First Friday of Lent: Is Alligator a Fish?

As a Catholic with a Louisiana-Catholic grandmother, I could not resist posting this letter from the Archbishop of New Orleans from a few Lents back. If you want to read the hilarious comments from when it was first posted (and you aren’t afraid of The American Conservative), then check them out.

My favorites?
For the Monty Python fan:

“Now given that witches are made of wood and thus float, does that mean that alligators, being a species of fish and thus also float are witches? Or does it mean that alligators are made of wood?”

For the Byzantine:

“I’ve heard that both Catholic and Orthodox Lenten Fast laws classify beaver meat as a kind of fish, not that I’d every take advantage of that loophole.”

For the Bible geek:

“While I’m in total agreement with you concerning Abp Aymond’s apostolic authority, please remember that ancient Hebrew had no word for reptile. Ergo, just as the Hebrew words “brother” and “sister” actually mean cousin, auntie, BFF, and old lady from down the street when referring to the family of the Lord; in the same way “fish” in Hebrew actually refers not only to alligator, nutria, and capybara, but to crocodile, cayman, eel, and platypus as well.

As an alternative exegesis of John 21, it is entirely possible that the apostles were grilling alligator with a bit of platypus by the shore of Genesseret, but our Lord thought it was icky and changed it into tilapia when they weren’t looking.”

Seriously, this is one of the best comment threads I’ve come across in a long time. There’s even a Lenten recipe for bayou delicacy nutria. (Don’t even ask ….)

NYT Runs Obit for Catholic Theologian Isasi-Díaz

Finally (!)  The New York Times has run an obituary for Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz. My memorial for Ada will run in the July issue of Sojourners (at the printer now). Here’s a portion of Paul Vitello’s NYT article:

In part, Dr. Isasi-Díaz conceived of Mujerista, or “womanist” theology (from the Spanish word mujer, for woman), to distinguish her ideas from those of feminism — a term “rejected by many in the Hispanic community,” she wrote in 1989, “because they consider feminism a preoccupation of white, Anglo women.” She hoped that “Mujerism,” which she considered a spiritual branch of the reform movement known as liberation theology, would help delineate the special community of need and identity shared by poor, Hispanic, Catholic women.

“Hispanic women widely agree that, though we make up the vast majority of those who participate in the work of the churches, we do not participate in deciding what work is to be done,” she wrote in a 1989 article in Christian Century, titled “Mujeristas: A Name of Our Own!”

“We do the praying, but our understanding of the God to whom we pray is ignored.” Dr. Isasi-Díaz argued that poor women, by the nature of their roles in their families and communities, “exercised their moral agency in the world” more profoundly than any other group of the faithful. They did that in the small daily choices they made, she said: between bus fare and a 40-block walk to work, for instance; or between breakfast for oneself or one’s child. Those choices embodied immense moral power, and deserved to be honored in the form of greater roles for those women in their church.

Read the whole article.

Video: ‘The Gulf Appears to be Bleeding’

Thanks to Sue Sturgis over at the Institute for Southern Studies for posting  the story of John Wathen and his heart-breaking video of  the oil spill destroying our southern coast as a result of BP criminal negligence.

The Institute for Southern Studies was founded in 1970 by veterans of the civil rights movement and has established a national reputation as an essential resource for grassroots activists, community leaders, scholars, policy makers and others working to bring lasting social and economic change to the region. Sue Sturgis writes:

Hurricane Creekkeeper John Wathen of Alabama and volunteer pilot Tom Hutchings of SouthWings flew over the Gulf of Mexico on Friday to get a look at the massive oil slick spreading from the site of the BP disaster.

At nine miles out, they began to smell the oil. At 11 miles, they saw a visible sheen on the water. And at mile 87 off the Alabama coast, they reached ground zero of the disaster — what Wathen described as a “red mass of floating goo” as far as the eye can see.

“The Gulf appears to be bleeding,” he said.

“For the first time in my environmental career, I find myself using the word ‘hopeless,'” Wathen continued. “We can’t stop this. There’s no way to prevent this from hitting our shorelines.”

Wathen and Hutchings had no trouble finding their way back to land: “All we had to do was follow the red,” Wathens said. “There was a perfect line of it leading from the rig to the shoreline.”

Here’s the video from that trip, which is also posted to Wathen’s blog dedicated to documenting the disaster:

ISS – ‘The Gulf appears to be bleeding’ (video).

Dispatch from Prison: How Strong Is Hope?

In my daily prayer book, the morning antiphon for today said: “The Lord chose these holy men for their unfeigned love …” The men referred to are Saints Phillip and James, whose feast day it is today. But as I return from a writing workshop at one of Maryland’s federal men’s prisons, the phrase takes on a fresher meaning.

This week I’m the visiting humanities scholar inside the “big house.” There were about 20 men in class today. I think they are all from Washington, D.C. When the federal prison at Lorton, VA, closed in the late 1990s and early 2000s, D.C. federal prisoners were shipped all over the U.S.– sometimes very far from their families.

Hope House DC was established by Carol Fennelly in 1998 to help keep those D.C. families with someone in prison together and keep incarcerated fathers active in the lives of their kids. Hope House also works to reduce the isolation, stigma, and risk families experience when fathers and husbands are imprisoned and raises public awareness about prison issues and this at-risk population.

Carol Fennelly invited me to participate in this program – funded by the Humanities Council of Washington, D.C. – and made it possible for me to come teach these classes as part of the National Endowment for the Arts “Big Read” program. The book that D.C. has chosen to read and that we are discussing in these workshops is Ernest Gaines’ A Lesson Before Dying, which takes on the question: Knowing we are going to day, how should we live?

The guys are discussing the book and writing about their own experiences. I was impressed that every single man had read the book in advance. From the depth of our discussion I think some had read it multiple times. One man quoted sections from memory and cited the page numbers.

We talked about the characters, their motivations, the setting in rural Louisiana in the 1940s. We talked about what makes a character — and whether a character always has to be a person or can it be the landscape or even an experience that looms large in the story line. The men struggled with each other over whether the main character “Jefferson” was a “victim of circumstance” or “did he make a bad choice” that ended with him on death row.

We talked about the preacher that peddles hope on Sunday mornings, but the hope fades by sunset and never leads to changing the systems of oppressions. Just how strong is hope? And how weak is optimism? We discussed how very small acts or things can be used to dismantle an overarching system — the weapons of the weak can take apart dehumanizing systems. But they only work if they force the oppressors and the oppressed to recognize their shared humanity.

At one point our conversation shifted. One man said, “We keep saying that Jefferson was simple or retarded or slow or stupid and that’s why he did those things that ended him up in jail. But WE did the same things! We made the same choices. And WE aren’t stupid or simple or slow.” Then each one began to wrestle with who he was in the story and the choices that he had made and how hard it is to build up enough strength to make new choices when the same old situations arise on the outside.

I won’t say that anyone in the workshop – myself included – is “holy” in a morally righteous sense. But instead “the Lord called these holy men” in the sense that holiness also means moving toward becoming a whole and healed human being. And even in this first day, I can stand as a witness to their “unfeigned love” – especially when they talk about their kids or show pictures of their families. Tomorrow we’ll work on a number of writing exercises and end with a reading from their work and a graduation certificate.

On another note, it turns out that “Casino Jack” Abramoff was also at this facility, on the minimum security side. He’s getting released to a half-way house this month just in time to see Alex Gibney’s newly released documentary about his life called Casino Jack and the United States of Money. Suffice it to say, the range of “bad choices” made by men in Washington, D.C., is wide-ranging.