Some encouraging signs

The passage of Amendment One in North Carolina has me feeling grumpy and deflated. So here are a few stories to remind myself that there are also reasons to be hopeful and encouraged.

1.The Man Who Walked Into a Hornet’s Nest

The other day I linked to a post by Jessica at Love Is What You Do.

Their landlords treat them in ways my landlords have never treated me,” Jessica wrote of the slumlords making life miserable for the refugees she works with in Austin.

I like that post for its empathy and its feisty indignation. I’ve often written critically of indignation, which can be both ridiculous and corrosive when its indulged by the powerful on their own behalf. But the powerless ought to be indignant, and those of us who aren’t powerless ought to be indignant on their behalf. Jessica is. She’s royally ticked off at the do-nothing property managers gouging her refugee friends while doing nothing to maintain their properties or to make the repairs needed to keep them habitable.

Her story has taken an interesting turn, and perhaps a hopeful one:

I went in Thursday ready for battle. Armed with information about what’s legal in the state of Texas, I went ready to nail this guy to the wall. Because they had turned the gas off and, ten days later, hadn’t turned it back on. That meant that the people in this one particular building had not had hot showers or cooked food in ten days–in Texas, you have to have the issue resolved in seven.

… I found a guy who I’ll call John. He and eight burly men were all over that building, tearing apart the ceiling and walls, looking for a gas leak. They stopped when I came in. I held up the letter and demanded to know what was going on.

Read the rest. It’s encouraging.

2. Austrian Catholics snub priest following lecture on “disobedience”

This is kind of awesome, from Christa Pongratz-Lippitt for National Catholic Reporter:

VIENNA, Austria — The parish church of Amras, Austria, near Innsbruck in Tyrol, was chock-a-block full for the first-Communion Mass on April 22. Shortly before Communion, the parish priest, Norbertine Fr. Patrick Busskamp, announced that only Catholics who were in a state of grace should come forward to Communion. Catholics who are divorced and remarried and Catholics who do not attend Mass every week were not worthy to receive the Eucharist, he said.

When Communion time came, not a single adult came forward. The entire congregation demonstratively remained seated. Only the children received Communion.

… Referring to the high numbers of Catholics who are leaving the church — more than 87,000 Austrian Catholics have formally left the church in the last two years — one of the mothers of a child receiving first Communion told the press it was incomprehensible that the few remaining Catholics were being antagonized like this. Another mother warned that the patience of faithful Catholics is nearing its end.

Only two weeks previously, a priest in Imsterberg in the Innsbruck diocese refused a woman Communion because she had only been married in a registry office.

3. Anderson Cooper commits journalism, discredits birther candidate

John Whitley, a white Republican candidate for Congress from North Carolina’s 8th District, probably thought the conventions of he-said/she-said “balanced” journalism would provide him a platform to promote his birthed theories on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360.

But Cooper, instead, shows how it’s done. He doesn’t allow Whitley to make up his own facts, and he asks tough follow-up questions that force Whitley to embrace the full implications of his birtherism:

“You know that nonpartisan organizations have also looked at the certificate of live birth that President Obama’s campaign released in 2008. They … declared that a legitimate document,” Cooper pointed out. “You also know that … the former health director in the state of Hawaii has testified and given an affidavit that she examined President Obama’s birth certificate in the records and that it’s legitimate and that the Republican governor of Hawaii has verified that, as well.

“So it’s part of some conspiracy from the governor of Hawaii, the health director of Hawaii,, and nonpartisan organizations that have examined that, as well as the state registrar, who has confirmed the 2011 document that was released is the actual birth certificate? They’re all in some grand conspiracy?” the CNN host pressed.


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  • Matri

    Wow. Kudos to John and his Japanese investors.

    And a really satisfying verbal faceslap to Whitley. On public television, immortalized on the internet.

  • Kirala

    I would like a list of all birther supporters, so that if by some unfathomable chance I stand in danger of choosing one for other reasons, I’ll have that reminder to blacklist them.

  • Matri

    Simple, just look for the “(R)” next to their nomination. 99.998% of the time, they’ll be a birther.

