God and Tsunami, Priests and Subprime

Two perspectives I might not ordinarily put into one post, but both really deserve your attention and both are relevant to headlines, in their own way.

First, apparently last night Glenn Beck opined (or, as someone said to me, “tiptoed”) that the horrors we’re seeing in Japan may be God telling us that we’re bad. Theologian Tim Muldoon has a different — and very thought-provoking — take on Japan, natural disasters and end-times:

What if tsunamis are a reminder that human beings really must think of themselves as being in a collective contract with God? That our lives are part of a trans-historical narrative, and that our part is to bring about its final end? And that in the process it is God himself constantly in-breaking to help us do exactly that? . . .What if, in other words, the truth is that to the extent that we let God “easter in us”—transform us into martyrs (Greek, “witnesses”), either in life or in death—we are helping bring about the salvation of the world?

Think about that – it’s a lot to ponder!

My Evangelical friend, Jerry Wilson, meanwhile, has a gently-voiced notion:

There are no safe, pat answers to these questions; no cutesy clichés to satisfy a pained cry of why. However, there is an answer: God Himself, born as a man, abandoned, beaten and executed on a cross. In Him, in Christ we seek solace for the agony and injustice suffered in a fallen world, knowing there will be healing in the eternity that awaits.

This isn’t pie in the sky by and by when we die. There is genuine love, compassion and care available for us here. However, it is not always a flash of divine intervention in our lives. It is most often expressed when we take a moment to love, offer compassion and provide aid for one another. If we who believe do not offer this love, who will do it for us?

I have been struck by the calm grace and dignity of the Japanese people in all of this. Recalling the hysteria we witnessed in Wisconsin over the past few weeks over a reduction in bargaining power for pensions and perks, one can’t help but compare and contrast: the Japanese have lost everything, and they are orderly, contained, dignified – not looting, not screaming and or acting out. Last night I couldn’t help but wonder if we are not all meant to learn something from Japan, about how to handle genuinely life-upending times that may be in our futures.

On a different, but still topical note, Max Lindenman has some very interesting thoughts about types of priests and why no one “type” can is better than another:

Last year I attended a Mass celebrated by a young priest for whom many observers in the diocese were predicting an illustrious future. He was wearing what I can only describe as the Fr. Corapi Starter Kit. Along with the aggressively shaven dome, he sported a goatee fit for an outlaw biker or a king’s musketeer. He did not walk; he strode. He did not speak; he intoned.

He informed us that he made it his practice, upon visiting a college campus, to dress in his cassock and pace the grounds while reciting the rosary out loud.

Now I rather love priests with a bit of Spencer Tracy gruffness to them, but I love the soft-spoken sorts, too. And I think Lindenman also appreciates all sorts of priests, but he worries that a self-conscious manliness comes with its own set of cautions:

I saw those buttons pressed down to nubs in the subprime mortgage industry, which ranked, in terms of self-consciously masculine milieux right below the bass section of the Waffen-SS glee club. The language of business was the language of sexual potency. In industry jargon, one could opt either for the “hard” or the “soft” sell. Hard selling meant closing deals speedily, with force and authority—see Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross, for an ideal representative of the type. Soft selling meant offering tea and sympathy. [...]

Make no mistake, I am not suggesting that the young priests are in the business of fleecing homeowners, or anyone else. But subprime does, I think, have a lesson for the priesthood. It’s this: once you polarize hard and soft, once you internalize those polarities as good and bad, then your whole value structure will become distorted, and your self will follow. Once you start conceiving missions that can only be accomplished with a stiff arm and a strut—that’s when you run the risk of becoming someone you don’t recognize, and couldn’t possibly like.

Oddly enough, Fr. Mychal Judge was one of the first on the ground to die in the mess of 9/11. And one of the first to die in Japan’s initial earthquake was a priest, too, Canandian missionary Father Andre Lachapelle. I suspect that no matter what “types” make up our priesthood, He-Man or Sensitive, the great majority of them will prove to be made of the right stuff when crisis comes.

Father James Martin: Why Do We Suffer?

