Friday, April 30, 2010

Beyond remedy?

My erstwhile colleague José Casanova, now at Georgetown, has some interesting thoughts about proselytism. While everyone has the right to exit a religious community, he asserts, The individual’s right to exit his or her religious community does not necessarily entail the right of outsiders to enter that community in order to encourage others to exit. Some religions (like Christianity) are called to missionize, but [e]very universalism is particularistic and irremediably so. Although religious diversity may seem a painful mystery, we should develop a respect for the irremediable plurality of world religions and human cultures. Yes perhaps, though further argument is required; one wonders what work the strong and unhappy word irremediable does in all this, and why we should permit it to.

The most interesting part of Casanova's argument (which partly explains his view that some things are beyond our remedying) is that our very conception of proselytism is inadequate to the realities of religious life. Responding to a definition of proselytism as the effort to win adherents for one’s religious community through persuasion Casanova questions three things it assumes:

a) That individuals can change religious communities at will,
that religious communities are nothing but voluntary associations, confessions or denominations.


b) That individuals need to choose, to belong to one particular religious community rather than another, rather than being able to belong simultaneously to multiple religious communities or to none at all.

c) That conversion happens through “persuasion,” as a kind of cognitive rational choice process through which individuals weigh the pros and cons of the various alternatives and settle for the one which makes most sense to them.

By the time you've absorbed the arguments against these assumptions (arguments I find compelling), you've ended up in a quite different religious world. It's not one where religious change doesn't happen, but one where many more factors than the "rationality" of traditions and the "search for truth" of individuals are at work. It may be that religious change - like religious life more generally - is driven by different needs and capacities than we fully comprehend. And what we can't remedy may not need remedy ... or not by us.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Yabba-dabba-Job

The beautiful picture book called The Wonder of it All: The Creation Account According to the Book of Job isn't terribly deep - it certainly doesn't notice that the sequence of topics makes God's speeches more of an "uncreation" (Newsom, 243) in comparison to the Genesis accounts. But it does offer - rather subtly - a quite novel interpretation of the Behemoth, a great creature that Job was obviously familiar with. Can you see it, the triceratops at lower left? And its fellow dinosaur buddy at upper right? So that's why the introduction insisted: The climax of its [the Book of Job's] message, though unexpected, is intensely practical, with special relevance to the needs of God's people in these days of widespread humanism and evolutionary scientism!

Ginkgo in Spring

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Sarah Ruhl's play

You might recall that I went up to New Haven a year and half ago to see an highly praised production of a new play by Sarah Ruhl called Passion Play, thinking it might be of use for the Religion & Theater class. I was not amused. Well, I had a chance to see it again tonight as it gets its New York premiere - indeed, to be part of an after show discussion with my Religion & Theater coteacher C. The play's the same (though it's now being called Sarah Ruhl's Passion Play), and the director, but something about the venue (the Irondale Center, in a half-converted church hall in Brooklyn), a lower budget production and a very winsome cast made me enjoy it a lot more. I'm still a little miffed that every kind of stage magic happens (characters with supernatural powers, prophecy, reincarnation, the uncanny survival across time and place of gestures, interactions and poetic snibbets of text, the haunting of the present by figures of the past - and a parade of fish) except the one you might expect from the play's name: participation in the passion narrative has no discernible effect on anyone - unless it's to make people more likely to act against the role they play (but Ruhl has bigger fish to fry than hypocrisy). However I was prepared for it this time, and so was able to appreciate and enjoy the opulently rich theatrical world Ruhl is able to create, layered and resonant if not always clear. And in a converted church hall, it feels like an outgrowth and outgrowing of religious theater, not a mockery of it. I guess I liked it!

(The pics
are from the program.)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Power point

Our dean's departing, so it's a moment for self-governance as we choose a process for finding an interim, and then recommend candidates to the provost's office. A good point to pause and ask, "who are we anyway?" though thither may lie madness! (Unrelated source of image.)

Monday, April 26, 2010

In the land of Uz

Silliness overtook me in the Job class this afternoon. We've been reading Carol Newsom's masterful if exhausting analysis of the Book of Job, which reads its various disparate parts as generically distinct - but effective precisely because of this jarring and jostling of genres as a polyphonic whole. It was the turn of Elihu, whom Newsom reads as a "dissatisfied reader" who adds himself to the text. There are questions to be raised about Newsom's insistence that this, and no other part of the book, is an interpolation and needs to be understood in those terms, but her larger argument that a polyphonic text demands that the reader continue its dialogue seems valid and important. It's also an exciting way to think about the work of those editors and interpolators who amplified ancient texts. Elihu represents the reader, that is, you and me, and that part should be not a passive but an active one. So, I told the class, take twenty minutes and change something about the Book of Job.

