Archive for June, 2012

This is the song that opened the concert the other night. I had never heard it before, and was quite moved. These are the same guitarists that accompanied her when I saw her, but in that concert the skinny kid on her left played steel guitar in this tune, which was quite effective….

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Local and Perfect

One of the great things about living in this part of Ohio is the abundance of locally produced food. I live in an area that is not only largely agricultural but also the home of the largest Amish population in the US. Much of what is produced is made by a family and marketed either at their farm or at a roadside market. This includes not only food, but baskets, soap, furniture, and just about anything else that can be made by a small enterprise.

Some of these family businesses expand and begin hiring help and sell their goods at local stores. One of these is Mrs Miller’s, in the tiny town of Fredericksburg, near where I lived when I first moved to Ohio 18 years ago. That business began by making egg noodles, then went on to other pasta and jams and jellies.

We are of course used to fictive advertising. We don’t believe cookies are made by elves, or that Uncle Ben is a real person. Mrs Miller, though, is a real person, an Amish woman who runs her small business from Fredericksburg. And her hot pepper jelly is the best; the perfect blend of heat and sweet. Though it is called a jelly, in fact it is loaded with pieces of red and green hot pepper. It goes best with the freshly ground peanut butter we buy at a local natural food store, and no, it is not more expensive than Jif.

All in all, just one more reason to be thankful for where I live. I mean where else in the country can you have proximity to Eastern Christian churches (to the north) and Amish goods (to the south)?

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An Apt Quote

Hillaire Belloc said that the Catholic Church is “an institute run with such knavish imbecility that if it were not the work of God it would not last a fortnight.”

If he could see it now…

Drawing by James Gain, ht to Mark Shea.

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Driven either by principle or political expediency, President Barack Obama is working to build and maintain a powerful presidency that pushes the edge of what it can do, while often telling Congress and the courts to mind their own business.In the last week alone, he refused a subpoena to share Justice Department emails with Congress, told courts he doesn’t have to justify his claimed power to assassinate suspected terrorists and decided to stop deporting certain illegal immigrants even though Congress has refused to enact a law to do that.Those moves cap a slow buildup of executive branch power since Obama took office in January 2009. Some actions build on war powers seized by the administration of President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. Some assert new domestic authority.Taken together, they reinforce the strengthening presidential power that Cheney pursued ever since he served as White House chief of staff to Gerald Ford and watched Congress take power away from a presidency weakened by Vietnam and Watergate.”

Read more here: http://www.idahostatesman.com/2012/06/24/2166532/obama-channels-his-inner-cheney.html#storylink=cpy

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Johnny’s Girl

Saturday night my 15 year old son Patric and I saw Rosanne Cash in Akron.

I had heard that she was going to be in town, but assumed the cost of tickets would be prohibitive. Then I read in the weekend section of the newspaper that tickets were only $10; apparently the city and local businesses subsidized the show.

I wasn’t sure Patric, a talented guitarist, would want to go; he is a rock and roll kind of guy with a distaste for all things Country. While I like a lot of what could be called country, my tastes run from the traditional to the bohemian, and I share his dislike of contemporary commercial country music. While Rosanne Cash’s music is highly eclectic, her roots are obviously country. I put in 1990’s Interiors album and asked if he wanted to go. He liked it and said yes.

So after a quick shower when I got home from work we hopped in the car and drove the half hour to Akron. The show was at Lock 3 park, a green expanse in the heart of the city. We bought tickets, then grabbed a bite to eat at a deli, then returned to the amphitheatre. The opening act began at 7, a local country band. The first couple of tunes were tolerable, but it headed steadily downhill. The group featured a woman lead singer, who pranced around the stage constantly and annoyingly. It was not that she had a bad voice, she just made some bad decisions. Not least of these was an attempt to cover Adelle’s Floating in the Deep, a work of such Platonic perfection that I was amazed that anyone thought it a good idea to try and sing it. The only thing she inspired was a new appreciation of Adelle. But it got worse; there was a song that managed to combine two of my least favorite genres and could only be called heavy metal country boogie. And the low point of the performance was the musical hell of a country version of a Madonna song. Patric was truly suffering.

They played for a full hour and a half, and when they finally finished there was a gap of a half hour or so as the roadies set the stage for Ms Cash. We milled around and moved our folding cloth chairs closer to the front, maybe 30 feet from the stage.

Rosanne Cash took the stage around 9 o’clock, and from the opening notes we were entranced. Her music is very guitar centered, and unlike most bands she did not have a lead and a rhythm guitarist, but two musicians who played off one another. One was her husband, John Levanthal, a lean sixtiesh man. The other was a skinny kid who looked like he was 18, who also played the steel guitar. The band was incredible and very tight. Patric was impressed.

