This Is the Night

Riffing on the Exultet:

Rejoice, ye heavenly powers
Sing, ye angel choirs
For in these darkened hours
The Light of the World did rise

Exult It!

Happy Easter!

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“Shine Through Us”

A lovely prayer that Mother Teresa encouraged the Sisters of Charity to pray:

Dear Jesus, help us to spread your fragrance
everywhere we go.
Flood our souls with your spirit and life.
Penetrate and possess our whole being so utterly
that our lives may only be a radiance of yours.
Shine through us, and be so in us,
that every soul we come in contact with
may feel your presence in our soul.
Let them look up and see no longer us
but only Jesus!
Stay with us, and then we shall begin to shine
as you shine; so to shine as to be a light to others;
the light, O Jesus, will be all from you,
none of it will be ours;
it will be you, shining on others through us.
Let us thus praise you in the way you love best
by shining on those around us.
Let us preach you without preaching, not by words
but by our example, by the catching force,
the sympathetic influence of what we do,
the evident fullness of the love
our hearts bear to you. Amen.


I love the imagery of light shining through us. And preaching by means of our “sympathetic influence” is something I touched on in my thesis, though in different (mimetic) language.

H/T dotCommonweal

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Websurfers, Come Out! So much internet

Very, very terse roundup of things I’ve been reading whilst procrastinating on my thesis:

Amazing pictures from the mass celebrated on the border of Nogales

Beliefs can be unloving: if you follow only one link, follow this one. Excellent discussion of how “love the sinner but hate the sin” fails.

Inter Mirifica is the Vatican II document on social communication (did you know there was one?), and the Pontifical Council on Social Communications is 50 years old this year. Looks like they have quite a nice website.

Geeky Greeky stuff from my BLT co-blogger J. K. Gayle

And the Godspell song I’ve been singing and dancing and praying to this week. Relational ontology and multiple metaphors for justification: what’s not to love?? :)

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Wrestling with Milbank (via Burrell)

Burrell, David B. “An Introduction to Theology and Social Theory, beyond Secular Reason.” Modern Theology 8, no. 4 (October 1, 1992): 319–29.

David Burrell presents an introduction to John Milbank’s constructive critique of secularism Theology and Social Theory to open a special issue of Modern Theology engaging with the work. In what follows, parenthetical page references inside quotations are Burrell’s citations to Milbank; page numbers outside quotations are my citations to Burrell.

Milbank’s work operates within and emerges from the discourse of European philosophers with whom I am largely or entirely unfamiliar. This makes it difficult for me to assess the validity of his arguments, and at times even to follow them. (Indeed, I have the same difficulty with Rene Girard, which is why I have absorbed his work primarily through his American and British interpreters.)

His critique of modernity is foregrounded in his work; like MacIntyre’s, from whom he draws, it is a type of critique concerned with insistently asserting the Christian origins of all that is good in the Western liberal tradition, and willing to offer certain pre-modern values as remedy for post-modern malaise. I am suspicious of this type of critique, which strikes me as agenda-driven and unrealistically nostalgic for the good old days which, to the extent that they ever existed, were much less good for some than for others. That said, I’ll attempt to engage fairly with Milbank’s work as presented by Burrell.

Milbank asserts that social science cannot be coherent and complete in the absence of a prior — that is, external — understanding of the telos of human beings, which is necessary to provide a source of values that cannot be reduced to either sheer power or mere preference. He argues that an understanding of this telos inevitably arises, explicitly or implicitly, from the creation myth that is rhetorically operative in discourse. Thus, he positions the Christian myth of creation as God’s good self-giving gift over against the secular narrative of “rational action as the ‘inhibitor of chaos’” (321) or “nihilism’s ‘preference for, or resignation to, an imagined cosmic terror’ (296)” (326).

I must say, I don’t see cosmic terror in the dominant secular creation myth, narrated by cosmology and astrophysics, about how the universe came to be. I suppose that if we restrict the discussion of origins here to human origins, then the Darwinian myth of eat or be eaten has some existential terror in it. So I’ll proceed by supposing that when he says creation myth, he means myth of human origins, since it is with humans that he is primarily concerned.

