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April 2013

Bypassing Politics

(This is a post I've been wanting to write for a week or two. But as I may have mentioned, I've been working a lot of nights and weekends and haven't had much time for writing. So I'm going to go ahead and just say it briefly, which probably covers it just as well anyway.)

For the poor you have always with you: and whensoever you will, you may do them good...

(Mark 14:7)

One often, if not usually, hears that verse quoted as an expression of fatalism about the possibility of ever ending poverty. And I think there will always be at least relative poverty, although the point is often made that even most poor people in industrial societies are better off than, say, the poor of, say, most of Africa. But I think there's another implication that's more pressing for us here and now. In these same affluent societies, there is a tendency to look to government and politics as the most fitting and possibly the only way of addressing problems such as poverty. So talk about helping the poor tends to turn into an argument about what the political approach should be. And the argument tends to occupy everyone's attention.

But there is nothing whatsoever to stop you and me from helping the poor personally, directly, right now. And whatever one's stand on the political questions may be, engagement with them can't be a substitute for action. Depending on one's circumstances, the action may involve giving time or money or both, and the amount given obviously will also depend on circumstances. But no political advocacy can take the place of personal action. That seems pretty plain from Scripture. And if all Christians did what we're supposed to do, most of the political argument would be irrelevant.

I can't point to any place where he has specifically said so, but I have the general impression that Pope Francis is urging us to something like this. It's very clear that he considers service to the poor a very important duty, yet in Argentina he seems to have gone about preaching that duty and acting on it in a way that mostly bypasses the political questions. As Janet Cupo said in a recent post, Now is the acceptable time. Not "when we expand these social programs," or "when we get rid of these social programs,"  and certainly not "when distributism is finally established." Now.


The Thin Red Line

After having it strongly recommended to me several times by several different people, I finally devoted an evening to watching this movie. And I mean an evening: it's just under three hours long.

I think a person of decent taste and intelligence could find it either sublime and profound, or pompous and pretentious. I'm in the former category. It's a Terrence Malick film, and on the basis of the two works of his that I've seen, the other being Tree of Life, I think you either give yourself over to his vision, in which case you'll be of the sublime-and-profound persuasion, or you don't, in which case you might be tempted to mock.


Update: Re-reading this, I think it sounds less enthusiastic than I intended for it to. I only meant to add that I can imagine some fair criticisms of the movie--I myself did like it, quite a lot, and recommend it, with the warning that there are some pretty intense and somewhat gory battle scenes.

Fox On the Run

Weekend Music

I don't know why, but almost every morning this week I've discovered that this song is running through my head as I'm getting ready for work. Something is triggering it--maybe something to do with walking the dogs to the bay--but I don't notice what, I just suddenly realize that it's there. It was on the radio back in the '70s, and I thought it was great, though maybe that was because it was so much better than most of the other stuff. But still, that one verse is magnificent:

She walked through the corn leading down to the river
Her hair shone like gold in the hot morning sun
She took all the love that a poor boy could give her
And left me to die like a fox on the run


I had always assumed Tom T. Hall wrote it, since he was known as a writer as much as a performer, and was astonished--the word is justified--to learn that it was written by an Englishman and originally recorded by...Manfred Mann? Yes, Manfred Mann.


I like Tom T. Hall's version much better; it even tweaks the tune and the lyric a bit, and to my taste improves them--the fall is not The Fall, but the speaker's own recapitulation of it. And the tune somehow has a bit more urgency. It was a stroke of genius on someone's part to rework it as a bluegrass tune.

Call the Midwife

I expect most people who read this blog and would be interested in this BBC TV show have already seen it. But in case you haven't: it's really good. I had seen a few very favorable references to it here and there, but it really didn't sound like my cup of tea. Then a few weeks ago I noticed that it was on right before something else my wife and I were going to watch, and I thought my wife might like it, so I generously suggested that we give it a try. 

That one episode, which is part of whatever season is currently running on PBS, was enough to make us look and see whether the earlier ones were on Netflix. They are, so if you have Netflix you can start from the beginning, which I think I'd recommend: the one current episode we saw included an incident which I now see is a pretty big spoiler.

It's set in 1950s London, and the midwives of the title are a group of Anglican nuns and several young nurses in their employ. I half-expected it to be full of political/feminist propaganda, but it really isn't, at all. The Christian vocation of the nuns is taken seriously, and they are portrayed as very human but not bizarre, cruel, etc. (Well, one of them is sort of batty, but in a nice way.) But the young nurses and the clients are the center of attention.

