Summary of the Law (said at every Sunday Mass)

Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ saith: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy mind, and with all thy strength. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Five Quick Takes


I will be spending the weekend with some friends of mine who graciously invited me to stay with them in Portland. I’ve wanted to visit the city for ages, it being more or less the capital of hipsterdom, and, let’s face it …

I’m particularly interested in seeing Powell’s City of Books, reputed to be the largest bookstore in the world, which sells new, used, and out-of-print books. If I’m very lucky I may be able to lay my hands on some Dunstan Thompson—I’ve been fascinated by him since I first learned of him through William Doino Jr. and Dana Gioia championing his work, but his books are extremely difficult to find. So far I have only Lament for the Sleepwalker, his second and perhaps best-known volume of poems, and I’d be interested in acquiring his first as well; but I’d really love to lay my hands on Poems 1950-1974, which I understand has some of his most elegant religious poetry. Fingers crossed.

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I wonder whether there have actually been more shootings of persons of color over the last couple years, or if we’re just finally starting to hear about it. I could honestly see either one being true: I haven’t experienced race-based prejudice in my life, but based on my experience of being gay, I know that sometimes bigotry merely becomes more visible and sometimes it actually increases, and those two phenomena don’t seem to be correlated.

It has been upsetting and frustrating, though, to see many of the reactions to the Black Lives Matter movement. On the one hand, I have run into one or two people being pretty horrifically racist about it. But the liberal outrage that dismisses all questions and uncertainties has been frustrating too, not because I consider the BLM movement dubious, but because scorning people who don’t agree with you is so terribly counterproductive—something else I’ve learnt in the LGBT community.

One of the greatest difficulties is something that I discovered only two or three years ago: that the right and the left mean quite different things by the word racism. Conservatives tend to mean prejudice against people of a certain race; liberals tend to mean actual advantages for a given race embedded in the social system. And the cross-purposes here are really important, because when you’re using the first definition, most conservatives I know genuinely aren’t racist, but when you use the second, the problem lies not with people but with entrenched systems. And those are essentially different problems that require different solutions. Sinful attitudes demand repentance; flawed systems demand systemic reform. But when leftists, as so often, allow their zeal for racial and systemic justice to trump the patience, clarity, and readiness to listen that are prerequisites of successful dialogue, they just come off as self-righteous jerks. Nobody wins.

From the Interaction Institute for Social Change, by Angus Maguire.

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Thanks be to God and my brother-in-law, I have a car again! I was in an accident late last year and my sedan was totalled, and my grandmother allowed me to borrow her minivan for a few months (she lives on the west coast, but had been considering moving out here, so the car was just here gathering dust otherwise). Then one night, my sister’s husband and I got together for beers, I mentioned in passing that I needed a car, and he offered to sell me his (or, more accurately, gave it to me at a stealing price, which will allow me to do other exciting things like register and insure it).

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As I believe I’ve mentioned in passing here before, I am slowly entering on a fresh attempt at celibate chastity. I’ve been seeing a counselor at Regeneration Ministries in Towson for a while, which has been really helpful. I was pretty skittish at first, because Regeneration used to have ties to Exodus, and I am six hundred percent done with ex-gay nonsense; but apparently they detached themselves even before the grand ex-gay implosion back in 2013, and the counselor I’m seeing has proven himself genuinely accepting of me as a gay man, and a trustworthy source of wisdom. There’s been no demonization of gayness, no language war, no homosexuality-equals-addiction lectures, no imposed farther-and-smother pseudoscience.

All the same, it’s been a challenging experience, just because dealing intimately with any profound element of ourselves is challenging. Our deepest impulses are powerful, and usually quite unfamiliar—after all, we live on the surface of our minds most of the time. Coming to understand the things that draw me to other men, sexually, affectionally, spiritually, that’s mysterious stuff. Not impenetrably so. But it is difficult; particularly because we bury so much pain in the recesses of our minds, and going in there with a lamp makes it start hurting again.

But that’s how healing works. And if I really do propose to be celibate, I need a healthy soul to do that with, an integrated soul, whose passions and instincts are under the governance of my will; and, both morally and practically, government must be by the consent of the governed.