I’m also underwhelmed by Continue reading

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Rejoice O Websurfers: so much internet

Happy Laetare Sunday! Learn more and listen to the chanted introit from which the day takes its name courtesy of Brian Flanagan over at Daily Theology.

This looks like a fascinating book: Invented Religions: Imagination, Fiction, and Faith by Claire Cusack, reviewed by John L. Crow.

‘These aren’t the criteria you’re looking for’: Myth and the control of the Star Wars canon is the title of a talk that will be given at the AAR in May, touching on the interaction between popular/communal and formal/institutional influences on the definition of canon, which has thought-provoking implications for interactions between the hierarchy, the academy, and the sense of the faithful.

Have you seen and heard Sr Cristina yet? Read the story and watch the fabulous video of an Italian nun singing on an Italian TV show. I can’t decide which I like better: the excitement of the sisters cheering her on, or the reactions and responses of the judges (who start out unable to see the performer) when they turn around and see a nun.

Denise Levertov is one of my favorite poets, and Carol Faulkner has written a good article about her in Poetry and the 20th Century Religious Experience.

Have you been to see Noah yet, or are you considering going? Check out this review by my BLT co-blogger Suzanne McCarthy, which includes both her feminist review and quotations from a rabbi’s review. And consider checking out a new(ish) website Flood Of Noah: Ancient Stories of Natural Cataclysm, which includes a page dedicated to academic responses to the movie.

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Children, Priests, and Scandal in Church

Here’s the story: on his way to the ambo (pulpit) to give his homily (sermon), the presiding priest detoured to approach “a family with several small children under the age of four who were sitting near the front of the church.” In view of the congregation, and within hearing of people seated nearby,

[H]e chastised the parents, telling them that it was inappropriate for their children to be eating, drinking, and playing with toys during mass. Even though they were well-behaved (a parishioner sitting within earshot of this exchange had not even noticed the children’s activity until the pastor descended to condemn them), he said the children were “distracting” him.

A blogger posted about the situation, horrified by the antithesis between the priest’s behavior and Jesus’ injunction to “let the little children come.”

People commented, agreeing with her. People commented, defending the priest. Scandal and factionalism ensued.

Longtime readers of this blog know that I mean something very particular by scandal. It is a technical term in mimetic theory describing the fascination induced by moral outrage and righteous indignation.

Factionalism arises when two (or more) sides each rally around a defining pattern of identity, pointing at the other side as the source of all the problems, and laying claim to the legitimate identity of the larger group: ie, scapegoating the other side, urging their literal, ritual, or rhetorical expulsion. Factionalism divides people into good people and bad people, right people and wrong people, insiders and outsiders. It too is laced with scandal; scandal, in fact, perpetuates factionalism.

A central concept in mimetic theory, and mimetic theology, is the scapegoat mechanism: the means by which humans bond together and experience unity over against somebody else, an identified scapegoat who is blamed as the source of problems. A moral imperative in mimetic theology is to stand with the victim in such cases, resisting the scapegoat mechanism.

Katie Grimes, the blogger who wrote about the situation, was attempting to do just that: although she doesn’t appear to have been thinking in terms of mimetic theory, she perceived the family as a wounded victim. In a comment, she writes:
Continue reading

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Better Analogies for a Synod of Women

Surely, there are better analogies than a placenta to describe a possible synod of women! Here are a few I’ve thought of:

- a synod of women, embodying the maternal concerns of Mother Church

- a synod of women, bringing new ideas to the church as Mary Magdalen, apostle to the Apostles, brought the news of the resurrection to Peter

- a synod of women, bringing reflections on the gospel to Rome as Phoebe carried and proclaimed Paul’s letter there

- a synod of women, pondering on the Holy Spirit and birthing good news for the church as Jesus was born of Mary, who pondered all these things in her heart

- a synod of women, whose contributions to the life of the church are in the tradition of Mary of Bethany, Mary of Magdala, Lydia, and all the women who provided essential financial and practical support for the ministry of Jesus and the early church

- a synod of women, gathered like the roses of Our Lady of Guadalupe, to lift up in the church the voices of those who too often go unheard

- a synod of women, faithfully witnessing to the wounds and the sorrows of the church, like the faithful women disciples who remained at the foot of the cross

I don’t think these are perfect, but they’re certainly better than a placenta. By and large, they draw on the experiences and contributions of women in the life of the church. Shouldn’t that be the point?

