Jim Corbett was a fascinating guy, but like all of us he had his faults. In his amazing first book, he way overdid the self-deprecation:
”Goatwalking is a book for saddlebag or backpack —to live with a while, casually. It is compact and multifaceted, but for unhurried reflection rather than study. It is woven from star-gazing and campfire talk, to open conversations rather than to lead the reader on a one-way track of entailment to necessary conclusions. I prove no points. This is no teaching.“
Like heck he didn’t prove points. And baloney his pages are “teaching-free”; they’re teaching-packed. (He was probably right about the saddlebag; tho I’m guessing on that.)
But don’t take my word for it. Read Goatwalkingyourself and decide. And now you can, because on August 10, after a 30-year hiatus, the book is back in print, in modestly priced paperback and E-book versions, right here.
For that matter, Corbett writes tellingly about being and acting as a Quaker in our turbulent times, in ways that go far beyond our usual, Prius-with-the-correct-(but not too many)-bumperstickers mode. But here he also overdoes the mock-humility thing: Continue reading Let’s Go Goatwalking, Friends→
My friend Patrick O’Neill is serving a year in a federal prison, for attacking a replica of a nuclear missile at a south Georgia navy base in April of 2018. (A post with more about that protest is here.) It’s part of his peace witness as a member of the Catholic Worker movement.
Most of us don’t think about the missiles a lot. But there are enough just at that one Georgia base to kill pretty much everyone in the world, on fifteen minutes’ notice.
Yeah, the risk of nuclear Armageddon did not disappear with the fall of Soviet communism.
Patrick and several others did think about the missiles, tho, and it led to Patrick reporting to the federal prison in Elkton, Ohio just about when Joe Biden was being inaugurated.
Doing time is tough. And nobody can do it for him. Patrick has a good deal of jail experience; and one lesson is that it doesn’t get much easier. There are a few ways to be supportive from outside. Mine is to send Patrick reading matter. Reading can dull some moments in the overwhelming tedium of confinement. So I have sent him a few of my books. (Hey — a captive audience; the best kind.)
It can help a little. Patrick said so, in a note that arrived this week:
‘Let all you do be done in love’— St. Paul
Good Friday [04/02/2021] Day 18 in the SHU (solitary)
Hi Chuck— My Lenten Journey will take me past Easter — I’ve done a lot of time (20+ jails, 6 prisons), but this has been the worst. Before the SHU [NOTE: SHU = Special Housing Unit] I spent 4 days in a hospital with 2 armed guards with me at all times who kept me in leg irons, and my left hand attached by chains to the bed, one chain attaching my leg irons to the bed . . . . I had to pee in a plastic bottle while chained.
When I asked one guard to use the bathroom he said, “Do you have to do Number Two?” He would not have unchained me otherwise. And the leg irons never came off except for 15 minutes when I took a stress test on a treadmill. And now I’m in the hole for Covid quarantine.
[Note: It’s no surprise that Patrick came down with Covid. Since March 2020, The New York Times has tracked every known coronavirus case in every correctional setting in the United States. . . .
A year later, reporters found that one in three inmates in state prisons are known to have had the virus. In federal facilities, at least 39 percent of prisoners are known to have been infected. The true count is most likely higher because of a dearth of testing, but the findings align with reports from The Marshall Project, The Associated Press, U.C.L.A. Law and The Covid Prison Project that track Covid-19 in prisons.
The virus has killed prisoners at higher rates than the general population, the data shows, and at least 2,700 people have died in custody, where access to quality health care is poor.
The deaths, and many of the more than 525,000 reported infections so far among the incarcerated, could have been prevented, public health and criminal justice experts say.] Back to Patrick:
“One of the world’s greatest masterpieces, and surely the most stolen piece of art of all time, Hubert and Jan van Eyck’s Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, also known as the Ghent Altarpiece, has a new €30m (£26m) glass-case home.