All sorts of interesting changes were made: the suggestion that the praise of Job in the book's opening was Job's talking over the narrator, a vaguely Hindu speech by Mrs. Job, the recovery of Zophar's third speech, a naturalistic account of the loss and restoration of Job's flocks and children, the excision of the epilogue and Elihu, an opportunity for Job to speak at the end and explain how he experienced things, positioning the hymn to wisdom (chapter 28) at the start of the Book, etc. There was something of substance to each of these - if the responsse were light-hearted (perhaps it was giddiness at tampering with scripture), the textual problems identified was serious.

I'm afraid I can't really say as much of my own effort. I feel obliged to participate in all exercises I ask of students, and often learn something from the experience. I could have this time. I should have gone with my initial idea of having another Elihu-like outsider step onstage to voice the hymn to wisdom, her speaking explained in terms of her distress at the anger Job and his friends were causing in each other and opening up the space for Job to speak for himself. And I remembered once wishing Job had used his restored wealth to set up a classless socialist paradise in which there were no outsiders. Instead I fashioned a coda, modeled on that of the Septuagint, which gives banalizing names and genealogies to all the characters. (Read with an Aussie accent:)

That man was Job, and his story was told us by his wife Dinah, my grandmother. My father Elihu and my mother Potpourri opened a nature preserve for all the wild animals God mentioned in his speech. It's become a popular destination for environmentalist evangelicals. When one of the animals attacks a visitor, it is considered a sign of divine favor. One day my father was blessed by Behemoth in a big way, and now I, Bindi of Uz, am keeper of the memory of Job.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Dramas of secularization

The theory of religion part of Religion & Theater is winding down; soon we'll be focusing on rehearsal of students' final scenes, and gathering thoughts for final syntheses. For tomorrow's class I've given the students the text of a talk the sociologist of religion Peter Berger gave here in 2007 called (rather dramatically) "Secularization Falsified" (published in First Things in 2008). Here's the para (p24) I'll start discussion from:
I've always thought of the "international cultural elite" in terms of academics, but in the context of this class a different set of questions arises - questions germane to the project and problem of our course. Are the arts part of this secularist minority? The discussion of religion and contemporary art James Elkins curated certainly suggested as much. It'll be interesting to raise these questions about theater.

April

Friday, April 23, 2010

新緑

These fresh leaves are so thin you can see shadows through them!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

An actor's work on a role

Very interesting religion and theater experience today, though not in the Religion and Theater class. The class "American Religion in the Age of AIDS" had invited in Yvette Heyliger, an African American playwright, author of a play on AIDS and the Black church called "What Would Jesus Do?" Yvette came with one of the actors from her show, Jerome Preston Bates, and they offered readings of a few scenes and discussion of the development of the play and its reception. It's always great to hear a play read, and this is a dramatic and funny one, and in places profound: a character has a dream of a black Jesus on the cross whose blood is HIV+. It was clear why the play was a success and also a bit of a scandal.

What turned out to be even more interesting was Jerome's description of his process as an actor, or - let me cut the theater BS - his difficulty with the part. He played a man, a successful church-going paterfamilias in Harlem, who contracts HIV in an anonymous encounter with another man - his first, he claims - and infects his wife. Jerome's a seasoned actor, who's appeared in TV soaps, "Law & Order," films, and plays by August Wilson - and several earlier plays of Yvette's - so playing a morally complicated character won't have been new to him. (He's played Jimi Hendrix!) What made this part such a challenge? Bates isn't just an actor; he's a Baptist minister. His character wasn't believable to him.

Jerome prefaced his reading with a somewhat surprising account of how he would have written the play. At the end Mr. Wilson (his character) would have come to the church and repented; that's what the church is for, people come to it for healing. But it's Yvette's play, he said, and he had to play what she had written - and did, both as an actor and as her friend. She confirmed that he'd had a hard time at first, and that it was a relief and a joy to everyone when he worked it out.

