Neat Nun Stuff

Did you know a nun helped write BASIC???

Sr. Dr. Mary Kenneth Keller, who took vows as a Sister of Charity in 1940, was the first American woman to earn a PhD in computer science in 1965. Earlier, she was the first woman to work in the Dartmouth Computing Center, where she collaborated on the development of BASIC, the first computer language for non-specialists. After earning her PhD, she went on to found and direct the computer science department at Clark College in Iowa.

What an inspiring story! From now on, I’m going to consider Sr. Mary Kenneth, who passed away in 1985, as the unofficial patron saint of computer programmers.

This year is the 500th anniversary of the birth of the great Catholic reformer and Doctor of the Church St. Teresa of Avila, whose name in religious life was Sr. Teresa of Jesus. In honor of this anniversary, a virtual choir of 93 Carmelites (the religious order which Teresa reformed) from all over the world have recorded a beautiful setting of one of Teresa’s prayers. Teresa, of course, spoke Spanish; the Spanish text is

Nada te turbe,
nada te espante.
Todo se pasa,
Dios no se muda
La paciencia
todo lo alcanza.
Quien a Dios tiene
nada le falta.
Solo Dios basta.

and in English,

Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you.
All things shall pass;
God does not change.
reaches everything.
Whoever has God
lacks for nothing.
God alone is enough.

There’s a second virtual choir of Carmelites and associates singing a setting of Salve Regina, a hymn that Teresa herself surely prayed. This video includes photographs of Carmelite communities from all over the world.

What beautiful tributes. St Teresa, pray for us!

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A Motherless Child is Not an Orphan. (Also, Mary’s Birthday.)

Last week, Pope Francis tweeted:

This strikes me as confused either in anthropology, ecclesiology, or mariology.

First, anthropology: if a person without a mother is an orphan, then apparently fathers are not actually parents? But this would be inconsistent with the traditional church teaching on marriage, and the right of every child to both a mother and a father. (Either that, or it opens the door to lesbian marriages but not gay marriages.)(ok, that was too snarky)

Second, ecclesiology: Or did he mean to imply that a Christian who does not feel that Mary is his mother cannot have God as his father? Well, the traditional patristic teaching is that no one can have God as his father who does not have the church as his mother. (Thus the traditional term utero ecclesiae, meaning “the womb of the church,” for the baptismal font.)

Third, mariology: It’s often said that Mary is a “type” of the church: that is, that she represents or personifies the church, in scripture and tradition. Some theologians suggest an extreme form of this understanding, in which every doctrine about Mary (notably her preservation from original sin) is interpreted to really be about the Church, and not about Mary the human being at all. I’m pretty sure that’s not what Pope Francis meant; but that’s the only way I could imagine reconciling the problem raised by the previous point.

No, I’m pretty sure this is a mis-statement produced by the patriarchal paradigm in which fathers are not actively involved in their children’s lives at all: they are relegated to the role of provider and perhaps occasional disciplinarian. Certainly nothing resembling “full and active participation” in parenting.

(True story: when I challenged my Catholic mother on her statement that children need a father in order to have an understanding of God, she backed down, admitting she didn’t really believe that, but that she didn’t think that fathers were important to children at all, and figured she had to come up with something.)

Only in such a patriarchal paradigm could one say “orphan” to describe a “motherless child.” (Yes, it’s twitter; but there were still 53 characters left. There would have been room to say “motherless child.”)

Now, the question of whether every Christian who does not feel that Mary is his or her mother is a motherless child raises other difficulties on the ecumenical front: but at least it’s more internally consistent to Catholic thought! ;)

And in other news, today, September 8, is the liturgical feast on which both Eastern and Western Christians celebrate the birth (aka nativity) of Mary. Liturgical feasts don’t always signify a particular calendar date, and in this case it does not: we don’t actually know when Mary was born. But, obviously, she was born, and her birth has a unique relationship to our salvation, and so today we honor her birth. Happy birthday, Mary!

To celebrate this feast, I invite you to watch and listen to this video. The audio is a beautiful choral setting of the Ave Maria, by Tomás Luis de Victoria. The video shows a beautiful series of Marian art, beginning with a series of pieces illustrating Mary’s early life according to tradition; followed by pieces illustrating her life during Jesus’ life and death, according to scripture (though sadly omitting her presence at Pentecost); followed by pieces again inspired by tradition, showing her in heaven; and concluding with pieces illustrating various Marian apparitions.

I particularly like the pieces that show Mary as a child, often with her mother, which seemed particularly apt for this feast. We so rarely see those images! Readers who have questions about what particular images signify, especially non-Catholic readers, feel free to ask: give me a time-stamp and I’ll try to answer.

