The Earth and Those Who Dwell Therein

March 21, 2011 at 10:02 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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(1) In the March 21 New Yorker there’s a stimulating article by Ian Frazier about the return of seals to New York. Frazier is a fine writer and I enjoyed learning all about the seals that are swimming around New York, sunning themselves in our harbors, etc.

However, the opening of the article got my attention more than the seals did. In it, Frazier describes driving over to Staten Island from New Jersey in his search for seals. He writes:

“Potholes, which rule the roads these days, opened before me suddenly in a wicked row on the ramp for the Outerbridge Crossing, popping my left front tire….I changed the tire in a lot in Perth Amboy and got to Staten Island just after sunrise…Hylan Boulevard, the only surface road that goes from one end of the island to the other, is a pothole  festival now. I slalomed among some real beauts to the boulevard’s end, parked, and slid on the snow crust down to the beach along the Arthur Kill…” (p. 34).

The remarkable thing about this side commentary is that Frazier never complains about the Staten Island pothole festival. It’s just the way things are. No use being upset.

This reminds me of a conversation I had years ago with Anne Hope, a South African Grail member, during one of her visits to the US. Anne allowed as how she was always amazed by the number of signs along the roads in this country. In Africa, they could never have so many signs, she said. The roads were full of potholes and you had to keep your eyes on them all the time or you’d be in real trouble. I have begun to think of Staten Island as a borough in very far West Africa.

(2) Many people have said many things about the recent catastrophes in Japan. I will not add to these often deeply moving commentaries. I was struck, however, by the number of times newspeople spoke with apparent relief of the radiation “blowing out to sea” and not towards Tokyo. God know, if the radiation had blown toward Tokyo, it would have been truly disastrous. But is it not disastrous that the radiation is blowing out over the Pacific? Is the ocean a place of dead matter such that its radiation is irrelevant? I have not researched what radiation does to the seas as yet–stay tuned–but surely the creatures in the sea matter too? The only indirect comment I have heard about this as yet was one from a Japanese woman on NPR this morning who said she has decided to stop eating fish. Indeed.

(3) NPR this morning also reported that Tom Corbett, the governor of Pennsylvania, as part of his effort to solve the state’s funding crisis, has proposed to cut the budget of the state system of higher education by more than half, or $625 million. This grabbed my attention because I am a double graduate (BA and Ph.D.) of one of those institutions, Temple University. One of the reasons I was able to afford to get a Ph.D. is that the tuition at Temple was reasonable. I knew very well that it would be insanity to borrow money to get a Ph.D., in the humanities–in Religion, in my case–because teaching in the humanities pays badly. So I got an assistantship, paid in-state tuition, and depended on the generosity of my husband, the Baptist minister.

I have always been amazed that someone like me, whose father dropped out of high school during the Great Depression, would have the privilege of becoming a professor and publishing books. My generation of Americans may turn out to have been the most privileged generation of human beings in the history of the world. Now that I hear about Corbett’s effort to destroy the state universities in Pennsylvania I think it even more. I wonder if any of Corbett’s kids are enrolled at Temple, or at Cheney University, the majority African-American state-related institution south of Philadelphia?


Can the Church Hurry Up?

March 13, 2011 at 1:15 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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To give you a little background on my approach to this question, I begin with a story. It’s 2000 or 2001 and my husband, the Baptist minister, and I are in Siena on holiday. We are visiting one of the basilicas in Siena; I forget which one. In the basilica we come upon a statue of a young man. Next to the statue is a sign that says “This is a statue of Blessed Joachim Piccolomini, who died in 1305 and was beatified in 1609. The Servite fathers and brothers of this basilica never cease to pray for the canonization of Blessed Joachim. If you or someone you know has been blessed by a miracle through the intercession of a Blessed Joachim, please notify the Servite Superior, Father So and So.”

My husband has learned to value much about the Catholic tradition in our quarter century or so together, but I have to confess, he began laughing hysterically as we read the sign.

“It’s been four hundred years since he was beatified!!” he shouted? “And they’re still praying!?”

“This should give you some insight into the women’s ordination issue,” I replied.

Blessed Joachim seems to have been a holy fellow, utterly dedicated to the poor. But he is not my main concern today. My concern is that in recent months I have been reading like a crazy person about climate change and related catastrophes–extreme weather, desertification, floods, climate migration by hundreds of millions, water shortages, and wars that those shortages are guaranteed to produce. (See Gwynne Dyers Climate Wars if you need the details.) By 2050 we are going to be into all of this big time. And some of it much sooner.

So my question is, can the Church–and here I mean the Catholic Church, the second largest religious body on earth–hurry up and get its members to focus on the imminent destruction of nature, including the Life with which it is otherwise so preoccupied?

Now in point of fact, Pope Benedict XVI has made a number of statements about the seriousness of the climate crisis. At the Third World Water Forum in 2003 the Vatican representative  actually called the world water crisis, “in the broad sense of the concept, a right to life issue.”

Trouble is, I have never heard the world water crisis or climate change mentioned from a Catholic pulpit. Certainly not the way I have heard the rights of the unborn stressed from the pulpit. Yet truly, if the human race is washed away, or if it incinerates itself with nuclear weapons as Pakistan has already threatened to do to India over water shortages there, will this not be the killing of the unborn on a scale that abortion could never possibly effect?  So why aren’t the (remaining) Catholic priests in the US denouncing the massive  CO2 production by American Catholics (including me, let me add) that threatens God’s very creation? Why isn’t the Vatican ordering them to do this?

Now we know that the institutional church can hurry up. It recently decided to ignore the time limits on the canonization process–not on behalf of Blessed Joachim, from whom the Servites must continue to pray–but for Pope John Paul II, who will be beatified in May.

The question is, can the Vatican and the bishops get a move on with regard to the survival of nature, including all God’s children? Or is the beatification of one of their colleagues, with whose politics they identify, more important than that?

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