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strictly ballroom

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Apr 04, 2008

Father Joe Kempf and his companion Big Al made an appearance at LA's Religious Ed Convention earlier this year. The former presided at the Young Adult-themed Mass held in the Marriott Marquis Ballroom. Father Joe is the author of No One Cries the Wrong Way: Seeing God Through Tears. If you have a long masochistic streak, you can watch a video of Father Joe in homiletic action, with his puppet, here.

Most of us will find the performance cringe-making. For the L.A. Mass we see the words to Dan Schutte's "Here I Am, Lord" Power Pointed onto the rood screen. It's pretty safe to say that if you like Dan Schutte, you'll appreciate Father Joe.

And it is, importantly, a performance. That in itself means a bad fit at Mass. But the wrongness goes deeper. The Jesus that Fr. Joe offers us is uniformly and extravagantly soft, uniformly and extravagantly sweet. It might be objected that this super-sugary Jesus is aimed not at parents but at children, yet I think even a child would recognize something morbid in the figure of a man lacking the strength and authority proper to manhood -- not to mention Kempf's amputation of the severity (intermingled with compassion) that Jesus displays in the Gospels.

Unrelieved tenderness is unnatural. About fifteen minutes into one of Fr. Joe's homilies it occurred me that he was speaking as if to a very young child getting over a terrible shock who needed to be cushioned from any reminder of sorrow. The language is unnatural because it's responding to an unnatural inability to deal with things as they are. At the Los Angeles Religious Ed Convention, it should be noted, Fr. Joe's puppet schtick took place at the Young Adult Liturgy. My hunch is that the "damaged children" in this case were not the worshiping assembly but the convention organizers who made the assigment in the first place. These are the children of the 1970s. These are the Catholics still dealing with some inexpressible hurt. These are the ones who, in every aspect of ecclesial life, have proved themselves incapable of facing reality. For them, in default of the longed-for experience of healing, Big Al may be best Joe can offer.

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