Sunday, April 30, 2006

Google journalism

During Lent I went through a phase where I read Catholic blogs every day. I got tired of them after a while. I thought I was a conservative traditionalist, but wow. There are still a few I read, including Dappled Things by a priest in the Arlington diocese who is orthodox but politically moderate, as far as I can tell, and maintains a very mild tone on his blog. (Possibly because he doesn't allow comments. I have heard the criticism of Instapundit and other major blogs that barring comments is a way of squashing dissent. As if there's no other place to dissent on the Internet! It's just a way of keeping things simple and non-chaotic. You don't have to waste your time banning trolls, or play to your fan club, or take sides in debates between commenters.)

Anyway. So Father Jim opens the Washington Post one morning and reads in an article called Blogs Give Voice to Dissenters in the Flock that he's a dissenter. This is news to him. Also he can't remember when he posted the snippet of quotation from his blog that's mentioned in the article. This is the sentence:

In the Diocese of Arlington, the Rev. Jim Tucker speculates in his blog about why Catholic bishops do not welcome disgruntled clerics from other denominations, a practice he describes as "an opportunity being terribly missed."

Dude, if that's the best example of Catholic dissent you can find on the Internet, then you really aren't trying very hard. Also, the quote in this context is a bit misleading: the Catholic church already allows Episcopal priests who convert to Catholicism to become Catholic priests, even if they're married; Father Jim was only wondering why this option wasn't promoted more.

Part of this journalist's problem, as Tucker points out, is that "In Catholic parlance, 'dissent' typically means 'public disagreement with Church teaching,'" which the author of the article doesn't really seem to grasp (and as his article is about Christian dissent in general, and this is his only quote from a Catholic "dissenter," it might be a fine distinction to make, but still important!).

And the other problem is, as far as I can tell, none of the quotes in this article are identifiably from actual conversations with people. Now I know this sort of makes sense when you're writing a story about blogs, but still, shouldn't journalism involve a little more effort than Googling a few quotations and maybe shooting off an email or two? I mean, I could have written this story, sitting naked in front of my computer. (Justin and I do, in fact, know a journalist who claims to do his work sitting naked in front of his computer, but I know he at least gets on the phone once in a while. For one thing, he's the only person I know who has some reason to be concerned about this whole wiretapping business, because he calls people in exotic Arab-sounding countries.) But I'm not getting paid to do this stuff. I don't want to downplay the importance of blogs in the New Media, but it seems like there should be some difference between people like me (except with more readers) and people who draw a paycheck from their writing.

It seems to me that journalism is becoming more professionalized (a degree makes it easier to get into, and our naked journalist friend has one) but yet simultaneously requires less skill and, oh, I don't know, work. I always imagined reporters to be like Kermit the Frog, you know, with the trenchcoat and the hat and the notepad, walking their beat in the skanky underbelly of society. Now you can do it with a laptop and a cell phone at home or at Starbucks, although if you do it at Starbucks you can't be naked. I would think all you need to be a decent journalist is facility with words and the chutzpah to get people to talk to you (the second of which I don't have, which is why I never worked on papers after high school). But if you can write an article without getting people to talk to you, then why do you need a professional degree to use Google?

Friday, April 28, 2006

Seattle stories: How to order coffee

Deanna's comment on my first Seattle post leads naturally to the next Seattle story: how I became an addict, albeit kind of a fake one.

When I started high school in 1989, Starbucks was still a local chain. By the time I was a junior or senior, though, Starbucks was on the march and Seattle was dotted with espresso stands. There was one in our high school cafeteria. Seriously.

So I tried to be all cool and stuff, and had my first latte. My initial reaction: yuck.

Then I discovered mochas, and my world changed! If being cool involved chocolate, then I was sold.

I used to take like half an hour to drink a "short" mocha, i.e. an eight-ounce drink, which I believe Starbucks still offers but no longer lists on their menu. Now I can down a tall in ten minutes. I try to avoid drinking anything larger, because all the milk and chocolate is bad for me. (But the coffee? Coffee's fine!)

I swear Starbucks puts something in their chocolate that's addictive. I vastly prefer their mochas to anyone else's, except for Mudhouse here in C'ville. Usually I take summers off from mochas (I like frappucinos or iced drinks, but I find iced mochas too cloying), so when the weather cools off it's always a special moment when I have my first hot mocha of the season.

