Friday, May 18, 2018

Met Opportunities

The Met Gala has come and gone. The hoopla has  begun to die down. Most of what can be said has been said, I suppose. It has been analyzed and criticized. Just goes to show what's wrong with the world. Just goes to show what's wrong with the Church. We've drawn our conclusions, we've formed our opinions we've had our say and here is where we end it. But here's the thing...hoopla tends to grab and narrow our focus. We don't realize that we might be missing something. Things can get lost somewhere along the line. Controversy can kick up a lot of dust and it is only when that dust settles that you can often see a bigger picture. 

More than a week later a few articles about the Met Gala continue to trickle across my news feed. Some of them written to express anger and outrage, to justify anger and outrage, to stir up the anger and outrage of others. Articles, blog posts, memes and comments all giving voice to how the Met Gala displayed a mockery of the Catholic Church, loudly proclaiming the many insults and offenses to our Catholic sensibilities. As well as complaints against the Church for allowing it. It may very well be true that we have good reason to feel mocked and insulted. There may very well be good reason for the anger and the outrage. Then again, Satan does like it when there's a ruckus and we get stuck in our right to be right. Dust gets kicked up either way. There's nothing he likes more than an inability to see the God thing because we're too busy looking at and fighting his thing. We may want to ask if the anger and outrage is serving us, the Church and the Gospel or could it be, instead, that it is actually getting in our way? 

Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun set on your anger, and do not leave room for the devil. Eph 4:26-27

Know this, my dear brothers: everyone should be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath, for the wrath of a man does not accomplish the righteousness of God. James 1:19-20

It may have been necessary to point out some of the problems and incongruities between what the Catholic Church represents and what was displayed at the Met Gala. Now that we have done that, however, should we move beyond the offenses because to do otherwise might leave room for the devil? By continuing in a posture of anger and offense do we inadvertently give the devil his due? Do we proclaim that the devil had the power to win the day and that he continues to do so? Should we examine if how we have gone about things has really been productive in accomplishing the righteousness of God?

Whomever you forgive anything, so do I. For indeed what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for you in the presence of Christ, so that we might not be taken advantage of by Satan, for we are not unaware of his purposes. 2 Cor 10-11

Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is  his glory to overlook an offense. Proverbs 19:11

Forgiveness, overlooking an offense, even refusing to be offended have practical applications when it comes to spiritual warfare, in order to avert the purposes of Satan. It disarms him. Better yet it often takes the very weapon the enemy intended for evil and turns it  back against him for good. Satan is quite satisfied with our anger and the bitterness that comes with it. It narrows our vision until he and what has been wrought by him are all that we can see. It is all that others will see as well, because we are pointing it out to them. We then ignore opportunities that would allow the last word and the remembered images to point towards Christ rather than away from him. 

Strive for peace with everyone, and for that holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one be deprived of the grace of God, that no bitter root spring up and cause trouble, through which many may become defiled. Hebrews 12:14-15

All the celebrity, all the excitement, all the controversy, all the agitation from the Met Gala has overshadowed the exhibit itself. The last time the Vatican lent pieces to the Met was 35 years ago, in 1983. That Vatican Collections exhibit was the third most visited exhibit in the 148 year history of the Met. The current exhibit Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination will run from May to October, six months instead of the usual three. There are items in this exhibit that have never left the Vatican before. Many will  appreciate the aesthetic beauty of each and every item. The Catholic Imagination, however, is much deeper than a mere aesthetic. Its aesthetics point to literal realities and those realities find their source in Jesus Christ. We have the opportunity here to deepen our own knowledge, appreciation and actualization of that. We then have the opportunity to transmit that to the rest of the world. 