At the time, this seemed more a personal preference - that Jerome would have found a repentance scene more dramatically satisfying or more true to the black church. (Yvette, while raised in the church, has been practicing an Asian meditation tradition for two decades; she didn't know, for instance, that her title echoes the whole WWJD movement.) But in the subsequent Q&A it became clear that it went deeper. It emerged that Jerome thinks homosexuality is, like all forms of sexuality outside of marriage, condemned by the Bible. Accordingly, like many conservative Christians, he doesn't think homosexuality really exists, just homosexual behavior. He reiterated that the church is a community of sinners, none is without sin, not one, whether it's infidelity or stealing from the office or "what they think is a homosexual relationship." In his version of the play, Mr. Wilson isn't a bisexual or homosexual man coming out, however unwillingly, but a man called (like all men) to the ministry of heterosexual marriage who has committed sexual sin and needs to get right with God - which he could, if he turned to the church for healing.

It took the students in the class some time to understand (or believe) that he was really saying that homosexual behavior needed "healing," not a position often represented in our hallowed halls. I'm not sure I've been in a conversation with someone who believes that, either.

But I have to say that I was moved that someone who believes what he does was still, despite the difficulty, willing to act in Yvette's play - and to come with her to perform the scene. (Not to mention in the belly of the beast, a class on AIDS and religion at the New School!) She had described her play as a sort of "theater ministry," and he was doing ministry, too. Witnessing. But it was two kinds of witness, or a double-pronged witness. Perhaps he came to confront us with what he takes to be the truth about homosexuality, though that surely wasn't his main objective. He was also testifying to the power of friendship and understanding, and to the challenges (and limits?) of theater. Jerome doesn't share Yvette's view but as her friend it's his job to help her express it. And as an actor, it's his job to play his part believably - even to be something he thinks doesn't exist, a character wrong about his very identity.

And as a "Christian," it's his job to love the sinner. One doesn't often get a chance to see how tortured this can be in practice (and so to understand the depth of the torture and self-torture on the other end).

Is it very queer of me to be moved by this?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Aloft again

Back in the air! (Source.) Compare this with the scene 30 hours before.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Realty bubble

From a student reflection:

Often times it doesn't matter what other people's opinions are when they contradict our own belief that's deeply rooted inside us. Whether it's religious or just a personal belief about life, our realities are our own. The realities we make up for ourselves are real and affect how we live regardless if they're based off of another person's truth or a dream world. It makes me think that there's no such thing as one realty.

Reality and realty blur as the student continues:

When some one says a phrase like, "well, the reality is X-Y-Z" I can no longer take them seriously.... Whose reality are we talking about? Most people's realty? Their Realty? The common reality? A visual reality? What is this common reality the majority of all people are working in at all times, and if it's their reality ... why do I care when I live in MY realty?

Out the office window

[Update, 23/4: I didn't know how appropriate this picture was when I posted it. I'd noted a visual similarity to the Matissian blob and planes below (yes, I do consider that sort of thing), but not realized that the suspended seeds here are in fact little planes of their own. Today a gust of wind sent scores of them spinning up in the sky and away!]

Cutouts

BBC maps from here and here. Incidentally, it's coming our way too!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Hell's bells

Could there be a secular hell house? This question came up the first time we taught "Religion and Theater" but none of us couldn't imagine one. The answer was staring us in the face, later in the syllabus.

We didn't ask the question this time, but one of the students put two and two together on his own, and saw that Ibsen's "Ghosts" is an atheistic hell house. How right he is! A chamber of horrors, Henrik Ibsen's most scandalous play offers every deadly sin spiced with incest, syphilis and assisted suicide. And all of this is the result in some way or other of the dead hand of Christendom, with its misguided suffering for others, money-laundering charitable institutions and self-defeating efforts to raise your children on false ideals. Hell Houses suggest that devils are waiting in the wings to drag you to hell for your sins - and you might die at any moment. "Ghosts" suggests that Christians are devils to themselves and in hell already; their lives of duty, repression, sanctimony and vengeance are worse than death.

MRS. ALVING:
I am half inclined to think we are all ghosts, Mr. Manders. It is not only what we have inherited from our fathers and mothers that exists again in us, but all sorts of old dead ideas and all kinds of old dead beliefs and things of that kind. They are not actually alive in us; but there they are dormant, all the same, and we can never be rid of them.

Indeed, it wouldn't surprise me if the title Gengangere, apparently untranslatable but closer in meaning to the French revenants than anything in English, in its way refers to the undead namesake of the Christian religion. (The 1882 cartoon is from here.)