All these years later, even though I make coffee at home, I still don't like to drink my coffee black. I will under duress. But I prefer putting stuff in it. I can't imitate Starbucks' mochas at home, so I don't even try anymore, but I need to sweeten up my coffee, which is why I'm not a genuine coffee addict, I don't think. But the genius of Starbucks was to take a substance that is addictive but rather bitter and unpalatable on its own and make it really enjoyable to drink. And cool, of course.

Coffee was one great thing about the '90s. Starbucks expanded nationwide so that I could walk into a shop in New York or Boston and order my beloved mochas. (I still love walking into Starbucks wherever I am in the country; it feels like home.) Coffee was cool, and I was from the place that made it cool. The only thing more suave than holding a cigarette was holding a latte. And thus I never took up smoking. Plus, drinking coffee was actually kind of pleasurable.

People had names for their favorite drinks. A guy I worked with regularly ordered a nonfat no-whip latte from the building's cafe; his signature drink was called an "Arnie why bother?". But that reminds me, you don't need to get too cute when you're ordering coffee. I've noticed that non-Seattleites are still getting the hang of it. Here is how to order coffee:

1. Know what you want when you get to the counter. Starbucks is run like a well-oiled machine. If I don't get my drink within five minutes of walking in, it's because the person ahead of me in line was indecisive.

2. Any drink name longer than four words (unless it's that long on the menu) is too complicated. Don't show off.

WRONG: Tall half-caff caramel latte, no whip
RIGHT: Tall latte

3. It's not "vente," it's "venti."

One last thing: There is apparently a Starbucks card you can only get at the original location at Pike Place Market! I am so going to get one of those next time Justin and I are in town.

Seattle stories: the native

Because nothing really interesting is going on with me right now, I thought I'd write about my hometown, which in a way is writing about me because I spent most of my life there.

In Seattle there's a certain cachet to being a native. I don't know if I associate this attitude with the '80s because that's when I have my first clear memories, or that's when so many Californians started moving to Seattle that we who were born there, or had lived there a long time, reassured our fellow natives that we were true-blue Seattle-ites and everything that started to make The Most Liveable City in the Nation less liveable--traffic, aggressive drivers in traffic, skyrocketing housing prices, the increased prevalence of the word "dude" (which infiltrated my vocabulary)--were someone else's fault. Seattle was the Garden of Eden, a hidden jewel (the Emerald City!), paradise lost.

This and my own relentless self-consciousness, once I hit college and started meeting people from other parts of the country, made me emphasize the aspects of my personality that I thought Seattle created: superficial things, such as my fondness for caffeinated beverages, practical shoes, and large bodies of water, and more innate qualities, such as my mild and reserved personality (well, I'm shy, but I like to call it being reserved), a streak of quirkiness, and a carefully cultivated sense of superiority, because Seattle is just that cool. (Hell, I'm not really even from Seattle, technically; I was born within the city limits, but grew up in a suburb a few miles out of town. Trips to downtown Seattle were infrequent adventures when I was young.) My belief that I was from Seattle, and therefore different, probably annoyed people, and for all I know still does.

Everyone is from somewhere, after all, and I can't blame anyone from the most lethargic town in Oklahoma for thinking it's the best place on earth because they know it so well, and familiarity breeds affection as much as contempt. So it's no wonder I love Seattle--most people who've been there do, even after a short visit, and I spent 26 years there.

But it's something else, too. When I moved to Virginia, everyone told me I was moving to the South, and it was like a foreign country, and people had weird accents there, etc. Whatever. If this is true, it's not noticeable in Charlottesville, because most people who live here are from somewhere else (and there's a bit of a native complex going on here, too; Charlottesville's growing fast, it has a crazy housing market...this all sounds so familiar...). And yet...sometimes I wonder, how did I end up here? Isn't it a little weird? And what do people think of me when they hear I'm from Seattle? What do they think of the west coast? I've had more than one conversation that went like this:

Easterner: Where did you go to college?
Juliet: The University of Washington.
Easterner: Oh, Washington University in St. Louis?
Juliet: No, the University of Washington in Seattle.