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God is weird and amazing. I mean, just think about it: the Mind that made, contains, and sustains literally everything wants to give Himself to me. That’s nuts. I wonder whether a lot of the darkness, pain even, that goes with pursuing God—or allowing yourself to be pursued by Him—is more a matter of being ‘stretched’ so that His infinity can inhabit your smallness, than it is of sin or imperfection or even mere immaturity.

I wouldn’t say that I’ve had locutions exactly, but if there’s anything I think He has wished to convey to me, it’s this: Do not do; simply be. Which is great, because it sounds all Eastern and shit, but it’s remarkably hard to not do. Of the two sisters, Martha’s behavior is far more obvious to all of us, in spirituality as much as everything else. I don’t think this is because of the ‘works righteousness’ theory of most Protestantism, the idea that the most basic human impulse (apart from grace) is to earn our salvation; I don’t find that idea justified by Scripture or by the observable facts of human religion. I think it’s just because doing things is easily graspable to our minds, and being is not. Consider for a moment that Descartes’ notorious Cogito ergo sum literally reasons from the fact of doing to the fact of being—which is about as cart-before-the-horse as you can possibly get.

The MediƦvals are underrated here. They had learned well from their Master that Mary had chosen the better portion, that doing proceeds from being, and that contemplation was a deeper thing than action. To be, that is, to be still in intentional receptivity to God, waiting upon Him to act, is quite the challenge. Which is ironic, since challenge implies doing, and … sigh

Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, ‘Abba, as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?’ Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, ‘If you will, you can become all flame.’1

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1The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, Joseph of Panephysis §7 (p. 103), trans. Sr Benedicta Ward, SLG.


  1. Just like the Left to show *sneaking into* a baseball game as an example of equity and equality...

    Still, the comic makes a good point. I really love that. I think it really demonstrates Catholic Social Teaching regarding "preferential option for the poor" (a rather confusing name for the concept though; the use of "option" there is highly obscure/specialized and not likely to be immediately understood by most people).

    But this also got me thinking about the tension around these issues, and I think one of the problems is that the left uses the language of rights and justice here. When really, it might be better to speak of "social mercy" than "social justice."

    Because that's really what this "equity" above equality is. Putin said something that I thought was true recently. He said, "Minorities need Russia, Russia doesn't need the minorities." The idea being, I suppose, that when you're a minority, you're at a natural disadvantage, and if you start using the language of victimary guilt to demand a *right* to accommodation, then this builds resentment.

    The more I see, the more it seems to me that minority communities can be at a natural disadvantage just based on the fact that they're minorities. Of course, some minorities do better than others; part of it depends on the internal structure of their communities, and there are historical feedback loops that happen. But often, the position they're in is natural. Sometimes the relationship between power and population is geometric, not arithmetic, is exponential not proportional, such that having 1/3 the population gives you, perhaps, 1/9 the power. Just naturally.

    And resentment builds up when an accusation starts being thrown around that there is some sort of structural "injustice" to this. Like there's some sort of systematic conspiracy to keep people down or oppressed. But, generally, they can't point to any particular moment of "injustice" or theft. But that has to exist for a system to be injustice. It has to actually, at some point, be doing something unfair. Injustice does not magically arise from a collection of individual acts which are each, in themselves, just.

    Like, with these police shootings. Yes, it's tragic. But of course police are more "primed" to be scared around young black males. It is statistically smart, and you can't exactly control your subconscious emotions. Profiling is natural to human beings, because our brains evolved it as a tactic for making decisions in situations where little other information is available. Blaming this can sound like calling nature unnatural.

    1. Hi Sinner, another sinner here grateful that you have shared your concerns as I continue to pray and learn about this issue. I never thought about the irony of the sneaking peeks at a baseball game picture! And I can see how the contrast of equity with equality can lead to some of your concerns about affirmative action and mercy versus justice.

