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Faith-quake

Ben Myers is an Australian theologian, a member, I believe, of the Uniting Church of Australia. In addition to numerous writings he has a blog, "Faith and Theology," where he recently posted a Lenten reflection on the "Apostles Creed."

Here is an excerpt:

The third day he rose again from the dead

His life and death were not an inspiring illustration. He was not a symbol of a higher truth (that spring follows winter, that every cloud has a silver lining, that things will generally work out in the end if only you believe in yourself). Was not resuscitated. Was not hallucinated back to life by his grief-stricken companions. Deep in the world of flesh, the tectonic plates were shifting and Big Things happened. He had clutched death by the roots and dragged it up. When the grieving woman saw him at the tomb, she thought he was a gardener. She thought he had been weeding. So well she knew him.

The rest is here.

HT:RS

On abortion, Hobby Lobby looking wobbly.

The owners of Hobby Lobby want you to know they take their moral commitments seriously. The Green family's stores don't sell shot glasses. They're closed on Sundays. They don't even allow their trucks to "back-haul" beer shipments. As supporter Ben Domenech pointed out, all those practices "could make them money, but they just bear the costs." The Greens are so serious about their Christian beliefs that they've made a federal case out of their objection to paying insurance premiums that would allow their employees to choose to receive contraceptive products that the Greens deem no different from abortion. That's why Domenech wrote, "I doubt this is the type of company to spend one dime on this contraception mandate. They will just drop coverage, and pay employees the difference...rather than compromise their beliefs." Except it looks like they've been doing just that.

Over at Mother Jones, Molly Redden reports that Hobby Lobby's employee retirement plan "held more than $73 million in mutual funds with investments in companies that produce emergency contraceptive pills, intrauterine devices, and drugs commonly used in abortions." And Hobby Lobby makes significant matching contributions to the 401(k)--nearly $4 million in 2012, according to the company's 2013 disclosure to the Department of Labor. In other words, Hobby Lobby invests millions in companies that manufacture the very products they want to be exempt from covering in their employee health plans--products they believe cause abortions. As Redden notes, other holdings in Hobby Lobby's mutual funds include companies that make drugs used to induce abortion, drugs administered during abortion procedures, and insurers that cover surgical abortions.

This raises an obvious question: If the Greens are so committed to the belief that they cannot in good conscience pay health-insurance premiums that might result in employees using products that could prevent the implantation of fertilized eggs, then why are they OK with spending millions annually on companies that manufacture drugs that will certainly cause abortions? In other words, as Nick Baumann put it, "either remote cooperation with abortifacients is a red line for you or it's not."

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An April Fools' Day Joke? Paul Ryan Proposes a Budget

More of the same from Paul Ryan

A full repeal of the ACA? Check. Cuts in food assistance? Check. Medicaid cuts? Check again. All these cuts add up in Ryan's mind to economic growth and a balanced budget. It boggles the mind. 

I think I've plumbed the depths of the impoverished libertarian vision; what I find baffling about Ryan's proposal is its purported moral (and even religious) message. It seems like nothing more than a mobilization of the Calvinist distinction between the damned and the Elect. And what a wonderful world in which to be one of the latter. Has conservative Catholicism crossed over to the side of radical puritanism?  

The U.S. Bishops' Border Mass for Immigration Reform

Today at noon (Eastern time), a group of U.S. bishops, led by Boston's Cardinal Sean O'Malley, will say Mass at the border wall between Mexico and the United States in Nogales, Arizona. "Following the example given by Pope Francis at the Italian island of Lampedusa, where where the Holy Father remembered migrants from Africa who have died trying to reach the island and Europe, the bishops will call attention to the humanitarian consequences of the broken U.S. immigration system."

You can watch a livestream of the Mass, and learn more about the Justice for Immigrants effort, here. It will be followed by a press conference. [UPDATE: Watch the whole thing below.]

Why Nogales? Read Ananda Rose Robinson's 2009 Commonweal article "Borderline: Stranded in Nogales" for a look at what conditions are like there for immigrants, and those who help them.

 

Even the NYTimes Objects

Maybe this is too parochial, but... even the NYTimes thinks the Sheldon Adelson Republican primary is a shocking travesty...though their news columns didn't seem to pay much attention.

Here, from the Editorial Page Editor's Blog (who knew?) is David Firestone's comment under the headline: "The Line to Kiss Sheldon Adelson's Boots."  Well you know what they mean but it's not fit to print.

