Sursum Corda
"an insightful Catholic Blog that eschews extremism in any direction."
--Commonweal Magazine
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Topical musings from a Catholic perspective

Friday, February 06, 2004
JOSEPH UPDATE: Some of you wanted to know how Joseph reacted when we told him he wouldn't be going back to Kindergarten on Monday. Well, after all the anguish, all the tears, and all the discussions between us, his teacher, his principal, and his therapist, his response when we broke the news to him was:


Well, it just goes to show. I don't know what it goes to show, but it certainly shows something.

Thanks again to all of you for your support and prayers.

posted by Peter Nixon 10:20 PM
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ARE YOU ON THE BUS? S.F. Chronicle profiles Evan and April Prosser, who founded a church aimed at the homeless:

Prosser, an unassuming man who sometimes stutters when he speaks, is clear about his mission. He and April, former hippies reborn as Christians in the mid-1970s, have run what they call the Homeless Church in San Francisco for nearly a decade. The project offers the city's street people a shot at shelter, food, fellowship and, if they want it, the opportunity to be "born again" and help others do the same.

posted by Peter Nixon 10:16 PM
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MORATORIUM: Kevin Cooper is scheduled for execution by the State of California on February 10th for a quadruple homicide. The Moratorium campaign believes that serious concerns remain about how his case was handled. Click here to take action.

I am an opponent of the death penalty, but I sometimes get nervous when advocates--in their zeal to prevent an execution--appear to grasp at evidentiary straws. I'm not saying that is the case here, only that it happens from time to time and one should be cautious about this. Mr. Cooper may well be guilty. That does not mean we should take his life, because his life is not ours to take.

posted by Peter Nixon 4:01 PM
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TO HELL WITH MOSCOW: John Allen interviews the tough-talking Jesuit Fr. Robert Taft of the Pontifical Oriental Institute, who talks about the issues involved in setting up a patriarchate for the Eastern Rite Church in the Ukraine. When asked if the Catholic Church will ever persuade the Orthodox to accept the patriarchate, his response was "No, and I don’t think we should even try. To hell with Moscow."

posted by Peter Nixon 1:34 PM
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THANK YOU to all of you who posted comments or wrote e-mails after reading the post about my son. Today was his last day of kindergarten and I was a little choked up this morning when dropping him off. He doesn't know yet. My wife and his teacher will sit down with him at the end of the day and talk to him about it. It is such a grace to know that we are in the prayers of so many right now. Thank you again.

posted by Peter Nixon 10:21 AM
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PRAYERS FOR RETROUVAILLE: There are a number of Retrouvaille retreats going on this weekend. Fr. Jeff is gathering prayers for the couples.

posted by Peter Nixon 10:18 AM
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ANOTHER STEP IN INTERFAITH DIALOGUE: Followers of the Wiccan religion have offered help to the parishioners of Immaculate Conception Church in Stoughton, Massachusetts after a young man who claimed to be a Wiccan vandalized the church, doing about $10,000 worth of damage. The story was posted on a national Wiccan web site, along with information about how to send contributions. ‘‘It really made me sick to my stomach that the people who did that consider themselves Wiccan,'' said Louise Cantrell of Frankfort, KY, whose Wiccan name is Lady Karisse. ‘‘It just hurts me that anybody could vandalize someone's place of worship. ...These people have no morals, no integrity, and the Wiccan community wants nothing to do with it.''

posted by Peter Nixon 9:53 AM
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Thursday, February 05, 2004
VOTE EARLY, VOTE OFTEN: Sursum Corda has been nominated for two awards in the First Annual Saint Blog's awards: Best Blog by a Man and Most Insightful Blog. I am trailing badly in early returns, but several precincts remain to be heard from. I was considering taking a page from Howard Dean's strategy and bypassing the contest entirely until next year, but now I am finding myself drawn to John Kerry's approach: Bring! It! On! Wait...come back...I was only joking...

