Wednesday, November 25, 2015

No Retweet; No Surrender

Every year, it seems there are more guides for young progressives in how to navigate political arguments with their less enlightened relatives.  Here's Vox's edition for this year.

The standard response to this type of thing is the reason for the holidays is for people to enjoy each other's company, not to score political points. And I'm on board with that.

But to take a slightly different tack, I think people are more likely to be moved by your perspective and your stories than echoing Ezra Klein's talking points.  If you know someone who stands to benefit from a policy you favor, or who suffers from one you oppose, tell that story. If it's more about the values that are dear to you, share that. If it's more of a technocratic number-crunching, well, maybe that's a discussion for the negotiating table rather than the holiday dinner table.

Your relatives invited you to celebrate the holidays with them. If they just wanted to hear what prominent writers had to say about issues, they could have saved themselves a lot of trouble and pulled up their columns instead of hosting or traveling to a family gathering.

You have a unique perspective on what's going on. Not because you read blogs that others don't but because of your life. I suspect that if you are welcome at a family gathering, so would that perspective, even if not everyone agrees with your conclusions.  If your older relatives have more anecdotes than you do, well, maybe it wouldn't hurt to listen to them, and incorporate their experience in your worldview. That doesn't mean you're wrong, but it doesn't hurt to be aware of how things impact people or how they're perceived.

In short, let's start standing up for ourselves and what we think instead of counting on pundits, memes, and think tanks do it for us.  They probably weren't addressing the human person who is in front of us, anyway.

And, maybe we can also bring more of ourselves to our other gatherings and spaces as well -- start talking to each other instead of throwing talking points, memes, and videos at each other.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Picking up the thread....

After spending several posts setting the table, I never got around to serving the meal on my response to the conflict between Ross Douthat and the Catholic academics. (If you want timely commentary, read a less busy blogger).

On a gut level, I agree with Bishop Barron's take. The way to respond to arguments that you don't like it to offer a persuasive counter-argument, not to complain to the writer's bosses. I would also agree with Damon Linker's note that Douthat's commentary on the synod is a curious point at which to commence concern with the New York Times publishing incorrect or misleading information about Catholicism. (ahem).

Nevertheless, one needn't look around too long to note that public debates aren't always won by those who have the truth on their side, at least in the short run. There are any number of issues where public opinion and policy runs directly against the facts.

In many of these cases, the argument that people cling to is something akin to, "Bad people are conspiring behind closed doors against you and lying to you about their true intentions."  This is an argument which, to Bishop Barron's point, is impossible to disprove.  It is an argument people will cling to in the face of evidence against their position.  It is an argument that drives people apart and leads them to distrust each other.

Given this, I think it is irresponsible to advance such an argument absent some solid information that this is the case.

I hasten to add that Douthat's commentary is irresponsible in the same way that much of, for example, Father James Martin's commentary about the doings of more conservative members of the hierarchy is; for example, his suggestion that the investigation of the LCWR was really just a politcially-motivated hit job.  Or the notion that Pope Francis only met with Kim Davis because some conservative bishop pulled a fast one on him.

From the beginning, it appeared that Douthat's coverage of the synod was akin to how he would cover a political convention - different factions jockeying for influence to push their agendas. I understand that often when politicians say they want a "conversation," what they really want is a particular out come of that conversation, and they will use whatever means at their disposal to drive the conversation to that outcome.

Perhaps it is naivete on my part (as Douthat's mocking summary of the synod would suggest), but that is not what I saw Pope Francis doing. I saw him recognizing a pastoral problem, and getting people together to try to figure out how to address it. Perhaps he was hoping for a particular outcome, but was open to where the spirit would lead them.

Now, this is not the argument the theologians made. They argued that Douthat did not have sufficient credentials to publicly comment theologically.

So I understand why the academics responded in a way other than a robust exchange of ideas. Columnists like Ross Douthat and his editors at the New York Times do bear a responsibility regarding the arguments they advance, give prominence to, or support.

Thus, my conclusion is that there's no real winners here.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Red Cups and the Pharisee's Prayer

Shortly after the red cups came out, I posted the following on my Facebook profile:

The way I respond to secularization of Christmas is to stand at the doorway of my church before Christmas Mass and wish everyone who walks in a Merry Christmas in my warmest voice, paying particular attention to those who may be arriving alone.

I also suspect there will be plenty of people in Christian run shelters, nursing homes, hospitals, and soup kitchens who will happily receive Christmas greetings.

If we're looking for Christ in our consumer purchases from big corporations, we're looking in the wrong place.

I received a good amount of positive feedback for this.

As the trickle of responses to this controversy developed into a flood, I started to feel a little bad about it. The number of people mocking those who were outraged seemed to greatly outnumber the people actually outraged. and it felt like I was part of a bullying mob.

Also, the criticisms began to sound like a modern version of the Pharisee's prayer.  I'm thankful I'm not like those other Christians who waste their time and energy getting mad about red cups. I care about homelessness, racism, the unborn, etc....

There was a tone of that to my message as well, though I also want to believe I meant it as earnest advice. I do find the need to stifle my holiday greetings to be a bit painful. For sure, it is not the worst pain in the world, and is probably not as intense as the pain non-Christians may feel of being excluded, but it is nonetheless real. I was suggesting some outlets for where to take that.

It did not come off that way, particularly in the context of a flood of mockery.

But was there value in this?

I suppose there was.  Absent this, the story would have been driven by the few who were outraged and atheists pointing to it as evidence of how screwed up those Christians are that they get bent out of shape over how Starbucks does or not decorate their cups. This provided an opportunity to demonstrate that those being outraged represented a tiny minority, and that most Christians actually are more concerned about human suffering than the degree to which big corporations validate their beliefs.

