I frequently get asked “Why Catholic?” by diverse self-proclaimed demographics; Evangelical Protestants, Rad Trads, and that sector of atheists who can be just as either/or in thinking as religious fundamentalists. I can think of no more apt and meaningful a symbol than Mozart as an initial gateway as a response to that question, although there is more to it than that. My introduction to artmusic was at a young age and while I started off with the standards (i.e. Beethoven and Wagner), by my late teens and early twenties, I was venturing into the more modern terrain of Bruckner, Mahler, … Continue reading ON THE ANNIVERSARY OF MOZART’S DEATH: WHY CATHOLIC?
As is well known, Paul Gauguin and Vincent Van Gogh lived together for a disastrous three months. Among the many disagreements they had was the question of depicting iconographic images. For Van Gogh, a Protestant, that was anathema. For Gauguin, who was Jesuit educated, it was essential. Although he was fleeting in his practice of Catholicism (he embraced Buddhism and Theosophy as well), the iconography Gauguin had been exposed to was in his DNA. As many will sophistically point out, Gauguin was hardly a model of morality, but much of the negativity about him is exaggerated and/or downright myth (i.e. he left … Continue reading THE CATHOLIC ART OF PAUL GAUGUIN
Originally posted on Fr. Justin Belitz Teachings:
Debunking Eddie Russell’s Catholic In Name Only Flame Ministries: Eddie Russell fancies himself something akin to a pre-Vatican II-styled avenging crusader, taking it upon himself to expose, correct, and abuse wrong-thinking Catholics. In short, Eddie Russell is a fundamentalist extremist; the type that the late Fr. Andrew Greeley advised against arguing with. However, this is not a polemic meant to engage Russel (which, would fall on deaf ears anyway). Rather, as in with a current political leader, this is holding hostilities and aggression to accountability. Additionally, it’s a heeding against Russell’s online aggrandizing, which… Continue reading DEBUNKING EDDIE RUSSELL’S CATHOLIC IN NAME ONLY FLAME MINISTRIES
Check out http://driveintheater.com for the history of the drive-in and a list of theaters operating near you.
Those of us old enough to remember the drive-in theater experience have some sense of nostalgia for the experience. Those who were deprived of cinema under the stars may never “get it.”
As a personal example, take my ex. Although about my age, she had either never gone to the drive-in during her youth, or if she had gone, it never sank in. Upon agreeing to my suggestion of going to see a double feature at Tibbs Drive-in, she started loading up the back of the car with chips, drinks, and snacks—much to my abject horror, because as kids, as much as we loved the movies, we could not wait to hear the announcement: “It’s intermission time, folks!” Going to the concession stand and buying kickingnachos, fresh hot popcorn, pizza with your favorite toppings, tasty cheeseburgers, crispy hot french fries, buckets of fried chicken, delicious hotdogs, mouth watering barbecue sandwiches, your favorite candy and popsicles, ice cold soft drinks, and the greasy-smelling restrooms around the corner for your convenience was all part of the experience. I tended to stick with nachos (extra jalapeños) and cheese pizza (extra, extra jalapeños). Needless to say, I politely insisted everything be put back in the pantry, because we were obligated, in spirit, to whip out the debit card, stand in long lines, and pay far more than we should for bad tasting drive-in junk food. Anything else would have spoiled the atmosphere.
(Photo: Jesus raising the dead with a wand, Roman catacomb, 3rd century)
When J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books hit the shelves and became a global hit, American fundamentalist Christians took note and reacted with a loud fear, demonization, and astoundingly idiotic condemnation that was rare even for their various denominational demographics. There is perhaps nothing more threatening than rival mythology, especially when its well publicized and successful. Protestations and calls to ban the books were followed by entire websites devoted to instructing Christians how to respond to witchcraft and demonology as pop phenomenon. It backfired and the Potter juggernaut paved right over all that evangelical silliness. With the films that followed, Rowling became the most successful franchise since Disney. Given their way, these Western, allegedly Christian sects would have certainly have mounted a belated sequel to the Salem Witch Trials. Alas, pesky secular laws predominantly douse homegrown puritan torches and minimize imitation of Isis-styled iconoclasm, which hardly negates in-house suspicion of and aggression toward imagery, such as detailed here:
(Photo: 4th century Raising of Lazarus Fresco ((Christ with magic wand)) Catacomb cubiculum O, Rome)
Although the display of overwrought evangelical histrionics reached a new, modern height with the opening of the Harry Potter universe, their pop paranoia is nothing new. For those of us old enough to remember, the same demographics were issuing warnings about Superman, who they saw as a rival to their Lord and Savior (the mythological underpinnings of the DC character were undoubtedly inspired by Christ origin Gospel narratives).
