Well, I’ve been thinking a lot about fracking lately. I started out reading Tom Wilber’s carefully argued book, Under the Surface: Fracking, Fortunes, and the Fate of the Marcellus Shale (Cornell University Press, 2012). Then in July we had the HBO premiere of Josh Fox’s second documentary on fracking, Gasland II (still available On Demand, to be followed, no doubt, by the DVD.) And activists are organizing ferociously to stop Gov. Andrew Cuomo from approving fracking here in NY state. He has postponed the decision a number of times, thanks, we believe, to public outcry. Last weekend I collected seventy-five signatures on Food and Water Watch‘s anti-fracking petition to Cuomo in an hour at our corner green-market . A lot of the folks I approached were pretty charged up.
Some, however, were apathetic, uninformed, or both. Several said “I’m not interested in political issues.” Other Grail members who gathered signatures in Brooklyn said some people they approached had never heard of fracking. So let me describe it, briefly, before addressing the one big problem that underlies it –the greed of the natural gas industry and its investors.
“Fracking,” short for hydraulic fracturing, is a method of drilling for oil and natural gas. It was invented in the nineteenth century, and has been used for many years to drill for oil in softer rock formations. This kind of fracking was less harmful to the environment than the current form of fracking. Since the decline of oil supplies in recent years, however, “unconventional” fracking has been used to drill into hard rock forms like shale to release natural gas. To do so, the drillers inject between two and ten million gallons of water laced with sand and toxic chemicals into new L-shaped wells. Some of the toxic fluid trucked into the well area leaks out and poisons the ground even before the fracking begins. After the remaining fracking fluid cracks the rock, gas is released, but some also seeps into the groundwater which people depend on to drink, irrigate their crops etc. Sometimes fracking for natural gas causes earthquakes. Some of the toxic fracking fluid returns to the surface to be trucked away to public water recycling plants which are rarely able to handle the poisons adequately. (Dick Cheney got an amendment put into the U.S. Clean Water Act exempting the natural gas industry from having to reveal which toxic chemicals they put into the fracking fluid.) In addition, the cement well-casings through which the fracking fluid is injected sometimes crack causing the natural gas—methane—to leak into the atmosphere. Methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than CO2, something the natural gas industry fails to mention when they tout natural gas as a “bridge fuel” to a clean energy future. Furthermore, the gas fracked in the Marcellus Shale area (northeastern Pennsylvania and western NY) contains a dangerous level of the radioactive substance radon in it, which, experts predict, will increase lung cancer rates. And don’t get me started on the harm done to the environment by the multitude of pipelines that will have to be built to transport the liquified natural gas from fracking wells to populated areas for use (or to the coastline for export).
But the mainstream media, and “frackademics” (whose research is funded by the natural gas industry) persist in claiming that fracking for natural gas is safe. An article in yesterday’s New York Times reports that a new portable laser gas detector will enable the gas industry to detect the kind of methane leaks that make drilling for natural more damaging to the climate than burning oil. This new ability to measure methane leaks is going to be a game-changer, according to the vice-president of the company producing the measuring device.
With regard to climate change, however, the question is not whether the gas industry can measure methane leakage from fracking wells, but whether it will. If we look back at the history of fossil fuel mining and drilling—mountaintop removal in West Virginia, the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska, the Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico—there is nothing to suggest that the industry will police itself regarding methane leakage into the atmosphere (or regarding methane leakage into the groundwater, or fracking fluid leakage into the groundwater, etc., etc.) And I am not reassured by the statement in yesterday’s Times article: “The Environmental Protection Agency, which has a history of requiring new controls as technology improves, intermittently hints that it might regulate methane emissions…”
Why not? Because since the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, the regulation of a whole range of dangerous industrial practices affecting our food, drugs, water, air, bridges, roads, and so forth, has been steadily weakened. (See Wenonah Hauter’s hair-raising Foodopoly for examples.) And one goal of the budget cuts being endlessly pushed in Congress is to further such deregulation. Sequestration has forced the furloughing of the staffs of agencies that are already not protecting our environment; how on earth will they regulate methane leakage?
Of course, the natural gas industry could self-monitor methane leakage, fracking fluid spills, radon levels, etc. But why would it? Such monitoring—and God forbid, remedying the problems—would cost money. And the only purpose of the natural gas revolution in the United States is to make money, plain and simple. Fracking is the next best hope of the 1%, safety be damned.
Thirty years ago last fall I enrolled in a Master of Divinity program in a Protestant seminary here in New York City. It’s not as if I had never met a Protestant before; on one side of my family, Catholics had married Protestants for three generations. So I grasped that there are differences.
