Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Travel travails

Well just a delay. The CAE ATL leg was 2h30m late. Got bumped to the
530p flight to CDG which gives me a two hour layover before the Delhi
flight leaves. Hey who knows I might get stuck in Paris. Heh.

Monday, July 30, 2007

The Ordination to the Priesthood, Diocese of Charleston

The Diocese of Charleston Ordained six men to the priesthood on Friday, July 27, 2006 in a beautiful ceremony in downtown Columbia attended by around 2000 people. This is the first time there have been so many candidates ordained in this southern Diocese since 1953.

This was the first time the ceremony has been held in Columbia (normally the ordinations take place in the Cathedral in Charleston) -- this was to accomodate a larger number of people, and also because of its central location.

It was a beautiful and solemn ceremony. The principle chalice used belonged to Bishop John England, who was the first Bishop of the Diocese when it was founded in 1820. The Presider's Chair was the one used by Pope John Paul II at St. Peter's in Columbia on his Apostolic Visit on September 11, 1987.

What a joyous occasion for the Church in Charleston! Keep these men in your prayers please!

Here are a few photos, and a few more up at Flickr.

The summer draws to a close ...

And what a wonderful summer it's been! I'm off tomorrow to Delhi to spend a few weeks with mom and family. We'll go to Varanasi for a couple of days, which is awesome. I've never been there. A week or so at the parental home in Baroda, and then a few days in Bombay. I'll return to SC on August 24, and on August 29 it's back to seminary.

I'm flying Delta/Air France tomorrow. Delta from Columbia to Atlanta and then on to Paris (767. Delta's transatlantic 767s have sucky legroom), and Air France to Delhi (on an A340, which I've never flow on!). Both Delta and Air France are part of Skyteam, so I get NW miles and some elite privileges. However, I'm really p/oed that a) Air France changed my seats from the exit row that I'd selected when I booked to generic aisle seats and b) that I won't be able to get any seat selection on Delta till I get to the airport ("It's an Air France reservation sir. We cannot access it at this moment.")! Which means that I'm going to be stuck in some middle seat somewhere on the transatlantic leg. UGH. NOT HAPPY. (Offer it up and all that, right?)

Second Life

Catholics called to Second Life
Catholics called to Second Life
VATICAN CITY, July 30 (UPI) -- Roman Catholics are being encouraged by a Vatican-approved journal to preach the word of Jesus in the virtual world of Second Life.

The Rev. Antonio Spadaro wrote in La Civilta Cattolica that Christian teaching is the answer to the rampant sinning, including gambling and prostitution, The Telegraph reported Monday.

Second Life, an Internet-based game that features lifelike avatars representing virtual versions of players, allows users to buy and sell virtual goods and services with real money while interacting with other players.

"It is not possible to turn a blind eye to this phenomenon, or offhandedly pass judgment glorifying or condemning it," Spadaro said. "Instead it must be understood ... the best way to understand it is to enter it and live inside it to recognize its potential and dangers."

John Lester, of Second Life producer Linden Lab, applauded the religious interest in the virtual world.

"I think it's a cool idea for folks to want to make sure that their side of spirituality is being represented," he said.
Not sure that this is what the Lord intended by "unless ye are born again ... " ... :) But sure, evangelize everywhere, eh.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

It's been six months

... since my father died.
For certain is death for the born
And certain is birth for the dead;
Therefore over the inevitable
Thou shouldst not grieve. (The Bhagvad Gita)
Death is certain. So is grief.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

A dose of common sense

[I'm at the end of my philosophical studies for the summer. This is the first time I've ever formally studied philosophy, though I've read haphazardly before. I've thoroughly enjoyed it. It somehow seems fitting, as I submit my last paper tomorrow, to end this stage of philosophical inquiry (there will be more. Holy Mother Church asks a lot of philosophical credits hours of those sons of her who wish to become priests) with this brilliant quote from that apostle of common sense, Gilbert Keith Chesterton.
[B]ut the abstract philosophies of the modern world have had this queer twist. Since the modern world began in the sixteenth century, nobody’s system of reality has corresponded to everybody’s sense of reality; to what, if left to themselves, common men would call common sense. Each started with a paradox, a peculiar point of view demanding the sacrifice of what they would call a sane point of view. That is the one thing common to Hobbes and Hegel, to Kant and Bergson, to Berkeley and William James. A man had to believe something that no normal man would believe, if it were suddenly propounded to his simplicity; as that law is above right, or right is outside reason, or things are only as we think them, or everything is relative to a reality that is not there. The modern philosopher claims, like a sort of confidence man, that if once we will grant him this, the rest will be easy; he will straighten out the world, if once he is allowed to give this one twist of the mind. … Against all this the philosophy of St. Thomas stands founded on the universal common conviction that eggs are eggs. The Hegelian may say that an egg is really a hen, because it is part of an endless process of Becoming; the Berkeleian may hold that poached eggs only exist as a dream exists; since it is quite as easy to call the dream the cause of the egg as the eggs the cause of the dream; the Pragmatist may believe that we get the best out of scrambled egg by forgetting that they ever were eggs, and only remembering the scramble. But no pupil of St. Thomas needs to addle his brains in order to adequately addle his eggs; to put his head at any peculiar angle in looking at eggs, or squinting at eggs, or winking the other eye in order to see a new simplification of eggs. The Thomist stands in the broad daylight of the brotherhood of men, in their common consciousness that eggs are not hens or dreams or mere practical assumptions; but things attested by the Authority of the Senses, which is from God.
(Taken from "Saint Thomas Aquinas: 'The Dumb Ox." Text available online.)

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Fr. Tom Ryan's take on the CDF document

Paulist Fathers: Ecumenism and Interfaith An interesting dimension that I haven't heard about yet.
Why, an ecumenical colleague asked, did the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) feel it was necessary to restate these points, already expressed in Dominus Iesus in 2000? The short answer seems to be: to resolve an in-house disagreement.

The main drafter for Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Belgian theologian Gérard Philips, prophetically said that rivers of ink would be spilled on the change from is to subsists in with regard to the relationship between the Church of Christ and the Catholic Church. He was dead right.

There has been an ongoing debate within the CDF itself around the meaning of “subsists in” which, in both classical and medieval Latin, signifies “to remain, to be perpetuated.”

As an example of the ongoing debate, in December 2005 the Vatican newspaper l’Osservatore Romano carried a substantial article by one of the CDF’s consultors, Fr. Karl Becker, SJ, as to whether the change from is to subsists in meant that the council no longer maintained that the Church of Christ is identified with the Catholic Church, but recognized that it is also present, though less fully, in other Christian Churches, so that the Church of Christ extends beyond the limits of the Catholic Church. His answer is “no,” the council maintained the total identity between the two.

In the June 2006 issue of Theological Studies, Jesuit ecclesiologist Fr. Francis Sullivan of Boston College took him on in an article entitled “A Response to Karl Becker, S.J., on the Meaning of Substitit In”. Sullivan argues that “what motivated the approval of the change from est (is) to subsistit in was that it would make it possible for the council to acknowledge the fact that outside the Catholic Church are not only elements of the Church, but that there are churches and ecclesial communities.”
But, when it comes down to it, the language could have been a little more respectful
Or, to say it in a more respectful way, they are churches of another type. When one looks at the historic record, it is clear that they have manifested a different understanding of the Church of Christ and have not exhibited a desire to be church in the Catholic sense.

Brad Warthen's Blog: Touchy Catholics

So, does this cartoon offend? Some people need to chill. (Brad is on the editorial board the State, which is South Carolina's paper of record. Such as it is :)).

