Thoughts of a Catholic convert

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Friday, October 24, 2014


Tap dancing priests :) I like tap dancing, from Fred Astaire to Gregory Hines to Riverdance.

'When God Talks Back'

A while ago I had a post about Stanford psychological anthropologist T. M. Luhrmann, and her book, When God Talks Back. Today I was remembering that and an article from Bryan Cones at US Catholic that had mentioned her - Look who's talking: Personal conversations with God. Bryan writes ...

It’s not often that you turn on the radio and hear someone talking about you—well, not you personally, but someone like you. That was the reaction I had listening to National Public Radio’s Terry Gross as she interviewed Tanya Luhrmann, a Stanford University anthropologist who had just published When God Talks Back: Understanding the Evangelical Relationship with God (Knopf). Luhrmann had been intrigued when she met a woman who “had coffee with God” and “talked about God as if he were a person,” so she began participating in a prayer group at a location of the evangelical Vineyard Church to see what was going on.

I was intrigued as well, since I have been talking to God as long as I can remember, and I know a lot of other people who have, too. I was mostly interested in the fact that such a relationship with God—“as if he were a person”—was such an object of curiosity.

NPR’s Gross at times sounded a little incredulous (though always respectful): “What’s the difference between the imaginary friend that you’re supposed to outgrow,” she asked, “and this approach to believing that . . . God or Jesus is like your friend, your buddy?” ...

Anyway, for those interested, here's the NPR interview with Luhrmann ...

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The apocalypse - not

Given the recent synod with its attending NFP married couples and any lack of progress on the subject of contraception, plus given Pope Francis' move to make Paul VI a saint, there's been increased discussion online about Humanae Vitae. Today I saw an article by Peter Knott SJ on Paul VI and human sexuality. Here's a bit of it ...

[...] Humanae Vitae offered a vision of human sexuality as responsive to the will of God and faithful to the insight that the profound intimacy of sexual intercourse required a covenant of persons and an openness to the life that is made possible by the intercourse of man and woman. It warned of the risks of ignoring this vision: sex and women becoming a commodity, fragmentation of the spousal relationship and the distancing of parents from offspring.

Could it be that, unmoored from the will of God, spousal love and the reality and symbolism of reproduction, sex is reduced to a matter of unfettered liberty in fulfilling desire or the traffic of entertainment and commerce?

Those who think that God and ethics have nothing to do with the bedroom or reproduction have some hard questions to face. Are there no moral constraints at all on sexual or reproductive freedom? Is nothing morally required of us in matters of this significant part of human experience? Is one's ‘heart's desire’ the final answer for all our decisions?

One wonders what might be the source of the repression of compunction in priests who abused children, of parents or relatives who violated their own, of teachers who seduced their students. Such horrors have taken place for ages. But have they been done with such absence of guilt?

And what of sex itself? Do the large profits in pornography, the mounting rates of sexually transmitted diseases, the images of pop music videos or the edgy offerings of the television and fashion industries offer any vision of sex that is even remotely connected to love, commitment, or children? ......

The article raises some questions for me ...

1) Is it assumed that people who don't believe in God cannot have ethical and responsible sex lives?

2) What's the basis for the belief that it's God's will that married couples must procreate without restriction?

3) What's the basis for the belief that a lack of "an openness to the life" is in any way connected to "women becoming a commodity ... fragmentation of the spousal relationship ... the distancing of parents from offspring ... abused children ... pornography ... the mounting rates of sexually transmitted diseases"?

Hey, it's contraception use, not the apocalypse! It's this kind of reaction that makes it seem pointless to even discuss this subject, much less to try to explain why contraception use is actually considered by most people (including almost everyone at Vatican II) to be ethical, responsible, and just. Still, I'll try anyway with these two short videos by Melinda Gates (a Catholic, btw, and discusses Catholicism and birth control in the first video) ....

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Some stuff

- Here's a pic of Lucy, one of the stray kittens I've been feeding. She looks kind of Halloweeny :) ....

- Reading about the "guardians of the galaxy in an article at ABC Religion & Ethics: s Existential Risk an Authentic Challenge or the Higher Moral Evasion?

- 2014 Wildlife photographer of the Year

- This week's movie rental was Star Trek Into Darkness ...

a 2013 American science fiction action film .... the sequel to 2009's Star Trek and the second in the reboot series. The film was directed by J.J. Abrams .... with Bryan Burk. Chris Pine reprises his role as Captain James T. Kirk, with Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Anton Yelchin, Simon Pegg, Leonard Nimoy, John Cho, and Bruce Greenwood reprising their roles from the previous film. Benedict Cumberbatch, Peter Weller, and Alice Eve round out the film's principal cast.

