Cultural Appropriation

So, cultural appropriation has become a Thing. And people are losing jobs and/or livelihoods over it. May I side with this writer and throw a bit of gasoline on the conflagration by suggesting that some reactions to “inter-culturation” are positively Trumpian.

Susan Scafidi, law professor, speaking for the defense:

Taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, or artifacts from someone else’s culture without permission. This can include unauthorized use of another culture’s dance, dress, music, language, folklore, cuisine, traditional medicine, religious symbols, etc.

Which brings to mind some questions. Who is authorized to give permission? Can anyone do it, or does it depend on a committee social media mob, or some appointed expert, or any public official?

The playing field seems a bit uneven, as some guys (like this one or with this product) are grandfathered in as part of a food corporation (like this one). On second thought, maybe Tex-Mex doesn’t count as there’s some dispute about where the cultural boundary might lie. It might be a sexist thing, too. Note that men like Glen Bell or Ray Kroc might get a pass, but white women running a taco stand and put in their place.

I think there are seriously good ways in which cultures can and should mix. Texas and Mexico may be a thing, despite the fact they were once one. Or maybe several if you count native Americans. I told a Lebanese friend that I used to make falafel tacos at home: the baked (not friend) chickpea/fava bean mix in a taco shell with vegetables of my choice. She wasn’t too impressed with my alternative to pita bread, but I liked the corn substitution for wheat.

More from Ms Scafidi:

It’s most likely to be harmful when the source community is a minority group that has been oppressed or exploited in other ways or when the object of appropriation is particularly sensitive, e.g. sacred objects.

I get this. I suppose the most problematic is when a large international corporation utilizes aspects of oppressed or exploited cultures. Thing is, I don’t see much battling on those fronts. People call out Madonna and Katy Perry (women, again) but not the media conglomerates behind them making more money off the adoption of gay, black, or hip-hop culture. What I do see is the Trumpian technique of going after the people you think you can get–not the big boys at the top of the heap.

Sensitive material? Things of religion, yes. Things of tragic events: tread very carefully I think. Things of common use, like food? Since we all eat and enjoy ethnic foods, I would think probably not.

Potential instances of cultural appropriation that might or might not be offensive:

  • learning the language
  • tourism
  • bad timing (eating an Arabic lunch during Ramadan, drinking milk at a Seder meal)
  • plagiarism of artistic works

Before a planned cultural exchange trip to Central America, my host described his hopes for our student visit. We weren’t there to teach music. We were there to share. Our plan was to learn songs, and record some of the local people playing and singing their own compositions–the technology was the one thing we could share. And in the main, just spend time and get to know people. That seemed to me to be the ideal for inter-culturation.

I find this anger and violence toward many people–women in particular seem to be targeted by this Trumpian dynamic–to be unseemly, and not wholly in keeping with what my friends of these cultures think. I wish the culture police would take more time themselves to listen to those they have branded as opponents on these issues. Continue educating, advocating for culture, sure. But lighten up, otherwise, when we’re not talking about appropriation, but appropriate sharing.


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Music For The Sprinkling Rite: You Springs

The third option for a Sprinkling Rite antiphon in the Roman Rite’s Easter Season comes from the long litany in the third chapter of Daniel. You remember the story: three young Jews who refuse to worship their king’s golden statue are hurled into a blast furnace and instead of shrivelling up and dying, they start singing and remain miraculously unharmed. If only singing in church could prevent any lesser harm from coming to us Christians.

Probably derived from these verses, the words are these:

You springs and all that moves in the waters,
sing a hymn to God, alleluia.

This text, with or without the litany (cf. Daniel 3:52-90) has been set to music countless times. Check the psalm for Holy Trinity Sunday, cycle A for the Lectionary version, which you may sing this weekend in church.

As for the Easter Season usage in the Rite of Sprinkling, the litany form gives the best flexibility for timing. I don’t think a music leader or cantor needs to worry about an exclusive citing of water and watery creatures in select verses (3:60, 68, 77-79). A literal interpretation might even lose the whole point, which is the remembrance of baptism. Dolphins and tuna and dew and all may indeed praise God as a reflection of creation. But the call is for the baptized Christian to give thanks for the grace offered in Baptism.

