July 9th-Monday

After a weekend of independent activities, spanning visiting Paris to participating in London Pride day to shopping in Oxford to working on class (the last was me), we all came back to class this morning.  Well, two of the students got stuck in Paris.  Poor them, right?

Holy Trinity Church-Headington Quarry

Our chapter theme was C. S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein and the quadrant of the city was just east of us up St. Clemens Road to Headington.  C. S. Lewis is buried in Holy Trinity Church in Headington Quarry and I had visited the site early last week on my own.  It is a quiet place and quite moving. 





photo of shark in roof This chapter told the story of the Headington Shark, a full size model of a shark which sticks out of a house in Headington.  When first “installed” there was a huge uproar but over time the ruckus died down and now there is a movement to save the shark.  The fascinating question that did capture the students attention was whether this was art and if yes, did that give it a sacred status of some sort?  That is, versus an eyesore that we would argue should be pulled down for the good of the community and property values.  From there our conversations ranged afield:



  • What is the difference between art and propaganda?
  • Can anything be art?
  • How do we judge the quality of historical accounts, past and present?
  • How have corporations taken over so many aspects of our culture in places and activities that eveything has a logo promoting that company?
  • What is the difference between overbearing corporate sponsorship and philanthropy?
  • What do we need to be able to make clear judgements as to the quality of the information given us by the media, scholars, anyone?
art from RA Summer Exhibit

art from RA Summer Exhibit

I may have been alone in advocating for some notion of truth or standard for truth claims–and claims about art and beauty.  Somebody has to be the rationalist in the group. Despite the delightfully lively discussion, I fear we may not have made any progress.  I think that may be a theme for tomorrow:  when has a discussion brought about more clarify, changed minds, or simply seemed productive in the end?  How can we construct those?  Clearly this issue is not one simply for our SJC class but is sorely needed at every level of community and organization.

Real Estate Ethics?

So, what are the ethical guidelines for real estate agents in selling a house to someone who will then flip it or reconstruct it for sale via the same agent? Let’s say that you list your old house with an agent who assures you it is worth, say $2 million–due to its location. The market is slow and you really need to sell it. The agent knows this. Almost a year goes by with little action. Then along comes a builder who sees the property as valuable but the house as not. Your agent has worked with him before and pretty soon he is pressuring you to sell to the builder. He even suggests letting him demolish the house before closing so that the builder can get going on his project! The agent warns you that you have to decide right away or you will lose this fabulous sale! The fact that the offer is way, way below asking price (which you have already adjusted downward once) is brushed off as basically your last chance to sell. The market is now dreadful and will not recover for years, you are assured.

Luckily your lawyer laughs over the demolition request but the pressure to sell is strong and your own need is well-known to everyone. You regretfully sell. –At the hugely discounted price. The new owner/builder quickly tears down the old house and builds a McMansion


in its place, absorbing the half-acre plot in its pretentiousness. Lo and behold: the real estate for sale sign goes up…with your agent’s name as the selling agent.

Now, surely agents are allowed to sell a house multiple times, but there is something in the sequencing and the entire process that does not sit quite right. At what point did the agent switch from being your advocate to advocating for his buyer who has most likely promised him the handling of the sale of the new construction? Can an agent advocate fairly for both the buyer and seller when the payoff is so tempting on the buyer’s end?

I am not entirely sure that any impropriety occurred and yet, I still wonder…

Making ethical choices

May 21st’ New York Times Op Ed page ran a column by Frank Bruni, “One school’s Catholic Teaching” in which he told the story of Carla Hale, a woman who was fired from her teaching job at a Catholic high school for living with another woman.  She had not made advances to the students nor had she “flaunted” her sexuality in the classroom.  Rather, she had mentioned her long-term partner in her mother’s obituary, just as her brother had listed his wife as survivors.  This heartfelt expression of family love and loss caught the eye of some moralistic parent who wrote an anonymous letter (how brave!) to the school, indicating that they had a lesbian teaching their children.  Gasp.  Well, apparently the school was aghast and fired Ms. Hale.  Her life was teaching, as she eloquently explains in the article, and now she is bereft.   Her students miss her and she misses the daily interchange with young people in the physical education classes.  She has been dismissed for simply being herself and loving another human being.

Why did the school react in such a draconian way?  Well, homosexuality is a sin according to the Roman Catholic Church and while they might not go so far as to say being homosexual condemns one to hell, the practice of loving someone of the same gender surely does.

Now, we could applaud this Catholic school for standing by Church teachings and acting consistence with doctrine.  Yes, we could.

Or we could question how any caring individual could remain a Roman Catholic in the face of such cruelty and judgmental self-righteousness.  What would Jesus do?  Well, we do not know but according to the very scripture that the Roman Catholic Church upholds, in John 8.7 he says “Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone.”  In that story, the crowd stopped, dropped their rocks and slunk away, reminded by Jesus that mercy may be more important than justice, especially when one does not know the full story. Remember that?

We might also ask how a church which has hidden and protected pedophile priests can still proclaim the wrongness of a loving homosexual couple.   Why were so many priests simply moved to other parishes and put right back in youth groups if homosexuality is so wrong?  and  note that this is preying on the weak and vulnerable–not a freely chosen relationship of equality.

I know many good Roman Catholics who would abhor the decision of this particular school but then I ask myself, why do good people  stay?  Why stay in a religious sect that narrowly defines what is good and condemns others for transgressions, even as they flaunt those rules themselves? Of course, the church–no church–is perfect.  They are human institutions.  And one might respond that they want to work for change from within.  But meanwhile… grave injustices go on. At some point, must we not stand up and say, “Enough!”

omelasI am reminded of a short story by Ursula LeGuin called “The Ones Who walk Away from Omelas.”  There too the citizens of this wondrous community enjoy many blessings.  But to do so requires complicity with a terrible and dark secret.  Perhaps it is time to leave Omelas.  Time to leave the Roman Catholic Church.  I cannot help but think that indeed would be what Jesus would do.