Wednesday, February 26, 2014

A Crying Shame

John and I were spellbound for 83 minutes last night as Frontline aired its investigative report "Secrets of the Vatican."

Everyone should watch it before putting any more money into the basket passed during a Catholic mass.  You can watch it online or read the text or buy the DVD.

Saddest were the personal testimonies of Monica Barrett and of the son of Marcial Maciel, head of the Legionaries of Christ, a group soliciting donations from wealthy conservative Catholics.

Raul Gonzales finally broke down as he described how his father sexually abused him and his brother when they were ten years old and younger.

Frontline then cuts to scenes of Pope John Paul II praising and hugging Maciel for his service to the church, years after his victims had filed reports with the Vatican.

Monica Barrett narrated her bloody rape by a priest when she was eight years old.  He told her, "If you tell anybody, your parents will burn in hell."  

The priest was eventually convicted and imprisoned for assaulting another child, but the diocese of Milwaukee sued Barrett for $14,000 to recover its legal expenses.  It challenged the $30 million it was ordered to pay in settlement of hundreds of cases.

The diocese of Milwaukee was simply following procedures laid down in Rome, according to Jeff Anderson, attorney for Barrett and others abused by priests in that part of Wisconsin.

Reports on Vatican bank's illegal, secretive transactions were also hellish, so far from Jesus's hopes when he told Peter, "...on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18).  

When Benedict XVI resigned "for health reasons," the first pope to do so in six hundred years, there was clearly more to the story.  Frontline has done us all a service by researching the extent of the problems facing the Pope.

Whether Pope Francis, the outsider, can actually reform the complex network of influence and intrigue financial and moral, remains to be seen.  But at least he's trying.

My recommendation: don't write a check to a Catholic school, college, hospital, or church until the church confesses its sins and significantly changes course--such as, for example, ordaining women.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

God Loves Uganda--Still

My prayers today are for the people of Uganda, gay and straight, and anyone in between.

Yesterday Uganda's president signed a bill that establishes life imprisonment for anyone who has sex with a consenting adult, a child, or a disabled person of the same gender three times or more (a "repeat offender").

The law will also imprison anyone who does not report someone suspected of being gay.

Free rein on hating and on getting even with people you don't like: just say they are gay!

If you care about this crisis, watch the documentary God Loves Uganda directed by Roger Ross Williams.  It's showing in Montreal today:

For a trailer, reviews, and information on screenings around the country, go to:

You can also join an email list of supporters of the film.

There are two logical problems with this law, in addition to its injustice and fear-mongering.

1)  Its supporters say it "upholds African values" and they're trying to "counter Western influence."
But toleration of homosexuality in 19th C. Uganda is documented.  King Mwanga II had relationships with men.  In fact, it was British culture and 19th C. Christian missions that taught rejection of homosexuality.  It's US missionaries in the last 20 years who have taught fiercely anti-gay fundamentalism.

2) The president says "We reject the notion that somebody can be homosexual by choice... that sexual orientation is a matter of choice."
It's not a choice--does that make orientation genetic? Or is a homosexual act an accident?  A compulsive behavior, some kind of addiction?

You can get life imprisonment for an act you did not choose?    

Ah well, let's not look for logic.  The law and its supporters are probably trying to say that everyone is heterosexual and that same-sex relations violate Ugandan culture and the law of nature--all of which is just not true.

"Western culture" and Ugandan men are clearly the target here, but what will the law mean for Ugandan women and for expatriates living in Uganda?

Western missionaries taught female subordination to men, which has had a terrible impact on those African cultures where women are already seen as beasts of burden.

We planted these terrible seeds, which have now borne fruit in this anti-gay law and in oppression of women.

O Jesus, lover of the meek, the oppressed, and those who are persecuted, walk with the people of Uganda and help them to overcome this evil. Amen.

O people of Uganda and the US and the Ukraine and Syria: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. --Matthew 5:44.

See also my post after first viewing God Loves Uganda at Telluride's Mountainfilm Fest, Memorial Day weekend, 2013:;postID=5230601982838051269;onPublishedMenu=allposts;onClosedMenu=allposts;postNum=73;src=postname

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Jim Morin's Excellent Comment

So there are mixed decisions from the trial of the Florida man who picked a fight over loud music and killed a black teenager...