Some notable settings on YouTube include Lynn Trapp’s for organ, choir, and assembly–not an exact rendering of the antiphon. He has also adapted antiphons one and two for verses as well as Jesus’ citation of living waters from John 7:37ff.

One parish adapted the acclamation, the tune O Filii et Filiae, and Marty Haugen’s Easter Gospel Acclamation for a triple mash-up here. I find this less successful.

My own preference would be to use the text from Daniel 3. Secondarily, I might explore the baptismal canticle Saint Paul cited to the Ephesians if I wanted to emphasize a focus on Christ. My only caution would be to consider the use of the entirety of verses 3 through 14 to underscore the Trinitarian background of the passage. But maybe I’m being a bit fussy on that point. Another thought would be to use select verses from Revelation 7:9ff to keep the Christological focus and perhaps emphasize the testimony of the elder in verse 14:

These are the ones
who have survived the time of great distress;
they have washed their robes
and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

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Looking At Liturgy In Unleash The Gospel III

One of the “markers” in the pastoral letter, Unleash The Gospel treats the “Holy Eucharist” directly. Archbishop Allen Vigneron cites Pope Benedict’s encyclical Sacramentum Caritatis to begin his point:

In the Holy Eucharist we reach the summit of our participation in the victory of Christ over sin and death—the triumph we proclaim in the new evangelization. In this Most Blessed Sacrament we have the source of our zeal and strength to unleash the Gospel.(84-87)

Evangelization and the Eucharist mutually feed into each other. Drawing closer to Christ, those who are evangelized come to the Eucharist. And the sending at the end of Mass is an explicit call to go and evangelize:

At every Mass the Church—that is, all her members—are newly empowered and sent forth to bring Christ into the world. Through the Eucharist we become stamped with the pattern of Christ’s own self-giving love so that we can reproduce that pattern in our own lives. Thus the goal of the liturgy is never just to receive the sacrament and go home; it is to become a living tabernacle through which Christ is made present to others. As Pope Benedict XVI stated:

The love that we celebrate in the sacrament is not something we can keep to ourselves. By its very nature it demands to be shared with all. What the world needs is God’s love; it needs to encounter Christ and to believe in him. The Eucharist is thus the source and summit not only of the Church’s life, but also of her mission: “an authentically eucharistic Church is a missionary Church.” We too must be able to tell our brothers and sisters with conviction: “That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us” (1 Jn 1:3).(Sacramentum Caritatis, 84)

This is an important insight. It advances lay celebration of Mass beyond the devotional, past the obligatory, and launches us into something a bit more refined that, say, sixty to several hundred years ago. To be sure: yesterday and today, the experience of the Eucharist was fruitful in the sense that people “got something” out of it and were inspired to holiness. This happened and still occurs regardless of the skill of the ministers or sometimes even the attention of the believer. Today, there is a new horizon. I would see the conciliar emphasis on participation as part of the constitution of a “practicing” Catholic. I mean practicing in the sense that participation engages us and prepares us for the active response to God’s nudges of grace in everyday life. Look to the sad, the hungry, the lost. etc., and help them, in the agency of Jesus Christ, to consolation, fulfillment, companionship, etc.. The experience of the Beloved, Jesus, in the liturgy gives us both inspiration and impetus.

With the assistance of St John Paul II, Archbishop Vigneron writes of an intellectual understanding:

The members of our local Church need to be regularly rekindled in “Eucharistic amazement”(Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 6) by preaching and catechesis that helps to deepen their understanding and faith in this immeasurable gift and moves them to make a gift of self in return. Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, since it brings people directly into the presence of Jesus, is a powerful means of revitalizing a parish and equipping it to transform the culture.

But it is always about more than the engagement of the brain. Understanding Jesus through catechesis is important. But it is vital that disciples do more than know about Jesus. It is important to know him, to know him personally. Adoration is one method of prayer that complements an intellectual engagement.

Parishes are urged to look at their celebration of liturgy:

Parishes must also focus sustained attention on the quality of the Sunday liturgy experience, especially from the perspective of newcomers and newly returning Catholics.

Two popular books are cited in the footnote attached to the sentence above:

* Recent books that provide very helpful guidance in this regard are James Mallon, Divine Renovation. Bringing Your Parish from Maintenance to Mission (New London, CT: Twenty-Third Publications, 2014); and Michael White and Tom Corcoran, Rebuilt: Awakening the Faithful, Reaching the Lost, and Making Church Matter (Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria, 2013).