Seriously, if you'd like to show your appreciation by casting a vote for yours truly, click
here. But I must say that unless Amy Welborn wins "best overall," I shall find it hard to take this contest seriously.

posted by Peter Nixon 8:24 PM
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MAYBE IT'S NOT JUST THE MESSAGE: Interesting piece in Slate by Liza Mundy about how pro-choice activists and IVF providers--in some ways natural allies--are experiencing increasing tensions over the issue of whether and how to regulate the IVF industry. After looking at the ways that value conservatives and libertarian conservatives differ over the issue, Mundy looks at tensions on the liberal side:

But conservatives aren't the only ones with internal tensions. Assisted reproduction has exposed dilemmas within the same pro-choice groups that are monitoring Kass. Some of these came to light last summer, when a Newsweek article on the "fetal rights" movement pointed out that the latest reproductive technologies—providing, as they do, the ability to see embryos sooner and cultivating, as they do, an atmosphere in which pregnant women happily scrapbook those early ultrasounds—have created a real image problem for the pro-choice movement. As Kirsten Moore, the president of the Reproductive Health Technologies Project, put it, the piece "kind of prompted us to realize, oh my God, our movement's messages suck."

posted by Peter Nixon 10:18 AM
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WHY WE NEED EACH OTHER: The Presbyterian Chuch USA is wrestling with the same issues of sexual ethics that have roiled the Anglicans over the past year. In the most recent issue of Sojourners, two Presbyterians--one "evangelical," the other "liberal" argue why each side needs the other. Barbara Wheeler, president of Auburn Theological Seminary in New York City, talks about how both sides in the dispute are beginning to see each other as strangers, and how that may offer a way forward:

When we so-called liberals hang out together, without those "other" Presbyterians, we can be—in fact often are—smug. We are pretty sure that we are advanced and others outmoded. When everyone else grows up, we believe, they will look and think like us. In my experience, we are less likely to slide over into snobbishness when "they"—those we have defined as inferior—are in the room, some of them thinking as clearly and acting as maturely as some of us. So if one reason for joining a church is to get help for living more faithfully, the strange members are important. They make us self-conscious, and perhaps more aware that if we want more righteousness for the church, we may have to fix ourselves as well as those others.
Richard Mouw, President of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, argues that schisms almost always end up being a setback for theological orthodoxy:

I worry much about what would happen to Presbyterian evangelicals ourselves if we were to leave the PC(USA). When we evangelical types don’t have more liberal people to argue with, we tend to start arguing with each other. I would much rather see us continue to focus on the major issues of Reformed thought in an admittedly pluralistic denomination than to deal with the tensions that often arise among ourselves when evangelicals get into the debates that seem inevitably to arise when we have established our own "pure" denominations.
Obviously the theology and traditions of Presbyterianism are somewhat different from Catholicism, but that does not mean that we can not learn from this debate.

posted by Peter Nixon 9:50 AM
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TRASH: The Rev. Jim Wallis of Sojourners opens up what Kathy Shaidle might call a "can of whup ass" on the Super Bowl (this is from his e-mail and is not posted yet on the Sojourners site):

You want to know why people join the Religious Right? It may have less to do with wanting to take over the country than being desperate to protect their kids from the crass trash anddegrading banality that media conglomerates like Viacom (which owns both CBS and MTV) seem to think is just fine familyentertainment for Super Bowl night. Fortunately, my kids were in bed before the halftime show, but next year we may just go with Mary Poppins in the other room.

Some people think that only right-wing conservatives care about such moral pollution. Wrong. Most parents I know, liberalor conservative, care a great deal about it, as do most self-respecting women and men. It defies stereotypes to suggest that a healthy moral consistency applies to personal and sexual ethics as well as to social and political values. It's time to break out of those old ideological shibboleths and forge a unified front against the amoral corporate greed that violates all our ethics - personal and social - creating a system that sells beer and breasts in the same advertising plans just to make a buck.

posted by Peter Nixon 9:31 AM
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Wednesday, February 04, 2004
HARD CALL: I don't usually blog extensively about my personal life, but this week has been kind of a heavy one and I need to vent somewhere. We had to make a very hard call over the last few days. This week will be my son's last week of Kindergarten. We're pulling him out and placing him in a pre-K program for the remainder of the year. He'll return to Kindergarten in September.

Joseph started Kindergarten last fall. As the semester progressed, it became clear that he was struggling with some aspects of the curriculum. He attends a full-day Kindergarten program at a Catholic school, and it is a fairly rigorous program complete with daily homework. His teacher is a wonderful woman who looks like someone Central Casting would send over to fill the role of "kindergarten teacher." Lucky for him, she spotted Joseph's problems fairly early.

Evaluations suggested problems in fine and gross motor skill acquisition, compounded by difficulties in focusing his attention on a task. Of course, this is a fairly good description of any five year old boy, but Joseph?s problems were greater than his peers. He has a complex of symptoms that are sometimes grouped under the heading of "sensory integration" issues. There is, of course, still a lot of debate about whether this is a real syndrome and whether the various treatments are efficacious (kids tend to improve over time even if you do nothing). But we decided to go ahead and have him work with an therapist to help remedy some of his deficits.

