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The Verdict of Future History

January 17, 2017

Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant to step the ocean and crush us at a blow? Never! All the armies of Europe, Asia, and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest, with a Bonaparte for a commander, could not by force take a drink from the Ohio or make a track on the Blue Ridge in a trial of a thousand years. At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer. If it ever reach us it must spring up amongst us; it cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen we must live through all time or die by suicide.
–Abraham Lincoln

The broad and unsentimental sweep of history gives ample evidence that nations great and small arise, thrive to some degree and for a time, and then decline and come apart.

History offers no exceptions.

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On married priests

January 9, 2017

At least since Vatican II there has been discussion about married clergy in the Western Church, with many people advocating for it to address the vocations crisis, and with equal numbers arguing in support of the current discipline.  Often missing from these discussions is the fact that the Church has been quietly experimenting with married clergy in the Latin Church (as opposed to the Greek Churches, which have always had a married clergy).  Beginning under Pope John Paul II, exceptions have been made to allow Episcopal/Anglican and Lutheran clergy who convert to Catholicism to be ordained even though they are married.   This process accelerated slightly under Pope Benedict XVI, who created a mechanism for Episcopalians/Anglicans to be received while maintaining some of their traditional forms of worship.

But recently Fr. Dwight Longenecker, a priest from South Carolina, wrote a column about his personal experiences as a married Roman Catholic priest.    Since it appeared at Crux, which no longer allows comments on its articles, I am going to copy some pieces of the article here to open a discussion on this subject.  I urge you to read the whole piece.    He addresses some concerns, such as time management (can a married man devote enough time to his congregation?) and commitment (what about the conflict between serving God and serving his wife?).  He tackles the financial issues (will Catholics be willing to pay to support a priest and his family?) and touches on divorce and contraception (though I think shallowly).

In the end, despite his status as a married priest, Fr. Longenecker is generally opposed to ending the practice of clerical celibacy, except in limited circumstances:

[T]here is another option. Rather than allowing all priests to marry, the Vatican could delegate to individual bishops’ conferences the authority to consider some older married men for ordination.

As most of us are living longer, active lives, there are many married men who are financially secure and whose children have grown up who could well serve the Church as mature priests.

To lay my cards out on the table:  he raises some good points, but none that are overwhelming or support his argument that they tip the scales (along with the standard theological and historical arguments for a celibate clergy) in favor of maintaining the current discipline.  Rather, his arguments put me in mind of something I believe Chesterton said about Christianity:  It has not been tried and found wanting, but rather was found hard, and so not tried.  Though I do not think it would be a panacea, and would be hard, it is something I think the Church should consider.

Your thoughts are welcome.  Also, I feel like we have discussed this before, but a search of the archives at Vox Nova did not turn anything up.  If anyone can find older posts, please add them to the comments.

Vermin Supreme, Anarchy and the Election

January 5, 2017

Vox Nova is pleased to present the following guest post by Ben Johnson.

The turbulence and division caused by the most recent presidential election reminds me that we are not immune to chaos. We are in an already shaken nation. No matter how safe we feel, destructive, chaotic events simply occur in nature and take us by surprise when they do. What will we do when we are swept into it? How can we calm the storm? One hopeful answer, which was oddly enough revealed through the events of the 2016 Republican National Convention, is this: “Make them laugh… and give them a pony.”

The RNC, held in Cleveland, had the potential to erupt into fatal chaos. Many of the participants, the protesters, and all the police were armed. In addition to the large number of firearms present, there we many angry people and several reputedly incendiary groups including the Westboro Baptist Church and the Ku Klux Klan. This could have become a terrible tragedy if someone had fired a shot, but no one did. There were events which could have escalated into armed conflicts, but they were de-escalated before that could happen. How? While there are many reasons, not the least of which being that people generally want to avoid large gunfights, there was a notable primary agent of this de-escalation. A strange man with a boot on his head, yelling into a bullhorn. His name is Vermin Supreme.

His description and behavior may suggest a person who is just going to add to the pandemonium. Instead, he tells jokes. He reads police manuals on crowd control into his bullhorn. He comically acts as though he is in charge and the police are just following his orders. As a result, he turns the tense atmosphere between protesters and police into a comedic play.

“Between the cops and the protesters, there’s a vacuum. That’s the space I occupy.”

His performance presents the event as an absurd farce in which both of the divided parties are willing participants. He creates a space in which both the police and the protesters can have the awareness that they are creating this scene together. They all have the power to keep the situation from degrading into complete chaos because they are all actors on the same stage.

The joke may be lost on much of the crowd, but it still has the effect of easing tension and keeping the peace. When he starts to perform, people get somewhat confused. So, instead of yelling in outrage, many are momentarily stunned. Surely the confusion at the RNC only grew when he announced that he was a candidate in the presidential election.

“If you were watching me down in the delegate zone, you’d see so many Trumpsters love me,” Supreme says, “But I’m seeking Cruz delegates, trying to flip them, maybe in the third ballot or something like that.”

He ran on a platform stressing mandatory tooth brushing, and switching to a “pony based economy.”

My free-pony platform is of course a jobs creation program. It will create lots and lots of jobs once we, ah, switch over to pony based economy. It will also lower our dependence on foreign oil, we will also be able to turn all that pony poop into methane gas and wonderful compost, and we will be able to re-up our soil that is being depleted by aero-chemicals, etcetera. etcetera. Etcetera.

Again, his performance is presenting the event, in this case presidential election, as an absurd farce. His character promises to implement programs which will force people to brush their teeth for health reasons and completely control our transportation. In addition, he promises to not keep his promises. He is being explicit and honest where other candidates have simply lied.

