Fra Angelico - St. Dominic detail of The Mocking of Christ

St. Dominic

Everything you need to know about the major Roman Catholic religious orders will be included in this post.

Gratuitous stereotypes are also included.

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Order of Preachers (Dominicans)

When you see an O.P. after an author’s name, you know some serious brain-storming is coming your way! The Dominicans are my favorite Catholic order, because everyone needs a favorite. It’s like baseball.

The Dominicans are Thomists. All of them. If they discover a non-Thomist in their midst, he is unceremoniously booted out of the order. I don’t have proof of that, but it is surely common knowledge. As Thomists, they are theological. Real theology. Doctrine of God. Christology. Sacraments. The whole shebang. They treat systematic theology like it’s a religious duty, because it is. While the Franciscans cuddle bunny rabbits (see below), the Dominicans are fine-tuning the difference between substantia and accidentia, as I once blogged.

As a Dominican, you may have a shot at becoming the Theologian of the Pontifical Household, a.k.a., “the pope’s theologian.”

In America, the Dominicans have done the seemingly impossible — attract members to their order. In the city that made Hank Williams famous, the Nashville Dominicans are gaining novices like it’s the 13th century. In the city that made Bill Clinton famous, the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C., is doing the same, even running an impressive blog/journal. The Nashville order is for women; the D.C. order is for men. Both are doing St. Dominic proud.

I am told that the Dominicans had a role to play in the Spanish Inquisition. But, as I say, let bygones be bygones.

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Order of Friars Minor (Franciscans)

While the Dominicans are busy discerning whether the souls of brute animals are subsistent, the Franciscans are busy loving anything and everything that comes across their path. Rabbits. Kittens. Spiders. Trees. Mushrooms. I would rather hang-out with the Dominicans, but I would rather entrust my two cats to the Franciscans when I’m on vacation.

As an undergraduate at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, I knew the Franciscans who ran the parish church across the street from the university. Fr. Martin endured my many questions, God bless him. In Fr. Martin’s office, he would deflect attention toward his pet bird whenever I asked weird questions about the sacraments. He was (and is) a good Franciscan.

The Franciscans are, of course, inspired by their founder, St. Francis of Assisi. Every Christian has sung the hymn, “All Creatures of Our God and King,” attributed to St. Francis. Perhaps the greatest portrait of Francis was written by G. K. Chesterton, now published in the second volume of his collected works, alongside his much-praised biographical interpretation of St. Thomas Aquinas. According to Chesterton, St. Francis was a joyful beggar and St Thomas was a joyful scholar, both discovering the secret of the Cross. Life from death.

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Society of Jesus (Jesuits)

Everything I know about the Jesuits comes from The Mission and The Exorcist. In sum, they are the kickass order. Whether they are resisting Portuguese slave-traders or fighting the Devil himself, you can count on the Jesuits to get it done. They are originally famed for their opposition to Protestantism and impressive missionary endeavors, all in the service of the bishop of Rome — to whom they vow a fourth vow.

If you search for “the Jesuits” on YouTube, you will quickly learn that they are key figures in the New World Order, the Illuminati, the Apocalypse, and other excitements. Since the current pope is a Jesuit and Russia is on the move, you know that the end is nigh!

But, the Jesuits of the post-1960’s are not exactly the same as the Jesuits of the counter-Reformation. If you are a fundamentalist Protestant, then the Jesuits should be among the least of your worries. In the fallout of Vatican II, Jesuits were more likely to advocate for “discontinuity” than for the “hermeneutic of continuity” advocated by John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger, now pope emeritus. I am, by the way, a big fan of Ratzinger. His book, Eschatology, is among my favorite books in my library.

Even though the Dominicans are known for their education, the Jesuits have likewise positioned themselves as premier educators in the Catholic Church. This is especially obvious in America where several Catholic universities have some connection, whether strong or not, with the Jesuits. These include Marquette University, Boston College, Loyola University Chicago, and Georgetown University, among many others. In Rome, the two most prestigious universities that grant pontifical degrees are the Gregorian (Jesuit) and the Angelicum (Dominican).