At this point my interlocutor will often become very confused, thinking: Why is there a University of Washington? Is Washington a state? They actually have books there? How is there room in Seattle for a university with all the grunge rockers and computer programmers and WTO protesters dressed up as turtles and dead homeless people who voted for the governor? Weeeiiird.

And I'm thinking: the country does not end at the Mississippi, dang it! I went to one of the best public universities in the country! Why haven't you heard of it?

There is also the Washington-is-an-extension-of-California misconception (God knows where Oregon is in this system), which I realized after living in Berkeley is a more egregious version of the Northern-California-is-quite-similar-to-L.A. misconception. Okay, okay, Valley-speak made its insidious way northward, and we're laid back, and we wear sunglasses a lot (because the sun hurts our eyes!), and....yeah. BUT IT'S NOT CALIFORNIA! I went to California for the first time when I was 21. It's really far away. And we don't even like Californians!

I assume whenever someone finds out I'm from Seattle, there are six things they think about me, related to coffee, computers, rain, grunge, airplanes, and the WTO. But the more I think about it, the more I realize I don't know what people associate with me as a Seattle native. Perhaps, God forbid, nobody thinks anything. That would disappoint me utterly. I don't know why. Did Seattle make me that way? But there I go again!

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

We go to the gym. It kicks my butt.

Justin, who never does things by halves, decided to get a UVA gym membership, which is not the most economical thing to do at the end of the semester--it's the same price whether he does it January 20 or April 20, kind of like the workers who got paid a denarius whether they started at the crack of dawn or the eleventh hour--but whatever. We've been to the gym the last three days in a row. I am sore.

But I decided today, while sitting on the exercise bike next to Justin and reading about "the new media" in the Economist, that I like going to the gym with my husband. It's another thing we can do together, and since most of our shared activities are sedentary, it's good for us to do something together that involves, oh, being around other people, physical movement, that sort of thing. As a side benefit, I will probably lose weight and be able to slide comfortably into my summer clothes. I love summer, and my summer clothes, so that's good.

I drove Heidi and Maddie to the airport yesterday (they're visiting Seattle), and it was a beautiful drive between here and Gainesville (the rest is kind of boring): rolling pastoral hills, blue skies, leafy trees. I love spring in Virginia, when it's warm, but not so hot that it becomes hazy and sticky (although I don't mind that as much as other people seem to). I didn't really understand the appeal of the in-between seasons of spring and fall until I moved to a place where spring and fall (and winter and occasionally summer) equal rain.

Monday, April 24, 2006

So I married a Sodomite

That got your attention, didn't it?

From Wikipedia:

Ithaca is commonly listed among the most culturally liberal (or, more controversially and presumptuously, "enlightened") of American small cities ... Like many small college towns, Ithaca has also received accolades for having a high overall quality of life ...

In its earliest years during frontier days, what is now Ithaca was briefly known by the names "The Flats" and "Sodom," the name of the Biblical city of sin, due to its reputation as a town of readily-available loose pleasures. These names did not last long; Simeon Dewitt renamed the town Ithaca in the early 1800s.

Brought to you by an entry at It Shines For All, a real grownup blog at the New York Sun by Daniel Freedman, whom I haven't met but is one of Justin's gmail buddies via a mutual friend. Justin is "a reader" who alerted Daniel to Ithaca's reputation.

The first paragraph, from what I can determine, is true, although Ithaca ain't no Berkeley. Berkeley is not part of a county that has more cows than people. Cows seem to have a moderating effect on political activism, or else they correspond with a more mellow outlook on life. Maybe it's the methane. Anyway, everyone I've ever met who is from or has lived in Ithaca is pleasant in a nerdy sort of way, including and most especially my husband.

Post, dang it!

Apparently I'm not the only one having this problem. (I had also thought of pushing my earlier post through with another post, sort of like when the quarter doesn't go all the way into the washing machine and I bump it with another quarter. Because I still use a community laundry room.) I thought it was something I did. Well, what's the point of posting about Laura's birthday if the post doesn't even go up on her birthday? Grr.

On the other hand: Blogger's free.

Happy birthday Laura!

Today is Laura's birthday. Last night her lovely Anne hosted (hostessed?) a birthday party, complete with really fantabulous chocolate-strawberry cake and other desserts. We also played games. I am not a big game person, but during charades I somehow managed to convey "A Mighty Fortress is our God" and Betty Crocker to my team. I think it helped in the first case I was working with theologians.