At the same time, I think we have to be careful that we're not putting ourselves above our fellow Christians.  It's a tough balance between speaking the truth about who we are and not lording it over other people.

Besides, observing what's happened to Halloween as its become separated from All Saints Day makes me wonder if the concerns about secularization should be so quickly dismissed.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Why Mercy Might Not Be Prudent

Mercy, by its nature, is inconsistent, and will appear to be unfair on the surface. A sin has been committed; it merits a certain punishment; that punishment is being commuted or eliminated.

Our sin merits eternal damnation. But Jesus has taken on those sins.  This is an enormous act of love. It is also profoundly unfair.

In a world where local church officials have the discretion to offer mercy and allow some divorced and remarried Catholics to receive communion, there would necessarily be inconsistencies.  Some dioceses will be more lenient than others. Some may favor certain types of cases over others.

Our current media and cultural environment is very good at detecting and trumpeting these types of inconsistencies. Particularly if this those who benefit from the mercy are somehow less superficially sympathetic than those who do not (Imagine if a bishop allows a wealthy male Republican politician to receive, but not a poor woman whose first husband abandoned her...)

Thus far, the Church has not demonstrated skill in defending its positions and decisions in an environment (e.g. defending its right to not provide benefits that are in conflict with its values = a "war on women").  So, it seems likely that the fallen humans charged with implementing this policy will essentially grant a blanket amnesty, or apply some "consistent" but unwise rule for when people can be re-admitted.

This, as the critics point out, would represent a fundamental change to what the Church has always taught about marriage.

So, while I think that mercy brings us closer to Jesus, I don't know if we're equipped to handle it.

Ok, that should do it for putting my cards on the table. Now I'll look at the current conflict.

My Case For Mercy

I am generally disposed to favor the position of mercy, and allowing their return to the Eucharist for some divorced remarried couples.

What follows are my reasons for having this disposition. It is not an air-tight theologically rigorous case for this position. It is likely driven by some sloppy thinking that I will be embarrassed by later as I (hopefully) grow in understanding. But it's a snapshot of where I am now, and I want to be transparent about it.

I am generally opposed to using access to the sacraments, in particular the Eucharist, as a tool of doctrinal discipline. I have not supported efforts to pressure bishops to deny the Eucharist to pro-choice politicians (though I would support bishops who decide to do so), nor when this tactic was turned against those who favor torture.

Jesus's words are that those who do not partake of the Eucharist will die. That it is more vital to our eternal survival than actual physical food. I wouldn't discipline my daughters by denying them food, and this seems to me what denying the Eucharist to divorced remarried Catholics is akin to.

And it seems antithetical to the Jesus we encounter in the Gospels. Who tells the story of the Father running out to meet the Prodigal Son. Who offers Living Water to the woman at the well. I understand the temptation to build a Jesus in our own image and likeness, but it is still difficult for me to imagine the Jesus I encounter in the Gospels refusing the woman from the infamous phone call to Pope Francis (commentary on this is so polarized that I'll just link to a Google search on it).

To which one might respond that the divorced remarried are actively engaged in mortal sin by their continued involvement in their second adulterous marriage.

But it seems to me this proves too much. We Americans are all part of an economic system that continues to deny justice for the poor. A legal system that denies the right not to be killed to the unborn. That was wreaked destruction on the environment. And has been guilty of things like slavery, segregation, and destruction of native populations that we all now recognize as terrible injustices. And we are all, to some degree, implicated in them. Jesus seemed as concerned about these type of things as He was about adultery.

Now, we have not actively chosen to do so in the same way that someone who has entered into a second marriage has. But it does seem to me that one who would deny a repentant person in a second marriage communion for this reason, is a strong supporter of one of our two major political parties, and receives communion weekly without a bit of fear and trembling is engaging in a bit of selective outrage.

Again, this is what motivates my feelings. I'm am not saying this is what should motivate anyone else. And I will assent to whatever decision the magisterium comes up with. But this is why I welcome the conversation.

Next: why the merciful approach may not be currently prudent.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

My priors and biases

To continue my extended throat clearing, I'll share what my general impressions are of some of the principles currently engaged in the conflict.
  • I am a big admirer of Pope Francis. I think his modeling of simplicity and humility has been very helpful, and an example the Church needs right now. It's part of the reason I took my daughters across the country on a pilgrimage to be part of his visit.

    Besides that, I believe that he is the leader that the Holy Spirit has chosen for the Church at this time, and my role as a lay person, is to follow him, unless he is leading me into sin.

    And the same was true for his predecessors.
  • I am a huge fan of Ross Douthat. In most respects, he provides a model for making the case for positions that the public doesn't want to hear.

    I am happier when he is providing thoughtful analysis of cultural trends than handicapping political horse races, but I understand what brings the eyeballs.
  • I have mixed feelings about Father James Martin. On the one hand, he does seem to be bringing an intelligent group of people (back?) into the Church, and has an obvious excitement about his faith.

    On the other hand, he occasionally leaves the impression that he is a liberal first and Catholic second.

    A particular disappointment to me was his response to the news that the Holy Father met with Kim Davis. It amounted to, in essence, that the pope meets with lots of people, he could have been tricked by some nasty conservatives, and it probably doesn't mean anything.

    It's true that the meeting likely did not mean that Pope Francis was familiar with or endorsed the entirety of Davis's legal battle.

    But I think Fr. Martin missed an opportunity to remind his readers that this is an affirmation of Ms. Davis's humanity. That she may not deserve to prevail in her legal challenges, but she remains a human person who also is not deserving of the demonization she had been subject to.

    I've also found his frequent use of the word "hate" in describing those who disagree with him to be less than helpful.
  • I am a great admirer of Bishop Robert Barron, and think he is providing an excellent model for what catechesis, evangelization, and engagement with a hostile culture can look like for us going forward.
  • I certainly have my disagreements with Damon Linker.  But I do find him to be someone who makes a great effort to consistently apply his principles, even if they might be ones I disagree with.