Brad Warthen's Blog: Touchy Catholics

Congregationalist ultramontanism

A fascinating little column by George Weigel which showed up in today's Catholic Exchange newsletter.
The Coming Crisis in Episcopal Leadership. He crunches the numbers and finds that the US will need at least 217 new bishops between now and 2025. But that's not all, he finds fault with the current system of episcopal appointments.
In the mid-19th century, the Pope had a free choice of bishops in a small minority of dioceses around the world; today, the Pope enjoys the freedom to appoint bishops in the great majority of dioceses in the world. This remarkable freedom, unprecedented in Catholic history, is one of the signal accomplishments of Vatican diplomacy since the French Revolution.
Moreover, there is virtually no consultation on the appointment of bishops with knowledgeable members of the Church outside the ranks of the clergy (and such consultation is exceedingly rare with the lower clerical orders). Reformed, evangelically-focused criteria for judging a man's fitness for the office of bishop, for which many rightly called in the wake of the Crisis of 2002, do not seem to have been devised, much less implemented.

And all of this is happening — or, better, not happening — at a moment when episcopal credibility remains the most severe casualty of the Long Lent of five years ago.

The risk of business-as-usual? Congregationalist ultramontanism, if you'll pardon the phrase: a Catholic Church in America in which people love their parish priests, love the Pope — and have little sense of connection to the local bishop. That's not what Vatican II intended in its reform of the episcopate, nor is it what Christ intended for his Church.

Monday, July 23, 2007

A chilling video

A video camera in the control tower at Congonhas airport captures the last few seconds of the ill-fated TAM A320 that overshot the runway last week and exploded, killing all on board (and a few on the ground). Notice as the plane moves out of the field of the camera, a flash on the right side (speculation is focusing on a malfunction with the right thrust-reverser). A few seconds later there is an explosion off-screen, and an orange glow that fills the left hand side. RIP. Reuters QuickCut: Brazil crash | Video | Reuters.com [Hat tip Aviatrix]

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Ex oriente lux

(More photos at Flickr.)

St. Ignatios of Antioch Melkite Greek Catholic Church, Augusta, GA. Some 60 miles away, just across the border. I've been here a few times in the past few years (taking a group of students to experience the diversity and catholicity of the Church), and didn't want to leave SC without attending Divine Liturgy. So this morning I hopped into Z's car (mine is in the shop over the weekend having the air worked on. Thanks Z!), picked Peter up in Aiken, and drove into Augusta a few minutes before Orthros (morning prayer) came to an end and the Divine Liturgy started.

I have to say it again: I absolutely adore the Eastern liturgy. There is a sense of transcendence, of mystery, of being lifted up out of oneself as one worships the One True God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And the focus is entirely on God, on worship, on participating, in our own limited, imperfect way, in the Eternal Liturgy of Heaven. The entire liturgy is sung, true spiritual worship being offered to the Father through the Son in the Spirit. In this little church, the entire congregation sings the appropriate parts, and there seems to be a natural, effortless dialogue between the priest, the deacon, the cantor and the people. Would that this kind of participation would catch on more in the Western liturgy! It is the one thing that has always struck me about the various Eastern liturgies that I've had the privilege to participate in. I always encourage folks to check out their nearest Eastern parish -- not just to celebrate the diversity of the Catholic Church -- but also to get a sense of just how beautiful and transforming liturgy can be.

Today is also the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene, the Holy Myrrhbearer, Equal to the Apostles. Unlike in (modern) Western tradition, Sunday doesn't completely eclipse the saint on the calendar, and she was honored throughout the service.

Chatting with parishioners after the service over donuts and coffee, I was shocked and saddened to learn of the sudden death, just over a year ago, of Fr. Daniel Munn, who was pastor at St. Ignatios. I still remember his kind spirit the few times we interacted, and the beautiful explanation he gave of the architecture of an Eastern church, the first time a group of us visited St. Ignatios. One of the things he used to joke about: "I always invite my Latin priest friends to come to the Divine Liturgy and get a sense of what the Liturgy of Heaven will be like!" (I was reminded of this remark in a conversation today.) Another passing remark of his that stuck in my head -- and I wish I'd been able at some point to converse more with him about this -- in talking about the Renaissance he said, "Oh they should have left that dead culture remain dead!" (Referring to classical [pagan] Greek and Rome). Requiescat in Pace. Here's a homily from the St. Ignatios website that was preached at his funeral service.

St. Ignatios (I remember Fr. Dan explaining this on our first visit) is not simply an ethnic parish, but has a large number of adult converts to Eastern Catholicism, and, I suspect, this is partly the reason for the vibrancy of this small community. For instance, see the discussion in this interview with Orthodox theologian Frederica Matthews-Green on the zeal converts bring to ethnic Orthodox parishes. I suspect this is true of any ethnic-immigrant church community in the West today.
Orthodoxy is fastest-growing in terms of percentage growth, but not in terms of numbers, I believe. The growth is undeniably due to conversions. In the jurisdiction (not denomination) that I belong to, the Archdiocese of Antioch (middle-eastern background, headquarters in Damascus on the “street called Straight”), the clergy are now 78% converts. This influx of educated, enthusiastic converts, lay as well as clergy, are bringing revival to the church. Historically, the church represented home-away-from-home for new immigrants, where they could speak the familiar language and eat familiar foods. I can sure understand that, when I picture living as an immigrant in Asia; the church attended by other Americans would be such a haven. But there is the danger that the church, obliged to fill so many roles, becomes a cultural emblem rather than truly a church. Praise God, I don’t see revised, “updated,” fashionable theology in Orthodox churches, but I sure do see nominalism (I don’t mean philosophical nominalism, of course, but practicing the faith in a nominal way). When I travel and speak in Orthodox churches, longtime church members often tell me, “You converts are teaching us about our own faith, things we never knew.” So there is renewal in Orthodoxy, though not at the numbers “fastest-growing” might suggest.
Do explore the St. Ignatios website and the links there -- a wealth of information -- including some pdf files on the Byzantine liturgy. (From where, I learn that there is now a Melkite community in the Charleston area.)

I get particular pleasure when the Melkite Trisagion is chanted. Given the Arabic roots of Melkite liturgy, the Trisagion is in English (the vernacular. In the East, the liturgy was always celebrated in the language of the people), Greek and Arabic. Here's the text:
+Holy God! Holy Mighty One! Holy Immortal One! Have mercy on us. (three times)
+Quddouson (Qudooson) Allâh! Quddouson ul-qawee! Quddouson ulladhee la yamout! Irhamna. (three times)
+Agios O Theos! Agios Eeskhiros! Agios Athanatos! Eleison imas! (three times)
Apart from it just being in Arabic (y'all know how I love languages, and Arabic is a fascinating one!) I always smile when I think of the way the word "Allah" is treated in our culture (just think of Team America, for instance), forgetting that it means nothing other than God, and that our Christian brothers and sisters in the Middle East have been using it in their prayer and worship for centuries. Here's a link to a YouTube file with a selection of Melkite chant in Arabic.

[And here's a link to a previous post, from Palm Sunday this year, about the Malnkara Orthodox service I attend in Bombay which also includes a link to a YouTube video with clips from the service.]

Finally, a few more photos from today's visit. More are up at Flickr.

(Apparently this cross has a relic of the True Cross in its base!)

Saturday, July 21, 2007

India names its first female president - Yahoo! News

India names its first female president - Yahoo! News Pratibha Patil has been elected as India's new Head of State, whose role is largely ceremonial, and whose constitutional powers are rather limited (However, in the era of coalition governments that started with the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, the President does have an important role when it comes to deciding which party should be called to form a new government in a hung parliament).
Her candidacy was dogged by unprecedented mudslinging from the moment it was agreed upon by coalition members, marring the usually genteel process of presidential elections.

Her comments ahead of the election calling on Indian women to abandon headscarves was roundly denounced by Muslim leaders and by historians — who disputed her assertion that women only started wearing them in India to save themselves from 16th century Muslim invaders.

Analysts say Patil, who is largely unknown on the national stage, was selected for her unswerving devotion to Sonia Gandhi, leader of the Congress party, and Gandhi's powerful family, which has historically controlled the party.
The election of a woman continues an Indian tradition using the presidency to bolster disadvantaged communities.

