the world lived like this we would need 5.9 planets. Well, better start looking -- I had an apartment, drove a car, shopped at Wal-Mart, and lived your average middle-class American life. If that. (I worked for Holy Mother Church ... not the way to get wealthy and own my own McMansion! :)) Maybe flew a little more than average. I didn't have any carbon offspring with their own footprints, though. Hmm. I put in parameters for my current location in Baroda, India. Living the upper-middle-class Indian life. Hardly any travel by car. We still need 1.9 planets to support me. I guess the only real way to live is in a jhopad in Dharavi. And all this time I thought getting out of the jhopad was everyone's goal? Silly people ... I wonder what the algorithms for this -- which seems like one of those cute quizzes that are ubiquitous -- looks like? :) ]

Aviation: AA 777 emergency landing and Armavia crash report

An American Airlines 777 enroute to London from Los Angeles was diverted to JFK after it lost power in one engine. The plane landed safely. Here's the informative forum discussion on the incident ... and a link to the route of the diverted flight (doncha love the amount of stuff that one can get on the Net? :-D). For twin-engine plane losing one engine isn't immediate disaster, and while rather rare, this incident demonstrates that properly trained crews can handle such a situation.

Oh yeah, I'll be flying a Continental 777 non-stop New Delhi to Newark in a few weeks ... :)

Meanwhile, investigators are pointing to human error in the May Armavia crash in Sochi on the Black Sea. The pilots apparently "lost control" of the plane on its second attempt landing in bad weather.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Holiday Inn Canadians

Holiday Inn Canadians: A National Post story passed on to me by friend and commenter Assiniboine (who's Canadian himself but resident in Australia) ... most fascinating.
The British have a term for them: bolt-holers. A bolt-hole is a secret route an animal digs from its burrow, out through which it can escape if ever a predator enters the main tunnel. In the human sense, bolt-holers are dual citizens who live in one country more or less permanently, yet retain a passport for a second, more stable country to which they can bolt if things get too "hot" at home.

It is hard to know just how many of the 40,000 Canadian citizens registered with our embassy in Beirut are bolt-holers, but even a conservative estimate would place their share at 50%. While they are Canadians, and Canadian law requires that all citizens be treated equally, it is hard to work up as much sympathy for Canadians living full-time overseas as it is for those short-term Canadian visitors to Lebanon who suddenly found themselves trapped there.

Sign of Futility


Spotted on a Baroda road. Now really, you think that any Indian driver will pay attention to this? The horn is an essential part of the driving culture; one simply cannot do without it. Get real! :) Posted by Picasa

God's way of winning

Sandro Magister provides the full text of Pope Benedict's improvised speech given in a little church in northern Italy on Sunday. He first notes that as world leaders gather in Rome for a conference on the crisis in the Middl East, Benedict is signalling, with great creativity and originality, that the Church's role in politics is religious, focused on the Cross.
So Benedict XVI shows he has no doubts: the specific contribution that the Church can make to peace in the world is not political, but essentially religious. With the cross of Jesus at the center.

And in fact, during that afternoon – at his second brief address – he again insisted upon this alone: upon Jesus, and following him.
Magsiter then provides the text of the talk at Mass in that little church, with the reading being Eph. 2:13-18. As always, I find this Pontiff to be honest, simple and quite rivetting.
Just a quick word of meditation on the reading we have just listened to. What is striking, against the background of the dramatic situation in the Middle East, is the beauty of the vision illustrated by the apostle Paul: Christ is our peace. He has reconciled us with one another, Jews and gentiles, uniting them in his body. He overcame enmity in his body, upon the cross. With his death he has overcome enmity, and has united us all in his peace.

But what strikes us even more than the beauty of this vision is its contrast with the reality we experience and see. And we can do nothing, at first, but say to the Lord: “But Lord, what does your apostle say to us – ‘We are reconciled’?” We see in reality that we are not reconciled... There is still war among Christians, Muslims, and Jews; and there are others who foment war and are still full of enmity and violence. Where is the efficacy of your sacrifice? Where in history is this peace of which your apostle speaks?

We human beings cannot solve the mystery of history, the mystery of human freedom to say “no” to God’s peace. We cannot solve the entire mystery of the revelation of the God-man, of his activity and our response. We must accept the mystery. But there are elements of an answer that the Lord gives to us.
The Lord has triumphed upon the cross. He did not triumph with a new empire, with a power greater than the others and capable of destroying them; he triumphed, not in a human way, as we would imagine, with an empire more powerful than the other. He triumphed with a love capable of reaching even to death. This is God’s new way of winning: he does not oppose violence with a stronger form of violence. He opposes violence with its exact opposite: love to the very end, his cross. This is God’s humble way of winning: with his love – and this is the only way it is possible – he puts a limit on violence. This is a way of winning that seems very slow to us, but it is the real way to overcome evil, to overcome violence, and we must entrust ourselves to this divine way of winning.
Wow. It seems almost impossible. I can hear the echo of those tough words from the Sermon on the Mount, "Do not resist evil ..." I wonder if one can really respond to the destruction of human life, of one's loved ones, in this way, whatever the concrete manifestation of this in any specific situation might be.
So let’s go back to the starting point. What we can do is give the witness of love, the witness of faith; and above all, raise a cry to God: we can pray! We are certain that our Father hears the cry of his children. At the Mass, preparing for holy communion, to receive the Body of Christ who unites us, we pray with the Church: “Deliver us, O Lord, from all evil, and grant us peace in our day.” Let this be our prayer in this moment: “Deliver us from all evil, and give us peace.” Not tomorrow or the next day: give us peace, Lord, today! Amen.
Read the whole thing! [Can anyone not think of the powerful witness of the Monks of Tibhirine? Fr Joseph Komonchak gives the full text of the famous testament of Dom Chretienne at dotCommonweal last week.]