Where I'm coming from...

I halve some thoughts on the Douthat vs. the Academics brouhaha that is currently brewing, but since my recent blogging has been rather sparse, I should probably establish some of my current personal context first.

I'll start with what weighs on my heart personally.

As I've mentioned before, I serve as a catechist for our parish's Confirmation program. To me, the person I will describe represents, to borrow a term from baseball analysis the highest "leverage" people from my perspective.  This is based on a composite, rather than any particular individual.

She's the mother of one of my students. She "was raised Catholic" as people are fond of saying now, but has recently been a "Christmas and Easter" Catholic, if that. She may be divorced from my student's father, and may or may not be remarried. She has friends and family members who are actively anti-Catholic, maybe a gay relative who fells unwelcome in the Church, who would seriously challenge her if she increased her involvement with the Church. She or someone she know has been on the wrong end of some pastoral decision, maybe even one that was perfectly justified, but the hurt remains. Maybe her childhood parish closed, or some aspect of her wedding she wanted was overruled. Over time, it just became easier to leave the Church behind.

But, as her son approaches the age for Confirmation, something in her wants this for him. Maybe it's pressure from her parents, who have kept the faith. Maybe she has some positive memories from her time in the Church, and wants her son the experience them as well.

Whatever her reason, she finds herself at the threshold of our church.

And what will she find there? Is it something to which she will want to return, and be part of her children's lives.

Now, I'm not saying that we should or that I do water down the Church's teachings so that she'll keep coming back. Nor is this the only perspective from which we should consider pastoral decisions. The older son may not have behaved admirably, but his pain is also real, and also needs to be addressed.

But my suspicion is that this woman is showing up at the doors of many of our parishes, and this is a critical time for her and her children's souls, and we need to seriously consider how both our behavior and our pastoral decisions might impact the direction she moves in.

In my judgment, prominent Catholic commentators announcing that they prefer a "civil war" to accepting their admittance to communion is not helpful.

That doesn't mean it's wrong, but that's my initial reaction.

More to come...

Monday, October 26, 2015

Experience and Empathy

A recent study finds that those who have been through a difficult experience are actually less empathetic toward those going through similar experiences than those who have not.

The main reason they cite is that once someone has overcome a problem, they underestimate how difficult it was.

Anecdotally, with my experience as the parent of a child with a chronic (currently) fatal disease, I have to say there is some truth to that.  My eyes roll at the day-to-day complaints about parenthood that fill my Facebook theme.  I find myself sarcastically replying, "And what fatal disease does your child have? How long is she expected to live? How much time did you spend doing therapy to keep your child alive today?"

This is compounded by my preferred personal style being to "make it look easy."  I try to in general not show the hard work this is, forego special treatment as much as possible, and, with the exception of fund raising events and acute events like hospitalizations, try to present myself and our family as not all that different.

But we are.

Intellectually, I know that we have adjusted to the reality of cystic fibrosis, which does make dealing with it part of our routine, and that all of us can seem to be maxed out in dealing with the problems we're presented with. And that many parents have even more to deal with.

Still, when I've walked Meagan through her hour-long routine, hoped that the next drug she gets prescribed is one that we can afford and is not terribly difficult, and seen reports of other CF patients struggling or dying, it can be hard to muster much sympathy for the parents of the toddler who was fidgety on the flight to Disney World.

Yes, this is my problem. I'm hoping that by naming it, I can get better.

Dealing with struggles doesn't necessarily make us better people; it's up to us to make it work.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

If you #StandWithPP, you are standing against Pope Francis.

It has been depressing to see my timelines turn from celebrations of Pope Francis to defenses of an organization that does not deny and refuses to get out of the business of dismembering unborn children.

Contrary to what you may have read, the religious leader we have been welcoming the bast week is not a partisan Democrat, and advances some positions that challenge the left as well as the right.

This is apparent if you read Laudato Si, Pope Francis's encyclical on the environment.

As one would expect, the encyclical presents a direct challenge to our aberrantly feeble response to climate change and environmental stewardship in particular.

But it is more than that -- it is a challenge to our basic relationship with Creation, and with each other, particularly the poor and vulnerable.  That Creation isn't something we are entitled to exploit as we see fit, but something we are called to care for and pass on to future generations. There are things that will make all of us squirm, not just those who oppose environmental restrictions.

I can think of few better examples of the mindset that Pope Francis is confronting than killing unborn children, and harvesting their organs for our own use.

It is no less hypocritical to celebrate Pope Francis, and the #StandWithPP, then it would be to celebrate him, and then support restrictions on immigration, or oppose environmental restrictions.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

A Pan For Security Theatre

I'm reluctant to relate this story, because I am happy that the Holy Father's visit to the US and Philadelphia went so well. I am proud of both the area I grew up in and my faith that has been on display these past few weeks. I'm happy to see the spirit that has reigned here recently, and want to see it continue, and certainly don't want to rain on the parade.

That part of the story is true, but so is my story, and I feel like I need to share it so that it is not repeated for other people.

First, I want to say that nearly everyone we encountered in any kind of official capacity yesterday was extremely helpful and friendly, and carried out their duties with the utmost professionalism. Standouts for me were the Philadelphia police officers we spoke to, the security guard outside the Comcast building, and everyone involved in the PATCO high-speed line transportation between New Jersey and the city. The exceptions were likely at the end of a very long and difficult day. My complaints are not directed at the people in the front lines.

I found out that Pope Francis's visit would coincide with my father's 75th birthday, and decided that would make for a nice combination trip for our family, based in Seattle, that had not visited my family in South Jersey in several years. This meant separate vacations, since my wife was committed to attending her family reunions in Michigan, which it was not possible for her to attend the previous few years as well. We purchased our plane tickets, arranged for make-up school work for my 10 and 11 year old daughters.