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Order of St. Benedict (Benedictines)

The Benedictines saved Western civilization. Do you know how to read and write? Thank the Benedictines. That is perhaps an exaggeration. But it is nonetheless true — the patrimony of Greek and Roman culture was preserved and sustained by the Benedictines after the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th and 6th centuries anno Domini. By the time of the “High Middle Ages” in the 12th and 13th centuries, this reservoir of learning would also benefit from the Arab-Muslim patronage of Aristotelian logic and Indian numerals/mathematics.

Unlike the religious orders that emerge in the 13th century (Dominicans and Franciscans) or the 16th century (Jesuits and Oratorians), the much earlier Benedictines are a monastic order. The later orders are “mendicant” orders (lit. “beggar”), which gives them a certain freedom in contrast to the “monastics” (lit. “alone” or “cloistered”) who live and work in a single monastery, typically for their entire lives.

As you would expect, the Benedictines are still active in education. Here in North Carolina, the only Catholic college is Belmont Abbey College, which has a fine reputation for its orthodoxy and academics. From what I have heard, the Benedictine monks are very present in the administration and everyday life of the college.

In the history of the Catholic Church, the Benedictines include Bede, Alcuin, Rabanus Maurus, Ratramanus, Hincmar, Peter Damian, Lanfranc, Anselm of Canterbury, Eadmer — pretty much anyone important from the early to high middle ages. In the twentieth century, Benedictine oblates have included Dorothy Day, the great social worker, and Walker Percy, the great Southern novelist.

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Other Orders

There are far too many religious orders to enumerate.

The Carmelites — especially the Order of Discalced Carmelites (O.C.D.) — are highly influential in the history of Catholic spirituality. The most important figures in Carmelite spirituality are St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Ávila, and St. Thérèse of Lisieux.

The Congregation of Holy Cross (C.S.C.) are best known for founding and still operating the University of Notre Dame in Illinois. Fighting Irish!

The Vincentians — the Society of St. Vincent de Paul — are known for their service to the poor. The Shrine to St. Vincent de Paul is in Paris, near the popular Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal.

The Oratorians – the Oratory of Saint Philip Neri —  are unique as communities of priests and lay-members. Perhaps the most famous Oratorian is Venerable John Henry Newman, founder of the Birmingham Oratory and the most important Catholic theologian in the 19th century.

Among many others, there are also Assumptionists, Basilians, Passionists, Poor Clares, Salesians, and the Missionaries of Charity. The Missionaries of Charity were founded in 1950 by Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.

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Image: St. Dominic, detail of “The Mocking of Christ” (1440-1441) by Fra Angelico, O.P.

I’m a Riser

July 27, 2015

Travis Meadows

Travis Meadows

Alcoholism ain’t pretty. This is not a common theme in mainstream music, where life is a party 24/7.

Travis Meadows is a songwriter who knows the meaning of despair, and its seductive stranglehold on a broken life. His own narrative is surrounded by death, cancer, alcoholism, and Jesus. You can read his profile at Rolling Stone, which describes him as “Nashville’s most brutally honest songwriter.” He lost a leg from cancer as a teenager. He found Jesus, the beginning of a complicated relationship.

In the album, Killin’ Uncle Buzzy, you can hear his pain, but hope dominates. “God Speaks” is a poignant example of finding God in the love of another person. “Grown Up Clothes” is an intimate display of vulnerability, from the perspective of a child of an alcoholic father. I encourage you to click on the links and enjoy the songs.

And then there is “What We Ain’t Got,” which became a chart success by Jake Owen earlier this year. Here is a performance of the song in Nashville, featuring Travis:

We all wish that it didn’t hurt / When you try your best and it doesn’t work / Goodbye is such a painful word / We all wish it didn’t hurt

But, “Riser” is the song that speaks most powerfully into his own life and into ours. He did not record it. Rather, the song was purchased and recorded by Dierks Bentley, one of the biggest names in Nashville. “Riser” became the title track of his 2014 album, Riser, both critically acclaimed and commercially successful — a rare combination nowadays. Dierks performed “Riser” at the ACM Awards this year, and it was nearly the only reason worth watching the ACM’s.

