Friday, January 02, 2009

Coincidentally...


Mrs. H. and I just finished the preface of our latest tandem read, Coincidentally by George W. Rutler. Fr. Rutler is a highly educated Roman Catholic priest in the archdiocese of New York, a writer with a wicked sense of humor - and he is not afraid to use it.

As we've only started the book, I can't yet give it the official Father Hollywood Imprimatur, but if the preface can itself be commended to the FH reader, then consider it done.

This book not only has value because of its content, but it is a treasure in and of itself. It was a gift to me and Mrs. H. from our dear friend, the Rev. Subdeacon Latif Gaba, who served in his subdiaconal role during my holy ordination to the presbyterate. Br. Latif is also a member of the Society of Saint Polycarp (SSP) of which I serve as the current dean, a religious society of Lutheran men, both lay and clergy, bound by a rule of prayer. Br. Latif is also one of my oldest friends from my seminary days, arguably one of the foremost authorities on liturgical matters in the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod. His wife, Ruth, is a gifted and brilliant lady who served for many years as librarian at Concordia Theological Seminary - Fort Wayne. We had the pleasure of hosting Latif in the Hollywood Manse a few days during our last SSP retreat, and Lion Boy still laughs at the antics of "Uncle Latif."

The Gabas today live in Milwaukee, and are members of St. Stephen Lutheran Church under the pastoral care of the Rev. Tim May, SSP.

But back to Fr. Rutler's book...

Coincidentally is actually a collection of columns that Fr. Rutler wrote - usually with tongue in cheek - regarding coincidences of history. And regarding such matters, Rutler has an almost Lutheran way of looking at them - that one can tumble off the side of the horse on the side of superstition, that sees connections everywhere to the point of paranoia and fanaticism - but one can also fall off the other side and refuse to see any of the providential hand at work. In support of providence, Fr. Rytler cites an old saying that "coincidences are divine puns" (page x).

Fr. Rutler is, I believe, the first author that I have ever read that used a word that sent me to the Oxford English Dictionary (his use of the word "ambisinistrous" on page xiii initially drove me to a fruitless quest to find the word in the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Tenth Edition). If you like words, you will thoroughly enjoy reading Fr. Rutler. To call him a "wordsmith" would be like making reference to a surgeon as a meat-cutter.

Like all brilliant men, Fr. Rutler not only abhors political correctness, he mocks it. I believe he is spot on when he writes:
"We Americans place such an exaggerated confidence in the power of politics to change things that we tend to interpret most acts politically, and this is the recipe for undisciplined moral zeal. Even philosophers and theologians are characterized as 'conservative' or 'liberal' and speech is either politically correct or incorrect. This was carried to an extreme when an American diplomat at the United nations in the Clinton administration referred to Nelson Mandela as an 'African American South African.' No American in the audience seemed to think the lingusitics odd, presumably because absurdity is not recognized by such as those who take politicized language seriously."
Absurdity is exactly what we are left with when language is made to bow to political power.

I could not help but think of the ridiculousness of a recent Lutheran Witness article about a group of people providing nativity sets to poor churches ("Bringing a Nativity Set to Every Home," Lutheran Witness, December 2008, p. 15). The article at first addresses the absurdity of political correctness by making reference to the "cultural outlook that nativity-set displays in public settings were potentially 'offensive.'" The author notes her appropriate disdain for PC by putting "offensive" in quotes.

But what she gives with one hand, she takes with the other. In the next paragraph, she refers to a nonprofit group that buys nativities for churches "starting their own nativity-set ministries" - using the synodically-correct term "ministry" to describe any act by any religious organization whatsover. But it gets better. The group seeks to "purchase African-American and Hispanic sets."

Oh goodness!

People (even people receiving charity) now want an "African-American" or "Hispanic" Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Nevermind that there is nothing American (or African, or Hispanic, for that matter) about the real flesh-and-blood Semitic Messiah born in Bethlehem centuries before anyone even knew what America was. Furthermore, at the time of our Lord, Hispania wasn't even yet a Roman province, let alone the ancestor a politically-charged racial word. This kind of PC pandering takes the focus off of our Blessed Lord who came at a specific place and time in human history, of specific heritage, and seeks to claim him for one's own ancestral group - in the same way that one can manipulate the race or ethnicity of a fictional literary charcter. Such an approach to our Blessed Lord - at least as it is deliberately done in our day and age and political culture, a time of racially-charged lingusitics and symbolics - only serves as a form of gnostic idolatry, a making of God "in our image" - which likewise serves the Oprah-god of "self-esteem." And so the author of this article falls right into the lingusitic trap of political correctness even in her use of language, like an innocent lamb wandering into a pit of quicksand.

But at least such absurdities provide us with something to laugh at, some point of realistic reference that reminds us that the world of political correctness is just plain ridiculousness on its face, a nonsensical world of Cheshire Cats and White Rabbits - such as the time when a newspaper reported that a strruggling business was now safely "in the African American."

Anyway, I know I have gone off on a tangent, and that's why this is a blog and not a thesis. If you've read this far, you're obviously a kind and indulgent reader - and when I've finished Coincidentally, I'll provide you with a more complete review - which of course, dear reader, you are free to read or ignore.

But thanks again to Latif for his gift from months ago. Books are like little time bombs that may tick away for months or even years. So far, we're having a "blast."

1 comment:

Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

I read Rutler's book again recently, this time to Ruth. (She likes making scarves, blankets, & so forth as I read to her.) I think my favorite passage might be his linguistic assessment of the novus ordo.