The Met Gala is in the past but the exhibit continues and we can use it to begin conversations that focus on those realities. We can let the misappropriation of Catholic imagery at the Gala be what people will remember, we can cry about it while letting them have it or we can turn our eyes away from the Gala and turn them on the Vatican exhibit itself. We can angrily point to the bondage mask with the rosaries hanging from it in the secular part off the exhibit, thereby letting that be an image that is remembered or we can point to the beauty of a Vatican item. We can leave the image of a papal miter in the hands of Rihanna or we can point people to the authentic miter of Pope Pius XI that is in the exhibit, explaining its symbolism, its function and its importance. The Vatican exhibit can give us many opportunities to talk about the Church and its history as well as the richness and function of its imagery and the literal realities that they represent. The following are but a few examples.
How the Church transmits the word of God. 
The Church's primary function is to answer the question: "Who do you say that I am?" concerning Jesus Christ (Mt 16:15-16) and to bring the Gospel to "all nations" (Mt 28:19). They do more, however, than merely convey the story of Christ but, rather, transmit him throughout history as the living Word of God. This is not confined to the written and spoken words of scripture and doctrine. The Church makes use of the physical world and all of our senses to bring Jesus, as "God with Us" to each generation. The items in the Vatican exhibit are part of that transmission. The visual images of art, symbolism and vestments literally communicate beyond and through barriers of language and literacy.

The red shoes of Pope St. John Paul II
The Met finds it interesting that the red shoes of Pope St. John Paul II are said to be by Prada. I'm not sure that's true. Catholics know, however, that those shoes are the embodiment of "feet shod in readiness for the gospel of peace." Pope St. John Paul II traveled to 129 countries and took more pastoral trips than all of his predecessors combined. He was probably seen by more people in person than any other figure in history. He was instrumental in the downfall of Communism. He not only talked the talk but walked the walk of evangelization and ecumenism. When the red shoes met the road, he was a living testimony to it. Evangelization is not merely a matter of increasing our numbers and filling the pews. It is a mandate of Jesus Christ. We are gathering in all he suffered and died for that they may have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10). The unity of Christians is not just a matter of "why can't we be friends?" but marks us as belonging to Christ (John 17:23)

The Liturgical and Sacramental Life of the Church
Some of the items in the Vatican exhibit are vestments used during liturgies. Many outside the Church might see the vestments worn by our priests as purely ceremonial. Something to bring gravitas to our ceremonies and they see our ceremonies as pure ritual. In part the vestments do bring a sense of dignity, seriousness and solemnity. They are sacramentals. Sacramentals are "sacred signs instituted by the Church that dispose people to receive the chief effects of the sacraments and they make holy various occasions in human life"  Each piece has a meaning, and function that, as I said before, goes beyond symbolism, acting in concrete ways to transmit the Word of God to us. Our liturgies and sacraments do so as well. The sacraments are more than symbolic ceremonies, but actions that, in fact, produce a result. In the liturgical and sacramental life of the Church something real is going on and the visuals are there to indicate that.

There are so many ways that we could use the Vatican exhibit at the Met as a jumping off point to foster an appreciation of the Church in those who do not understand it. We also have opportunities ourselves to become better catechized concerning our faith. We have an excellent opportunity, as well, to examine how we are presenting ourselves to those outside the Church.

Suiting Up
The Vatican Exhibit will be at the Met for six months. A more influential and lasting exhibit of the Church are Catholics themselves. How do we suit up as Catholics both literally and figuratively so that others can plainly see what the Church is all about? We can't expect others to know better when we haven't shown them better. How do we wear our faith? Do we exhibit the fruits of the spirit in our interaction with others? Do we live the beatitudes? Do we follow the Golden Rule? Do we put on the armor of God? Do we show people what true charity, true mercy, true justice, true holiness and virtue looks like? Do we foster unity? Do we show respect for the things of the Church and for the pope and the bishops? Or do we merely give lip service to such things and act like everyone else? Do we literally wear things that would identify us as Catholic? Do we publically do things such as pray? When we dress for Mass to we show a proper understanding and respect for what is going on there? Do we actualize our faith by what we exhibit? Do we consciously and coherently exhibit what it is to be Catholic and why it is of value? We should be demonstrating this in such a way that not only will others respect us, but they should want to be us.