Most of my relatives were standard mainstream Prots, however—-Methodists, Episcopalians, the odd Presbyterian. But New York Theological Seminary is majority Black, so what I encountered were lots of Baptists, as well as Pentecostals and independents. Pretty different in many respects from UMCs and Episcopalians.
One aspect of the NYTS curriculum that fascinated me were courses that the various Protestant churches required of their ordination candidates—-denominational history and polity courses: Baptist History and Polity; Presbyterian History and Polity; Methodist History and Polity.
I had practically never heard the word “polity” before, so I looked it up: “A form or process of civil government or constitution. From polis, city.” So each denomination has a different governance process and structure, much the way nation-states do. I was particularly taken with the polity of Baptist and other congregationalist churches because it’s so different from Catholic polity. The congregation hires and fires the minister and owns the property. There’s usually some kind of umbrella organization for all the churches in a particular region, but the local congregation has almost all the power.
Since the election of Pope Francis, there’s been a lot of speculation about whether various changes are in the offing in our own Roman Catholic denomination. Early on I got an email from the head of the New York chapter of the reform group Call to Action with links to two articles discussing such possible changes. The first was an article in the British Catholic newspaper The Telegraph reporting that “Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras said he was backing more posts for women after the Pope named him… to lead a task force of eight cardinals from around the world to reform the Roman Curia, an alleged hotbed of intrigue, infighting and corruption. The cardinal’s comments, made to The Sunday Times, were backed by Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi on Sunday.”
The second, in the National Catholic Reporter, reported that a “Vatican official responsible for the sainthood cause of Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador announced Sunday that the cause has been ‘unblocked’ by Pope Francis, suggesting that beatification of the assassinated prelate could come swiftly.”
Both of these developments sound promising. I myself am especially hopeful that the possible beatification and eventual canonization of Archbishop Romero signifies a reversal of John Paul II’s vicious repression of liberation theology, a theology that is at the heart of my faith.
But some of us are old enough to recall that there was also a great deal of hope during the reign of Pope John XXIII. “Good Pope John,” unlike his predecessor and his successor, went to great lengths to save European Jews during the Holocaust and introduced significant changes into the Catholic church by calling Vatican Council II.
Yet Pope John XXIII’s successors, especially Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, undermined and reversed many of the changes introduced by their predecessor and the Council he called. In point of fact, as Benedictine Father Anthony Ruff announced with astonishment after the Vatican trashed the translation of the Roman missal on which he and others had labored for ten years, the Roman Catholic Church is an absolute monarchy. But at least in secular absolute monarchies, the son or daughter of the previous monarch may have some faint inclination to continue the parent monarch’s policies. In a celibate absolute monarchy, the next guy (I use the term advisedly) can reverse previous decisions with the wave of his wand. Maybe the Vatican and the hierarchy place as much stress as they do on the unchanging truths of the Catholic faith precisely to obscure the arbitrary reversals that the church’s absolute monarchical structure allows.
All of this leads back to the question of polity. The Second Vatican Council taught that the laity as well as the ordained are “the people of God,” and many of us believed it. Had we taken a course in polity at seminary we might have asked what changes in the church’s governance structure would underpin this theological pronouncement. Instead, we continue to fixate on the color of the smoke coming out of the Vatican chimney and hope against hope that the new guy will treat us a little better than his predecessor did, though we know that everything he does can and may well be reversed by the monarch who follows him.
(This post is a slightly revised version of an article that appeared in the June-October 2013 issue of EqualwRites, the newsletter of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Women’s ordination Conference.)
The last few days I’ve been pretty much AWOL, reading an unbelievably absorbing book, Unearthed, by Kenneth Sayre, a philosopher at the University of Notre Dame. I’m not going to give you the subtitle, because it’s the kind publishers force on authors in hopes of increasing sales. The subtitle ought to be “Our Ecological Catastrophe and What We Can Do About It.”
I’m also not going to review Professor Sayre’s book today, though I hope to do so before long. Instead I want to share with you my reaction to his argument. But first, Let me tell you a bit about my environmental background, and then summarize Sayre’s argument.
I am basically an extremely urban person. I live in a densely populated section of a huge and densely populated US city and I adore it. When I was in my twenties I spent some serious time on two different farms, one outside Cincinnati, and one in rural Nova Scotia. While on these farms I heard quite a lot about the land and the environment, and I did learn some things. I have been washing and re-using plastic bags since 1975; I was a serious vegetarian for ten years, and even now, Keith and I eat a whole lot less meat than the average American couple. Then, in 2002, I heard the Canadian water activist Maude Barlow give a series of presentations on the world water crisis. After that I became a water activist of sorts, teaching and lecturing about it in churches and seminaries. Within the last few years, I have also been increasingly concerned about climate change. The Grail action group I belong to is working to prevent fracking in New York state.