“Riser” is not a complicated song. There’s no irony. It relies upon simple and sentimental expressions, and it grabs you from the first two lines. It’s a song of defiance and redemption. Travis performed the song for Nashville Unleashed, which I highly recommend:

If we ain’t got no money I can make it / And I ain’t afraid of working to the bone / When I don’t know what I’m doin’ I can fake it / I’ll pray ’til Jesus rolls away the stone

As the steel guitarist says at the end of the video, “Thank you, Lord, for Travis Meadows.”

I always knew that country music could achieve world unity:

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John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads”

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Goose House

Goose House

Chivalry is Dead

July 16, 2015

Whitney Rose

Whitney Rose

So, yeah, this has been a lazy summer for the blog! But I am happy to see that several posts have elicited some great conversation.

The two most important things for a well-rounded and balanced life are (1) Jesus and (2) country music. When the latter includes the former, you get a two-for-one! But this is not one of those. Whitney Rose’s “Chivalry is Dead” is about romance and fun and being a woman in the 21st century. She is not so much bemoaning that chivalry is dead as saying, “oh well, I’ll be fine.” The lyrics are clever, as is common throughout her self-titled debut album.

Her voice is silky smooth, and her vocal control is top notch. Her follow-up album, Heartbreaker of the Year, is due to be released internationally on August 21. She is the sole songwriter for most of her material.

Cameron House Records, her label, has a series of performances from “the Hacienda” that I highly recommend:

“Lasso”

“The Devil Borrowed My Boots”

“Heartbreaker of the Year”

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Image: Whitney Rose (source)

Darin and Brooke Aldridge

Darin and Brooke Aldridge

It has become a tradition for my brother and myself to attend the Red, White, and Bluegrass Festival in Morganton, North Carolina. Morganton is a small town in the Appalachian Mountains and only 1.5 hours from Charlotte. It is worth recognizing that North Carolina has a vibrant bluegrass scene, featuring Steep Canyon Rangers from Asheville and Mandolin Orange from Chapel Hill, among others.

With the pine trees waiving and the rolling hills rolling, the park in Morganton is an ideal location for a bluegrass festival, even though it is among the (relatively) smaller festivals in the larger bluegrass circuit. It is routinely praised by the performers, which has included living legends like Rhonda Vincent. I am not normally a fan of outdoor concerts. The acoustics suffer for obvious reasons. But the equipment and the sound crew at Morganton are top notch. The pluckings of the mandolins and banjos are clear. The fiddles soar high.

If you have not been to a bluegrass festival, then your life is insufferable and trite. Repent and atone! You can begin by listening to Darin and Brooke Aldrige, who performed a superb set this past weekend in Morganton. They played several tracks from their recent album, Snapshots. Here is a promotional video for the album:

A typical bluegrass festival will feature an abundance of gospel songs and probably a few testimonials. Darin and Brooke are no exception. They have some wonderful gospel tunes on each of their albums, some of which are always included in their live sets.

Jesus is “the best friend you’ll ever have,” as Darin spoke in-between songs this past Saturday. And the audience thought to themselves, “Well, duh. Of course.” The bluegrass audience is the salt of the earth!

The Empire of Desire

July 3, 2015

White House

It has now been a week since the Supreme Court issued its fanciful decision on gay marriage — legally contrived and morally suspect. In 1992’s Planned Parenthood v. Casey, Justice Kennedy wrote (or co-authored), “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” That is a good summary statement of postmodern nominalism. There is nothing higher, nothing to which we are accountable, except our own experience of “meaning” and “mystery.”

Justice Kennedy continued his romanticist jurisprudence in last week’s Obergefell v. Hodges case. He formulates the first premise on which the majority decided: “the right to personal choice regarding marriage is inherent in the concept of individual autonomy” (p. 3). This is why, we are told, bans on interracial marriage were invalidated. He continues, “Decisions about marriage are among the most intimate that an individual can make.” So, “personal choice” and “individual autonomy” are the founding principles upon which interracial marriage is a marriage? We are then given flimsy attempts to define marriage as “a two-person union unlike any other in its importance to the committed individuals” and “an intimate association.” Same-sex couples aspire to “the transcendent purposes of marriage” (p. 4), which are what exactly? Kennedy then finally proceeds to offer the only constitutional basis of the majority’s opinion: a highly dubious interpretation of the fourteenth amendment.