The Met Gala demonstrated that people outside the Church have only a surface understanding of the "Catholic Imagination". The Met Exhibit gives us an opportunity to demonstrate that the Catholic Church is more than its aesthetics. It reminds, us as well, that we are to constantly look to the bigger picture that we might accomplish the righteousness of God. That we are the living exhibit of Jesus Christ, his Church and the way, the truth and the life he offers. 

Will the Met opportunity be an opportunity met or an opportunity missed?

For What It's Worth.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Spinnin' Wheel Spinnin' True? Did Cardinal Dolan loan Rihanna a Miter?

Most of us experience news and events second hand. We read about it, we hear about it. Often ideas, impressions and opinions will be formed by what we read about something through what is shared on social media as well as news articles, opinion pieces and blog posts. The fact is most people will form their impressions and opinions because they heard it through the grapevine. They will view it through the lens of someone else's spin.

Spin gives a particular bias, interpretation or point of view to a story. It is intended to give a favorable or unfavorable impression when presented to the public. The way we experience news is not always a matter of "just the facts, ma'am." Many of us follow certain news sources precisely because of their spin. We tend to follow them because their point of view or interpretation agrees with ours. Birds of a feather tend to flock together. Sometimes spin is merely the by-product of the fact that people tend to have opinions, points of view and differing perspectives and we like to gather with the like minded. 

Sometimes, however, spin does more than reflect a point of view or perspective. Sometimes spin attempts to manipulate the reality of a story. Sometimes our bias causes us to accept a story and continue to report a story without checking out it's validity because it fits our narrative. Sometimes a story becomes fake news because we have taken something that may have happened and through insinuation, speculation, inflammatory language or misreporting we twist it until becomes a misrepresentation.

he question then becomes, who's spinnin' wheel is spinnin' true?

So what has brought me to my keyboard to pound out a blog on how spin is spun? What else? The most recent story du jour, the Met Gala, of course. Particularly a specific story about Cardinal Dolan, the Met Gala and an accusation of spin that came up in a discussion.

You have to admit that the Met Gala has given people something to talk about. You can catch a lot of pretty ponies on that particular spinning wheel ride. There has been no shortage of opinions and points of view being shared with both favorable and unfavorable spins. People are particularly critical of Cardinal Timothy Dolan's choice to attend the Gala as well as the Catholic cosplay of its attendees. The biggest splash being Rihanna in a bishop inspired ensemble with a miter headpiece.

The day after the Gala I read many of the stories. I checked out pictures of many of the fashions. Then I come across Cardinal Dolan interviewing about the Gala on Conversations with Cardinal Dolan. I think "Well, let's see what the Cardinal's spin on this is going to be". During the interview, while talking about Rihanna and her miter the Cardinal quips "And she gave it back to me this morning" along with a joke about Rihanna volunteering to perform some confirmations. Everyone laughs and I thought it was pretty clear that he was joking. Later, however, I come across an article by The Wrap reporting that Rihanna had borrowed the miter that she wore from Cardinal Dolan. "Oh please, he was joking about that". Even so the story spreads like a real rumor weed with many other online publications repeating what the Wrap had reported. I've noticed that there often isn't much fact checking anymore, just one publication parroting what another has reported. I guess they just assume that the first report did their due diligence and just go with it. Even so they are secular publications. You can't expect them to know what an outrageous claim that is. You can't expect them to know that the miter is a symbol of the bishops office, that he wears if for liturgical reasons, and that he wouldn't be letting just anybody borrow it. I was hoping that Catholics would know better and would check out the story before believing it outright. 

It seems, however, that some are so used to reacting with outrage when it comes to our prelates and automatically assume the worst not matter what. A Catholic publication on facebook repeats the story. Some of the commenters assume that it is fake news. The publication insists that they "do NOT report fake news." Well, yeah, you sort of did due to that fact that it is inaccurate. Someone posts a fact check article but they are unfazed. Since I have been following and researching that particular story I post a couple of comments and there is some back and forth. Finally the publication takes the position that they are not buying the Cardinals explanation.