"It’s hard to imagine a political spectacle more loathsome than the parade of Republican presidential candidates who spent the last few days bowing and scraping before the mighty bank account of the casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. One by one, they stood at a microphone in Mr. Adelson’s Venetian hotel in Las Vegas and spoke to the Republican Jewish Coalition (also a wholly owned subsidiary of Mr. Adelson), hoping to sound sufficiently pro-Israel and pro-interventionist and philo-Semitic to win a portion of Mr. Adelson’s billions for their campaigns."  And it gets better: NYTimes

Hobby Lobby invests in same drugs to which it objects?

Today Molly Redden at Mother Jones reports that Hobby Lobby holds mutual funds that invest in the manufacturers of the same pharmaceuticals and devices to which the company claims religious objection.

Documents filed with the Department of Labor and dated December 2012—three months after the company's owners filed their lawsuit—show that the Hobby Lobby 401(k) employee retirement plan held more than $73 million in mutual funds with investments in companies that produce emergency contraceptive pills, intrauterine devices, and drugs commonly used in abortions. Hobby Lobby makes large matching contributions to this company-sponsored 401(k).

Several of the mutual funds in Hobby Lobby's retirement plan have holdings in companies that manufacture the specific drugs and devices that the Green family, which owns Hobby Lobby, is fighting to keep out of Hobby Lobby's health care policies: the emergency contraceptive pills Plan B and Ella, and copper and hormonal intrauterine devices.

There would have been many ways to avoid this, since "faith-based investing" in funds that avoid "vice" industries or other objectionable companies is a well-known phenomenon with competitive rates of return.

All nine funds—which have assets of $73 million, or three-quarters of the Hobby Lobby retirement plan's total assets—contained holdings that clashed with the Greens' stated religious principles.

Hobby Lobby and the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the conservative group that provided Hobby Lobby with legal representation, did not respond to questions about these investments or whether Hobby Lobby has changed its retirement plan.

I would have assumed a company taking the issue of corporate free exercise all the way to the Supreme Court would have looked into this. I doubt it would have affected the case's outcome, but it certainly could have affected the oral arguments by forcing the plaintiff to distinguish degrees of cooperation between providing health insurance options and providing retirement plan options. If these drugs and devices aren't too objectionable to invest in for your employees' retirement plans, a justice might have asked, why are they too objectionable to include as options in your employees' health insurance plans?

Read the details here.

Archbishop Gregory apologizes.

Last week I pointed out that Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta had recently moved into a $2.2-million, 6,200-square-foot home--an expense made possible by a $15-million bequest. Gregory had been living at the cathedral rectory, but apparently that parish is growing rapidly. The rector of the cathedral asked Gregory whether the parish could purchase the property from the archdiocese, and Gregory agreed. That's why he built the new residence. But in January, Gregory met with parishioners who weren't happy with that plan. They wanted him to sell the new building, move into the old one, and use the money to help the poor.

In an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution this month, Gregory and McNamee said the expenditures were necessary for their living arrangements and that it was too late to reverse course. They also noted the plans had been approved by governing bodies within their respective institutions.

“To undo what has been publicly announced for two years wouldn’t be a prudent use of archdiocese resources,” Gregory said.

Gregory also said he thinks the new home would have the pope’s blessing.

“He wants his bishops to engage with his people,” said Gregory, who was installed as archbishop in Atlanta in 2005. His new home, he said, allows for larger groups to visit; the grounds also are good for cookouts and other outdoor activities. In this way, said Gregory, he can follow the pope’s admonition to “smell like the flock” — to be close to parishioners.

“It’s important for me to connect,” he said. “And that’s another dominant theme for Pope Francis.”

The archbishop has had a change of heart. Yesterday he issued a long, remarkably candid apology, leading with a tough letter he received from a parishioner. “We are disturbed and disappointed to see our church leaders not setting the example of a simple life as Pope Francis calls for," she wrote.

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New issue, now live

Our April 11 issue has just been posted to the website. Among the highlights: “The Odd Couple” (subscription), John Wilkins’s piece on the upcoming canonizations of John XXIII and John Paul II and how the legacies of these two very different popes relate to each other.

Both popes brought about revolutions, John XXIII in the church, John Paul II in the world. When John called a council, he was asked why it was needed, since popes were infallible now. The story is that he went over to a window in his study and flung it open: The church needed fresh air. …

John Paul II’s revolution started at once. His 1978 inaugural sermon in St. Peter’s Square electrified Eastern Europeans, who, watching it on television and hearing it on radio, could discern what it portended, and it emboldened some evangelical pastors daunted by secular culture in the West as they sought to proclaim Jesus Christ. John Paul II showed them how. “Open wide the doors for Christ!” he exhorted. “To his saving power open the boundaries of states, economic and political systems, the vast fields of culture, civilization, and development!

