Monday, April 11, 2016

Is Pope Francis a Wimp? Amoris Laetitia

The Pope just sent us all a massive letter with hundreds of footnotes. So far he is pissing everybody off. Rightwingers lament the watering down of moral teaching. They rail against Francis' failure to marginalize and condemn anyone who deviates from their favorite rules. Leftwingers are outraged that the Pope just re-iterated old teachings, only in a kinder, gentler way. 

My take is that this Pope's no wimp.  He also no Trump or Sanders, yelling platitudes and peddling impossible promises.  With 2000 years of history, some so ugly and some sublime, this Pope is nudging the Church toward actually adopting Christian values, without alienating over half the world's bishops and the entire African continent.  Tough task.

You can read the 259 page document yourself. Apostolic Exhortation: Amoris Laetitia.  Most say it's a snoozer in spots, and occasionally beautiful.

It's billed as promoting "Family Love."  It's about self-sacrifice, compassion, and all the rest. It sidesteps contraception and promotes responsibility, a relatively recent trend. A couple of takeaways for me:

 1. If re-married Catholics go through some process of discernment, preferably with the guidance of the clergy, they can start going to Communion again.  No renouncing their current marriages or being branded as "living in adultery."  Since he's writing for the whole planet, Francis can't get too specific about how a local process would work, but it's clear he wants Catholics in "irregular marriages" back on board as full members.  Yes, he's careful to avoid changing any basic doctrines, but he's still angering hateful reactionaries who prefer "us against them" Catholocism.  They know what this shift  will mean.  Liberals, disappointed, note that the change is buried in footnotes. Here's a juicy example of the kind of hatred and rage Francis is attracting -- click for right wing rant.

2. If you're gay, you can stay.  And you have a fundamental right to be free from oppression, discrimination, or marginalization, even if the Church won't bless your marriage any time soon. 

 According to Francis every gay person, and presumably every LGBTQ person, must 

be respected in his or her dignity and treated with consideration, and ‘every sign of unjust discrimination’ is to be carefully avoided, particularly any form of aggression or violence.

There's a lot more, and this statement isn't new, but here Francis isn't preaching to the liberal choir in the West.  He's talking to Africa too, and the Middle East, where just being gay can earn you imprisonment or the death penalty. 

Nobody is thrilled with this document, except boring incrementalists.  The right wing fringe deplores its failure to condemn anybody (except those who discriminate and sow discord).  The left wing fringe mostly doesn't care about any papal document, but the few who do claim it's cowardly and doesn't go nearly far enough.

Read it for yourself, or at least a summary from fairly conservative Catholic magazine.  
Ten Takeaways from the Pope's New Message

Monday, April 4, 2016

Drive Like a Buddhist

Thais ignore rules. I was scared to drive in Thailand.   Packs of motorbikes surround your car. With centimeters to spare they vie for position at traffic lights.  Nobody looks where they're going. Often lanes mean nothing. Cars suddenly pull out of side streets. I'd thought most Thais were  Buddhist and I'd expected universal politeness and restraint. Not lawless dodge'm cars with no idea of right-of-way.  

As often happens here in the The Kingdom of Smiles, I'd misunderstood.  Culture dictates driving style. Thais are highly collaborative and mutually aware at a level Westerners don't get.

Think of walking in a big crowd at the State Fair or leaving a baseball game.  There are no lanes, no rules of the road, but people rarely bump into each other. Even little kids race around but instinctively avoid collisions most of the time.

Thai Buddhists drive as if they were walking in a crowd.  You move in a general direction, stay alert to where others are around you, go with the flow, and get where you're going with no problem. It is very foreign concept for someone who drove mostly in Chicago.  

Even in Chicago traffic, you can get in your lane, follow the rules, and dream your way home. Someone might cut you off and you'll curse and gesture at the violation of the rules, but you don't have to keep close track.  

Try rules-based driving in Thailand and you'll cause an accident.  Thais do awareness-based driving, just as we all do awareness-based walking.

I watched Thai drivers closely.  No road rage. No horns. No respect for lanes. There's this expectation that if they pull out in front of you, you'll see them and slow.  Exactly like walking in a big crowd, with no rules except to avoid bumping into each other.  

Now I drive relaxed but alert, attending to everything and constantly scanning. On a good day I just think of myself as part of a human flow,  abandoning expectations about rules, and trusting that others are keeping an eye on me too.  It's not perfect. You can still drive Chicago style and probably survive. You might get there ahead of me too. Or maybe not.

Last week I turned wrong way into a one-way alley. A huge black pickup was coming at me. The guys got out smiling, and stopped traffic so I could back up onto the main road. They pointed me to the correct alley, laughing and waving so the old pink guy wouldn't lose face. Next time I'll being paying attention. Thai style.