On My Bookshelf: The Interstellar Age

the interstellar ageI endorse Jim Bell’s The Interstellar Age as an accessible and enjoyable read. He explores the unfolding story of the Voyager probes that expanded human knowledge of the outer solar system. He was there for some of it as a Caltech student running errands for mission scientists at JPL when the twin spacecraft flew by our four outer planets and their retinues of moons.

Professor Bell is also president of the Planetary Society, and as expected, his charming and positive attitude about space exploration and a crisp writing style keeps this book rolling along nicely. A plus are some personal anecdotes about the scientists.

Other books cover more of the backstory of these missions, but this volume devotes time to the what-ifs of the future. Makes you think: should we have included messages to aliens on these probes, telling them exactly where to find us? A few people in the 70’s thought no.

A brief NPR interview with Professor Bell is here.

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Laudato Si 150: On Design

Earth from Apollo 8The encyclical letter Laudato Si is available here on the Vatican website.

150. Given the interrelationship between living space and human behavior, those who design buildings, neighborhoods, public spaces and cities, ought to draw on the various disciplines which help us to understand people’s thought processes, symbolic language and ways of acting. It is not enough to seek the beauty of design. More precious still is the service we offer to another kind of beauty: people’s quality of life, their adaptation to the environment, encounter and mutual assistance. Here too, we see how important it is that urban planning always take into consideration the views of those who will live in these areas.

My sense is that modern architects and designers tend to be very sensitive to these factors. How is this accomplished? Serious dialogue. Which includes listening to many people.

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Power To The Students

If it takes a village to raise a child, it seems like it takes a football team to dump a president. Nothing like the threat of forfeiting a big game and losing $1M to get a university braintrust in gear. At Yale, Halloween insensitivity real and perceived.

Prior to this year, I followed such stories with great interest. I guess I still have an interest, just a different one. Mizzou was one of the schools under consideration by the young miss. I doubt she would have much stomach for confrontation.

Is it too much to hope these student activists will take their passion and a bit of their anger into society and tackle corporations, politics, and such? Make a difference, there, it is hoped.

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On My Bookshelf: A Still and Quiet Conscience

A_Still_and_Quiet_ConscienceThe central narrative of this biography is the struggle between Rome and the Archdiocese of Seattle. A very sympathetic author sets up the tale with an account of his archbishop’s involvement in the 80’s anti-nuclear and peace movement. In Chapter Three, he shifts to a chronological account that takes the reader from family origins in Montana to St James Cathedral here in my new diocese.

The second half of the book was difficult, and I write this, as you readers suspect, as someone who views Archbishop Hunthausen favorably. The detail is considerable, the research meticulous and well-documented. A continent away as a grad student, I followed the story closely thirty-some years ago. Renewing this acquaintance and going deeper with the perspective of the modern tussles of Catholicism put me in a very thoughtful mood.

First, I noticed the swell of outrage in me as I finished the book. That was the main difficulty. John McCoy is a fine writer, but he goes a bit over-the-top with a few gratuitous insults that don’t help his narrative. He has a clear bias, but his account is generally fair to all parties.

Next, I pondered one criticism of Archbishop Hunthausen, that he cultivated an atmosphere of laxity. Are there times when a leader must be directive, telling people what to do? Bosses who let competent employees do their jobs: this seems to get praise in a lot of quarters. Did some people take advantage of the bishop’s leadership style to do as they pleased? The author offered at least one example of that. The truth is that I don’t like to tell people what to do. How does that hamper my role as a parish minister, a music leader, or as a parent?

As you might expect, the Vatican investigation does not come off looking competent, moral, or cohesive. Secrecy bites the institution badly here. One example: Archbishop Hunthausen proposed that he invite a Vatican visitator to accomplish the mission and to calm Seattle Catholics. Rome insisted on a secret process, news of which leaked out anyway. So things got quite contentious, including accounts of shouting matches between priests and the Vatican-appointed auxiliary, Donald Wuerl. The sub-current of “they never listen” was palpable.

Before Pope Francis, I would have found this depressing reading. The author himself didn’t resurrect his notes until 2013 and begin putting together this book.

Do I recommend it? Sure: if you have the stomach for politics. And a morality tale that ponders the question: does the end justify the means? Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger had a vision for the Church. We can only now begin to consider the fruits of a third-of-a-century of dialing back Vatican II. The Culture of Complaint was emboldened in the 80’s, even before the internet. Basic human courtesy gets dialed back: does this have consequences for the attack dogs, even if they are assured that they are wrapped in virtue?

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Laudato Si 149: Love Overcomes Crime

Earth from Apollo 8The encyclical letter Laudato Si is available here on the Vatican website. In the world’s gated communities, crime is not tolerated, of course. Not crimes committed openly, that is.

