I was moved…

Paul Ricoeur, whom I mention at times on my blogs, was a frequent visitor to Taize during his lifetime. Frere Andre, a brother from the Taize community, drew attention to a letter the late Frere Roger sent Ricoeur’s widow, and Ricoeur’s particularly moving testimony about Taize, which are posted on the community’s website.

What Ricoeur said is indeed moving. Read it here.


How to make a dress code unworkable

In recent years, I have grown a little more conservative about, for instance, the question of dress in church. I do think there are limits to what people can wear when going to church, whatever the denomination, because—whether or not there is a gendered agenda behind it—there really is a long-standing social norm that the holy and the sacred (I make no distinction) requires, no demands, a certain kind of decorum. 

When it comes to universities, though, that is another story. I am often saddened that we who were not colonized by the British took up the American position that such decorous things are “undemocratic.” So things like academic dress are often an afterthought, often made badly, and often not worn. I also reject, as a kind of cultural counter-imperialism, some things that distance us from the origins of the university in terms of “our cultural norms.” For the university, a symbol of the universal, must be acknowledged as deriving part of its essential legitimacy in what anthropologists would call “myth and symbol,” which ought to be trans-cultural. It started from a system of myths and symbols which give meaning to our world, whether they are those of Christianity or that of Islam. (Al-Azhar is older than Paris, mind you.)

In principle, then, I would definitely demand some restrictions on the way we in a university must act and behave, consistent with a Christian position. Such a position can be summed up in a Pauline passage, Philippians 4:8, which ends a series of exhortations Paul makes to the saints in Philippi, and of course Matthew 25:31-46 and the whole of 1 John. Taken together, these would enable us, by virtue of Ricoeur’s “surplus of meaning,” to interpret them in such a way that it would supply us with the foundations of “the ethics of a Christian university.”

But in practice, such ideals are unworkable and difficult to apply if we are to impose them. If, for instance, a certain university decides to suddenly demand, after a long silence on the matter, a dress code, it would be immediately unpopular among many sectors. I would feel that such a proposal, as I have heard it mentioned to me, would be incomplete and inadequate simply on the grounds that it does not take advantage of a certain “power of myth,” as Joseph Campbell would put it.

So there are three things that should be done in order to make it a complete proposal:

1. The high school attached to that university, prior to adopting a uniform, had a dress code which I still feel is workable. However, the present proposal only requires this dress code, that of the collared shirt for men, of one particular faculty. I think it is unjust and unfair to impose it on one group; the rule must apply to everyone without exception.

2. The same high school also required, on certain days in the 1996-97 academic year, that students and faculty wear formal attire on some occasions. This is for me reminiscent of the rule in the great universities of Oxford and Cambridge that certain occasions require academic dress and formal “sub fusc,” which include dinners, convocations, and examinations. I would mandate that certain days of the year be so designated as “dress-up days.” On these days, all students, faculty, and staff, must wear either formal attire or a special uniform (for staff), and if possible faculty should wear academic gowns or similar attire (like the UP sablay) according to their degree when giving classes or examinations. I would nominate any major feast of importance to that university, especially those of the Blessed Virgin Mary, as such a “Red-Letter Day,” which is exactly what these days meant in the universities I mentioned.

3. Finally, in keeping with the need to recognize that there are those set apart by both church and society to perform sacred functions, I would mandate that members of the religious community operating that university, members of any religious community, and all ordained ministers and seminarians, should wear the habit appropriate to their state of life. On ordinary days, they would have to be held to a higher standard of dress than all other students, so for priests the cassock, long-sleeved barong or any formal outfit with Roman collar is a must. On red-letter days, all of those I mentioned must wear the cassock or other habit with the kind of underclothing mandated by custom for liturgical ceremonies. (Protestant pastors would have to wear a Geneva gown.)

Why would I mandate a stricter dress code than the one proposed? Well, I would like to ask anyone in that university if they really stand for what Philippians 4:8 wants us to uphold. And I would say that, in the light of our origins and values, such a radical proposal is justified.

And, of course, unworkable.

ETA: The university in question may be known to some readers, but since the proposal in question is conspicuously absent from its public portal, I’d rather keep the university’s name a “blind item.”

Church and business – some thoughts

For not the last time, here is an enumerated list of things that were prompted by a talk I attended at LST:

1. I already am threatening to invite Manny Pangilinan to address the Provincial Synod of the Episcopal Church in the Philippines, together with the trustees of almost all the Anglican institutions in the country. Including St. Luke’s. They deserve to hear what he said: the Church may have a lot to say about business, but business also has a lot to say about the Church. So the days of financial amateurism, power plays, and lack of professionalism ought to be over, to a point.

2. What Pangilinan said about the Church as an institution in need of serious structural and management reform is at first sight agreeable but therein lies a serious problem: is it not the fact that we as Church ought to be confronting the presuppositions underlying business? Here again is the necessary corrective a renewed ecclesiology like that being offered by Radical Orthodoxy would provide. We can only go so far with being “corporate” because our very existence as Church, radically opposed to even the capitalist world’s claim to fulfill our needs, puts capitalism into question. Perhaps this is what Rowan Williams puts into question with the lost icons of childhood and charity.