Watch, listen, enjoy; and if you are Christian, whether Catholic or not, say a prayer of thanksgiving for the life of Mary, the mother of Jesus.

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Blogiversary: Baby Is Three!

It’s been quite the year for my little blog!

This year, for the first time, an actual post ranked higher than my home/archives page count: thanks to a few people who shared it on Facebook, my post on A Mimetic Reading of the Ferguson Events has had more than 2200 views, with more than half of them in a single day. The stats are gratifying, but the topic was horrifying, so I can only hope that my post contributed positively to the larger discussion. This was also my first picture-heavy post, using many embedded tweets, so I must acknowledge @SoulRevision, @UnvirtuousAbbey, @AntonioFrench, @YourAnonNews, @BevTGooden, @TheRoot, @theblogpirate, @Karnythia, @Marmel, @RayDowns, @AttorneyCrump, @MxBarclay, @grammar_girl, @Suey_Park, @Walldo, @NickBilton, @Mashable, @RyanJReilly, @D_Towski, and @ZerlinaMaxwell, without whose work I could not have written that post. If you’re on Twitter, go check them out.

In second place was my lengthy interview with Dirk von der Horst, A Music Theologian Engages with Pope Francis’ Favorite Music. Dirk did a fabulous job here, explaining what the theology of music is about, engaging with the portions of Pope Francis’ interview in which he discussed his favorite music, and suggesting some pieces he’d like the pope to listen to. The post is filled with musical performances of the pieces he discussed, so it’s chock full of reading and listening goodness.

I gather that both Models of the Church and Topics in Early Church History are still very frequently assigned as homework, as these were my third and fourth most popular posts. Hi, students! Hope you found what you were looking for (and cited it correctly!). :)

One piece of thesis blogging from this year, A Feminist Critique and Appropriation of Mimetic Theory, was the tenth-ranked post. And the page on Mimetic Ecclesiology, which describes my thesis and links to all my thesis blogging, had to be excluded when counting up the top ten posts this year (along with Home/Archives and About), which is exciting.

Other posts from this year that made it into the top ten are my initial post on Ferguson; Five and a Half Reasons Not to Send your Son to College; and Modesty, Male Gazes, and Virtues. That last one was engaging with a post by David Cruz-Uribe at Vox Nova, to whom I’d like to give a somewhat apologetic shout-out:
his writing very frequently catalyzes mine, but I very rarely actually engage with the substance of his work. It’s more like something he says on the way to making his point sends me off in a fruitful direction. So thanks, David, and I’m sorry I so rarely do your work justice! And readers, go check out his stuff.

Other posts from the top ten were Hermeneutics, Suspicion, and Generosity (generally from people searching on either hermeneutic of suspicion, but sometimes on hermeneutic of generosity), and Bible Translations: Formal or Functional?: both written in year two, and both, I suspect, perused largely by students.

Other than blog statistics, the biggest blog-relevant events of the year were the completion of my thesis, the Robert F. Leavitt Award for Outstanding Achievement in Theological Studies, and my graduation: I am now a Master of Theology. Wheee!! This is the first September in eight years that I haven’t been either taking classes or writing my thesis.

I originally started this blog partly so that I would have a place to write about my schoolwork. Now that I’ve graduated, it will be an even more important place for me to write and chat about theology; but there will no longer be a theme of the semester to focus my blogging. ;) So we’ll see what kind of rhythm and focus emerges, as I find my balance and finish catching up on all the Stuff I neglected while in school.

Thank you, readers and commentariat, for your company this year, and I hope you’ll stay with me in the year to come. Have some cake!!

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“The Different Pace of Renewal”: Powerful Insight from Sr. Dr. Elizabeth Johnson

One of the significant events in the Catholic world this past month was the annual meeting of the LCWR (Leadership Council of Women Religious): the leadership body of vowed women religious (sisters, nuns) in the US. This year, they bestowed their annual leadership award on Sr. Dr. Elizabeth Johnson, a feminist theologian whose work is deeply rooted in Catholic tradition. Her remarks accepting this award are well worth reading in their entirety. Here, I will excerpt a few of my favorite bits and expand on the particularly ecclesiological insight I find in them.

Describing her work as a theologian as a “vocation within a vocation” to which she was called by her religious leaders, she shares an inspiring letter received from her General Superior Sister John Raymond McGann when the faculty at Catholic University approved her application for tenure, but it was not granted in the ordinary way because some bishops were unhappy with an article she had written, and wanted to further scrutinize her:

“Don’t do this if it kills you. But try to find joy in the cross of criticism. Don’t strive to be so orthodox and safe that you sell short the ministry of the theologian and lose your way. The real victory is your integrity.”

