Firing a Priest

The prayer petition of Rev. Patrick J. Conroy, SJ, that Congressional leaders heard sometime before voting on a corporate tax cut that will explode the deficit was not that different from those I frequently hear at Mass in the Atlanta suburb where I worship.

That he invited an Imam to offer Muslim prayer is consistent with the ecumenism I have seen practiced in my own and other area Churches.

That a priest is not qualified to speak to the needs of families is an interesting argument for his dismissal. However it flies in the face of the gravity the Catholic Church places on the Sacrament of marriage and the role of the family in the life of the Church as the body of Christ.

It is also laughable considering it has been a mere three years since Pope Francis attended the Church’s World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love and the incubator for our system of government. (This meeting will be held in 2018 in Dublin.)

Simplified, the Catechism says this about family: (2204-2206) “The Christian family is “the domestic” church…The Christian family is a sign of the communion of the Trinity. In procreating and educating children the family reflects the Father’s work of creation. The Family must pray together, read God’s Word, and Evangelize.” (2207-2208). “The family is the original cell of social life. The stability of family relationships constitute the foundations of a society.”

Yes.  Priests who spend years in seminary and often pursue higher level master’s and doctoral studies are inculcated with the centrality of family in the Christian life.

Speaker Paul Ryan clearly dismissed Fr. Conroy for a reason.  But I doubt it was legitimately any of those outlined above.

Perhaps he was laying ground cover for his successor, who – if not a Democrat – will likely be a highly conservative member of the Freedom Caucus with an evangelical bent.

Ryan is good at carrying out actions that shouldn’t be in keeping with his Catholic moral sensibilities. I could point to any one of the many scandals of Donald Trump since he became POTUS where Ryan should have been critical and wasn’t; but there are too many and I don’t know where to start.

Perhaps they thought a Catholic firing a Catholic priest had better optics than an evangelical House Speaker doing so at a later date.

It doesn’t.

Einstein and Opie: Opus 2

So my previous blog on this topic involved my binge watching the first 8 episodes of last season’s National Geographic program “Genius,” which focused on the life of Albert Einstein.

While the first 8 episodes were a sometimes joyful romp through fields of scientific theory with the young Einstein, punctuated by doleful drama about his first marriage, the last three episodes deal with the political fallout of what it meant to be Albert Einstein, the world’s most famous scientific thinker.

It starts with a testy interview for Einstein and his second wife, Elsie (who is also somehow both his first and second cousin), with a government agent given a charge by J. Edgar Hoover to deny Einstein entry into the United States.

After a P.R. campaign in American papers to let Einstein immigrate due to the increasing danger for Jews in Hitler’s Germany, he makes it to a post at Princeton only to watch his greatest thought turned into the atomic bomb against his pacifist belief system.

To his great consternation, he makes the cover of “Time” as the harbinger of the Atomic Age.

He also turns down prestigious offers to lecture in favor of speaking to a black university physics class, and he uses his fame to be a voice for peace and understanding between nations rather than a nuclear arms race.

Yet as invested in humanity and its fate as Einstein is, he still struggles to make connections with his own adult children, although he develops a delightful late in life relationship with a little girl named Alice who offers him cookies in exchange for helping her with her math homework.

And he dies before being able to prove the concept of unified field theory, which attempted to unify his general theory of relativity with the science of electromagnetism, his brain preserved in a jar for future study.

In a bit of research, I learned that a portion of Einstein’s brain was found to be abnormally large as compared to other brains, perhaps the reason for his genius and unique vision of our universe.

Though Einstein never proved what is sometimes called “The Theory of Everything,” this biographical look at the scientists’s life is a universally satisfying look at the greatness – and flaws – of pure genius.

Einstein and Opie

I am behind the curve.

In fact, I am behind the curve in every curve of the physical universe Albert Einstein had the fantastical vision to see.

I am also behind the curve in watching National Geographic’s brilliant series “Genius,” which last year featured the story of Einstein’s life based on the work of the brilliant biographer Walter Isaacson.

