The Dismantling of St. Gerard Church

October 22, 2008

I have not heard much flak about last Saturday’s Buffalo News article regarding the possibility of moving St. Gerard church to Norcross, Georgia, brick by brick (then again, I was out of town all weekend).  Tim Tielman, of course, is against the removal of this historic building.  To Tim, every building built during Buffalo’s glory days is historic.  His solution to the vacant Catholic churches, many in desperate need of repair:  “Work a bit harder [about how to reuse them]”.

I’ve done a 180 in my opinion of Tielman and his Campaign for Greater Buffalo History, whom I originally respected as someone looking out for Buffalo’s heritage.  Now I just think he’s an obstructionist.  And reactionary, someone living entirely in the past.  And full of screeds but no real solutions.  An attention addict.

The Catholic Church, I would hope, is about the people and not the places.  Telling the Church to think harder about how to save empty buildings in a locale that has lost half its population is tantamount to telling them to spend money and resources where they least benefit the community they have dedicated their lives to serve.  Dereliction results to half the buildings in an area that needs half its building space.  We only have so many Ani DiFrancos and an incredible number of vacant churches – and other historic but decrepit buildings – and hardly any money anywhere to save even a fraction.  Tielman needs to get real.

The Catholic diocese may have a unique (and rare!) opportunity to see one of its buildings take on a new life, and I for one would love to see a piece of historic Buffalo in the Atlanta area.  The London Bridge is still the London Bridge, even if it spans an artificial water channel in Arizona.

Wouldn’t it be great to be able to travel throughout the country and find Buffalo heritage everywhere?

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The Surge

September 26, 2008

“This strategy has succeeded, and we are winning in Iraq.”

— Senator John McCain, September 26th, 2008

The Surge certainly appears to have reduced overall violence and death in Iraq this past year.  I am grateful for the reduction in violence.

But is it the Surge, or is it the forced segregation of Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites and the exodus and displacement of over 2 million Iraqis to other countries that is the real reason?  The eventual withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq will tell.

My bet is that Iraq will fall into a very bloody civil war no matter when we withdraw.  I pray I’m wrong.


Paul and the Romans

June 22, 2008

The Catholic church needs to dumb it down a little. Just a little. Okay, maybe a lot.

As much as I love the Mass and some of the tradition that goes along with it, the Vatican II Council made a big mistake when it opted for the vernacular to bring the Mass to the people. It should also have offered explanations.

Explanations for the readings prior to each reading, so that people would know what the readings were really about.

Take this Sunday’s second reading, from Paul to the Romans. On a difficulty scale of one to ten this reading is a twelve, with a sentence structure so foreign (read: ungrammatical) that it is impossible to decipher by just listening to it. The congregation’s eyes collectively glazed over. I should know. I was the lector reading it to them, and I studied it hard to get the inflection and oratory as meaningful as possible.

So what was the point? It would only take an additional 60 seconds to provide an explanation of the context and meaning of the reading so that the congregation would more fully grasp what the reading was about. I wanted to do this; our priest basically (but nicely) said no.

And before chiding me by claiming that if one really wanted to get more out of the reading that they would study it beforehand, I say that obligations aside, the Church teaches us to be all-embracing, not elitist. There are many, myself included, who need and want an explanation of the more difficult passages of the Bible, and Paul’s letters happen to be almost entirely of that nature.

If the Church is going to continue feeding us snippets, it needs to provide us with context for that snippet.  Otherwise, we won’t fully appreciate the meaning.


Flight of the Phoenix

May 23, 2008

Phoenix LanderBy now most people who browse the Internet or catch any national news knows that the Phoenix mission will attempt an autonomous landing on Mars this coming Sunday. We will observe the lander setting down, either in one or many pieces, at 7:53 PM EDT.

Most people won’t care.

Some will decry the millions spent on the mission to dig into Mars’ surface looking for ice, money which could have been spent feeding the hungry or building new roads here on Earth. Others can’t wait for the science that will potentially be revealed by this spacecraft and other spacecraft that will follow in subsequent years.