I had already read the book and wrote this about the story in an earlier post ...

It's a re-imagining of an original Star Trek tv episode, Space Seed, and an original Star Trek movie, The Wrath of Khan. It was a great idea of J. J. Abrams' (I guess?) to give Star Trek a new timeline - it's something that's been used in some of the tv shows he's produced, like Lost and Fringe, and it gives writers a lot of freedom to recombine story elements in new ways. I was kind of surprised, though, to see that Sherlock actor Benedict Cumberbatch is playing Khan.

Hmmm - I've just noticed Khan's whole name was Khan Noonien Singh ... so similar to the name given later to the scientist who created the android, Data - Noonien Soong. But anyway, here's a trailer ...

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Video talk

Steve Chalke caused quite a furor last year when he made public his opinion that same-sex relationships were ok from a Christian standpoint ... see his article: A MATTER OF INTEGRITY:The Church, sexuality, inclusion and an open conversation. Depressing that a Christian Evangelical can see the goodness in gay relationships but in my church, Catholic leaders at synod backtrack on welcoming gays to the church.

Anyway, today I watched a really interesting talk by Steve about Jesus. He tells some good jokes :) ...

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Ouch ;)

I've started going to physical therapy for my hurt back. My first assignment is to do a number of stretches every day. Some are pretty easy but there's one that's especially hard .... it reminded me of this funny bit from an episode of Frasier in which Niles and Daphne take yoga instruction :) ...

Saturday, October 18, 2014


As both the BBC and conservative Damian Thompson note, the hopes we liberals (well, me at least) had for the synod have been disappointed ... Catholic synod: Pope Francis suffers setback on gays (BBC) ... The Vatican cancels its earthquake. This is not Pope Francis’s finest hour (Thompson).

What had seemed so positive and hopeful to some in the earlier relatio has deteriorated to business as usual in the final document ...

Three sections on controversial issues did not receive the necessary two-thirds majority to pass: two paragraphs on Communion for the divorced and remarried and one on gay people. None was particularly revolutionary. The sections on divorced and remarried Catholics simply reported that some synod fathers favored finding a way to readmit such Catholics to Communion, and others wanted to maintain current practice. Likewise, the paragraph about gay people was rather tame. It referred to a 2003 document from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, which hold that there are "absolutely not grounds" for calling same-sex unions "similar or even remotely analagous" to traditional marriage, and reemphasized the obvious truth that gay people should be treated with respect. - Synod day 14 presser the second: that's a wrap.

Some believe things might go better with the synod in 2015, but I have my doubts. As long as those in control of the church continue to profess that church teaching cannot change, the institution will become more and more irrelevant.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Some links

- Contagious: Love in the Time of Ebola

- As the Vatican document on outreach to gays edits out ‘welcoming’ to focus on ‘providing for’, I saw this from the Pew Forum ... Young U.S. Catholics overwhelmingly accepting of homosexuality .....

Fully 85% of self-identified Catholics ages 18-29 said in a 2014 Pew Research Center survey that homosexuality should be accepted by society, compared with just 13% who said it should be discouraged. Older age groups are less likely to favor acceptance. But even among Catholics ages 65 and older, 57% say that homosexuality should be accepted.

- Why isn't anyone talking about the synod's paragraphs on contraception? ....

The synodal fathers seem insistent that natural family planning methods will remain the only form of contraception allowed to Catholic families and that all acts of sexual intimacy in marriage must be open to life. While in the U.S., many of us have the luxury of ignoring the church's teaching on contraception, in many developing countries, the church's position on birth control directly impacts the law of the land .... For the global poor, access to contraception can mean the difference between starvation and nourishment, poverty and stability, illness and health, death and life. Few issues are more crucial to the fate of poor families around the world.

- Archbishop orders inquiry into Kieran Conry resignation over 'relationship with potentially vulnerable female adults' .....

In his resignation statement, read out at all Masses in his former diocese, Bishop Conry said he wanted “to reassure you that my actions were not illegal and did not involve minors”. However, the husband of one of the women said to have been involved with the bishop claims he took advantage of his wife, and another woman with whom he was also involved, because they came to him for support when they were going through difficult situations in their marriages. It is believed this will be the main focus for the inquiry, in which Bishop Conry and the women involved will be invited to participate.

At the synod

Adolfo Nicolás SJ, the Superior General of the Society of Jesus, is one of the few non-bishops with a vote at the synod. Briefly interviewed about the synod, he says something with which I agree, that marriage is not a Christian invention ...

