Pages

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Dear Dzhokhar...

A student of mine shared the status of Mike Rogers, S.J., a friend of hers, on her Facebook page.  I don't know (soon to be Fr.) Rogers, but I was immensely impressed by the words he wrote in response to the capture of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the second suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings.  I hope he doesn't mind me reprinting his words here; they are well worth reading.

Update (April 22): Fr. James Martin, S.J., has also published Mike Rogers' Facebook status on the America magazine website here.   It can also be found on the Huffington Post website here.  I received permission from (soon to be Fr.) Rogers to reprint his status on this blog.

Photo: USA Today
Dear Dzhokhar,

You don’t know me, but you tried to kill my family.

You couldn’t have known, but my brother ran bandit in the marathon and trained for months. My sister in law was an amazing and supportive wife as she always is and was ready to run the last 5 miles with him.  Your bomb was at the finish line that they were trying to cross.

My Mother, Father, and Sister, were waiting for them at the finish line. You didn’t know it, but my mother thinks that she saw you down there. My sister is only three years younger than you, and you set off a bomb in front of her.

You don’t know me, but you tried to kill some friends of mine.

One of my best and closest friends was working in the store in front of which you or your brother laid down a bomb. That bomb exploded, and gave her the worst day of her life.

I was a high school teacher, your bomb wounded one of my most promising students with shrapnel.

Dear Dzhokhar, you tried to destroy a community that I left behind for Rome, but from which I draw so much of my strength and identity.

You killed a child who was a part of the community who made me the man I am today. Martin may have grown up to be a BC High boy...and his family is well loved in the community which surrounds that school.

You tried to drive a city which gave me courage in the face of cancer into complete and utter fear. But you tried to do this to a city which knew how to make a 10 year old me unafraid.

Dear Dzhokhar, you may have crossed the threshold of the building in which I lived to compete in an athletic event, but we have never met, and you tried to kill my family, a friend, my students, and destroy my community.

Dear Dzhokhar, you failed. Did you ever think that you would make it out? The US captured Bin Laden, and Saddam...there was no chance you would escape. This is not the measure of your success, though.

Dear Dzhokhar, you failed because Boston was not bowed or afraid. You set off a bomb, and the city gave blood for victims. You escaped initial capture and the city opened its doors to strangers. You were at large and making more bombs, and we gathered in prayer at Garvey park and the Cathedral. You went on a rampage, and people stayed home in an orderly fashion and opened their homes to the police during the search. Dear Dzhokhar, you failed, because light cast out the darkness, and the man who knew that his boat just didn’t look right wasn’t afraid to call it in.

Dear Dzhokhar, for all of this, I can’t hate you.

Today I thought about the fact that you are only 19...you are just a kid. You must have been so afraid today. You were a victim like so many are victims, you were bought something you shouldn’t have been brought into because you likely didn’t and couldn’t know any better.

I am glad that you are going to prison, and I hope that you will have many long years there in supermax in Colorado. I hope that no one I love will ever be threatened by you again, but I can’t hate you.

I can’t hate you because whatever you brought into Boston was enough hate for a good long while, I won’t and can’t hate anymore.

I can’t hate you because I remember being 19, I thought many things were a good idea which weren’t. I never would have went where you were, but I was certainly not an adult at 19.

I can’t hate you because, even though you did unspeakable things...somehow you are still my brother and your death can never be my gain.

I can’t hate you, and not just because I am a Catholic, and a Christian, and because in a couple of months I will be a priest, I am a human and I simply can’t hate you.

Dear Dzhokhar, I still have hope for you.

The rest of your life will be in prison. I have seen men change their lives there. I hope that you won’t be executed, because I know that we can hold you, safely, for the rest of your life.

I can’t say what your story might be there...but I know that I, as a Christian, and you, as a Muslim, believe God to be merciful...so I can’t help but have hope for you...