Most of all, that God could somehow be with me through times of pain, and small signs of hope could become apparent when I accepted the reality of suffering. In vulnerability, in poverty of spirit, in brokenness, we are often able to meet God in new and unexpected ways. Perhaps this is because we are more open to God’s presence: when our defenses are down, when we have nothing left, we are more open. This is why people who suffer are sometimes seen as becoming more religious or spiritual. They are not becoming more irrational, but more open.

This is not the “why” of suffering, nor does it “explain” suffering; but it can sometimes be part of the overall experience.

A priest dead, a church “drowned”

Passionists in Osaka

Earthquake epicenter near Marian Shrine

Filling out His Bracket

The Stuff our Priests are made of

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • http://www.lisagraas.com Lisa Graas

    Sometimes we just need to know God is in charge. Many souls may have been saved from this….but God knows the details on that, not us. Thanks for the link…and have a blessed Lenten season.

  • TT

    The question to the priest/swami/guru/sensei is always “Why (do bad things happen to good people)?”

    The answer given most of the time is “Because. . . .”

    However, the answer just migh be “Why not?”

  • jeff

    Helping to bring about the salvation of the world?? Jesus does the saving, not us. That reminds me of the worst sentiments of Arrupism.

    I think it’s clear to anyone with ears to hear that God, like a parent, does chastise his children from time to time. It is not that He wants to, but it is to wake us up and become better. How the good or innocent who suffer unjustly during these chastisements are compensated by God is something we can’t know now, but, like Barnaby in Our Lady’s Juggler, will know in God’s good time.

    Mary appeared at Akita, Japan in 1973 and used the word “chastisement” so I think, for Catholics at least, there’s little reason to question whether there are temporal punishments for our sins and the sins of others. The answer is prayer and penance.

  • Guest

    Well I really like Fr. Corapi. I am so tired of the damp-fish-handshake type priests that seem to make up most of the generation of the 70′s seminaries. Do ya think either St. Peter or St. Paul was a damp-fish-handshake kind of guy … or maybe a bit more vigorous than that? Different gifts and all that.

  • Old Fan

    Very nice post. Thank you. It has been a long time. Truly sad about the tragedy in Japan – and it is amazing to see the “grace and dignity” of the Japanese People.

    By contrast, the Democratic Party Machine’s long dominated arena of New Orleans was a regretful display of irresponsibility, incompetence, malfeasance, etc., and ugly blame for others.

    I did donate to the Red Cross, and have prayed, focused on the issue.

    My real focus is on how poorly the Media covers so much of these events, and how so many easily follow the fashion. Even Hot Air today, foolishly reported the recent quake in Japan as having hit the ‘west coast’ of Japan. How could they not know this was actually central Japan – even as reports said to the “west of Tokyo”. How could they not know Tokyo is in the east?

    Powerful quake hits Shizuoka

    A powerful earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 6.0 jolted central Japan on Tuesday night.

    The Japan Meteorological Agency says the quake with an intensity of 6 plus on the Japanese seismic scale zero to 7 hit at 10:31 PM.

    The focus of the quake is in the eastern part of Shizuoka Prefecture and is estimated to be at a depth of 10 kilometers.

    Tuesday, March 15, 2011 23:05 +0900 (JST)

  • jeff

    Ditto that. His masculinity is a refreshing relief.

  • Old Fan

    Also, NHK has clearly reported radiation levels are dropping, not rising. The WSJ gets it right:

    “Japan Officials Make Gains as Nuclear Crisis Sparks Rift – Conditions at Plant Are Stabilized, but Reactors 5 and 6 Heat Up”

    “Officials said radiation levels at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant had dropped significantly after spiking in the wake of an explosion Tuesday morning local time that appeared to have damaged a containment structure, which is designed to keep radiation from leaking out. Authorities continued to pour seawater on the damaged reactor, known as the No. 2 reactor, in an effort to cool it.”

    I just see this as another example of the hyperbole existing amongst so many. Just as poor as the partisan garbage we see on ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, NPR, PBS, etc., many of the finest on the conservative side are often too lost in fashion to get the story right.