In A Search For Solitude, Journals 1952-1960, Thomas Merton lists “distrust and rejection of emotional symbolism of art,” as an unfortunate tenet of contemporary Western Christianity.
Earlier, in “Run To The Mountains. Journals 1939-1941, ” Merton wrote: “It is one of the singular disgraces attached to Catholics as a social group that they, who once nourished with their Faith and their Love of God the finest culture the world ever saw, are now content with absolutely the worst art, the worst writing, the worst music, the worst everything that has ever made anybody throw up. All this, far from being caused by their Faith, only weakens and ruins their Faith. It is something of a Middle Class culture which is poisoning the Faith instead of slaking our thirst to honor God. And those who cannot distinguish what is bourgeoisie, in what they believe, from what is Christian are crucifying God all over again with their trivial, complacent ignorance and bad taste and materialism and injustice.”
Several articles from personal blogs have appeared online regarding Fr. Justin Belitz, O.F.M. These articles ultimately represent social media being used and abused as yet another demonstration of someone judging from the outside looking in, seeing only slivers, hearing only soundbytes, coming to blatantly erroneous conclusions, and portraying Fr. Belitz as a caricature. It is nothing less than crass stereotyping and echoes the words to the old song: “I don’t like what I don’t understand and it scares me half to death.”
I am an Indianapolis native and former member of Friar Justin’s Hermitage (Former only because I moved out of state). I met Fr. Justin through the late Fr. Hilary Ottensmeyer, a Benedictine priest, who happened to be the former director of St. Meinrad’s. I met Fr. Hilary at an art gallery showing (the 431 galley) in the late 1980s. At that time, I was a self-proclaimed atheist.
Having grown up in an abusive, evangelical church setting, I had mantled a lot of anger. Hilary and I became good friends, having countless discussions on art history, film, philosophy, and music. He even counseled me through a divorce. Slowly and astutely, I became aware that there was indeed an artistic, intellectual side to the religious life; one that did not require me to dumb down.
For all the well deserved criticism leveled at the hypocrisy in religious leadership, the new “spiritual but not religious,” “religionless religion,” and tutti fruity new age spirituality is such hackneyed tripe, that I am, at times, apt to prefer the insecurities of ancient religion.
Sometimes we get educated in things we do not want to know. Such was the case when recently stumbling on the site: “Lightworkers.” In addition to the cornball name, the website itself is something akin to a summation of the banality found in the “spiritual, but not religious” fad (and a fad is what it is). It is yet another trivialization of something primordial, raw, confounding, and unreachable (thankfully so).
