Thursday, March 28, 2013

The coming martyrdom?

Esteban Perez Murillo, The Martyrdom of St Andrew
Regular readers know I've spent some time the last month or so writing about various aspects of martyrdom, so it's not surprising I'd notice this sobering piece from Matt Archbold.  Excerpt:

I was looking at my children in Mass yesterday and a horrifying thought occurred to me. If I do my job well as a parent, my children may end up persecuted and/or in jail. That may be the best I can hope for at this point in 21st century America.

I prayed that their faith would be strong enough to resist a pro-death culture, a secular academia, an antagonistic media, and the pressure of a government out to separate faith from action.
Secularism isn’t just on the march, it’s positively doing a jig.

I’m not talking about troubled times ahead for my grandchildren’s children in some possible future.

I’m talking about my kids. So revolutionary have been the recent changes in America that defending life, liberty, and the pursuit of holiness could very well lead to persecution in the very near future.

Now, we don't have children, so I can only imagine the thought that if you were to bring your children up right, you'd be consigning them to persecution, perhaps even death.

I have a friend who for some years has worried about his son, now 20, having to grow up and grow old in this America.  His concerns aren't limited to religious persecution, although that's a not-insignificant part of it; he's also concerned about the loss of freedom in general, economic collapse, and in general the end of America as we have known it for generations.

It is a sad thing to contemplate.  Last July, for the first time I can remember, we declined to take part in any of the Fourth of July celebrations we usually enjoy.  No parades, no fireworks, no 1812 Overture.  No 1776 or The Music Man.  Because it just didn't feel right, somehow.  The Obamacare decision had been handed down by the Supreme Court just a few days prior, and it suddenly felt as if that country, the America created by the Founding Fathers and celebrated for over 200 years, no longer existed.

I doubt that many of you would disagree with the thought that there is no distinct American culture anymore, nothing (other than the Super Bowl) that holds us all together at one specific moment in time.  Its absence is particularly noticeable to me after spending time with my television research; so many things back then were taken for granted, things that required no explanation, were understood by everyone. Sometimes when I see the American flag fly I wonder if this country could really come to stand for the kind of persecution that worries Matt Archbold   Yes, it's possible.  Perhaps likely, I don't know for sure since I'm not a fortuneteller.  

In a way it's good to ponder this today, as we once again enter the Sacred Triduum with Holy Thursday.  At the end of this day Jesus will have been arrested; the process of His martyrdom will begin to be an active fact.  Doubtless many of us wonder - will we be like Christ, who accepted the cup He was given?  Or will we be Peter, who denied Him three times but ultimately returned to lead His Church?  Will we be John, the only one of the disciples who didn't abandon Him?  Or will we be Judas, whose greatest sin was not betrayal but despair, refusing the saving mercy of God?  At some point or another we may well find out?

If all that makes us afraid, we have the supreme consolation - that Jesus, facing His Passion and death, chose not to console Himself by denying the pain and suffering that would accompany the Way of the Cross, in order that we might have a Savior Whom we knew had experienced it, had experienced all of human pain.  And that's why, on Holy Thursday, such thoughts should produce not worry and anxiety, but should help us prepare for whatever lies ahead.  

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Am I missing something?

The original title of this piece was “Am I stupid?” which I rejected for a number of reasons, chief among which was my fear of what your answer might be. But upon further reflection, “Am I missing something?” is, I think, a much more accurate question, because the evidence seems overwhelmingly against me.

The subject in question is John Ford’s epic Western The Searchers, which starred John Wayne and Jeffrey Hunter. Glenn Frankel, author of a recent book detailing the making of the movie, wrote a companion piece for Powerline in which he discusses the movie’s meaning and its context in American history.

Frankel considers The Searchers “a great American film, a critical triumph for Ford, Wayne and all of those associated with it,” and Ford himself as “Hollywood’s greatest historical mythmaker.” The commenters at Powerline, as well as film critics everywhere, seem to bear out this impression. For years I’ve heard talk of The Searchers as not just Ford’s greatest movie, but one of, if not the, greatest American movies ever made.

And here we come to my dirty little secret: I’m not a fan of The Searchers. In fact, I’ve never been able to sit all the way through it.


For those of you still reading, let me explain.

There’s no question that The Searchers is a complex movie. Wayne, already recognizable as the prototypical American hero, here becomes the antihero – his goal in searching for his niece, kidnapped by the Comanches, is not to return her to her family, but to kill her – because in living with (and presumably having “relations” with) Indians, she has contaminated herself. We are repelled by Wayne’s motive, and yet we are compelled to follow him.

Or at least that’s what I understand. But this movie just doesn’t push my buttons. Perhaps it’s the plot, although there’s nothing necessarily wrong with it – I generally like ambiguous storylines. It can’t be that it’s a Western – I like most of John Wayne’s Westerns, as well as Clint Eastwood’s, and I’ve got a batch of Westerns in my vintage TV collection. Westerns are the great morality plays of American culture.

Maybe John Wayne isn’t enough of a heroic figure in this movie. I like The Duke unambiguously playing The Duke, and perhaps this isn’t enough, even though it has to be one of Wayne’s great performances. Still, I prefer him in Rio Grande, or Big Jake, or some of his later movies. Maybe the story is just too disturbing for me to get into – if it had been made by, say, Eastwood in the early 70s, I might feel different about it.