She played a lot of songs from her recent album The List, which refers to the list of 100 country songs her father gave her when she was 18, saying “This is your education.” 

Rosanne Cash, besides being a gifted songwriter, is a masterful interpreter of other people’s songs. Some of these covers involve distilling the very essence of a song, like the stripped-down  version of Bobby Gentry’s Ode to Billy Joe, which she sang accompanied by a solo acoustic guitar. She wrang more soul out of that tune than Ms Gentry ever was capable of doing.

Other interpretations transfigured the originals, finding hidden potential in them (think Hendrix covering Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower). She did this with one of her father’s songs, Tennessee Flattop Box. Johnny Cash’s version of the song, which is about a young guitar whiz, featured extensive acoustic flatpicking. Rendered by Rosanne and her band, the two guitarists, one on acoustic, the other on an electric Telecaster, played off one another, escalating into a dazzling crescendo of guitar virtuosity. Even though it was more “country” than a lot of her material, Patric was blown away. I don’t think I have ever seen better guitar playing, with the sole exception of the time in the late 70s when I saw Phil Keaggy take the stage with only a Les Paul, with which he proceeded to create a transcendent tapestry of sound.

All in all, an amazing evening. My only regret is that she didn’t play anything from Interiors I guess if you have a career spanning more than 30 years you can’t do everything. And again, it may be too painful; that album chronicled the breakup of her marriage to Rodney Crowell. Still, I sure would have liked to have heard this, my favorite from that album:

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Icon by Irena Brad

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Friar and priest at Santorum rally

After  I posted my essay on the real problem with American nuns last week there was discussion in the combox about whether or not I was exaggerating. Mark Shea said that a single photo of nuns with Santorum does not necessarily mean that they are died-in-the-wool Americanists. You would think that Mr Shea would know better than that; after all he has long butted heads with Americanists on his own blog. Perhaps none of them happened to be religious sisters.

Nuns at Santorum rally in Steubenville

Nuns at Santorum rally

Or perhaps he was reacting to my admittedly strong language. After all, I did accuse them of “bowing to the god of Americanism” and called them “… sisters whose first religion is America, who endorse candidates whose political positions fly in the face of Catholic social teaching.”

Let me clarify. I don’t think you will find a conservative Catholic, nun or not, who would agree with my description of them. Indeed, they would be horrified. In their minds they are devoted “orthodox Catholics” who love God and Jesus Christ above all things. To suggest that their real god is America would offend them deeply. 

Allow me to submit that they deceive themselves. I chose that language for its shock value.  I am of the Flannery O’Connor school: sometimes you have to talk REALLY LOUD to the hard of hearing. But the language is also accurate. When conservative (or liberal) Catholics disregard something that Christ or His Church clearly teaches it can only be because they value something else more than Christ and His Church. But if you value something more than God, doesn’t that show your true priorities?

For conservative Catholics, rejecting the Church’s clear teaching on war, nationalism, torture, economic justice,  etc comes too easily. They fall back on the claim that these things are “not taught infallibly”. But this magisterial minimalism  leaves them in a very precarious position, for they have long denounced those on the left who make the same “non-infallible” argument when rejecting the ordinary magisterium on birth control or women’s ordination.

Nuns listening to Santorum

In fact, the only things that are taught de fide are those that were defined by an ecumenical council, or formally defined by a pope. If you held only to those relatively few things you would still have the basics of the Catholic Faith, but it would hardly resemble the wholeness of the lived Tradition, which includes wide areas of non-infallible teachings and practices, the things that put flesh on the bare bones of infallibly declared dogma.

In fact, the Church teaches that the ordinary magisterium is to be received with faith, and this includes not only things like liturgy and traditions of prayer, but the clear Mind of the Church on social issues. Catholic social teaching is just applied moral theology.

But of course not all conservative Catholic who reject Catholic social teaching admit it. Some, like Fr Richard Sirico and Congressman Paul Ryan, do so while claiming to adhere to that teaching. This would be laughable were it not for the fact that they convince those eager to be convinced that this is indeed the case.

I’m sorry; no one is claiming that Catholic social dogma can only result in one particular social order. It can be interpreted in many ways. I personally interpret it in the most radical way, but I don’t argue that other, more moderate interpretations can be valid.

However, there are basic principles that cannot be denied. You may argue for social democracy and be in accord with those principles, or you may argue for distributism. You may wish to see a well regulated market economy. But nowhere in Catholic social teaching can you find justification for the sort of free market ideology that has ruled in this country, and increasingly around the world, for thirty years. You can nowhere in the Catholic tradition find justification for torture, or assassinating foreign enemies, or invading a country because you claim that they may be a threat.

If you claim otherwise, excuse me for doubting your faith.

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