But somehow, I just didn’t get it. Until Unearthed. I guess I thought there are all these environmental problems that are going to be really harmful unless we solve them. But in this book, Kenneth Sayre argues in an utterly convincing fashion that the entire way of life that we have led upon the planet since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution–1750, more or less– is fatal to the biosphere on which all living things depend. He does so through a whole succession of amazingly clear, rational, and unpoliticized arguments. Since forever, we learn, there has been a life-sustaining balance between the incoming energy on which the biosphere depends and the waste it produces (entropy). With our increasingly massive use of fossil fuels, however, as well as the destruction of the ecosystems that are fundamental to life, and the production of unrecyclable wastes like plastic, this equation is completely thrown off. The causes of this destruction of the biosphere are the values of pleasure, comfort, convenience, acquisition, and wealth that drive developed societies. Mainline economics, which is predicated on endless economic growth, underpins these values.
Professor Sayre goes into a lot more detail than this, of course. But there’s something about the evenhanded, descriptive way in which he lays out his case that convinces me completely. For me, nothing will ever be the same.
The really tough part, though, is that Sayre finishes with a chapter on the values with which we have to replace the negative, consumerist values that drive our environmental catastrophe and the actions we need to take to bring this value shift about. And this is where my whole life begins to come into question. I mean, I eat a lot of beans, don’t you know. But why on earth (no pun intended) do I wear make-up, which pollutes our water, and dry my hair with a hair-dryer that uses electricity the production of which gives off CO2 and helps to destroy the ozone layer?
And why do I ever by new clothes? I mean, the stuff in my two (!) Ikea closets could probably clothe several families in Tanzania. And all this without considering where the food Keith and I eat comes from. Do I really have to stop eating my morning banana, shipped in from Colombia? Yes. And then there’s my IPhone, my IPad, and my IMac.
It’s enough to make a girl feel totally unearthed.
Tags: Brooklyn, Ditmas Park, Flatbush Brooklyn, laundromat, NY
As I may have mentioned, I live in a six-story apartment building (54 apartments I think) in the middle of Brooklyn, NYC. At a certain point, in an attempt to gentrify the neighborhood, they started calling the neighborhood “Ditmas Park,” which was the name used by the white Anglo-Saxon Protestants who lived here when Brooklyn was the suburbs of Manhattan. But really, we live in west Flatbush.
Our apartment is on the first floor, which means it can be pretty dark. All kinds of plants have died here from lack of light. One advantage to being on the first floor, though, is that we can sit and watch the neighborhood walk by on its way to the street where the stores are, Cortelyou Road. It’s not everywhere that you can watch Hindu women and saris, Muslim women and their daughters from Pakistan and Yemen veiled head to foot (even their faces), couples talking Russian, families from across Latin America talking Spanish, Jewish families, mostly not wearing overblouses and yarmulkes (the Orthodox having moved farther out decades ago), very many Caribbean folks talking the Queen’s English (sort of), and old and young white gentrifiers yakking along with everybody else.
I really love living here. But I have to confess that sometimes it also makes me feel superior, to have transcended (as it were!) the kind of boundaries that diminish our supposed democracy. Until there’s a laundry crisis, that is.
Something has gone wrong with the laundry in our basement. My financial consultant has advised me not to tell you just what. But my usual bi-weekly trips down to the basement to jam the laundry into the washing machine, followed forty-five minutes later by another trip to transfer it to the dryer(s), followed an hour later by folding or hanging the clothes onto hangers and sliding them back into the closets, are in abeyance. When the baskets under the bed got stuffed beyond functioning, we had to think of something else.
The something else was a trip to the commercial laundromat six blocks away, at the corner of Cortelyou Rd. and E. 16th St. Compared to our basement laundry, the local laundromat is really something. Forty washers, more or less, some requiring eighteen quarters, some requiring eight. No spiffy money cards as at home. Forty dryers. Fifteen or twenty folks using them, almost all women. We were the only white folks in the place. Lots of different kinds of music playing pretty loud. Seriously hot and muggy.
Keith had helped me carry the laundry down to the laundromat–three big bags. The plan was that we would get the machines going, I would sit there while the clothes washed, and then call him to help me fold them and carry them home after they were dry. But I more or less became a nervous wreck as I was trying to get the machines going–poured the bleach into the wrong slot, put the laundry detergent in too soon, and was being driven nuts by the music. So I was the one who went home.