While remaining within St Bavo’s Cathedral in Ghent, Belgium, for which it was painted in 1432 by the Van Eyck brothers, the 12-panelled polyptych will be located in the Sacrament chapel, the cathedral’s largest and most easterly chapel, within a bullet-proof display case that is 6-metres high with an interior of 100 cubic metres. . . .
. . . somewhat understandably, a top priority for those involved in the project has been the masterpiece’s security. During its 588-year history, the Ghent Altarpiece has been nearly burned by rioting Calvinists, stolen by Napoleon for the Louvre in Paris, cut in half after falling into the hands of the King of Prussia, coveted by Hermann Göring and taken by Adolf Hitler before being rescued by a team of commando double-agents from an Austrian salt mine where it was destined to be blown apart with dynamite.
It has not survived entirely unscathed. One of its 12 panels remains missing after a daring heist on the evening of 10 April 1934, which has since baffled police detectives, bemused amateur sleuths and driven to despair the Nazi agents ordered by Goebbels to find it as a gift for the German Führer .
[Yes, of course they made a movie about it: The Monuments Men (2014), directed by and starring George Clooney and a cast guaranteed to set middle-aged hearts aflutter. But it was a dud. One typical commenter in the Washington Post called it “a very bad version of Hogan’s Heroes meets The Sound of Music. I kept waiting for someone to break out into song. Pathetic and embarrassing would be a compliment. . . .” He walked out. Left just in time, too, because, someone in the movie soon did break out into song . . . .]
My friend Douglas Gwyn, a distinguished Quaker theologian, included the Ghent Altarpiece in his new book, Into The Common.
For him, the Ghent altarpiece
. . . is both an astonishing work of art and a panoply for contemplation by the eye of faith. Its vast scope is balanced by its minute detail, down to identifiable species of vegetation: a mind-reeling combination of macrocosmic and microcosmic perspectives. The van Eycks were famed miniaturists and the altarpiece constitutes miniaturization on a grand scale. Contemplating it, one intuits the beauty of one’s own obscure place in the epic of divine providence.
[The centerpiece features the Lamb of God; from the] wound in its side pours blood into a golden chalice. On the altar are the words of John the Baptist in John 1:29: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” Above the Lamb hovers a dove, the Holy Spirit. And above that, the central upper panel depicts God the Father enthroned.
In front of the altar is a fountain flowing with the water of life. Paradoxically, this water is the blood of the Lamb. All these elements form a central vertical axis. In the background of this park-like scene, a skyline of buildings suggests the new Jerusalem (Revelation 20) as the setting. The scene extends into two panels on either side of the central one, forming an earthly, horizontal axis.
. . . Fourteen angels kneel in worship closest to the altar. Behind them stand an array of Hebrew prophets, Christian apostles, and pagan philosophers, some with oriental faces. And from the four comers of the panel a multitude of peoples are advancing toward the Lamb, balancing the static sense of an eternal, heavenly ecstasy with a moment of historic, earthly fulfillment.
The composition of this panel derives from the Book of Revelation, the Apocalypse of John, in particular the seventh chapter. Revelation’s exotic flood of visions and voices from heaven has fascinated, tantalized, or alienated readers for two thousand years.
Well, put me down somewhere between tantalized and alienated. John’s Book of Revelation has continually left me puzzled and unenlightened; and I make apocalypse jokes like there’s no tomorrow.
But no question, the Ghent altar piece is best in class of its kind of art. (In its shadow our recent apocalyptic behemoth, the Left Behind series, is left utterly behind.) So in the abstract, I can appreciate Doug Gwyn’s swoon over it.
However, while it’s at the pinnacle, there are many other cathedrals in Europe with relics. How many such churches I don’t know, but it’s probably in the hundreds. And many —I’d guess most — of them have their own art pieces and relics; especially relics, including objects, preserved corpses and even detached body parts of saints and other churchly eminences.
In 2008 I spent several weeks in France. While there, I toured a few cathedrals, in Toulouse & Arles. In one of them, the interior was quite dimly lit, yet I walked along the nave, noting various niches & mini-chapels on either side.