We did enjoy the week here, which included a trip to the beach, and birthday party for my father with a number of relatives, and geared up for the big event.

My mother had managed to acquire tickets to the papal mass and the passes for the PATCO trains. We left at 10 am for the 4 pm Mass. As mentioned, the train ride to the city was very smooth, and everyone was in good spirits. We worked our way through Center City to where we were (politely) directed to the checkpoint for ticketed attendees.

We entered the line shortly before 1 PM.  Where we would remain for the next four hours, until after the recessional hymn. This involved having to re group out family which had been separated just to get across the street a block from the checkpoint, and then having security personnel threaten to shut down the entry point that we had been waiting to approach for more than four hours.

Reports of the security lines include things like songs, prayers, good spirits, water bottles provided by Wawa, and, while there was disappointment, gratitude to be part, if only peripherally, of such an amazing event.

There is truth to that. But it also involved struggling to keep our family together in a two block If the wait with no access to bathrooms or room to stretch or rest. Our party included my nearly 70 year old mother and my daughter with a chronic illness, and we were probably among the better off groups. As it became apparent we would not get in before the Mass was over, I was overwhelmed with sadness that I had led my mother and daughters on this long pilgrimage that ended at a security line. 

If it were only a couple hours, and/or culminated with us getting to participate in at least part of the Mass, it would probably be a brief blip in an overall wonderful day. I understand that this was an event of unprecedented scale, and some unpleasant experiences were inevitable.

Still, I don't think our family's experience was entirely necessary. In particular, I don't think we need to let security concerns dominate events like this to the degree that they do. Nobody wants to be the person who scales back security to find a horrific event, but I think we need to give our leaders permission and space to do that.  We need to stop accepting "it's just the world that we live in" as a reason to submit to these things, and accept that almost anything worthwhile will involve some risk. We need to stop handcuffing kids who make clocks. We need to think parents are capable of installing their own car seats (and if they're not, insist on making some that are).

Again, I don't mean to dampen the spirits of those for whom this was a wonderful event, or besmirth the efforts of people who were working hard in a tough situation. But my experience was part of it to, and I think the story needs to be told so we can start working to prevent it from happening again.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Types of Fan Anger

Hearing the Baseball Tonight crew spend 10 minutes taking down the Padres for not managing to sell any of their players at the trade deadline, I was wondering why this was such a big deal, and got thinking of why this, and other things get fans upset.

What follows is a rough hierarchy of what gets fans upset.

  • Physical Error 
    Example: Bill Buckner in the 1986 World Series
    This is typically fleeting, especially as more sophisticated fans tend to blame management rather than players, as evidenced by my having to go back almost 30 years for a memorable example. Nobody here in Seattle blames Russell Wilson for throwing the interception that ended the Super Bowl, they blame the coaches for calling a pass. (Winning the previous Super Bowl helps).  Lots more buzzer beaters are missed than made, but nobody remembers them.  For all the talk of how awful Philly fans are, Mitch Williams has been a local celebrity there for years.
  • Mental Error
    Example: GB special teamer trying to field onside kick rather than blocking and allowing Jordy Nelson to field it.
    These might sting a little more. We probably couldn't hit a buzzer-beater or a 47 yard field goal, or field a hard-hit grounder down the line, but we'd probably know enough to take a strike when leading off and trailing, or to shoot a 3 when down by 3 with time running out.
    Steve Bartman is a special case for this, since it was a mental error by an actual fan.
  • Lack of Hustle/Courage
    Example: Receiver pulling up short on a pass over the middle
    This allows us to indulge the notion that if we were there, we'd do better.
  • The Bad/Questionable Call
    Example: Dez Bryant's apparent catch being overturned in the playoff game in Green Bay
    These just make you feel helpless, since the game seems to be taken out of the hands of the players and coaches. And replay technology allows us focus on them.
  • Coaching Blunder / Bad Clock Management
    Example: Grady Little leaving Pedro Martinez in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS
    As sports fans move from the players' perspective to the coach/GM's perspective, these loom larger. We imagine our team would have surely won if they pursued our preferred strategy.
  • Bad Trade
    Example: See here
    These can haunt you for years, especially as the traded away player continues to produce for his new team.  As a 76er fan, I've been on the wrong end of almost every kind of bad trade, and it always sucks. The wrong trade can turn a promising team into a laughingstock. (I'm looking at you, Andrew Bynum).
  • The Non-Trade
    Example: Padres above
    For the past couple deadlines, my Phillies played the role of the Padres -- the team with no chance to win but tradeable assets that stands pat at the deadline. Rooting for a disappointing team is tough. The one ray is that maybe this can make for a brighter future. It's tough to see that go away.
    The other side is the possible contender that is missing a piece but stands pat. Don't these guys want to win?
  • Injuries
    Examples: Everywhere
    Injuries are a part of the game. This is the required opening line from the coach or manager in response to every injury. Usually it's hard to get made, unless there is some malaevolence/dirty play from an opponent involved, or some carelessness on somebody's part (Paul George and USA Basketball). But generally, you just have to take it.
  • Suspensions
    Example: Deflategate
    Here, not only do you lose a player, but your team gets the stigma of cheaters. If the commissioner is an easy a target as Roger Goodell, then there can be no end to the rage.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

To my progressive Catholic and Christian friends...

I have seen your celebrations of the Supreme Court decision establishing same sex marriage, and I wanted to explain why I can't quite join you in them, and talk about how we can move forward together.


First, to establish my bona fides...

As you may know, I am on the catechetical team for our parish's Confirmation program for 16 year olds.