I will admit that I don’t generally go for John Ford movies, but that’s not to say I hate them all. For every Searchers, Fort Apache, or She Wore a Yellow Ribbon -not my favorites- there’s Rio Grande, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Last Hurrah – movies I’ve enjoyed to one degree or another over the years. And nobody understood the mythos, or was able to capture the West and its landscape, better than Ford. In his hands, the setting truly was one of the characters.

My only thought is that it has something to do with the score. One of the things I seem never to be able to escape from – one of the things that most irritates me – is the oppressiveness of the music score in the typical John Ford movie. No matter where you turn, the music is there, often cloying, always attempting to foreshadow the action, seldom (at least to my ears) serving any purpose. Someone once compared movie music to umpires at a baseball game – if you notice them, they’re not doing their job. And you cannot help but notice the score in a John Ford movie, especially Max Steiner’s score for The Searchers. People don’t think that John Ford’s a sentimentalist, but that’s just what the music suggests to me.

But then, maybe I’m wrong. Probably I am. The Searchers is a great movie, and I just don’t see it, don’t appreciate it. For years I felt the same way about the Fred Zinnemann/Robert Bolt movie A Man For All Seasons. Tried for years to watch it, never could make my way past the first thirty minutes. Finally, a few years ago, I did – and was greatly rewarded by a terrific movie. Perhaps, given enough opportunities, I’ll be able to sit through The Searchers and come to the same conclusion.

In the meantime, I’m still left to wonder what I’m missing.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The risk of sexual deviants: Prop 8 and Defence of Marriage Act

Is there a possibility, that the government of nations may fall into the hands of men, who teach the most disconsolate of all creeds, that men are but fire-flies, and that this all is without a father? Is this the way, to make man, as man, an object of respect? Or is it, to make murder itself, as indifferent as shooting a plover, and the extermination of the Rohilla nation, as innocent, as the swallowing of mites, on a morsel of cheese?" -- John Adams, the Second President of the United States.

The cases launched by sexual deviancy activists against Proposition 8 and the Defence of Marriage Act, both of which have the Obama Administration supporting the activists, have resulted in a Supreme Court hearing starting this week.

What happens in the courts regarding marriage will determine a long way into the future of this very Republic, whether we are to stay a nation under God, or we shall become the nation of France during the Reign of Terror, of which a future President of the United States references, including the dastardly deeds of the time. It was a time of religious persecution, a state-run humanist agenda, where the weeks were ten days each, and there was no Sabbath or religious holidays.

The sexual deviancy movement that is leading the push to redefine marriage have a humanist worldview, and they want to abolish the church from helping the needy (see Catholic Charities) and make the government the source of everything, as we saw liberals push in the Life of Julia series in their successful re-election with the Low Information Voter.

In Minnesota, Grace Evans, 11, asked the following question to those attempting to redefine marriage to appease sexual deviants:

Since every child needs a mom and a dad to be born, I don’t think we can change that children need a mom and a dad. I believe God made it that way. I know some disagree, but I want to ask you this question: Which parent do I not need – my mom or my dad?

The legislators were stumped. Nevertheless, the DFL decided to attempt redefinition to appease the activists. Her father Jeff noted something more serious about the debate:

Supporters of [the sexual deviants' agenda) are deceitfully claiming that the (redefinition of marriage to any two] won’t affect our religious freedoms or freedom of speech. I do not believe them. These attacks on Grace are an example of how we have already lost many of these freedoms. In fact, it’s so bad, they aren’t afraid to viciously attack an 11-year-old girl.

Taking away the rights of churches to run foster care, adoption, and at-risk youth ministries (such as Connie Maxwell, Epworth, and others; this is proven in states with such arrogance), along with government closures of soup kitchens run by churches, all in the name of preaching “hate” and pushing a worldview that is not that of the deviancy activists, and converting the church into social clubs where the Gospel cannot be taught, or even closing the church for “hate” speech, all of which are part of the key doctrines of the Obama Administration, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jnr Memorial Hate Crimes Act (passed in the National Defence Authorisation Act of Fiscal Year 2010), and even Public Law 111-321 (the law that redefines the military to becoming a homosexual indoctrination force). The elimination of churches and their ministries listed above, establishing state-run humanism as the official state religion in violation of the First Amendment, and turning houses of worship into other types of buildings (as shown in the Bolshevik Revolution) is the ultimate goal of homosexual "marriage" activists attempting to ram their agenda down our throats.

We've seen the homosexual agenda's push for “sexual orientation protection” turn into the Pennsylvania State University child sex molestation scandal, as the child sex molester used the “sexual orientation” protection status at the school to protect Jerry Sandusky at the expense of children. This dangerous policy is now at schools and corporations in this state even, the fear is if the homosexual agenda pushes even further, children will be sacrificed at the altar of homosexual activists, protected by such policies that the President endorses. Not even schools will be safe from child molesters, protected by the activists.

John Adams was right. Activists want to create a humanist utopia, and a low information generation is working to push it. It's the sexual deviancy activists that are bullies, working the hardest to force a humanist theocracy on us, where the laws of God are thrown out and replaced with the wants of a tiny but vocal minority that pushes sin in violation of Leviticus 19 and Romans 1.

