The Pope’s Long Right Arm

Pope Benedict–theologian, intellectual, scholar–said, in effect, pastoral leadership and inter-religious unity be damned this week when he “un-excommunicated” the irregularly ordained crazy Catholic-ish right-wing sect known as the Society of St. Pius X.

Read the clip below from Whispers in the Loggia:

In an effort to stem the nightmare of perception born from his lifting of the excommunications of the four illicitly-ordained bishops of the Society of St Pius X and concurrent comments from one of the clerics disputing the use of gas chambers by the Third Reich during World War II, the Pope used this morning’s General Audience to give a reflection on the Holocaust and his weekend decree removing the gravest of sanctions from the ultratraditionalist leaders.

My question is: How long is the Pope’s left arm? If his right arm can reach far enough to un-excommunicate the unrepentant Holocaust deniers, certainly his left arm can stretch out to lift the excommunication orders on the irregularly ordained Catholic women bishops and priests–members of the Roman Catholic Womenpriests movement–who seek to serve their church. Can I get an Amen?!

Last Supper Fish Lures by Charles Krafft

Seattle artist Charlie Krafft’s art is not for everyone. I first noticed him when he did an exhibit in Slovenia of “putting weapons beyond use” by turning hand grenades and machine guns into fine Delft china. (See it at his Villa Delirium museum.)

I check in on Charlie every once in awhile just to see what wacky notion he’s playing with now. I particularly like his Jesus fish lures. Ah, the creative mind.


Doria Russell: Novelist as “God”

doriarussellforwebTwo decades ago, Mary Doria Russell, a paleoanthropologist turned novelist, was decoding the stories in ancient bones. Then she wrote two beautiful, theologically evocative books of science fiction, The Sparrow and Children of God. (You can read the preface to The Sparrow here.

I love these books and have read them over and over. Also, I interviewed Doria Russell for Sojourners last year. She’s very funny and is currently working on a novel about Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday.

The premise of The Sparrow and Children of God is that life is discovered on another planet by way of transmissions of hauntingly beautiful music. And Jesuits explorers and scientists make first contact, just as Jesuit priests were often in the vanguard of Europe’s age of discovery. Mary Doria Russell grappled with large moral and religious questions on and off the page—as she imagined the conversations and relationships between these Jesuits, the other scientists who travel with them, and the species they encounter.

Mary Doria Russell will be interviewed in a Speaking of Faith radio segment titled “The Novelist as God.” Listeners will discover what she discerned—in the act of creating a new universe—about God and about dilemmas of evil, doubt, and free will. The ultimate moral of any life and any event, Doria Russell believes, only shows itself across generations. And so the novelist, like God, she says, paints with the brush of time.

“The Novelist as God” will air on public radio stations nationwide from Thursday, January 29 through Wednesday, February 4. You’ll also be able to hear and download the program online at, where you’ll find broadcast locations and times.

Elizabeth Alexander’s “Praise Song for the Day”

InaugaralPoemGW_FINAL.inddAlexander did a tremendous job on Tuesday with her simple and brave inaugural poem. She held her own in the company of inaugural poets who include Robert Frost who recited The Gift Outright (1961), Maya Angelou who read A Rock, A River, A Tree (1993) and Miller Williams who offered Of History and Hope (1996).

Praise Song for the Day
An Occasional Poem for the Inauguration of President Barack Obama
by Elizabeth Alexander

Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each other’s
eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.

All about us is noise. All about us is
noise and bramble, thorn and din, each
one of our ancestors on our tongues.

Someone is stitching up a hem, darning
a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,
repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere,
with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,
with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky.
A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.

We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark
the will of some one and then others, who said
I need to see what’s on the other side.

I know there’s something better down the road.
We need to find a place where we are safe.
We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain: that many have died for this day.
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,
who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,

picked the cotton and the lettuce, built
brick by brick the glittering edifices
they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,
the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need
. What if the mightiest word is love?

Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light,
love with no need to pre-empt grievance.

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,

praise song for walking forward in that light.


For a fun interview, watch Elizabeth Alexander on ColbertNation explain to Stephen Colbert the difference between a metaphor and a lie.

The Still Small Twitter of God?

Yale English professor William Deresiewicz says in his recent article The End of Solitude that “The great contemporary terror is anonymity.” If true, this certainly has implications for the development of the human soul – which often experiences its greatest growth spurts in silence, solitiude, and in an anonymous abandonment into the heart of God. Deresiewicz’s article provides some meaty (fishy?) pre-Lent reading. Here’s an excerpt:

Man may be a social animal, but solitude has traditionally been a societal value. In particular, the act of being alone has been understood as an essential dimension of religious experience, albeit one restricted to a self-selected few. Through the solitude of rare spirits, the collective renews its relationship with divinity. The prophet and the hermit, the sadhu and the yogi, pursue their vision quests, invite their trances, in desert or forest or cave. For the still, small voice speaks only in silence. Social life is a bustle of petty concerns, a jostle of quotidian interests, and religious institutions are no exception. You cannot hear God when people are chattering at you, and the divine word, their pretensions notwithstanding, demurs at descending on the monarch and the priest. Communal experience is the human norm, but the solitary encounter with God is the egregious act that refreshes that norm. (Egregious, for no man is a prophet in his own land. Tiresias was reviled before he was vindicated, Teresa interrogated before she was canonized.) Religious solitude is a kind of self-correcting social mechanism, a way of burning out the underbrush of moral habit and spiritual custom. The seer returns with new tablets or new dances, his face bright with the old truth.

Read the whole thing.