"Actually, all we have to go on is that the Cardinal claims to have been 'joking' when at the event nobody thought that he was. We call 'fake' on the Cardinal -- and 'PR spin' on his office"

Well, there you go. They opened the door by insisting that "they do NOT report fake news" and laying down a gauntlet by accusing someone else of "fake" and "spin". I hate that... especially when a bias causes one to not care about the accuracy. It disturbs my sense of fair play. So let's let the spinnin' wheel fly shall we? Let's see whose spin is spinning true?

Is it true that all we have to go on is the Cardinals claims? Or can we find a directing sign on the straight and narrow highway? Can we find a reflecting sign and let it shine within our minds to show us what is real? (Lyric paraphrase, you know I can't help myself)

If you google this story you will find lots of headlines saying that Cardinal Dolan let Rihanna borrow a miter for the Met Gala. I suppose you could take all of those articles and put them in your arsenal as proof. But there is something in following the progression of a story that allows a bigger picture to emerge. There is, indeed, more to go on than the Cardinal's claims.

-- First of all the Cardinal's comments were not made at the event itself. They were made the next day during a podcast of Conversation With Cardinal Dolan. Judging by the laughter they did indeed think it was a joke. So the very fact that you did not even know where the comments were made indicates a lack of accuracy in fact checking.

-- Have we ever seen Cardinal Dolan wearing a jewel encrusted miter like that? Or maybe we think he gave RiRi a plain miter and when asked if he would mind if they bejeweled it he said "sure, go right ahead"?  Also, the bishop's miter usually has the two tails hanging down the back and Rihanna's headpiece did not. 

-- Most of the reporting describe Rihanna's headpiece as being custom made.

-- The Instagram of the design house responsible for the outfit wrote this on their Instagram Maison Margiela is proud to announce that honorary co-chair @badgalriri wore a custom made ‘Artisanal’ outfit inspired by Heavenly Bodies created by @jgalliano, for this year’s @voguemagazine Met Gala.The outfit is a three coordinated piece, comprising of a sculptural jacket and a skirt worn over a bustier dress and a custom made hat. In total, the outfit took 250 hours to sew and 500 hours to hand embroider by Maison Margiela’s Paris Atelier. No mention of borrowing the hat from Cardinal Dolan

-- Vogue reports that the hat was made by Stephen Jones Millinary

-- The Daily Mail reports on a related piece of fashion history. "Rihanna's headpiece was designed by John Galliano, first for Dior in 2000 and then updated last night for Margiela, where he is now the creative director".  As a matter of fact the Dior piece is on display at the Met.

-- The Wrap, who I believe originated the story, is now reporting that the Cardinal was joking.

I am not making an attempt here to defend everything the Cardinal did. I am not defending his choice to go to the Gala. You might even be able to say that the Cardinal might want to be a little more careful about how others will perceive it when making a joke. I wouldn't give you an argument. There seems to be plenty of fodder for criticism where you might actually have a point. We don't need to resort to inaccuracies. Cardinal Dolan often places himself in the public eye. He should be aware of not only the intentions of his words and actions put also how others may reasonably perceive them. 

When there are controversial stories in the Church it is really easy to hop those painted ponies on the spinning wheel ride and let those spinning wheels turn. There is nothing wrong with having an opinion or a point of view that may be unfavorable. The problem is when we allow our bias to cause us to interpret a situation inaccurately and unfairly. The problem is when we knee jerk a reaction because it fits our narrative without investigating its validity. We are Catholic, we listen to the words of our Lord Jesus Christ. We follow a golden rule. We seek the good, the true and the beautiful. We repay evil with blessing. We have to be careful that we do not allow our bias to lead us into behavior that is equal to or worse than the ones we seek to correct.

For what it's worth

LYRICS REFERENCE: Spinning Wheel - Blood, Sweat and Tears - 1969