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Archive for February, 2014

Jonathan Pageau is an Orthodox iconographer who mostly works in relief sculpture, though as you can see, he also sculpts three dimensionally. He is a frequent contributor to the Orthodox Arts Journal. His website: http://pageaucarvings.com/

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Glory, Rumoured

62.Bruce-Cockburn

This song was going through my head the other day; I wanted to find the original, from the album Humans, from around 1980, but all I could find was a live version from 2013.

Grudgingly, I clicked the “start” button.

And was soon swept up in the tune.

And a little startled: Whoa. When did Bruce Cockburn become an old guy? 

Then the implications of that thought hit me.

Also, he looks a lot better in classic old guy mode than he did when he was spiking his grey hair and sporting various piercings.

Actually, it is the fact of aging that makes this video poignant: you can see the persistent vision beneath the wear and tear of living there on his face, something anyone who is no longer young can understand:

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Gifts and Challenges

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A Gift

I am about halfway through my paper copy of Evangelii Gaudium, taking it slowly, underlining with a red pencil. I will write more when I am finished, but for now, I only offer this: if this pope does not write another thing he has given the Church a great gift with this document. It is at once heartening and challenging. I doubt there is anyone, aside from a particularly pure fresh convert, whose conscience will not be stirred reading it.

A Challenge

You may have seen the video that was circulating last week of the pope’s smartphone message to a Pentecostal gathering, one hosted by Kenneth Copeland, no less. If you missed it, here it is:

It is long, but watch it if you can find the time. Copeland’s guest is Bishop Tony Palmer, a bishop of an evangelical offshoot of the Anglican church, one which ordains women. He is charismatic in both senses, and he happens to have made friends with the pope when Francis was archbishop of Buenos Aires; this pope makes friends across the spectrum, from atheists to rabbis to pentecostals. The pope even invited Bishop Palmer to visit him after his election by the cardinals, and when he did Francis sent a smartphone message back with him.

It is not apparent that the pope knew where this was going to be delivered; it is not unlikely that it is a generic message meant for American charismatics, not specifically for Kenneth Copeland. And if it was, it is not apparent that Pope Francis knows anything about Copeland. But then, the prosperity “gospel” is not unknown in Argentina, and the pope has criticized it in the past. And Francis’ simple lifestyle is a quiet rebuke to the sumptuous living of Mr Copeland and other preachers of the Christian cargo cult.

But then I must also face the possibility that the pope sent this message specifically to Copeland’s congregation, knowing full well that man’s false teaching and materialistic life. Even in the long ago days when I would have described myself as a charismatic Christian I had no use for Kenneth Copeland and others of his ilk.

But what if this is a challenge to those of us who have no problem empathizing with outcasts, with junkies and whores and queers and others on the margins, but for whom loving a rich white evangelist, or any rich white person, is a tall order?

The Francis Option?

What if this pope’s love is that inclusive?

What if love really has no limits?

Radiant

This video, by the way, was the first time I have seen the pope speak. I have only read his words on paper or on a screen. I must say I was quite taken with his manner, the evident love and sweetness he radiates.

Finally

Archbishop John Myers, of Newark, has been getting a lot of attention for the expensive 5,000 square foot addition he is making to his already 4,500 square foot vacation home, where he is planning to retire. This, in a very poor diocese which has been closing Catholic schools for some time. The place has a swimming pool, three fireplaces, an elevator and a whirlpool bath.

This is so dense, so tone-deaf, that one hardly knows where to begin.

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Archbishop Myers

When I was in seminary over a quarter century ago I knew a lot of guys, including my roommate the first year, who were from the diocese of Peoria, where John Myers was the ordinary. I attended one of their ordinations in Peoria, in the cathedral that had been recently renovated under Bishop Myers, and I met the bishop, briefly.

In those days, when basic doctrinal orthodoxy was not to be assumed, and liturgical mayhem ruled, Bishop Myers was seen as a bright spot in the church, a rising star in the struggle for a restoration of sanity.

But time revealed that he, and some of the others of his type, were traditional not only doctrinally, but in less positive ways as well, clericalists of the old school, much given to privilege and luxury.

Doctrinal correctness may be important, but it is but a small part of witnessing the gospel.

Would that more hierarchs imitated the bishop of Rome.

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Working Class Blues

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Book Learning

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When we first got married there was little to argue or think about: the children were going to be homeschooled. That homeschooling was superior to the other options was just self-evident. Public schools were toxic, Catholic ones not much better, and after all, weren’t my friends’ homeschooled children impressive? Articulate, comfortable with adults, as well as with children outside their immediate peer group, precocious and well-read.

