Christmas and the Humbling of the Wise Men

It might seem that everything that could be said, has been said, about the shepherds, the wise men and the Christ Child. But that’s one of the marvels of Scripture: The unfolding history of the Church draws out of the inspired Word of God allegories and images previously unrecognized. Thus the familiar Christmas story and its well-known cast of characters shed light on a year in which the Church has been roiled by contention between today’s shepherds and today’s Magi: between those who, today, hear angels singing, and those whose experience of the faith has been thoroughly “demythologized” and intellectualized. Continue Reading »

The Joyful Mystery of Christmas

A recent Pew study has found that instead of being at war with Christmas, Americans love it. Three-quarters of Americans believe that Jesus was born to the Virgin Mary, and that angels appeared to shepherds to tell them that the Savior would be born in Bethlehem. Over 80 percent of Americans believe Luke’s account that Jesus was laid in a manger. The study found that about 65 percent believed in all the historical aspects of the Nativity—about the same percentage who will attend church this Christmas. Continue Reading »

The Power of “Heteronormativity”

For twenty-five years, the term heteronormativity has been a strategic usage. The basic definition isn’t complicated. Heteronormativity is the act of interpreting heterosexual desire as the normal, natural way of human being and society. The term doesn’t signify the normal-ness of heterosexuality. It signifies the disposition to normalize it.For twenty-five years, the term heteronormativity has been a strategic usage. The basic definition isn’t complicated. Heteronormativity is the act of interpreting heterosexual desire as the normal, natural way of human being and society. The term doesn’t signify the normal-ness of heterosexuality. It signifies the disposition to normalize it. Continue Reading »

Beyond Cuba and Castro

Thawing relations with Cuba was the right thing to do. We’re a long, long way from the early 1960s when Cuba was a Soviet satellite and the prospect of nuclear missiles ninety miles from Miami posed a direct threat to our national security. We’re also a long way from the 1970s when Cuba was trying to export revolution to Angola and elsewhere. Fidel Castro is dying. His Marxist dream has been dying for more than twenty years. There’s nothing about Cuba in 2014 that poses a risk to American interests. Continue Reading »

We Have Never Been Modern

Bruno Latour’s 1993 We Have Never Been Modern is a neglected masterpiece. Its argument is compressed, the terminology idiosyncratic. Latour is witty, ironic, and funniest when he’s outraged. It’s not an easy book, but it’s worth the effort. As a diagnosis of us “moderns,” it’s more penetrating, and rings truer, than many better-known works. Continue Reading »

Helping to Break the Cycle of Family Instability

Can people in bad, poor areas break out of the cycle of family instability that puts children at risk academically, economically, socially, and emotionally—a cycle currently working its way through the working class? As we describe in our 2014 report for the National Marriage Project, “Facilitating Forever,” community organizations receiving federal funding approved by both Democrat and Republican administrations have attempted to foster stable marriages and families in at-risk populations for over a decade. The voluntary educational programs are multi-pronged: They promote wiser relationship and marriage choices among less-educated youth, help engaged couples approach marriage realistically, assist married couples overcome the vicissitudes of life together, and work with cohabitating couples aspiring to marriage to achieve that goal. Continue Reading »

Advent for Artists

After years of premature Christmas celebrations, even evangelicals are learning to reclaim Advent, the season of preparation. Might the enclaves of high culture do the same? What follow are a few suggestions.

 Among the holiday specials on offer at the Museum of Modern Art right now is the Robert Gober retrospective, The Heart is Not a Metaphor. But it unfurls far too quickly. Art-loving audiences are confronted all at once with a decapitated Jesus, a trash-can baptismal font, genitally themed wallpaper, cryptic sinks, decontextualized fragments of Hieronymous Bosch paintings and androgenized body parts roasting in a fireplace. Why not mete these gallery features out slowly, over four weeks?

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Francis, Filtered

About a year ago, I suggested to one of the top editors of a major American newspaper that his journal’s coverage of things papal left something to be desired, as it seemed based on the assumption that Pope Francis was some kind of radical wild-man, eager to toss into the garbage bin of history all those aspects of Catholic faith and practice that mainstream western culture finds distasteful. My friend replied, in so many words, look, you know how these media narratives are: they’re like bamboo. Once they get started, there’s no stopping them. They just keep growing. Continue Reading »

Who Am I To Judge?

At noon I have to be at the local Catholic school—let’s call it St. Dismas—to train altar servers. I will arrive a few minutes early, and by 12:05 most of the kids will have trickled in. We are in Southern California, so most of the boys at St. Dismas wear short pants year-round. Students are required to attend one Mass per month with the school, but it has never occurred to anyone, not their parents, not the pastor, not the teachers, and certainly not the students, that they should wear pants to Mass. The girls wear skirts that in 1966 would have been described as “micro-minis.” When I told the boys’ parents that I expected them to wear their uniform pants to Mass when they become servers, the school principal—a genial thirty-something man who insists on the rigorous use of the title “Dr.” but often wears sweatpants and flip-flops to work—cornered me outside his office for a talk. He warned me that I might get some pushback from parents on the pants requirement. “We are only a medium-Catholic school,” he informed me. “We’re not really that Catholic.” Continue Reading »