Anyway, Laura is 28, which is a wonderful age to be, and she is very cool, so here's to another year of Laura!

Thursday, April 20, 2006

A rare sight

The other day I was out buying a few plants, pots, and potting soil at Walmart. (Yes, I sometimes shop at Walmart. Bite me. I mean, um, I honestly don't go there very often, and I didn't know offhand where else to buy potting soil?) I saw the cutest thing: two Mennonite ladies in their little dresses and bonnets and everything at the digital photo kiosk. I wish I'd had my camera with me, but I don't know if they'd have wanted to be photographed. Anyway, I was tickled, so I thought I'd post that, and I also kind of felt like saying "bite me" to no one in particular.

Bookmark me!

I tweaked the site a couple of days ago so that you can now get a wee baby Girl With Flat Hat icon to appear next to my blog name in your Favorites menu. I don't know if this works retroactively (that is, if it'll show up if you added me to your bookmarks earlier) or with other browsers (no, Eric, I still haven't got Firefox). Anyway, try it out if you're into wee baby icons.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Tasting notes: Wintergreen and White Hall

Justin's friend Sara visited us over Easter weekend, and in between masses we had time to visit a couple of local wineries. This is one reason I look forward to guests--Justin's not so big into the wine-tasting thing, although he's happy to drink it at home.

We drove a few miles down the Blue Ridge Parkway and coasted down to Wintergreen Winery. (Note: it's a 15% grade and we toasted our brakes on the way down. A nice person who pulled over while we were on the side of the road with our hood up, trying to figure out what the godawful smell was, advised us to drive down the steep grade in a low gear. For future reference.) They only had three wines available for us to try: the Black Rock Chardonnay, the Three Ridges White, and the Cabernet Franc. The whites were both nice, especially the fruity Three Ridges. The Cabernet Franc has an interesting flavor shared by a lot of Virginia reds that I can't quite peg, a bit old-fashioned--like Oakencroft's Jefferson Claret, which consciously tries to be like the sort of wine Jefferson would have vinted, if he could have gotten grapes quite figured out. We took home a bottle of Cabernet Franc and bought the Three Wines for picnicking, along with assorted cheeses and such. The winery is nestled in an idyllic setting at the foot of the Blue Ridge; a creek runs through it and there are picnic tables. Very fun.

Then we drove back up through Crozet to White Hall Vineyards, which was hopping on a Saturday afternoon and had a lot of wines for us to try. The whites were just splendid, and we took home several: a lovely Viognier (I adore Viognier anyway, and this was better than most), a fruity Gewuertztraminer with flirty gardenia flavors (this went straight to Easter dinner at Jane's the next day), and the Soliterre, a dessert wine. Of the reds, we liked the Edichi, a port, and I think the Petit Verdot (I think--see, this is why I have to write this stuff down!), although the tasting notes that said it had "deep intense aromas of earth" (among other things) were a little off-putting.

If we'd had time we'd probably have visited Oakencroft on the way back, but it's so close that we can always go some other time.

Virginia wines aren't cheap, alas (I can get my dear old Washington and Oregon wines at World Market for much less), but the good ones are very good, and they are always fun to visit because they're in such beautiful spots. And both our tastings were free, which was also neat. Please visit me so I have an excuse to try more!

Monday, April 17, 2006

Six weird things

Deanna tagged me with this meme. Fun! Here they are, off the top of my head:

1. How's this for discovering new things about your spouse after a year and a half of marriage: Justin was looking at my feet the other day and suddenly said, "What's wrong with your toes?" My fourth and fifth toes on each foot are kind of scrunched so that I walk on the outside of my toes. Justin thinks it must hurt for me to walk. It doesn't. I thought everyone's toes were like that. This might explain why a. I can only wear sensible shoes and b. Justin doesn't want to wash my feet.

2. When I was young, I thought the Strait of Juan de Fuca, often mentioned in western Washington weather reports, was named after someone named Wanda.

3. I didn't know until I was in my twenties that not everyone calls a small washcloth a "mopeen." (It's colloquial Italian, apparently. I'm not even sure how it's spelled.)

4. I don't like eggs, mushrooms, or bell peppers, except on very rare occasions when they are exceptionally well prepared.

