Pope Francis: Style over substance? Or is style the substance itself?

So we all know that Francis has said some vaguely encouraging things regarding the place of women and gays in the church. The resounding tone amongst the 20 & 30 somethings I know is something like “he’s so awesome,” based on a few media-hyped statements and photographs:



He’s also shown humility by choosing to live in the Vatican guesthouse instead of the papal apartments, giving up the fancy shoes, and taking the cardinal bus instead of the pope limo.

But why have so few media outlets picked up on Francis blessing the anti-gay adoption sentiments in a Christmas sermon by the Maltese Bishop Charles Scicluna, or his excommunication of Fr Greg Reynolds for supporting gay marriage and the ordination of women?

Despite acknowledging Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio’s (as he was known before assuming his role as supreme pontiff) opposition to marriage equality, The Advocate named Pope Francis their Person of the year (as did Time, and Esquire named him the Best Dressed Man of 2013, seriously).

So Francis has said some things that sound encouraging to progressives, and done some things that should piss us off. But what can we make of all this? Well, for one, we must first understand the difference between ecclesiastical law and divine law. As the head of one of the largest organizations on the planet, Francis is bound to a number of things that have come out of this 2000 year old tradition. The ordination of women and approval of gay marriage are far beyond the scope of what one pope is capable of doing. But does that mean that he needs to bless anti-gay sermons and excommunicate a priest who goes against these church teachings? Probably. Is privately approving of civil unions for gays (as a Cardinal) as radical a move as possible for somebody who wants to keep their job? Probably.

It seems like many Catholics are hearing what they want to hear and either ignoring what they don’t like or are simply not keen enough to dig a little deeper. And that is starting to produce real and lasting impacts, such as lawmakers citing Pope Francis as critical in their decision to legalize gay marriage. Perhaps many other Catholics are finally able to resolve their identities as both Catholics and supporters of gay rights or womens rights? And what does that mean for the church as a whole? A lot. If we imagine “the church” not as simply the physical structures and hierarchy, but as every single member of the congregation, we are approaching a radically different concept than the pre-Vatican II image that Benedict imposed.

The style (all of the neat things Francis has done and expressed in vague statements) is creating more of an impact on the congregation than the substance (i.e. excommunicating Fr Reynolds.). If Catholics empower themselves to not simply follow the church, and instead be the church, we might sooner find a meeting ground between those on top (the clergy) and those below (the people). So whether Francis publicly or privately approves of homosexuality or the ordination of women, the people are coming out in droves to finally speak up for the rights of some oppressed groups, and that is unquestionably good. But to think that a lot of this sentiment is based on limited information is a bit concerning.

… . And we’re just starting to get into sexual abuse and consumerist capitalism.


December 25: St. Mary’s Cathedral Gregorian Chant Christmas Service



The Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption hosted a Gregorian chant service this Christmas. The chanting was great, but only a minor part of the service. The space was beautiful, though perhaps a bit dated. I’m no architect, but the place occupies some strange space between modern weirdo and a dated vision of the future. In other words, it’s 70’s as hell. There was a bit more sing-songiness to the spoken words than in other Catholic services I’ve been to, which I thought was cool. The church was mostly empty though and there didn’t seem to be much sense of kinship amongst folks. Most people simply looked at each other and said “peace be with you” during the Sign of Peace and seemed confused by my extending my arm for a handshake. I’m used to and appreciate lots more handshakes, smiles, and hugs during that portion of mass.

Being a part of a service with Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone was particularly challenging for me, despite the words he was actually saying.  If you are unaware of the hoopla surrounding Cordileone, this article does a good job of summing it up. And here are the accompanying bits from Episcopal Bishop Marc Andrus:


Also, check out this sweet organ at the cathedral:


Is Pope Francis Really the Anti-Benedict, or Just a Better Salesman?

Is Pope Francis Really the Anti-Benedict, or Just a Better Salesman?

The Book of Mormon


My friend surprised me with a front row ticket to see The Book of Mormon last night! I’ve since poked around a few other theologically minded blogs to read their reviews and compare notes.

First of all, I am not really a theatre guy, but I am very much a South Park and pop-religion (or something like that?) guy. The musical was exactly what I expected (dick & fart jokes interspersed between some sort of cultural criticism) and more (seeing South Park humor portrayed by live people in the flesh was some next level entertainment).

The white, male, American saviours of poor black people
This dude takes issue with the African song with the chorus of “fuck you, god,” saying that the writers are out of touch with Ugandan culture and that they would never say such a thing. Fair enough, maybe they should have been saying “fuck you, rich, white people.” I dunno, Ugandans may not say “fuck” at all. Nonetheless, it’s just a device they use to poke fun at the gospel of prosperity, and it was funny. So why does it matter if Ugandans would never sing such a song? People don’t live their lives in song no matter where they live.

The role of mythology in religion
This was the real meat and potatoes of the story. Is the bible meant to be interpreted absolutely literally? Or do religions use stories/metaphors/parables to engage believers while pointing towards deeper truths? If you’ve read any of my other posts, you know that I’m obviously in the latter camp. This dude seems to be onboard until he confuses ends (doctrine) with means (allegory). It isn’t difficult to maintain firm beliefs about right and wrong while simultaneously viewing biblical stories as literary devices that help people understand truth. For example, one doesn’t have to believe that god literally chiseled 10 commandments on stone tablets and gave them to Moses on Mt. Sinai to believe that the 10 commandments are sacred truths. What people need are engaging stories they can relate to, not rich, white geeks telling them to conform or burn in hell.

Vocational discernment & prayer for outcomes
There ain’t a lot to say about this one, just that discernment is more about listening than asking.

I had more fun last night than I’ve had at a live performance in a very long time. During intermission I heard the woman next to me talk about how offended she was! I wanted to ask her if she had ever heard of the show before or how she ended up there.

December 20, 2013: Mission Minyan


This past Friday I went to the 6:30pm Mission Minyan service.

Mission Minyan meets in the San Francisco Women’s Building, this time right above some sort of heavy hitting party downstairs. This service was challenging because it was entirely chanting/singing/reciting in Hebrew. We were provided with books that had everything written in Hebrew, with English translations & transliterations, but it was still difficult because the language is so foreign to me. I split my time between trying to read along out loud, trying to read the translations, and worrying that my yarmulke might fall off my head. The service was led entirely by laypeople and they had crackers, chocolates, and wine at the end. I’m told that there are usually snack sponsors who hook up more badass food. I don’t know much about the Jewish Shabbat meal, but it seems like folks in the congregation welcome each other and strangers into their homes for food after service. Did I get that right? I ended up going to a bar afterwards for dinner.

One thing’s fer sure: Mission Minyan has the sweetest header logo that I’ve ever seen on a religious congregation’s website.