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Sailor's delight

63,000 canceled flights and counting! My parents will be in Europe at least four days longer than planned... And compare the volcanic dust- tinged sunset over Edinburgh Thursday (source) with Munch's sky below!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The sky's the limit

This volcanic disruption thing is getting old fast! My housemates' friend K, who was to have returned to Finland on Thursday, will be lucky if she can fly Monday. And my parents are stuck (if it's stuck when you're with some of your favorite relations) in Germany! Untold thousands on thousands of other people are stuck too. Europäer kommen nicht in den Himmel, as the Sueddeutsche puts it. Using "The Scream" to accompany my sense of almost Kierkegaardian uneasiness at all this - if this can happen, then what else can? - isn't just histrionics:

[R]ecent research suggests that Edvard Munch ... painted “The Scream” while remembering a night in Oslo that had been much affected by the volcanic dust [from Krakatoa in 1883]. Indeed, the climatic records show that the swirling orange skies behind the terror-stricken face match perfectly those recorded that winter in southern Norway. (source)

Friday, April 16, 2010

Thursday, April 15, 2010

1821-23

The last time the volcano under Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull glacier erupted - 189 years ago - it continued, on and off, for two years. Imagine what this would mean for air travel today. A new life for oceanliners? It's like a pre-21st-century disaster, says my housemate - and a reminder of the not so distant future when the end of oil supplies will bring an end to air travel. (Pics.)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Job descriptions

Suppose a dozen people spent most of a semester reading the same - rather complicated - book. Would doing this together make them more or less likely to read it the same way? I asked the students in the Job class to represent the relationship between the different parts of the book visually. Behold the result! There's something to learn from each.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Duty, honor, shame, pity and love...

... all vie within my breast, and all at once: must be baroque opera! Yes indeedy: Handel's "Partenope," which I just saw at the new leaner City Opera. These words actually appear (in Italian, naturally) in Silvio Stampiglia's libretto - sung by feckless and yet redeemable Prince Arsace (he's young and so still curable by suffering), beautifully rendered by countertenor Iestyn Davies (all in white in the final scene, above). How could this cheesy plot and these hammy words have inspired such exquisite music? And yet, one learns from the program, Stampiglia's libretto - scorned by literati in his time and our own - was set to music by thirty-eight composers: I guess he really gets the juices flowing!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Don't taste, and see

One of the most provocative texts we read in "Religion and Theater" is Donald S. Lopez' essay on "Belief" from Critical Terms for Religious Studies (Chicago, 1998). Lopez is a critical Buddhologist who knows that the notion of belief … is neither natural nor universal. (28) Lopez marshals historical and philosophical reasons to be suspicious of belief, leading to the suggestion that It might be described as an ideology, not so much in the sense of false consciousness but as an idea that arises from a specific set of material conditions. (28) It is really a fiction employed as a surrogate for more visible concerns (27). What sort of concerns? Well... The statement ‘I believe in…’ is sensible only when there are others who ‘do not’; it is an agonistic affirmation of something that cannot be submitted to ordinary rules of verification. The very impossibility of verification has historically functioned as a means of establishing a community against ‘the world,’ hinting at a counterfactual reality to which only the believers have access. (33) Ergo, a pretext for persecution.

This is fun in the context of theater, and especially if you read it at the same time you're puzzling out the Counter (or Catholic-) Reformation's embrace of the illusions of theater. Like the Spanish golden age plays which accompanied the Catholic Eucharist (we're again exploring Pedro Calderon de la Barca's Life's a Dream), the thing that cannot be submitted to ordinary rules of verification par exellence. It may be that substance is inaccessible to us, who can only see the attributes experienced by our senses. But this needn't mean that a natural science (and a merely symbolic liturgy) win out. Not if "reality" itself proves unverifiable! Can we really trust our senses? I invoked Descartes' "evil genie" to suggest what it would be like to doubt even the reports of your senses... and, returning to La Vida es Sueño, tried to show how one might turn, in confusion (or hope - not all the worlds we think are real are worlds we much like) to morality: it pays to do what's right even in dreams is one of the morals of the story. Or to paradoxical beings which participate in more than one reality. In Vida es Sueño, it's the temporarily hippogriff-like Rosaura...