5. I have a slight, unnatural fear of balloons, attributable to childhood experiences of balloons popping at close range and the tragic loss of a very special green balloon (green was my favorite color), gone forever because of my dad's failure to evolve wings on demand so he could retrieve my balloon as it was lofting blithely into the ether.

6. When I was four and had just seen The Muppet Movie, I sat by the front window for three days waiting for Kermit the Frog to pick me up in his psychadelic Studebaker. This was logical how? I don't know. Also, two corollary weird things, one not about me: a. my mom reports my sister waited with me, and this was the longest she ever sat still, b. I remember playing with these toy salt and pepper shakers and telling my sister I liked pepper better, but that was because I thought the letter P had a more attractive shape. This was also why I liked the number 8.

I'm supposed to tag six other bloggers with this, but I don't know who to tag besides Laura. You're it! Poke.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Happy Easter!

Christos anesti!

After Triduum, a quiet Easter with friends.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Holy Thursday

Today was the first day of the Easter Triduum, aka the Choral Marathon Extravaganza for those of us in the choir. Holy Thursday is the Mass of the Lord's Supper. The gospel reading is from John 13, where Jesus washes the disciples feet and commands them to serve each other likewise. After the homily follows the foot-washing; at Incarnation, the RCIA candidates/catechumens and sponsors, along with the priests, wash whoever wants their feet washed, and other people can take over the foot-washing if they wish. It's sweet to see couples and families wash each other's feet. (I didn't know until after a couple of Easters that it's traditional, and probably more liturgically correct, for the priest to wash the feet of twelve men, but I don't quite understand why it would have to be that way.) Because I was singing, because Justin and I couldn't see each other, because I was under the impression (rather correct) that he was uneasy about public foot-washing, we didn't wash each other's feet. But maybe next year, or after that.

The other beautiful thing about the Holy Thursday mass is the procession of the holy sacrament from the church to the chapel. The choir walks down a hallway lit with candles and sings "Pange Lingua," and there's a really pretty harmony that the sopranos do. Spine-tingling. We sing it at Corpus Christi too (as I wrote back in May), but it's so much more moving after dark.

There was an article in the Washington Post a couple of weeks ago about the resurgence of the foot-washing ritual in some Protestant denominations. I've never seen it except in the Catholic Church. I wonder now, especially since Jesus says explicitly in the Gospel that he has done it as an example so that the disciples do likewise, why Protestants don't do it more often. Why is that? Is it just because feet are icky, or is there some kind of theological explanation? (This isn't a belligerant question. I never really thought about it before I was Catholic, and now I don't know why it didn't cross my mind.)

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Politics: Everybody is lame

Instapundit quotes Kos about both parties' lameness going into the midterm elections and adds:

The good news for each party is that they only have to run against the other, and not against a competent one. The bad news for each party is that the same thing is true for their opposition. As I've noted before, it's like the Special Olympics of politics or something.


I like Instapundit--digestible, like bathroom reading, sorry for the image.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Palm Sunday reflection

From a homily of St. Andrew of Crete:

In his humility Christ entered the dark regions of our fallen world and he is glad that he became so humble for our sake, glad that he came and lived among us and shared in our nature in order to raise us up again to himself. And even though we are told that he has now ascended above the highest heavens - the proof, surely, of his power and godhead - his love for man will never rest until he has raised our earthbound nature from glory to glory, and made it one with his own in heaven.

So let us spread before his feet, not garments or soulless olive branches, which delight the eye for a few hours and then wither, but ourselves, clothed in his grace, or rather, clothed completely in him. We who have been baptized into Christ must ourselves be the garments that we spread before him. Now that the crimson stains of our sins have been washed away in the saving waters of baptism and we have become white as pure wool, let us present the conqueror of death, not with mere branches of palms but with the real rewards of his victory. Let our souls take the place of the welcoming branches as we join today in the children’s holy song: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Blessed is the king of Israel.

Something about that "He is glad!" resonated with me as I read it. As we walk alongside Christ in his passion this Holy Week, it is comforting to know that he is pleased to have clothed himself in our human nature so he could suffer for us.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Because an Easter egg hunt is just too boring

"The Catholic Bishop of Christchurch hopes people will celebrate Easter the traditional way, and not attend a semi-nude jelly-wrestling event."