      The cartoons I find more helpful are the ones that show a running race with unequal starting lines: for instance, white man in front, white woman behind him, black woman behind her, and black woman behind him. Of course the white man wins and if he takes credit for this is well deserved and only due to his own hard work he is missing the fact that he started with an unfair advantage. This case would be a case of the other runners rightly saying they have been treated unjustly and asking for simple justice and equality--not mercy and gifts--so their hard work can have a chance of being fairly rewarded too.

      There have been improvements in racial justice since the time of slavery and even of the explicit segregation and unjust laws the civil rights movement of the fifties and sixties took on, so it is sometimes hard to see that the "starting lines" are still not equal and just and that we need to work on changing them to make a fair chance possible.

      To me, and in my understanding to the church, those hundreds of years of slavery were the unjust moments that helped create ongoing injustice via official legal and unofficial social discrimination. So I and my children have many basic rights denied to many black people and their children: safe neighborhoods, good schools, families who can help economically, and so on. And a big one is respect and benefit of the doubt from law enforcement instead of subconscious fears which can be worked on through proper training and if they don't lead to the shooting of unarmed women and children along with men. When my son shoplifted from Walmart he was politely arrested and was even able to avoid jail time and a record by using his college fund for a lawyer and having a sympathetic white judge admit him to a diversion program so one mistake didn't ruin his life. A black boy doing just the same things would have been in serious danger of being tased, beaten or shot by police and would most likely have had the record ruin his career chances forever. And Trayvon Martin was a black boy innocently buying Skittles and walking home when a white man murdered him with no consequences at all.

      I don't need to beat myself or other white people up because the system is bigger than our personal choices and we didn't consciously create it. But I do need to recognize the unfairness and pray for things to change and for God to show me where I can do something to try and make things better. Otherwise it would be, to me, like accepting stolen goods--even if I didn't steal them myself--instead of giving them back to the victim.

      Does this make any sense? It is really tough to grapple with these issues and strike a middle path between harsh condemnation--especially tempting for progressives as both you and Gabriel mention-- and complacence in the face of injustice which to me seems like supporting it. Thanks so much for listening and let's stay in prayer and, if you like, conversation on these important issues. God bless!

    2. Here is an animated version of the race cartoon which might be helpful if Gabriel is okay with publishing the link:

    3. Hi again Gabriel, another link for you to publish or enjoy privately--a song I thought of in regard to your thoughts on being and doing and which blessed my morning when I replayed it. I believe the chorus is based on rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and of course the verses are scriptural.

  2. I think what we really need is not accusations that some sort of unnatural injustice is going on, but rather a call to be *supernaturally* merciful to the most vulnerable in society. But I fear many on the left would find that too "patronizing" or something like that.

    Like in the box cartoon. I'd be a little pissed if the short kid said to me "Hey! Give me your box, I have a right to it, it's mine!!" I might even feel like just not doing it to spite the spoiled brat (I'm the tall guy, and could kick his ass, in the end). I'd be much more inclined to listen if he said, "Please, tall sir, you are so gifted already and can already see over the fence. Though nothing in strict justice requires it, can I appeal to your *mercy* and ask you to give me your box so that I may see over the fence too??"

    Likewise with things like affirmative action. When you have blacks (or their Supreme Court, etc) telling us things like that there is some strict requirement in justice to do affirmative action and stuff, one can feel like saying, "You know, you're only 15% of the population so you can't really make demands. If the majority wanted to just get rid of you, we could." But if it were framed more like, "As a minority we are in a particularly vulnerable position. Please, give us *more* than mere equality demands so that we can be at the same level."

    There is a reciprocity, spiritually, to that sort of appeal to mercy that the PC/victimary-guilting language of *demanding* these things according to the logic of strict justice does not have.

    People resent a "constant revolution" that calls nature unnatural and therefore needs to be constantly intervening (and punishing people) to hold at bay the equilibrium that would naturally result. But if the approach were not to accuse nature of being unnatural and creating a world where we are constantly looking, paranoid, for some conspiracy that must be constantly finding "oppressors" to overturn...but instead conceded nature as nature, but then proposed going *beyond* it into super-nature...I think that would be better.