If it weren’t for Pablo Picasso, I would have missed Einstein altogether.

Looking through the weekend’s “New York Times,” I read a wonderful article about Antonio Banderas and the transformative role he is taking on playing Picasso in Season Two of “Genius.”

Which of course led me to wonder who had been the subject of Season One.  So I turned to my On Demand and there I found – Einstein.

But this is not the sad, dog eyed Einstein of photographs and posters, looking mournfully shaggy into a camera lens.

This is an Einstein that sparkles and shines as brilliantly as the rays of light Einstein studied with such dreamy determination to develop and later prove his theory of general relativity.

This Einstein is vital and vigorous as a young man, plucking the beards of his scientific elders who cannot grasp the theoretical delights Einstein posits because their roots are based on scientific observation that leads to physically certifiable results – like plucking nitrogen from the air to create fertilizer to grow crops for a Europe on the verge of food storage

Or more deadly, creating mustard gas for use in World War I.  That these two things were created by the same man, Nobel Prize winner in Chemistry Fritz Haber, is disturbing and shows how good people can do immoral things for what they have convinced themselves are the “right” reasons.

This is only one level of moral dichotomy addressed in this story. Like the universe, Einstein’s personal life bends and accelerates and runs to gravity, it’s complexity as deep as the equations Einstein as professor scrawls across the college blackboards in the classrooms where he teaches.

And there are black holes in his life, along with atomic explosions that he never sees coming. Most of these deal with his first marriage and the loss of custody of his two sons when he divorces.

Equally transformative is the way the blue-eyed, blond Johnny Flynn, a poet and musician raised in England, becomes the dark-eyed, dark mass of dynamic hair as the young Einstein. I am glad I waited until after I had watched most of the series to Google Flynn.  It was truly a “that cannot possibly be the same person” moment.

Geoffrey Rush as the older Einstein needs less physical alchemy to take on Einstein’s persona. He is, after all, Geoffrey Rush – as observable a phenomenon as the sun itself.

Who knew watching all those Mayberry episodes that Opie was going to grow up to be the director to explore the subject of genius in such a cinematic way –  on an electronic TV screen light years in technology removed from the cathode tubes that first brought his face into our living rooms in the 1960s?

All on waves of light Einstein once only theorized about.

“The Post”

Tonight I enjoyed watching “The Post,” a thoroughly riveting movie about the publication of the Pentagon Papers in 1971 by the now deceased Katherine Graham, then publisher of The Washington Post, and Ben Bradlee, its editor.

In 1971, I was a high school senior in a rural town in Indiana and the rice paddies of Vietnam were very remote to my thinking at the time.  I was more stressed about affording college than I was about a war that made little dent in the populace among which I lived.

My cognizance would shift a bit when I briefly fell for a Vietnam vet with whom I rode back and forth to the IU-Purdue campus in Fort Wayne. But the war was not something he cared to discuss, and I had stars in my eyes and a willingness to hear whatever he wished on whatever subject he cared to talk about.

When I ended up joining the Navy for the G.I. Bill so I could afford college, Vietnam was still not a part of my every day reality. For the most part I served as admin support at the school which comprised the first training phase for nuclear reactor operators, both officer and enlisted. Most of these men were submariners, and many had not yet seen duty of any sort.

Once again I had stars in my eyes for someone, and my romantic soul defined my days far more than world events or even military life.  The latter was a means to an end to me, although I am proud to have served my country while also securing my college future.

It was that college life that took me into journalism and finally into the larger world of politics and issues ranging from crop yield to scholastic achievement among students  to the place of nuclear power as an energy source.

There are moments I regret ever leaving that world for a better paying P.R. job.  But I was a single mother with a child to support.  And I didn’t believe in my talents enough to think I could make it to the New York Times.

So my gaze turned back more toward the personal in life and the professional of the companies for which I worked. The larger discourse was lost to me again.