This site has reviewed these books here and here. I recommend them.

Parishes are questioned, and this pastoral letter focuses on the aspects of Mass that appeal to people: hospitality, music, and preaching. Therefore, these questions:

  • Do people who show up for Mass enter into a friendly, hospitable environment where mutual love is evident?
  • Does the music help them to lift up their minds and hearts in worship of God?
  • Does the preaching break open the word of God and help them apply it to their lives?

Archbishop Vigneron also tacks on a fourth question:

Is there an atmosphere of faith in which people’s attention is truly focused on the Lord?

I suppose the first three, if taken out of the context of evangelization, can seem too human-centered. Good music and preaching can achieve this. And I don’t just mean popular songs and friendly homilies.

Everybody has a role to play:

These qualities are not the responsibility of the pastor alone but of the entire congregation. If improvement is needed, let us strive for it with patience and perseverance.

This certainly removes the need for any one person or group to be responsible for any single effort. An entire parish can be welcoming in simple, friendly, unobtrustive ways. Almost everybody can sing. Preachers can solicit input from parishioners–many homilists I know routinely consult homily subscription services. So whjy not their own people?

What do you make of this pastoral letter? We’ve attended to three moments of its interface of liturgy and evangelization. Is the archbishop spot on? Anywhere he can improve the message?

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Ten Years Ago Here I

Every so often, I check back on what went up here at this site. I was struck by Neil’s offering ten years ago today, citing Rabbi Jonathan Sacks on people (of faith or not) getting along (or not).

Secularisation, the great movement of the European mind that began in the 17th century, did not begin because people stopped believing in God. The movement’s intellectual heroes, Newton and Descartes, believed in God very much indeed.

What they lost faith in was the ability of religious people to live peaceably together. Catholics and Protestants had been fighting one another across Europe in what Hobbes called “the war of every man against every man”. There had to be another way. So, first science, then philosophy, politics and culture were rebuilt on foundations that did not depend on doctrine or dogma but instead on experiment and observation, reason and inference.

In other words, an embrace of reason above partisan passions. I’m not enough of a philosopher of history to plumb the full depths of this. But I was pondering the parallels in contemporary American culture. Have we lost faith in the ability of citizens to live together peaceably, believers, atheists, left, and right alike?

Given the penchant for fake news* has experiment, observation, reason, and inference flown out the window?

* Nate Silver, in his book The Signal and the Noise, details how the advent of the printing press led to widespread “fake” news in its day. Anybody with access to the new invention could dream up something, and spread lies to and fro. No more investment in copying a text by hand. Maybe it’s no surprise that Rabbi Sacks’ historical reference came early in that original “fake news” era.

The rabbi’s conclusion and final question:

For the great strength of religion is that it creates communities, and its great weakness is that it divides communities. The two go hand in hand. For every “us” there is a “them”, and the stronger the togetherness within, the deeper the estrangement without. What binds also separates. It always did.

The real battle, and it applies to secular and religious alike, is: can we love, not hate, the people not like us?

Does it fit for the contemporary US? The whole West? Do our opponents, detractors, and even traitors see this as an opportunity? If so, how to battle it?

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Looking At Liturgy In Unleash The Gospel II

From Detroit this Pentecost, Archbishop Allen Vigneron released a pastoral letter, Unleash The Gospel. He mainly addresses the contemporary Church’s enormous need to recover a spirit of evangelization. And indeed, much much more than a spirit. His letter includes a plan of action.

At three times in the letter he addresses liturgy seriously. One of these is a separate section on the “Holy Eucharist.” I’ll leave that till a later post. Interestingly, the topic of liturgy comes us as he discusses families. I recommend you check out the website including and accompanying this letter. Even if you aren’t a Catholic in southeastern Michigan. A good amount to ponder, discuss, and put into action–even if you aren’t obliged to take part in the action plan for the Detroit archdiocese.

Archbishop Vigneron reminds his readers that “families are at the very heart” of the Church’s mission. Families, not parishes, their churches, their rectories, chanceries or religious communities are “the primary social unit in which life in Christ, the life of the Church, is experienced and lived.” Can you and do you accept this reality?