Hindu-majority India has had three Muslim presidents, including incumbent A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, since winning independence from Britain in 1947. It has also had a president from the minority Sikh community, and Kalam's predecessor, K. R. Narayanan, came from the bottom of the society's complex social hierarchy.

While India has had several women in positions of power — most notably Indira Gandhi, who was elected prime minister in 1966, and her daughter-in-law, Sonia Gandhi, who currently heads the Congress party — many women still face rampant discrimination.
The outgoing President is a self-effacing scientist, the architect of India's nuclear program, and a big promoter of social reform stressing education and the scientific world-view. Though his power is limited, he did try to stand up to some of the self-serving pandering of Members of Parliament in the office of profits affair. The following, I think, reveals something of his character, a humility that is glaringly absent from India's political stage.
In possibly his last public function as the head of the state, Kalam had an advice for the countrymen -- `don't take gifts that come with a purpose and build families with character and good value system.

"On the 25th I will leave Rashtrapati Bhawan after having spent five glorious years there. What I have got are two small suitcases. I will go with two small suitcases," he said in his address at the India Islamic Cultural Centre (IICC)
[He did add that the two suitcases didn't include a large library of books. He's a professor after all!] [Oh do go read this little blog critique on the Patil campaign and "women's empowerment," highlighting again the maddeningly schizophrenic reality of India.]

Friday, July 20, 2007

Good advice

The Emerging Church and Orthodoxy

Fredirica Matthewes-Greene talks about Orthodoxy in this fascinating interview, covering evangelism, Augustine, and why -- to an Orthodox -- Protestants and Catholics are much more alike than Catholics and Orthodox. The Emerging Church and Orthodoxy Samples:
1.) Can you offer some insight about how the Orthodox Church understands evangelism? Do you feel that, overall, that it is considered a priority when compared with Protestant Evangelicalism?

The Orthodox Church has a beautiful history of evangelism — but, unfortunately, it is largely history. A factor we tend to forget, which has made the path of Eastern Christianity so different from that of the West, is that for the most part they have not been free. Many Orthodox lands have been under Muslim rule for over a millennium, virtually since Islam began. (Was it Chesterton who said, don’t ridicule the Balkans for being so bellicose; if they hadn’t fought Islam to a standstill, we’d be fighting the same battles in Paris.) Russia and the Slavic countries, on the other hand, just emerged from nearly a century of Communism—20 million Orthodox died for their faith, including hundreds of thousands of pastors.

Orthodox who immigrated to the US think of themselves as outsiders for a long time. You see a bit of this in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” where the child Toula compares herself unfavorably with the slim, blonde girls in her school. Orthodox for the most part are not European, their languages don’t use the Roman alphabet, and they eat very different foods, so they are inclined to cling to each other. (The branch of Orthodoxy my family joined is Arabic, which must bear an extra degree of ethnic prejudice.) Setting out to evangelize their neighbors just wouldn’t occur to them.
The historic pattern or style of evangelism is interesting, however, compared with the West. While Rome decided to do everything in Latin, in order to guarantee uniformity, in the East the emphasis was on making the faith understandable. So the Scriptures and liturgies were always translated into the vernacular, and where there was no written language, missionaries would devise one. In the 4th century, St Mesrops Mashtots developed a language for the Armenians, and (I love this) he based it on the decorations he saw on their homes and around their windows; he wanted to give them an alphabet that they would find beautiful. In the 9th century, Ss Cyril and Methodius developed an alphabet for the Slavs, and in the 19th century, Russian missionaries who crossed the Bering Strait to evangelize the peoples of Alaska ended up devising alphabets for 6 different dialects. Orthodox missionizing prefers to retain and honor elements of native culture as far as possible, which in Alaska, eg, included retaining totem poles.
A big factor is that Western theology was based on the Scriptures in Latin translation, and as radically as the Reformers broke with Catholicism, they still unknowingly built on the same Latin-language thought-world. (St. Augustine could not read Greek well, and was led astray by a mistranslation in Romans 5:12). An example is the NT Greek word “energeia,” energy, which appears all through St Paul, eg, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for God is energizing in you, both to will and to energize for his good pleasure.” But there was no Latin equivalent, so when Jerome made his translation he used “opus,” work. A sculptor creates a statue and that is his opus, but it is separate from him; he’s not “energizing” within it. So you see that this creates a very different sense of whether and how God is present—the reverberations go on and on.

In Orthodoxy, salvation is a free gift, entirely by grace (grace is an aspect of God’s “energy,” rather than a separate created thing). We are saved by being rescued from the power of death and the evil one, like the Hebrews rescued from Pharaoh—not by Jesus making a payment to the Father. That theory didn’t develop till the 11th century, after the East-West split. Substitutionary atonement strikes native Orthodox as strange and somewhat repellent. Though, as I said, they emphatically believe in salvation by grace, so you see how it cuts across Western categories.

Hitch this

TGet Religion has some responses to Christopher Hitchens' book tour touting his latest anti-religion invective, "God is not great." And Pritcher has some interesting thoughts in response as well.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Pope and iPod

Via Fr. Z ... check this clip from Jay Leno out!

Bertone: Woman could hold top posts in the Vatican

It's interesting how this little bit of news -- from a press conference by Vatican Secretary of State Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone after a meeting with the Pope -- is being played out. Here's one version.
In a dramatic break with tradition, women could soon be appointed to positions of power in the Catholic church, according to the Vatican's secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.

Bertone told the Italian daily La Repubblica in an interview published Thursday that Pope Benedict XVI was considering women for senior posts.

"Yes I think so. Certainly", Bertone, whose position is similar to that of a prime minister, said when asked if women would be given important positions in the Vatican.

"We are creating new appointments in the Vatican," he said, singling out women's charisma, potential and sense of responsibility as qualities that could help them "render great services" to the pope and the Church.
This story does mention that currently one Pontifical Council (Social Sciences) is headed by a woman --- Mary Ann Glendon (so perhaps the "break" isn't as "dramatic" as some might be wont to think?) --- and also highlights the issue at stake: whether some posts that require juridical authority (such as the Curial Congregation) can be given to those who are not ordained:
And while congregations - the most important departments within the Roman Curia - must by rule by headed by ordained priests, there is no specific reason why women should not be allowed to take up key roles within other offices.
It was also at this press conference that the Cardinal suggested that the offensive prayer from the newly introduced 1962 Missal could be dropped, but also notes (as this article from La Repubblica does) that the Motu Proprio envisions that during the Triduum -- where this prayer would be used -- only the Missal of Paul VI can be used.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The TAM disaster

Der Spiegel has a backgrounder on the state of Brazil's aviation in light of yesterday's tragedy. Brazil's Worst-Ever Air Disaster: 200 Feared Dead in Sao Paulo Crash - International - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News
Late last year, a Boeing aircraft operated by the airline BRA overshot the runway during rain, and on Monday of this week, a large propeller plane slid past the end of the runway and got stuck in the mud. According to the wire service Bloomberg, the airport had to shut 18 times because of runway flooding in the first quarter of this year alone.

On Tuesday night, Brazilian station TV Globo played recordings taken from the cockpits of several jets. The pilots were afraid to land at Congonhas and warned each other by radio of water puddles on the runway. "The runway is so slippery, it's as if someone smeared soap on it," one complained. Despite the fact that it had been raining for three days, Infraero never closed the runway.
You know, I'm not sure the state of Indian aviation is much better. Exploding market, inadequate infrastructure, strained ATC operators. Bombay's airport is smack in the middle of the city, surrounded by a sea of shanties (the runways are longer though -- ~9500ft and 11000+ft). Traffic density has increased tremendously in the past few years. I hope it doesn't take a disaster such as this one to spur reform and development.

Zimbabwe’s top cleric urges Britain to invade - Times Online

Zimbabwe’s top cleric urges Britain to invade - Times Online
ZIMBABWE’S leading cleric has called on Britain to invade the country and topple President Robert Mugabe. Pius Ncube, the Archbishop of Bulawayo, warned that millions were facing death from famine, unable to survive amid inflation believed to have soared to 15,000%.