Whether the white guy gets ten years or life in prison, there is still a young black man who lost his life.

In Memoriam: Jordan Davis, 17 years old.

This political cartoon tweeted by Roger Simon @politicoroger says it all.

by Jim Morin of the Miami Herald

Embedded image permalink

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Fighting the Figs

Figs are falling like raindrops this morning from my neighbor's ficus tree.  
Car half protected from ficus tree fruit

John covered his car with a tarp last night to protect it from the gooey smashed fruit.

Good thing--because the ficus "berries" (actually figlets) now cover the sidewalk and driveway that I had swept and hosed clean yesterday. 

Thanks to the Santa Monica Daily Press for letting me vent about these trees.  Maybe the city will actually come out and remove the one in front of our house.

I confess that on Wednesday I went out to sweep the mush off the sidewalk in preparation for having friends over in the evening.  Then after scooping up maybe ten dustpans full, I fell to temptation and hosed off the remaining paste.

My daughter Ellen was horrified last Sunday when I admitted I was tempted to resort to hosing down the driveway and sidewalk.  
Saturday scene, one day after hosing to remove all berries

"But Mom, the drought!" she said.  

Yes, I've seen the flashing signs on the freeway where you expect reports on traffic conditions: "SEVERE DROUGHT! SAVE WATER."

But I haven't hosed the driveway at all in the last six months, and even though I hop around the sidewalk trying not to step on berries, ficus goop has been walked all over the house, even onto the bathroom mats.  

I deserve one hosing per winter, don't I?  But then the berries were back in full force two days later when I was expecting a team of windshield replacement guys to arrive and do work in my driveway.  So after first sweeping, I sneaked another hosing...

I disguised the act as washing my car, also covered with berries, and got out a brush to clean the dried mush off the sides of the car, sprayed by my tires whenever I drive in or out of the driveway.

If the City Forester won't remove the trees because of the broken sidewalks, the fungus growing out of the roots, the messy fruit, or the squeezed plumbing system, maybe he'll do it to prevent me and my neighbors from being tempted to waste water.

Gospel According to Jefferson, Dickens & Tolstoy

Five-star performance tonight of a hilarious new play by stand-up comic and Politically Incorrect producer Scott Carter--worth the drive through gridlocked traffic to North Hollywood on the Friday starting a three-day weekend.

This review a month ago in the LA Times doesn't even hint how funny the play is:,0,151780.story#axzz2tNONs2Eu

Not surprising, though, when you realize that Carter got his start doing stand-up comedy and then produced 1,100 episodes of Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher.

John agreed to take a gamble and go with me; he's now tweeting about it and congratulating me on a real find.

Besides being funny, the play takes you inside the minds and lives of the three writers whose work includes the Declaration of Independence, David Copperfield, and Anna Karenina.  

27 years of research and 200 drafts went into this vividly informative performance, as Scott explained in the fascinating after-dialogue.  See also "JDT: Discordant & Harmonious Notes" by Scott Carter.  

A near-death experience many years ago switched Carter from indifference/hostility toward religion to polite but skeptical interest in all the big issues: Is there anything after death?  Does God exist?  How does one follow Jesus?

Because Tolstoy wrote his own version of Jesus's life and Jefferson cut and pasted his favorite quotes from the life of Jesus, Scott got the idea of adding one more 19th C. writer with religious views and putting all three together in an imaginary room to talk out their differences.

If you live in southern California, don't miss it.  If you're on the East coast, be patient; it will get to Broadway soon.

When I teach RS 310 Religion & Literature, the final exam I often give requires students to select five authors or characters from the semester's reading and put them into some setting where they can talk with each other.  

The resulting dialogues are often hilarious and full of insights.  That's why I enjoy listening to a play based on dialogue among the greats of literature.

See also Carter's blog on Huffington Post:

Wednesday, February 5, 2014



Why does a government think it has the right to kill a human being?

Respect for human life is crushed by cold-blooded, organized execution, whether it's the guillotine in France or injection with a drug in Texas.

Yes, for one human to kill another is terrible.  It's insane, deranged, misguided, deluded, just plain wrong.  

But when a group of people calling themselves judges and jurors and employees of a prison methodically go about ending a human life, it's even more chilling.

Jesus would not carry out a death penalty.  He would say, "Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone."

