Saturday, August 25, 2012

More on nuns, money, and the evolution of language

I know, I've been largely absent. Life is just being very, hm, lifelike at the moment. But here's a long, juicy post of some of the things I've found interesting in the last ten days or so.

We'll start with language. The Economist has a piece on the origins and evolution of Indo-European, the ur-tongue of the people stretching from Australia, Indian, Turkey, the Mediterranean and Western Europe:

In 2003 a team led by Quentin Atkinson, of the University of Auckland, in New Zealand, employed a computer to generate a genealogical tree of Indo-European languages. Their model put the birth of the family, which includes languages as seemingly diverse as Icelandic and Iranian, between 9,800 and 7,800 years ago. This was consistent with the idea that it stemmed from Anatolia, in modern-day Turkey, whence it spread with the expansion of farming.
A new report in Science settles the question once and for all. If you like pictures better than words, you can watch a nifty animation of the spread of the language family here.

In the Guardian, Ali Smith talks about style vs. form. I'm not sure it's really possible to draw a meaningful distinction. The words we choose, the order in which we place them, creates the story, people, theme, emotion, atmosphere, subject and object we are describing. But Smith lays it all out as only she can:
It's the easiest argument in the world, and one of the most specious, style v content. The cliched view of literary style, especially style which draws attention to itself as style, is that it's a surface thing, a thing of appearance, a skin-deep thing; a fraudulent thing, not the real thing, blocking us from what it's trying to say even as it says it.
But everything written has style.
The biggest organisation of American nuns, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), have had their conference to decide on how to respond to the Vatican's appointment of an overseer (which I discussed here). As the National Catholic Reporter notes, they've decided on a strategy:
"Religious life, as it is lived by the women religious who comprise LCWR, is an authentic expression of this life that must not be compromised," [the statement] said.
"The assembly instructed the LCWR officers to conduct their conversation with Archbishop Sartain from a stance of deep prayer that values mutual respect, careful listening and open dialogue," the statement said. "The officers will proceed with these discussions as long as possible, but will reconsider if LCWR is forced to compromise the integrity of its mission."
When the final draft was read aloud at Friday’s afternoon executive session, said Benedictine Sr. Anne Sheperd, the group gave a "lasting standing ovation" to the final draft.
Asked what she hopes to receive in dialogue with Sartain, Farrell said LCWR wants "to be recognized and be understood as equal in the church."
Equal, in this context, is a powder keg word. The vatican has been explicit: women obey men. More particularly: nuns must obey bishops. I couldn't begin to say where this will end up. I have such mixed feelings: I'm delighted that the nuns aren't going to take it lying down; I'm dreading the possible consequences for these women. Are they doing the right thing? Absolutely. Will it end well? The odds aren't very good. But the American Catholic church is the financial mainstay of the global church. What happens here is of consequence to the Vatican. Let's wait and see. If you want more detail, go read the LCWR's press release, and their take on how the first sit-down with their appointed overseer went. Note the reiteration that their take on religion "is an authentic expression of this life that must not be compromised."

From USA Today an article about the LCWR's 'conservative rival' organization, the CMSWR:
Often overlooked in the coverage of the LCWR showdown, they largely belong to a separate organization, called the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious, that the Vatican set up in 1992 as traditional alternative — some say a conservative rival — to the more progressive LCWR.
[T]he CMSWR communities are growing, and getting younger, which has many fans saying that they represent the future of women's religious communities precisely because they reflect the past with confidence and with no discussion of dissent.
More on the Catholic church, this time the way it handles money. The Economist has strong words:
OF ALL the organisations that serve America’s poor, few do more good work than the Catholic church: its schools and hospitals provide a lifeline for millions.* Yet even taking these virtues into account, the finances of the Catholic church in America are an unholy mess. [..] The church’s finances look poorly co-ordinated considering (or perhaps because of) their complexity. The management of money is often sloppy. And some parts of the church have indulged in ungainly financial contortions in some cases—it is alleged—both to divert funds away from uses intended by donors and to frustrate creditors with legitimate claims, including its own nuns and priests.
This one is most definitely worth reading.

* And guess who runs those programmes? Right: nuns. And not the contemplative, cloistered nuns of CMSWR but the roll-their-sleeves-up types in the LCWR.

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