Mugabe, 83, had proved intransigent despite the “massive risk to life”, said Ncube, the head of Zimbabwe’s 1m Catholics. “I think it is justified for Britain to raid Zimbabwe and remove Mugabe,” he said. “We should do it ourselves but there’s too much fear. I’m ready to lead the people, guns blazing, but the people are not ready.”
Wow! This Bishop is made of stern stuff.

What is, however, really eye-popping is the rejoinder in The Herald (Harare) to Bishop Ncube's criticism of the Mugabe regime.
t qualifies the epithets heaped on him over the years among them "mad, inveterate liar", "mad bishop", "Western agent", among others.

Names that are being vindicated by Pius' lack of piousness that sees him commit heresy with impunity.

When Pius Ncube should be praying and visiting the sick, he is busy praying for the death of his critics particularly President Mugabe.

If Pius read the same Bible as everyone else, he would have discovered that leaders of nations are there because God has put them there and the Bible even urges everyone to respect their leadership.
That old "Christianity isn't political" canard. It seems that the mouthpieces of Mugabe's madness should read that Bible again ... maybe some good old pieces of prophetic indignation. Amos, anyone?

Death penalty for Mumbai bombers

BBC NEWS | South Asia | Death penalty for Mumbai bombers

TAM A320 skids off runway in rain

at Sao Paulo's domestic airport.

Prayers for survivors (it's possible, though unlikely at this stage. Remember the Air France A340 in Toronto in 2005? Granted, the plane didn't strike a building, or, as seems to have occurred here, a gas station!) and for those who died.

It's not looking good really: CNN

Discussion, speculation, information at the airliners.net forum thread. (Where there's mention of an ATR skidding off this same runway yesterday. Obviously with less disastrous consequences).

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

We cannot shoot them or beath them

Monkey steals tourist's glasses in India One of those only in India stories.
LUCKNOW, India --
A South Korean tourist has filed a formal complaint against a monkey he says stole his reading glasses during his visit to the Hindu holy city of Varanasi in northern India.

Kim Dang Hoon says he opened his hotel room window for fresh air when the monkey made his move.

"He headed straight to the table where my glasses were kept and took it away," Kim said in the statement.

Part of the frame later was recovered by hotel staff and Kim said he filed the report so he can make a damages claim on his travel insurance.

Thousands of wild monkeys roam Varanasi, dotting the trees on the banks of the Ganges River and scampering through the city's many temples, where they are venerated as manifestations of the Hindu monkey god Hanuman.

On Tuesday, police combed Varanasi's alleys searching for the monkey.

"It is difficult to trace the monkey but I am trying my best to locate the rogue," investigating officer Inspector Govind Singh said from Varanasi, some 185 miles southeast of Lucknow.

Problems with monkeys harassing tourists in the city are common, Singh said.

"But we can't do anything. We cannot shoot them or beat them as Hindus worship monkeys," he said.
What really surprises me is that the police were actually trying to track this monkey down. Why, because it's a foreigner whose property got filched? Because some AP reporter thought this would make good press? And like this happens just in Benares. They're everywhere. As my dad used to say, when the jumped around the roof eating the mangoes off the trees. "Tara purvaj aayva che." ("Your ancestors have come") To which I would always retort -- well, if they're my ancestors, they're yours too! [Hat tip to Bill]

Montreal: Cathedral Marie Reine du Monde

Montreal's Cathedral, built in the 19th century to demonstrate the triumph of Catholicism. It's a scaled-down replica of St. Peter's in Rome. [The entire set of Montreal photos is at my Flickr page.]

Montreal Basilique du Notre Dame

Some photos. [The entire set of my Montreal photos is up at Flickr.]

Ezekiel and Jerome at the base of the pulpit

St. Paul


Sicko, originally uploaded by gashwin.

"Is there really a problem?" This flier promoting Moore's latest was in Montreal's Chinatown.[The entire set of my Montreal photos is up at Flickr.]

Montreal's Catholic street signs

Our Lady and St. Peter Streets, originally uploaded by gashwin.

Though Quebec is one of the least churchgoing places in North America, its Catholic heritage is evident everywhere, not least in the street signs.

[Can anyone recommend a good history of the Quiet Revolution, especially as it impacted the Church?]

Monday, July 16, 2007

I received a postcard!

From the Eternal City no less ... many thanks to St. Lizzy and Izzy for thinking of me! They're on the Spanish leg of their European vacation right now ... [And what a beautiful card! 9With a photo of the late Pope John Paul kissing a crucifix being proffered by then Cardinal Ratzinger.]

You know, I tend to send postcards galore when I travel, but actually receive very few. Which could mean a) I travel more than my friends b) no one really thinks about me when they do travel c) I'm just a swell guy or d) all of the above. :)

MADE MY DAY Y'ALL! Grazie tante!

The Los Angeles sex-abuse settlement

You know, this Church of ours, entrusted by Our Lord and Savior with the fullness of the means of salvation, certainly knows how to screw up big time. A six-hundred million dollar settlement! Let that sink in!



[Before I get jumped on -- when I read these stories, that was my first thought. "Fullness of the means of salvation? Geez!" Of course, nothing that the Church has said about herself in Vatican II, or later in Dominus Iesus or the latest CDF clarification, suggests that Catholics -- even Cardinals and Popes -- are infallible or inerrant (I'm not talking about doctrine). However, isn't that how it is perceived all over? By us? By faithful Catholics as well as disillusioned former Catholics, as well as the world? Just listen to the response to the CDF's clarification on "subsistit." "How dare they suggest that they're better than everyone else." Which, of course, is not at all what was said or meant. It makes some sense, I suppose, the schadenfreude that ensues all around when the Church -- which makes exalted claims -- messes up. It's no good to harp on about distinctions between the Church herself, in her mystical reality, and her sinful members, true as that might be -- that is not how things are perceived, and, at a human level, not how the Church really operates, if one thinks about it.

Sorry, just some jumbled thoughts. Mainly a reminder to avoid spiritual pride, and gloating. "He gnosis fusioi, he de agape oikodomei." Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. (1 Cor 8:1)]

Even sports can lead to God!

[Well, that "even" is unnecessary. One would hope that it should be obvious that sports can and should lead to God!] A Brazilian Archbishop on the occasion of the Pan American Games. [Via Zenit] (Of course, how many of us in the US -- where we blithely call ourselves "America" -- even knew of the existence of this event?).
Retired Archbishop Eugenio de Araújo Sales of Rio de Janeiro recalled that St. Paul exhorted Christians in their spiritual life with imagery of a race.

And he reiterated words from Pope John Paul II on the occasion of the Jubilee of Athletes in 1984: "Through the metaphor of holy athletic competition, [St. Paul] highlights the importance of life, comparing it to a race toward a goal that is not only earthly and passing, but eternal. It is a race in which not only one but all may be winners."

Archbishop de Araújo Sales continued: "The directives outlined by the Holy Father John Paul II are still valid today for faithful Catholics and men of good will, and they deserve to be remembered in a special way in these days."

According to the prelate, sports should correspond "without distorting themselves, to the demands of our times -- sports that tutor the weakest, exclude no one, and liberate young people from the insidiousness of apathy and indifference, awakening in them a healthy spirit of competition, sports that are a factor in the emancipation of the poorest countries and help to eliminate intolerance and build a fraternal and unified world; sports that contribute to a love of life, teach sacrifice, respect, responsibility, leading to the valuing of every human person."
I, of course, like to think that watching sports and cheering one's team, can lead to God. (It certainly seems on occasion, however, to lead to violations of the Second Commandment!)