The entire nation is at risk. Are we headed to France of the Robspierre Reign of Terror, where there is an extremist humanist force in our courts and government, that will rule with an iron fist and eliminate the Freedom of Religion our Founding Fathers gave us, all in the name of appeasing the sexual deviancy activists? Are we headed to the Communism that Rep. Albert Herlong (D-FL) envisioned 50 years ago? Are we headed to the Humanist Theocracy run by a tiny, but vocal, minority of sexual deviancy activists that indoctrinate a generation into their worldview, reminiscent of Charpentier's Louise, where the titular character represented the nation, her parents represented the values of the America we and our Founding Fathers know, backed by God's Holy Word, and Julien and the Bohemians represent the sexual deviancy and humanists' lobby in an attempt to turn her to the dark side (the postmodern humanist agenda). We must not bow down to the sexual deviancy activists to ths.eir utopia where the church disappears, and we are living in Robspierre's Reign of Terror, where religious freedom is sacrificed at the altar of appeasing the sexual deviants' agenda, and debate is replaced by forced indoctrination of the humanist agenda that includes the ten-day week without Sabbath or religious holidays, and the utopia of homosexual activists, including protecting child molesters at the expense of the children.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Risë Stevens, R.I.P.

The first time I saw Risë Stevens was in the movie Going My Way, where she played a childhood friend of Bing Crosby who’d gone on to become an opera star. It was a flimsy storyline, a way to connect her character to a record producer who wound up buying one of Bing’s songs, thus bailing out his bankrupt parish, but it was charming. As was Risë Stevens – her charm fairly burst off the screen. It wasn’t until later that I really understood and appreciated her opera stardom, and that the Carmen she played in Going My Way was in reality the Carmen that won her the greatest fame of a long and successful career.

Risë Stevens, the woman with the funny first name (pronounced REEZ-uh), came from that middlebrow age that I so often talk about, both here and at the TV blog. She was a frequent guest on television, appearing on the variety shows of the day, not to mention shows such as the Bell Telephone Hour and Voice of Firestone – shows that featured classical music on a regular basis, meant for a highbrow audience but for the average television viewer. She appeared in but two movies, Going My Way and The Chocolate Soldier, and could have had a successful crossover career in Hollywood, but loved opera too much to give it up. It was said that she introduced a smoldering sex appeal to opera, and there’s no doubt she would have been a big success in today’s HD era of opera broadcasts.*

*In fact, her 1952 Carmen was broadcast to 30 movie theaters around the country, the Met’s first venture into what they called “television theater.”

She was an American, one of the first great American opera stars, and undoubtedly that helped make her more accessible to an American public, but there was something more – not just the sex appeal I mentioned earlier, nor the radiance of her screen presence, but that undefinable charisma that elevates one to a higher level. Whatever it was, she had it.

She retired from opera singing in 1961, not wanting to be remembered as someone who outstayed her talent, but she remained active in the business for years, teaching and nurturing young talent, hosting the Met’s centennial concert on PBS, never losing her connection to the craft that had given so much to her and to which she had given so much in return.

Risë Stevens was one of the last links to a great era, when classical music stars had popular crossover appeal, and she succeeded not only in the opera house but on television and film. She was one of America’s stars, a people’s star, and seeing her every Christmas in Going My Way was a way of hearkening back to that era, of making time stand still. With her death on Wednesday, at age 99 – well, if that era doesn’t come to a close completely, it comes ever that much closer. Her talent, and the pleasure it gave and continues to give – thankfully, that will live on.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Pope Francis Releases NCAA Bracket; Has Notre Dame Winning It All

(VATICAN CITY – March 21) New Pope Francis announced his NCAA Basketball Tournament bracket today, and revealed that he thinks the championship will be won by the University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

In an exclusive interview with the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, the Holy Father admitted that although he hadn’t had as much time to work on his bracket as he has in the past, he still feels confident about his selections.

“Notre Dame,” Francis said without hesitation when asked who he had winning it all. “I just have a feeling this is their year. If they can get past Ohio State in the second round, I think they will go all the way.” The pontiff added, however, that top-ranked Gonzaga should not be overlooked. “Never bet against the Jesuits,” he said with a smile.

In addition to Notre Dame, Francis’ other Final Four picks are Saint Louis in the Midwest, Georgetown in the South, and Marquette in the East. “I almost chose the Louisville Cardinals in the Midwest, but ultimately I stayed with Saint Louis,” he said.

Pope Francis discussing his bracket with the media
The new Pope revealed that he had discussed his predictions with Emeritus Pope Benedict during a phone conversation the two had on Tuesday, but declined to reveal who the former Holy Father had winning the title. “I know he followed the selections avidly on Sunday. He and I disagree on some of the regions, but if he wants to share his choice with the world, I assume he will do so at the proper time.”

Francis expressed appreciation that this year’s Final Four, to be played in Atlanta on April 6 and 8, does not conflict with Easter. “With the liturgies on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday, it can be difficult to keep up with the results. Thankfully, this year that will not be the case.”

The Pope chuckled when asked whether his election as Supreme Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church means that his bracket is now to be considered infallible. “The Catholic faithful are under no obligation to follow my predictions,” Francis said. “In fact, my colleagues in Buenos Aries might suggest one would better off if they didn’t. But it has been a good month so far - perhaps it is a sign that my luck is changing.”

The ulterior motives of secular humanists

As the national March for Marriage comes this weekend, we must remind ourselves of the fight against a pro-sin movement calling themselves “for marriage equality”. The ulterior motive of the sexual deviancy activists with their “freedom to marry,” or “marriage equality” movement, which is to redefine marriage to mean “any two, regardless of sex,” continues the postmodern liberal humanist agenda to end Freedom of Religion by continuously eroding the rights of the church to help those in need, and to give control exclusively to the government of more situations the church had participated.