“Do not be afraid! Christ knows what is in man. He alone knows it.”

Read the whole thing here.

Also in the new issue: George Scialabba on Thomas Paine and Edmund Burke; John Garvey on Audrey Assad and what’s lost when faith is identified with fundamentalism (subscription); Celia Wren on the new TV series Fargo (subscription); and Kaitlin Campbell’s Last Word on "becoming a character-composite of every nun I knew" to make it through a few tense moments at a lonely Oakland bus stop (subscription). See the entire table of contents here.

All is well: voting restrictions are really about ‘uniformity’

One of the first things you learn in high-school political science is that high voter turnout tends to favor one party while low turnout favors the other. Back when this was basic enlightening fact was made known to me, there weren’t the early voting, weekend voting, extended polling, or same-day registration-and-vote options as we’ve come to know them– although there were still plenty of fresh tales about the kind of suppression efforts, from the comprehensive to the spontaneous, that had spurred passage of the original Voting Rights Act in 1965 and given Congress in the intervening years ample reason to reauthorize it multiple times. Still, for a class of high-schoolers grappling with the particularities of the most recent reauthorization (this was 1982, for the record), it was generally much easier to view the axiom in meteorological terms: sunny voting days favor Democrats; rainy and snowy ones, Republicans.

Currently unable to dictate the weather, Republicans in swing states are finding ways to make conditions as inclement as possible. “Uniformity” is now the stated objective of their mission, which has gained urgency and speed since last summer’s Supreme Court ruling rolling back the preclearance requirements of the VRA. In places like Ohio and Wisconsin and Texas, making everything uniform basically means making it harder for the people who don’t fit a certain (shall we call it “uniform”?) demographic to cast their votes.

As a justification, it’s probably a less impeachable one than limiting fraud—evidence of which has been scant to nonexistent. It’s harder to argue against efforts to restore an unquantifiable “orderliness” to a process that for some has grown too unruly.

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Can't be too careful

Governor Chris Christie, otherwise known as Governor Bridgegate, personally misspoke (he can't blame Bridget Kelly) at a Republican gathering in Las Vegas, otherwise referred to as the Sheldon Adelson Republican primary. The major potential Republican 2016 candidates were auditioning their ideas to some of the richest men in America, along with the richest, Adelson himself.

Christie referred to the "Occupied Territories," let it be said, in way wholly sympathetic to Israel. But the phrase is forbidden in Adelson land, and Christie quickly apologized for the slip-up--unlike some of the other slip-ups he's made. The territories, i.e., the West Bank, are not occupied because they belong to Israel from time immemorial, or so Adelson insists. Politico

The potential anti-Semitic fall-out from the whole meeting has been thoroughly discussed by J.J. Goldberg at The Jewish Daily Forward under the headline: A GOP Plan to Save the Jews: Buy White House.

Where is George Orwell when we need him?

Juan Cole offers five signs that the West Bank might be said to be occupied:

1. The UN General Assembly partition plan for British Mandate Palestine in 1947, which was extremely generous to the Jewish settlement community of the time, did not award them Gaza or the West Bank, where there were at that time virtually no Jews!

2. Israel militarily conquered Gaza and the West Bank only in 1967. Typically you refer to territories not belonging to a country, which it holds during wartime, as “Occupied Territories”

3. Israel is in violation of over 30 United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding what the UNSC explicitly calls the Occupied Territories....

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A model penitent

In connection with what I wrote here a few days ago, I must confess to being fascinated by this brief video clip -- see below -- of Pope Francis receiving the sacrament of Reconciliation at a Vatican penance service yesterday. He seems to have taken Msgr. Marini by surprise -- something Marini must be getting used to by now -- as Carol Glatz reports for CNS.

What a great idea -- a way to demystify both the papacy and the sacrament itself. Despite the joke about "Is the pope Catholic?" it does keep coming as a surprise to see the pope acting like just another Catholic.

That video led me to this one, from Rome Reports, of Francis talking about Reconciliation at an outdoor audience. For all that I've read about (and by) Francis, I haven't seen him speaking all that much, which is a shame, since his personal, one-believer-to-another style is especially obvious in his manner of speaking (even when you don't understand Italian). I also like his proposal that we think of the sacrament not as an obligation, but a right.