  • reynard61

    “Anderson Cooper commits journalism, discredits birther candidate”

    REALLY?! HOW *DARE* HE!!! Where’s my fainting couch?! Where are my clutching-pearls?! [/snarkasm]

  • There’s a kind of ‘let he who without sin’ feeling to the Austrian Story and a kind of Jansenist legalism to the priest’s actions. Maybe someone should remind the hierarchy that the same rules prohibit a priest from confecting the sacraments if they’re not in a state of grace.

  • aunursa

    If I were in the Austrian congregation that refused to take Communion, I would have approached the priest wearing my yarmulke and tallis — just to see his reaction. 

  • aunursa

    Out of five candidates in the Republican primary, Whitley finished in last place with 13% of the vote.

  • Shane

    So the priest was just reiterating the rules for receiving Communion.  There are clear rules for it, rules that, as Catholics, one is required to follow.  Now, based off of the limited information, could the priest have handled it better?  Probably.  However, maybe people would realize the requirements that go with taking Communion, leading to a more thorough examination of conscience for those involved.

  • Tapetum

     Yep. Clear rules for receiving Communion. Also clear rules for celebrating it. Right now I know which side of that little equation needs to do a more thorough examination of conscience. And so does the congregation.

  • Shane

    If the priest does not follow those rules, then he is just as guilty as anyone else.  However, the congregation were the ones who did not step forward; that is more encouraging to me then those who go every week without going to Confession. 

  • I would think most Catholics know the rules already. Yes, even the ones who don’t go to Church every week. There are better ways to remind people.

    At my Church when it comes to Communion time the priest just says something along the lines of “Everyone is welcome to come to the altar at communion time. If for whatever reason you cannot receive communion please put your arm across your chest to signal you wish to receive a blessing instead” and this is better because it covers not only Catholics who aren’t in a state of grace but non-catholics etc and it’s also not very visible – you can’t really see who recieves communion and who has a blessing so no one is embarrassed or shamed.

  • Memo to the Catholic Church:  It has been several full human lifetimes now since you have had the power to make anyone do anything.  You are never going to defeat your critics and regain your old power by asserting authority that you do. not. have.  Endowing your own internal hierarchy with all the pomp and grandeur you are able to imagine will not make it more significant to outsiders than the difference between manager and fry-boy at McDonald’s.  Are your ‘leaders’ really so caught up in their own incestuous bubble as to be unable to see this as anything but obvious?      

  • Ursula L

    Memo to the Catholic Church:  It has been several full human lifetimes now since you have had the power to make anyone do anything.   

    That is, I think, their point.

    They don’t have the power to make anyone do anything.

    But they do have the power to prevent people from doing things.

    More specifically, they have the power to prevent people who want access to the sacraments from getting the sacraments.  

    And, by their theology, it is their power in an absolute and unbreakable fashion. Nothing they or anyone else can do can take that power from them.  Nothing can give that power to someone outside their corrupt hierarchy.  

    They can rape children, protect rapists, cover up rapes, conspire to allow rapists the opportunity to rape some more.  The sacraments are still theirs.  It is their power, their spiritual power, to grant or deny the sacraments for whatever arbitrary reasons they have.  

    I can’t think of any way that communion from the hands of an unrepentant rapist can be grace.  

    But if the sacraments are necessary to salvation, then ordinary Catholics must follow the rules the rapists and their co-conspirators set, or face eternal damnation.  They must ignore every sin and crime of the hierarchy, while having their slightest lapse used to bludgeon them into submission. 


    What did the children think, I wonder, when they took their first communion, and saw their entire spiritual community shut out of the rite?  To see their own parents remain seated, not participating in what should have been a joyous ritual and rite of passage as they grew a step closer to adulthood, and finally had the chance to share the experience of communion with their parents?  


    I’m also wondering about the logistics of this protest.  

    Because you don’t get an entire congregation to remain seated spontaneously.  At least some parents would have participated, I’d think, just to share their child’s experience, if this wasn’t planned in some way.  