In states where marriage has been redefined or a dangerous “civil union” has been developed, churches have been banned from offering adoption, foster care, or any number of services that only the government or government-approved secular agencies can offer, mainly in order to indoctrinate them into the liberal teachings, or to allow a child to have two parents of the same gender, an attempt to force-feed them into the postmodern humanist agenda.

If this is forced down on other states, as endorsed by Dear Leader, churches will be converted into toothless social clubs where the Bible cannot be taught with sound doctrine and theology under threats of Shepard-Byrd and the government has barred them from running soup kitchens, foster care, or adoption agencies because of their refusal to comply with the humanist agenda, the “military” will ban chaplains, and freedom of religion will be replaced by the wants of a few sexual deviant activists where their coercion is mandated. We've seen most of it in states where it has happened. It's another way to expand government by eliminating churches' God-given plan to help those in need, and to replace it with government authority because the church refuses to comply with an edict to normalise sin.

Much to the thought of a pop tune (yes, this was before the LaRoche Era), “The newest rage is to reason it out, just meditate and you can overcome any doubt, After all, man is a god and God is no longer alive,” that is the mentality of today's humanists that want to use the homosexual agenda to drive the church off the public square. (1) Man versus God is now the battle, and a generation infused with false teachings is trying to turn the tide against churches. They want the courts to establish humanism as the state religion, and any religion that preaches the Bible will become a crime.

(1)“The Basics of Life,” Mark Harris and Donald Koch. Copyright 1990 Universal Music Publishing.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Let the lights go out!

The 2013 FIA Formula 1 season kicks off Down Under this week. A few notes:

This from the 2012 INDYCAR banquet -- the host. NBC was probably happy that he hosted, since he will be a part of NBC's F1 broadcasts. NBC has been showing their F1 preview show for a few days consecutively -- trying to get viewers ready when the lights extinguish for the Rolex Grand Prix Sunday morning.

F1 fans will have to get used to a new broadcast home in the United States, as Comcast (NBC Sports Network) has replaced longtime carrier SPEED.  This weekend begins the first of a four-year deal.  The announced schedule:

1:30 AM ET NBC Sports Network – Rolex Australian Grand Prix, Korean Grand Prix, Fuji Television Japanese Grand Prix

2:30 AM ET NBC Sports Network – Petronas Malaysian Grand Prix, UBS Chinese Grand Prix

5:00 AM ET NBC Sports Network – Airtel Grand Prix of India

7:30 AM ET NBC Sports Network – Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix, SingTel Singapore Grand Prix, Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, and all European Rounds EXCEPT those listed under CNBC and NBC Broadcast Network.

7:30 AM ET NBC Broadcast Network – Grand Prix de Monaco.

7:30 AM ET CNBC – Santander British Grand Prix, Großer Preis Santander von Deutschland

11:00 AM ET NBC Broadcast Network -- Grande Prêmio Petrobras do Brasil

1:00 PM ET NBC Broadcast Network Live Onsite – United States Grand Prix

2:00 PM ET NBC Broadcast Network Live Onsite – Grand Prix du Canada  

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The higher ed shell game

The John Wilson Pope Center has been a very good source for material regarding the scam of higher education, and this piece on how government failure has led us to a point where college grads are working $10/hour jobs.

The entire piece is well worth your while, but I want to point out a few conclusions that Gary Jason draws:

  • You'll frequently see me use a line in these pieces that amounts to, "your tax dollars at work."  That's because "the federal government has taken over and dramatically increased the student loan program. This is the very program that has fueled the growth in the number of students graduating with less-than-marketable degrees, pushed up tuition, and enabled universities to afford administrative bloat (some of it undoubtedly required by unfunded federal mandates)."

  • That government loan system does not discriminate in terms of what students might be good investment risks. "What degrees are less than marketable? For one, probably a degree in fine or performing arts. The Wall Street Journal recently analyzed Department of Education data and concluded that the highest student loan debt loads are run up by students at art, music, and design colleges—on average now over $21,500. To repay that, the students will be paying about $3,000 a year. This is a challenging amount for graduates who, with five or fewer years of experience on the job, have average incomes of only about $40,000 per year, according to"

  • The K-12 system in this country is for the most part an abject failure. "The reality faced by employers in private industry—which, unlike government, needs to be efficient to survive—is that a high school diploma doesn’t guarantee that the student can actually read, write, and compute at anywhere near the twelfth-grade level, or often even at the eighth-grade level. Chalk that up to decades of “social promotion” along with other “progressive education” theories, all of which have badly undermined our K-12 system."

  • The "disparate impact" standard has been a disaster. "[A]ny basic skills test that has a 'disparate impact' (i.e., has scores that show statistical differences between ethnic groups) will subject the company using them to enormous legal risks. That legal minefield is due to a 1971 Supreme Court decision, Griggs v. Duke Power, which many argue, has led companies to insist that applicants have college degrees."  Whether or not they're required in order to do the job. 

  • To avoid legal threats, "employers began demanding college credentials as the safest way to screen out applicants who probably were less trainable and reliable. That appears to be a major reason why so many young Americans think they must go to college these days but often end up doing low-skill, low-pay jobs."
The result, Jason says, is "market failure."  Specifically, government failure.  Which leads to more personal debt, higher government debt, unrealistic dreams and frustrated grads. 