And in a PS: “Put more money in your budget for recreation.”

She still keeps the letter in her bible.

On the purpose of theology: Continue reading

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Excessive Force: What Happens when Police Safety Trumps Public Safety

For the past several nights, I have been watching the feeds from Ferguson, increasingly horrified as the combined police forces rolled down the streets in armored personnel carriers or marched down the streets carrying M-16s, deploying sonic weapons, repeatedly gassing the crowds, firing rubber bullets from guns. They were distinguishable from an army only in that there were red and blue flashing lights on the vehicles and POLICE on the shields.

When the governor of Missouri declared a state of emergency and called in the National Guard, I was cautiously supportive. I naively thought that he was calling in the National Guard to protect citizens from the local police forces that had obviously gone rogue.

To the contrary, it appears that the National Guard came in to protect police headquarters, so that the combined police forces (Ferguson PD, St Louis PD, Missouri State Highway Patrol, and a fourth one I don’t remember) could continue their unbelievably militarized assault.

National Guard troops, called in by Gov. Jay Nixon Monday, protected the police command center.
ABC news

Since the state of emergency has been declared, officers of these police forces have been operating in public without nametags or badges, refusing to answer reporters’ questions about their names or even what unit they are from. They have arrested 11 journalists during the protests so far. They have threatened reporters during live broadcasts. If police in Ferguson treat journalists like this, imagine how they treat residents.

The police have stated that they need to use these tactics because they have had weapons fired at them, rocks and bottles thrown at them. As proof, Captain Johnson showed a few guns that had been confiscated during Monday night’s arrests.

Incidents from a “tiny minority of lawbreakers” prompted the police response, including shots fired and Molotov cocktails thrown, Missouri State Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson said, speaking at an early-morning news conference. –ABC news

But in the midst of it we cannot — in the midst of it, and in the midst of chaos, and trying to move people on — we HAVE to be safe. We have to be safe.
— Transcript, Capt. Ron Johnson, press conference, 2:21am, 2014-08-19

You need this kind of all-out, crowd-suppressing assault to go after a tiny minority of lawbreakers?

Since when?

It sounds rather as if the police have decided that if their own safety is potentially threatened, they have the right to use any degree of force. And it’s not just showing up in the streets of Ferguson, as the armored vehicles roll out: it’s showing up in one-on-one interactions as well.
Continue reading

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Ferguson, Intersectionality, and Occam’s Big Paisley Tie

Last week, I found myself in a conversation with some white friends that briefly heated up over the question of what had really happened in the police shooting of Mike Brown. First of all, a major reason that I don’t believe the police account is the way the police acted afterwards, even considering only the publicly visible actions. Not calling an ambulance? Leaving his body on the ground for hours? Refusing to allow his mother close enough to even identify him? And then showing up with a massive police presence designed to intimidate? Bringing dogs out against black protesters?

These are not the actions of a police department that was involved in a regrettable but necessary shooting. These immediately marked them as untrustworthy actors in my mind.

But as I reflected further on the conversation, I realized that it reminded me of what Melissa McEwan calls Occam’s Big Paisley Tie: Continue reading

Posted in Feminist theology | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

(Few) Catholic Voices on #Ferguson

Since becoming aware of the Catholic Media Fail on Ferguson, I’ve been asking around and checking for related stories in the Catholic media and blogs that I’m aware of. This is all I’ve found. Did I miss anything? Please let me know.

I realize there is other big important Catholic news that has been going on this week, but this is embarrassing.

Visible Friday, 8/15:

Situating Ferguson in a larger conversation: What is Violence? Continuing the Conversation from New Wineskins to Ferguson to Gaza by Thomas Bushlack at Catholic Moral Theology

Primarily, but not exclusively, discussing the ethics of policing: Time for another paradigm shift in policing’ by Tobias Winright, SLU ethicist with previous experience in law enforcement, at The Christian Century. (HT @CatholicClimate for both these links)

— Updated to add a recommendation of Winright’s article from a Ferguson local:

Statement from PAX CHRISTI USA.

Sr. Mary Ann McGivern writes about the morning rally and evening NAACP meeting she attended, in Looking for answers in the shooting death of Michael Brown at the National Catholic Reporter.

US Catholic has a brief discussion in their Weekly roundup: Robin Williams, Ferguson, and Ebola |

Collection of existing Catholic resources on racism, presented in response to Ferguson, by the Ignatian Solidarity Network Resources for Ferguson: Racism Today is the Ultimate Evil in Our World. (HT Emily Edmondson)

Updated to add: A guest column posted on the Archdiocese of St. Louis website, dated 8/14.