In a class of philosophers or ardent secularists (or Buddhists), Lopez' argument would win easily. But in a room of people called to devote a life to the enchantments of the stage, where the visible and the real overlap and intertwine in mysterious ways, proving substance and attributes more malleable than you might suppose (actors experience a transubustantiation of their own), it's a closer call.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The readiness is all

Part of what so amazes me at Spring (I grew up in Southern California's coastal desert so every Spring comes as a surprise) is how thorough it is. Every twig of each tree, each notch of every vine...

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Primavera

Scenes
worthy
of
Assisi
in
the
Spring!
But
it's
just
recently
renovated
St. John
Nepomucene

at
66th
and
First Ave.,
and a
pinking
tree in
Brooklyn.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Unscripted

I was marveling at the speed with which my little Ethiopian friend has picked up English in her six weeks here - she's even reading - but then I learned that Amharic (which she knows already) has 231 letters. What's another twenty-six? Her challenge is moving from an alphabet which is phonetic and syllabic to a language which manages to be neither...!

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Proficy

Perplexing message in my fortune cookie, from Sammy's Noodle House:

THE BEST PROFIT OF
FUTURE IS THE PAST

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Care package

You might know that I'm an advocate of the "ethics of care," and have had some experience in seeing the difficulty of translating it into other languages (German, where it struggles against Sorge; and French, where it rubs up unhappily against souci and soin; Japanese, it's rendered phonetically as ケア). I've been part of such conversations as a friend of mine is a leading theorist of care, and I've met the French translator of her book, and tried to find a Japanese one. The particular conceptual richness of the word care (a verb and a noun) seems unique - even as the ethics and politics of care are understood better abroad than here!

The latest word is that care - in English - seems to have found its way to the platform of the French Socialist Party! This from an article in Le Monde about PS leader Martine Aubry:

C'est sur un rappel "aux valeurs de la gauche" que la première secrétaire a fondé son retour en grâce. Dans un entretien au site Internet Mediapart, diffusé vendredi 2 avril, elle brosse la perspective d'une "société du "Care"" ("soin mutuel"), où ... la société prend soin de vous, mais vous devez aussi prendre soin des autres et de la société."

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Plays in the plural

A theater visionary named Erik Ehn gave a talk at school today. His topic (assigned, I think) was Playwriting and Activism, and in a dense oracular talk he told us that theater is not theater, plays are not plays, and playwriting isn't playwriting. Instead, theater is social change (it's not about social change, doesn't lead to social change, but is itself a social change, constituting a community). A play is a hospitable occasion for diversity (it needn't be a script at all, though it can be). And a playwrite is a plowblade, disturbing things to create the space for all this to happen. For theater replaces reality with space; it - like the actor - gives itself away (in love). The sequence should be the personal leading to the public, then the plural, and then it's gone. Theater aims not for the fake real but the real fake. It is not action but the deferral of action. It is an invocation of belief not a suspension of disbelief, where a simile becomes a metaphor.

Heady stuff, which the theater students in the audience loved. I was less sure, perhaps because this was theater as religion (Ehn's talk was larded with references to Catholic mystics), and my déformation professionelle makes me suspicious of religious moves. Not of Ehn, who is inspiringly present and committed and real. Nor of his work, which includes, he told us, a commissioned piece for Virginia Tech, which will be not one play but fifteen, and one (or was it each) of those plays will be thirty-two two minute plays (for each of the victims), all played simultaneously thirty-two times. That's fantastic. His call to think outside the black box, the script, the "theater" was inspiring indeed, especially in imaging ways in which theater can serve as activism, addressing and articulating trauma and loss and tragedy. The emphasis on theater as a space for plurality, for diversity to be, was exciting. This was clearly theater as efficacy rather than entertainment.

And yet... is there nothing left for theater but transformation, naming trauma, building communities of witness? One of the saints he invoked was Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower, and she is, if anything, the saint of the everyday. He picked up on her humility, likening his work to little flowers which someone might pick up and make something of. But one might also say that something art (and religious practice) can do is discover the value of the humble everyday as already suffused with meaning and significance. Arts (and religion) don't just name trauma, help us articulate inarticulable loss, a cry to God, but celebrate and build worlds of good. It may be some of his work does that, too, and just didn't come up today.