My name is Vermin Supreme. I’m a friendly fascist, a tyrant you can trust, and you should let me run your life because I do know what is best for you. Yes I’m a politician and I will promise you anything your electoral heart desires because you are my constituents, you are the informed voting public, and I have no intention of keeping any promise that I make. Vote Early. Vote Often. Remember a vote for Vermin Supreme is a vote completely thrown away.

He knows he will not win. His intention is not to be president. He is a performance artist who seems truly on a mission for peace. He is targeting events where there is great division among people, and he is attempting, somewhat successfully, to calm turmoil. He has no governmental authority, but people voluntarily submit to his influence. From an Anarchist perspective, this is a true and legitimate authority.

I live and work in a catholic worker house of hospitality where the chaos levels can rise very quickly. The founders of the catholic worker movement, Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, believed in social transformation through personalism. They embraced anarchism as a method for achieving social change from the “bottom up” rather than the “top down”. In one of his “Easy Essays,” Maurin states,

People who are in need
and are not afraid to beg
give to people not in need
the occasion to do good
for goodness’sake.

Maurin believes that anarchism best facilitates this goodness because it is easier to give from the heart when not forced by a centralized authority. Our personal relationships with each other can can be what unite and organize us to positively change society. This practice is also based on the teachings of the Catholic Church that all individuals are created in the image and likeness of God; therefore, they have inherent dignity and the “goodness of God” within them. All of this leads to a lovely idea which is very difficult to live out. It gives us complete freedom to be the best people we can be, but it often results in conflict, violence, and eventually madness.

In anarchy (by this I simply mean any system which has no ruler) chaos and order work together. When a system is in a chaotic state, spontaneous order naturally occurs. Vermin Supreme is jumping into chaotic situations and seemingly acting as a catalyst for peaceful order.

In this I see a strange and comforting answer to handling potentially chaotic situations. When in the midst of intense conflict and division, we need effective and non-violent ways to exist together. We also need to feel safe and protected against potential harm. Many at the RNC were armed to control the potential chaos. To transform it took a clown.

Below are urls to articles on Vermin Supreme.

http://www.cnn.com/2012/09/02/politics/rnc-protest-vermin-supreme/

http://lybio.net/vermin-supreme-when-im-president-everyone-gets-a-free-pony/comedy/

http://www.cracked.com/blog/vermin-supreme-hero-rnc-protests-need/

http://www.clevescene.com/scene-and-heard/archives/2016/07/20/vermin-supreme-knows-he-wont-be-president-but-still-happy-with-cleveland-love

A native of Minneapolis, MN, Ben Johnson currently lives and works at Hope House, a catholic worker house of hospitality in Dubuque, IA.

On leaving my parish

December 11, 2016

This post is sort of related to the recent post on Trump’s election, but it is much more personal.  Let me start with a story.  About forty-five years ago, when I was six or seven, my family quit our parish, St. Patrick’s, and moved to Annunciation, the adjacent parish.  I was young, and though my mother told me some of the story in later years, I am not sure that I know all the details.  Apparently, my brother and his fiance went to a Saturday vigil mass, and the music was not to my brother’s liking.  It was described to me years later as a “rock band on the altar,” but that can cover a multitude of things.  After mass my brother told the assistant pastor his opinion, and there was some kind of argument.  My brother came home and told my mother, who either called the rectory or confronted the pastor after mass the next day in defense of her “good Catholic son who was there with his Catholic fiance.”  This apparently turned into a bitter fight, and within a short time we had left St. Pat’s.

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Tear Down the Walls

November 8, 2016

Mending Wall

By Robert Frost (1874 – 1963)

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs.  The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
‘Stay where you are until our backs are turned!’
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of outdoor game,
One on a side.  It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
Why do they make good neighbors?  Isn’t it
Where there are cows?  But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.’  I could say ‘Elves’ to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself.  I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’

I first encountered this beautiful poem in 1995 as a bright-eyed seventh grader in Miss Tracy’s English class. Line by line, we analyzed the poem, and what initially looked like a jumbled mess of nonsensical words began to take shape. Looking at this dispute between the two neighbors, we began to debate which side Frost was on. This is, of course, the central ambiguity in the poem. The speaker is determined to remove the wall, certain that it is unnecessary. But the poem ends with the neighbor’s cool declaration that ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’

I am of the opinion that good fences do not make good neighbors. I saw this just last summer during my visit to Israel-Palestine; I saw it in a visit to the US-Mexico border back in 2012. Today, I see it in my country. No matter what result we receive in a few hours, half of the US population is going to be sorely disappointed. Half of the population will feel that the United States of America is doomed. They will not be right, of course. Our young country has lived through many worse experiences than this election, and for the time being, we are still here.

Like the speaker in Frost’s poem, I can imagine a world where we let walls fall down. The Berlin Wall did not last forever; neither will the walls of today. But the first walls we need to tear down are not made of concrete or steal. They are made of something most of us would not deem bad at all: values, beliefs, convictions. What are we to do when our own most cherished beliefs form a wall so high we cannot see above it? What happens when our own values – valid as they may be – become a Tower of Babel that blocks out the sun? What happens when suddenly, everyone seems to be speaking a different language? Do we cluster together with the people whose voices sound like our own? Or do we venture out, perhaps frightened, not knowing where to start or what to say, and try to learn the language of the other?

I honestly am not sure who will win the 2016 Presidential Election. In some ways, at this time and place, it feels like we all are losing. But this is something we can change. Tomorrow we must get up, as on any other day. We must go to work. We must get our children ready for school. We must engage with family, friends, coworkers and strangers. In everything we do…Let’s work to bring these walls down.

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