One such niche had a black wrought iron gate across its entrance, with a chain and lock. I paused and peered between the bars. Behind them was thick glass, maybe doors, on which was a film of dust and smoke, indicating years of quietude (aka neglect).
I paused, leaned into the gate and squinted. Behind the glass were reliquaries, their shapes unmistakable and their intricate, dull gilt decoration just detectable.
Not one, or a few; dozens. And not on shelves or in alcoves, nooks or crannies.
In fact, a heap. A jumbled pile. Yes, I’ll go there—
— A junk pile; sacred maybe, but junk. The cathedral’s essentially clandestine holy dustbin.
I stood for a few minutes, continuing to squint, sorry my pocket camera wouldn’t work in that half-light. There was no signage, not even in French, to advise about what mix of once-revered clerics, third-tier saints, obscure visionaries and supernumerary martyrs had been downsized into consecrated cathedral detritus.
I came out blinking and musing into the afternoon light. I recalled that some prominent names from my Catholic boyhood (looking at you, St. Christopher) had been officially debunked and declared to be pious myths as part of the updating (repackaging?) by the 1960s Second Vatican Council.
But I hadn’t thought that others, evidently many more, had quietly been, to filch a more tasteful British phrase, made redundant. How many miracles had been consigned to the church’s version of internal dumpsters? There had to be truckloads.
Some weighty sociologists of religion have written of the “routinization of charisma” in religion. This notion could arguably be corroborated by the fact that, just in this one cathedral, Catholic masses had been performed, probably daily, for near a millennium.
At the center of each performance, doctrine says, a miracle is evoked and repeated. As this ritual goes on in Catholic churches worldwide, the miracle recurs at all hours seven days a week, century after century, more like clockwork than clocks.
Miracle it might be, the sociologists argue, but how could it not thereby become also routine? And how could the associated paraphernalia not fall prey to the changes of fortune and fashion?
One rebuttal to such questioning is to point to masterpieces like that in Ghent. The Van Eycks’ achievement leaps beyond superb technique, they say, to become a renewer of the divine mysteries that doctrine says underlie the ritual.
The defenders may have something there. Yet masterpieces are rare. There are so many churches to fill; hence much art, religious and secular alike, is imitative, and slides down a slope through kitsch, into self-parody and ends up deservedly as, well, trash.
The doctrinal mysteries, being invisible, may endure; but can the same decline overtake the remnants of obscure holiness? Arles gave a slight but unmistakable nod of reply. For my part, in years as a Quaker, I have absorbed much of the early Friends’ iconoclastic attitudes: I prefer my cathedral to be a plain meetinghouse, unadorned but by the Light Within. It is our own special brand of philistinism, and we are quite humbly proud of it.
Yet what will happen to that mound of old reliquaries?
The cathedral has stood for many centuries. It would be no big deal to let these gilded priestly discards lie in that niche for a few more generations, as the thickening dust becomes opaque and the last faithful who remember them die off.
Then — well, the honorable denouement would involve chanting processions and pointed mitres and incense and special crypts.
But one can also imagine an ever-increasingly anemic church, now bleeding for billions from the overdue costs of priestly pedophilia, being forced to send a nameless team to unlock the chain, likely under cover of darkness, pry open the squealing iron gates, brusquely check relic boxes for precious metals and jewels, and dump their other contents into some common container.
Then an unmarked truck heads for a compliant, close-mouthed funeral director’s crematory, which is fired up before dawn, with little more than a parting splash of holy water if they’re lucky.
Presumably in Heaven the rewards of their honorees are secure. But here I saw, as a non-mystic visitor, that alongside the ancient motto of Sic Transit Gloria Mundineeds to stand another, Sic Transit Sanctus Mundi (Goodbye to yesterday’s holiness) as well. And maybe even a third, if only as a footnote, that not even an ornate gilded urn will do more than slow the eventual passing. Oh, wait: “Dust to dust”(Genesis 3); they already have it.
As you see, my cathedral stop was no masterpiece, but memorable all the same. I wonder how different It would have been had I been able to take a weekend side trip to Ghent. Much better if Doug Gwyn and I had gone together.