From the comments below

... Georgette has some helpful insights in response to the post on the pregnancy register being created by India. My response to her meanders onto a tangent (surprise! Hmm. Can one "meander" onto a tangent? :)). Thought I'd share both here in their own post.
eorgette said ... (Mon Jul 16, 04:09:00 AM 2007) :

Hey, G--

Although at first it seems like a PR ploy, since it would certainly not address the millions of pregnancies which go full term without any medical supervision at all, I think it may have a shot at preventing abortions among the women who DO have their babies in hospitals and under doctors' supervision. Those are the women who are more likely to have access to sonograms, after all, which determine the sex of the child (and sex selection abortion). Of course it will do nothing for the poor villagers who often resort to outright infanticide (burying girl-babies alive, as in a recent news item), but it may be a step in the right direction.

From my observations as a woman, and a Christian outsider here, I think the female-infanticide/abortion problem, at its root, is two-fold: One is economics (that dowry system has GOT to go!); and the other is a question of the appreciation of human dignity inherent in all men and women, equally. The government is trying to correct the dowry thing with laws that make it illegal, but how do you eradicate harmful traditions and superstitions which are, after all, at the heart of the injustice towards women? Those superstitions and beliefs also hold down the entire society, in its treatment of "lower castes" to the widow and the girl-child, who are all deemed "lesser" beings. I think Christianity is their only hope.

Oh, and Re: dowry injustices, have you seen this story about this woman who was abused by her inlaws for more dowry and also for having birthed a girl-child? This story is not a news item because of teh abuse she endured, of course--that is a typical day-to-day event that thousands, or millions, of women face here. The bit that makes it news-worthy is that she was lucky enough to have survived the dowry harrassments and got so fed up that she led this one-woman protest--and apparently has gotten somewhat effective publicity for it!

God bless,

Gashwin said ... (Mon Jul 16, 10:56:00 AM 2007) :

Georgette: thanks for those insights from someone closer to the reality! I'm very glad to hear that slowly some change is being made in attitudes towards dowry.

How does one change a culture? That's a huge question. Of course societies do change and grow organically. I think the idea of social "progress" (with all its promises and pitfalls) is a uniquely Western idea, rooted in a Judeo-Christian worldview of the in-breaking of God's Kingdom. This is not to say that it is only Christianity that can inspire change (look at the French Revolution!) -- however, this is one of the biggest exports of the West -- the idea of change of improvement -- to the rest of the world, I would suspect.

Of course I share your view that Christianity ought to bring hope and a way out of such oppressive customs. Often it has. But often (perhaps even equally as often? I don't know) it hasn't. Christianity was planted in India nearly 2000 years ago -- it didn't make a dent in the caste system. In fact, Christians adopted caste and caste-based identity (and discrimination) continued unabated, and still continues. Or, for instance, the way the Portuguese tied up Latin Christianity with colonialism -- including conversion at gunpoint and some of the worst aspects of the Inquisition, vile treatment of Hindus, etc. -- hardly advanced, in my opinion, the true message of Christianity and only imperfectly advanced the mission of Christ. These remain huge stumbling blocks, I think, to evangelization in India.

Of course now that's a whole different conversation -- if Christianity didn't instantly (or even gradually) bring about utopia, what is it's worth? The Pope, incidentally, addresses this at the beginning of his new book ... his answer is that it brought God -- the One Living God -- to all peoples. But, as I said, that's a different conversation.

Friday, July 13, 2007

India to create a pregnancy register

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India plans to create a registry of all pregnancies to help curb widespread female foeticide and reduce its high infant mortality rate, although activists say the scheme will be hard to implement.

"With this, mysterious abortions will become difficult," Women and Child Development Minister Renuka Chowdhury told the Hindustan Times.

The government wanted to ensure that abortions -- often carried out illegally with the aim of doing away with unwanted female foetuses -- were done for an "acceptable and valid reason", she said.

"This will help to check both foeticide and infant mortality."

Around 10 million girls have been killed by their parents in India in the past 20 years, the government says.
Like so much else in India, it looks great on paper and simply won't work in reality. And what is an "acceptable and valid reason?" I thought it was all about whatever a woman chose? So what if a huge number of women choose to kill their unborn girls, even if it is under societal pressure? Again, the (legitimate) outrage at this practice simply underscores the moral incoherence of so much "pro-choice" rhetoric.
Some activists said the government's plan to create a pregnancy register in a country of 1.1 billion people -- where more than 50 percent of women deliver children at home without medical assistance -- was unrealistic.

"We cannot give elementary health services in a satisfactory way to most of our citizens, and to talk about registering pregnancies is ridiculous," said Alok Mukhopadhyay, head of the Voluntary Health Association of India.

"Public awareness, empowerment of women and extension of health services are key in fighting infant mortality and foeticide, as well as implementing the existing laws that forbid sex determination."

As a former beneficiary of this program ...

... I share the concerns about the proposed revamping of the religious worker visa program. I haven't read the new proposed regulations, but even the way the old ones were phrased, it was clear there was a clear bias to Judeo-Christian understandings of religious professions. I don't think that's acceptable in a pluralistic democracy. Yes, there are legitimate concerns about fraud and I'm sure there are ways to address this without resorting to very narrow definitions of religious work.

And if the USCIS is now talking about site visits -- a proposal that looks good on paper -- then God help us! It's such an inefficient and understaffed organization, I can only imagine the kinds of chaos and mismanagement this would result in.

All this attention for 11000 work visas that are given out each year? That's a tiny fraction of the total number of US visas (non-immigrant as well as immigrant) that are given out each year.

I'm not condoning fraud. I just think given the actual conditions under which the USCIS operates, this has the potential to be disastrous for religious communities of all stripes.

And for those Catholics who are instinctively (or even critically) anti-immigration -- do remember that all those foreign priests and religious that now staff so many parishes across the land use this program.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

An interview with Sinead O'Connor

... in Christianity Today. I've added a few comments here and there.
What's your religious background?

Sinéad O'Connor: I was born in 1966 in Ireland, which was at the time a Catholic theocracy, (!?) which can sometimes have negative connotations. My family were all strict Catholics—not in a ram-it-down-your-throat way, but in a kind, loving way. So it was a very Catholic upbringing, went to Catholic schools, an extremely religious environment. [Actually it is refreshing to here someone refer to their upbringing as "strict" but not "ram-it-down-your-throat." In my experience the two are almost always linked!]

Did religion ever become a lifestyle to you, or was it more of a tradition? [Not sure what exactly is being asked here. And, I suppose it suits the folks at CT just fine, all this anti-Catholicism?]

O'Connor: I would say that I'm religious by culture and nationality. It wasn't that I was dragged to mass; I went willingly because I liked going. Religion is not so much a lifestyle because I don't necessarily actively practice it. I don't go to church regularly, but I don't think you have to in order to conduct a relationship with God. Having said that, I do enjoy the times that I do go to church. I believe you can find God all over the place.

Any reason why you don't attend regularly?

O'Connor: I have difficulties with aspects of religion, just as there are things about myself that I like and don't like. I think there's an area of weakness in Catholicism, the way that it's all very hierarchically structured. There isn't equanimity between the audience and the performer, even in the symbolism. In the old days, the mass was conducted in Latin and the priest had his back to the congregation, the idea being that he was somehow leading people to God, while the people were giving their energy to the priest for him to be able to do that. But now when the priest is facing the audience, the symbolism is that the audience is being dictated to and the priest has his back to God. [Fascinating critique of the new Mass! But "energy"? Hmm.]

The hierarchies, not just of Catholicism but a few different religions, see themselves as being above everybody else, which has created this kind of exclusionary thing. The hierarchies are dictating whom God can love and whom God can't love, whom God should love or shouldn't love. [Doesn't have to be that way. Hierarchy isn't automatically "bad" Perhaps, especially if one wants something to endure through time, eh?]
So it doesn't matter your lifestyle, we're all going to heaven.

O'Connor: Yeah, I don't think God judges anybody. He loves everybody equally. I think there's a slight difference when it comes to very evil people, but there are not too many of those in the world. [But why a difference when it comes to "very evil people?" God doesn't love them? They're not "everybody?" Who defines "very evil"? How do we know there are very few of them in the world? There certainly is evil in the world -- just read the newspapers. What about that? Well, she's a little woolly here. No surprises there really.]