149. The extreme poverty experienced in areas lacking harmony, open spaces or potential for integration, can lead to incidents of brutality and to exploitation by criminal organizations.

Not surprising that Pope Francis would speak of this–he has been consistently outspoken against organized crime.

In the unstable neighborhoods of mega-cities, the daily experience of overcrowding and social anonymity can create a sense of uprootedness which spawns antisocial behavior and violence. Nonetheless, I wish to insist that love always proves more powerful. Many people in these conditions are able to weave bonds of belonging and togetherness which convert overcrowding into an experience of community in which the walls of the ego are torn down and the barriers of selfishness overcome. This experience of a communitarian salvation often generates creative ideas for the improvement of a building or a neighborhood.*

* Some authors have emphasized the values frequently found, for example, in the villas, chabolas or favelas of Latin America: cf. Juan Carlos Scannone, S.J., “La irrupción del pobre y la lógica de la gratuidad”, in Juan Carlos Scannone and Marcelo Perine (eds.), Irrupción del pobre y quehacer filosófico. Hacia una nueva racionalidad, Buenos Aires, 1993, 225-230.

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The Fruits of Trent, Plus Opinionology

computer_monitorAL suggested something of an anti-traditional crusade on my part. I don’t deny that I find many aspects of traditional Catholicism lacking: the promotion of uniformity, poorly performed chant, clericalism, opposition to key movements from Vatican II, an adversarial tack with much of the world, pessimism, and a slowness in responding to the times in which we live.

And yet each of these are flip sides of some great graces which blessed Roman Catholicism from the mid-16th to the mid-20th century.

Uniformity produced a great sense of Catholic identity. In my original parish, the Germans and the Italians might have feuded from time to time, but they quickly closed ranks and stood together during the immigrant decades in the US.

Chant might have been poorly performed, but even those who misunderstood the genre needs life and pulse knew they were continuing a great tradition of sacred art.

Trent’s initiative to mandate celibacy, seminaries, and substantial training gave the Church thousands of fine priests who were well-prepared to lead and serve.

The Western world was turned upside down, and name your cause: sex, rock music, the military-industrial complex, communism, world war, television, suburbs, the interstate highway system, inbred Euro-aristocrats, the French Revolution, or the Enlightenment. If Vatican II’s implementation in some parishes wasn’t ham-fisted, why wouldn’t one lump a few thousand bishops and two popes into the category of “suspect”?

Is that enough of a list?

My consistent criticism of traditional-leaning Catholics is their internet misbehavior, especially when it’s conveniently pseudonymous. I’ve also been a consistent critic of those who might want to impinge on the net’s freedom to write. I think people can write what they want. And if I disagree, I’ll write a reply here or on another site. I’m not trying to censor anybody, or even suggest that they should be shut down or fired or excommunicated.

A day after I write something nobody reads it ever again. End of conversation. I don’t preface my writing with “imo” or “imho” or even “imnsho.” This is the blogosphere. It’s all about opinion. More accurate to call it the “opinionsphere.” Please: don’t give me or this site any more credibility than just another opinion.

If people don’t like my opinions, they can choose not to read them. If it’s on someone else’s site, they can delete them or ban me.

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Extra-Liturgical Chatter

I read Andrew Mountain’s brief reflection here on PrayTell. It’s somewhat personally relevant, as the mid-morning Mass at my new parish exemplifies this quality.

After reading friend Charles’ comment, I noticed the CMAA echo chamber is in full reverb over it. Sort of like how these discussions are envisioned: take thirty seconds to rant about what’s wrong with other people.

Mr Mountain explains a personal revelation when he served as a liturgist in a chatty community:

I started to recognize why I didn’t feel a connection to that congregation. It was because I chose not to. Because it didn’t fit my own preferences, I was willing to remain a stranger, or at best a guest, within the community. Although at first I thought of their forward and social approach to liturgy as silly, I began to realize that by walling myself off from the community, I was the silly one.

As that realization slowly dawned on me, I began to focus less on what I did or didn’t get out of the liturgy, and more on what everyone else got out of it.

It is a laudable stance for a minister to recognize her or his own preferences and how they color attitude.

On a practical level, if chatter before and after Mass precludes some kinds of prayer, it would be my responsibility to give it a chance during Mass (when its most important for the Sunday assembly). Or at other times.

A few of my parishioners have asked what we should do about this. I’m disinclined to two extreme stances: that we should encourage it at the other four weekend Masses or that it’s time to clamp down on the 9:45 Mass.

Remember, this is the Catholic church. There’s always more than one way to holiness.

Posted in Liturgy, The Blogosphere | Tagged | 12 Comments