Just about every day, Facebook pops up on my personal page a post & photo from this date some year in the past, as a memory.
The other day, a photo came up on FB of me, taking nap recliner, while mischievous granddaughter, seven, piling stuffed animals and stuff on my torso to see how much she could stack up on me before the weight woke me up.
This happened one year ago during a family reunion over an extended weekend in Las Vegas, where my daughter works as a nurse. It was silly scene, but showed we were having a fine time, so it was worth a passing remembrance.
Then I realized something else about it. That trip and gathering marked the end of the world.
Well, not the end of THE world, but surely the end of A world: the pre-pandemic world, the demise of what can be called the Good Old Days. And so that silly photo of me asleep with odds and ends piled on my belly in late February 2020, also marked the anniversary – better say the first anniversary — of the era of Covid.
After that family weekend, within just a few weeks, schools were closed, unemployment swept through us like a tornado, markets crashed, toilet paper disappeared and lockdowns were coming, and the last time I was able to worship in person at our meetinghouse until – when?
And on this unwelcome anniversary, I realized a couple other things: one is that it’s not over; far from it. The other is a strong suspicion, that even when it’s declared to be over, it may be impossible to go “back to normal.” At least not entirely.
In other news, besides the pandemic, insurrection, the economic crash, climate degradation, systemic racism and a few other “challenges,” did you stop to think this week about how most of the USA and much of the rest of the world could be destroyed with not much more than 15 minutes warning?
Me neither. Except that I did think about it briefly on Sunday, because of Patrick O’Neill.
Then he went to jail on Thursday for reminding me.
I admire the dogged liberal Catholics at the National Catholic Reporter. (NCR)
NCR occupies an outpost besieged on practically all sides by the forces of Catholic clerico-fascism, which are older than Trump but have eagerly leaped into bed with his movement. Their outlook predates Trump, though, and will likely survive him.
NCR’s main inside ally is Pope Francis; which from an external perspective, ought to be enough. I mean, this is Catholicism, and he’s the pope That makes him the boss, right?
But close up, the reality is more complex and discouraging: the Catholic hierarchy is vast & complicated, and political scheming & internal conflict, including violence within its upper levels is as old as— well, Judas.
Given that the incoming U.S. President is is not only a lifelong Catholic but an honest-to-God practicing one, simpleton outsiders like me might imagine that politically-minded Catholics & their bishops might be thrilled.
And to be sure, some are.
But not all that many. The American hierarchy is overall a branch of the swamp, and hatred of Francis, along with obsessions about abortion, homophobia and the gospels of PPP (pedophile priest protection) & PPR (Perpetual Protection of the Rich), not to mention hanging on to church money, appear to be their abiding priorities.
Here are excerpts from the wrapup of 2020 in American Catholicism, by Michael Sean Winters, NCR’s church columnist. Given the institutional weight and influence of Catholicism (e.g., 21 U. S. Senators — Baptists only have 11 — six of nine Supreme Court justices, etc.), and still the largest denomination in the country, etc., this is a review worth the attention of even small sects like my own Quakers. My comments are in red.
Michael Sean Winters: The dominant fact of ecclesial life in the United States the past several years has been the resistance to Pope Francis among large sections of the faithful and even the bishops. The pandemic briefly brought Catholic leaders together, but by year’s end, the opposition to Francis was as strong as ever.
Yet 2020 began with that great act designed to deepen communion with the Holy Father, the ad limina visits in which all the bishops go to Rome for meetings with the pope and with the different dicasteries that help the pope exercise his ministry. Various bishops said they enjoyed the frank conversations with the pope, with whom they met in small groups for a couple of hours, rather than the 10-minute, one-on-one sessions at which not much was accomplished during previous ad limina visits.
It didn’t take. Some bishops used the visits to put words in the pope’s mouth, saying he agreed with their decision to name abortion “our preeminent priority” in the election, even though the key distinction was whether or not the issue is “a” priority (with which we can all agree) or “the” priority, which is more problematic. . . .