I suppose you could say it's a bit soap-0pera-ish in that one-thing-after-another way, and maybe could be accused of sentimentality: at any rate, as you might expect of the subject, it's very emotional, and very feminine. The stories tend to vary from the heart-warming to the heart-wrenching, and some of the latter are very much so. There is, also as you might expect of the subject, at least one screaming childbirth in every episode, and there have been a number of moments that made me squirm. So consider yourself warned. But you also get to hear a bit of very beautiful chanting from the nuns in almost every episode (I think we've seen five in all now).

It's much better than Downton Abbey

But Who Are You, Really?

I have a silly tendency to expect that actors and actresses who play characters I like will be people I would like as well. I know it makes no sense, but it happens all the time--all right, I admit it's worse when the person is a beautiful woman--and it was the case with Reese Witherspoon and her performance as June Carter Cash in Walk the Line

More than once I've had this illusion dispelled by a news story. I was a bit disappointed to read earlier today that Reese Witherspoon had behaved most obnoxiously to a policeman who stopped her husband on suspicion of drunk driving, a suspicion which proved to be perfectly well-founded, not only the driver--her husband--but the passenger--herself--being pretty well plastered. You can read an account here, but the basic story is that she pulled the Do You Know Who I Am!?! gambit that is probably about the most irritating thing a well-known person, politician or entertainer or athlete, can do. 

 She apologized decently, with seeming sincerity, and no complaining. So she has that to her credit in my opinion, which would no doubt be a comfort to her.

But here is what I wanted to talk about: in the apology she said "This is not who I am." One hears that frequently from people who are embarrassed or ashamed. And I always want to say, "Are you sure?"

 In vino veritas may not be a law of nature, but it's a real phenomenon. That spoiled celebrity may not be who Reese Witherspoon wants to be, but she's in there somewhere, and last Thursday night she had a chance to step out and say a few words.

Perhaps I'm just out of touch, but I don't hear as much as I used to of the idea that each of us is fundamentally a wonderful person whose occasionally unpleasant thoughts and behavior are simply the effects of society or circumstances having warped our essential nature. But This is not who I am may be a sort of residue of it, and of the idea that there is a single "true self" buried somewhere within us. Better to accept that we all have a spoiled celebrity, or someone equally obnoxious, if not downright evil, inside us, and keep him under very close supervision, since we cannot by our own power get rid of him. As Baudelaire said of the devil, his most effective tactic is to make us think he doesn't exist.

Phosphorescent: Song For Zula

Weekend Music

After a long hiatus, I've been listening to the forty or fifty eMusic freebies I'd accumulated over a period of months, and flagging the ones I think are especially good and will want to hear again. I found this one sort of haunting. It's not especially appropriate for Easter, but the video makes it a bit more so. 


Should I go to confession for having laughed at this?

Update: this is not the hijacked car, which was an SUV, which this clearly is not. This photo did appear in connection with the bombings. I haven't taken the time, and probably won't, to try to track down what was actually going on here.


It was  a brief laugh, but it was a laugh.

This is a picture of the car hijacked by the Boston bombers. The yellow ellipse draws your attention to what certainly appears to be one of those "COEXIST" bumper stickers.


But who knows?--maybe the sticker is part of the reason they didn't kill the driver.

Coexist sticker

Pope Francis and the Reform of the Laity

An interesting piece at the National Catholic Register. No, make that fascinating, not just interesting.

I guess it intrigues me because it's somewhat similar to some things I've been thinking. I said something the other day about the Church having been vandalized, and about the reversal of that damage that's been taking place over the past twenty-to-thirty years.

"When the Church does not come out of itself to evangelize,” [Pope Francis] said, “it becomes self-referential and then gets sick."

In recent years, I think it was at least equally a matter of the Church becoming self-referential in part because it was sick. Internal problems require an inward focus--if the house needs major repairs, or if you have a major health problem, those things get a lot more attention than they normally would or should. But if those are put in order, you're free to turn your attention outward again. Maybe that's what's about to happen in the Church. I certainly hope so.

The article uses the term "ecclesiastical narcissism," but in the comments a  Fr. Geoff Rose, OSFS asserts that a more accurate translation is "theological narcissism." That seems to me a better description.

I Expect They Do

In Boston Bombings, Muslims Hold Their Breath.

It's not unreasonable to consider it a strong possibility that the bomber is a radical Muslim. It's not only unreasonable, or rather abysmally stupid, but just plain wicked to start howling for Muslim blood. Things like this make you realize what a nightmare a pure and instantaneous democracy would be: about like the gladiator watchers at the Colosseum. 

Conservatives are a bit on edge, too. If this bomber turns out to be a right-wing nut, all conservatives will be tarred in the same way Muslims would be. Even if it's someone who's simply crazy, with no clear political agenda, the attempt will be made, as with the deranged young man who shot Gabby Gifford. 

These are uneasy times in the USA.