Pray for Uganda

As you may already be aware, Uganda’s anti-homosexuality bill, which makes even “touching another person with the intention of committing the act of homosexuality” an offense punishable by life in prison was recently signed into law. In case this has to be said—though, frankly, I think it should be rather obvious—you can hold to the Church’s sexual ethic and recognize that legislation that severely punishes a sexual minority for their transgressions of that ethic but imposes no such strictures on heterosexuals, especially heterosexual men, is inherently discriminatory and clearly violates the Catechism’s insistence that we must avoid “every sign of unjust discrimination” against gay people. Furthermore, the prevalence of so-called “corrective rape” in Uganda should banish any notion that the growing anti-gay sentiment in Uganda is actually about a commitment to any traditional Christian sexual ethic. Indeed, in 2008 the Vatican made a statement to the UN calling for “States to take necessary measures to put an end to all criminal penalties” against homosexuality.

Gabriel Blanchard has spoken far more eloquently on this topic than I can, so I will leave you with a portion from his recent blog post on the subject (which is worth reading in full):

This is not about justice or decency. If it ever even was, it’s not anymore. This, even according to the fairly rigorous definition I use, is pure homophobia. Homosexual conduct was already illegal in Uganda; even on the view (which I utterly reject) that sodomy laws are just, this wasn’t needed. And it isn’t only Uganda and Nigeria — this poisonous atmosphere lies over half the African continent and more. Only days ago, President Jammeh of Gambia referred to homosexuals as “vermin” and compared us to mosquitos carrying malaria. This is a targeted dehumanization of a tiny minority, who are being stripped of legal protection in a group of societies that already hate and despise them.

I implore anyone and everyone who reads this to stop and pray for Uganda: for the safety and, if necessary, escape of Ugandan lesbians and gays; and for repentance and conversion on the part of the people in general, especially their political leaders. For the moment — I hope not to leave it here permanently — I don’t specifically recommend anything further. This isn’t because I don’t want people to do any more than pray, but because I for one don’t know what the wisest course of action is. I’m too ignorant of politics in general and of Ugandan culture in particular to have an opinion on that. Opposition to these laws from western powers has been labeled as “colonialism” by some Ugandans, and it is hard to know what practical effects sanctions and so forth would have; it could easily devolve into even worse demonizing and scapegoating of LGBT people than is already happening.

Musica De Profundis

This has been making the rounds in my Facebook circle for awhile, thanks to the large number of medievalists I happen to know. I share it because, well, who doesn’t want to hear “a 500-year-old song painted on a butt from hell.” As it turns out some, um, enterprising student decided to record several lines of music that appear on the unfortunate rear of one of the damned in Hieronymous Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights (said butt melody can be found directly under the harp-thingy at the bottom of the hell section, which the linked Wikimedia version will helpfully allow you to zoom in on).

The song is, perhaps, not the most melodic thing you’ve ever heard—but then again, what do you expect from hell music, really? Read more—and hear the whole thing—here.

Coming soon…

I’m presently out of town attending The Berkeley Institute‘s graduate conference “What is good work?”

Out of general principle/miserliness, I refuse to pay for hotel Wi-Fi. But blogging from my phone is likely to drive me to madness. Ergo, dear reader, you won’t be hearing much from me till next week, but rest assured that many thoughts on vocation, academia, and commitment are percolating thanks to the conference and will hopefully find their way–more fully formed–into blog posts in the very near future.

Pax.

A New Year’s Routine Resolution

I’ve always been good at coming up with “big ideas”; no one’s ever criticized me for lack of ambition or vision. However, my eagerness to embrace and pursue new, big projects tends to be self-defeating. Eventually, I end up drowning under all of the demands that I’ve placed on myself. To make matters worse, I tend to “rescue” myself by simply throwing my energy into some new project. This tendency makes New Year’s Resolutions dangerous territory for me: I’m always ready to take on something new and, as a result, none of the old gets finished.

I have gotten slightly better at this over the years. Most notably, working on my dissertation has forced me to commit, with real accountability, to a single project. (This did not stop me, however, from recently submitting an abstract to a conference for a paper that dealt with an idea that I wanted to pursue precisely because it didn’t fit into my dissertation…) Nonetheless, I still really struggle to recognize that saying “yes” to some things also has to mean saying “no” to some other things.

As a result, this year all of my resolutions are going to focus on projects that I’ve already undertaken. I’ve learned the hard way that there are only two things that actually make me do things: deadlines and routines. Deadlines are all well and good and I’ve certainly got plenty of them, but I’d like the work that fills my days to be motivated by something beyond crushing fear and its corresponding adrenaline rush. Routines—once I’ve established them—work, but it’s always a struggle to make them in the first place. So this year I’m resolving to establish some routines to help keep the commitments I made to projects last year. I’ll get to what those are in a moment, but first I should explain why I find routines so difficult to begin with.

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“I’m Already There”

I’m in the process of digitizing my entire filing cabinet (it’s amazing how many nonsense projects you devise when you’re trying to avoid writing your dissertation!) and I just found, filed away under “Catholicism,” the handwritten page that I’ve transcribed below. I don’t precisely remember when I wrote it, but I know I was in the process of becoming Catholic. As I’m now helping facilitate this year’s RCIA program at my school, it seems particularly appropriate that I’d come upon this letter from my former self.

It’s pretty obvious that I was already thinking about the connections that I’ve tried to trace in this blog, though I also realize—seeing it from the distance of about a year—that I’ve grown a lot in being able to, as the Jesuits say, “discern the spirits.”  These days I can differentiate better—not perfectly, but better—between authentic contrition and a “guilt” that is really just a combination of shame and self-loathing. Nonetheless, the piece is raw and interesting and I thought it worth posting in all of its rawness. I wrote it very shortly after having a conversation with an acquaintance, an ex-Catholic, who had suggested that my conversion to Catholicism was really just an exercise in masochism:

Catholicism, my friends insist, is an exercise in masochism: repression, penance, and a twisted aesthetic of sacrifice. Well I’ve still got gash marks on my bicep from when the razor slipped—and so do you, I suspect—so don’t talk to me about masochism. I’m already there. I’ve crawled on my knees across dorm rooms at the behest of digital masters just to get off. I’ve been slapped up the head until I saw lights just to forget myself. I’ve drug myself through every secular ritual of penance and redemption that I could find. What, then, could be any worse about confessions, chastity, and obedience? We’ve never stopped punishing ourselves all our lives—we’ve run ourselves ragged with our guilt. Is it such madness to ask for something, at last, that can expiate that guilt even if it also heightens our awareness of it? Is it so much to long for those words that no fuck buddy, no reflection in the mirror, and no amount of blood trickling out of my body could ever pronounce: I absolve you?

Our Hearts are Restless.

Restless

“Restless” by Flickr user cytoon

I should start, I suppose, by apologizing for my frightfully long radio silence here. I’ve been bouncing about the US—from Virginia to Georgia to California and, at last, back home—which hardly proved conducive to blog writing.  Right before settling back in to the major work of this summer—writing my dissertation proposal—I was blessed to have an opportunity to visit Mt. Saviour Monastery, a Benedictine monastery in upstate New York, for five days.

After all my wanderings, it was nice to be properly settled for awhile. But, as I suspected, the silence and stability of the monastery was no simple tranquility—a retreat is not (or at least should not be) a slightly spiritualized version of a beach-sitting, margarita-drinking Bahamas vacation. It was a journey all its own and, for me, a lesson in how to journey.

Within a day of relative silence and solitude, I found not peace but an inner restlessness. It’s always been there—and perhaps always will be—it’s driven me in my academic pursuits and in my drug abuse, at my best and at my worst. And it was certainly what drove me to the Church. But I always found the famous quote from St. Augustine—”O Lord, our hearts are restless until the rest in You”—to be more of a torment than a comfort, a prickly accusation that I was not resting in God because my heart was still so damned restless.

The only real difference between my restlessness at the monastery and my restlessness elsewhere was that at the monastery I couldn’t cover it up. I’d intentionally left behind my cellphone, my laptop, and even most of my books (except a Bible, Augustine’s Confessions, and Merton’s Thoughts in Solitude). It is doubtlessly a testament to my restlessness that in slightly more than two days I’d assembled two 500 piece jigsaw puzzles that had been left in the room. Eventually, though, I had no choice: I just had to sit and be with my restlessness. In a rocking chair in the corner of the room, facing a window that overlooked the monastery’s apple orchard, I rocked my unquiet heart like it was a colicky child.

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