When I first proposed this series to Mitchell, he asked if I thought I had enough material to make it worthwhile. I told him there were two ways of covering this - to show the outrageous things going on in higher ed, which I've done in the first couple of posts, and to challenge the perception that higher ed is always needed, which is what we're looking at here.

A college education can be a fine thing, but to suggest that it is an absolute necessity is not only outrageous, it's not true.  Those who have conspired to make it so - the government, the education industry and big business - are running a shell game, and increasingly the American people are the suckers.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Pope Francis

Of all that happened this afternoon, the one thing that didn't surprise me was that the new Pope chose the name "Francis."  It was, I think, completely predictable, given the command from Christ to St. Francis to rebuild His church.*  And, the Church being seen as something of a mess right now, it's a message that should be easily understood.

*Although we don't yet know for certain that he has chosen the name in honor of St. Francis of Assisi; numerous commentators have pointed out that it could be St. Francis Xavier.  At any rate, the symbolism was eminently understandable.

I don't know - well, anything - about the former Cardinal Bergoglio.  The conventional wisdom was that a quick conclave would produce one of the favorites; the stunned response from the massive crowd gathered in St. Peter's is evidence that this was not the case.  He certainly wasn't on my list of favorites.  But, as we all know, when man plans, God laughs.  I will admit to some initial apprehensions, but judging the wisdom of the cardinals is a little above my pay grade.

Unfortunately, however, not everyone sees it that way.  I mosied over to Rorate Coeli, one of the more traditional Catholic blogs in the blogroll, to see what the initial reaction would be.  And here, perhaps, is one more thing that doesn't surprise me: the reaction of the traditionalists, which is almost uniformly negative.

Here again, though, there's the unexpected.  I am taken aback by the viciousness, the vituperativeness  of some of the comments.  One writer suggested that since the new pope is 76, perhaps we won't have to wait long for a re-do.  In the same vein, another hoped that the pope would take after one of his predecessors - John Paul I, who reigned for only 33 days.   Someone said, "He looks tired.  Is it too early for him to resign?"  Many others took the opportunity to lace into Benedict once again for his renouncement of the papacy.  Almost all of them wrote in terms of gloom and doom, if not outright despair.  Frankly, after reading a few of these I felt almost nauseous.  It was as if I'd stumbled onto a Jack Chick website.   And, without even knowing the man, I felt great empathy for him. (And by the way, the surest way to drive him into the hands of the "enemy," whoever that might be, is to react in such a way.)

O ye of little faith.  We don't know what kind of pope Francis will be.  He may be a great pope, or a disaster.*  Cardinal Ratzinger, when once asked what kind of role the Holy Spirit plays in conclaves, said that it was unwise to assume that the cardinals always pick God's choice; what the Holy Spirit can be counted on is to protect the Church from utter disaster.

*John Paul II, you might recall, was thought to be a moderate when he was elected.  Of course, many in the traditionalist crowd think he's something of a modernist, but one only has to look at the relative state of the Church in 1978 to see the difference he made.  Plus, the liberals hated him - doesn't that count for anything?

Despair is a mortal sin, but I read plenty of it at this site.  These people call call themselves Catholics, but then you can call yourself anything you want.  So what are they going to do?  Leave for the SSPX?  Become Eastern Orthodox?  Fall out of communion with the Church?   Maybe they're thinking about leaving for another planet - it seems as if that might be their only choice.  As Peter said to Christ, "Lord, to whom shall we go?"

Someone who reads this blog might look back on this piece in a few years and say, "I told you so."  But I'm not hedging my bets as much as I am just willing to wait and see.  It could well be that in a few years, when the history of this pontificate is written, that we'll all be in agreement that the reign of Francis was a disaster for the Church.  It could be that we'll all acclaim him as the man who saved the Church.  It might be that we'll all be of many different minds, as it so often turns out to be. 

There's much more that can, and will, be written about today.  I might even write some of it myself.  I do tend lean to pessimism, so naturally I'm going to admit to being a little disappointed that one of the (possibly) more orthodox cardinals wasn't elected.  But you know what?  I still trust in the Lord.  Christ, after all, said that the gates of Hell would not prevail against His Church.  I'm inclined to take Him at His word. 

We are all Becket now

It's been said that art which disturbs forces the partaker into a realm of solitude that is not entirely welcome, for it forces one to confront his innermost thoughts, to enter "a world of aloneness, ineluctably insisting on one’s attuning oneself to one’s self.”

And it's in that sense that I use the word "disturbing" to describe Assassinio nella Cattedrale, Ildebrando Pizzetti's 1958 operatic version of T.S. Eliot's (equally disturbing) verse play Murder in the Cathedral, the story of the martyrdom of St. Thomas Becket in 1170.  I first mentioned this piece a couple of weeks ago, and I finally have the chance to come back to it today.


The performance, from December 22, 2006, was staged at the Basilica di San Nicola in Bari, Italy, with Piergiorgio Morandi conducting the Orchestra Sinfonica della Provincia di Bari.  The grandeur and solemnity of the Basilica provides a unique but stunning location for the opera (with the orchestra situated between the audience in the nave and the singers at the altar), compelling us to consider the story in an atmosphere that for once justifies the correct use of the word "awesome." 