  3. What a powerful time you are entering, Gabriel--thank you for sharing it so we can better focus our prayers for you. I am especially grateful that you have found a safe space and support person to recommit yourself to the quest for healthy self-loving and -respecting celibate chastity, and the experience of Christ's passionate delight in you and call to rest and be in overwhelming divine love. Prayers for many blessings, graces, and consolations on this next stage of your journey--especially in that courageous inner work of allowing the anguish to surface for healing.

    I hope your time in Portland was/is marvelous! I commuted to teach there for a semester with Dad and then preschool son staying in San Diego and we later moved there for three fruitful years there in which I birthed my present teen daughter and finally completed my dissertation. Not sure if you are still there but if so the Grotto--outdoor shrine to Our Sorrowful Mother with and stunning gardens--is well worth a visit. I attended a powerful mass there when 9-11 kept me from flying home to them and still remember my son's delighted exclamation before the statue of St. Ann in the chapel: "Jesus had a Grandma?!"

    Your thoughts on racism and BLM are characteristically thoughtful and respectful. They touch on things I think about a lot lately as a progressive who finally started to get systemic racism and my participation in it via a providential conversation with a black businessman on a cross country flight nine years ago. It has been a long, Screwtapesque journey since with the yin and yang temptations of repressing the painful reality and call to conversion and, when they do come to consciousness, falling into the arrogance and judgment you describe in comparing myself to white people a little farther behind me on the path. The last couple years have been a bit better as the number of repeated cycles and accompanying confessions have finally alerted me to at least try both to monitor my thoughts to stay out of that rabbit hole, or at least catch myself and climb more quickly, and above all to more gently and humbly phrase my spoken and written words on the topic. I would be most grateful if you would pray for my transformation and responsiveness to grace on that topic especially as our next move for my spouse's firm--home to CA and ocean and Latin@s, yayy, even if it's crazy expensive!--opens up new areas for theological and spirituality ministry with that as one focus.

    One thing I would suggest is that our participation in systemic racism does call for a form of personal and communal repentance--in the biblical metanoia/change direction/wake-up sense (which may or may not come with feelings of remorse, as with contrition in other areas). Like original sin, which it manifests, we didn't cause or create it but it does mark us and flows into personal culpability when we do not act strongly enough, or at all, against it--for instance by enjoying rights denied others and failing to discern and carry out the steps we are individually called to. Does that make any sense? Anything I am missing?

  4. Just looked at the cartoon again and noticed that the adult doesn't even need the box since he can see without any while the toddler does need a second one. And thought of the church's social teaching on the universal destination of goods because God created everything and entrusted it to us to be good stewards and share fairly with each other. A challenging and succinct version of that is St. Basil saying that if we have more than we need of something and the poor--so often through no fault of their own--don't have the basics that our extra is really theirs and not ours. So giving it to them is justice rather than charity/mercy and keeping it stealing from them. Very hard to live up to but I am glad I remembered it and pray that my family can up our game in that respect once we have finished the move to a much smaller place which has led to giving away half of what we own!

  5. Hi G, just stopping by again to say I bought the e-book and am really looking forward to it during the forlorn move/travel period between libraries!

  6. Posted some more on this stuff referring to the excellent piece you linked above about stuck conversations and, at the end, the concept of "struggling with" which I am thinking may actually be as helpful in this context as it can be hurtful in demands for dealing with queerness. Interested in your thoughts if you have the time and interest:

  7. I was at Regen during my ex-gay days, and right up into my transition from Side B, and then to Side A. I was quite surprised how well the folks there handled that. Eventually, I did leave, because I saw myself as not needing any fixing at all, but I've never forgotten my experience there. Is Josh still there?? I had such a major crush on that guy! :)

  8. I think that's an excellent way of defining conservative vs. liberal perspectives on racism, although, like your first commenter, I am amused that the illustration shows them sneaking into the game. (Can you sneak *in* to something when you're still outside of it?) And I, too, have wondered about the frequency vs. visibility dilemma. My ultimate comment is that there's definitely a problem, but I don't know what to do about it other than pray for peace.

  9. Aggghhh, I'd like to become all flame.