    If you followed Hot Air, you would be completely misguided in the actual facts involved with Japan at this time. It is not a healthy sign.

    I even see many still stuck on pushing fashionable hype about Mrs. Palin – one via Hot Air was still suggesting the idea the abandonment of the Governorship of Alaska HELPED her reputation.

    I guess if prayers are involved these days, I often seek clarity, reason, patience, strength, enlightenment, etc. But a big dose of “calm down, get the facts straight” would do so much for the World.

    Perhaps I am still stuck on an old theme, knowing if many had not lost their cool after 2004, embraced a self destructive reactionary folly, we would never have had the likes of Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, etc., wreaking such havoc.

  • jeff

    I’m not sure how you managed to get a dig at Sarah Palin in but whatever floats your boat.

  • Anonymous

    I think we collectively as humanity have the power to prevent or minimise the loss of life and suffering, but we don’t really do it. We prefer to enrich ourselves instead. Ultimately, every natural and man made disaster can either be mitigated or be preventable. It just takes more effort than we as people choose to give. Mental and material resources wasted on war, posturing, bling, vanity, unnecessary diseases, corruption, crime, etc could have been used to offer better nuclear power station electricity backup, buildings to use as shelter for incoming tsunamis, better early warning systems etc. We just tend to consider other things more important. If most people actually listened to Christ….

  • TT

    While I agree that we jus tconsider other things more important, we cannot preoccupy ourselves with planning for every possible iteration of everypossible contingency. That’s what utopianism is about and that clearly does not work.

  • SKAY

    “By contrast, the Democratic Party Machine’s long dominated arena of New Orleans was a regretful display of irresponsibility, incompetence, malfeasance, etc., and ugly blame for others.”

    I live in Louisiana and you are exactly right. Outside of New Orleans – those that were also affected by Katrina and Rita behaved quite differently–but that did not make the news.

  • http://www.facebook.com/haber.ryan Ryan Haber

    I am certain that the Anchoress is not criticizing Fr. Corapi. I think she is simply noting somebody else’s notice of a certain sham manliness that is accompanying the very long overdue men’s movement. The proper antidote to damp-fish and limp-wrist handshakes is NOT a masculine image, or a presentation of stereotypically masculine traits – which is often enough accompanied by both overpreening self-consciousness and a fastidious self-pampering. Such men are happy to receive “only the best for Father,” or at the same time to make a show of being humble by sitting on the floor. These are natural corrolaries of “See how manly I am: I can grow facial hair.” But facial hair is a secondary sex characteristic of males, not a personality trait of men. That’s typical of the mistake this sham manliness makes.

    The lack of authenticity is the problem.

    Authenticity – being what you seem, seeming what you be – is at the heart of authentic masculinity (or femininity). While in the seminary, I had as a classmate a former tank commander who served in the Gulf War. Can you think of anything more manly? His stature was the only give-away, though. Otherwise, he was mild without being flacid, decisive without been domineering, submitted easily to authority and carried his own lightly, insisted on receiving much less respect than he gave, did what he said and said what he did, worked hard, relaxed when he had a chance, and above all, didn’t make a show of any of it. And he’s a hell of a quarterback.

    The sham manliness, with its overplayed insistence upon prerogatives and arrogance, is just another sort of form of clericalism when it occurs among the clergy. It’s the last thing we need.

  • http://www.facebook.com/haber.ryan Ryan Haber

    Yes, and we also need to be careful to avoid thinking and speaking like the sanctimonious “friends” of Job who, safe from harm, coolly explained the causality or sin and punishment to the afflicted man.

    Better not to read the tea leaves of natural disasters, and just pray and do penance, as you said.

  • jeff

    where is this “sham manliness” a problem? I’ve yet to see its manifestations anywhere. I think it was C.S. Lewis who said we always tend to offer a solution for things which do not ail us. A hyper-masculine clergy is the last thing that ails the Church.

  • Old Fan

    It was obvious, but I will try to explain.