Most of us know, or should know, the basic story of Thomas Becket: his early life as friend and close associate of King Henry II, becoming Lord Chancellor and Archbishop of Canterbury - and how a fatal rift developed between them over the authority of the State over the Church.  Eventually, Henry is (supposedly) heard to utter the famous words "Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?", whereupon four of his knights travel to Canterbury and there murder the Archbishop in his cathedral.

The question of man's relationship to authority, and the legitimacy of said authority, is timeless. Eliot's play, which premiered in 1935, was taken by many as a commentary on Nazi Germany and its growing oppression of religious freedom.  However, it was difficult in watching Assassinio not to think of today; of the growing religious oppression in America, of the recent abdication of Benedict XVI, of our own futures.

As the opera opens, it is December 2, 1170.  Becket has returned from exile in France.  There is a truce between Becket and King Henry, but nobody expects it to last.  Becket's congregation fears that the Archbishop's return can end only in tragedy, for themselves as well as him.  Becket is unfazed by the prospect of martyrdom, but is it a measure of the man's spirituality - or ego?  The answer is soon to come.

Becket (Ruggero Raimondi) faces the four Tempters
In a stunning first act confrontation, Becket meets four Tempters - manifestations of Becket's own intellect, they converse with him in a reflection of the inner dialogue tearing through the Archbishop.  The first three offer the usual - safety (by running away), power (by compromising with the king), and rebellion (joining the barons against the king).  Thomas is able to deal with these temptations easily; it is the fourth that gives him pause, for the fourth temptation is martyrdom itself, the chance for eternal fame and influence through giving up his life.

This one proves the most dangerous, for it is easy to convince yourself that you're dying to draw attention to a cause, when in reality it is you to which you draw attention.  Is this why Becket returned to England?  Does he look for the ultimate "I told you so" moment?  As the tempter says, it would put everyone under Becket's heel: king, emperor, bishop, baron.

It is here that Becket must provide the ultimate measure of who he is and what he believes - and he does, defiantly casting aside the temper, saying "The last temptation is the greatest treason/To do the right thing for the wrong reason."With this act, Becket finds a kind of peace; he comes to the knowledge that he is not looking for martyrdom, but is prepared to accept it as part of sharing Christ's Cross.

In his Christmas Day sermon, Becket gives us a profound meditation on the meaning of Christmas.  Yes, it is a day to rejoice in the birth of the Savior, but also to realize the price that salvation will ultimately exact from Him*.  It is in this spirit of unity - and love - that one embraces martyrdom, Thomas says, warning the congregation that "It is possible that in a short time you may have yet another martyr."

*I've always thought that the ideal Nativity set should somehow cast a shadow of a Cross over the crib where Christ lays.  The Creed celebrates both His birth and death, and at no time is this more clear than at Christmas.

The denouement of Act Two is, at once, tragic, inevitable, and joyous.  Four of Henry's knights, played by the same four singers of Act One's tempters, confront Becket, accusing him of disloyalty, and calling on him to surrender or face death at their hands.  Becket refuses all attempts by his priests to protect him, either by locking the doors of the Cathedral or by fleeing, but Becket refuses, in a sense recalling Pilate's words that what has been written is written.  He accepts the savage act of martyrdom with peace, and meets his death on December 29, 1170, vested for the liturgy, sprawled on the steps of the altar. 

Bass Ruggero Raimondi delivers a dignified, powerfully moving performance as Becket, a man walking at the same time with both truth and death.  The New York Times once described Eliot's play as "an opera libretto waiting to be set to music," and Pizzetti, working from an Italian translation of Eliot's play, is faithful to both the story and the underlying meaning.  Events are condensed, as they often must be in opera, but at all times Eliot's message comes through without distortion.  The music is clearly modern but never lacking in melody, and it creates an atmosphere that will stay with the viewer long after the opera ends.


So what does it all mean to us, and why should we care about Assassinio nella Cattedrale as anything other than a work of art?  There are a couple of reasons why, I think.

I mentioned earlier that it was impossible to watch this without thinking of Benedict XVI.  A couple of weeks ago I wrote of Benedict's renunciation as an act of martyrdom, and I think anyone who sees this opera will understand what I mean.  In the act of renunciation, Benedict lays down his office and prostrates himself before the coming persecution, offering his (figurative) death in order that one coming after him, the next pope, might lead the Church Militant in the coming battle.  This is truly disturbing, according to every definition of the word.  It is awful and awesome at the same time, and it indicts all of us, the unruly faithful who have given the shepherd so much trouble. 

The Martyrdom of St. Thomas Becket,
by Michael D. O’Brien

And then there is the question which it forces us to ask ourselves: what kind of stuff are we made of?  It's something that all of us will confront, eventually.  We may hope that it does not occur in as public a venue as it did for Becket and Benedict, but in truth we don't know.  As Joyce Carol Oates once wrote, "You won't know until it beckons. To you. So long as it temps others you can judge - can sneer - can express shock, disgust, outrage, and prim distain - the usual emotions of punitive people. But you won't know."

It may be pessimistic to see in these days the twilight of America, if not the world, but then there are reasons to be pessimistic.  For we may be far closer to the times of Becket than we think.  Benedict perhaps saw this, and we must consider it as well.  Francis Cardinal George, the Archbishop of Chicago, said a few years ago that "I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square."