In fact, that's what he did say.  John 8: 1-11.

What's with Texas?

The state of Texas continues its barbarity tonight with the planned execution of a woman in a wheelchair, Suzanne Basso.

Yes, she is convicted of leading her son and a few others to kill and torture a man for his money.

But is she a threat to society?  Really?  

A degenerative disease has left her paralyzed.  She could be just fed and housed a few years, then allowed peacefully to go to her Maker to face judgment.

But the state of Texas apparently wants to take vengeance on this wreck of a human, ignoring the Bible, God's word: "Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord" (Romans 12:19).

God forgive me for the hatred I feel toward Texas.

To read a fictional account of a similar mother and son, see "A House on the Plains" by E. L. Doctorow.

Here's a recent interview with Doctorow, now 83 years old, who just published another novel, Andrew's Brain.

A note on hating and killing:

Jesus quoted the Scripture that says "Thou shalt not kill" and went further to link anger, contempt, and name-calling, condemning them all: "...whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire" (Matthew 5:22).  

At least the state of Texas is not a single person, so perhaps I can evade hell fire.  

Jesus did show anger against institutions in his day that were harming people (Mark 12:38-40, Matthew 21:12-13, Matthew 23).

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Ten Revelations

My Jewish friends refer to the Ten Commandments as "the Ten Statements."

They're known as "the ten mitzvot" but the first line of Exodus 20 actually calls them "ha-devarim ha-eleh" (these words or statements).

Gilla Nissan, my Hebrew teacher who leads meditations on the Hebrew letters, calls them "the Ten Revelations."

The first one is indeed more of a statement or revelation: "I am YHWH, your God, who has taken you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of slavery.  There shall not be to you any gods of others in my Presence" (Exodus 20:2).  Can we view the others that way as well?

In Judaism the Torah (the Law) is a gift from God, not a burden.

That's why Psalm 119 is all about praise for the Torah with many synonyms for law and laws:

I have chosen the way of truth: 
   thy judgments have I laid before me.
I have stuck unto thy testimonies:
   O YHWH, put me not to shame.  (Psalm 119:30-31 KJV)

May we who have followed Jesus as Messiah learn to love the Torah and even regard the ten words as blessed revelations from a loving God, not sources of guilt.

The Hebrew Scripture reading for this week is Parashas Yisro (Exodus 18-20), so named because the first word of chapter 18 is Jethro (Yisro).

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Voyage Back

Has your heart not yet been broken today?  

Read this account of a play about the ship of Jewish refugees that was turned away by Cuba, the United States, and Canada in June, 1939.  

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt chose to enforce strict immigration quotas rather than admit these 900 people.

The ship was sent back to Europe, where 254 of the passengers later died in the Holocaust.  

"The SS St. Louis left Hamburg, Germany, on May 13, 1939, with more than 900 Jewish refugees on board," reports Nita Lelyveld, who watched the play as well as the reactions of the seniors in Los Angeles Jewish Home in Reseda.

About 60 survivors of the Holocaust live in the Home, many of them weeping as they watched the play, titled The Trial of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and written by Robert Krakow.

Krakow today is executive director of the SS St. Louis Legacy Project, a non-profit whose stated mission is to educate and promote discussion of human rights and immigration and refugee policy.

The 73rd anniversary of the turning away of the ship was observed on September 24, 2012, with an address by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.



Saturday, February 1, 2014

Why I don't go to Woody Allen films

I liked Woody Allen films when I was in my 20s.

In my 40s, he was accused of molesting his adopted daughter, Dylan Farrow.  I stopped going to his films.

Now in my 60s, I see this account by Dylan of the years of abuse she suffered from Woody Allen.  I refuse to go see Magic in the Moonlight or Midnight in Paris.

I did see Blue Jasmine because Cate Blanchett was on track to win Best Actress for her role as the riches-to-rags homeless woman... but my heart is with Dylan Farrow.

I agree with Nicholas Kristof that it was a mistake to give the Golden Globe lifetime achievement award to Allen.

As Kristof says,  "When evidence is ambiguous, do we really need to leap to our feet and lionize an alleged molester?"

In my book, the evidence is not ambiguous.  Dylan Farrell's words ring true, and I will never again be able to enjoy a film directed by that man.