Eventually Keith called me on his cell and I returned the six blocks for the folding and carting part of the adventure. The woman on the folding table across from me had clearly been doing this for a long time; if one sock got over the dividing line, she would say “Is that your sock there? You wouldn’t want to lose track of it.” From which I took it I’d better be more careful with our socks. (Keith assured me that she had been every bit as tough with the Caribbean woman who had preceded me.) At a certain point I just threw all the unfolded and sometimes damp clothes back into the bags and dashed home to deal with them in our quiet bedroom. Some are a little wrinkled as a result, but oh, well.
Rumor has it that our laundry room in the basement will be accessible by the time the baskets under our bed are full once again. And if it’s not, there’s a Chinese laundry down on Newkirk that will pick up our clothes and wash and dry them and bring them back, even if that means I have to iron them all afterwards. I’m kind of proud of living in such a diverse neighborhood, but you don’t want to get too carried away with such things.
Tags: ", "Gender Theory, "Wisdom's Feast: Sophia in Study and Celebration, Hal Taussig, Judith Butler, Pax Christi Metro New York, Southeastern Pennsylvania Women's Ordination Conference, Sue Cole, The Grail in the USA
Well, last week’s post on this blog page was my two-hundreth. This one is my two-hundred-and-first.
WordPress, my blog site provider, informs me of the number of my posts every time I do one. I couldn’t help noticing when the announcement hit two hundred. Even I think that’s a lot.
I began blogging in August of 2009, just after my last book, Tracing the Sign of the Cross, was published. The blog was supposed to help sell the book. Good luck with that. As a friend said, if American Catholics really do suffer from an inability to mourn as I argue in Tracing, they probably don’t want to read about it.
I also had a notion that a blog would be a good place to pursue my then-growing interest in World Christianity, more specifically, Christianity in the Global South. I was taken up with the notion that the future of Catholicism was in Africa and Latin America. I even got a research appointment at the Center for World Christianity at New York Theological Seminary in Manhattan.
But soon, the blog more or less became an end in itself. Sometimes I write about Catholicism, or about gender and Catholicism, which have been major interests of mine since the 1970s. Sometimes I write about the environment—climate change, water, fracking—which are the things I worry the most about. Sometimes I just write. I have considered changing my tag line from “An American Catholic on the Margins of World Christianity” to “An American Catholic on the Margins of Catholicism” or even “An American Catholic on the Margins of Almost Everything.”
I began writing long before I had a blog page, of course. I started wanting to be a writer when I was a kid. When I was twelve I had forty-two pen pals, most of them from Girl Scout camp. In high school and college, I wanted to be a poet, till it dawned on me that only geniuses support themselves as poets, and not even geniuses most of the time. I published my first genuine article in an education journal, The Reading Teacher, in 1974. I also made good money as a grant writer between 1979 and 1992.
I suppose I hoped for a while that I would become a famous writer and get invitations to go places and talk about my books and articles. But I am really terrible at promoting myself–a common characteristic of shanty Irish, I’m told. At the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion one year, my mentor, Laura Levitt, said to me “There’s Judith Butler. Go tell her what a brilliant job you did using Gender Theory in your chapter on Mary Gordon.” I almost fainted at the thought. One of my books, about Sophia, did make some money, but I wrote it with two United Methodist minister friends, Hal Taussig and Sue Cole. By the time we split the royalties three ways, they were pretty modest. (And I have to confess that Hal and Sue did most of the promotion!)
But I don’t really care about all that. What has come to me over the years is that writing is something that I do for and within the communities I belong to: The Grail Movement; the Catholic women’s ordination movement, especially the Southeastern Pennsylvania Women’s Ordination Conference branch of that movement; Pax Christi Metro New York, the local branch of the international Catholic peace movement. Most of the hundred or so people who “follow” my blogpage are members of those communities, as well as family and friends.
I suppose I could be out there promoting my writing as if I were James Patterson or somebody. I got an email last week from CreateSpace, the Amazon wing that’s publishing my collection of articles about the nuns, coaching me on how to get more buyers. One of these days I may read it. But what really matters to me is the conversation I’m having with you all, in Philly, in the Grail, around the country. And I love it when you comment on my posts, so please would you join the tiny group of those who do and say something back now and then? Xox.
Tags: american baptist seminary of the west, Berkeley, CA, Claremont, Graduate Theological Union, New York City, San Francisco Bay Area
So I’ve been away again. June 8 to June 19 I went to California. I could have told you before, since my heroic companion was holding down the fort here in West Flatbush. Truth is, though, I was run ragged the whole time, visiting with many friends. And therein lies a tale.