The time is coming, I think, when we will find out what we're made of.  It will beckon, as Oates says, and then we will find out. The battle is not merely fought among the high-ranking, the statesmen and prelates; its battlefields not confined to the ancient histories of centuries past.  No, history is here and now, and each of us will be called upon to take up our own roles in this drama.  And then we will find out, we will know.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Emotions have replaced careful analysis in society

P. T. Barnum said it best over a century and a half ago when he noted, “There's a sucker born every minute.” I learned it the hard way at an automobile auction when car shopping recently in an effort to replace my 16-year old truck that had an engine failure last summer. Equipped with information from a major publication on the fair market value of an automobile, I scanned three vehicles at the auction I thought was worth the possibility. I checked fair market value, and deducted properly for defects that need repair for a fair market value that I could use for the purchase.

I learned the hard lesson. Two bidders online (both resellers) went for the same vehicle, and grabbed it for 60% greater than the fair market value, as posted by nationally renowned sources. I thought why it had happened to me. It finally dawned why. In my efforts to follow the Dave Ramsey way of auto buying, we checked fair market values to purchase the vehicle at fair market value. The buyers who were successful were resellers, not having seen the vehicle at the auction, and only basing it on outside pictures, and not inside, made it clear they were being suckers. They did not care for the fair market value of the vehicle, and only looked at their intrinsic value based on emotions. Obviously, as we saw in the most recent election, emotions matter more than those who analyse on any front. What gives in our society? Have we become a society that values emotions and refuses to look deeper before anything?

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The scam of higher education, continued

Second in a continuing occasional series

Mitchell pointed me to this story, courtesy of Rod Dreher:, of a panic attack at Oberlin College (or, as one commentator put it, they "got their knickers in a knot."  The memo as follows:

To the Oberlin community:

Early this morning, there was a report of a person wearing a hood and robe resembling a KKK outfit between South and the Edmonia Lewis Center and in the vicinity of African Heritage House. This report is being investigated by both Safety & Security and the Oberlin Police Department. This event, in addition to the series of other hate-related incidents on campus, has precipitated our decision to suspend formal classes and all non-essential activities for today, Monday, March 4, 2013, and gather for a series of discussions of the challenging issues that have faced our community in recent weeks.

We hope today will allow the entire community-students, faculty, and staff-to make a strong statement about the values that we cherish here at Oberlin: inclusion, respect for others, and a strong and abiding faith in the worth of every individual. Indeed, the strength of Oberlin comes from our belief that diversity and openness enriches us all, and enhances the educational mission at its core.

We ask that all students, faculty and staff participate in the events planned for today:

12PM | Lord Lounge, Afrikan Heritage House Teach-in led by Africana Studies Department

2PM | Wilder Bowl Demonstration of solidarity

3:30PM | Finney Chapel Community convocation: “We Stand Together” (previously scheduled for Wednesday 3/6 at 12PM)

When faced with difficult situations, Oberlin has consistently met the challenges and affirmed its commitment to the highest quality of education and the noblest aspirations of its community members. We believe that today’s events—and our ongoing work and discussions—will strengthen Oberlin and will strengthen us all.

Marvin Krislov

Sean Decatur
Dean, Arts & Sciences

David Stull
Dean, Conservatory of Music

Eric Estes
Dean of Students

Dreher notes that "These are actual adults. Who run a college. Attended by adults. In theory, at least."  Couldn't have said it better, especially when you read on and find out they're not even sure there was a Klansman running around:

Lt Mike McCloskey of Oberlin police told the Guardian on Monday that officers were still following up the KKK sighting, but suggested that the only witness may have been mistaken. “Officers checked the area and were unable to locate anybody. College security later saw a student wrapped in a blanket.”

You just have to love this, don't you?  Talk about shoot first, ask questions later.  Speaking of which, if you shot someone you claimed was invading your home based on the kind of information, I suspect these same Oberlin people would be the first ones clamoring to have you thrown in the pokey.  Perhaps they think racism is more dangerous than robbery.

Dreher concludes with the observation that "it costs over $50,000 per year to attend this pants-wetting academy" - money that you and I, as taxpayers, are probably helping to subsidize.  But I think Dreher's being much too kind - I'd call this school a nursery full of nannies for ninnies. 

Monday, March 4, 2013

Wish I'd written that

From Mark Shea, with whom I've often disagreed, but who speaks the pure and unvarnished here:

The notion that the West is, in any serious way, “multicultural” is a complete, smug, self-congratulating fiction. We are a culture that is not only profoundly intolerant of ideas outside a narrow bandwidth and ready, at the drop of a hat, to sneer at those ignorant primitives who think differently from our middle class suburban enlightened selves, but we are also a people ready, willing, and able to go to war to impose our “values” on backward peoples in the name of spreading hedonistic democratic capitalism.

I would only add that the imposition of "values" on "backward peoples" that Mark speaks of isn't confined to foreign countries.  I recall my time working at a major food company, when the marketing department was preoccupied with American women who'd grown up in "big family" cultures (such as Italy) where preparation of a massive Sunday meal is considered a tradition, a way of keeping the family together, etc.  These geniuses were trying to figure out how to "educate" women out of this mentality, to get them to accept fast, pre-processed food instead of that made from scratch, and how to encourage the idea of small, quick meals eaten on the run, rather than long, festive family affairs around a huge table.  See, the traditions and cultures and family values that this represented - none of that was important in comparison to moving product and increasing the bottom line.