Dear Dzhokhar, you’re a kid. I can’t hate you, or fear you. I am glad you are in custody, I am glad you can’t hurt anyone else or yourself anymore, but I can’t hate you...and I WON’T fear you.

Dear Dzhokhar, I will pray for you. Next year, when my friend and my brother cross that finish line on Boylston, your brother’s cause will have lost for good. I will pray that you will know, somehow, the same kind of love that my brother, sister-in-law, mother, father, sister, friends, and students all have given me.

Dear Dzhokhar, I will pray for you. When the first pitch is thrown on Patriot's day at Fenway, I will pray that somehow you will know joy...the joy that makes us fully human and offers the possiblity of real repentance...the joy that Red Sox baseball fills me with every year.

Dear Dzhokhar, I will pray for you next year when the first shot is fired in the annual reenactment of the battle of Lexington in Concord, that you will come to know that PEACE and LOVE are the only ways in which world will ever be changed.

Dear Dzhokhar, I don’t and can’t hate you. I am glad you are in custody, but you are just a kid, and you lost. I will love and pray for you, because somehow your sin was turned for good, and my community and the people I love will only be stronger in the end.

Dear Dzhokhar, Godspeed.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Why I am Catholic - The Church's Vision of God and Humanity

A little over a month ago I wrote an op-ed for our local newspaper, the Louisville Courier-Journal, in which I explained "why any reasonable and educated person, such as myself, would remain in the Roman Catholic Church."  The op-ed bears some similarity to something I wrote on this blog a little over a year ago, although I think the op-ed is better.

If you'd like to check out my article, click here.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Baseball & the Dreaded 'Wave'

A friend of mine and I went to the Reds-Nationals game last Friday, which the Reds won 15-0.  I prefer watching close games, and I really wanted to see Bryce Harper hit one out, but Cincinnati's explosion of offense was enjoyable to watch.  Unfortunately, half-way through the game the inevitable happened...the 'Wave'.  I really dislike the 'Wave', particularly at baseball games.  It seems to me that the 'Wave' manifests an inability to understand that there is a contemplative dimension to baseball, that baseball is to be enjoyed patiently and meditatively.  It is not about instant gratification, but about an extended and repetitive narrative of  exile and homecoming, a playing out of The Odyssey before one's very eyes.  But what fans are essentially saying when they participate in the 'Wave' is that they're bored, and thus they withdraw attention from the theo-drama being enacted on the field in order to focus on their own gratification.  Its presence is always disconcerting to me, for it seems to me to be a symptom of a broader societal rejection of the contemplative.


Lest you think I'm a lonely curmudgeon who is out to ruin fun for all, I was pleased to learn today that there are a group of Nationals fans who are campaigning to end the 'Wave' once and for all.  Their flyer says it all, and I thought I'd do my part to spread their message.


Thursday, April 4, 2013

A Critique of my Portrayal of Newman

In February the Cardinal Newman Society criticized the university at which I teach for hosting a performance of the Vagina Monologues.  This criticism prompted me to write a post on February 25, entitled John Henry Cardinal Newman on University Education, in which I argued that the Cardinal Newman Society's portrayal of Newman is not faithful to the Newman I have read and grown to love.  I also published this post in the local student newspaper.  Jerry Salyer, an adjunct professor in our department of philosophy, was troubled by my essay and has written a worthwhile critique.  I publish the critique below (with his permission) without comment, but will respond to his argument when I am able.


Jerry Salyer
Like Dr. Hillis, I have great respect for Blessed John Cardinal Newman.  Also like Dr. Hillis, I am often troubled by what Thaddeus Kozinski of Wyoming Catholic College calls "Socratophobia" – the increasingly-common reluctance to expand one's thoughts beyond what could fit onto a bumper sticker.  When Dr. Hillis uses the current controversy as a teaching moment, I applaud; I furthermore heartily second warnings against the modern habit of remaking historical figures in our own image.

