November 21, 2014

New Drinking Game

Drink everytime you see a mainstream media reference saying that Pope Francis is breaking "new ground" despite the fact Benedict did likewise.

Here are a couple starter shots, first from syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker:
The result, [Francis] said, has been to create an ecological crisis for social environments that need protection just as natural environments do.

“And although the human race has come to understand the need to address conditions that menace our natural environments, we have been slower to recognize that our fragile social environments are under threat, as well. … It is therefore essential that we foster a new human ecology.”

A new human ecology — what a concept.
Compare to what Benedict wrote years ago:
"We now crusade with an understandable and legitimate passion against the pollution of the environment, whereas man's self-pollution of his soul continues to be treated as one of the rights of his freedom...As long as we retain this caricature of freedom, namely, of the freedom of inner spiritual self-destruction, its outward effects will continue unchanged. Man too is essentially a creature and has a creaturely order. He can't arbitrarily make anything he wants out of himself. He must recogonize there is a spiritual ecology too."
Another: A marketing manager of Henry Holt publisher writes that Pope Francis has forged a new leadership path by "apologizing to victims of sex abuse."

You can't make it up given this.

November 20, 2014

Asides and Alliterations

Swallow, New Kingdom, ca. 1479–1458 B.C.

Wow, who knew that Winston Churchill was only 5'8" and weighed almost 300 lbs? Like Howard Taft and William McKinley, one could be very productive despite the fatigue caused by carrying so much excess weight.

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Read some surprisingly rough-ish statements on Pope Francis from Vatican scribe Sandro Magister, I think that's the name. A familiar one though because he's a main Vatican reporter/translator. Critique is that Francis is contradictory (he does seem to contain multitudes) and that he's completely silent and uncritical of militant Islam, Isis, etc… - compared him to public perception of Piux XII's supposed silence on the Nazis. On the latter, I'm not sure what Francis can say that won't merely inflame an already horrid situation.

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It's fall and a middle-aged man's thoughts turn to... death.  The operation that was intended to give my uncle 3-5 years instead of one year, ended up giving him zero years. Science giveth, science taketh away.

My wife sees him as already amid the angels and there's something innocent about that, and in some ways a rather logical assumption that follows from the fact that a) God made him, loved him, and counted the hairs on his head and b) God doesn't need anything. Put these two facts together and God could be welcoming him into Heaven at this minute. (Of course that ignores that we have free will and can cooperate to varying degrees with God.)

I thought about how true for my uncle is the prayer I say to St. Joseph for a good death:
“…my natural strength [then] will be nil, I won't have any human help, so from now on I invoke you, my father, to your patronage…I plead you to drive away those enemies of my soul so I can end my life in peace and in love with Jesus, Mary and you, St. Joseph.”
Indeed there was no human help for Bill; his doctors failed him and he likely had no access to the sacraments.  But it's then God works most powerfully, in our ultimate weakness, at our death, in the absence of “sense reward”. St. Joseph, pray for us!

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Sad to read of escalating tension and violence in Jerusalem.  I wonder if you haven't gone, you'll eever get to go now.

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A nice readerly weekend this past one. I have a Pavlovian response to print. Just seeing someone reading a full page of photo-free text is invitingly tingly. The star turn was glorying in the depth of St. JP II's encylical on life and Erasmo's Fire and Mercy. World-bending, mind-bending, soul-crunching offerings. But around that strong meat, I tasted a lot of articles found here and there, including a particularly pleasing short fiction piece in the New Yorker by David Eggers about a mother with two kids going to Alaska in a rented RV. So right up my wheelhouse.

A nice stretch with the kiddies. We ate, played silly games (Will loves it where I pretend to eat something and just before I do he tells me, 'It's poopy!“ and I cringe and make a face like it's horrible. We do that over and over ad nausea, and for effect, to vary it a bit, I start coughing and acting like I'm literally nauseated.) Then we headed over by car (too cold to bike) to the ice cream place, where the usual frivolity ensued.

Also enjoyed the diversion of an exciting OSU game yesterday. Beat Minnesota there, a MN team that has a fine record and a good coach. Nice to tape the 3.5 hour game and then watch it in 1.5 hours by cutting out commercials, half-time, replays, huddles, and the last five game minutes when the outcome was clear. Technology is spoiling.