That the “light workers” use gnosticism as a kind of sticker logo is even more nauseating, which inspires me to ask: “what the hell is wrong with “spirituality?” I used to ask that solely of religion. It is akin to what the Merton industry did to poor Tom: posthumously transforming him into a kind of Trappist Stuart Smalley. Naturally, the Lighworkers throw in pagan deities (merely because it falls into that oxymoron category of trendy provocation), reincarnation, and putrid pastels. It reminded me of that kitsch Jesus postcard from a years back; the impossibly beautiful caucasian model from Nazareth, adorned in blinding white robe, emitting a spectrum of colors from his being. That image is only slightly preferable to the gun-toting apocalyptic Jesus, who would gladly fry you for passing gas in church. Jesus as a smiley faced, John Boy Walton type along with primitive rabbinic narratives transformed into rosy-cheeked vegetable cartoons are just as offensive as that sadistic “Left Behind,” fundamentalist image.Continue reading “Tutti Fruity New Age Spirituality”
With astounding astuteness, a professor once critiqued the Roman Catholic hierarchy as frequently and fatally mantling the attitude that it is above both criticism and self-criticism. In my previous post regarding my grad school, Christian Theological Seminary, I proposed the possibility that the school’s board of trustees, along with its president, Matthew Myer Boulton, were, in some ways, perhaps modeling that aspect of the Roman Catholic hierarchy. It seems I have erred in the usage of that perhaps. https://alfredeaker.wordpress.com/2014/04/21/matthew-myer-boulton-sounding-the-death-knoll-for-indianas-progressive-seminary-christian-theological-seminary-2/
CTS banner slogan has long been Forming Tomorrow’s Leaders In Faith. I believe CTS may need to hit the refresh button in order to view and review the not-so-improved Forming Prodigals In The Name Of Faith. The late Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen proved himself a rarity of shrewd, reflective self-criticism in the Catholic hierarchy when he proposed: “often, we have prodigals due to our own negligence. We have pushed them out the door with our carelessness, recklessness, thoughtlessness, and abuses.”
Paradoxically, CTS, its trustees, Boulton, et al. are proving themselves the worst kind of parents imaginable. The fault is not entirely theirs, however. We prodigals err as well in having continued to look to them as trustworthy parents and make no mistake, we are the children of CTS.
Over the weekend, a fellow alumni let me know they had been booted out of and blocked from CTS’ Facebook group for alumni. Yes, I was too, which I half expected after my blog post ( I will add that I was barely tactful enough not to post on their group page). Still, for me, I rather identify a tad too readily with Groucho Marx’ statement: “I am leery of any club that would have me for a member, anyway.” Besides, it is merely Facebook. However, after dialoguing with said alumni, I did see another point; the latent (or not so latent) message delivered by the current CTS admin,”You are no longer ours.” I do not know what that alumni said to them, or said about them (I know what I said, of course), but he/she believed it an attempt, on their part, at status quo taming. Astute observations on the alumni’s part? Additionally, I should add that said alumni was prone to critique and challenge while expressing his/her love for and belief in CTS. Of course, this does not matter. The school only wants docile children, shorn of edge. Continue reading “CHRISTIAN THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY: FORMING PRODIGALS IN THE NAME OF FAITH”
I graduated from Christian Theological Seminary with a Masters degree in Theological Studies. It is the progressive, ecumenical seminary in Indiana, or, rather, it was. As I was graduating, a new president was coming in. His name is Matthew Myer Boulton. I was informed that he had an evangelical background, had married, and converted to Disciples of Christ via his wife. As expected when there is a change in new leadership, I heard a few nervous grumblings. However, as I was too preoccupied with finishing my final semester, I rather pooh poohed the grumblings, which turned out to be a grave error.
This is not to say, I did not have initial misgivings. Quite the contrary, I had enormous trepidation, particularly on the day of our commencement. Boulton had invited a guest speaker to deliver one of the most pronounced, jaw-dropping reprehensible screeds I have ever had the misfortune to be inundated with.
The speaker, Rev. David Hampton, who was reportedly getting his honorary PhD for monies contributed to CTS, took the platform and essentially delivered a tent revival diatribe,which had the chutzpah to mix New Age claptrap phraseologies with dyed in the wool, sawdust on the floor, ho-de-ho backwoods melodramatics. The speaker, from the kitsch named organization: Light Of The World, made every effort to promote himself and his organization as the group most responsible for having notified the world at large of the hate crime brewing in Florida under the guise of George Zimmerman. Additionally, we were told that it was Light of the World, which had single handedly reversed public apathy regarding the tragic case and had stirred up support for Treyvon Martin’s family. Like Mighty Mouse, Light of the World had come to save the day. I half expected every sentence to end with a shrewdly timed Aa-ya aa-ya. I have to give credit where credit is due. Hampton knew how to work the herd.