The subsequent media parade offered scarcely any attempt to digest and discuss the moral rationale. At this point, I suppose, Kennedy’s moral logic is self-evident to the culture. The corporate blitz to capitalize was unlike anything we’ve seen in the aftermath of a Supreme Court decision, as seemingly every major corporation proudly displayed its support. Social media followed suit. The White House went technicolor. News anchors and reporters could scarcely contain their enthusiasm. This united front gave voice to our new era of social discourse. We emote and shame, whereas our forefathers reasoned and convinced. Twitter is more powerful than Aristotle.

If you have not done so already, I highly encourage you to read the SCOTUS decision, both the majority opinion and the dissents. Justice Scalia never holds back: “The opinion is couched in a style that is as pretentious as its content is egotistic” (p. 75.) Justice Alito, joined by Justice Thomas and Justice Scalia, offers the most conservative dissent, insofar as he directly targets the redefinition of marriage away from its procreative ends and offers this sober warning:

It [the court’s decision] will be used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy. In the course of its opinion, the majority compares traditional marriage laws to laws that denied equal treatment for African-Americans and women. E.g., ante, at 11–13. The implications of this analogy will be exploited by those who are determined to stamp out every vestige of dissent. Perhaps recognizing how its reasoning may be used, the majority attempts, toward the end of its opinion, to reassure those who oppose same-sex marriage that their rights of conscience will be protected. Ante, at 26–27. We will soon see whether this proves to be true. I assume that those who cling to old beliefs will be able to whisper their thoughts in the recesses of their homes, but if they repeat those views in public, they will risk being labeled as bigots and treated as such by governments, employers, and schools. [pp. 101-102]

Below, I have collated some of my favorite articles that have dared to wade through this torrent of powers, the potestatis publicae. I will begin with “The Empire of Desire” from R. R. Reno. Unlike most of the subsequent articles, this was not written in response to the Supreme Court decision. It was published in the June 2014 issue of First Things. This is one of Reno’s most incisive essays, more important now than then.

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“The Empire of Desire,” R. R. Reno (First Things, June 2014):

Indirectly (and unknowingly) evoking the rich tradition of liberal Protestant theology, Vattimo suggests that this antinomian trajectory is “a transcription of the Christian message of the incarnation of God, which St. Paul also calls kenosis—that is, the abasement, humiliation, and weakening of God.” Here we find a wonderfully pure expression of the metaphysical dream of our era: God himself is an antinomian. Christ does not fulfill the law of Moses; instead, he undercuts Moses and evacuates the law of all normative power. Sinai becomes the Antichrist.

“The Benedict Option for Evangelicals,” Phillip Cary (First Things, June 30, 2015):

The youth group in effect competes with more secular forms of youth culture for the hearts of future evangelicals.

It’s a tough competition to win, and the momentum is now clearly on the side of the opposing team. The evangelical team is playing defense, and they have a major theological weakness. They’ve adopted a version of the liberal Protestant turn to experience. Today’s evangelical Christians are taught to find God by listening for the voice of the Spirit in their hearts. My students typically think this is what it means to know God. This theology will hardly help them resist a culture that is all about celebrating the desires we find within us. If the true God is the God of our experience, then why can’t the voice of liberated desire be the Spirit of God?

“Can Evangelicals See Themselves in the LGBT Movement?,” Alastair Roberts (The Gospel Coalition, July 1, 2015):

While most persons receive their identity from without as society imposes its sexual and gendered identities, the LGBT person recognizes that true identity arises from within. The realization of an authentic subjectivity over against the formalism of imposed norms of gender and sexuality is recounted in the “personal testimonies” of coming-out stories and tales of transition. Given the understanding of the nature of true identity within LGBT communities, it shouldn’t surprise us that same-sex marriage has been pursued chiefly as an “expressive”—rather than a “formative” and “institutional”—reality.