Last year, when we were discussing the teachings on sexuality, one of the students expressed dismay that so many people believe the Church is anti-gay when that is not the truth about the Church's teaching.

I responded by noting that we were all Catholics, so what could we do to change that? One of the students said, "Tell them," and I said, "More than that..." and led them to the answer, which is, "Show them!"  If people know us, and know that we're Catholic, and see us acting in a loving way toward gay people (and all people for that matter), then the idea that the Church is anti-gay should be ridiculous.  I don't think this was particularly out of character for me.

Now, I'm sure I have plenty of room for improvement, in my internal attitudes toward my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, in how I treat them as an individual, and in advocating for justice for them. The same applies to my advocacy for the unborn, against institutional racism, per the Holy Father's recent encyclical, for the preservation of the environment, and many other issues I am blind to. I suspect the Final Judgment will have many uncomfortable moments for us privileged, affluent Americans like me.

But I submit that things like my action above make a greater difference than changing my avatar or any hashtag campaign.


From what I can tell, this decision is the result of two trends. One I can celebrate without reservation, the other I cannot.

  • Increasing acceptance of the equal dignity of gay and lesbian people. This I join you in celebrating with joy. 
  • Erosion of society's vision of marriage.  This I cannot celebrate.
For many years, and for may reasons that the gay community has had little or nothing to do with such as no-fault divorce, abortion, contraception and the spiraling wedding industry, heterosexual marriage has moved from a lifelong commitment ensuring that children will, as often as possible, be raised by their mother and father to kind of a graduation or capstone ceremony for adults in loving relationships.  Given this, withholding it from same-sex couples did seem to be little more than simple discrimination.

So why resist?  Well, I think this has sealed this transition and made it official in a way these other developments have not.  It's hard to maintain that marriage is about raising children when we're marrying couples that could not, never could, and never would be able to produce children on their own.  Certainly, much of the energy behind the opposition was rooted in hatred and bigotry. But another part is that this was essentially the last stand.

Were there better ways to pursue these goals then opposing same sex marriage? Almost definitely. Which is why I've in past years considered this opposition perhaps correct but imprudent -- it's main effect was causing pain and division. Even so, the happiness at the achievement of dignity for gay people is mixed with some sadness that the Church's rich vision of marriage has been soundly rejected.

And there is concern, too. Perhaps not for "persecution," but for division. For a world where those who believed in this vision of marriage are regarded as bad as segregationists.  For rifts in the Body of Christ as people race to take sides and demonstrate that they are on the "right" side.


There has been no shortage of advice to traditionalist Catholics on how they should respond to this decision (Executive Summary: Shut up and get over it). So, while I may not be in a position to make demands requests, I offer some suggestions to my more progressive-minded brothers and sisters about how they might help this be an occasion of joy rather than division:

  1. Watch how broad a brush you paint with on the hate/love talk
    Yes, there will continue to be hateful people opposed to same sex marriage, and it needs to be confronted.  But not all of it, and general comments about "all the hate out there" serve to divide.  To be an effective advocate for the unborn, I need to understand that people may oppose legal protections for the unborn for reasons other than hatred of unborn children and happiness at their killing.  The same is true here. If you must call out hate, be specific, name names, and cite concrete examples.

    Even so, exercise some care. If your statements generally lead people to associate Christianity with hatred, I'm not sure you're doing anyone a favor. Not the person who will never come to hear the Good News because they're convinced the Church is full of haters.  And not gay people who think people hate them who actually do not.  Is "calling out" a staffer for a state senator from somewhere you've never been really such an imperative?

    Have some on the other side not been so careful?  Sure.  The run-up to the Iraq War was a particular low point in the state of discourse. I would hope that experience would teach people to not want to do that to anyone else rather than provide a model to follow.

    The same goes for much of this #loveWins talk. Like all slogans (including "Abortion is murder!" and "pro-life"), it over-simplifies things that complex.
  2. Don't be part of outrage mobs
    I think even in writing this post, I am taking a risk that this may impact my career in the tech industry. I'm sure it's nothing compared to the risks gay people have had to take, but it's still something.

    This new McCarhyism is one of the worst parts of our culture. Don't be a part of it. And if you're feeling particularly brave, stand up for those being attacked.
  3. Support religious liberty
    Yes, I know it's a slogan that's being used by many of your least favorite people. But it is still an important principle, even if it's used by people you don't like.  If you think there is any wisdom in the Church's vision of marriage, even if it shouldn't be translated into civil law, there is still value in the Church being allowed to proclaim and teach it.

    And things have a way of turning around, and there may come a time when more progressive religious practices are under attack. It will be unfortunate if we've removed "religious liberty" as something of value by then.
I am happy about the equal dignity for my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters this decision represents. But yes, this is mixed with some sadness at the death of a robust vision of marriage in our society, and concern for divisions to come.

There are still no shortage of injustices to confront in our world. Of people to evangelize, who desperately need to hear the Good News that God loves them, died for them, and rose and conquered death.

My prayer and hope is that we can work together to do this.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Can there be honorable defeat?

Consider this post an appetizer for my upcoming more comprehensive post on the same sex marriage decision.

I am generally sympathetic, if not downright enthusiastic, toward pleas like Ross Douthat's The Terms of Our Surrender, searching for a path forward where those who opposed (or maybe even stubbornly persist in opposing) same sex marriage can live in a society that has accepted it.

The events in South Carolina fill me with pessimism about this possibility.

It seems like we attempted to give the Conferderacy some level of this, and the results have not been impressive.  We didn't execute its leaders as traitors.  We allowed the legacy of Confederate generals like Lee, Jackson, and Forrest to grow, even with statues in their honor, while also allowing Grant's legacy to be that of the head of a scandal-filled administration, and Sherman to be cursed.  We let them keep their Confederate symbols and nostalgia for the lost cause.

