Sunday, April 29, 2012

Totalitarian Tactics

I used that expression once in all of this controversy here at Vanderbilt.  When I saw it on the internet, I regretted using it because it is inflammatory.  But I also think that it is true.

OK -- I am not going down the Hitler comparison trap!  But let's look at this situation.

In this situation, the Vanderbilt administration has all the power, and they have shared none of it.  The Town Hall meeting, for example, was held only to impose a decision already made not to take input in formulating a decision.  The administration has told those who object to the policy -- "take it or leave it."  We were honest with them from the start, telling them all along that we might have to "leave it."  We waited until the policy was definitively set, and sure enough we could not comply.  That is our story.

At the beginning, there was some unity among the religious groups.  Even though not all objected to the policy, all agreed that the policy was a burden on religious life at the university.  But that unity has gradually dissolved in the face of the unrelenting pressure of the administration.  And now we see religious groups criticizing one another rather than the administration.  Those are totalitarian tactics.


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Time Warp of Emotions

I was talking to one of the students yesterday after Mass.  I asked her how things were going.  She said that things were overwhelming...until Friday.  You see, it is exam time here, and that is a funny sort of time.  I remember getting a card during exams when I was in college.  On the front, it had a head opened up with books crammed into it.  On the inside, the card read: "It's not what you know, it's when you know it."  How true, especially for procrastinators like me.

I fall into that emotional time warp all the time: letting my emotions distort reality.  Emotions are good at making passing things seem permanent.  They whisper: "You will always feel this way."  That's true whether I am feeling bad or good.  The emotions are real; they just are not permanent.  That is the one thing that they definitely are not.

This is the sort of emotionalism that I am subject to.  Letting small things take on a disproportionate importance.  This is true for me especially at the extremes of the day.  I am subject to the distortions caused by my emotions more at the beginning and at the end of the day.  Those are the times when I make my biggest mistakes.  I need a better plan to use those times for things like prayer and reading that are soothing to the emotions.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Intolerance

Vanderbilt is an intolerant place for those who have the courage to dissent from the party line about matters of faith and morality.  Few are willing to do so because of the intolerance. Even a year after her graduation, Frannie Boyle is still stirring them up at the Vanderbilt Hustler! The decision of the Vanderbilt Catholic student board to remain a Catholic organization has so provoked the administration that they are taking the name away. At this point I am sure that neither Frannie nor the Vanderbilt Catholic board is much concerned about these reactions to enforce obedience to the dictates of the predominant Vanderbilt culture.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Better start loving...

It is easy to get swept up in controversy. I am really trying not to be. I keep talking to the press because they keep coming, and I have learned that it is better to talk than not to. But it really doesn't matter.

What matters is love. Am I loving? It may not seem like it, but I love the administrators at Vanderbilt. I pray for them. I want God to bless them. I am not upset by what has happened here. I would really prefer to move on. And that is my message from now on.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Calm in the eye of the storm!

It is pretty stormy here right now, but I am calm -- tired, but calm! There is only one week of classes left for the semester. We are popping up in the press all the time. But things are really good!

I thank God so much for what He is doing. I am trying my best not to get in the way. The students are awesome. All shall be well.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Ubermensch and the Little Way

I came across a delightful fact last week -- so delightful, in fact, that I laughed out loud in the rectory chapel, startling my companions. St. Therese used the elevator, which was a new invention in her time, as an image of her doctrine of confidence in God's love and mercy in contrast to the stairs, which represent self reliance and fear. She, of course, recommends taking the elevator!

There were no elevators in Lisieux at the time. A little research turned up the hotel in Paris where Therese would have encountered an elevator on a visit with her family. A little more research turned up the astonishing fact that Friedrich Nietzsche was staying in the same hotel at the same time! Wowza -- does God have a sense of humor!

Is it possible to find two weltanschauungs (pardon the expression -- I couldn't resist) more at odds with one another? Which do you prefer: the elevator or the stairs?

Monday, April 2, 2012

I was born at Vanderbilt

I want to take a little time to reflect personally on the decision of Vanderbilt Catholic to disaffiliate from the university. I am convinced that it is the right decision, really the only decision. Nevertheless, the past week has been a circus because our decision was picked up by the press. Although we have been treated kindly by the press, they intruded into the matter and set the terms of the discussion in sound bites. I want to reflect on it in more than a sound bite. I think that I want to wallow in it emotionally a little bit.