…the LGBT community and the same-sex marriage cause are advanced in large measure through emotional personal testimony and stories of subjective self-realization. This is the language evangelicals were raised on, and it can resonate with us. Evangelicals, having placed so much store on the truth and immediacy of the personal narrative and the value of unfeigned emotion, will face particular difficulties in considering how to respond to these.

“After Obergefell: The Effects on Law, Culture, and Religion,” Sherif Girgis (Catholic World Report, June 29, 2015):

It’s not that the majority opinion offered bad interpretations of the Constitution’s guarantees; it hardly interpreted them at all. Huge swathes of it read less like a legal argument than the willful paradoxes and obscure profundities you might hear at a winetasting.

…now the most prestigious secular organ of American society—the Court that helped make Martin Luther King’s dream a reality—stands for the propositions that deep emotional union makes a marriage, and that mothers and fathers are perfectly replaceable; indeed, that it “demeans” and “stigmatizes” people to think otherwise.

“The Supreme Court Ratifies a New Civic Religion,” David French (National Review, June 26, 2015):

This isn’t constitutional law, it’s theology — a secular theology of self-actualization — crafted in such a way that its adherents will no doubt ask, “What decent person can disagree?” This is about love, and the law can’t fight love. …

Christians who’ve not suffered for their faith often romanticize persecution. They imagine themselves willing to lose their jobs, their liberty, or even their lives for standing up for the Gospel. Yet when the moment comes, at least here in the United States, they often find that they simply can’t abide being called “hateful.” It creates a desperate, panicked response. “No, you don’t understand. I’m not like those people — the religious right.” Thus, at the end of the day, a church that descends from apostles who withstood beatings finds itself unable to withstand tweetings. Social scorn is worse than the lash.

“A Conversation With My Gay Friend,” Jennifer Fulwiler (July 9, 2012):

“Yes, marriage is about sex. But it’s about sex because sex is how new life is created — and, ultimately, it is an institution ordered toward protection and respect for new people.”

[Andrew:] “So if you have a straight friend who’s infertile, you’d tell her she can’t get married either?”

“I said ordered toward. When a man and woman have sex they’re engaging in that sacred act that creates human life, even if none will be created in that particular act. It’s still sacred.”

…”If you’re totally open to having kids, then there are the sacrifices that come with birth and raising children; if you’re abstaining during fertile times, you’re sacrificing. Infertile couples sacrifice by not using artificial methods like in vitro to force new life into existence. Gay men and women sacrifice by living chaste lives, as do people separated from their spouses, and people who are not yet married, or whose spouse has died. Notice that we’re all sacrificing, and that all of the sacrifices are about the same thing: love and respect for new human life, and specifically the act that creates new human life.”

“Where Do We Look for the End of Loneliness?,” Wesley Hill (Spiritual Friendship, June 27, 2015):

Yet I’m also a Christian, and according to historic Christian orthodoxy, marriage isn’t the only, or even the primary, place to find love. In the New Testament, as J. Louis Martyn once wrote, “the answer to loneliness is not marriage, but rather the new-creational community that God is calling into being in Christ, the church marked by mutual love, as it is led by the Spirit of Christ.” Marriage in Christian theology is, you might say, demythologized. With the coming of Christ, its necessity is taken away: gone is the notion that without it we are doomed to lovelessness.

“The Episcopal Church on Its Way Towards Adopting Gay Marriage,” George Conger (Anglican Ink, June 29, 2015):

“God has given us a new revelation not shared with our forefathers in the church,” the bishop said. “As such, we must proceed slowly and with generosity of spirit,” to ensure that the revelation given to the majority was not in error. The bishop said the history of the surrounding community, Mormon Salt Lake City, was an example of what not to do.

Apropos, the Episcopalians now have something in common with Mormons: new revelation. By the way, TEC officially voted — overwhelmingly — to adopt a new rite for the marriage of any gender configuration. The ACNA will continue to attract the remaining few evangelicals in TEC over the course of the next year.

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Image: The White House in rainbow colors after the SCOTUS decision on June 26, 2015 (source)

The Other Francis

June 24, 2015

Pope-Francis-Jorge-Bergoglio

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The imaging and messaging of the media portrait of Pope Francis is perhaps not unlike the 19th century quest for the historical Jesus: you see what you want to see. 