    The hype is a part of the loss of sincere ‘conservatism’ – the essential embrace of basis, fact, reason, objectivity, etc., which made the movement very strong. The reporting via Hot Air and many on our side has been quite sophomoric, rabid, reactionary, mistaken, etc. – much like the hyperbole about Mrs. Palin and others. It is fascinating for example, those who pushed endlessly that Mrs. Palin was “THE” conservative icon, actually failed to note she eagerly embraced the Maverick Platform – rushing to join the disastrous McCain offering which was nearly identical to much of the Democratic Partisan platform – including a disastrous ‘cap and trade’ taxation swindle. Also, Sarah Palin provided massive populist tax increases for the Oil Industry (raising the cost of living for all Americans) and “climate panel” bureaucracy in Alaska. Yet, much of our own voices were presenting her in the opposite of the reality. Similar fashion presented John McCain’s buddy, a very moderate Senator turned actor named FRED (who helped pass the fiasco known as McCain-Feingold upon us), as the next Gipper. It was all, just as Huckabee is embraced today, a game of hype, image, identity, fashion, etc., far from genuine conservatism.

    The coverage of the days events, continues to be poorly handled by even our own, and they seem to make similar mistakes as the disastrous Democratic Partisan Machine. This is a continued recipe for failure and disaster. Much like the “Delaware Disaster”, we simply cannot afford this form of sophistry to enable the opposite.

    I do pray for clarity and reason for all, especially myself.

    Thank you.

  • jeff

    Ms. Scalia’s post, I believe, was aimed at the general issue of why bad things like this happen. We in the USA are hardly “safe from harm” as 9-11 made very clear.

  • Anonymous

    For the record, I LIKE Fr. Corapi, and I don’t think Lindenman dislikes him, either – rather he is raising a red flag over what Ryan correctly identifies as a sort of self-conscious masculinity. We must all be — as one of the commenters here put it — who we are. For a priest, especially, authenticity is so important. I think Fr. Corapi is an AUTHENTIC swaggering male bad-ass. I actually like that about him. But if it’s not authentic, it’s a problem.

  • Anonymous

    For the record, I LIKE Fr. Corapi, and I don’t think Lindenman dislikes him, either – rather he is raising a red flag over what Ryan correctly identifies as a sort of self-conscious masculinity. We must all be — as one of the commenters here put it — who we are. For a priest, especially, authenticity is so important. I think Fr. Corapi is an AUTHENTIC swaggering male bad-ass. I actually like that about him. But if it’s not authentic, it’s a problem.

  • Max Lindenman

    Whether or not this priest or that seems to embody some cultural ideal of masculinity makes no difference to me — provided he does it naturally, meaning, provided he lets factors other than concern for his image inform his judgment.

    The guy I write about reminded me of a sacerdotal Vanilla Ice, and the effect was deeply uninspiring. For one thing, when a guy tries that hard, what does that say about his maturity? Second, I sensed he was begging us for some kind of validation — like we were supposed to cheer and say, “You da man, Padre.” That’s not my job as a layman. I appreciate that priests have crises of self-confidence just like anyone else, but that’s what spiritual directors are for.

  • jeff

    That was funny. Sacerdotal Vanilla ice, i could hear the song. I’m sure there are a few out there like that and that would be the pendulum swinging in the opposite direction for sure. Hopefully we’ll end up with a stable majority of authentic heterosexuals, bad-asses or not. And Corapi is a bad-ass in a good way.

  • Max Lindenman

    So we agree that over-correction, on a micro level, translates to overcompensation, which looks as lame as it did in high school? Fair enough.

    (By the way, I condemn overcompensatory gestures not from any high horse, but with the hard-won authority of a man who bitterly regrets his first three tattoos.)

    At the risk of sounding corny, I don’t really care much about the quality of a man’s handshake. It’s the word behind it that determines his worth.

  • Old Fan

    Just to add what I was trying to say about hype, including the absurd offering you referenced via Mr. Beck (who plays the most irresponsible game these days – even if I share his calls for smaller spending).