Then came Donald Trump. If he can be credited with anything, it is for snapping those of us lulled into every day stupor out of it and into the reality of how completely ill-equipped this man was (is) to lead this country for every possible reason.

He is a rubber stamp for the GOP agenda.  Nothing more.  Nothing less. It is the only reason he is tolerated by the Paul Ryans and Mitch McConnells of the world.

“The Post” is a reminder that the freedom of the press is a powerful tool to hold Trump accountable in his Presidency.  That is why -except for the state endorsed Fox News- he fights so relentlessly against the press. He of all people knows the power of the media to blow down his house of cards and expose it for the hollowness it is.

So keep it up, both professional and citizen journalists! And remember these words from Associate Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black quoted in the movie on the view held by the Founding Fathers: “The Press was to serve the governed, not the governors.”

Lordy, Lordy

I cannot believe that we have just bombed a foreign country and all our President is concerned about today is a book of James Comey’s impressions of him that we already knew Comey held. Lordy!

We all heard Comey testify before Congress. Did Donald Trump think there would be a different analysis in the book?

Trump doesn’t like people he cannot cajole of corrupt to bend to his will. We have all read enough analysis to know this is the sign of an autocratic personality.

Comey is a proud man who did not bend. Perhaps Trump has never met one of those before.

But if Trump truly believes himself innocent of corruption – in both involvement with Russian election interference or illegal campaign finance – if Trump truly believes he is exercising Presidential authority and not obstructing justice, why does he give a fig what James Comey says? Or whom Robert Mueller indicts?

I want a President who is spending his time considering serious strategy on Syria and the tinder box that is the Mid-East, not one who lights a match and then goes off to sip his Diet Cokes while live tweeting Fox News “analysts” no more qualified to their opinions than I am to mine.

It is easy to question our military decisions in hindsight. Anyone can do that and say we were “just” in involving ourselves in this one, stupid or misled about another.

But we are at a time when we must seriously understand what we are committing ourselves to continue doing in both the Mid-East, Asia and along the borders of Central European democracies.

We need people who can strategize and envision outcomes that don’t involve the destruction of other societies and the annihilation of their standard of living or of our own.

We need a leader who knows that there is as much strength – or more – in lifting people up through humanitarian outreach and diplomacy than in reaching out with our missiles.

If it is not okay for Assad to use chemical weapons against his own citizens, why is it okay for him to kill them in a civil war in any other fashion?

And if we care about Syrian lives so much we use missiles to defend them, why do we not care enough to help them by granting asylum to Syrian refugees?

And why are we so smug to drink Diet Coke while watching Fox News saying destroying those weapons is “great” while making our border with Mexico its own Gaza Strip?

From an ideological standpoint, things are terribly wrong in our country right now.

And Donald Trump may not like Comey’s analysis that Trump himself is the proximate problem.  But it’s the truth.

And Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell  know it.  Everyone knows it, except for the suckers Trump plays and the “close personal advisors” like Roger Stone and Steve Bannon who are playing him.

“If you hit me, I will hit you back harder” is not a strategy to living life.  It is a reaction.  Nothing more, nothing less.

And it is not a strategy for the greatest country on earth to employ – militarily, in a trade war or by ignoring diplomacy and humanitarian relief – and say it is a just nation.


Comey: The New Man for All Seasons?

And so the battle for truth begins.

It is a tale of two truths: one from an upright former leader of the FBI who has served under both Republican and Democratic leaders. The other from a reality-TV President who seems to live in an alternative universe of his own making in which he is the absolute monarch in what is supposed to be a country founded on Constitutional principles and rule of law.

Whom to believe?

Let’s go back in history a bit, shall we? Way back to a little country called England, around say 1534-1535.

Henry VIII – whose ego and vanity would have been an equal match to that of our current POTUS – had a dilemma.  While he had ridden himself of Cardinal Wolsey (kind of a Reince Priebus character in this example), lost Sir Thomas More as Lord Chancellor and found in Thomas Cromwell (think a Bannon-like manipulator) the man who would help him achieve his end to marry Anne Boleyn, many at Court and beyond were still contemptuous. (These would be akin to the celebrated  #NeverTrumpers like George Will and Bill Kristol.)