Well, that's pretty much the story, but you can read it here.

As posted over at Open Book.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Get your heresy here!

Who could refuse an offer like that?

Full English text of the Gospel of Judas here (PDF). Knock yourself out. It's pretty short. Lots of cosmogonies with funny names like Barbelo and Nebro and Yobel. Emanation proclamations! Heh.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Addendum on the Gospel of Judas

I wanted to draw attention to this NY Sun article (editorial?) about the G of J published today.

I'm not as immediately suspicious of the National Geographic Society's motives in all this. But Bruce Chilton, who wrote this article, does draw an important distinction between two kinds of authenticity: 1. the G of J as an authentic c. fourth century text representing the thought of this particular sect of Gnostics, on which basis this is without doubt a significant find, and 2. an authentic account of the actual relationship between Judas and Jesus, to which it has no more claim (and because of its late date, much less) than the canonical Gospels.

Of course more sensational news stories will suggest it could be authentic in the second sense, but there's no compelling reason to think so, unless you prefer the Gnostic version of the story. The problem with the first sort of authenticity is that it is then only of interest to a specialized group of people, the sort who would slobber all over themselves if a museum curator found another hundred lines of Menander in a mummy case (this happens!), among whom you may count Justin and me, but we don't read Newsweek.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Things people like me get excited about

Biblical scholars have unveiled the Gospel of Judas, a third-century papyrus manuscript of a second-century "Gnostic" (why did I use quotes?) gospel that claims Judas was the only guy who really understood Jesus and betrayed him so Jesus could fulfill his messianic mission. (The four gospels in the Bible are only a few of the texts written about Jesus, although they're the earliest to be composed. Many others exist in complete or fragmentary form, the most complete and most famous being the Gospel of Thomas, a collection of Jesus' sayings that shares some phrases in common with Matthew/Mark/Luke but is also quirky.)

Probably legit. Irenaeus referred to the Gospel of Judas in Against Heresies at the end of the second century. All the paleography, carbon-dating, etc. checks out. Or so they say. I don't get to look at a lot of third-century Egyptian papyri, and I don't know Coptic, although knowing Coptic would be way cool.

It does engage the question, doesn't it, of how there could have been a passion without Judas? One can kind of see the philosophical appeal. But then there's the typical gnosticism-so-called: the body-spirit dualism, the idea that Judas had some Special Knowlege (Only $19.95! Smug sense of superiority our special gift to you when you order today!), etc. Not my style.

From the NY Times article:

As the findings have trickled down to churches and universities, they have produced a new generation of Christians who now regard the Bible not as the literal word of God, but as a product of historical and political forces that determined which texts should be included in the canon, and which edited out.

For that reason, the discoveries have proved deeply troubling for many believers. The Gospel of Judas portrays Judas Iscariot not as a betrayer of Jesus, but as his most favored disciple and willing collaborator.

By now, after the discovery and translation of the Nag Hammadi texts (yeah, that happened decades ago, but in the world of scholarship, anything that wasn't written by nineteenth-century Germans--how I do love to poke fun at nineteenth-century Germans!--is recent) and the kerfuffle over The Da Vinci Code, it seems to me that the diversity of thought in the early church should be a given and we can all calm down now. Maybe it's only obvious because I study this stuff, and because I took about a zillion classes for my MA with names like Orthodoxy, Heresy, and Religious Coercion in Early Christianity (our listserv address was heretics@u... which was kind of neat), but I don't know. With all the Dan Brown/Elaine Pagels/Bart Ehrman books published lately, I thought this had more or less seeped into popular culture. No need to move on if everyone finds it interesting (I'm a little tired of it, but that's why I study what I do and not Gnosticism), but a fact like "Other Gospels Exist!" can only be news so many times. Or not. Newsweek keeps doing cover stories about things I thought I already knew.

This report does seem peculiarly timed to coincide with the release of The Da Vinci Code: Now a Major Motion Picture! (the scholars involved have been pasting together the little scraps of manuscript for years now, so what's another month or two?), or with the western churches' commemoration of the Passion, but maybe that's just a coincidence.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Every book deserves a home

We did our part yesterday at the Green Valley Book Fair. "No more books for a while!" we promise, as if that'll last.