God's character is very human; he goes through the whole gamut of emotions that a person might go through.

By human, do you mean fallible?

O'Connor: People often say, "If there's a God, why does he let bad things happen?" We expect God to be perfect, but if we're made in God's image, then perhaps God isn't perfect. And that's OK. But I also believe that partly we are God. We are part of God and God is something that's in us and all around us. [Hardly traditional Christian doctrine. No surprise there either though.]

This is an abomination

Not that a Hindu priest might offer up an innocuous prayer to start the Senate's session, but that followers of Christ would try and disrupt it.

Great way to evangelize, folks!

Def. see the video.

New Archbishop of Baltimore

Archbishop O'Brien of the Military Archdiocese will be the new Archbishop of what could be regarded as the country's primatial see. Rocco has the details.

A Cistercian preacher's manual acquired by USC

Rare Books & Special Collections - University Libraries - USC
Prof. Scott Gwara of the Department of English, who made contact with the Foundation on the library's behalf, identified the manuscript as a preacher's manual, with pages of biblical interpretations used for making sermons, extracts from the lives of saints, a calendar noting the days honoring saints and martyrs, and a bestiary noting symbolic interpretations of Biblical animals. "While these writings are unique, they conform to a wider tradition of medieval thought," Dr. Gwara said. "There could be no better introduction to medieval Christianity than a compilation like this."

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Montreal I

Had a fantastic half-day in Montreal yesterday. It's an easy 1h drive north of Plattsburgh (add 15-45 minutes for the border crossing. No problems going into Canada or returning to the US, though the latter crossing took forever since there was only one lane open). I'd last been to Montreal with my mother in 1986 -- that was also a day trip from Plattsburgh. Definitely want to get back for longer. It's a beautiful city, with a very European feel. I spent most of the half-day visiting churches (surprise) -- the Basilique Notre Dame, the Cathedral (La Reine du Monde, a scaled down and less impressive version of St. Peter's in Rome), St. Patrick's (an Irish church where daily Mass in English had just started when I showed up at 5:15 pm) and the Italian Gesù, which was closed. The concert in the evening -- Gounod's requiem performed by visiting French children's and youth choir and orchestra -- was simply awesome. It's been a while that I've been so surrounded by French (though English is commonly heard. I also heard Russian, Polish, Hindi and Punjabi) and I might just have to grant that it's more than just froggie throat sounds. :) I'm happy to report that I can read and understand basic French about as easily as I could Portuguese. Knowing some Romance languages helps. I doubt that it would work with Romanian though ...

Here are some pictures from the day.

The church of the Gesù reaches out to artists

The Queen Empress

Subsistit In

The CDF clarifies the meaning of "subsists" (Zenit).
The text explains the meaning of the term "subsists in," which is used to describe the nature of the Catholic Church in "Lumen Gentium," a document of Vatican II. The document states: "The Church of Christ ... subsists in the Catholic Church."

The doctrinal congregation explains in the clarification: "Christ 'established here on earth' only one Church and instituted it as a 'visible and spiritual community,' that from its beginning and throughout the centuries has always existed and will always exist, and in which alone are found all the elements that Christ himself instituted.

"This Church, constituted and organized in this world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and the bishops in communion with him."

The responses say that "it is possible, according to Catholic doctrine, to affirm correctly that the Church of Christ is present and operative in the churches and ecclesial communities not yet fully in communion with the Catholic Church, on account of the elements of sanctification and truth that are present in them."

The document further explains why the expression "subsists in" was adopted, instead of simply the word "is."

"The use of this expression, which indicates the full identity of the Church of Christ with the Catholic Church, does not change the doctrine on the Church," the document affirmed.

It continues: "Rather, it comes from and brings out more clearly the fact that there are 'numerous elements of sanctification and of truth' which are found outside her structure, but which 'as gifts properly belonging to the Church of Christ, impel toward Catholic unity.'"
Also see this interview with Fr. DiNoia of the Congregation which tries to shed some light on the document. It's interesting that Fr. DiNoia talks about the response to Dominus Iesus. I'm not sure the response to this document will be any different. Here are some of the headlines I've seen already: "Pope: other Christians not true Churches" (USA Today), "Pope: Only Catholics have 'Means of Salvation'" (CBS4 Miami), "Vatican says other Christian churches 'wounded'" (Reuters), "Vatican reiterates hardline on primacy of Catholic Church" (AFP). Only one, at the headline level at least, was even remotely honest: "Vatican's honest position furthers dialogue - Metropolitan Kirill" (Interfax)

Monday, July 09, 2007

Summorum Pontificum: Reaction in India

The Indian Church welcomes return to Tridentine Mass. (Asia News)
According to Mgr Oswald Gracias, archbishop of Mumbai, the Motu Proprio will “have two important purposes.”

“One very important purpose will be to renew and enrich the liturgy, reclaiming the liturgical form that existed before the Council, which is a great heritage in the history of the church,” said the prelate who is also an expert in Canon Law.

“The Motu Proprio is a sign that the Holy Father wants to make available to the Church all the treasures of the Latin liturgy that have for centuries nourished the spiritual life of so many generations of Catholic faithful.”

“Secondly,” he explained, “it is a response to the pastoral needs of the faithful. In Mumbai, Cardinal Ivan Dias (Gracias’ predecessor) had shown much pastoral sensitivity in allowing the Tridentine Mass. However, there may be practical challenges since there are not that many priests who know Latin.”
Based on my limited personal experience ... if this has even a tiny effect on adding solemnity to the celebration of the Mass, it will be good!

Tons of links to reactions at the Summorum Pontificum blog.

Remember the Muslim Episcopal Priest?

She's been asked to step down from active ministry and reflect a bit.
An Episcopal priest who announced last month that she is also a practicing Muslim has been suspended from the priesthood for a year, according to a media report.

The Rev. Ann Holmes Redding must take a year from her position at Seattle's St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral and should "reflect on the doctrines of the Christian faith, her vocation as a priest, and what I see as the conflicts inherent in professing both Christianity and Islam," the Rt. Rev. Geralyn Wolf, bishop of the Diocese of Rhode Island, wrote in an e-mail to church leaders.

Redding, a priest for 23 years, was ordained by a former bishop of Rhode Island and remains subject to discipline by that diocese.

Up north

More travels. Got a last minute fare on Saturday (talk about last minute!) and I'm up in Plattsburgh, NY visiting the eldest cousin on my mom's side. He just started dialysis, and I've been meaning to come up visit this summer (before the ball and chain are re-attached at seminary :)). [Our instructor is at a conference, so I don't have classes till Thursday]

The day started at about 2:45 am, when the alarm went off. Drove up to Charlotte to catch a NW flight to Detroit and then to Burlington, VT. It's eerie driving on I-77 at that hour -- nothing but convoys of trucks. Yep, I got a first class upgrade -- NW's first class breakfast is nothing compared to what I've gotten on CO. Oh well. A neat approach to Burlington (across Lake Champlain from Plattsburgh) through dark rain clouds. A very tight base and final leg, I thought -- he was adjusting alignment to the runway center line (Rwy 15. Yep, you needed to know that) almost till we crossed the threshold. Then the lightning started and the rain pelted down.

Lunch at a Thai place in downtown Burlington, then across the Lake on ferry to the fair city of Plattsburgh (the site of the battle of Plattsburgh from the war of 1812).

Tomorrow we're going to visit the neighbor to the north and I hope to attend a performance of Goundod's Requiem at the Baslique du Notre Dame in Montreal tomorrow evening. Yes, I have my passport. [Note though, the new passport requirements for US citizens are only for air travel to and from the US. At land crossings to and from Canada a passport isn't yet required.]

Heading back down South on Wednesday.

[That's a rather poor cell-phone shot of Lake Champlain, from the Grand Island causeway in Vermont.]