Ehn has been going to Rwanda for seven years to study genocide and how society there has moved on (or not), something he described in eloquent impassioned terms about the inevitable imperfection of justice, which needs to be thought of instead as a tactic in the service of peace and hope. But he told an awful, aweful story (which I think I've heard elsewhere too) of a woman who had been told to sing and dance while her husband was killed and her daughter raped before her eyes. Months later, she was still singing and dancing, she couldn't stop, there was no moving beyond that point. I thought Ehn would come back to her (he said he would, I think) but he didn't. Where is she now? Dead of exhaustion? In an asylum? I can't help thinking (perhaps because we've so recently looked at Noh dramas) that a structured tradition of explicitly theatrical exorcism and catharsis in its own constructed space of heightened awareness and unchangeable texts might be what is needed.

Perhaps Ehn (who mentioned Dorothy Day's claim that the church is the cross on which Christ is daily crucified but attends daily mass) thinks only religion can do this. Only God. Perhaps he's right.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Hell's a disappointment

In Religion & Theater today we tried to recreate the most exciting discussion from the last time around, updating questions from morality plays like "Everyman" and Marlowe's "Doctor Faustus" by turning to Hell Houses, contemporary evangelical Christian haunted houses with a mission. I'm not sure it quite worked.... This might be because the lessons C and I learned from it (and even took on the road to the ATHE) have already been woven into the class, or might be because we started the class with the "Hell House" film and have now looped back to look at it in a different light, but the start of the semester feels oh so long ago. Been there, done that! Some interesting discussion, though, about a recent performance of a Hell House by a secular theater company in Brooklyn, Les Frères Corbusier, of which I found a video (where else?) on youtube. What were they doing, how should one judge it, does it show the power of theater to broaden understanding? An article about a religious Hell House and this one, by Ann Pellegrini, showed categories used by Les Frères about their performance ("authentic" and "sincere" and not "ironic") to be slipperier than they realized. Performance aims to go beyond all of them...

Sunday, April 04, 2010

In real time

Red means within the last hour. 6.9 later revised to 7.2 - huge! (Source.)

Update, 5 April: We were, as you know, lucky. The temblor, while stronger than the one which destroyed Port au Prince, was deeper down and in a largely uninhabited area.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Sufficient unto the day?

It's easy to sneer at happiness research in the abstract, but harder to brush it off when it gets personal. As part of a survey for faculty conducted by the Bringing Theory to Practice Leadership Coalition, a coalition of colleges interested in helping improve student learning experiences, I encountered this battery of questions: In addition to your perceptions and attitudes that impact your work, we also want to know more about the well-being of faculty members. The following questions pertain to how you have been feeling in the past 2 weeks. Please indicate the choice that best represents how often you have experienced or felt the following in the past 2 weeks.
These aren't questions about the state of a life, but about the frequency of feelings, which are a strange thing to try to recall, let alone count:
Interesting if in part very personal questions. I found some of them hard to answer... Does that reveal or create dissatisfaction of various kinds?

Friday, April 02, 2010

Triduum

One of the pleasures (if that's the right word) of the Triduum is seeing our church space at different times of day and with more and fewer lights, sounds and ornaments. Here's Holy Apostles this morning (about 11:30) before the Good Friday service in the stripped church, as Spring blazes (and weekday traffic courses) outside.

Write-off

Have I ever mentioned that I. Hate. Writing? Well, I do. It takes me forever to get anything on paper, and then I replace half of it and strike out the rest. Then repeat, and repeat again. Meanwhile my argument twists and turns... It feels like scrambling eggs. On a stove that won't stay on.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

A new mandate

Powerful words before the Foot-Washing at the Maundy Thursday service, read by the priest presiding:

Fellow servants of our Lord Jesus Christ: On the night before his death, Jesus set an example for his disciples by washing their feet, an act of humble service. He taught that strength and growth in the life of the Kingdom of God come not by power, authority, or even miracle, but by such lowly service. We all need to remember his example, but none stand more in need of this reminder than those whom the Lord has called to the ordained ministry.
(Book of Occasional Services, 1993)

Vincenzo Civerchio. Christ washing the feet of the disciples. 1544

I imagine Cardinal Schönborn said something similar at the Bußgottesdienst he conducted Wednesday in the Stefansdom in Vienna for the victims of clergy sexual abuse and their abettors. What about his boss in Rome? (Under the circumstances the traditional papal washing of the feet of priests won't do the trick.) As Ross Douthat noted in his column in the Times on Monday:

This is Holy Week, when the first pope, Peter, broke faith with Christ and wept for shame. There is no better time for repentance.