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“Twiddly bits” –in case you did not catch this Sunday’s NPR story on the Orthodox Easter—is the technical term the founding artistic director of Capella Romana uses to describe the extra something in the way his group sings the music that connects the various Christian cultures. Singing “Alleluia” the Western way, then again with a little Eastern warble, Dr. Alexander Lingas pointed out that “it’s the same notes but with a few added little twiddly bits in between.”
“Christianity is an Eastern religion, which we tend to forget sometimes,” he said. He’s right. We appear to have an epidemic of amnesia and ignorance judging by the contortions of pretzel politicians about who is Christian and who is not. No shortage of Crusaders but fewer responders to the Gospel’s radical call to put the Golden rule before ROI. (What would Mr. Romney say to that, I wonder?)
Expanding the “Western map of the known Christian universe,” Dr. Cynthia Bourgeault makes the same point as Dr. Lingas that Christianity, despite the proprietary posture of evangelicals in particular, is not some American or European construct. Urging us to get over our collective over-simplification and appropriation of Christianity, she describes Jesus as “a Near Eastern event. . . . When the meteor of his being tumbled into time and space it landed in Palestine, not in Elizabethan England.” In her book, The Wisdom Jesus, she reminds us that Jesus comes from a Near Eastern tradition of wisdom teachers. Jesus spoke in the “language of story rather than law.”
From song, to scholarship, to dance: the lessons are similar. This week story was everywhere in the dress, the adornments, the mele and the movements of the Merrie Monarch festival on Hawaii Island. Every dance was an affirmation of a reverential connection to the past in order to discern the future.
That perhaps is what is missing from our public conversation today. We deny the twiddly bits that unite us. We deny the past that brought us to our present. Like poor Peter, perhaps it is fear that makes us disavow those who expect us to stand by them. Fear that in tending to the poor, we might have less of a surplus for ourselves even if we could never consume that surplus in one lifetime — or two. Fear that in respecting women’s hard-won rights, men might never regain lost ground as Masters of the Universe. (Mr. Ryan: How exactly is your budget “Catholic?”)
From sports to religion to politics, the desire to win has devolved into a willingness to lose sight of the truth. There appears to be no price to pay for fact-free speech. What a teacher would not tolerate in the classroom we appear to tolerate from people with power, money or a big megaphone: the parroting of nonsense, the failure to actually read and study the subject matter, false labeling, hyperbole, omission of the facts, the twisting of arguments, the failure to own up to mistakes, to respect others. . .the list grows. We show our children what we don’t want them to do by doing it ourselves with impunity on very public platforms? Things we would not tolerate in the people we hire, we entertain from those who seek our permission to trust them with public policy. Why are we not as tough-minded with would-be public officials as we are with our children and our employees? Serial “mis-speakers” do not deserve repeat appearances in the civic space. If repetition fortifies a lie, and it is patently obvious that lies are being dispensed, why become accessories to the lie by providing a platform for it to be aired repeatedly?
Bill Cosby recently questioned our failure to acknowledge the legacy of the past. He compared President Obama in his first term to a kind of Sisyphus figure. “And nobody would speak about the size of the rock or the elevation of the hill.” They lie, said the comedian, to their great shame. Then addressing all those Americans who say they do not want this President to succeed, Cosby asked as only Cosby can: “Well, why, said the brown fly?” Why indeed.
There are six things the Lord hates, yes, seven are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that plots wicked schemes, feet that run swiftly to evil, the false witness who utters lies, and he who sows discord among brothers. Proverbs 6:16-19
Wait for it. It’s coming. I know it is. Any day now the Bishops are going to speak out about the calumny that is being directed at President Obama by Sanctorum, the Newt and Willard Mitt Romney in the GOP race to utter the most odious things possible. No doubt the Bishops are also working up a response to the Ash Wednesday pronouncements of Franklin Graham, heir to a father’s legacy that he lays claim to by seeking the fleeting notoriety of spouting nonsense on cable shows.