The Pope John Paul II Random Speech Generator

The ancient and rich radiance of ethical values will embrace , in some sense, our liturgical renewal.
Indeed. [Over at Fisheaters. Via Rod Dreher. Via Relapsed Catholic.] And in the comments at Rod, a link to the supremely hilarious William Shakespeare Insult Generator. Head on over there, thou bootless white-livered death-token!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006


At dotCommonweal Anna Nussbaum writes about one of the things that bring ridicule and shame in the West: an unexpected pregnancy.
Having a child before owning a home seems to be the last refuge of shame and socially acceptable ridicule among a certain class.
I've encountered this attitude often, though I don't know how widespread it is. Not exactly the same case, but I know of a couple of courageous Catholic college students who got married at the end of their Freshman year, and are on their way to having their second child, three years later. The other students rallied around them and have supported them tremendously in every way, though initially, both their decision to marry and then their first pregnancy was met with shock and some scorn. What a witness they are!

For some reason I was reminded of a beautiful article in the March 2006 issue of First Things: In Moral Labor which tries to bring a philosophical and moral perspective to pregnancy, i.e. the process of pregnancy, of procreation and human gestation, and particularly the mother's role in this.
Pregnancy is not just waiting but real work. Exactly what kind of work is it? Terms offered by the market are not much help: It is not evaluated like salaried tasks, and phrases like “maternity leave” construe the event as though it were vacation or hiatus from meaningful employment. We might better avail ourselves of theological categories to help make sense of women’s labor in this phase of procreation: Hospitality describes the mother as welcoming a needy guest, self-denial honors the pains and costs of that nurture, and stewardship observes the boundaries of her agency in respecting Providence.

St. James, Apostle ...

Round up at The Way of the Fathers. History, customs, tons of stuff at Fisheaters.

At some point I really want to walk the Camino de Santiago.

By the way, as some of you know, I'm a huge fan of historical murder mysteries. One of my favorites is Sharan Newman's Catherine Levendeur series, set in 13th century France. The author is a historian and brings alive her period with amazing and breathtaking detail, and avoids anachronistic views as much as possible, apart from being a fascintating window into Jewish-Christian relations of the period as well. One of the novels (Cursed in the Blood, the fifth in the series) involves the heroine making the pilgrimage of St. James from southern France over the Pyrennees into northern Spain.

Mi-po ani lo zaz

I've been reading a variety of things about the war in Lebanon for the past two hours. I've been reading hawkish stuff, dovish stuff; those that equate the US with Iran and Israel with Hezbollah, and those who care nary a bit that so many innocents are being brutally killed.

I am not sure what to think (not that my thinking anything about this makes any difference whatsoever). I am generally symphathetic of Israel -- it's surrounded by enemies who wish its complete destruction. But also am horrified that the country with the largest percentage of Christians is being destroyed so. [Not to say that such destruction in a non-Christian country would merit less horror ...]

Anyway, FWIW, here's a roundup. Salon has a piece on the view from Israel: 95% of Israelis polled support the war. The stakes are high, it's now a matter of existence, of survival. The piece links to a post by an Israeli peace activist, who also supports the current military action. It's beautifully written and quite compelling. The First War All Over Again.
“This is our home. Mi-po ani lo zaz. From here, I am not budging. And he repeated his refrain over and over again. “This is my home. And from here, I am not budging.” Mi-po ani lo zaz.
Now, the bitter reality of which Israel’s right wing had warned about all along is beginning to settle in. It is not lost on virtually any Israelis that the two primary fronts on which this war is being conducted are precisely the two fronts from which we withdrew to internationally recognized borders. We withdrew from Gaza, despite all the internal objections, hoping to move Palestinian statehood – and peace – one step closer. But all we got in return was the election of Hamas, and a barrage of more than 800 Qassams that they refused to end. And then they stole Gilad Shalit. Not from Gaza. Not from some contested no man’s land. From inside the internationally recognized borders of Israel. As if to make sure that we got the point – “There is no place that you’re safe. There is no place to which we won’t take this war. You can’t stay here.”

Because as much as we have wanted to believe otherwise, they have no interest in building their homeland. They only care about destroying ours.
On the other side, Thomas Storck at Traditional Catholic News plumbs the Catechism, mainly when discussing the US role in Iraq, but also talks about Israel. :: Update :: Another former peace activist becomes hawkish in a piece at Spiegel. Here's a piece at Ha'aretz that takes the opposite view. [I'm not sure why the author stops where he does. If he takes his thoughts further back, all the way back to 1948, then it was Israel that "started this." So, the only real solution is for Israel to disappear. Well that's what Hezbollah says as well ... ]

There is, quite understandably, outrage in Lebanon at the destruction of their country, with good links and updates at the Lebanese Blogger Forum.

Today's NYT has a piece on Beirut: how the north of the city is largely affected while the Sh'ia south looks like it was hit by an earthquake. There's also a piece on Syria, which is where most of the refugees are ending up.

From a Christian (and almost entirely Protestant/evangelical) perspective, Christianity Today has a series of articles with differing perspectives on the conflict.

One of the most terrifying quotes that I read was over at the Corner at NRO.
"You cannot be objective about an aerial torpedo. And the horror we feel of these things has led to this conclusion: if someone drops a bomb on your mother, go and drop two bombs on his mother. The only apparent alternatives are to smash dwelling houses to powder, blow out human entrails and burn holes in children with thermite, or to be enslaved by people who are more ready to do these things than you are yourself; as yet no one has suggested a practicable way out."
George Orwell wrote that in 1938.

Finally, Don Jim has a post about St. Sharbel, a 19th-century Lebanese saint. It seems appropriate to ask for his interecession to bring about peace.