Climate Change, Fellas?

October 30, 2012 at 3:15 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments
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I trust you will excuse me for using this blog as a way of communicating with my friends and relations that although Keith and I live in Brooklyn, NY,, Hurricane Sandy did us no harm. Western Flatbush may not be the section of New York most lusted after by new residents, but it does have the advantage of being outside all the flood zones. And the electrical wires are buried underground in much of Brooklyn, something the rest of you may want to think about as these extreme weather events become more common.

Which leads me to my next topic. As Hurricane Sandy was bearing down upon us, the presidential campaign slowed but certainly did not stop. When it tools up again, it will be interesting to see if, in the light of this storm, either of the candidates utters the words “climate change.” They certainly haven’t done so up till now.

I am by no means the only person to have noted this. 350.org tried to have a demonstration in Manhattan on Sunday, to point out the connection between climate change and Hurricane Sandy, but they had to cancel it because of the storm. And in a recent article on TomDispatch.com titled “Climate and Clarity,” Rebecca Solnit reflects incisively on the connections between climate change, Sandy, and massive greed. I urge you to read what she has to say.

But I don’t think it hurts to repeat what Solnit and others are saying: extreme weather events, like this storm, and the massive drought in the US midwest last summer, and the tsunami in Hawaii the other day that turned out to be not so bad, are directly linked to climate change. As  a blogger on 350.org observed just before Hurricane Sandy hit, ” This is a storm unlike any we’ve seen before because the earth is doing things it has never done before. The water along the Atlantic coast is 5 degrees hotter than usual, super-charging Sandy’s rainfall, and drawing the strength of the storm further north…”

Now don’t get me wrong here. By pointing out that neither President Obama nor Mitt Romney have said anything in their campaigns about climate change, I am not suggesting that there are no other differences between them. The election of Mitt Romney portends a catastrophe for this country, even for a significant number of the people who will vote for him.

But as a compelling article in The Nation last week documents, Obama–and the Democrats in general–aren’t doing at all well on energy. This is probably because of the huge amounts of money the energy industry pours into lobbying and campaign contributions. The 2010 campaign of Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic governor of New York, was the single biggest recipient of campaign contributions from the natural gas industry during the period 2005 to 2011. Is it any surprise that he then undertook to permit natural gas fracking in the state, until literally thousands upon thousands of citizens protested such a possibility?

I might add that the “fellas” in the title of this blog post does not refer only to politicians. The US Catholic bishops have not exactly made climate change a big issue in this election either. Climate change is optional, you know, since it’s not directly connected to abortion or contraception. Of course, the bishops did establish a Catholic Coalition on Climate Change a few years back. And that group has been speaking out boldly during this election, as I’m sure you know. And at the bishops’ urging, Catholic priests speak out from the pulpit about climate change all the time. Believe that and I’ll tell you about my recent trip to Mars.

As the flooded-out residents of New York City now grasp, the extreme weather that comes with climate change is no joke. If Mitt Romney is elected, they had better move to higher ground. But even if God has mercy on us and Barack Obama is re-elected, the day after the election, we have got to start banging our fists on him, because climate change has arrived, and the window of opportunity for doing anything about it is shrinking as you read this.

Life is a Lark…

October 23, 2012 at 10:35 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments
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When I was a kid, there was an amusement park just above the city called Willow Grove. The parochial school I attended, St. Joseph’s in Collingdale, had its annual picnic there every June. I loved the place. There were also billboards around Philadelphia advertising it: “Life is a Lark…At Willow Grove Park.”

From time to time, this phrase goes through my head, even though it’s been fifty years since my last trip to Willow Grove.

When I was in college, I took up eating a container of Dannon yoghurt for lunch. I had a tendency toward being fat, and yoghurt, a piece of fruit, and jogging was my method of fighting back.

There were eight ounces of yoghurt in one Dannon container. One day though–probably in the seventies, as the economy tanked–the container suddenly contained six ounces. But I didn’t mind; I was cutting my calorie intake by a quarter.

Last week, among the groceries I sent my husband off to buy, was five pounds of sugar. When Keith came back he said, “The five-pound bag of sugar is now four pounds.” I smiled. The economy’s bad, after all.

It was also Keith’s birthday last week. To celebrate, the guy who manages our vast fortune always sends him a five-dollar Starbucks card. Keith, in turn, gives it to me.