For the past several years the archdiocese of New York has had a day set aside in Lent and Advent -- "Reconciliation Monday," this year, the Monday of Holy Week -- when parishes are expected to offer confession for a significant portion of the day. It's meant, I think, to remove one obstacle to returning to the sacrament, by making it very convenient. It also restores a communal dimension to this very private sacrament. And I'm always grateful for the extra push to do my Easter duty. What about where you are: does your diocese do anything similar to encourage people to receive the sacrament of Confession? Does it pay off?

Family Feelings

I have somewhat belatedly made my way through Friday's New York Times. There I found a review by Ben Brantley of a new production of King Lear. It is being staged at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. Being a native Bronxite I have no idea where that is (I can barely find Brooklyn!). Any current residents of the Big Apple been there? In any case, back to Brantley.

He applauds the production, directed by Arin Arbus, for its focus on the domestic drama, the interrelations among a dysfunctional, but (royalty aside) not untypical family. Here is the quote that caught my attention:

I don’t know about you, but I’ve certainly experienced family quarrels in which an ostensibly small slight assumed a long and smothering life of its own. The imp of the perverse (to borrow from Poe) is never more self-sabotagingly present than in arguments with loved ones, when feelings run so deep that we can’t even fathom them.

And they're not even Italian!

Walking in Putin's Shoes UPDATE

Patrick J. Buchanan, you remember him, invites us to consider the current situation in Mittel Europa from Putin's point of view.

"When Putin defended the seizure of Crimea by saying he did not want to visit Russia’s two-century-old naval base at Sevastopol, and be greeted by NATO sailors, did he not have a point?"

Buchanan, the isolationist, has his own point about NATO, etc., but still an interesting note of empathy.

UPDATE:  Two developments of note: 1. One of the leading candidates Vitali Klitschko, a former boxer, has withdrawn his name from the presidential election, arguing that candidates should unite behind Petro Poroshenko a billionaire in order to heal the division in Ukrainian society. This may put pressure on other candidates to stand down, i.e., Yulia  Tymoshenko. Story here.

2. Right Sector, the right-wing of the Maidan protestors, is surrounding the Parliament and demanding the resignation of the Minister of the Interior...these are the right-wingers that Putin has cited as being anti-Russian and fascists. Story here quote after the break.

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Americans and the ‘obnoxiously different’

Writing in the current New Yorker, Malcom Gladwell offers a reliably pat pronouncement in his assessment of the conflict at the Branch Davidian complex in Waco, Texas, which culminated in the deaths of seventy-four people on April 19, 1993. He says the lesson of “the battle of [Waco]… is that Americans aren’t very good at respecting the freedom of others to be so obnoxiously different.” He goes on to write that “many Mormons, incidentally, would say the same thing,” and then as supporting evidence provides a tidy, three-sentence recap of the death of Joseph Smith at the hands of an armed mob while awaiting trial in Illinois in 1844.
 
It’s not really the words “obnoxiously different” that are the problem; Gladwell notes the construct comes from historian R. Laurence Moore, who about the Mormons wrote: “[They] said they were different and their claims, frequently advanced in the most obnoxious way possible, prompted others to agree….” The problem is that the spirit of lazy assertion (“the lesson of Waco is that Americans aren’t good at respecting…” and “many Mormons, incidentally, would say the same thing”) undermines the larger if perhaps equally tossed-off observations Gladwell makes in the piece.
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Francis & Obama meet, opening singularity that sucks oxygen out of U.S. media.

On my way home from work last night, I fired up my Twitter feed and found a series of tweets suggesting that today's meeting between pope and president might not go as well as some liberals had been predicting. They had read a piece by Thomas Reese, SJ, who worried that "controversy" could "cloud" the event. He'd seen a Vatican Radio report that concluded with a sloppy summary of disagreements between Obama and the U.S. bishops over the contraception mandate and gay marriage--rather than emphasizing areas of agreement, such as poverty. Reese pointed out that Vatican Radio is under the direction of Holy See spokesman Federico Lombardi, SJ, and wondered whether the article in question might be part of a "coordinated media strategy coming out of the Vatican Secretariat of State."

When Tom talks about the Catholic Church, people listen--as well they should. Good luck finding a more knowledgable observer of the scene. But on this issue, I think Tom's final thought in that post is the one worth heeding: "Sometimes a story is just a story and has no more authority than the individual author." Vatican Radio is not micromanaged by the Holy See press shop. If it were, people might start thinking the pope was poised to adopt the agenda of Future Church.