Keith (said companion) and I moved to northern California in 1997, and we lived there for eleven years. It all seemed like a fairy tale at the time. Keith got invited to interview for the presidency of the American Baptist Seminary of the West in Berkeley. He didn’t even apply for the job. They flew us out and interviewed us. Two days after we got home, they called up and offered Keith the presidency. They wanted him so much, they hired me, too. (I suppose I should be embarrassed to admit that, but mostly, I’m grateful.) We flew back out, made an offer on a house and bought it. It cost almost five times as much as the row house we owned in Philadelphia while I was doing my Ph.D. there; after the closing, we went home and I threw up.
But mostly, we were just plain thrilled.
We had been to California on vacation once and thought it unbelievably beautiful. The thing is, going someplace on vacation is really different from living there, especially if the place is as far away as Europe but in the opposite direction. The seminary paid to ship our stuff, but we drove our car out because we were going to need it in the Bay Area. My first inkling that the distance might be a problem came when we got to Wyoming, after endless driving, with still more to come. In addition, people in the town where we stopped were dressed exactly like the cowboys on the t.v. shows I watched as a kid. “Keith,” I said, “I think we’ve made a terrible mistake.”
And how far Northern California was from what we considered the actually existing world in 1997 had nothing on how far it became after September 11, 2001. Because then, as you know, we not only had to fly six hours to get home but also stand in line at security for two hours to demonstrate that we weren’t terrorists. In addition to which, Keith’s sons, who were not long out of college when we went West, gradually got married and had kids. The weddings and Christenings started to pile up.
Now let me be clear. There were many things about Berkeley that I simply adored–and still do. The teaching I did at the Graduate Theological Union was the most meaningful work of my entire life. And the seminary presidency was a very good position for Keith as he approached the end of his career, though he never took to Berkeley the way I did. And the weather!! The locals considered it cold if the temperature dropped below fifty.
But the distance from Berkeley to New York was an endless problem, no pun intended. When Keith stepped down from the seminary presidency, we decided to move back home. All of both our families were (and are) on the East Coast. And many of our friends.
“No one ever goes back to the East,” an acquaintance said.
“We are,” we replied.
And we are pretty happy at having done so. Except…
Except eleven years is a long time to live someplace. We, and I in particular, made a lot of friends in eleven years, without even taking into account the scores of seminary students I taught, and the dozen or so Grail friends (some from the East) who moved to a retirement community in Claremont, CA, just as Keith and I were moving back to NYC.
So while we are glad to be home, now there’s a new problem–or a reversal of the old one. It’s way too far from New York to California, but I am still flying across the country, now to visit the dear friends I made even as I was coming to realize that California is way too far away.
Tags: "American Freedom and Catholic Power", "Evangelical Catholicism", "The Nation", "The New Anti-Catholicism", Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Commonweal magazine, George Weigel, Paul Baumann, Paul Blanshard, Philip Jenkins, Sarah Palin, Vatican Council II
Paul Baumann’s review essay in the June 3rd essay of The Nation is noteworthy on several counts. An article by the editor of the liberal Catholic journal, Commonweal, about a new book, Evangelical Catholicism, by George Weigel, “the neo-conservative leader of American Catholicism’s war on Vatican II,” as Baumann describes him, would be noteworthy in itself. That it is an incisive analysis of the crisis facing the American church makes it doubly so.
But to grasp the full significance of this review you need also to understand that it appears in a magazine that published some of the most anti-Catholic articles in the post-World War II period. Written by Paul Blanshard, one of The Nation’s editors, they were eventually collected in a book, American Freedom and Catholic Power. In The New Anti-Catholicism, scholar of American religion Philip Jenkins says that Blanshard’s plan of resistance against Catholicism in that book echoed the anti-Catholic proposals of the Ku Klux Klan. Yet now we have a nationally recognized Catholic journalist publishing about Catholicism in that magazine and even offering pointed criticisms of the institutional church there.
Baumann begins by situating Evangelical Catholicism within the context of the American bishops’ fevered opposition to Barack Obama’s first-term agenda, including their attack on the University of Notre Dame for inviting Obama to give their commencement address in 2009. The bishops’ opposition culminated in the “Fortnight of Freedom” attack on the contraceptives mandate of the Affordable Care Act during the 2012 campaign, followed by their rejection of two successive compromises the administration proposed on same. This uproar reveals how “deeply divided and directionless the once formidable and coherent” American church has become, tutored as the bishops are by neo-conservative intellectuals. And, Baumann assures us, if Evangelical Catholicism is any indicator, the divisions are only going to get worse.