Remember, not only did Henry’s machinations rid him of a Queen – they also created a split from the Catholic Church and created The Church of England, a now Protestant religion with Henry as its supreme leader as ordained by God.

Henry needed a solution to guarantee the success of his endeavors. So he came up with a loyalty oath that anyone holding public or church office was to swear to its allegiance. (Loyalty oath – sound familiar?)

And Parliament (think our current GOP-led Congress) happily rubber stamped it all for Henry in what was called  the Acts of Supremacy.

Sir Thomas More – a lawyer, social philosopher, author, statesman and humanist – had a dilemma of his own.

A devout Catholic, he had advised Henry against the course of action chosen. For More, there was only one Church and one person ordained to lead it – the Pope.

More thought his retirement to private life would take off the pressure for him to swear such fealty. But More’s reputation was so sterling and had such influence that Henry felt he must have More’s obeisance to put a final gloss of authenticity to his newly formed religion and his place as its Supreme Head.

The Roman Catholic More – like others who refused to take the oath – was tried for treason.  His conviction was based on the perjured testimony of Richard Rich (a John Kelly-like creature when it comes to veracity). More, once friend and close confidante of Henry, was beheaded.

Now, I am not making an analogy here that former FBI Director James Comey is as sainted as Sir Thomas More literally came to be.

But he did lose something -his job- based on trumped-up charges that it was his handling of the Clinton e-mail investigation, with Donald Trump to turn around and admit to Lester Holt he had the Russia investigation on his mind in firing Comey. (Wonder who gave him the idea to use Hillary as the excuse? But her e-mails!)

Comey erred greatly in making his the judicial voice of pronouncement in summer 2016 in the investigation of the Hillary Clinton e-mails.  (Although I am sorry, my newly made Democratic friends, but I believe he had no choice but to go public about the e-mails found on Anthony Weiner’s computer in October.  Whether or not he had enough info that the Russia investigation should also have been made known, I will leave to the historians. Even Obama erred to over caution here. I cast my vote against Trump for Clinton.  My conscience is clear.)

But like More, I believe Comey believed himself to be acting with all integrity, even though he has admitted to an egotism of his own.

I do believe James Comey has a higher loyalty to this country than does Donald Trump, whose idea of loyalty – like Henry’s – is about personal allegiance rather than abstract ideals.

It may be easier for some people to understand Trump’s version of loyalty. It is a simple “you’re either with me or against me” and there is less thought involved in making it.

Personally, I much prefer Comey’s ”higher” brand to what seem like more abstract principles – even if it comes at a cost.

And to paraphrase More a bit – while I respect the Office of the Presidency (though not the man currently in it), I love my country and count my conscience more.

As does Comey, from all appearance.  New book coming out as testament to his own ego or no.

Regular Joes, Alternative Realities

With my penchant for winding out the night with a TCM movie, last night I picked one of this month’s “star” William Holden.

I had never seen “Stalag 17” before.  Although it preceded it, it reminded me very much of “The Great Escape,” which I have seen many, many times just for the moment where Steve McQueen jumps those fences.

The main characters of “Stalag 17” are not universally as “heroic” as those in “The Great Escape.” Most especially Holden’s.

He is the barracks’ “scrounger,” a la James Garner’s character “Hensley.” Both Holden and Garner infuse their characters with roguish charm.

But Holden’s J.J. Sefton is scrounging out of pure self-interest.  This leads his bunk mates to believe he is collaborating with camp guards when a planned escape goes awry and two sergeants are killed by Nazi machine gunners who seem to know their escape route and are conveniently placed to mow them down in the mud.

The men in the barracks badly beat Holden believing him to be the bad guy his opportunistic character makes him seem. Therein begins a chess game by Holden to determine who the real collaborator may be.