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The Problems with the Placenta Analogy

The placenta, of course, is an organ that is entirely invisible until birth, after which it is necessarily expelled in a bloody mess and discarded, valueless.

If a synod of women is like a placenta, what’s the rest of the analogy? Presumably, the synod is an organ in the body of Mother Church. But what’s the baby that this placenta is supposed to be nourishing?

Notice, too, that the ideas merely pass through the women. This is consistent with much of the pro-life, anti-abortion rhetoric that operates from an overly simplified model of human reproduction not far beyond the medieval notion that the man plants the seed and the woman is merely fertile soil.

According to this cartoon model, at the moment that sperm meets ovum, a new person is created, ontologically complete, merely requiring the nutrition it receives through the placenta to mature into a human infant. The pregnant woman is abstracted away: all the focus is on the placenta and uterus, in which the newly created person is entitled to reside.

This is an utterly naive and physiologically incorrect view of human reproduction. In reality, a pregnant woman eats, drinks, and sleeps, metabolizes and gestates, hopes and fears. Her whole body is actively involved, undergoing increasingly significant change throughout pregnancy, actively contributing to the development of what may, if all goes well, become a viable human infant.

It’s always annoying when women are rhetorically objectified as body parts. But this one was particularly bad, because of its coherence with the erasure of women from discourse about pregnancy and childbirth.

Using an analogy that erases women to propose a possible synod of women: the irony is overwhelming.

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So much internet, so little time

Here’s a roundup of some good stuff I’ve read lately:

Why English majors make lousy fundamentalists calls out seven key elements of approaching scripture as literature, and how they shape interpretation. Here’s a snippet:

An English major assumes that the way to get people to do things is not to give them pristine clear commands to follow, but to tell a story that moves their hearts and sways them to respond the way that you’re hoping they will.

– A fabulous article/interview with Sr. Dr. Elizabeth Johnson: Feminism In Faith: Sister Elizabeth Johnson’s Challenge To The Vatican. I excerpt here a bit about an incident from her tenure process, an unprecedented examination by every US cardinal:

Toward the end of the questioning, Boston’s Cardinal Bernard Law slammed shut his binder of Johnson’s writings and scoffed, “You mostly teach Christology. You’re not going to do anymore of this feminist stuff.” He pushed the files away.

“It was a breakthrough moment for me, painful as it was,” she says, “because it planted the seeds for She Who Is,” referring to her groundbreaking book of feminist theology. As Johnson drafted that text, Law’s words swirled in her head, fueling her passionate exploration of feminine images of God.

because it reminded me of my own experience of having been impelled to take the next step in theological or spiritual growth as a response to something hurtful that a bishop said. Not the kind of growth in the faith they intend to provide, I dare say, but growth nonetheless.

- A fascinating paper examining church practices through the lens of neuroscience: Embodiment Takes Practice: The Neurological Necessity of Counter-Practices in Transforming Culture

In this essay, I offer an investigation of ecclesiology, formation, and cultural transformation that attempts to take the body strand seriously. In particular, I consider the relationship between embodiment and ecclesiological cultural transformation, assessing whether a robust account of this relation may render the church-world distinction incoherent. I argue that although taking the body seriously does not render cultural transformation (or formation) impossible, it does require that one more carefully attend to practices, and what McClendon called “counter-practices,” as the necessary enablers of faithful engagement with culture.

- Here’s a review of what looks like a great book with a companion blog: Dressed Up and Ready to Read: a review of Dressing Constitutionally: Hierarchy, Sexuality, and Democracy from Our Hairstyles to Our Shoes

The premise of the book is straightforward: constitutional considerations constrain, inform, and explain our clothing—or lack of clothing—choices. Robson drives the book through seven chapters that explore the premise in different contexts. In each chapter, she draws out the themes of hierarchy, sexuality, and democracy—themes that she argues “animate the constitutional concerns surrounding attire and appearance.”

And if you’re wondering what this last one has to do with theology or religion, think distinctive religious dress and hairstyle. Anything that the state requires, permits, or prohibits can be relevant to the practice of religion.

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Visualizing thesis, Chapter Three!

Turned in the first draft of the last sections of chapter three last night to my advisor, and tonight to my second reader. Woot!


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