For those mercifully unfamiliar with Weigel’s legacy prior to this latest book, Baumann provides a helpful overview, noting, for example, Weigel’s rebuttals of the US bishops’ fine 1980s pastoral letters, “The Challenge of Peace”and “Economic Justice for All.” The much more conservative successors of those “Vatican II” bishops seem to have completely swallowed Weigel’s neo-con arguments, however, almost passing a pastoral letter in the summer of 2012 that described the economic downturn as a result of the nation’s moral failings–divorce, same-sex marriage and of course, abortion. Regulations of financial institutions or how to allocate public funds to the needy are questions of individual conscience, however. This, Baumann tells us, bears a “striking resemblance” to Weigel’s recommendations in Evangelical Catholicism.
Weigel’s “evangelical Catholicism,” we learn, is the successor to the “tribal Catholicism” of previous centuries, where bishops stressed building churches and hospitals and supporting the poor. Instead, the Catholics of the future will “speak of their faith in an evangelical idiom once considered Protestant…(in which) ‘friendship with the Lord Jesus’ will be as integral as Mass on Sunday.”
Moreover, according to Weigel, this new Catholicism is essential to the survival of human rights and democracy. Conversion to Catholic natural law morality is the only way forward.
Baumann, not exactly a Nation secularist, agrees that the Aristotelian/Thomistic tradition has resources to offer American democracy. But, he assures us, that’s not all we need as we deal with our increasing multiculturalism. Weigel is the avatar of rigid and reactionary approaches to such diversity, Baumann tells us, and Evangelical Catholicism/em>is a repetitious diatribe. The cause of our current crisis is not, Baumann argues, the “permissive morality of liberal elites, but our economic system.” The Vatican II fathers taught that the only way forward for the church is to let modernity in even as we engage it critically. But Evangelical Catholicism advocates closing as many doors as possible.
The first “tectonic shift” in all of this is, of course, the publication of an article by a Catholic journalist in a once virulently anti-Catholic magazine. The second is the call by an extremely conservative American Catholic for an “evangelical Catholicism” that is seriously far removed from the sacramental Catholicism of previous millenia. And the third? That the US bishops are falling for such neo-conservative propaganda. As Baumann observes, almost parenthetically, Cardinal Dolan, the president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, recently hired as his spokesperson one of the political consultants from Sarah Palin’s presidential campaign. (Palin, you may recall, is a former Catholic who converted to evangelical Protestantism and seems less than committed to Catholic social justice teaching.)
Jesus. Mary, and Joseph.
Tags: "The Seven Story Mountain", Anne Hope, apartheid, Carolyn Gratton, Corpus Christi Church in New York City, Eleanor Walker, Grailville, Jacques Maritain, Raissa Maritain, Steve Biko, The International Grail Movement, Thomas Merton
By now, you’ve probably figured out that something has been up. I haven’t blogged for a while. The thing is, my esteemed companion, Keith A. Russell, has convinced me that it’s not a good idea to announce in advance that we’re going on holiday, lest somebody drop by our Flatbush apartment while we’re gone and clean the place out. So I just disappear and ask your forgiveness later.
Ten days ago we drove out to southwest Ohio to visit with a number of members of the International Grail Movement–women seventy to a hundred years old–who had flown in from all over the world for a gathering of “Grail elders.” Some of these women had an enormous impact on me when I was in college and in my twenties and thirties. At the risk of sounding morbid, I was a bit afraid that if I didn’t get myself out there, I might not have another chance, especially to see the ones who had come from Europe and South Africa and Australia.
I “met the Grail,” as we say, when a Grail member gave a talk at my Catholic girls’ high school in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in 1965. I began going to meetings at the Grail Center in Philadelphia, and then I visited Grailville, the Grail’s farm and program center outside Cincinnati, and then I went there for several summers while I was teaching the fourth grade, and then I joined the Grailville community and lived on the farm for four full years. There’s no way I would be anything like the person I am if I had not done so. And a number of Grail women who were in their late thirties and forties when I was in my twenties were the most astonishing role models a working class Catholic baby-boomer could ever have hoped for. Somebody was always suggesting that I compile and edit a prayer book for the community, or go take a grant-writing workshop, or work up a feminist version of the Easter Vigil to celebrate during Holy Week. They helped me to believe that anything was possible.
Forty years later, some of these women have left us. I walked down to the cemetery behind the Grailville Oratory one morning to have a chat with them. But lots of others were at the elders’ gathering, so I got to visit with them, and pray with them, and recall a wide range of amazing experiences we had shared. With Francine Wickes, my dear friend from Bangor, Maine, I recalled dancing to Pachelbel’s Canon during a liturgy in the Oratory, and I resolved to go up soon to interview her about the twenty years she spent with the Grail in Indonesia. With Carolyn Gratton, the gifted spiritual director and psychologist from Toronto, I recalled running a summer program at Grailville in 1975 where several of the participants who had come up from Louisiana played Miles Davis music on the loudest setting of their tape recorder for the entire month.