The older ones, anyway. It eventually began to occur to me that the younger ones, at least in larger families, while also at ease around adults and children of various ages, were not nearly such prodigies; that some indeed were semi-literate at ten and eleven.

Then, of course, we tried it.

Our children never liked it, always envied their friends who went to school (and their friends, of course, envied them, staying home), and were reluctant learners, lazy even.

Maybe this was rooted in the fact that most of my homeschooling friends either lived in the country or surrounded by other homeschoolers. Or maybe that most of them had more resources, could afford private music and dance lessons and the like, and we were limited to what was offered at the public library. Or maybe we are just unsuited to the task, I don’t know.

So we eventually sent our kids, some of them anyway, to the local Catholic school. While the kindergarten was always pretty wonderful, and the teacher gifted, later grades were not such good experiences. The principal was great, but even when our kids had good teachers, the atmosphere left a lot to be desired. Catholic schools have changed a lot since I was a child. In those days tuition was so cheap that any working class family could afford it, and while I was aware of a couple kids who were “rich” it was not a big deal; there weren’t enough of them to form a clique.

Today, of course, teaching sisters are few, and lay teachers require more than room and board. Even though their salaries are low, this drives the cost of tuition up enough that only working class parents who receive financial help from the parish can afford it. So you end up with a Catholic school located in a working class neighborhood, like ours, with few children from that neighborhood in the school: most of the students come from the more affluent area to the north.

And this results in a harsh social environment for less affluent children, with lots of snobbishness and bullying.

So one by one our children have been sent to the local public schools. With Michael, our ornery but gifted eight year old, this has been wonderful: his teacher in the Catholic school did not get him at all and he absolutely hated going to school. It was sad: every morning he would hang his head and drag his feet as he set off around the corner to school. In his small public school his teacher, while strict, delights in him, and as a result he looks forward to school every day, loves his teacher and wants to please her. He is doing well, and often reads to his little brothers in the evenings.

The Middle School, on the other hand, is a disaster, and Maria, who is eleven going on sixteen, is being homeschooled rather than being sent to that wasteland. Her older brother Joseph started at home this year but was so uncooperative that we ended up sending him there, only because there is no alternative.

Patric, who is sixteen, has been attending the local high school, which is slightly better academically, but he has never been happy there. He is a bright lad with an inquisitive mind, and there is little there to nurture him intellectually. His grades are fine, but he has been asking us for some time to let him drop out and finish in the district-approved online school. We have been reluctant to do this, favoring human interaction to staring at a screen, but recently the human interaction he has been in fact encountering has convinced us otherwise.

To whit: one of the disappointments in the school system here is a lack of written assignments. I don’t remember a single composition being assigned in the two and a half years he has been at the high school.

Until a few months ago.

He was assigned, in an English class, to write a narrative composition. He showed it to me when it was finished, and though the kid has hardly any experience writing it was very impressive, a tale of a suspenseful hunt with an unforeseen twist at the end. I was pretty excited about it, and assumed that his teacher would praise it for the fine piece of writing that it is, and encourage him to write more.

Wrong. Months went by with no feedback. Finally, at the end of the semester he received his composition back. He got a good grade, but there was not much commentary at all, and no personal conversation.

I can hardly fathom this; when I was in high school I never wrote anything without a quick response, with criticism and praise, as the piece warranted. And if I wrote something that was at all good my teachers’ excitement was palpable.

I began to see that independent study could be the best thing for my son.

With this caveat: I am going to assign him additional readings, as well as written assignments.

Which led to some soul-searching about just what I thought important for him to learn that he was not likely to encounter on his own. After some thought, I ordered the following books, which have been pivotal for me, and which offer an understanding of the world that is not readily available in conventional school:

Jared Diamond: Guns, Germs and Steel, about the forces that led to European colonialism, which is essential for understanding the world we in which we live.

Wendell Berry: The Unsettling of America,  which analyzes the collapse of small town and rural America.

Neil Postman: Technopoly, the best book on technological dominance in the modern world.

I have not read these books myself for a good while, and hope to read them with my son. It is far from an exhaustive list, but a good start. I am open to suggestions for further reading, especially on science, where I am weak.

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Just a Note

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I have turned off the comments in the old NFP thread. If you haven’t noticed, it has become a spam magnet. And after nearly 800 comments, I think all has been said that can be said on the subject.

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Zita Returns

Our friend Ben Hatke’s long-awaited conclusion to his Zita the Spacegirl Trilogy, The Return of Zita the Spacegirl,  is finished, and is scheduled to be released in May. Here is a little preview:

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