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Read myself into the dreamy, intoxicating abyss of new fiction - not only the Eggers, but the Richard Ford novel Let Me Be Frank about an East Coast real estate guy in his upper 60s, facing the quandaries and vagaries of aging. The author is that age and some of the references are clearly more meaningful to that generation, such as a riff on Lemon Tree by Peter, Paul and Mary and words like "blower” and “crapper” as were hot words of that generation.

It feels just shy of stealing to be able to read New Yorker articles for free. I feel an irrational bloom of gratitude that makes me want to give the New Yorker some money, much as I'm always on the brink of signing up with ad-free version of Pandora merely as a way of saying thanks.

Of course same could be said, for that matter, concerning the wisdom of the ages, real wisdom, given that the Scriptures are online and free to those fortunate enough to have internet access. And every papal encyclical as well. We live in the greatest of times information and resource wise.

Rantasaurus Rex

Seems Obama was against an executive order on immigration before he was for it. Just like with gay marriage.

He, like Bill Clinton, has a streak of shamelessness. He's following the Clinton line that it's “better to be wrong and strong than right and weak.”

And as a pure power play it's a thing of beauty. Republicans can do nothing; if they protest too much they'll drive Hispanics (the crucial constituency) away. Rock, meet hard place. So Obama's got his nose pressed up against the proverbial glass with his tongue stuck out sans fear of Republican retribution.

He neatly - elegantly even - laid waste to the rules according to Hoyle (and the Constitution), i.e. that immigration reform was a congressional issue. The years of jockeying and negotiation between the parties has been upended by Obama stealing the ball and going home. Silly Congress, tricks are for presidents.

Whoda thunk that Republicans, burned in 1986 by amnesty in exchange for promised but ultimately illusory border control, would again get burned on the same issue? They look like Charlie Brown after Lucy stole the ball.  And so presidential executive power continues its inexorable increase. “I didn't know he could do that!” is a line we've grown way too accustomed to with this administration.

It used to be in times of war presidential grabs of power occurred. Now in times of peace we see it, but that's the trouble with making a narcissist president. Rules don't apply.

But we elected him even though he was an unknown quantity at the time.  Our blindness was wilful - we saw what we wanted to see.  And it's amusing to see white voters who tried to expiate the guilt of their forefathers by electing Obama deal with learning there's yet another small hurdle to leap to avoid the tag "racist": you can't criticize him. Newsflash to these voters: there will always be another hurdle.

November 14, 2014

Retreatant

Wow. Met Bob R*, fascinating guy, on a retreat last weekend. He grew up in Canada, found Christ, moved to England, became a missionary overseas, met his wife (a fellow missionary) who was from Ohio and that's how he landed here. His dream was to become a US citizen (which made his parents more distraught than his conversion to Catholicism!). The passport alone was $10,000, so it's not a cheap process to put it mildly. But he has the fervor of a convert on becoming American. Said that he requested a flag that flew over the Capitol (they fly a different one every hour and send them out to willing buyers). He wanted the one for the exact date he became a citizen but was disappointed when it came not tri-folded as is respectful way but folded in quarters. I was fascinated that he was so crestfallen over such a minor thing; he was so upset he actually wrote John McCain or some other bigwig about it.

But the really fascinating part was the questionnaire he answered truthfully. “Never tell the government the truth!” he exclaimed. The question was an oath before God saying that he'd never committed a crime whether convicted or not convicted. Some such language. And he said that no one except Jesus could answer that in the negative. Speeding for one thing immediately comes to mind is example of an unconvicted crime.

So he answered it honestly because it was an oath before God, which upped the ante. Well seems no one has ever answered that question truthfully before! He was sent to a locked-down FBI facility and grilled for two hours by an agent who tried to break him. He said she would build him up one minute and tear him down the next, that he will be deported and never see his American wife again. He eventually hired a lawyer and the government backed down, although apparently the thinking was that he could've set a precedent, and that real criminals will answer “yes” on that question and get through.

He had to gather tons of supportive letters saying he should not be deported, including many local priests.

The other chilling thing was his car was broken into while in the locked-down facility. He thinks it was the FBI. (“Ya think!?”)