Joseph likes his current school, but we could see some signs of increasing stress. At "open house" the other day we were complimenting him on some of his work that was on display and he said "Mommy, it's okay that I don't always finish my work, right?" He seems increasingly aware that he isn't able to do things as quickly or as well as most of the other kids in the class. We (gently) broached the idea with him of returning to his old school (which has a good pre-K program) and he responded pretty positively.

What made it hard is that Joseph, although very physical, isn't particularly tough, and we've been concerned about how he will react to the change. He's sweet and a little naive and spends a lot of time living in an incredibly detailed fantasy world of his own creation. I know what it's like because I was that way too at his age. I had to develop a much tougher skin to survive primary school. Dealing with this has brought back a lot of that old pain.

My wife and I have known some couples in similar situations where the spouses were divided over what to do. Often, the moms are favor of pulling the kid out while the dads are concerned about lowering the expectations bar too soon. Maybe it's because I'm a baseball fan, but I don't have a problem with Joseph spending another year in the minors before bringing him up to the Show. Joseph is like a young pitcher with a lot of potential who is still learning to control his fastball. You expose him to big league batters too soon and you?ll break his confidence. Focus on getting the skills down and the rest will follow.

My wife had a good meeting this morning with Joseph's teachers, therapist and the principal where they finalized the details of his transition. They've been great about this the whole way through, and I really look forward to Joseph returning there next year.

I'd ask you to keep Joseph in your prayers. And pray, too, that I can be the father he needs me to be.

posted by Peter Nixon 2:40 PM
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NO COMMENT: I have no comment on the Super Bowl halftime show. I didn't see it. In fact, I only saw a grand total of three plays and none of the ads. I had the game on and off in between the time I was feeding, bathing and reading the kids a bedtime story. I watched the final play of the game after finishing "Miss Bindergarden Gets Ready for Kindergarten." The truth is that I just can't work up a great deal of enthusiasm for football, which I essentially resent for displacing baseball as our national sport. Perhaps it is because baseball is a game steeped in traditions that transcend the efforts to market the game, while football has essentially become little more than a product to be marketed.

posted by Peter Nixon 1:36 PM
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INSTAPUNDIT: My quick read: Kerry actually did better last night than if he had won all of the contests. Clark--who has replaced Joe Lieberman as the dead man who doesn't know it yet--won enough last night to stay through the next round, and potentially even through Super Tuesday. If he does, it will prevent Edwards from winning enough support to really make this a two man race. Dean is hoping that his Hail Mary pass to Washington and Michigan will be caught, but that seems increasingly unlikely.

posted by Peter Nixon 1:16 PM
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SISTANI.ORG: Did you know that the Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Husaini Sistani, the leader of Iraq's Shiite community, has his own web site? I didn't. Click here if you are interested.

posted by Peter Nixon 12:58 PM
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Tuesday, February 03, 2004
SHAMELESS SELF-PROMOTION DEPARTMENT: Nominations for "best Catholic blog" in a number of categories are currently being received on this site. Nominations will close on tomorrow by 12:00 noon. Of course, I'm not suggesting you take any particular course of action or anything....but if you are, you might want to do it quickly!

posted by Peter Nixon 2:28 PM
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BETWEEN TWO CULTURES: National Catholic Reporter focuses on the challenge the Church faces in ministering to the growth in the Hispanic population in the United States. St. Blog's own Bill Cork, who directs the Office of Young Adult and Campus Ministry for the Galveston-Houston diocese, is quoted extensively.

posted by Peter Nixon 2:04 PM
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EXIT POLLS: Interested in this sort of thing? This web site has some exit poll data from the states having primaries today. If this holds up, expect Lieberman and Clark to be out of the race by the end of the week. Questions: if the field narrows that dramatically this early, does that help Kerry or hurt him? Will his flaws as a candidate become more apparent as we move toward Super Tuesday? Will Democrats experiencing buyers remorse start pulling the lever for Edwards?

posted by Peter Nixon 1:40 PM
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Monday, February 02, 2004
ORINDA JOURNAL: Well, a town close to mine has made the New York Times because of a local conflict over whether to open a temporary homeless shelter in this affluent suburb of Oakland. What the article doesn't mention is that the Interfaith Council went to Orinda because they were turned down by my own city of Concord. On the other hand, Concord already has one permanent homeless shelter while most other cities in Contra Costa have none. On the other, other hand, Concord probably has a much larger number of residents at risk of homelessness than Orina does. On the other, other, other hand...