Inauguration Day Photos

I finally got a few pictures put together on how I spent Inauguration Day 2009. Let me preface any and all pictures by saying: It was 19 degrees on Tuesday in D.C. and the wind was blowing.

I didn’t have tickets to any official events. I tried but failed to get a press pass for the day. I didn’t go to any balls–but watched folks in tuxes and gowns who were riding the subway downtown.

If you click on the photo below it should take you to the album of my Inauguration Day photos. I suggest you play them as a slideshow.

Inauguration Day Photos

“Harmonies of Liberty” by Rev. Sharon E. Watkins

Rev. Sharon Watkins is the general minister (top dog) of the Disciples of Christ denomination and a Sojourners board member.  She was the first woman ever to offer the homily at the National Prayer Service. She sharon-watkinswebpreached yesterday at the National Cathedral on biblical passages Isaiah 58:6-12 and Matthew 22:6-40.  I emailed with Sharon last week and she was hard at work on her sermon. I think she hit exactly the right note for the moment and let the prophetic and liberating voice of the biblical passages have their power in our present times—she let Isaiah and Jesus have their say.

Additionally, Sharon referred to Jill Biden as “Doctor” Biden, rather than “Mrs.” A nice touch. She was personal, warm, funny. She brought in Muslim voices by mentioning “A Common Word Between Us” and Jewish voices with Emma Lazarus. She referenced Wellesly English professor Katherine Lee Bates, author of “America the Beautiful,” who was in a long-term relationship with Katherine Corman. She built her reflection around a Cherokee parable that, I suggest, communicates to all regardless of religious tradition. She made room for Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and the triumphant poem of James Weldon Johnson. She quoted President Obama back to himself, which is a magnificent and simple rhetorical dynamic that can keep him rooted in his best nature.

I think she did a fantastic job – and contributed to the great oratory tradition to which we are returning. Thanks, Sharon.

Read Rev. Watkins sermon below:

Mr. President and Mrs. Obama, Mr. Vice President and Dr. Biden, and your families, what an inaugural celebration you have hosted! Train ride, opening concert, service to neighbor, dancing till dawn . . . And yesterday . . . With your inauguration, Mr. President, the flame of America’s promise burns just a little brighter for every child of this land! There is still a lot of work to do, and today the nation turns its full attention to that work. As we do, it is good that we pause to take a deep spiritual breath. It is good that we center for a moment.

What you are entering now, Mr. President and Mr. Vice President, will tend to draw you away from your ethical center. But we, the nation that you serve, need you to hold the ground of your deepest values, of our deepest values. Beyond this moment of high hopes, we need you to stay focused on our shared hopes, so that we can continue to hope, too. We will follow your lead.

Continue reading ““Harmonies of Liberty” by Rev. Sharon E. Watkins”

Watching the Inaugural Concert at Busboys & Poets


On Sunday, I went to Busboys and Poets restaurant to hear Joe Ross read his poem “Imagine the Shock” from the new collection Poetic Voices Beyond Borders. Robert Giron (publisher) and Melissa Tuckey (Split this Rock organizer) decided on a change of plans and rescheduled the poetry reading because the Inaugural concert was playing live on the big screen TV in the Langston Hughes Room where the reading was to be held. It was packed with rapt enthusiasts watching the concert and singing along.

The photo above is of the room. Barack Obama was giving his speech at the concert. A joyful roomful cheered him on. The wall on the right side of the Langston Room is a collage mural called The Peace and Struggle wall.

Creek Art: Stone Bees Build Hive

I took this photo on Friday of this week in Rock Creek Park in D.C. Inspired by Joe Ross’s wonderful winter picture on his blog header, I thought I’d take a walk in the sparse woods. Something caught my eye down in the creek. Stunning. I drive the same route on Broad Branch Road through the Park every Friday morning and pass this spot each time. I’ve never seen this object before. Maybe the frozen white creek water made it stand out. But I’m pretty sure it wasn’t there last Friday.

Stone bees by Rose Marie Berger Jan 2009
Stone bees by Rose Marie Berger Jan 2009

Apparently, someone has been busy creating amid the long stark shadows of the maples and oaks. It’s either a winter hive made by stone bees or the little people from the Emerald Isle are practicing their corbeling to make a monastic hut. Blessings on the artist practicing creek art. I think there are some other random acts of art happening in the woods of Rock Creek. If you spot them, send me a photo.

Rev. King: Christian Radical

I loved reading Joseph Ross’s blog post Dr. King in 2009. It’s an excellent reminder for us all. Here’s an excerpt:

Dr. King saw America’s economic system creating a nearly permanent under-class. This, he saw, as a gross injustice, this willingness to allow whole segments of our population to remain poorly educated, badly treated in the social realm, and unfairly treated as consumers, all resulting in a horribly unequal economic state. Many of us forget that the reason he was in Memphis in April of 1968, when he was killed, was not to rally for racial equality, but to support the sanitation workers’ strike and their “I Am A Man” campaign.

If non-violence and poverty reduction were the twin centers of his social strategy, what would Dr. King say to America in 2009?

Read the whole post here.

And I’d add to Joe’s reflections the quote in The Washington Post from King colleague Rev. Joseph Lowery:

They have made Martin a glorified social worker, and they have almost made our young folks believe that all Martin did was go around dreaming. He was a nonviolent militant. He was a Christian radical.

And for a great video to lift your spirits, watch Lowery’s address at Coretta Scott King’s funeral. Prophetic, funny, brave, and eloquent. (I love when he “critiques” President Bush, who is sitting right behind him.)