Comment: Even for clerico-fascists, abortion is, while first-among-equals on their list of evils, more complex than it appears. Part of the background is that their outlook is still rooted in a conviction that our culture will only be “saved” by a huge outburst of fertility, to fend off “The Great Replacement,” by non-Christian — especially non-Catholic & non-white — foreigners), so besides outlawing the practice, they want women back home, gestating. Such a shift would involve a lot more than simply outlawing abortion, locking up (or hanging) the clinic doctors & nurses.
Michael Sean Winters: By the time the visits were concluded in February, the coronavirus had begun to change the way the entire country went about its business and by March, the entire country went into a shutdown. I was pleasantly surprised that the bishops did not rush to the offices of the Becket Fund to complain that the government had ordered public Mass services suspended and prepare for another religious liberty battle.
By May, however, the common good took its first assault when the Minnesota bishops announced they would defy their governor’s restrictions on worship. I will grant that not every governor or mayor implemented sensible regulations: Attendance caps that treated large churches the same as tiny ones made no sense. Still, comparing church worship to shopping made less sense and appealing to religious liberty misrepresented church teaching entirely.
Sadly, the religious liberty caucus at the bishops’ conference is merely an arm of the culture warriors at the Knights of Columbus and the Federalist Society. As I have noted before — and it held true this year — they do not preach Christ and him crucified (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:2) but James Madison and him justified.
Washington Cardinal Wilton Gregory (above) expresses thanks after employees at the Archdiocesan Pastoral Center in Hyattsville, Maryland, surprised him Dec. 3, 2020, with a banner and red balloons to welcome him home from the Nov. 28 consistory at the Vatican during which Pope Francis created him as one of 13 new cardinals. (CNS/Catholic Standard/Andrew Biraj)
One bright spot this year came at the Knights of Columbus’ expense when Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory criticized them in no uncertain terms for hosting President Donald Trump for a photo-op. The event was held at the Knights’ St. John Paul II National Shrine in Washington the day after the president’s henchmen had cleared peaceful protesters away from St. John’s Church on Lafayette Square so that the president could pose for the cameras holding a Bible.
“I find it baffling and reprehensible that any Catholic facility would allow itself to be so egregiously misused and manipulated in a fashion that violates our religious principles, which call us to defend the rights of all people even those with whom we might disagree,” Gregory said of the Knights’ hosting the president. “Saint Pope John Paul II was an ardent defender of the rights and dignity of human beings. His legacy bears vivid witness to that truth. He certainly would not condone the use of tear gas and other deterrents to silence, scatter or intimidate them for a photo opportunity in front of a place of worship and peace.”
Comment: EWTN stands for Eternal Word Television Network, based in Birmingham, Alabama, is a very right-wing Catholic broadcaster. Michael Warsaw is its Chairman and CEO.
Michael Sean Winters: Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas, always manages to put the “lie” in “outlier,” endorsing a video made by a ranting Wisconsin priest who claimed no Catholic could vote for Joe Biden. Still, it could have been worse, much worse.
At the U.S. bishops’ conference meeting after the election, it did become worse. The leadership of the bishops’ conference overlooked its own bylaws to establish a task force on how to deal with the incoming Biden administration; Francis called to congratulate President-elect Biden.
It is clear that on most issues, Biden will be much closer to the mind of the church than was his predecessor. Yet, former Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput became the public face of a campaign to deny Communion to the president-elect with a poorly reasoned essay at First Things. If you want to sum up the sad state of the U.S. hierarchy today consider this fact: Our president-elect, whom many bishops think is not a “real Catholic” and who should be denied communion, is more likely to favorably quote Francis than many bishops.
The U.S. bishops’ conference meeting also featured elections for committee chairs, and the results confirmed the degree to which the conference will remain a Francis-free zone. The most illustrative contest pitted conservative darling Bishop Thomas Daly of Spokane, Washington, against Archbishop Gregory Hartmayer of Atlanta for the chairmanship of the Committee on Education. As one bishop told me before the vote, “That contest will show if there is room for a moderate in the conference.” There isn’t. Daly won 139 votes to 103.