And what did we get for it? A century of Jim Crow segregation and institutional racism that required a heroic Civil Rights movement to overcome.  Continued simmering resentment that occasionally bubbles up to the surface in horrific ways like the massacre in the Charleston church.  It certainly seems possible that the terms for this surrender were entirely too generous.

So, what does that mean for those opposed to same sex marriage? I can certainly understand the argument that it is a ruinous infection of hatred that must be completely eradicated, rather than allowed to live in the hope that it will remain benign.  Those who publicly held these positions must not be allowed positions of leadership. People and businesses who decline to participate in same sex marriages must be punished. Churches and institutions that opposed it must be marginalized.

Much as I may not like to admit it, a good amount of the energy and numbers behind opposition to same sex marriage found its source in anti-gay bigotry rather than firm, deeply held principles about the nature of marriage. This is manifest by the stories of people changing their minds after encountering gay people, and the general state of heterosexual marriage.

Of course, I and many others liked to think I was different. But then many Confederate romanticize-rs protest that their nostalgia is motivated by various noble motives other than an enthusiasm for the subjugation of a race of people to mere property.  It just so happens that this was also the prime motivator of its existence, and that every time Confederate nostalgia surfaces, it is accompanied by virulent racism.

So, it may be possible that generous, or even less than total, terms of surrender may not be possible. Any chance for that will be dependent on the losers being worthy of an honorable defeat.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

"No concerning results found"

This was the heading of the results from one of the many tests Meagan had to undergo to check if she had any lung infections.

My immediate response was, "Concerning for whom?"

While it was true that the tests had not detected any new virulent infections, it did show the same infections we have been dealing with and trying to get rid of for the past several years.
Such is the roller coaster of a Cystic Fibrosis parent.  The good news that there is no new reason for concern is mixed with the baseline concern that is always with us.

This drama plays out in a number of ways.

I delight in the wonderful young woman that Meagan is becoming. My heart leaps as I see her enjoying dancing, music, basketball, and her school activities. I am excited to see her learning to be a friend to her classmates and her big sister. I am proud of her accomplishments at school and academic competitions. I am releived to see her taking greater ownership of her treatments and care.

But there is also worry. Why is she so tired some nights? Why does she wake up so early in the morning hungry? Can we let her do this additional activity, or is it not worth the risk? Is she coughing more than she was before? Did I forget a treatment, or needlessly expose her to more risk? Are we striking the right balance between taking this seriously and not letting it run our lives?

This same mix plays out on our hopes for a cure for CF.

There are exciting developments (, that have already improved the lives of many CF patients.
But then there are questions. What will happen when this gets out to a wider group? Will insurance companies pay for it? How will we afford it? What don't we know yet?

And so, we come to another Great Strides walk for Cystic Fibrosis.  We are aware of the impact the disease has on Meagan, our family, and many other families.  We are saddened about those who have been taken away from us or made to suffer from this disease.

But we also celebrate. We celebrate the progress we have made toward a cure. We celebrate the people who have supported us and Meagan through the years -- by walking with us, donating to events like this, your assistance and forebearance with our practical needs, and your prayers and words of encouragement.
We are excited to be able to share this walk this year with my sister's family from North Carolina, with my family that will be walking the same day in Point Pleasant, New Jersey, and also sharing the walk day with St. Louis.

I hope you can find a way to join us, either by walking with us, offering your financial support, or your good wishes. 

John McGuinness

Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Official "On the Next Episode" Approved Sentence List...

As many others have noted, the "On the next episode" teasers that play at the end of Mad Men episodes seem calculated to reveal as little of what actually happens on the next episode as possible.

The Man Bites Blog investigative team has uncovered the official white list of sentences that Matt Weiner has approved for inclusion in these teasers:

  • "Well, hello!"
  • "Can I get you a drink?"
  • "Have a seat."
  • "Close the door"
  • "What is that?"
  • "I hate you!" (said by Sally)
  • "You have no idea who you're dealing with!" (said by Pete)
  • "This is huge."
  • "It's a whole new ballgame."
  • "Well, then."

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Both children and adults...

This piece on the catechesis of confirmaton candidates crossed a couple of my timelines.

As both a parent and a volunteer catechist for the Confirmation program (which is for 16 year olds) here in Washington, I think there are a couple of points worth bearing in mind.

One truth of the article is that catechists should approach their jobs as supporting the students' parents rather than as people rescuing the students from their parents' poor work.  This has been the attitude I have tried to cultivate myself, and what I have observed in almost all of the other catechists I've worked with.

As with many other things in our engagement with the world, we need to balance engaging the world as it is with normalizing bad behaviors. It is true that many current Catholic parents are not currently well positioned to fulfill the role of "First Teachers of the faith" that they accepted at their children's baptisms. But does that mean we should base the design of our catechetical programs under the assumption that this will always be the case?

The "pull quote" from the piece is this:

If we have to choose between programs for adults and programs for children, adults are the priority.  Not because we don’t care about kids, but because we want what is best for kids.
I'm not certain I agree, unless we have a new vision of what adult faith formation programs look like.

If a parish offers a faith formation program, someone like me probably represents the outside edge of the set of adults who might possibly attend.  And even for me, it's probably not likely.  I work a full time job at a demanding employer, and am a father and husband.  Perhaps I should take my faith seriously enough that I would prioritize attending such a program, bit the reality is that I probably wouldn't.

More to the point, I'm not sure people like me are the ones the Church needs to be investing more effort in.

Now if I, the daily Rosarian, Confirmation catechist, who is bothering to blog about an article on catechesis, is unlikely to attend an adult formation program, how likely is it for the target of this program?  The person who has fallen away from the faith, who may have divorced and remarried or be cohabitating, hasn't been to confession in years, attends Mass semi-regularly, but does want her children to be confirmed due to some vestigial attachment to Catholicism.