    This post is probably worthy of all the hype, and cautions those playing foolishly into buying into some terribly irresponsible reporting (including the likes of Hot Air):

    Please see:

    “At such a time, nothing could be more scandalous than the current campaign by much of the international press to spread panic over trivial emissions of radiological material from several disabled nuclear power stations.”

  • Joseph Marshall

    I must say that if anyone is doing any tiptoeing it probably should be me. I think we know enough now about the causes of most natural disasters–particularly earthquakes, volcanos, hurricanes, and tsunamis–to call them “accidents waiting to happen” rather than Acts Of God. But since only God could stop them and we can’t, we might as well call then God’s Accidents Waiting To Happen.

    We have our own accidents waiting to happen: things like the modification of the Mississippi Delta area by the Corps of Engineers to bring the ocean much closer to New Orleans than the people who first settled there could ever conceive of, like oil wells drilled a full one mile down from the surface of the ocean where it’s difficult to fix them if they break, or like nuclear power plants built where there will be earthquakes and tsunamis sooner of later, or other places where we unequivocally know God’s Accidents are waiting to happen sooner or later.

    We actually can forsee and prevent these. Really.

    This nuclear energy in the way of God’s Accidents is something we should consider far more carefully than even unwise earth moving or oil drilling. If this accident had happened to the Egypt of Tutunkamen, the area around the reactors would still be too radioactive to go near. The natural consequences of this disaster, or any nuclear disaster, will simply outlive our species. They are permanent. Period.

    By contrast, the Democratic Party Machine’s long dominated arena of New Orleans was a regretful display of irresponsibility, incompetence, malfeasance, etc., and ugly blame for others.

    Now this might be true, but it is certainly not as permanent or as destructive as a melted down nuclear reactor. The fact that these things are of so overwhelmingly a different order of magnitude does make me a little impatient that it has been dragged in here right now.

    I would be willing to bet that most of your fans, and probably most of the commentors here, have implicitly supported building nuclear reactors where God’s Accidents are waiting to happen. It is certain that they embrace an economic and political philosophy whose logical consequences are that, if you have the money to do it, you should build nuclear reactors anywhere that they will turn a profit for you, whatever the risk of destruction and meltdown.

    They are fools.

    And the philosophy is a sophistry tailor made for fools and propagated and propped up with an endless supply of money by a small group of people who have basically come to the conclusion that, since we all have to die, we might as well die rich whatever the human cost to anyone or everyone else.

    God has played fair with us, really. Unlike the beasts of the field we have been given the possibility of forseeing consequences, and remembering the blunders of our past.

    If we’re willing to use it.

    And not even God can make us do that.

  • Jdcandon

    There are 3 things in this universe, matter,energy and information.Jesus became flesh(matter), all energy comes from or is the Holy Spirit, and all information comes from the Father.Our job is to understand, rather than to be understood! “In the beginning was the Word…”

  • dnb

    Pray to Our Lady of Akita to watch over and protect the Japanese people.

  • jeff

    If you haven’t bought his 21st Century Spiritual Survival Guide on CD I highly recommend it. If only the average sermon on Sunday were half as compelling, inspiring and clear.

  • http://www.facebook.com/haber.ryan Ryan Haber

    No, you’re right, Jeff, that sham-manliness is hardly the problem crippling the Church’s hierarchical leadership. Lol. Would that it were so!

    I have seen it though. During my time in the seminary, I saw some it – about as much as I saw men who were overly squishy and soft. Happily, very happily, what I mostly saw were men who were men and didn’t look to their moms or to action heroes and comic strips to see what that means. They ranged from the aforementioned tank commander to computer geeks, and that is happy too, because it really does take all types.

  • Mdejoy22

    To TT: “why not?” is a good answer. Also consider “let the pain burn you out”, let your ego go up in flames so you can be aware of God trying to reach you. And, as Sargent Barnes said in the movie Platoon ” take the pain, take the pain”. God is there no matter what is happening, but we must ask for help via some revelation from him. We have become soft physically, mentally, emotionally.