I, for one, am ambivalent about most of the science but look forward to the ramifications should the mission discover abundant ice as well as key elements needed to sustain life. For if life – even fossilized life – is found a few feet below Mars’ surface, the whole idea of life originating on Earth (or perhaps, to God creating life on Earth) gets thrown into question.

If life exists – or existed – on both Earth and Mars, there are only three possible explanations: They sprang up independent of each other (or as part of a directed Panspermia); some kind of impact on Mars sent biological material into space and eventually to Earth; or some kind of impact on Earth sent biological material into space and eventually to Mars.

Celestial dynamics, gravity and atmospheric pressure dictate that the latter possibility much less likely than the Mars-to-Earth origin of life; so if we eventually get a spacecraft actually landed on the Red Planet that can analyze subsurface material for DNA, we might just determine with pretty reasonable assurance that the Martians were here first.

In the grand scheme of things I’m just curious as to how religious scholars, fundamentalists and secular intellectuals will deal with that.


Dead in its Tracks

April 17, 2008

The current undisputed sensationalistic story du mois is chocked full of juicy things: mothers, children, underage sex, religion, polygamy and now, courtroom drama and lots of lawyers falling over themselves for attention.

The 80-year-old Tom Green County courtroom and a satellite courtroom set up in a City Hall auditorium two blocks away were jammed with dozens of mothers from the retreat, dressed in their iconic pastel prairie dresses and braided upswept hair.

The mothers were sworn in as witnesses, standing and mumbling their ‘I do’s’ in timid voices. As they sat silently, the flock of lawyers was constantly buzzing with murmurs and popping up to make motions or object as Walther tried to maintain order.

But when prosecutors tried to enter into evidence the medical records of three girls — two 17-year-olds and an 18-year-old — the lawyers jumped to their feet and crammed the aisles trying to see the papers. That’s when Walther called the recess.

Oh, the imagery. This will not end well.


Foolish Fundamentalism

February 24, 2008

Museum of Earth HistoryI have stated this before:  Exluding science in the name of God isn’t salvation, it’s laziness.  The Museum of Earth History, a rather extraordinary place in Arkansas based on Creation Science and the belief that the world began about 4,000 years ago, is one such place where the ownership group profits from that laziness.  Worse, the distortion of good science (Mary Schweitzer’s discoveries is just one example) is simply regrettable.

There is no need for this. 

The hard line camps that preach either science exclusively, or religion exclusively, are both in need of an examination of what each other has to offer.  Important as the Good Book might be, I think the fundamentalist extreme, in particular, needs to read a little more than just the Bible.

I believe that my God wants me to learn as much as possible the truth about this world in which he put us.


Controlled Explosions

December 1, 2007

OrganEver hear of Istvan Hernek?  He runs the Paraclete Conservatory in Orchard Park.  He also performed on the St. Joseph’s Cathedral organ at Reverend Mark Noonan’s ordination this morning (the detail which, unfortunately, can’t be found anywhere on the diocesan web site as of 1 December; why is that?).

Just watching someone with skill play the organ is itself pretty fascinating, at least for people like me who struggle to plunk out Chopsticks with two fingers.  Being blown away by the magnificent sound coming from the organ as it is being played takes it to another level.

Just a light touch on any key triggers a cascade of events:  A mechanical contact on the key makes an electrical connection that finds its way to a solenoid, that opens a value and allows a massive amount of air to flow from a bellows the size of a station wagon to an organ pipe, which whistles its one-note tune.  It’s a couple of ounces of finger pressure turned into 100 decibels of audio pressure.  Many fingers flying across the keyboards opens a lot of valves, makes a lot of pipes whistle and, when done right, floods the church with incredible joy.

The musical experience that eminated from this extraordinarily-talented musician on an engineering marvel was greatly appreciated by the 500 who attended Mark’s ordination. 

And oh yeah, Blessed Nativity in Orchard Park now has one more priest.