posted by Peter Nixon 4:20 PM
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KING OF KINGS CRAB? Perhaps another reason for the tension between contemporary Catholic theologians and apologists is that most theologians aren't being asked to be the lead speaker on a 7 day cruise to Alaska, nor do they tend to have nifty web sites with high production values. Perhaps some of Fr. Richard McBrien's more boisterous critics on the Internet would feel more warmly about him if his web site had streaming video and donwloadable MP3 files...

posted by Peter Nixon 3:18 PM
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ONE GOD: Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, who is President of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, writes about Islam in the latest issue of Priests & People. He has this to stay on the question of whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God:

Some Christians do not wish to admit that Christians and Muslims adore the same God. Our God, they say, is essentially different since we believe in a Trinity of Persons which Muslims reject. The Council, although its documents are replete with Trinitarian references, does not go into this question here. It is content, in both its texts on Islam, to refer to some of the Beautiful Names of God according to the Islamic tradition, thereby showing that the way Muslims understand God is not unidimensional. The affirmation ‘together with us’ remains; though Christians and Muslims understand God differently, we do not worship different divinities, since God is one. Our religions are monotheistic.

posted by Peter Nixon 2:51 PM
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THE BEST A MAN CAN GET? Fr. Jeff Keyes sums up the spectacle of Super Bowl advertising with this wonderful observation:

For those of us who believe that the glory of God is the human person fully alive, what happens in our hearts when we hear it’s “The best a man can get,” and we discover that they are only speaking about a shave?

posted by Peter Nixon 12:10 PM
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SCENES FROM A COUNTY JAIL: Yesterday a man I’d seen before came to the service. I’ll call him “Ray” because it would be too easy to identify him from my description. I’ve seen Ray a couple of times because he’s been at the facility a few months. Ray looks to be in his mid-40s, and walks with a cane because one of his legs has difficulty supporting his weight. His left hand is permanently bent into a clawlike shape.

After we began the prayers of the faithful, Ray began to speak. “I’m getting out this week, and I don’t know what I’m gonna do,” he said quietly. And then suddenly he cried out, almost gasping for the air he needed to make his voice heard: “I got no one. I need you all to pray for me.” After a few more men had offered prayers, Ray spoke again, this time about his sister. “I don’t know where she is. She was in jail for a while, and I heard she was getting out, but I don’t know. I hope she’s out, because I got no one else and I don’t know what I’m gonna do.”

At the end of the service, we always pray over the men who are leaving. We gather around and lay hands on them and recite a prayer that has been in use in the jail for a long time now. But as we said it, I wondered whether the words weren’t quite right for Ray. The prayer begins “Lord, look down upon this man who is about to return to his loved ones, family and friends,” but I knew that Ray wasn’t sure he had anyone to return to. The prayer asks “May he find a job that will be fulfilling and meaningful,” but I wondered whether Ray’s disability would prevent him from getting any kind of job. I wondered whether Ray was truly ready to leave the jail, or whether he’d end up here again at some point.

There was another man there who caught my eye. I’ll call him “Mark.” Mark did the second reading, the long one from 1 Corinthians 13. He clearly struggled with it. He also had a tough time keeping still through the service. Part of his body always seemed to be in motion.

I thought about my own son, who is almost 6 and is struggling with a similar problem. But my wife and I are on top of it, we know what needs to be done, and we’re working cooperatively with my son’s teacher and therapist to get him the help he needs to learn. I wondered whether anyone had ever done that for Mark, or whether he just fell through the cracks. I wondered what would have happened to my son if he had grown up in a different situation.

Sometimes going out to the jail is hard. You’re brought face to face with struggles and pain that you, personally, can’t do much about. I’m a volunteer who comes out once a month as part of a team. I’m not supposed to have any contact with these guys once they leave the facility, and the truth is that I wouldn’t have the time to do much anyway. I come out here because I want these guys to know that God loves them and I love them. But sometimes love on the monthly installment plan doesn’t seem to be enough.

All I have to offer Ray and Mark right now are my prayers. And, perhaps, the prayers of those reading this. So please spare them a moment of prayer. Even though those aren’t their real names, I’m sure God will know who you’re talking about.

posted by Peter Nixon 12:00 PM
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