I sat next to another old friend, Alice Dougan, during the Trinity Sunday liturgy. The priest, the Grail’s dear friend George Wilson, SJ, announced that instead of giving a sermon, he wanted us to talk with one another about an experience we had of the mystery of God. Al shared with me that her senior year in high school, she had been so deeply moved by Thomas Merton’s Seven Story Mountain that after graduation, she joined the Poor Clares, a contemplative religious order. She only lasted a year and a half, she told me–by then she had discovered that she was a “doer”–but in that year and a half, she learned how to pray . Something that came in handy during her six decades of Grail service in Africa and the US, I’d warrant.
Another person whom I had not seen in a very long time was South African Grail member, Anne Hope. During one of our conversations, I told her the story of how a Grail member who had influenced both of us enormously, Eleanor Walker, had become a Catholic. While she was a Ph.D. student in French at Columbia during World War II, Eleanor read a lot of French medieval literature, and decided she wanted to join the Catholic Church. This can sound pretty crazy now, but in those days, and for decades before, Catholicism’s medieval vision of the world attracted many people who were searching for an alternative to the increasing violence of modernity and industrialization. Eleanor went to the rectory at Corpus Christi, the famous Catholic parish at Columbia where Thomas Merton also was received into the church, and said she wanted to be baptized. The priest asked her if she knew a Catholic who could be her godparent, but she said no, she didn’t. Probably because she was a student in French, the priest at Corpus Christi gave Eleanor the phone number of Jacques Maritain, the famous French neo-Thomist philosopher who had fled Paris with his Jewish convert wife, Raissa, to escape the Nazis. Maritain did, indeed, serve as Eleanor’s godfather when she was baptized, and she went to the Maritains’ apartment for tea (well, wine, probably) every Sunday afternoon thereafter until the Maritains moved to Princeton. Anne Hope had never heard the story, and urged me to write my memories of Eleanor, who died in 1979. Anne herself had just finished her memoirs, including the story of how she had been forced to flee South Africa under apartheid because of her work with Steve Biko, the anti-apartheid hero.
There were sixty women at the meeting, which means there are many more stories I could tell you, but it’s time for me to go slice the collards for supper. I’m sorry to have been AWOL for so long, but probably you can see that it was worth it. I’ll write another post soon.
Tags: Catholic Sisters, crossing a picket line, Democratic Party, Fortnight of Freedom, Irish Catholics, Irish-American Catholics, Monsignor John. A Ryan, Opus Dei, Reagan Democrats, Republican Party, Roman Catholic Church, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Vatican Council II
I have, from time to time, mentioned my working-class Irish-Catholic upbringing in a county immediately south of Philadelphia. I was actually born in Chester, a ship-building city on the Delaware River, south of Philly on the way to Wilmington. We moved to Collingdale, a few miles north of Chester, when I was two-and-a-half.
Some would call Collingdale a suburb, but I never do, at least not since people started thinking that suburbs are full of 12,000 square foot houses with hot tubs in the back. Collingdale was a whole like the Northeast section of Philadelphia, row houses and “twins” built after World War II and occupied by the families led by shift workers like my father–people who were excited out of their minds that they owned anything. The bedroom I shared with my brother till he was seven and I was fourteen was so tiny, you could hardly get between his bed and mine. The dresser (which I still own) was out in the hallway.
There are a number of things I could tell you about my neighborhood, and the street we lived on, Juliana Terrace. The people were decent, and we felt safe enough to play out on the street. (We were all white, of course; it was the 1950s.)
My shift-worker father, Joe Ronan, was a hard-working guy who had had a difficult childhood and youth–orphaned at the age of nine, put out on the street during the Depression by the unmarried aunts who could no longer feed him, a stint in the Civilian Conservation Corps before joining the Navy in 1939 (because it paid better than the CCC) . Privilege was something he did not have to pass onto us.
What I did get from my father were certain ideological convictions. You see, I grew up thinking that being a Democrat and being pro-union were the most important things in the world, and that they were somehow inextricably linked with being an Irish Catholic. My father would sit at the dinner table and announce, with absolute certainty, that if we ever voted Republican or crossed a picket line, we would go to hell. This was the beginning of my theological education. I was in college before it dawned on me that it was possible to be a Catholic and a Republican.
Things have changed a lot since those days, of course. First there were the Reagan Democrats. After my father died, despite my terror about what she might say, I asked my mother if my father had voted for Reagan. I was greatly relieved when she assured me he had not.