Famously, that was Albert Schweitzer’s indictment of the “first quest” for the historical Jesus. The strange, supernatural, other-worldly, apocalyptic Jesus is not suitable for the progressive 19th century man. The kingdom of love, however, is perfectly suitable, so long as it does not require a whole lot of personal sacrifice — nor the most offensive of all concepts: the miraculous.

As others have observed, the current Pontiff is deeply rooted in Latin American piety, with all of its strangeness and vivid sense of the supernatural. He is also a profoundly “modern” man. This is a contradiction for our cultural elites, who energetically resolve the contradiction. The result is a highly selective portrait of Pope Francis. It is a portrait that they have painted for our consumption. We are, indeed, eager and insatiable consumers.

As I have complained before, Pope Francis is widely misunderstood and misreported. He embodies a Catholic social ethic that is incommensurate with the dominant ideologies of the West. This social ethic is, at turns, liberal and conservative. It is, at turns, comforting and discomforting to both liberals and conservatives. The recent encyclical, Laudato Si, is an excellent case in point.

The liberal adulation is predictable, as is the conservative repudiation. The latter has been duly criticized by others, so I am more interested in the former. Sandro Magister, the Italian journalist at L’Espresso, has been highlighting this problem of liberal selectivity since the beginning of Francis’ pontificate, and he steadfastly continues to do the same in regard to the recent encyclical:

If one reads “Laudato si’” with patience, in fact, one passage that coincides with the ideas of Gotti Tedeschi [on sin and the loss of God] is there, in paragraph 50:

“Instead of resolving the problems of the poor and thinking of how the world can be different, some can only propose a reduction in the birth rate. At times, developing countries face forms of international pressure which make economic assistance contingent on certain policies of ‘reproductive health’… To blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues.”

But this passage has been ignored by almost all the world’s media.

And the same neglect has fallen upon other passages of the encyclical in which Pope Francis condemns abortion, in paragraph 120, experimentation on embryos, in paragraph 136, the cancellation of sexual differences, in paragraph 155.

It must be said, however, that the almost universal disregard of these passages cannot be imputed to their slight prominence in the overflowing totality of “Laudato Si’.”

[“The Other Francis: The One Who Preaches Chastity Before Marriage”]

In addition to Sandro Magister, I expected to read competent and insightful observations from Father Robert Barron. I was not disappointed. I have previously praised Fr. Barron — here and here and here.

Fr. Barron released a brief video in response to the encyclical:

And today, Fr. Barron published an informative article: “‘Laudato Si’ and Romano Guardini.”

Rachel Lu, writing for The Federalist, has a similar take: “Pope Francis’s New Encyclical is Not What You Think.” On the other side of the debate, The Federalist has also posted a number of critical responses. You can read Peter Johnson’s “Pope Francis’s Incoherent Economics” and Maureen Mullarkey’s “Where Did Pope Francis’s Extravagant Rant Come From?” The Acton Institute has also released some video responses to the encyclical, such as Jay Richards’ thoughts.

I am not competent enough to know the merits to these criticisms. All I know is that I like how Pope Francis upsets everyone.

Don’t worry, this is still a theology blog. I am working through Paul Molnar’s super-fantastic new book, for which I will post a review soon.

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In the meantime, I would like to authoritatively declare this to be the best song of the 90’s:

“Hunger Strike,” Temple of the Dog

Chris Cornell and Eddie Vedder are trading vocals, so how could this not be epic? For the uninformed, Temple of the Dog was a tribute band/album with members from Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, and Mother Love Bone, dedicated to the memory of Mother Love Bone’s lead singer, Andrew Wood, who died from a drug overdose in 1990.

To make matters confusing, Stone Gossard on rhythm guitar and Jeff Ament on bass guitar were members of Mother Love Bone and then became two of the founding members of Pearl Jam after Wood’s death. They are still members of Pearl Jam. The drummer is Matt Cameron, who was then the drummer for Soundgarden, but he is now the drummer for Pearl Jam (since 1998). Currently, he is also the drummer for the regrouped Soundgarden since 2010. These are all, of course, citizens of that sleepy, depressing township known as Seattle.