Really, it's just enough to make you shake your head and walk away.  

Friday, March 1, 2013

Are you a shepherd or a leader?

I've had my bones to pick with Rod Dreher over the years (he even wound up on the Our Word Enemies List™ one year), but Lent is a time for reforming one's life, and I've tried to bury the hatchet over so many of these petty things.*

*Though I'll admit there are still some for whom the hatchet should be buried in their backs.

Anyway, when a man is right he's right, and setting aside those areas of disagreement, Dreher has been right about a lot lately. His latest is entitled Rebellion and Empire, and in addition to making some pertinent comments of his own, he quotes at length from Jeff Dunn's essay on the failure of Christian pastoral leadership.  The problem, Dunn asserts, is that too many pastors try to be leaders rather than shepherds:

Shepherds focus on sheep entrusted to them; leaders focus on the structure of the organization that employees them. Shepherds walk behind their flocks to be sure that they stay together and no one gets lost; leaders walk out ahead, “casting the vision” so that all know who is in charge. Shepherds are filthy and dirty from caring for filthy, dirty sheep; leaders are dressed for success. Shepherds get very little recognition; leaders get book contracts.

Being a leader of a church, no matter what size the church, means to study demographics and business models. It means reading case studies and taking cues from the latest research published by business school teachers. Being a leader means setting goals and establishing benchmarks and, at the end of the day, mastering the latest business catchphrases, like “at the end of the day.”

Being a shepherd, meanwhile, involves visiting MaryLou in the hospital where she will want to talk with you about her medical history for the entire afternoon. It means meeting for breakfast with three men who resent even having to go to church, but do so to only please their wives. It means sitting bedside with a man whose wife is dying of cancer, and then taking the brunt of his anger as he accuses you and God of taking the one thing from him that mattered.

Leaders are professionals. Shepherds are laborers.

There's more, for which I'd suggest you head over to Rod's blog, but I think Miller makes an excellent point here, one that can be extended over many walks of life.  We used to say of a situation that there were "too many chefs and not enough cooks."  However, isn't the same true in business, in politics, in most areas?  Too many people are concerned with the most recent buzzphrases, the newest business guru, the latest book on leadership secrets from a dead historical figure.  It's a lot easier than, you know, actually caring about people.  If you reduce them to economic units, then you can apply your fun new theories.

I wholeheartedly embrace Rod's conclusion, oft-stated, that it's time for the alternative: a rebellion against the old ways, and a creation of a new way of life.  Easier said than done, and I don't know that we'll ever make it ourselves, but it's hard to disagree with what he calls the "Benedict Option" (after St. Benedict of Nursia, 5th century), in which we should consider

dropping out of a barbaric mainstream culture that has grown hostile to our fundamental values. The case for traditional conservatives to make a strategic retreat to defensible perimeters, so to speak, has become even more appealing since 1999, when Paul Weyrich issued his famous fin de siècle call for conservatives to pull back radically from “a [cultural] collapse so great that it simply overwhelms politics.”


Sometimes, it takes a catastrophe to make us come to ourselves, to see the world in a new and more truthful way. The political catastrophe the Republicans are living through, and the far more consequential cultural catastrophe we’re all enduring, obviously call for fresh political and economic thinking. But even more, they call for a renewal of our moral and spiritual vision. We have to learn to retreat from the passions of the moment, making use of this gift of catastrophe to enter into contemplation and draw once again “from the moral and spiritual depths” (Ryn) of the sound of church bells calling the faithful to evening prayer, the cattle lowing in the fields, the cold beer on the village square in the twilight of a world that, as Russell Kirk said, “remains sunlit despite its vices.”

Yes, it does sound a bit pessimistic - but we've been saying, "them's fightin' words" for too long now - time to do something about it.  Like a rebellion with a shepherd instead of a leader at the front. 

The scam of higher education (part 1)

Part one of an occasional series

It's no secret (or shouldn't be, at least) that higher education in America is, for the most part, a scam.  Students emerge from college as pampered neo-Communists who expect everything to be given to them on a silver platter and have little to no idea of how real life works.  Employers have fallen into this scam, requiring college degrees for jobs that require little more than a high-school diploma and some real-life experience - mostly because having a degree means students have been taught how to be docile in responding to authority.  In other words, perfect training for business.

And of course it's us, the taxpayers, who increasingly get stuck with the bill for all this.

So from time to time, I'm going to pop by with some info on some of the more ridiculous examples of colleges scamming the public.  I'd been thinking about this for awhile, but I was motivated by this excerpt from an article in today's Star Tribune discussing a hitherto secret extension of Gophers women's basketball coach Pam Borton, which is going to make it all the more expensive for the U if they want to jettison her after yet another unsuccessful season.  Now, my interest in women's sports is somewhere below zero - I think I'd rather work on my worm dissecting skills - but it was this section that caught my eye:

[University President Eric] Kaler faced legislators in January to deny the school’s administrative costs were out of control after the Wall Street Journal reported that, among 72 major research institutions, the Twin Cities campus had the largest share of employees labeled administrators and the school had been “on a spending spree over the past decade.” The Star Tribune also reported last year that former school President Robert Bruininks had agreed to a series of compensation packages worth more than $2.8 million, and that top administrators had routinely been given lengthy paid leaves, then allowed to return or leave the school’s payroll.

Yup, your tax dollars at work.  My guess is that the people making these decisions were all college grads.  
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