Visible Saturday, 8/16:
@NCRonline reports on Across America, silent vigils in Michael Brown’s memory.

Monday, 8/18:
The Archbishop of St. Louis issues a letter urging prayer for peace and noting some resources available through Catholic Relief Services. (I cannot help but observe that if Archbishop Carlson had issued this letter over the weekend, it might have been read in churches on Sunday.)

Commonweal has a blog post on Ferguson & the Social Sin of Racism

USCatholic has a piece on the Aug 17 church rally and runs the same RNS piece on the nationwide vigils carried by NCR.

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Painted Screens and Painted Stations: a Secular and Sacred Art Report

Last Sunday afternoon, I spent a couple hours at the Oakland Mills Interfaith Center, one of the two interfaith centers in which my parish has a presence. The building has a central area resembling a courtyard, with plenty of natural light, opening out to various worship spaces and meeting rooms around the perimeter, and the walls of this courtyard-like space are used as an art gallery. Sunday was the final day of an exhibition called Picture Windows: The Painted Screens of Baltimore.

I’ve been intrigued by painted screens since I first learned about this Baltimore folk art form, but this was the first time I’d seen them. Like many domestic arts, it was intended to be both practical and pretty. In the days before air conditioning, the row houses of Baltimore would get pretty sweltering in the summer, and folks wanted all the windows and solid doors open to get as much ventilation as possible, with no curtains in the way to obstruct the air flow. But then what do you do about privacy, especially in an urban environment with folks walking right past your windows?

Well, it turns out, if you paint a picture on the front of the window or door screens, then that effectively blocks the viewers’ gaze through the screen. Your eyes focus on the picture, instead of looking through the screen; at least, if the area behind the screen is not illuminated. What a clever way to solve the problem! And what an opportunity it creates for beautifying a city street. Time was, most houses in some areas of Baltimore had painted screens on the windows and doors, so walking down the street was much like walking past a gallery of paintings.

The exhibit included screens that had been painted by traditional screen painters near the end of the era when the art was flourishing, and contemporary screens (for sale!) by currently practicing screen painters, some of whom had been trained by traditional painters. There was a little biography of each painter mounted among their works. The sizes ranged from small screens that might cover a ventilation window, to medium/large screens that would fill a normal sized window or the top of a screen door, to full door-sized screens (in some cases, mounted in the door frame, into which the painting extended).

What struck me at first inspection of these pieces Continue reading

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A Mimetic Reading of the Ferguson Events

I’m a hugely text-oriented person, but so much of what happened in Ferguson this week was captured in truly compelling tweeted images that this post will be full of embedded tweets, mostly including images.

Some of those compelling images were side-by-side photos showing photos from the civil rights protests in the 60s:

I was so shocked when I heard the police had brought out dogs that very first day: the imitation of police tactics from the 60s reads to me as a deliberate invocation of the police violence against black protesters then. If the online image made a white woman like me flinch, I can’t imagine the potent effect it must have had on the black people who were there.

See the mirroring, in the postures of the two lines of men? That’s a classic dynamic in mimetic theory, occurring as rivalry escalates. (Frighteningly, the men in the Ferguson picture look more escalated than in the older picture, which seems to have some degree of engagement in the body language going on. The men in the Ferguson picture look like they’re being walls: rigid and immovable.)

The intensive police presence that showed up right away may have been intended to intimidate by an overwhelming show of force, but I read it as designed (consciously or not) to provoke an equally intense response.
Continue reading

Posted in Theological anthropology | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Ferguson, Missouri

Today, it’s finally made the mainstream media. But terrible things have been happening in Ferguson, Missouri — a small municipality in St. Louis County — since Saturday afternoon, when 18yo Mike Brown was shot and killed by police. According to multiple witnesses, he was shot multiple times despite being unarmed and having his hands in the air; and the interaction was police-initiated, who aggressively confronted Michael and his friend because they were walking down the middle of the street instead of walking on the sidewalk.

His body was left lying in the street for hours, while police kept everyone, including the youth’s mother, at a distance.

Trudy tweeted:

[TW] After a lynching, the body left on tree for a while. 3 reasons. To make images of it. To entertain Whites. Psych warfare on Black ppl.

And this reason, this context, this history, and this power, *directly* connects to Michael Brown’s execution and his body left in street.

Please note that Brown’s family has requested that pictures of his body be taken down from the web and not further shared.