Over the past week, it seems like everybody with an internet connection has published explainers and prognostications about the meeting. It's only natural. The first Latin American pope meets the first black president. Is Pope Francis the Barack Obama of the Vatican? Obama the Francis of Washington? Contraception mandate at the Supreme Court. Putin's border-crossings. Inequality. Poverty. War. It's news. But media coverage has run the gamut from useful to really not.

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A pope who reminds us of the church we know

The historian Molly Worthen has a worthwhile essay about (what else) Pope Francis in the American Prospect, which you should read now or save for a day when you're not too poped out. Worthen, the author of the new book Apostles of Reason (and a friend from my undergraduate days), offers a quick and perceptive summary of the history of American attitudes toward the pope. But it's her explanation for the "Francis Effect" that I found most insightful. It gets at a truth I don't think I've seen articulated anywhere else.

Liberal and conservative Catholics have "found cause for complaint" with Francis's priorities, she notes, and yet:

Despite this grumbling, the vast majority of American Catholics (88 percent, as of December) approve of Francis. The reason is not because they believe he will settle questions that have troubled the church for generations. Rather, his example—his decision to wash the feet not of fellow priests but of juvenile inmates on Holy Thursday; his invitation to homeless men to join him on his birthday—reminds many Catholics of what the church means to them on a daily basis and what they hope it means to the world.

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Justice Kennedy's Logic Puzzle

Everyone knows the power granted by Justice Kennedy’s middle position on the Supreme Court. Indeed Paul Clement, the advocate for the plaintiffs in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby, seemed to direct most of his arguments toward the concerns he imagines Kennedy to have about the case.

But even in Clement's most hopeful fantasies, he could not have imagined the gift that Kennedy would present him during questioning of the Solicitor General. Kennedy introduced the idea that, by the logic of the government’s case -- in some future scenario, at the calamitous bottom of a slippery slope -- for-profit corporations could be forced to “pay for abortions.”

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Holding Steady with DFW

The Hold Steady--my favorite band and the subject of a great post here by Eric Bugyis--just came out with a new album called Teeth Dreams. It offers all the pleasures fans have come to expect from the best bar band in America: smart lyrics, rocking music, and an epic, 9-minute song to cap things off. It also offers an example of one great writer, the band's Craig Finn, responding to another: David Foster Wallace.

In several interviews, Finn has talked about how his reading of Infinite Jest--twice, no less!--while working on the album helped shape its particular vision of "American sadness":

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Putin: Why Did He? UPDATE: And why won't he.

Putin's motives and actions have been cloaked in a fog of political confusion and media alarum. Here is a piece, the first I've seen, that makes some sense about what has happened in the Crimea.

One item: "Safeguarding this maritime muscle [navy base in Crimea] may well have been one reason President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia sent armed forces to seize Crimea. But is it possible that the Sevastopol base is just the most concrete manifestation of Russia’s deep interests in Ukraine that the United States and its NATO allies either ignored or forgot as they tried to bind it more tightly with the West?"  NYTimes.

Have you seen stories that throw light on Ukraine, Russia, etc?

UPDATE: Here is William Pfaff (corrected link) in CWL on why Putin has gone as far as he will go. Too Sanguine?

Pope Francis sacks 'Bishop of Bling.'

Today the Vatican announced that Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst of Limburg, Germany. The bishop was suspended in October, after it came to light that the new residential complex he was building for himself would cost a cool $43 million, including a $20,000 bathtub (cheaper than the $27,000 fine he had to pay for lying under oath), a $35,000 table, and $500,000 wardrobes. Nothing but the best for the man who flew first class to visit the poor of India.

To be sure, $43 million is a lot more than the $500,000 the outgoing Archbishop of Newark is spending to renovate his retirement home. (Take comfort, Newark Catholics, your new bishop is on this. Try to focus on the fact that for a long time Myers was willing to live in the actual city of Newark, which is, you know, Newark.) And it's still a lot more than the $2.2 million Archbishop of Atlanta is reportedly shelling out for his own residence, on top of another $2.2 million to renovate a rectory (all paid for with a $15 million bequest from the nephew of the author of Gone with the Wind). Newark and Atlanta Catholics may not be quite as offended by their archbishops' reno bills as are their co-religionists in Limburg, but it looks like the pope is really not kidding about wanting a church that is poor and for the poor.

According to a Vatican statement, the pope removed the bishop because of "a situation that prevents a fruitful exercise of the ministry of Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst." In other words, he skunked his own authority by scandalizing the faithful through his misuse of funds.

Can you think of any other situations that might prevent the fruitful exercise of a bishop's ministry?