To use it, you have to register it. I went onto the Starbucks page and tried to sign in, but I couldn’t remember my username and password. I had to email separately for each of them, after which I entered them into the “Password” file on my hard drive. Then I signed in and entered the twelve numbers on the card.  You also had to enter the five digit security number, which had a plastic film over it on the card, which took me about two minutes to remove. The total effort took about twenty minutes. For five bucks.

But yesterday I heard an ad on the radio for Activia, a form of Dannon yoghurt that’s good for your gastrointestinal tract. The ad informed me that now there’s a new breakfast form of Activia…and the amount of yoghurt in the container  has been increased!!

Life is a lark…

What Catholics Can Learn from Progressive Judaism

October 15, 2012 at 10:50 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments
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(This post is a review of Whose Torah? A Concise Guide to Progressive Judaism by Rebecca T. Alpert,a professor in the Religion Department at Temple University. The book was published by the New Press in 2008.  You can get a copy on Amazon for $3.45!!)

I used to worry that the emergence of new Catholic worship groups—small faith communities, Roman Catholic WomenPriest congregations, independent Catholic churches—would undercut the unity of the church. I thought that without the Vatican, we would become like Protestants, dividing into two churches, then four, then eight, ad infinitum.

Lately, though, I realize that a greater obstacle to the unity of Catholicism is the Vatican and many of its bishops, busy as they are excommunicating, vilifying, or firing those who disagree with them. I also wonder if Catholicism isn’t, in many respects, more like Judaism than Protestantism, with deep ethnic, cultural, and ritual traditions connecting us across a range of differences.

I read Rebecca Alpert’s Whose Torah? with this question in mind. Alpert is a Reconstructionist rabbi who teaches in the Religion Department at Temple University, though you may know her better as a commentator on the PBS documentary, Jews and Baseball.

Whose Torah? explores the ways in which progressive Jews address a range of contemporary justice issues, with chapters on sexuality, gender, race, war and peace, poverty, the environment, and a concluding one: “Where Do We Go From Here?” But Alpert lays the foundation of the discussion in an introduction in which she acknowledges up-front (and with some humor) the disagreements about who, in fact, is a Jew–“who belongs in the Jewish tent to begin with,” as she puts it (4). Increasingly, there are similar disagreements about who’s a “real Catholic”; maybe we need to acknowledge our differences as Alpert does.

Alpert’s designation of a specific Torah text, “Justice, justice pursue” (Deut. 16:20) as the answer to how to live a good Jewish life could seem to contradict this acknowledgment of difference. But Alpert shows the many ways that text can be interpreted: historical, linguistic, legal, Midrashic (in stories), personal. Her argument that progressive Jews’ actions and convictions qualify as one of the meanings of the text will be a source of encouragement to those of us struggling to have our commitments and actions recognized as part of the Catholic tradition “If we want the answer to ‘Who does the Torah belong to?’ to be ‘It belongs to us,’” she writes, “then we must make our lives the text…” (16).

Alpert’s emphasis on diversity resonates throughout Whose Torah?  In the chapters on sexuality and gender, even as she acknowledges Jewish differences over questions like gay marriage, and marriage itself, she notes that Reconstructionist Jews pioneered the development and legitimation of gay commitment ceremonies. I was also moved to learn of Judaism’s historic stress on the effects of pregnancy on the mother in the decision to have an abortion, and of the much-needed Jewish understanding of abortion as neither murder nor ethically insignificant

Catholic readers may be tempted to skip the chapter on race, assuming that Jews, unlike Catholics, belong to only one ethnic group. But here too Alpert documents the extraordinary differences between Jewish ethnic groups all over the world. She likewise admits that though some Jews fought for civil rights, others did in fact own slaves or engage in racism, an ambiguity that marks American Catholic history as well. Chapters on economic and environmental justice also explore the striking diversity of Jewish social organization and action.

The part of Whose Torah? that gave me, as a Catholic reader, the most to think about, though, was Alpert’s chapter on war and peace. I learned, for example, that American Jews became increasingly invested in Hanukkah not only as an antidote to  Christmas, but also to provide themselves with a Jewish celebration of militarism after Israel became a nation. I was also moved by Alpert’s narrative of her own conversion to advocating a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem, and the heroic efforts of various Jewish and Israel peace groups in this regard.

But what struck me most forcibly about the chapter is how the problem of Israel is virtually the only peace issue it addresses. A reader might justifiably conclude that in 2008 there were no other wars or threats of war in the world. So Catholicism is not the only religion to be fixated on one issue. For the Jews, it’s the state of Israel; for us, it’s abortion and sex. Indeed, the name of one of the first groups to call into question Israeli militarism and hatred of Arabs was Breirachoice in Hebrew. Breira started a conversation many Jews considered forbidden, and successor Jewish peace groups have extended it. Similarly, progressive Catholics will continue to work for sexual equality in the church. But we must also attend carefully to a wide range of other justice issues, as Rebecca Alpert does in Whose Torah?

(This review appeared initially in the June-October 2012 issue of EqualwRites, the newsletter of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Women’s Ordination Conference.)

Off Hiatus

October 11, 2012 at 2:20 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 11 Comments
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Well, I’m back. And I have some thoughts to share with you. But first, I have a confession to make.

I didn’t just take September off. I went to France (with a few days in Switzerland visiting a dear friend). But it seemed as if announcing online that our apartment in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn would be empty for a month might not be entirely wise. So I said I was going “on hiatus.”

The business about me and France demands some explanation.  Basically, I grew up thinking that France was the center of the universe, and certainly the center of the universal (that is, of course, the Catholic!) church.

At bottom, I believe this was connected to the fact that Irish men who wanted to become priests after the Reformation (and the repression of Irish Catholicism by the English) went to France to be trained, after which French theologians went to Ireland to teach in the seminaries after the bloody French Revolution. Then in the US, Irish-Catholic immigrants inherited an American church founded by French missionaries. And some of the post-war French theologians–Danielou, de Lubac, and others–had enormous impact on US Vatican II Catholics like me.

But another piece of all this was the Catholic church’s fixation on the 13th century Catholicism that centered around  the theologian Thomas Aquinas and the Cathedral of Notre Dame, constructed in Paris around the time that Aquinas was doing his work. From the late 19th century to the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), a return to Aquinas’s “perennial philosophy” was the church’s primary antidote to the evils of the modern world. In the first half of the 20th century, a wildly popular book among American Catholics was James J. Walsh’s The Thirteenth, Greatest of Centuries.

I was taken up by much of this early on. In 1957, when I was ten, I chose Joan of Arc as my confirmation saint. Joan’s statue sits to the left of my computer  as I am writing this blog post.  Four years later I enrolled at a Catholic girls’ high school conducted by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, a congregation of Catholic Sisters founded in France just after the French Revolution.  With their encouragement and example, I eventually took seven years of French in school–this in a country  tied irrevocably to Hispanic geography and culture.

It was pretty much inevitable, then, that I  would get myself to France sooner or later  On my first visit, in 1983, I checked into my hotel on the Left Bank and went directly to the Cathedral of Notre Dame. When I got there, I took one look at it and burst into tears. Some of this, I admit, was jet lag. But a lot of it was the Francophile Catholicism instilled in me by my (primarily) Irish-American Catholic nuns.

Since then, I have returned to France–mainly Paris–six times. For much of the time I continued to be mesmerized by France, and by French Catholicism. How did they manage to build that gorgeous cathedral more than eight centuries ago, when buildings built a few decades ago in New York fall down with some frequency? How did exquisitely beautiful medieval polyphony grow out of Gregorian chant in Paris in the 13th century? And for that matter, how did the French manage to welcome African-Americans even as we ourselves (and I include here many American Catholics) were defending slavery and Jim Crow or resisting African-American civil rights?

I still harbor some of these thoughts and feelings. But in recent visits, the French have come to seem a lot more human to me. Maybe my husband and I have just gotten too old to be crammed into two-star hotel rooms for a month. Or maybe it’s realizing how much more often people in Brooklyn smile at strangers than Parisians do. Or maybe it’s listening to Marine LePen denounce Jews for wearing yarmulkes and Muslims for wearing head-veils in public when my neighborhood is (happily) thick with folks wearing such items.

Even French Catholicism, and its binary, the French Republic, are assuming human scale for me. While I was away I read on Project Guttenberg a biography of St. Vincent de Paul, the great Parisian founder of Catholic religious orders that serve the poor. I must say, the problems he had with Cardinal Mazarin, the papal nuncio to France, sounded not so different from the problems US Catholic Sisters are having with the Vatican today. Another book I read, on  the Paris Commune of 1871 and how its communards massacred their hostages, after which French loyalist troops massacred thousands of them, sounded not unlike current violent struggles–the stand-off in Syria, for example.

So I may go back to France one of these days. But considering how much CO2 such a trip shoots into the atmosphere, maybe in the future I’ll be mesmerized by Brooklyn, worshipping in my Haitian-Carribbean-Hispanic parish, walking around little Pakistan, gazing on the trees in Prospect Park.

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