Sunday, July 08, 2007

It's here: The Pope's Motu Proprio liberalizing the use of the "Tridentine" Mass

[Spent the day with friends in the Holy City -- Charleston, not Rome! -- so haven't been able to blog on this yet.]

Summorum Pontificum. Go to American Papist for a roundup of the news and coverage in the Catholic blogosphere, as well as links to the text (so far in an unofficial English translation).

Amy's re-emerged from her blog-break. And Rocco has an analysis as well. Some more good places that I've just skimmed over:

Don Jim
, New Liturgical Movement, Sandro Magister.

And, yeah, just avoid MSM. (The headline on AOL was "Pope Changes Church rules: Jews, Liberals outraged")

Now, to read the text (well, the un-official English translation. Dealing with all this Latin at this hour surely be soporific) before bed.

Friday, July 06, 2007

It's hot out there!

Was pulling out of the Blockbuster parking lot at Rosewood with Z, when we noticed an gentleman (in his 40s or 50s) across the street, with a white walking stick (the kind that the visually impaired use). He stumbled at the edge of the curb, jerked, and then fell flat on his back in the middle of the road. Luckily, there was no speeding traffic. We pulled back into the lot and called 911. A passerby in a van stopped and we got the gentleman seated in his car, in the air-conditioning. He seemed a bit incoherent at first, but slowly became more coherent. We moved to the parking lot and awaited the ambulance.

That's when I realized just how frickin' hot it can get out on the concrete and asphalt. Ugh!

The EMTs questioned him, checked his vital signs, but couldn't take him to the hospital since he refused. I offered him a ride, and dropped him off at an apartment complex down the street. He seemed pretty embarrassed.

So there's the excitement for this hot Carolina summer day, when the thermometer on my dash was reading 99F.

Stay cool and hydrated, y'all!

On moral equivalence

Are the perpetrators who murdered Daniel Pearl on the same moral ground as the administration that created Guantanamo?

Mr. Judea Pearl, Daniel Pearl's father, thinks not, in this well reasoned piece at the New Republic. Moral relativism and A Mighty Heart. (Free, registration required)
I used to believe that the world essentially divided into two types of people: those who were broadly tolerant; and those who felt threatened by differences. If only the forces of tolerance could win out over the forces of intolerance, I reasoned, the world might finally know some measure of peace.

But there was a problem with my theory, and it was never clearer than in a conversation I once had with a Pakistani friend who told me that he loathed people like President Bush who insisted on dividing the world into "us" and "them." My friend, of course, was taking an innocent stand against intolerance, and did not realize that, in so doing, he was in fact dividing the world into "us" and "them," falling straight into the camp of people he loathed.

This is a political version of a famous paradox formulated by Bertrand Russell in 1901, which shook the logical foundations of mathematics. Any person who claims to be tolerant naturally defines himself in opposition to those who are intolerant. But that makes him intolerant of certain people--which invalidates his claim to be tolerant.

The political lesson of Russell's paradox is that there is no such thing as unqualified tolerance. Ultimately, one must be able to expound intolerance of certain groups or ideologies without surrendering the moral high ground normally linked to tolerance and inclusivity. One should, in fact, condemn and resist political doctrines that advocate the murder of innocents, that undermine the basic norms of civilization, or that seek to make pluralism impossible. There can be no moral equivalence between those who seek--however clumsily--to build a more liberal, tolerant world and those who advocate the annihilation of other faiths, cultures, or states.

Three Billion Liters of Waste Per Day

India Shining Stinking. A disturbing article in Der Spiegel about India's inability to deal with water (and air) pollution, focusing on the Yamuna river of Delhi.

India's meteoric rise in the world's estimation shouldn't eclipse the fact that there are still some huge problems facing the country.
Much of the river pollution problem in India comes from untreated sewage. Samples taken recently from the Ganges River near Varanasi show that levels of fecal coliform, a dangerous bacterium that comes from untreated sewage, were some 3,000 percent higher than what is considered safe for bathing.

How levels of water-borne effluvium skyrocketed to such levels in India can be seen by the example of India's capital, Delhi. Only 55 percent of the 15 million Delhi residents are connected to the city's sewage system. The remainder flush their bath water, waste water and just about everything else down pipes and into drains -- many of them open -- that empty into the Yamuna. "We have a flush and forget mindset," says Narain.
[snip] It's visible from Google Earth.
According to the Centre for Science and Environment, between 75 and 80 percent of the river's pollution is the result of raw sewage. Combined with industrial runoff -- and the garbage thrown into the river -- it totals over 3 billion liters of waste per day, a quantity well beyond the river's capacity to assimilate it. The frothy brew is so glaring it can be viewed on Google Earth.

There is little city residents can do. A confusing web of political appointees, civil servants, and weak elected officials with short term limits makes accountability almost impossible. At least eight separate agencies from the city, state and federal level oversee various aspects of the Yamuna's cleanup, alternately competing for funds and passing the buck when public anger reaches a boiling point.

The problem has become so intractable that the Indian Supreme Court -- notorious for legislating from the bench when government bureaucracies fail to act -- has jumped into the void. After having originally taken up the issue in 1994 following a damning article in the Hindustan Times highlighting the Yamuna's dismal condition, the court approved a new proposal from the Delhi municipal government in May of this year. The plan foresees the building of interceptor sewers to divert the sewage flowing from unconnected parts of the city to the sewage treatment plants -- and is estimated to cost another 20 billion rupees, or almost $500 million in total.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

"Oh this kind of stuff doesn't happen anymore"

I was at my favorite Indian restaurant a week or so back (actually, to pick up some samosas for J's farewell party, before she left for India). They had Deepa Mehta's "Water" showing on the TV, and Mrs. K (the proprietor's wife) and I struck up a conversation about the movie. She hadn't seen the whole thing, but found it a little troubling. Especially that this is the image of India that Westerners would be left with. "That's all they'll think of us -- we're poor and backwards and treat women that way. Tell me, do you know of any widow that is treated that way as they show in the movie? I certainly don't!" she exclaimed. I nodded sympathetically and reminded her that the film is set in the early 20th century. Attitudes have surely changed somewhat, and though I haven't witnessed this kind of ostracism of widows, I'm sure that it still exists in India. India is such a contradiction. So many different layers. So many different attitudes. The centuries blur and cultural and religious practices that can be traced back centuries if not millennia co-exist with Western modernity. People who live in close proximity to each other inhabit such different universes at times.

So, it was hardly a surprise that I saw this CNN story in my inbox, sent by a friend who wondered whether my newly widowed mother would face such treatment. Not in the least.
These Hindu widows, the poorest of the poor, are shunned from society when their husbands die, not for religious reasons, but because of tradition -- and because they're seen as a financial drain on their families.

They cannot remarry. They must not wear jewelry. They are forced to shave their heads and typically wear white. Even their shadows are considered bad luck.

Hindus have long believed that death in Vrindavan will free them from the cycle of life and death. For widows, they hope death will save them from being condemned to such a life again.

"Does it feel good?" says 70-year-old Rada Rani Biswas. "Now I have to loiter just for a bite to eat."

Biswas speaks with a strong voice, but her spirit is broken. When her husband of 50 years died, she was instantly ostracized by all those she thought loved her, including her son.

"My son tells me: 'You have grown old. Now who is going to feed you? Go away,' " she says, her eyes filling with tears. "What do I do? My pain had no limit."

A few photos from the festivities for the Fourth

Discovered this old bottle of champagne (yes, champagne. From Champagne. Not sparkling wine. Champagne.) lying around in the basement. From 1988! Didn't taste too great -- not sure if it was the age, or it was just too dry. But Google did reveal that it was worth, oh, about $50-60. Glad it wasn't worth more, since the thought that it might be valuable didn't occur to anyone until half the contents were gone!

Fireworks shopping

Taken at Jim Casey's on Rosewood Dr. Truth be told, I haven't really been shopping for fireworks since the annual pilgrimaget to the bazaar at Diwali back in India. This was fun!