Speaking of families being in crisis, the archbishop acknowledges “unprecedented challenges.” As a result “our local Church must commit a major portion of her resources to supporting families and helping them live out their call to holiness.”

That said, the archbishop is a skeptic on the outsourcing of religious education.

Parishes must make every effort to resist this pattern, since catechizing children has little effect if parents themselves are not living as disciples of Jesus.

This is an important point, perhaps the most vital in the whole section:

Parishes must look for ways to make catechesis and sacramental preparation family-based, helping parents grow in discipleship so that they can then form their children. Parishes also need to do everything possible, within their limits, to ensure that struggling families are being cared for, including those affected by divorce, illness or bereavement; infertile couples; those with children with special needs; and those struggling with pornography or other forms of addiction. Ministry to families must be sensitive to the rich cultural diversity within our local Church, appreciating and celebrating the different ways that our Catholic faith is lived out.

You might ask now, where does the liturgy fit into this? By encouraging “Evangelization within Families,” his second “marker” on this topic. I’ll leave the comment about Sunday Mass in context of a wider view:

The first priority is given to participation in the Sunday liturgy and daily prayer; decisions about activities and finances are made according to the mind of Christ; the spouses talk freely to one another and to their children about the Lord; the faith is enculturated through various family and cultural traditions and celebrations; and, above all, the mutual gift of self is the norm for all relationships. In such families, the spouses are witnesses of Christ to one another, and often even the children, through the simplicity of their faith, evangelize their parents.

Self-gift is the way the Lord chooses to relate to people. Self-giving is not a marker for saints or for Jesus alone. The disciple chooses to imitate the master. We practice a giving of self. For Catholics steeped in the sacramental tradition (Marriage and Eucharist) we act out, as best we can, this self-giving. Spouses do so in full view of their children. They offer self to their children as well, and form (not just educate!) young people to do likewise in their lives. Thus the model is set, and in family life, the Christian way is practiced. The term “practicing Catholic” is illustrative. We can never hope to offer the full self as Christ did. However, through grace, and cooperating with the Divine Will, we can model it well enough for others to be evangelized by our imperfect efforts.

Note the “first priority” given here: Sunday liturgy and daily prayer. Each of these is a family activity.

I understand that many adult Catholics suffer a serious lack of self-esteem when it comes to their spiritual lives. Previous generations, including the ones before Vatican II, raised Catholics less sure of the details of discipleship. Adults were too often treated as children. Children were raised in the context of a culture that reinforced the externals–the social life, outward obedience, and neighborhood conformity. It is because we are in a crisis situation in our culture that this model no longer suffices.

I’ll leave off my commentary and turn it over to you readers. What do you make of Archbishop Vigneron’s emphasis on family and prayer? What suggestions would you make if your parish were following this initiative?

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More Than An Octave

This time of year the discussion pops up in traditional-leaning Catholic circles. What happened to the Pentecost octave? Isn’t it a horrible thing it’s gone? A few of my facebook friends have opined on this and I’ve commented there. Just revisiting the discussion from there and here:

  1. Pentecost has received a “promotion,” as it were. It is the crowning feast of the Paschal season, a counterweight to the observance of the Resurrection. It is part of the “Fifty,” no longer just the initiation of “eight.”
  2. Pentecost is also the 8th Sunday of Easter, the completion of an octave of Sundays.
  3. Pentecost is also rightly recognized as the culmination of the original novena, a period of nine days of prayer and preparation stretching from Ascension Thursday to the Christian observance of the descent of the Holy Spirit.
  4. Pentecost also includes the celebration of an extended Vigil: six readings–not just three. This is the second-longest Liturgy of the Word in the Roman Rite. There are also a host of special prayers and possible observances that mark Pentecost as a significant liturgical event.
  5. The elimination of an octave doesn’t preclude a parish from celebrating a votive Mass of the Holy Spirit during the week following Pentecost, with the provision that a higher ranking liturgical day isn’t bumped off the chart. Maybe more than one–there are a good number of readings and prayers from which to choose.
  6. If the Vigil on Saturday is too much, then an extended Vespers on Sunday evening might well give added festivity to the observance.