Friday night and Saturday afternoon, I happened to be going down the same stretch of West End Avenue, and I happened to see a well-dressed woman and little girl walking on the sidewalk both times. I may be wrong, but I jumped to the conclusion that they were Jews because I have seen other well-dressed people walking in the same area and at the same times over the years. Two synagogues, including the orthodox one, are in walking distance, and that fact would account for the otherwise unusual coincidence. My grandparents lived in the same neighborhood when I was growing up and so I was accustomed to the sight.

As lovely and unsurprising as this fleeting encounter was, it struck my heart and made me think about many things. (Bear with me because I realize that these reflections are not strictly logical.) I thought that religion in Nashville used to be like this woman and little girl walking down the street to keep the Sabbath. Lovely, unremarkable, robust, and proper -- maybe a little too proper! I was brought up this way, and Nashville and all things Nashville accommodated such religiosity -- including Vanderbilt. In those days, what could have been more Nashville than Vanderbilt? But not any more. I realized in a flash that whether we "win" this dispute with Vanderbilt or not, things will never be the same. We will never be proper at Vanderbilt again! That is to say, we will never be a part of the culture of Vanderbilt because Vanderbilt will no longer tolerate robust religion.

Also in a flash, I realized that we would be like this woman and little girl in a different way. We were now exiles: not really a part of the world we live in. The Jews are masters of this. That is how they have survived, for the most part. And if we are to survive, it will be in the same way.

In an interesting way, Vanderbilt is "the world" for me -- the saeculum. I tell the students that I was born at Vanderbilt. That's literally true: in what is now called Medical Center North, which was the hospital, then wasn't, and now is part of the hospital again. But I was more than born at Vanderbilt. My parents met at Vanderbilt. My godfather was an English professor at Vanderbilt, back when the English department still had some remembrance of the Fugitives and Agrarians. I learned to swim at Vanderbilt, in Coach Smith's swim school. As a little boy, I played around the "new" Tri Delta house as it was being built since my mother was on their house building committee. I thrilled to stand on the court of Memorial Gym as a boy at Vanderbilt basketball camp. I sat in the end zone in cold rain to see Vanderbilt let victory over UT slide into a tie -- and wept! I decided not to come to Vanderbilt as an undergraduate, even after one of my parents' friends from college, who was the admissions director then, arranged for me to have a tour -- as if I needed one -- from whatever Perot was here at the time. Ten of my classmates from McCallie did come to Vanderbilt, including my closest friend. And then at last I came to Vanderbilt for law school.

Vanderbilt was, indeed, my world. Not that all was rosy. My mother would rail about Carmichael Towers. Aren't they hideous? And she went to the trenches over Confederate Memorial Hall at Peabody, once Vanderbilt acquired it. I did not have illusions about the perfection or perfectibility of Vanderbilt, any more than I did about the world. But it was my world, and I was a part of it.

That has changed with this decision. I am no longer a part of Vanderbilt. Big deal! I hope that we will be as faithful as the well-dressed woman and little girl. Vanderbilt will be in ruins long before such faith wavers. (To be continued, perhaps!)

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Marriage is in the air

I have been running back and forth this weekend from our 3 To Get Married weekend retreat, a wedding along with rehearsal, and a little marriage counsel thrown in on top. All that with my somewhat apocalyptic outlook resulting from Vanderbilt Catholic being kicked off the Vanderbilt campus has left me a bit emotionally raw. Oh yeah, and it's Holy Week! But I'm actually quite happy.

One of the things about marriage prep that is hard to get across to couples in love is that marriage is not going to change your finace(e) into someone else. They will be the same after marriage as before, unless they change. Marriage will not do it for them. That's why confession is such an integral part of marriage prep.

Some of the couples on the retreat have changed a lot in their preparation. There really is not a magic formula that I can come up with to explains what makes it work. It's been a beautiful weekend.

1st UCat priest

Fr. Josh Altonji and some UCat friends in Birmingham!

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