Blowing up the product of hours of Chinese labor was even more fun!




Posted by Picasa
[And yes, we did blow up Bin Laden's noggin for 89c. :)]

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Old Glory -- made in China

I've humorously recalled the numerous occasions where I've purchased a small American flag, only to find a "Made in China" label on the side.

But, should it be illegal to sell a US flag that was not made in the United States? Apparently, several states have passed (or are considering passing) such laws.

My opinion? Oh give me a break! What is more American than having your consumption help someone in China move slowly out of poverty? :)

(Hardly surprising that most who voted in the poll associated with that story support such laws.)

We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately

Two hundred and thirty one years ago, a bunch of men gathered in Philadelphia threw down the gauntlet and called for revolution in the face of tyranny.
Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
It is a remarkable document, and I try and read it every year around this time.

Much continues to be written about American exceptionalism, particularly in the area of religion. One of the many things that I've noted (and find laudable) about my adopted country is the religious devotion (and seriousness and zeal) that characterizes patriotism in the United States. It never felt this way in India (though a sense of pan-Indian nationalism has clearly taken root, especially in the cities, and especially in the decade since economic liberalization) -- for instance, one would never sing the national anthem at a mere cricket game, local, national or otherwise, the way the Star Spangled Banner gets trotted out at every Little League or football game. Mark Shea remarks on this American characteristic,
Some readers may think I am being sacrilegious by speaking of the Fourth of July in religious terms, but I'm not. G.K. Chesterton (no blasphemer he) once remarked that America was "a nation with the soul of a Church" and said that it was the only country founded on a creed. I think he is dead on. We show our religious roots in every way, from our evangelistic zeal to export "the American way" to our anti-Christian zeal to press down upon the heads of every person in the world the claptrap chicanery of Hollywood and the pro-abortion fanaticism of the self-appointed "population planners." Americans always act as though they felt they were a City on a Hill, just as much as the Puritans did, even when they are pursuing the destruction of all that is holy.

Peter Berger once remarked that if India is the most religious country in the world and Sweden is the most secularized, then America could best be described as a nation of Indians ruled by Swedes.
(He goes on to excoriate the "Swedes" who would further secularize the playing field, and points to the absurdity of their claims.)

Is it appropriate for Christians to be patriotic? Jehovah's Witnesses will not sing (or stand for) the National Anthem. Many on the Left disdain patriotism, or (for some) any patriotism that is identified with the policies of this administration. (Or, in a more bizarre way, they identify this administration with the country as a whole.) St. Paul does remind us, that, ultimately, our citizenship is in heaven. And, of course, being patriotic is not the same as being blind or uncritical. And while some theologians, like that always-provocative maven at Duke, find American patriotism to be deeply disturbing (note how, in this quote, he find troublesome the exact thing that Mark Shea above identifies as a [presumably praiseworthy] characteristic of these United States) --
Hauerwas says he has no problem with a patriotism that is rooted in a specific history and land. "Patriotism in most countries is associated with thankfulness to forbearers that made life possible, to a past that has given a tradition of worth," he told the National Catholic Reporter. But he cannot be an American patriot because the "United States doesn’t want you to be loyal to a land or to a history. It wants you to be loyal to ideals. And those ideals are universal." Those ideals are also, to Hauerwas, repugnant.
-- I find myself more symphathetic with the view expressed in this piece at Christianity Today.
Philosopher Jeffrey Stout says that piety is the virtue associated with gratitude toward the sources of one's existence. Love of country can, in this sense, be seen as a form of piety. We wave the flag in gratitude for the nation in which we live and move and have our being, the geographic source and arena of our existence. Asking someone to avoid patriotism because it compromises Christian faith is like asking them to avoid demonstrating affection to their parents because that, too, can compromise their Christian faith.

Abandoning patriotism can be a rejection of our embodiment as particular human beings in a particular context. It can mark a dismissal of the kinds of natural ties that root us to family, place, and time. I am here, not there; from these parents, not those parents; living in this era, not another one. I am not a free-floating spirit but an embodied person, rooted somewhere rather than nowhere. Patriotism simply says "thank you" for, and to, the particular national community in which our bodies have been placed.
The church has a complicated task in relation to patriotism, and this collapse of any public space for patriotic displays makes that task all the harder. We need to be able to say "yes, but" to patriotism. Yes, we love our country, but we do not fully belong here or in any earthly land. Yes, we want our nation to flourish, but every human being and human community is equally precious in God's sight. Yes, we value our nation's ideals, but they are not the same thing as the message of the kingdom. Yes, God blesses America, but he blesses other nations, too.

Despite these concerns, it still seems to me that people who do not know how to demonstrate an appropriate fealty to their nation are not well positioned to learn how to transcend that loyalty for a higher one.
(The shadow side of patriotism -- jingoism, extreme nationalism and xenophobia -- are also alive and well, especially the last. I see it manifest in ways small and big, everywhere [Well, everywhere except New York City, that most un-American of American cities!], in the way in which news reports seem to care about American lives more than others, the discomfort surrounding the use of languages other than English in public, the way those who speak with an [non-American] accent are treated...) And what about patriotism for those whose bodies weren't placed here? What of those who choose to come here -- to escape oppression, to find a better life, to earn a decent living? I tend to be of the opinion that it behoves us "new Americans" to learn about the values of our adoptive country, to adapt, to grow, not in a way that eclipses where we've come from, but in a way that decisively says, "this is our new home. This is where our loyalties lie." This is, after all, what one declares when one takes the Oath of Citizenship. Of course, the world is a much smaller place, and in this era of globalization and an increasingly globalized work force (well, at least at some levels. And I suppose there is an important distinction to be made between an expatriate, and an emigrant or immigrant.), where distances are so much smaller, and especially where the "home country" is really not at all far away (I still marvel at this when I'm in Edison, NJ or Jackson Heights, Queens or on Devon St. in Chicago. And when I hear the stories of relatives who've lived here several decades. "You know, when we came over, there was no such thing as Indian stores or cheap calling cards. Now you can buy paan around the corner, or pick up the best shrikhand from the local store!), this -- the identification with the new country -- is, perhaps, even more important. Peggy Noonan writes beautifully about this in a piece in the WSJ.
The priest, a jolly young man with a full face and thick black hair, said he was new in the parish, from South America. He made a humorous, offhand reference to the fact that he was talking to longtime Americans who'd been here for ages. This made the friends and family of Anthony Coppola look at each other and smile. We were Italian, Irish, everything else. Our parents had been the first Americans born here, or our grandparents had. We had all grown up with two things, a burly conviction that we were American and an inner knowledge that we were also something else. I think we experienced this as a plus, a double gift, though I don't remember anyone saying that. When Anthony's mother or her friend, my grandmother, talked about Italy or Ireland, they called it "the old country." Which suggested there was a new one, and that we were new in it.

But this young priest, this new immigrant, he looked at us and thought we were from the Mayflower. As far as he was concerned--as far as he could tell--we were old Yankee stock. We were the establishment. As the pitcher in "Bang the Drum Slowly" says, "This handed me a laugh."

This is the way it goes in America. You start as the Outsider and wind up the Insider, or at least being viewed as such by the newest Outsiders. We are a nation of still-startling social fluidity. Anyone can become "American," but they have to want to first.
(I absolutely disagree with her sentiment that the state of things calls for a moratorium on immigration. Hardly. And, I think one definitely needs to distinguish between expatriate workers and immigrants -- those who are here in some sense temporarily, and those who want to live here. Yes, these aren't watertight categories, as our immigration laws presume, and our laws should make it much easier for the former to work in our economy. Much, much easier than now.)

Well, enough of this ramble, where I reveal myself to be something of an idealist, and certainly, a romantic. Let me end with the conclusion of the document that set things rolling, that summer day long ago.
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.
(PS: The words in the title of this post are attributed to Benjamin Franklin on this occasion.)