But the big change came when the Catholic Church, or at least the U.S. Catholic Bishops, shifted all their eggs into the sexual morality basket. Time was when American bishops hired people like the great social justice advocate, Monsignor John A. Ryan, or wrote letters on economic justice and peace. In recent years, however, their battles have been primarily, if not exclusively, against contraception, abortion, and gay marriage.
Although I have written at length about the institutional church’s fixation on sexuality and gender since Vatican II, I guess I was still unconsciously operating out of my pro-union/Democratic/Irish/Catholic identity before the last election. I could not grasp why the bishops would launch their “Fortnight of Freedom” attack on a Democratic –and Black!–candidate in a presidential election year. I said this to one of my Catholic friends who was less out-to-lunch than I was; she replied: “Because they’re Republicans, Marian.” I was stupefied. I couldn’t take in what she had said.
Subsequently, a priest I know here in Brooklyn shared with me that the local Catholic bishop, who’s a member of Opus Dei, had told him he had a moral obligation to vote for Mick Romney in the presidential election. My friend bravely replied that as an American, he would follow his conscience about who to vote for.
Since then I have been having something of an identity crisis. I mean, the boys began attempting to roll back Vatican II in 1968, and since I am, at heart, a Vatican II Catholic, I guess my identity has been under assault for decades, at a certain level. And then last year the Vatican went after the Catholic sisters, who were like the grandparents I never had on my father’s side (even if some of them were only ten years older than I was). But now I come to find out that a majority of the U.S. bishops are Republicans, for Christ’s sake.
What does this make me? Or perhaps I should ask, what does it make them?
Tags: Climate Change, Curiosity Rover, drought, Hurricane Sandy, Keystone XL Pipeline, Mars
So you already know that climate change is doing very bad things to the planet. People around here, in New York and New Jersey, are still scrambling to recover from Superstorm Sandy. Record flooding has ended the drought in parts of the midwest, but 46.9% of contiguous states are still in a drought, “with water content in the California snowpack at 17% of normal, an ominous situation for a state that depends on a steady stream of snowmelt to replenish reservoirs throughout the summer.” And last Friday scientists reported that CO2 in the atmosphere had reached 400 parts per million, a level not seen on earth for millions of years, and that guarantees future catastrophic weather events and related problems..
But now there’s a solution. We can just go to Mars–well, some of us, at least.
If, like me, you don’t follow space exploration very closely, you may have missed the fact that in August, NASA achieved one of the biggest breakthroughs in space exploration since the 1970s: its space rover,” Curiosity,” landed successfully on Mars, and in the months that followed, accomplished tasks that resulted in a number of major discoveries. Basically, the “Curiosity” mission determined that water has existed on Mars, and that therefore certain locations there constitute the first truly habitable places in the solar system not on our planet. A fine article by Burkhard Bilger in the April 22 issue of the New Yorker details the exploratory process and the discoveries that emerged.
It seems unlikely that the average person will be setting off for Mars any time soon. The “Curiosity” mission cost two and a half billion dollars, but the Great Recession resulted in a significant cut-back in NASA funding; the next two planned missions will be modest by comparison, “NASA technology from the 1960s”, as one scientist described it. Even the missions being planned by private firms like Space X and Orbital Sciences sound like pretty small potatoes.
Yet the entire episode reminds me of learning some years ago that a group of extremely rich men were investing millions of dollars in stem cell research. They were doing so in hopes that near the end of their lives they could be frozen until stem cell research progressed to the point where whatever problem threatened their survival would be cured. They were hoping, in effect, to become immortal.
The prospect of leaving our burgeoning environmental destruction behind and flying off to Mars may soon be equally appealing to those with the resources to do so. Bilger reports a possibly apocryphal survey in which three-quarters of astronauts said that they would go to Mars if the opportunity presented itself, despite the fact that, for the foreseeable future, such a trip would be necessarily one-way. “The pilgrims on the Mayflower didn’t hang around Plymouth Rock waiting for a ship to take them back,” the Apollo astronaut Buzz Aldrin later told him.
But that was theoretical. Now, a Dutch non-profit organization, Mars One, is actually planning to send a crew to Mars in 2022, according to Time magazine. Thus far, seventy-eight thousand people have applied to go, the vast majority of them from the US. The non-profit is producing a reality television show to raise the six billion dollars needed to fund the expedition.
This all sounds absurd, of course. But so, I suspect, did Columbus’s outing half a millennium ago. At least there are no indigenous people on Mars to have their environments and cultures destroyed.
Meanwhile, those unwilling to abandon the blue planet in favor of the red one are massing in Bryant Park, in Manhattan, tomorrow at 5 PM, to tell President Obama what we think about the Keystone XL Pipeline. We hope you will join us.