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Rained here ...

in the land of drought last night :)

Antonio Spadaro SJ

So what's really going on at the synod .... stealth reform? Whatever is going on, I saw an interesting mention by Robert Mickens of a certain Jesuit taking part in the synod who may know ... Antonio Spadaro SJ. Mickens writes ...

[...] Keep your eye on Father Antonio Spadaro. The 48-year-old Italian is one of only six men that are not bishops but, nonetheless, are full voting members at the current Synod assembly .... Pope Francis personally appointed Fr Spadaro .... the journalist/editor has been more and more present in the Vatican ever since his interview with the Pope was published last year. And people on the inside say he’s even very much involved behind the scenes.

Francis obviously trusts him and fellow journalist have found in Padre Antonio a reliable interpreter of the mind of the pope. The synod is yet another proving ground for the bright, friendly and media-savvy Sicilian. Rumors have been swirling the past several months that he is being groomed to replace his 72-year-old Jesuit confrere, Fr Federico Lombardi, as director of the Vatican Press Office or head of Vatican Radio. But Pope Francis could appoint him to be first head of a new office to oversee all the Vatican’s media operations. That bureau is likely to be created once Lord Patten and his 11-member commission finish reviewing the various communication sectors at the Vatican and offer recommendations to better coordinate them. That should happen some time next spring.

I noticed this story about Fr. Spadaro because I had posted about him before ... The Jesuits and Second Life ..... The Spiritual Exercises and the virtual world ... he's very into computer stuff, virtual reality, and how all that connects to Ignatian spirituality.

You can read the interview he had with Pope Francis in 2013 here - A Big Heart Open to God

He also blogs at CyberTeologia

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Synod Document

UPDATE (10/14/14): And now the Vatican spokesman and conservative cardinals/bishops/theologians disavow the document - sigh :( - Synod day 10 presser: Walk back? and Opposition grows to synod document that sees good in gay relationships, cohabitation and civil marriages and This Catholic ‘earthquake’ on homosexuality is splitting the Church


There's been much in the news about the document just released by the synod ... The Washington Post is excited: Vatican stuns Catholic world with greater openness toward gays and lesbians, TIME magazine not so much, though: What the Vatican Really Said About Homosexuality

From the religious press, you can read what John Thavis has - A pastoral earthquake at the synod, and also what Damian Thompson has - ‘Earthquake’ in Rome as Vatican synod talks about homosexuality and divorce

From what I've read of the document, which you can read here at The Tablet, it asks whether the church can change it's semantics and its pastoral attitudes to be more merciful toward those people that it has more or less condemned up to this point (LGBT people, divorced people, people who use contraception, people who have sex outside of marriage, etc.).

What the document does *not* do is suggest any change in doctrine or even any examination of doctrine. For instance, while the document asks if the church shouldn't be more charitable about gay relationships, it also writes that ... "[there are] moral problems connected to homosexual unions", and while people who use contraception are to be treated with mercy, the document also writes that "an unconditional opening to life [is] that which human life requires to be lived to its fullest".

Yes, this document is progress when compared with the church under JPII and B16. But let's put this in perspective ... the church's doctrine on these issues is *not* intrinsically Christian ... there is no other Christian church (that I'm aware of) that condemns people for using contraception, for getting a divorce, and there are many Christian churches that accept the ok-ness of gay relationships (the Quakers, Presbyterians, the Episcopal church, the United Church of Christ, etc.), so though this document may be a step in the right direction wow, do we have a long way to go!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The British Jesuits

The Jesuit who was my spiritual director when I made the online retreat in daily life version of the Spiritual Exercises speaks about how/why he became a Jesuit. You can watch other British Jesuits speak about their vocation too at their YouTube page here.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Minority Report

- The characters played by Max von Sydow and Tom Cruise sit together, talking ... hmmmm, where's the chess board? ;)

This week's movie rental was Minority Report ...

a 2002 American neo-noir science fiction thriller film directed by Steven Spielberg and loosely based on the short story of the same name by Philip K. Dick. It is set primarily in Washington, D.C., and Northern Virginia in the year 2054, where "PreCrime", a specialized police department, apprehends criminals based on foreknowledge provided by three psychics called "precogs". The cast includes Tom Cruise as PreCrime Captain John Anderton, Colin Farrell as Department of Justice agent Danny Witwer, Samantha Morton as the senior precog Agatha, and Max von Sydow as Anderton's superior Lamar Burgess. The film is a combination of whodunit, thriller and science fiction.>

I saw this at the theater when it first came out but I'm going back over past Tom Cruise movies, and this was the first on the list. It was actually pretty good ... good acting, nice special effects, interesting concept as expected from Dick. The only thing I really disliked was the way it looked .... they bleach-bypassed the negatives to give it a "noir" feel but I thought it just looked washed out.