Of course, my question is, if every cat deserves a home, why will Justin only let me have two? Oh, it's in the homeowners' association bylaws, and every lease we've ever had? Pick, pick.

Monday, April 03, 2006

"I don't believe in organized religion"

Like, what does this mean exactly?

My sponsor when I was received into the Catholic Church was (and is) a really awesome single woman who, when she would tell guys on the first date that she was Catholic, would invariably hear the smug response, "Oh, well, I don't believe in organized religion." "What can I say to that?" she asked some of us who stayed to chat one night after RCIA class. "What do you believe in, then, disorganized religion?" was my smart-ass response.

But seriously, so what? I mean, I am the queen of non-joiners. I'm registered as an independent. No, scratch that; I'm registered not even as an independent, because that might mean a capital-I independent, but as unaffiliated. I don't want to join a political party because I don't want to suggest I agree with all of one party's platform, because I don't. I like being unaffiliated. (Or else I have a lot of friends at either end of the political spectrum and I want y'all to keep liking me. Actually, that's probably more to the point.)

With religion, though--well, there are several reasons I can think of that the statement "I don't believe in organized religion" deserves to be challenged, and I will list them, because I like lists:

1. This usually implies that the speaker thinks he or she is too smart and independent-minded to be brainwashed by people who insist that they adhere to a certain set of beliefs and refrain from questioning them. Human history demonstrates that stupid ideas do not have to be religious for large groups of people to accept them unquestioningly. It also demonstrates that most people are not as smart as they think they are. Thus, the statistical probability is high that if you don't believe in organized religion, it's not because you're unusually capable of free, critical thought. But maybe you are that special. Nonetheless, I remain skeptical.

2. The following doesn't apply to pure atheists who don't believe in anything supernatural. However, that's a very small category (although I've noticed more than one atheist who thinks that people who are unaffiliated with any church are by default atheists, which isn't true, but that's yet another rant). But if you do believe in something spiritual, and if you think it's important, then doesn't it make sense to seek out other people who believe those things are important so that you can discuss and enjoy those things with other people? And wouldn't that imply some kind of, you know, organization?

3. Any organization, religious or not, is going to be flawed, because people suck that way. I call it original sin; you can call it what you want. If you're disillusioned every time someone in authority does something corrupt, repressive, or dishonest, you must be a very cynical person.

4. "Organized religion" is such a huge category that it's almost meaningless. Anyone who uses this phrase is probably thinking of something a lot more specific than the phrase actually encompasses. If you don't believe in nuns with rulers, pedophile priests, and the rhythm method, that doesn't sum up organized religion.

5. People who do believe in something spiritual but don't believe in organized religion seem invariably to believe in some vague higher power, living in harmony with nature, and being nice to other people. For being disorganized, not believing in organized religion is surprisingly monolithic. Most theologians, Christian and otherwise, have much more interesting and varied ideas than people who don't believe in organized religion, whose ideas are usually vapid and boring.

Do I exaggerate? Am I being unfair? Probably. Discuss.

I know there are people who say "I don't believe in organized religion" for legitimate reasons, but to me it's become a cliche and I think it's the sort of phrase that no longer deserves to be self-explanatory. At least if you don't believe in organized religion, maybe think of a different way to say it.

"We're having CHURCH today!"

This weekend we visited friends in D.C., as is our wont, and since I didn't want to miss the fifth Sunday of Lent (the gospel readings during Lent are so fabulous, especially yesterday's, the raising of Lazarus), I walked the block and a half from Jove's apartment to Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian, a mostly black parish in southeastern D.C. It was way cool. There was a gifted choir and an amazing cantor with a deep, resonant voice. The congregation clapped along and raised their hands, and they punctuated the homily with shouts of "amen!", and there's a lot of shouting to do when you're talking about Lazarus. There was even a sort of altar call after the homily for people who wanted prayer, to repent of sin, to return to the church. The sign of peace was unusually long--these are clearly people who are glad to see each other on Sundays--and the other parishioners welcomed me. The priest greeted me afterwards and invited me to come back, which I probably will, since we're in D.C. so often.

This is a little thing, but I also liked that an usher wearing white gloves handed the (female) readers down from the pulpit after they'd done their readings.

It was the longest ordinary mass I've attended in a while. No rush. This was what everyone's Sunday was for.