I don't think offering adult formation classes instead of programs for candidates is likely to bring them back,

What may help is to see this time as an opportunity to evangelize to the parents as well as to the children.  To involve them in the process as much as possible.  To show them that the Church is there for them to support them in their role as parents.

It has long been my positions that we should offer a "First Teachers" program that runs at the same time as the formation program for teenagers and youth.  The problem is that often the youth programs take up all of the parish's facilities that could be used for such a program.  My current parish has Eucharistic adoration at the same time as Confirmation class, which is a nice opportunity for the parents, but is probably not the educational program imagined by the article.

On the parent side, I think we are perfectly capable of teaching our kids about the faith. Indeed, I think most of what they hear in faith formation classes are echoes of things they've already heard at home.  But it is nice for them to get another perspective, and I want them to know a community of other Catholic peer believers.  And it is important for them to know this community is in place as they move through adolescence and young adulthood.  This, more than nuts and bolts about the faith, is what they get from these programs.

And, in my judgment, giving our kids this is more important than providing (more) education for motivated adults, if we have to choose.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Mercy is for the weak -- meaning all of us

First, the obligatory clip:

Of course, Pope Francis does teach mercy in his dojo, and has in fact announced a  Jubliee Year of Mercy to that effect

To say this is is timely would be an understatement. If there is one thing the world needs now, it is the Mercy of our loving (but still just!) God.

As I've said before, we think we've escaped God's judgment, and all we've really escaped is God's mercy.

I pray for the success of this year, and will strive to do my part to make it so.

Monday, March 09, 2015

Analyzing Hack-A-Jordan

A couple weeks ago I watched an enjoyable game between the Clippers and the Spurs. It was tightly competitive, and featured many great plays from the team's stars.

Except for two stretches -- from 5:00 to 2:00 left in the 2nd and 4th quarter, the Clippers' possessions consisted of one of the Spurs grabbing Jordan, and Jordan proceeding to the free throw line to attempt two free throws, sometimes with ghastly results. #HackAJordan was on.

What had been an athletic competition turned into a psychodrama, with a man who was achieving the peak of his proficiency in all other aspects of the game being forced to confront the one discipline that evaded his mastery.

Given my loathing of anti-competitive video game sports tactics that manipulate the rules, one would think I would hate this, and, viscerally I do.  This hits all the notes.  Imagine if in baseball, for several innings, it was feasible to intentionally walk every batter until the pitcher came up.  This is what Hack-A-Jordan does. It takes the ball out of the hands of the other four players on the court (in this case, including Chris Paul), and puts up a player doing what he does worst. Ugh.

Still, there are mitigating factors, in that there are some counter-measures teams can take.

  • Hit the damn free throws Reggie Miller was doing the color commentary for this game, and was making this point. Of course, "easy for him to say" is a bit of an understatement. I'm sure Miller worked hard on his game, but I suspect shooting came bit easier to him than it does to Jordan.

    Tim Duncan has managed to turn his free throw shooting from a liability to acceptable. But the struggles of Shaquille O'Neal, Wilt Chamberlain, Dwight Howard, and now Jordan lead me to believe that it's not just a matter of effort, and it could be something they're just not good at.
  • Team Depth This problem has been thrown into relief with the injury to Blake Griffin and Jordan's emergence as an elite player. There is a big drop-off between Jordan and whomever Doc Rivers might play in his place, so he has little choice to leave him on the court.

    And maybe that's not such a bad thing. One of the good things about basketball as opposed to other sports like baseball and football is that it defies extreme specialization. A player who is a complete liability on one end of the floor is not playable, especially today when coaches pour over film and find ways to exploit weaknesses. As a National League guy, I enjoy that NBA players must have diverse skill sets.

    On the other hand, I'm not sure driving someone like DeAndre Jordan is the type of player we should be driving to the bench.
So, at least in this case, the Clippers' possible counter-measures are not so effective.

One other counter-measure is that when the clock goes down to 2:00 and the rules change so that Hack-A-Jordan is no longer possible, Chris Paul generally plays like a wild animal let out of his cage.

There is also the 6 personal foul limit for individual players.  This doesn't seem to be much of a deterrent, since each foul is a stoppage and provides an opportunity to substitute. Teams can have "designated foulers."

So what rule changes could we make?

  • Same rules all the time It is a bit odd that the rules suddenly change with 2:00 left in the half. The rule in the last 2:00 is that the fouled team can choose the shooter for fouls away from the ball. This would make players like Jordan more playable.
  • Three For Two In the old days of the NBA, fouled players had three shots to make 2 shots. This would turn the expected number of points for a 40% free throw shooter from 0.8 to 1.14. The problem is that it would mean players like Jordan take more free throws per trip; a bad experience for all involved.
  • Only call "real" fouls Hack-a-Jordan is typically executed by a player from the opposing team alerting the ref, then walking over and putting his hands on Jordan, often apologizing afterwards. The refs could ignore these "fouls" and only call fouls that are actually physical or impact the game.This would likely result in a number of undesired consequences, people clubbing these players, smashing him on screens, and ensuing fights.
I'd probably fair the first change.  But it may not be necessary. 

Friday, March 06, 2015

The Anti-Progressiveness of Sports Analytics

I've been finding it interesting that the sports analytic movement, driven as it is by people who I suspect are good liberal Obama voters (if I can judge by the throwaway jokes they sprinkle throughout their pieces), nevertheless leads to conclusions that Rush Limbaugh would cheer.
  1. The "bad contract": I've covered this before, but the time was when a player's best contract would come at the end of his career, perhaps with the team he had toiled for for many years, including his time as an underpaid player without access to free agency.