All that said, I fear that in his desire to make Newman more appealing to the modern student Dr. Hillis has gotten carried away, and paints a misleading portrait.  The Idea of A University makes clear that most of those offended by opposition to the Vagina Monologues would have little use for Newman, either:  “It is a miserable time,” says Newman, “when a man's Catholic profession is no voucher for his orthodoxy, and when a teacher of religion may be within the Church's pale, yet external to her faith.  Such has been for a season the trial of her children at various eras in her history.”  Of one such trial during the medieval period, the cardinal explains:  “Scarcely had Universities risen into popularity, when they were found to be infected with the most subtle and fatal forms of unbelief; and the heresies of the East germinated in the West of Europe and in Catholic lecture-rooms, with a mysterious vigour upon which history throws little light.”  Newman takes for granted a perennial duty to defend orthodoxy, and describes medieval universities as infiltrated by a “conspiracy of traitors” bent upon subverting Catholic teaching. 

Clearly Newman does not hold academic freedom as a sole priority -- which is the impression I fear many readers will get from Dr. Hillis' article.  

It's also worth emphasizing that Newman’s erudition and thoughtfulness did not prevent him from taking sides in a kind of culture war between orthodoxy and heresy.:  "I look out, then, into the enemy's camp, and I try to trace the outlines of the hostile movements and the preparations for assault which are there in agitation against us.  The arming and the maneuvering, the earthworks and the mines, go on incessantly [...]" 

We should remember that we are talking about a 19th Century English gentleman, clergyman, and classical scholar.  True, I can think of reasons why such a man might have reservations about 21st-Century Catholic activists who use his name; at the same time, we should not gloss over his likely reaction to other types of activists, either.

Monday, April 1, 2013

'Something about the game elicits excess...'



In honour of Opening Day today, I'm reposting a piece I published on this blog last year (March 19, 2012).  Since that post was written, I've since read John Sexton's new book, Baseball as a Road to God: Seeing Beyond the Game, which I worried might actually be precisely the kind of book I am hoping to write.  Thankfully, it isn't.  It's a fine book, but is less theological and more in the realm of religious studies.  I'll write a review of Sexton's book as soon as I get a chance.


I went to my first baseball game of the season last week when I accompanied my oldest son’s first grade field trip to the University of Louisville-Ol’ Miss college game.  Although the kids were bouncing off the walls with excitement on the bus ride over to the game (by the way, you haven’t lived until you’ve ridden on a school bus with 50 screaming children), and although they excitedly cheered during the first inning, by the time we reached the second inning, the kids were booorrrrred.

I, however, was in my glory.  Watching baseball does something to me.  Something metaphysical.  Something profound.  I can’t really describe it, for the experience itself goes beyond words.  The best I can do is say that when I attend a baseball game, even a poorly-played baseball game, I think I experience something that is, if not divine beauty itself, something very akin to it.  It is a profound spiritual experience to attend a baseball game.

People often look askance at me when I talk about baseball in these terms.  Many seem to view the game as slow and boring instead of seeing in it the movement of eternity itself.  Because I’m Canadian, I’m told that I’m supposed to love hockey.  But while I appreciate some aspects of hockey, I find it intolerable to watch on television and only marginally more enjoyable to watch in person.  Most sports are interesting to watch, I grant.  But only baseball moves me to the very core of my being.

My hope one day is to write a book on the theology of baseball, though that won’t happen until I finish a few other projects.  But I’m engaged actively in reading novels about baseball, histories of the game, and biographies of notable players; I just finished The Natural and am currently reading Robert Creamer's acclaimed biography of Babe Ruth, Babe: The Legend Comes to Life. And while I read this stuff for my own personal pleasure, I do so also because I think there’s a theological story about baseball that needs to be told.  For baseball means something.  I’m not sure what yet, specifically.  But I’m searching for it.