Temple of the Dog

Temple of the Dog

Now if you are ever on Jeopardy and select the “90’s grunge” category, you can thank me.

For the record, the greatest 90’s grunge album is not from either Pearl Jam or Soundgarden. It is Alice in Chain’s Jar of FliesNow you know.

Pray for Joey Feek

June 14, 2015

Joey Feek and daughter, Indiana

Joey Feek and daughter, Indiana Feek

I recently posted a performance of “Are You Washed in the Blood?” by the husband-wife country duo, Joey and Rory. They are much beloved by traditional country fans. Their joyful and warm Christian piety is infectious.

Joey gave birth last year for the first time, to a daughter with Down Syndrome. Ken Morton has a lovely story about how Joey and Rory gave an unsolicited show for special needs children at the Golf & Guitars charity event in 2013. Soon thereafter, they learned that Joey was pregnant, and she gave birth about nine months after the charity event. As Ken puts it, “Little Indiana was born with Down Syndrome and I can’t help but think that their performance for a few dozen of our own California Eagles kids wasn’t some sort of audition for them to be parents to a beautiful little special needs girl in front of the heavens.”

Just a few months after giving birth, Joey learned that she had cervical cancer. She scheduled for surgery, which was successful in removing the cancer. But this morning, her husband (Rory) announced that the cancer has returned. You can read the announcement on Rory’s blog. This is so heartbreaking. It is heartbreaking for anyone — but especially for a young mother with a special needs daughter. And it is heartbreaking for all of us who know how special, how beautiful this couple is. They are the salt of the earth.

Rory expresses their faith:

Here’s what Joey and I know…

God has a plan, and His plan is our plan.  Each day that we’re given is a beautiful gift from Him to us.  And while we will pray each day for a miracle, we’re gonna live each day as if it’s a miracle.  And it is.

“Lord, as believers… we trust you completely and pray for your will to be done.  Not ours.

But as flesh and bone, husband and wife… we pray for complete and total healing in Joey’s body, so we can grow old together, holding hands in rockers on our front porch watching the sun go down.

So that our sweet little baby Indiana can not miss one precious moment with her mama.

Amen.  Amen.  Amen.”

Pray for Joey and her husband. And after you pray, you can enjoy this beautiful performance of “A Bible and a Belt”:

Simone-Weil

Simone Weil

Affliction is an uprooting of life, a more or less attenuated equivalent of death, made irresistibly present to the soul by the attack or immediate apprehension of pain. If there is complete absence of physical pain there is no affliction for the soul, because our thoughts can turn to any object. Thought flies from affliction as promptly and irresistibly as an animal flies from death.

[“The Love of God and Affliction,” in Waiting for God, p. 68.]

As some of you know, I did my undergraduate thesis in Religious Studies on the French mystic-philosopher, Simone Weil. At the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, I was introduced to Simone Weil by one of the philosophy professors, who described herself as a Platonist Anglican. For those of us fortunate to take her classes, she also assigned the Platonist novelist, Iris Murdoch, not surprisingly.

I was enraptured by Weil. I hated her and loved her with equal passion. She demands nothing less.

Simone Weil was a Gnostic. I resisted the “Gnostic” identification for Weil for a long time, even though it is common in Weil studies. I resisted it because Weil is far more interesting, far more important than the libel associated with Gnosticism. “Anti-matter”? “Anti-creation?” Superficially, yes, because our profound suffering requires a love that supersedes all principalities and powers. But alongside suffering, she believed that beauty was the surest path to God, and she believed this with the utmost seriousness and an integrity that should put us all to shame.

Simone Weil is an anomaly. She makes other anomalies appear tame by comparison. Pascal and Kierkegaard are her immediate forebears, at least in general qualifications and applications. This is why she is homeless. Feminists do not know what to do with her. Christians are equally perplexed.

Weil is a heretic, but she is a noble heretic. She is a heretic that the church needs in order to survive and thrive.

In the marriage feast of the new creation, I will drink wine with Simone Weil. I will wipe her tears, and she will kiss mine.

 

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