Rogerr Ebert gave the film 4 out of 4 stars in his review. Here's just the beginning of it ...

At a time when movies think they have to choose between action and ideas, Steven Spielberg's "Minority Report" is a triumph--a film that works on our minds and our emotions. It is a thriller and a human story, a movie of ideas that's also a whodunit. Here is a master filmmaker at the top of his form, working with a star, Tom Cruise, who generates complex human feelings even while playing an action hero ....

And here's a trailer ...

It's a beautiful day

85 degrees F with a light breeze and wispy clouds ....

With Thor the cat sticking his tongue out at me ;) ...

And grape leaves starting to turn brown ...

Friday, October 10, 2014

The bread of life and the church as a firewall

I hate all these arguments at the synod about who is worthy of communion. The very idea that people need to pass some test in order to take part in communion has nothing to do with Jesus ... Jesus liked to feed people. Whether it was the 4,000, the 5,000, Judas at the Last Supper or Mary Magdalene, no one who desired to eat at his table was turned away (The Tablet).

Some in the church would like to believe they are the firewall around God, protecting him and us from unscripted interaction with each other. But they *cannot* come between us and God, for, as Ignatius of Loyola wrote, "the Creator [deals]l directly with the creature, and the creature directly with his Creator and Lord" (SE, 15th annotation), and as John has Jesus saying, "I am the bread of life .... I will never turn away anyone who comes to me" (John 6:35-37) :) ....

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

A Gnostic Gospel, a monster, and a visit to the bank

- the resurrected Ichabod Crane

Tonight I watched the latest episode of Sleepy Hollow at Hulu and learned about the Codex Tchacos ...

an ancient Egyptian Coptic papyrus containing early Christian gnostic texts from approximately 300 AD:

- The Letter of Peter to Philip
- The First Apocalypse of James
- The Gospel of Judas
- A fragment of the Book of Allogenes (or the Book of the Stranger, this is different from the previously known Nag Hammadi text Allogenes.)

The Codex Tchacos is important, because it contains the first known surviving copy of the Gospel of Judas, a text that was rejected as heresy by the early Christian church and lost for 1700 years. The Gospel of Judas was mentioned and summarized by the Church Father Irenaeus of Lyons in his work Against Heresies ...

And also about a (fictional) sketchbook belonging to Benjamin Franklin containing a drawing ...

which looks remarkably like da Vinci's Vitruvian Man ...

As Ichabod says, the drawing is of a creature assembled from parts of deceased soldiers, a kind of golem/frankensteinian monster created by Franklin at the behest of George Washington to go to bat for the good guys against the Headless Horseman, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Yep, those guys ;) ...

Before they can re-create the creature, they need the Headless Horseman's head, which has been secreted in a safety deposit box at the local bank ;) ...

Hard to explain here for those who haven't been watching the series the whole fantasy/history/religious horror background of the show, but it's a lot of fun!

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

More on the synod

From Thomas Reese SJ on day 2 of the synod, a post about Greek philosophy and Jesuit Bernard Lonergan - No change in doctrine from synod, say bishops ...

The bishops at the synod on the family will not change any doctrines, according to reports from the Vatican Press Office on the second day of their discussions.

On the floor of the synod, "there was no language whatsoever of a need to change doctrine," reported Basilian Fr. Thomas Rosica who attended the closed sessions. Rather, the desire was "to repurpose what we know in a way that's accessible" to all.

"I didn't hear anything about changing doctrine, but I heard a great desire to deepen our understanding of doctrine," he told journalists.

Over and over again, journalists are being told there will be no change in doctrine.

Jesuit Fr. Bernard Lonergan, the great 20th-century expert in theological method, is turning over in his grave. Hearing such language, Lonergan would have said that the bishops are caught in classical mentality and have not moved into a historical consciousness.

What did he mean? ......

A modern, historical consciousness recognizes that everything changes, even church teaching. The church's teaching on usury (interest) changed, the church's teaching on capital punishment has changed, and the church's teaching on religious liberty was changed at the Second Vatican Council.

The problem with most of the bishops is that they were taught in seminaries where the classical approach to theology was supreme and Lonergan was considered a heretic ....

Monday, October 06, 2014


- There's a post by the Anglican Bishop of Buckingham, Alan Wilson, at CIF Belief that I think is really good. What he says about the C of E applies to the Catholic church as well ... Any ‘biblical’ objection to gay marriage is nonsense. The C of E must admit this

- On feast of St. Francis, remembering that all creatures make up 'one family'

- So what's happening with the synod? ...

Thomas Reese SJ is in Rome for the synod and here's his post about the first day ... Simplified annulment process coming from synod