One of the best pieces I’ve read on baseball recently is a little article by the theologian David Bentley Hart called “The Perfect Game” published in the August/Sept 2010 issue of First Things.  It is, admittedly, a little exuberant, but I think necessarily so.  Below is an excerpt from this article (the full article is here).  I've never read anything that so compellingly describes the profundity and beauty of baseball.

I know there are those who will accuse me of exaggeration when I say this, but, until baseball appeared, humans were a sad and benighted lot, lost in the labyrinth of matter, dimly and achingly aware of something incandescently beautiful and unattainable, something infinitely desirable shining up above in the empyrean of the ideas; but, throughout most of the history of the race, no culture was able to produce more than a shadowy sketch of whatever glorious mystery prompted those nameless longings.  The coarsest and most common of these sketches—which has gone through numerous variations down the centuries without conspicuous improvement—is what I think of as 'the oblong game,' a contest played out on a rectangle between two sides, each attempting to penetrate the other's territory to deposit some small object in the other's goal or end zone. All the sports built on this paradigm require considerable athletic prowess, admittedly, and each has its special tactics, of a limited and martial kind; but all of them are no more than crude, faltering lurches toward the archetype; entertaining, perhaps, but appealing more to the beast within us than to the angel…
You needn't smirk. I admit that my rhetoric might seem a bit excessive, but be fair: Something about the game elicits excess. I am hardly the first aficionado of baseball who has felt that somehow it demands a "thick" metaphysical—or even religious—explanation. For one thing, there is the haunting air of necessity that hangs about it, which seems so difficult to reconcile with its relatively recent provenance. It feels as if the game has always been with us. It requires a whole constellation of seemingly bizarre physical and mental skills that, through countless barren millennia, were not only unrealized but also unsuspected potencies of human nature, silently awaiting the formal cause from beyond that would make them actual. So much of what a batter, pitcher, or fielder does is astonishingly improbable, and yet—it turns out—entirely natural. Clearly, baseball was always intended in our very essence; without it, our humanity was incomplete. Willie Mays was an avatar of the divine capacities that lie within our animal frames. Bob Feller's fastball was Jovian lightning at the command of mortal clay.
And there is something equally fateful, as has been noted so often, in the exact fittingness of the game’s dimensions: the ninety feet between bases, the sixty and-a-half feet between the pitching rubber and the plate, that precious third of a second in which a batter must decide whether to swing. Everything is so perfectly calibrated that almost every play is a matter of the most unforgiving precision; a ball correctly played in the infield is almost always an out, while the slightest misplay usually results in a man on base. The effective difference in velocity between a fastball and a changeup is infinitesimal in neurological terms, and yet it can utterly disrupt the timing of even the best hitter. There are Pythagorean enigmas here, occult and imponderable: mystic proportions written into the very fabric of nature of which we were once as ignorant as of the existence of other galaxies.
How, moreover, could anyone have imagined (and yet how could we ever have failed to know) that so elementary a strategic problem as serially advancing or prematurely stopping the runner could generate such a riot of intricate tactical possibilities in any given instant of the game? Part of the deeper excitement of the game is following how the strategy is progressively altered, from pitch to pitch, cumulatively and prospectively, in accordance both with the situation of the inning and the balance of the game. There is nothing else like it, for sheer progressive intricacy, in all of sport.  Comparing baseball to even the most complex versions of the oblong game is like comparing chess to tiddlywinks.
And surely some account has to be given of the drama of baseball: the way it reaches down into the soul’s abysses with its fluid alternations of prolonged suspense and shocking urgency, its mounting rallies, its thwarted ventures, its intolerable tensions, its suddenly exhilarating or devastating peripeties. Even the natural narrative arc of the game is in three acts—the early, middle, and late innings—each with its own distinct potentials and imperatives. And because, until the final out is recorded, no loss is an absolute fait accompli, the torment of hope never relents. Victory may or may not come in a blaze of glorious elation, but every defeat, when it comes, is sublime. The oblong game is war, but baseball is Attic tragedy.