It has become clear that conservatives organize and campaign for these committee chair elections and liberals note that there is not supposed to be any campaigning. Guess who will keep winning?
Televangelist Pat Robertson, one of President Trump’s staunchest backers, on Monday (December 21, 2020) described Trump as “very erratic,” called on him to accept that President-elect Joe Biden won and said the Republican should not consider running again in 2024.
The comments marked a sharp turnaround for Robertson, who recently voiced support for Trump’s false claims of widespread voter fraud and declared before the election that God had told him Trump was going to win. “I think it’s a sideshow,” Robertson said Monday on his television show, “The 700 Club,” when asked whether he thinks Trump should run again in 2024. “I think it would be a mistake. . . .
Robertson said that Trump has “done a marvelous job for the economy, but at the same time he is very erratic, and he’s fired people and he’s fought people and he’s insulted people and he keeps going down the line.”
“And so, it’s a mixed bag,” he said. “And I think it would be well to say, ‘You’ve had your day and it’s time to move on.”
Robertson helped spur the rise of the religious right in the 1980s and 1990s and has been influential among religious conservatives for decades. . . . In early 2017, after Trump’s administration began, Robertson suggested that those who were revolting against the president were revolting against God.
Chris Roslan, a spokesman for the Christian Broadcasting Network, estimated that about a million people watch the 700 Club across the network’s platforms.
Robertson, a onetime GOP presidential candidate, has been generally supportive of Trump during his administration, although he criticized the president this past summer for his “law and order” response to the nationwide unrest following the killing of George Floyd in the custody of Minneapolis police. . . .
“You know, with all his talent and the ability to be able to raise money and grow large crowds, the president still lives in an alternate reality,” Robertson said. “He really does. People say, ‘Well, he lies about this, that and the other.’ But no, he isn’t lying; to him, that’s the truth.”
. . . “And, you know, people kept pointing to them, but because they loved him so much and he was so strong for the evangelicals — the evangelicals were with him all the way — but there was something about him that was good, that God placed him in that office for the time.”
After these excerpts were posted, my friend Dennis Lone in Seattle commented: If anyone knows about alternative reality, it would be Pat Robertson.
There’s not much left on my personal bucket list. That’s especially true when the dreamiest, yet most implausible items (e. g., hitting a homer against baseball’s Evil Empire in Yankee Stadium) are subtracted.
But one hope, after so many decades, still dances tantalizingly on my horizon: living to see a king of England named after me.
Chuck The Third. By the grace of God, yada yada.
Not, let me hasten to add, that I fantasize about being king in his place. The royals are periodically interesting to watch, but would be purgatory to be. I’d rather be stuck preparing a tally of all the times You-Know-Who said “incredible” to describe something he knew absolutely squat about.
Nor am I counting down the days. After all, I know his queenly Mum is merely 94 & evidently immortal.
But still, it could happen, in my remaining span. I turn 78 next week, and that’s old enough to have seen the Cubs and the Red Sox win the World Series, and Mike Pence lose a race for re-election as Veep.
And just in time to put more flies in the ointment, the hit Netflix series “The Crown,” I gather, has been doing its best to besmirch my royal namesake as the Bad Guy of Balmoral, the Weasel of Westminster, the Cad of all the Castles, not to mention the Doom of Diana.
Almost by accident, in 1997 I became a crime reporter, specializing in church-related financial frauds. My first major investigative report, called “Fleecing the Faithful,” is still online.
Michael Cohen’s book “Disloyal” brings back those years.
The crime schemes I covered were obscure, and often complicated to explain. Although they ruined many lives, they did so quietly. Cases typically lacked physical violence, dead bodies or sex. Hence few except the biggest ever got much media attention.
Yet religious based frauds were (& are) plentiful & destructive. And they didn’t have to directly involve “church” to be religious, at least for me. That’s because these crimes, like others, involve one of the central religious issues, namely the reality of evil. In fact, these cases’ lack of lurid melodrama made it easier for me to focus, at least In reflecting on them, on the underlying question: