The deep purpose of discussion

This weekend brings And Then They Came for Me to my hometown’s Civic Youth Theater. With that evocative title, I hope I don’t need to tell you what the general topic of the play is.

But just in case, here goes the versified version:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Martin Niemöller (1892–1984). The subtitle of the Civic Youth Theater production is “Remembering the World of Anne Frank.”

If you still don’t get it, stop. Nothing to see here. Move along now.

Then a week later, the local Bach Chorale Singers perform the powerful Annalies, a 14-part work for soprano, chorus and small ensemble based on the Diary of Anne Frank. 

The juxtaposition was coincidental/serendipitous/providential. Seizing the moment, friends of the arts have arranged a panel discussion, open to the Public: When they came for me.

I hope to get to the Civic Theater production, and I’ll definitely be there when the Bach Chorale performs.

The panel discussion? Maybe. Out of a sense of duty. With my guard up. And a full shaker, not just a grain, of salt.

On some topics, it seems to me, discussion has hit a dead end. The more earnest the discussion, the deader the end. The Holocaust strikes me as one of those topics.

A young woman of my acquaintance was delighted beyond all expectation a few year ago when I quipped, in response to some seemingly interminable, definitely earnest discussion in our Church, that I just wasn’t getting what the other side was getting at, and that I wondered if they might instead rhyme, dance, paint, sing or film it. Anything but more words, words, words. (Her delight was why I still vaguely remember the episode.)

Bach Chorale’s theme for this, its 51st, season is “Music and the human spirit: making the world a better place one note at a time.” Maybe that’s a little preachy, but I’ll take it.

My greatest hope for the panel discussion is that perhaps the Niemöller poem, the play and the impending choral performance, will liberate imaginations and free tongues from banality, or that the panel will at least truly focus on how the arts can so liberate (if focusing on that in prose isn’t oxymoronic).

My greatest fear for the discussion is that it will tame and domesticate the imagination again after its liberation by art.

Isn’t taming the imagination the deep purpose of most of our discussions?

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(Yes, as a matter of fact, I do own a mirror. And I am getting tired of recidivist prose blogging — even suspicious of my motives for doing it. And the utility of it. That too. Thanks for asking. And if I polish this one more time, I’m going to puke.)

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“In learning as in traveling and, of course, in lovemaking, all the charm lies in not coming too quickly to the point, but in meandering around for a while.” (Eva Brann)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

October 1, 2015

  1. Pope Francis versus the power elite
  2. The invisible nation
  3. A highly offensive, anti-American truth
  4. Almost as bad as the previous one
  5. Responding to rent-seeking
  6. Bless their hearts, they just can’t help it
  7. What rude beast?
  8. Where is the map of the dark places?

Continue reading “October 1, 2015”

Tipping Point

Does the continuation of civility and moral community require that we maintain the American imperium? Via Rod Dreher:

Father Patrick Reardon, pastor of All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago, has just released the following statement:

Because the State of Illinois, through its legislature and governor’s office, have now re-defined marriage, marriage licenses issued by agencies of the State of Illinois will no longer be required (or signed) for weddings here at All Saints in Chicago.

Those seeking marriage in this parish will be counseled on the point.

Father Pat

No longer be required or signed. No recognition of the state’s authority over marriage. One is reminded of Alasdair Macintyre’s famous remark about the decline of the Western Roman Empire:

A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium.

I could be wrong, but it sounds like the pastor of All Saints parish has concluded that the continuation of civility and moral community no longer has anything to do with shoring up the American civil order, and in fact depends on repudiating it in the matter of marriage.

A Benedict Option has been embraced by an Orthodox parish in Chicago. Who’s next?

Father Pat has never been bashful about playfully expressing provocative opinions. He’s quite involved in the conservative ecumenical journal, Touchstone, as Senior Editor. He is widely respected and influential beyond Orthodox circles. Though I had not stopped to guess who would be the first fairly-high-profile pastor or denomination to announce such a policy, he probably would not have been in my top ten list. There are much hotter heads and more strident, quick tongues than his. His precedent has gravitas.

The comments to Dreher’s blog add to my conviction that we’ve reached a tipping point. First, the story proved a sort of Rorschach test. Perceptions of Father Pat’s intentions were all over the spectrum, as initially were perceptions of Rod’s approval or disapproval. There were many who thought this was some sort of protest, intended to influence Illinois to reverse its course, which is the same idiotic treatment mainstream media give every move of the Catholic hierarchy: it’s all about power and politics.

We just don’t even understand each other any more. I see little hope of regaining that in the short run. Some power has come down and confused our tongues.

But there were those who saw and endorsed more or less what I saw (my 100% endorsement of any of the following is uncertain):

Brian: My oldest daughter goes to a Christian school, and one of the things they do is recite the pledge of allegiance regularly. As someone who served in the military and grew up disposed to see God’s providence involved in the creation and sustaining of this country, I was surprised the negative reaction that the pledge elicited in me. Why should my kids pledge allegiance to a state that holds them in contempt? Why should we pledge allegiance to anything other than the Kingdom?

VikingLS: The point isn’t to prevent the acceptance of gay marriage, it’s to opt out out of the system.

Cascadia: This is the best news I’ve heard in weeks. Drawing a bright line between civil and religious marriage should have been done long ago. It would have saved much spilled ink.

Hans: I think that’s long overdue.

Until the last 50 years or so, US marriage laws (or at least NY laws,where I live) were more or less consistent with the Christian understanding of marriage. But the laws have been changes to something that in no way resembles Christian marriage. All civil marriages are now “gay marriages.” There is no recognition at all of reproduction obligations, and what is left is a series af tax benefits, inheritance and other rights, and access to various subsidized social benefits, like employer sponsored family health insurance ….

ck: The point is that the pastors of the church are no longer complicit in state licensure. By not signing the state license, this protects the church from civil rights claims made against them. And seeing that religious liberty will no longer be a defense, the best the Church may be able to do is stop being complicit in granting state marriage licenses.

Michael K: The US might become like Europe and Latin American countries with a Napoleonic Law Code. There are two marriage ceremonies. The first is the legal signing of the marriage license at the gov’t office and the second is the religious ceremony. A religious minister in these countries do not sign the state marriage license as is the practice in the US and I would guess most of the Anglosphere. This Orthodox church is de facto adopting the Continental practice. If you want to get married at this church and have the marriage legally recognized you need the two ceremonies.

rr: This is a great move! Kudos to Fr. Reardon. My brother is a Protestant pastor and is considering the same thing. From what I can tell, many other clergy are as well.

Civic marriage has been a farce since the advent of no-fault divorce. Same-sex marriage will only make it more of a joke. The time is overdue for the church to distance itself from the state’s nonsense on marriage.

For what it’s worth, here’s my take. This isn’t a political protest. It isn’t grandstanding (Father Pat’s too good a writer to let it go with a terse announcement to an e-mail list if he wanted to grandstand).

It’s a sorrowful recognition that what the state calls “marriage” has lost a critical mass of commonality with what the Church knows marriage to be, so that Father Pat as a clergyman wants no part of the civil counterfeit (kinda like a conscientious baker, but you can’t lay a glove on the Padre, neener, neener!). It’s a statement that it is a matter of indifference to Father Pat whether a couple is civilly married as long as they’re sacramentally religiously married (I venture a guess that any future convert couples from Evangelical churches that forewent the state license for similar reasons will be received as married though their religious marriages were not sacramental). I very much doubt that Father Pat will discourage couples from getting civilly “married,” aware of the place at the government trough that status assures them.

More deeply, I think Rod nails it with his Macintyre quote: Father Pat has “ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of [the American] imperium.”

But I would hope that the counseling Fr. Pat provides or arranges for others to provide would include:

  1. Recognition that being “married” civilly (essentially, a domestic partnership or civil union with the state arrogating the name “marriage” because of it’s cachet) confers a lot of financial and other governmental benefits.
  2. That two high-wage spouses might benefit on income tax by not being married, filing as single.
  3. That no civil marriage means no civil divorce. I know of a crack-pot (or was he a visionary?) who forewent civil marriage in favor of an oddly-named Christian Reconstructionist ceremony – but went to court years later to get out (the court not learning for a very long time that these idiots were seeking relief to which they weren’t entitled; theirs was no better legally than a Marvin v Marvin palimony case).

There are others suggestions I considered in lawyerly fashion but have omitted. Antenuptial agreements if you’re not going to marry civilly, for instance. In Catholic Canon Law, it’s my understanding, such an agreement on how to divide property in the event of separation is just about conclusive proof that you don’t even really intend to be married as the Church knows marriage.

Longer-term, this may signal the turning of the popular tide against government benefits for the mere status of “married” in the government’s debased sense. This should have come up when “child-free” marriage became the oxymoronic rage. Now perhaps we’ll tie some of those benefits to the presence of dependent children in the home rather than to “marriage” per se.

But if I’m right, Father Pat’s a bellewether, however this plays out.

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“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.