Franklin Graham decided it was time to lend affirmation to the Sanctorum and Newt as real men of faith while expressing real doubt about whether the President is a Christian. This is an old sport made new. Mr. Graham can see into the hearts of some men apparently but remains perplexed as to whether to accept the fact that the President is a Christian—the thinking kind. He is sure, though, that Muslims everywhere regard the President as one of their own. What mischief is this?
And does it not call for some response from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops who have chosen to make bedfellows of bizarre GOP candidates intent on attacking women’s rights? Surely calumny trumps contraception, on the list of things to worry about as leaders of the Church?
I know some of the Bishops have been preoccupied of late with getting accustomed to their new regalia as Cardinals. And all the bishops have been inordinately preoccupied with what goes on in consulting rooms in the private conversations women have with their doctors. They have also been busy trying to insert themselves into the very private conversations women have with their families about pregnancy and child-bearing and the challenges those present, whether in the best of times or in the worst of circumstances.
Affordable healthcare is theirs to seek as they see fit as a secular right of citizenship in the United States without interference from anyone. On healthcare, as on every other dimension of life, Catholic women will be guided by the spirit of the Church’s teaching and by the light of their conscience.
No one, not Sanctorum, not the Newt, not the Bishops have any business trying to muscle their way into what is women’s business and women’s business alone.
Meanwhile: we wait with anticipation and hope for some word from the Bishops that the calumny that is being inflicted on President Obama stirs their passions at least as much as their desire to police women. As Sanctorum and the Newt continue to repeatedly bear false witness to what Catholicism is about and disgrace our Catholic intellectual tradition, they encounter no reproach from the Bishops. Why is that?
The Bishops surely cannot wax haughty about contraception for all women, many of whom do not have the means to make their voices heard, but remain silent on calumny from these men with megaphones?
I finished Azar Nafisi’s wonderful memoir Reading Lolita in Tehran just as the story of Weiner’s online sexual antics broke. Nafisi’s memoir of resistance to tyranny through the liberating power of literature makes the point that one should not let the political confiscate the personal. In one particularly eloquent passage, Nafisi argues, “At the core of the fight for political rights is the desire to protect ourselves, to prevent the political from intruding on our individual lives.”
Congressman Weiner is dealing with an excruciating entanglement of the political and the personal that makes us all recoil. His sexual obsessions are not unique but this bright, brazen man has created a new kind of hell for himself by providing the world with a gallery of images of his addiction that will live forever. Other people with great gifts have sinned grievously, survived the public shaming and gone on to serve the public good. But the fact that others hung on to public office despite their sexual stupidities should not be what shapes Weiner’s thinking on what he does next.
Perhaps in becoming increasingly resigned to new lows in behavior from those who aim for high office, we have encouraged the notion that standards of taste and decorum are not things we worry about too much in this highly charged, increasingly rude time of constant technology. To borrow from Nafisi’s memoir again: “Personal and political are interdependent but not one and the same thing. The realm of imagination is a bridge between them, refashioning one in terms of the other.”
Weiner seems to have the kind of energy and readiness to raise the volume on causes that he embraces that makes him an effective voice for his constituents. He does not have to give up his ambition to serve the public. There are many ways he can do that besides being a congressman. He can seize this moment of humiliation to demonstrate that his judgment is not entirely impaired. Despite the loyalty of his constituents, Weiner would do well to look to the likes of John Profumo, not John Ensign for what to do next. By stepping down now he would be giving himself the creative space in which to refashion how he might be the kind of public servant he seems to want to be. Stepping down would quickly wean the media and the public off their own addiction to the tawdry details of his transgressions. It would be an act of public service—and a statement of love for the wife he has unthinkingly dishonored–to demonstrate that it is indeed possible to refuse to let one’s private life be confiscated by the political.
“How does the soul survive?” “That,” says Nafisi, through the writers she explores, “is the essential question.”
“And the response is through love and imagination….to remain a poet in such circumstances is also to reach the heart of politics. The human feelings, human experience, the human form and face, recover their proper place—the foreground.” (Bellow, cited by Nafisi, 315).
The essential question is not whether Weiner survives in Congress. The question he really faces is whether to keep burning –or prove that he can rise from the ashes.