I saw James Garner up close once at a pro-am golf match in Pebble Beach back in the 80s.  As is often the case, some movie stars in person do not look the same as on TV or a movie screen. Of course, Garner was much older by then and had suffered a heart attack or two. (Clint Eastwood, btw, looked just like – Clint Eastwood.)

In one of my times living in California, I once had a downstairs neighbor named Rosie who had been a screen production assistant in Hollywood.  She used to play poker with Garner and said he was a “regular Joe.”

In this day and age where everyone scrambles to find fame on You-Tube, it’s nice to know some real Hollywood stars weren’t as striving about their own fame. That they were regular Joes.

And that their “alternative realities” were kept on the silver screen, not in the Oval Office.


My Good Bye to Paul Ryan

Paul Ryan is leaving.

Chalkboard Cindy may cry bye-bye. I am afraid I can’t.

Do I believe he wants to spend more family time?  I am sure he does. When I was a single working mother, I desperately wanted more time with my child too.

But I did not have the luxury to find it until my son was already grown.

Do I believe he was genuinely appalled by Donald Trump’s Presidency?

I am sure he was based on his strong reactions during the primary to Trump’s racism, gaucherie and absolute ignorance to be President.  And despite Ryan’s “grin and bear it” demeanor and desire to get his tax plan enacted, I am sure he never came to terms with it.

And therein is my problem with Paul Ryan  as Speaker of the House and a fellow Catholic.

I believe Ryan finds Trump as abhorrent as I do.  What so disappointed me about him was that he was willing to ignore his moral core and look past the destruction Trump is reaping on this nation.

I am angry that he loved tax cuts for the uber wealthy and corporations more than the Constitution, the rule of law and the democratic freedoms so many people have fought and died for in our more than two hundred year history.

I am angry that he ignored the social teachings of the Church.

I am angry that political expediency mattered more to him than principle or every day people of all persuasions.

And that he is walking away to say Trump is everyone else’s problem now.

He may be a hero to some.

To me he will only be a hero who could have been.


Trump’s Thin Red Line

This afternoon I had a 3 hour nap with my cat that I guess is illness related because I got lots of sleep last night.

I have not felt good since I returned from Texas Sunday.  I presumed it to be the flu, but the high pollen count is also a possible culprit.  I just know I and a few other friends are not doing well right now.

I fell asleep to news chatter about the Mueller investigation and awoke to the same.  It seems Trump hasn’t dropped a bomb on the investigation -or Syria-yet.

After more than a year of news reading and watching  on this subject from multiple sources, I feel I am fairly up to speed on its various threads. Lord knows there are enough of them to stitch a crazy quilt.

But I think it comes back to a very basic question I have heard several times today: if Donald Trump has done nothing illegal, what has he to hide?  Why is he so angry and so anxious to fire someone -anyone- to make the Mueller investigation stop?

He has a government spokeswoman proclaiming today that the court-ordered raid on attorney Michael Cohen crossed the imaginary “red line” Trump himself drew, as if he is the legal mapmaker of this Department of Justice probe.

But if Cohen-as Trump’s private attorney-acted in the Stormy Daniels matter without his client’s knowledge or consent, as has been posited, why isn’t the person Trump angry with Michael Cohen? This is outside the legal parameters of client representation.

I would be angry at any lawyer that acted without my consultation or consent. Why isn’t Trump?

The sideshow to this matter was Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony before Congress because, of course, it is related to the scraping of Facebook data by Cambridge Analytica, the Robert Mercer owned data analysis company used by the Trump campaign. (Aside: remember that Mercer bankrolled Trump’s campaign heavily and was inextricably linked to Steve Bannon, who owned shares in Cambridge Analytica.)

The most pertinent question I thought asked was if there were over lap between data collected by Cambridge Analytica and Russian targeting wherein voters that delivered Trump’s Electoral College victory in swing states were concerned.