    No longer.  Any player rewarded with such a contract is likely to read his name on a regular series of "worst contract" articles ( with GM's name as perhaps an afterthought).  GMs and owners who avoid these are no longer considered cheap, but shrewd.  We celebrate GMs who win with small payrolls, and discount those who win with high payrolls.

    Owners must love this. It's gotten to the point that fans who might question their favorite team making no attempt to win for 2 years are considered unenlightened.  It's a great time to be a cheap owner!
  2. Diversity in the Front Office and Announcer's Booth  It's interesting that, just as everyone was waking up to the reality that there should be more diversity in the ranks of sports management and commentary, along came a "revolution" that stated that one needed to have particular knowledge (which happened to be possessed by white guys) in order to comment or act intelligently about sports,* and that experience playing the game was largely irrelevant.

    This became clear to me in the dispute surrounding Charles Barkley's recent comments.  It's odd (perhaps progress?) to see an outspoken African American athlete cast as representing the "old guard."  I also notice that popular targets of the analytical revolution include Dusty Baker, Billy King, Art Shell, Denny Green, Barkley, Don Baylor, and Joe Dumars.  A popular website for this was called "Fire Joe Morgan," for crying out loud. A look through their darlings reveals a crowd  about as diverse as an RNC meeting in Mississippi.
  3. Management > Labor In today's analytic piece, Kirk Goldsberry posits that player performance is largely a function of the system they operate in and laments that marginal players are paid more than the best coaches.
  4. Fat Sluggers > Toolsy Athletes  This isn't so much the case now, but before the development of better defensive statistics, sabermetric analysis often favored fats sluggers who drew a lot of walks (e.g. Matt Stairs, Adam Dunn) over players with more diverse and athletic skill sets. (see Adam Dunn vs. Juan Pierre)

    It so happened that the former often happened to be white, and the latter often happened to be black and Latino.

    This was somewhat countered by the tendency to defend brooding sluggers like Barry Bonds who may have been undervalued because the press didn't like them.
I find this all interesting.  I suppose I should salute these analysts for following the data event when it leads to ideologically inconvenient destinations.

* Again, I doubt this is intentional, and I suspect many of the more analytical people would be horrified by the notion that they are pushing minorities out. But it's still interesting to note the effect.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

When To Keep Quiet

Since comments have been shut down on the Scott Alexander post I mentioned the other day, I'll finish up a thread I was on over there, and give it some room to breathe over here.

In the post Alexander writes:

The reason that my better nature thinks that it’s irrelevant whether or not Penny’s experience growing up was better or worse than Aaronson’s: when someone tells you that something you are doing is making their life miserable, you don’t lecture them about how your life is worse, even if it’s true. You STOP DOING IT.
To which Barry Deutsch replied that Alexander's post linking feminism and nerd-shaming is hurtful to him as a feminist, and therefore, by Alexander's own standards, he should stop publishing posts like this. (Trust me, my paraphrase is more charitable than any quotation would be).

Now, while it's difficult for me to sympathize with Deutsch on this matter, I think he does raise a point -- that a simple application of the principle Alexander proposes is untenable.

First, I think we need to quantify what we mean by "making life miserable." In the original post, Alexander describes people struggling with suicidal thoughts and considering chemical castration.  It seems this is sufficient to make people reconsider what they're saying.  The same is true for suicides by same-sex attracted teenagers.

Deutsch doesn't do a great job describing how Alexander's post makes his life miserable, so I'll try to guess from his comments and general observations.

I can guess that he doesn't like seeing a movement he identifies with associated with bad actions. Well, take it from a pro-lifer -- tough shit, and welcome to the Big Leagues.

It may be that it makes him uncomfortable seeing someone he respects hold something that matters to him in such low regard, leading him to an uncomfortable decision on whether to maintain his respect or his strong association with feminism. Not fun, but again, not something that I think he should be protected from.

Or, it could be a sense the the feminists are the Good Guys, the movement preventing women from being abused by their partners, treated unfairly on the job, and any discouraging word about it means more women get oppressed. This is kind of the Col. Jessup defense, or the current defense of the NYPD, or the defense of the CIA -- you need us on that wall, and unless you're OK with dealing what's on the other side of that wall yourself, don't ask too many questions about what we do up there. As you can probably tell by my examples, I don't find this defense all that convincing either.

But, really, all this gets us to is an argument over what kind of pain is valid and worth addressing, which is what we were trying to avoid in the first place -- the big theme of Alexander's post is that it's wrong to dismiss nerds' pain because it's different than structural oppression.

Being made aware of an evil that you, or a group that you identify with, is complicit in is going to be unpleasant, even with the hope of redemption,  This pain may even go to the point of "making life miserable." Taking someone's expression of pain as a binding cue to stop gives a permanent advantage to the status quo, and incentivizes claims of pain.  Every policy has winners and losers; the winners would prefer not to be reminded of it. If they can claim that hearing about it is painful for them, and that cry must be respected, then it produces a world where nothing changes. (Again, see the NYPD).

There will always be competing claims of pain, and we will need to find ways to prioritized which ones we address.

The current way we resolve this, at least in many corners of online discourse, is that the least privileged party (or the one speaking on behalf of the lest privileged party) gets to speak, and the more privileged parties are to sit an politely listen, since they've had their turn to speak throughout history. I suppose this is as good as any alternatives, but is not perfect -- in part, because some parties, like the unborn, don't even have the privilege of claiming lack of privilege.

Commentators like Alexander point out these shortcomings, and the hope that we can avoid them by simply following some simple rules of discourse. -- e.g: if someone tells you what you're doing is making them miserable, stop doing it.  Be nice to each other. Don't be a jerk. Etc.

I wish this worked, but there is evil in the world. If we leave the field open so that people can get their way by claiming pain, some of them are going to claim pain they don't really feel.