    Catholics are used to hypocrisy, used to deciding to participate in sacraments even when they don’t meet the official standards of the church.  Just look at the rate of birth-control use among practicing Catholics.  The church makes pronouncements of what you have to do to be eligible for the sacraments, has the rules announced during services, printed in the weekly bulletin, in their hymnals and Sunday missals. And everyone just takes communion anyway.  

    So this was planned and organized in some way.

    Was the priest part of the planning?  Making a point of articulating the official rules, and encouraging members of the congregation to remain seated, in order to demonstrate the problems with the rules?  Knowing that the fact that it was a first communion ceremony would give added power to the protest?  Or is this something the priest genuinely believes and does regularly, getting extra publicity because of the first communion celebration happening?  

    Or were their other congregational leaders involved in organizing this?  

    Were the children warned that this would happen, taught that it was good and important that their parents would use their first communion as an opportunity to protest the policies of the church hierarchy?  

    It’s like Rosa Parks sitting in the bus.  Yes, she was genuinely frustrated by a cruel and degrading law and custom.  But she also was an activist and very aware of the larger civil rights movement, and the need for emotionally powerful test cases.  

    As the song says, “there’s something happening here, what it is ain’t exactly clear.”  

    But it is something much more powerful and organized than people hearing the rules and remaining seated because that’s what the rules tell them to do.  The something happening involved planning and coordination.  Leadership. Solidarity.  

  • Tricksterson

    Or realizing what a stultifying, straight jacket doctrine Roman Catholicism is and leaving.

  •  I’m inclined to agree that something else was going on – the priest’s comments seemed very cagy…

    “In an interview with Austrian state radio in Tyrol, Busskamp confirmed
    that his words to the congregation had been accurately reported, but
    added, “I wouldn’t have refused anyone Communion had they come forward.””

    However I would point out that for the concept of sacraments to work at all they have to work “ex opere operato” because I cannot see a God who is unfair enough to deny grace to a congregation because the priest is in a state of sin no matter how bad the sin. Now if someone knows a particular priest is an unrepentant rapist and goes to communion they’d probably be guilty of sSacrilege as much as the priest but most people won’t know, will they?

  •  “The something happening involved planning and coordination.  Leadership. Solidarity. ”

    Very true, and this solidarity, this reminder from parishners to priest that this was ‘there church’ and that he was not their leader but their servant gets down to why these pseudomoral shows of force are more pathetic than outrageous. 

    The scale of the mass child abuse, striking how many victims over how many centuries, cannot be stated enough.  It is only the vestigial aura surrounding the church that it is preventing it from being treated like the organized crime outfit that it is.  Yet in spite of this it seems to honestly believe that it can ever regain social dominance in areas that were secularized long ago, simply by stating their sense of entitlement to dominate.

    Even by the standards of entitlement the level of delusion involved here is really hard to fathom.  And this doubling down of paternalism is serving only to endanger that lingering mystique which protects them from the damnation of history.  The church needs its followers.  But this dependence is not mutual.  They will sustain it for only as long as it as it serves to maintain a cultural identity that belongs not to the church but to the people.  So long as it  baptizes and feeds their children as they were baptized and fed in turn.  

    Of course people want to maintain our heritage and will endure a great deal to that end.  I would be sad myself is there was no Gandalf/Groundhog hybrid sticking his head out of the Vatican window every Christmas.  It’s cute.  But if this heritage continues to go out of its way to make itself poisonous to its own “children”…… More and more of us will  choose to show up only for our own weddings, funerals, and maybe once every five Easters or so.  More and more of us will simply reject them completely.  These exact trends have been happening for a long time now, as the church is very aware.  And with it’s recent ‘notoriety’
    these trends will only accelerate in the coming generations.  Yet lthe RCC’s standard response to it all is still a face full of attitude.  Well,  Western civilization has existed without these bastards before.  They do poorly to imagine for a second that they can never be nothing.

  • Thanks so much for your kind words about my blog posts. I love the phrase “feisty indignation.” I also love your point about the role of indignation–I guess what I don’t get is why it takes so long to get Christians riled up to the point of real indignation about actual injustices sometimes. At least it takes us awhile to get to the point of making real and lasting change. Your words encouraged me today.