Aspirants to the Pentecost octave might have a few initiatives to undertake before I’d register their complaint as valid:

  • Does your parish observe the Easter season will full festivity on weekdays? Daily Easter Masses should hopefully look a bit different from ordinary weekdays.
  • Does your parish add extra vitality to the novena, including resources for families to use at home?
  • Do you celebrate the full Pentecost Vigil and/or Vespers on Pentecost evening?
  • Are the usual social appendages to Sunday Mass kicked up a notch? By this I would think of a Saturday dinner, a full breakfast Sunday morning in between liturgies, or at least special foods for parishioners.
  • Do you observe a votive Mass of the Holy Spirit on occasion during the year (such as at the commencement of an academic year) and especially during the week after Pentecost?

I wouldn’t judge a parish frozen in minimalism as such. But if there is a true devotion to the Holy Spirit, I would think a lot of options exist to honor the Third Person. If those options aren’t utilized, I’d say Catholics, including traditionalists, have a lot to do before they can reasonably complain about what has been lost.

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Looking At Liturgy In Unleash The Gospel I

From Detroit this Pentecost, a much-noticed pastoral letter, Unleash The Gospel. Archbishop Allen Vigneron zeroes in on the Church’s enormous need and challenge: evangelization.

I could go into detail on this document–and there are many excellent details to read and ponder. But it belongs to another diocese and their particular initiatives. I do recommend it as a starting point, if not for a parish or larger Catholic community, for personal reflection. I can hope that my diocese and others will find it within their plan to produce similar initiatives. These are about forty years overdue. Chalk up another bit of foresight to Pope Paul VI.

Limiting the scope of my commentary, I thought I’d look at how Archbishop Vigneron treats liturgy as an element of his desire to unleash the Gospel. We’ll divide this up into three separate posts. Family is one topic that touches on liturgy. The archbishop also has a section in which he addresses “Holy Eucharist.”

But in this post, I’d like to look at the importance of leading people to “life-changing encounters with Jesus,” Archbishop Vigneron offers a very concrete parallel anyone can understand, a person-to-person intimacy:

An encounter is a person-centered form of contemplation; it is two people being present to each other with no utilitarian purpose. For some people the encounter with Christ is a cataclysmic “Damascus road” kind of experience; for others it is more gradual. In either case, encountering Jesus is like meeting the person you are going to marry: you are overwhelmed by this encounter and cannot imagine going forward in life without that person. The Christian life becomes not just one but a series of encounters with Jesus, especially through prayer and the liturgy, which continually deepen our relationship with him.

With some interest, I clicked on one of those “offerings” I see on my facebook page, “23 ways in which you know you are in love.” I pondered how these might apply to the Christian disciple’s relationship with Jesus. Some were obvious–for human lovers: the beloved is all I can think about; I want merely to spend time with my beloved; my friends get tired of how much I speak of the beloved; sex is less important than the expression of intimacy; I notice gifts I can bring to my beloved; I find myself interested in things my beloved is interested in that perhaps in the past I didn’t care about.

How do we devote time to our Beloved? Prayer and liturgy are obvious times and places of encounter. Note that Archbishop Vigneron describes that liturgy and prayer are means of deepening an already-existing relationship. Prayer and liturgy are already important for the believer. Does the Roman Rite offer those opportunities for deeper relationship? Do our faith communities offer these opportunities?

Preaching and catechesis in our local Church must foster such encounters, especially by explaining our love relationship with Christ as the purpose of the liturgy. Whenever possible we should invite people to respond to Jesus by surrendering their lives to him, and give them concrete opportunities to do so.

“Preaching and catechesis” are largely “head” encounters. But intimacy is something of the whole person, not only the head but the heart as well. When a human being today seeks a partner, perhapsd the head is in the relationship somewhat. Will this person make a suitable partner? Do we think alike, share the same political preferences, or analyze the potential traits of our children? How will we manage our finances, our friends, our work? I suppose we treat Jesus in this way. Will I find a parish that aligns with my opinions and tastes? Will I get encouragement to live according to the values Iwith which I assent by my will?

The “textbook” definition of liturgy, according to Vatican II, is worship of God and sanctification of the faithful. How does this fit with the “love relationship with Christ”? I think it does. But I also think it must include something of the human affect. In our person-to-person relationships, it is easy to size up the other by the benefit they will give me (and perhaps the benefit I can give in return). But the Lord doesn’t work in those ways.

What do you see in this piece of Unleash The Gospel?


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