Unfortunately, he followed this up with an even more divisive and ill-timed screed on gay marriage, which ended with an erroneous comparison of that to looming mortal sins. The worked over crowd was equally divided between cowardly amens and pent rage.
The Rejection Of Saul: An Inquiry Into A Pitiless Theology. “The story of King Saul is, I believe, one of the bible’s uncomfortable stores.” The rejection of Saul is a dynamically spun legend that reveals much in the way of ancient and contemporary biblical narrative, lackadaisical tradition, and theological interpretation. Rabbinical tradition has often approached the subject of Saul’s rejection with a certain amount of tolerant flexibility and honest scrutiny. However, Christianity has been predominantly consistent in two-dimensional readings of the text, normally mantling a judgmental and hostile attitude towards the figure of King Saul. In his commentary on the … Continue reading The Rejection Of Saul: An Inquiry Into A Pitiless Theology.
The 1956 Marc Chagall etching “Samuel Anointing Saul” depicts the last of the judges, the middle-aged Samuel, anointing the young Saul as Israel’s first king. This action, in the literary development of First Samuel, expresses a symbolic, narrative shifting of sanctuaries for Israel. Yahweh’s people, rejecting the sons of Samuel, and thus rejecting the hereditary line of judges, ask for their first King. The Israelites desire what other nations have. They desire the sanctuary of strong, human leadership in a king. It is with this pivotal point in the drama of First Samuel that Israel’s mode of sanctuary shifts from … Continue reading SHIFTING SANCTUARIES
Anti-Semitic expressions in the arts can nearly be traced back to the dawn of Christianity. Shakespeare’s Shylock, from The Merchant of Venice, manifested Elizabethan attitudes of a stereotypical Jew demanding a “pound of flesh” for unpaid debts. Critics have long debated the extent of anti-Semitism in the play, but even the most resistant critics have admitted that, at the least, the character has the outline of anti-Semitic stereotypes. The Nazis certainly thought so and utilized the play for their own means in an extreme, notorious production staged at Vienna’s Burgtheater in 1943. That play starred German actor Werner Krauss in … Continue reading MOSES AND THE GOLEM
In the meditative state an achieved plane is desired, a plane with such shining translucency, that it takes on the characteristic of a perfectly formed icicle. This plane is prajna, the Sanskrit word for Wisdom. A common misconception among Westerners is that Buddhism, being a pessimistic, pantheistic religion, flouts moral conviction. Buddhism is neither pessimistic nor pantheistic and, rather than flouting moral conviction, Buddhism edifies ethical conduct as an essential goal attained through the wisdom from a life of meditation, as I will endeavor to show. First, in briefly addressing the charge of pantheism, I will quote Dom Aelred Graham, … Continue reading A DIAPHANOUS PLANE (AWAKENING THE BUDDHA WITHIN)
The Annunciation, Stations of the Cross, Pieta. In The Mary Myth, Andrew Greely writes, ” The Marian symbol is surely one of the most powerful symbols in the Western Tradition. Virtually every major painter from the fifth to the sixteenth century painted at least one Madonna. The Marian paintings and poetry tell us far more about the power and meaning of the Madonna than theology books could possibly portray. Art is much better at conveying limit-experience than scholarly theology.”  Last year, at the beginning of seminary, I began a series of works on canvas, entitled Stations to parallel my … Continue reading The Annunciation, Stations of the Cross, Pieta.
“Our Lady of the Mermaids.” © 2011 Alfred Eaker When it comes to Mariology, even self-proclaimed liberal, protestant denominations passionately raise objections towards the Catholic tradition of elevating Mary to the level of near goddess, arguing that she is an impossible role model for women (being both virgin and mother) and, understandably, resisting the ultra right’s tendency to use her image as a suppressive, brow-beating weapon. Certainly, Marian symbology has often been used as a correctional tool, something akin to a “What Would Mary Do?” motivational. Mary, in her ever-virginal state, has often been reduced to bumper sticker theology, in … Continue reading OUR LADY: CATHOLICISM’S DIAPHANOUS ADAGIO