What a sad, sad, parade of powerful men making the news. Their predatory behavior is damning enough. But the behavior of each one also speaks to a spiritual and emotional deafness to those in whose midst each man built his life. Perhaps it is that deafness that explains their serial sins and their apparent inability to understand why their actions dehumanize them and those around them.
Dominique Strauss-Kahn, head of the IMF until his resignation this week, in his words, to “protect the institution he has served with honor and devotion.” Deaf to the dignity of the daughter he was reportedly meeting in New York and the many professional women who worked with him in an institution that told nations how they should curb their excesses and behave with restraint.
Bishop Vangheluwe, former Bishop of Bruges and unembarrassed guest on Flemish television in April, recounting the “little bit of intimacy” and the “kind of game” he played with his nephews. Deaf to the voices of the nephews he molested for years while the church in which he wielded power told lay Catholics, and women in particular, how to manage their sexuality and be “pro-life.”
Arnold Schwarzenegger, actor and former Governor of California. Deaf to the voices of the family he showcased and the second family he hid in plain sight even as he told Californians he was going to sweep government clean. What did the son in his satellite family hear from this public official who touted the importance of parental attention to their children’s homework?
Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE) fraternity, Yale. Demonstrated their deafness by chanting “no means yes, yes means anal” at an initiation event in fall 2010. The fraternity has just been suspended for five years. Yale University itself is being investigated for violating Title IX, the federal law prohibiting sexual discrimination, violence, and harassment.
Monsignor William Lynn, Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua and Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia. Deaf to the cries of clerical sexual abuse victims. Deaf to their own public pledge enshrined in the charter posted on the website of the US Conference of Bishops to keep children safe. They assured the world that they were mindful of Christ’s warning that it would be better for anyone who harmed a child to “have a great millstone hung around his neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea” (Mt 18:6). Yet these men in high places in the Church shielded predatory priests for years after their crimes were made known. Whose voices were they listening to? Not that of the “Spirit of the Lord” they invoked in the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.
And then there is each of us: deaf, as we all are from time to time, to the inner voices that should keep us from allowing our skills and our trades – marketing, the law, journalism, public service, discipleship – to be used to advance other people’s lusts. Or our own. Deaf to the voice that says being paid for our services to advance an agenda we believe to be counter to the public interest does not make it right.
The struggle to live authentic lives requires us to shine the light of honor, the power of high office, professional competence, and faith, if we have it, on all the private and public corners of our messy lives. Doing so should allow us to stand in that light, not cause us to shrink into the shadows in shame. Yes, it’s hard. But it’s also what makes us human.
Apparently it is a lie, otherwise known, according to the office of Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona as something “not intended to be a factual statement.”
As in stating, as Senator Kyl did for the record, that “well over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does” is related to abortions. The facts show the actual number to be just 3%.
Senator Kyl’s explanation that what he said was “not intended to be a factual statement “ is very, very bad and very, very sad.
So, to help Senator Kyl in ways that those who should be advising him don’t seem able to, here are some simple rules for handling BIG PUBLIC LIES in politics and in polite society:
Rule No I: Do not lie
Rule No 2: When found out, the classy thing to do is say “I’m sorry. That was a stupid thing I said, given the facts.”
Rule No 3: Apologize to those whose reputation you have sullied and whose financial stability and very existence could be gravely harmed by your lie.
Rule No 4: Apologize to those amongst whom you planted the lie: on the Senate floor, and in the public arena via the media
Compounding a lie with gracelessness of such magnitude as that demonstrated by Senator Kyl merits some lasting recognition.
Henceforth perhaps we might speak of telling a “kyl” the same way we would speak of telling a bare-faced lie, a whopping fib, a made-up piece of mischievous nonsense.
Think how useful that would be in characterizing so much of what tries to pass for political commentary on taxes, healthcare, unions, the reason for the national debt, the President’s place of birth etc etc. How efficient it would be to simply say, “Don’t listen to that garbage: it’s just a kyl.”
And by the way, the eighth (if you’re Catholic, ninth if you’re Protestant, like Senator Kyl) commandment is: Thou shalt not bear false witness (lie).