In other words, were those 77,000 people targeted by Russia propaganda provided by Cambridge Analytica that may have influenced their votes in the election, making Trump President?

Is Trump’s Presidency a legitimate one? Is the idea that it might not be what drives him to be insanely angry and unable to focus?

Or are there other illegitimacies he is afraid this investigation will uncover?

Either way one thing seems clear to me – we, the people, have the right to know what lies beyond Trump’s red line.


My Unusual Easter Vacation

I had expected to be very busy during Holy Week attending Mass and tending to Lector obligations I had for Holy Thursday and the Easter Vigil.

My sister’s ongoing illness and a fear that they had found an altogether different mass in her esophagus  instead sent me to Texas for two weeks to what the local newscasters call “The Big Country” somewhere south of Fort Worth and east of Abeline.

While she was seriously ill and hospitalized, my sister’s feared mass turned out to be misidentified and she got to convalesce at the home of our other sister while I was with her the second week. She is doing much better, thank God.

For me, while I missed Holy Week obligations, it provided a time that though fraught with personal worry, gave me a chance to decompress from all the Church volunteer activity this past year, as well as from current political news.

Instead, I spent downtime reading books on my Kindle that were like airplanes waiting to land; purchased but not downloaded to read, circling in a digital holding pattern on my I-Pad.

But first, I read “Killing Jesus,” which I purchased at the airport bookstore having forgotten it was one of those books waiting to be tapped on my Kindle. I figured if I couldn’t participate fully in Holy Week, I could immerse myself in the history that led to its institution.

(Full disclosure: politically, I am light years in separation from the book’s author, Bill O’Reilly.  I also didn’t like paying money that may go to his legal defense fund for alleged sexual harassment.  But the title and subject matter fit a need of the moment.)

It was actually a very interesting and factual accounting of the history of the era, including the process of crucifixion,  Next to Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” it is the most disturbing accounting of the event I have encountered.

But the book that brought an interesting spiritual twist toward the end of my time in Texas was called “The Fifth Gospel” by Ian Caldwell.

This is the story of two real Catholic artifacts – the Diatessaron and the Shroud of Turin – set in a real Catholic country – the Vatican. But the two protagonists-priestly brothers-were not in themselves real, though their vocations most decidedly are.

The older brother, Simon, is a Roman cleric and member of the Secretariat, which is the Vatican’s diplomatic corps. The younger brother, Alex, is Catholic Orthodox, a teacher of the gospels, and a beard wearing, married priest who is separated from his wife and raising his son Peter in the Vatican that was homeland to himself and his brother growing up.

There is a mystery involving the death of the man mounting an exhibition at Castel Gandolfo involving the Diatessaron and the Shroud, and mysteries surrounding both very real items used as plot points in the novel.  It was as interesting to learn about them as to read about life lived within the walls of the Vatican, as well as the differences between the Roman, Catholic Orthodox and Eastern Orthodox traditions.

The Diatessaron, for those who don’t know (as I now do), is a compilation of the four Gospels of the Bible to try to make them read as one story.  Part of the murder mystery relates to a study of this process. While the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke have many points of agreement, incorporating the more theological John does not as this writer speaks of many things not found in the other Gospels and in a far different voice.

This is one of the struggles Alex, the teacher, has to deal with.  Both he and Simon have to struggle with the history of the Shroud, how it came to Western Europe and how to use it in an attempt to unify the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches, and what place the Catholic Orthodox have with one foot in each encampment.

Incorporated are the last days of a dying Pope John Paul II, who has spent a part of his Papacy trying to bring about this reunification in the face of recalcitrant Cardinals and obdurate Patriarchs.

There is Catholic and European history to be found in this book, and an interesting conclusion about what the Shroud might mean for Catholic art and iconography abjured by the Protestant world.

This is a highly recommended read for those who don’t mind having their faith questioned and tested by a “secular” novel.

Now onto my class on the Communio of the Trinity, the meaning of family and our role in the dance of the Divine.