3. If I were braver I would have wondered if the Roman Catholic Church could indeed learn from Anglicans in terms of accountability. The Episcopal tradition prides itself on being “episcopally led and synodically governed.” The structures of the undivided Church, like synods and councils, which some Christian communions have maintained, ought to be “revived with vigor,” as the Second Vatican Council puts it. It would provide part of the key to seeing how the crisis of confidence could be resolved.

4. But if we ought to be learning from anyone how to raise funds, it is from our Evangelical and other Protestant brethren. They take stewardship very seriously, and see the act of tithing as a legitimate response to God’s gift of faith. They can point to the experience of people doing better financially if individuals and companies give regularly, and in relatively high proportion to their income, as possible. They also rely a lot on volunteerism, which the Church ought to be encouraging by making sure a kind of Gnosticism by church people is eradicated.

5. None of what Manny Pangilinan said earlier was new for me. Some time back, a group of Catholic laity in the US, called the National Leadership Roundtable for Church Management, writing in the wake of the sexual abuse crisis, demanded structural reforms in the church that were somewhat specific. For instance, they wanted to see regularly published reports on the church’s finances and greater use of financial accountability mechanisms already possible under canon law, such as the parochial finance committee. Here is their website.

6. Of course, the problems Pangilinan saw with recruitment and hiring of talent would be resolved if we accepted that celibacy is not a matter of dogma but merely of discipline. Not to mention that when the Pope silenced debate on women priests, he did not silence the debate on women deacons, which would strengthen the permanent diaconate (and the diaconate as a whole) so it can effectively exercise a ministry of administration.

(ETA: Reference to the NLRCM.

Addendum to the Wednesday entry

I edited last Wednesday’s entry to add a reference to the National Leadership Rountable on Church Management. What they are doing is precisely what Manny Pangilinan wants to see done here.

Some of their recommendations are a little more radical than others, but being aware of a tradition that does permit more transparent leadership selection processes makes this unsurprising.

Fluid – a review

Note: Sometimes writing reviews tend to come more easily after a round of drinks with a friend. I would therefore like to thank Alexis Abola, my erstwhile classmate in UP Diliman. I warn that there will be spoilers here, but I am certain that some of my readers are among the “200 people” who routinely watch local theater.

I urge everyone to watch this play—it is running at 2 p.m. today and its last weekend (not The Lost Weekend, another “art vs. commerce” piece) is next weekend.

The key to understanding this particular production is what one of the Theater Arts seniors at the Ateneo de Manila told me: “This play is very personal for us.” Fluid by Floy Quintos, which was adapted and directed by the author himself, deals with well-trodden territory, which is the question of “art vs. commerce” and other artistic dilemmas. Such a play would assume a twofold role for the Theater Arts seniors. First, it would be an opportunity to raise money by showing off their talents in various aspects of the theater. Second, it would be an exercise in reflection, whereby they could ask themselves about the implications of their calling. (Of course, if one does not appreciate the habit of self-reflection, one could call it a collective exercise in navel-gazing.)

Hence, the question I must answer, in the light of the fact that the source material is not new, is what has been done with it. The play is structured first as a series of vignettes and monologues, much of which is comedic, and then in the second act as a farce. It is very much, to use an oft-abused theological term, an inculturation of themes that have been tackled in more serious settings. (Next semester’s seminar: “Art and Commerce: Texts in the Theory of the Contexts of Art.”) The play does not resolve the conflict one way or another; my interlocutor last night, however, suggested that the character of the art critic/Philharmonic coordinator, played by Trency Caga-anan, may have been the author’s voice commenting on the whole sorry affair. (The role, in this case, brings together a clown in a Shakesperean comedy/tragedy and, as Exie Abola suggests, a Greek chorus.) In fact, as Gibbs Cadiz suggests in his short review, if the play did take its cue from a real incident, the author’s aim may have been to tell that real story otherwise. And this, for me, was its strongest point. 

Paul Ricouer says that the capacity of narrative enables us to tell our stories otherwise. It allows us to refigure time in order to explore other possibilities; but most of all, it brings us an awareness of ourselves from elsewhere. What made this play meaningful for them, and for me, was precisely that this narrative fulfilled that promise.

Yet I would not want to say this was outright brilliance. I found the plot of the artist and his patron to be at times predictable. It was early in the farce that I could guess, correctly, how this plot would end. Maybe it is because that this was, amongst the stories of this play, the most serious in tone, and thus uncomfortably close to familiar ground. In this sense, what saved it was perhaps the actor who played the painter. I suspect there was something about the choice to do this as an exaggeration of my favorite artistic cliche, the “young, angry, starving artist.” (Apparently, Quintos may have had in mind a number of people I sometimes meet when the Ateneo Art Gallery has its launches, or some of the people who were in the nearby bars where Exie and I had beer.)

With that caveat, I would commend this play precisely because it is not only a good piece of reflection for those of us who are interested in the arts, but also because this has been, of all the fund-raising efforts the Fine Arts majors have staged, the cleverest. It is precisely in telling people, “Here’s what we can do,” that they can get our support for January 2008, when we will have the Seventh Fine Arts Festival. Please watch it.

For an alternative view, my namesake Ren Robles published a review on his Multiply site.