In response to the resulting peaceful protest that afternoon, and the peaceful prayer vigil that evening, police responded with a show of force: bringing out dogs (dogs!! police bringing dogs in response to black protesters!!), showing up in riot gear, huge numbers of police cars converging on the area, presenting an extremely aggressive posture that I could only read as deliberately provocative. Later that night, there was some property destruction against local businesses, including a fire at a local gas station. Police responded, and the next day there was some minimal coverage in the media focused on the “looting” (scare quotes because really, it only seems to be called looting when black people do it) rather than the original issue of police killing an unarmed black teen.

Sunday the police finally held a press conference, but still didn’t release the name of the officer involved in the shooting, which they had previously said they would do then. They did, however, describe a scenario that was at odds with witness accounts.

Sunday, Monday, Tuesday: I’ve lost track of the detailed progression, but basically: there were more protests. The protesters’ slogan became “Hands up – don’t shoot.” Police showed up with military equipment, lobbing tear gas, blocking off streets, aggressively pointing M-16s at unarmed protestors who had their hands up. Who in some cases were kneeling with their hands up.

Last night it got even more unbelievable. One source described what’s happening in Ferguson as a police coup. While not a literal coup, it seems a reasonable description of what was happening on the ground.

And today, it finally hit the news.

I became aware on Saturday, and have been following the story since, because #BlackTwitter users that I follow have been tweeting about it. Folks on the ground in Ferguson have been tweeting text, photos, video, and their tweets have been retweeted.

The local perspective matters, and the black perspective matters, because Michael Brown’s shooting was only the most recent in an ongoing drumbeat of unarmed black people being killed by police. (I say was, because since Saturday, another unarmed black man was killed by police, this time in LA.) That’s one reason I have not commented before now, other than selected retweets for amplification on twitter: as a white woman from the East Coast, this is not my story to tell, and I feared getting it wrong.

But I realized last night that, while there was at least some minor mention of Ferguson in the news here and there, I was seeing zero in the Catholic press I follow. OK, yes, we have a lot of Catholic news going on this week, what with the Pope’s trip to Korea and the LCWR meeting, but really: nothing? No mention at all, in the daily briefings or even the blogs? Even at Pax Christi? Even in the pro-life sites? Catholic media can write about Robin Williams’ suicide, but not mention this? I did see one superficial mention by Catholic News Services, but it wasn’t picked up anywhere else I’ve seen.

This is a bigtime Catholic Media Fail.

And it makes me think that the writers or at least the editorial boards of the Catholic press must be overwhelmingly white. Because I don’t think this is a story that black people would miss. I’d like to see these organizations publish their workforce diversity data, as tech companies have recently been pressured to do in response to similar fails.

Meanwhile, here is a collection of links where you can read up on what’s been going on. I pulled them together yesterday, so they don’t include coverage of last night’s events, but they may give some background that is missing from mainstream stories that only focus on last night.

And a few specific actions you can take:
– Consider participating in the National Moment of Silence for victims of police brutality at 7pm EDT tonight, organized by @FeministaJones
– Consider signing this petition with specific proposals to rein in police brutality, organized by @ShaunKing
– And more generally, if you’d like to use twitter to broaden your perspective on this and other issues, I recommend the social justice list put together by @Kronda.


Understanding What’s Happening in Ferguson

The death of Michael Brown and the Search for Justice in Black America

America Is Not For Black People

John Crawford: Killed Holding a ‘Gun’ in an Open Carry State

[UPDATED TO ADD:] Net neutrality matters: The term mostly shows up in tech conversations, but What Happens in #Ferguson Affects Ferguson, as the difference between Twitter timeline and Facebook feed shows.

More specifically:
Local alderman Antonio French has been present at the protests and tweeting photos and short Vine videos since things started. Last night he was arrested, apparently for unlawful assembly. This morning he was released. He received no charging documents.

Washington Post Interview with Ferguson police chief

[UPDATED TO ADD] The multiple jurisdictions providing police presence in Ferguson without any overall coordination means that there is little accountability. Responsibility is being rotated among jurisdictions every night: which may shed some light on why the police have not acted in accordance with statements made earlier in the day by government officials. It also means that four different people independently made a decision to fire tear gas at peaceful protestors. Think about that.

Police militarization:
Police Militarization In Ferguson – Business Insider.

Failing in Ferguson:
How the police are doing everything wrong and why it’s dangerous for everyone

UPDATED TO ADD: But don’t let the militarization of the police dominate the narrative: Michael Brown was killed in an incident involving an ordinary cop car with an ordinary gun.

Posted in Catholic, Moral theology | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments