What Are You Giving Up for Lent?

February 27, 2013 at 4:04 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

As you perhaps recall from previous posts, I have for many years been a member of an international women’s movement , the Grail, which is located in seventeen countries around the world. I recently wrote  a position paper for the Grail’s international Global Justice/Overcoming Poverty network, “Converging Crises: Climate Change and Nuclear Power.”

In this paper, I expand on the painful lesson learned from the meltdown at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in Japan in March 2011–that the dangers of nuclear power are converging with the extreme weather events that are part of climate change to make life on this planet increasingly hazardous. I begin by detailing the inevitable connections between nuclear power and nuclear weapons, to wit, that the same technology is used to produce them both. I also point out that even if this were not the case, nuclear power would be extremely problematic because of the use and pollution of huge quantities of water in the production of nuclear power and the generation by that same production of enormous quantities of waste that remain radioactive for thousands of years. I then discuss the recent return to nuclear power here in the US (after three decades of building no new plants in the wake of the Three Mile Island disaster in 1979) based in the belief that nuclear power does less harm to the environment than fossil-fuel-based energy. Yet the effects of climate change–sea-level rise and extreme weather events–as well as the increase in earthquakes caused by hydro-fracking–call such a belief into question.

In the last section of my paper I wonder aloud about what we can possibly do, since both nuclear power and the fracking of natural gas risk converging with and intensifying rather than solving the problems that accompany climate change. It could be, I suggest, that political action, like the huge turnouts against nuclear power in Germany in the wake of the Fukushima Dai-ichi meltdown, will cause us to renounce these dangerous addictions. But in the end I argue that the essential shift to renewable energy will most surely increase costs across the board and undercut the consumerist lifestyle to which so many of us westerners–myself included–have become accustomed. The only thing that will save us, I suggest, is a “conversion to a more abstemious way of life…a new asceticism, (something like) the great turn to asceticism and community by the Desert Mothers and Fathers of the late 3rd century…who rejected the wordliness of late Roman civilization and the pursuit of riches; instead they practiced self-sacrifice for the sake of the reign of God.” Such a new asceticism, I argue, would be aimed not at suffering as an end in itself but at self-sacrifice for the sustaining of creation.

It seems as if Lent is a great time to undertake such a new asceticism. So what practices for the sake of God’s creation shall we begin–or continue–during these forty days?

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Pope Resigns!! Addendum

February 15, 2013 at 8:15 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments
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It seems that my figures about the number of men (ahem) in the College of Cardinals were wrong. I should never do figures; I’m a word girl.

So I’m not going to correct the number and make another dumb mistake. Lots of people have been mistaken on this. Sister Simone Campbell, the lead “nun on the bus,” said on Democracy Now the other night that 120 cardinals will be voting, but that’s surely the number Paul VI set as the limit of members, not the actual number; whether voting or belonging to the college outright I am less sure. Somebody on NPR said that B-16  has appointed the majority, 67, but the majority of what?

What I was not wrong about is that JP II and B-16 have appointed the entire group that will be voting in March, which sets certain limits on the outcome.

What I am hoping for is the election of a Latin American. Not that said pope will change the church’s near-fatal obsession with sexual orthodoxy. But at least he will symbolize something beyond the tired old European church.  And perhaps there will be the  faintest echo of liberation theology in the back of his head.

Pope Resigns!!

February 11, 2013 at 11:55 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 11 Comments

Well, we awoke this morning to amazing news. Pope Benedict XVI, the head of the largest Christian denomination in the world, will resign at the end of this month.

I had the privilege of listening to a number of radio commentators hold forth on said development, and it was pretty entertaining. My own theory about the global fascination with the papacy has to do with how visual it is. I mean, these guys wear spectacular costumes, and ride in a pope-mobile, while the heads of  many other Christian denominations wear suits and ties. If you were  going to take a picture of somebody for your Easter edition, who would you choose?

But I digress. The commentators’ observations on this particular development deserve particular attention. Somebody on the BBC, maybe Lavinia Byrne, said that the pope’s resignation is a sign of the church’s modernization. Modern medicine keeps people alive long past the age when they are fit to rule physically, psychologically, or even spiritually. So popes now will resign. (JPII’s gruesome decline from Parkinson’s illustrates the point). Another commentator said B-16 was a transition pope; maybe part of the deal when he was elected was that he would stay in office only so long, then step down to make way for a longer-term pontiff.

With regard to B-16’s resignation being a modern gesture, you need to understand that he made the announcement in Latin, to a gathering of Catholic cardinals a number of whom didn’t have enough Latin to understand what he was saying. One assumes the more erudite guys translated it for them. Furthermore, Benedict began his earth-shaking announcement with the salutation “Brothers”–fratres. So much for the seven hundred million or so sorors who will, like me, get the news over the radio. The modern era began in 1492, with Columbus’s discovery of the “new” world. The Catholic Church then ostensibly entered the modern world in the 1960s, just as the rest of the world was contending with the fractures of postmodernity. Now, in 2013, the church enters the modern world a third time, with an announcement in Latin.

Another commentator raised the question of whether Benedict, by virtue of being the first pope in six hundred or so years to resign, will try to influence the selection of his successor. But even if he really does hie him to a monastery and do nothing but pray, B-16, and his larger than life predecessor John  Paul II, will influence who the next pope is big-time. They appointed all of the College of Cardinals who will gather to elect the next pope (John Paul II appointed 179 of the current 199 cardinals, and Benedict the rest; this after Pope Paul VI limited the size of the college of Cardinals to 120). This means that the only likely transition will be from a seriously old conservative pope to a fairly old one.

Another commentator expressed the desire that the new pope would see to it that more power is shared with the local church. I guess the sharing of power is one of the characteristics of modernity. But consider this: even Benedict’s closest aides expressed amazement at the announcement of his resignation. The head of the second largest religious body in the world (after Sunni Islam) decided to resign his post without discussing it–the timing, the ramifications–with anybody. As Benedictine Anthony Ruff said (with amazement!) a while back, the Roman Catholic Church is an absolute monarchy, and absolute monarchs do not share power. End of story.

All this notwithstanding, I suppose a good Christian would continue to hope that the next pope will share power, or even simply implement the Second Vatican Council. As for me, I remember the election of Pope John XXIII. What a pope and a council do, the next pope can and probably will undo. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me 4,769 times, I’m the fool.

Women in Combat and the Priesthood: A Response to Mary Hunt

February 5, 2013 at 10:51 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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On January 24, colleague and feminist theologian Mary Hunt published an article on Religion Dispatches, “Combat Soldiers and Clergywomen: A Problematic Equation.” In my response, which appeared on Religion Dispatches yesterday, I argue that to change social institutions, whether the church or the military, we need a more complex strategy than Hunt’s article suggests.

Read “Women in Combat and the Priesthood: A Response to Mary Hunt” here.

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