Unreal. That's our government in action - a most dangerous entity to put it mildly. You don't want to get on the wrong side of it,  innocent or guilty.

He spoke with Irish loquacity, speedily and with faint echoes of actor Carroll O'Connor. His parents hailed from the Emerald Isle.

* - name withheld to protect the guilty

Seven Takes Friday as Made Famous by Jennifer Fulweiler

The night flew, augmented/distracted by 40 minutes I'll never get back listening to energetic young lady talk about the importance of play in the life of older adults. It was an alumni webinar, free of charge, and momentarily I was disturbed by seeing faces from others at home on screen. Could they see me? Could they see me drinking a beer, 5-o'clock shadow, double-chinned? After some poking around I determined that they couldn't because there's a button you have to push in order to be viewed. Apparently the default is not to be seen, which is good. Later I thought it would've been “playful” to have pushed the camera button and then placed iPad in front of our dog Buddy. (The thirty other folks in the seminar would find him listening carefully with eyes closed.)

Anyway, cool of the alumni office to offer it even if the subject matter was a bit obvious. Play means doing something you can get engaged in, something you enjoy doing, be it a puzzle, card game, water aerobics, etc… And it's healthy for us to do something we like doing. (Presumably not drinking to excess though, darn.) It's sort of impressive people get paid (the lady is an instructor) to tell us that doing something we like is good mentally and physically.

She also mentioned that play at work increases productivity. But if we're playing simply in order to increase productivity, doesn't that make the “play” utilitarian? And isn't utilitarianism the opposite of play? I overthink it and that's not playful!

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Current earworms, via amazon prime's service “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke” and “Cigarettes and Coffee Blues”.



Satisfying ol' country music.

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Speaking of entertainment (hey, I didn't even need that asterisk segue!), a recent 60 Minutes piece on country singer Blake Shelton was interesting. He said he learned early in his career that you can't just sing, you have to entertain. Tell jokes, have big production values, etc.. He's no Alan Jackson, the old-school singer who simply sang stories, sans pyrotechnics.

I thought of how that entertainization of American life is coming to all spheres.

Politics obviously. We've become focused on the horse race aspects rather than the substance. Who's up, who's down, what's the scandal du jour? John Stewart as primary news source. Drudge reporting that Michelle Obama just danced with a turnip.

Religion, obviously, in the that rock band and health and wealth gospels are now famously omni-present. Telling sports stories during Baptism homilies (yes, actually happened at one I attended.)

Sex, of course. While intrinsically entertaining, the procreation aspect now incidental given that the goal is only to have fun in bed.

Funerals. Instead of a somber liturgy intended as prayer for the dead, we celebrate the life and tell funny anecdotes in extended eulogies. Sometimes there's a slide show.

Meetings at work. Yes meetings! This is the big shocker. You know something culturally crazy is going on when it reaches staid Midwestern corporations. We have off-sites to places like the Columbus Zoo. We play “games”, such as seeing what team can make the highest paper structure using only two 8x10 pieces of paper. We even get surveys on the meetings in which we rate the entertainment value of the speakers. The fact is, over the last five years meetings have become less boring. Which is an incredible thing. It's sort of like wooly mammoths suddenly coming out of extinction.

I'm sure there are a myriad of other examples.

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So last night Bill O'Reilly mentioned the cold, hard stats of how out-of-wedlock births among blacks skyrocketed between 1970 and present-day and white out-of-wedlocks have followed (although still behind 70% to 30%).

And I got to thinking about this as a cultural indicator, how whites often steal black culture, both good and bad things. For example, back in the '50s Elvis Presley was said to have basically just stolen that type of music already trendy among blacks. And Pentecostalism, now a huge religion among whites, came out of African-American services.  The beauties and improvisations of jazz music.

In other words, maybe black culture leads white culture. We see it today where hip-hop, once primarily African-American music, has become popular everywhere. I used to think California was the leading indicator for the rest of the country, i.e. as hip CA goes, so eventually goes the East, South and Midwest, but I wonder if black culture is the leading indicator. 

November 04, 2014

Thoughts Conjoined by Asterisks

Listened to Richard Norton Smith talk about his biography of Nelson Rockefeller, a tome that took him 14 years to write. (My thought was why would you spend fourteen years writing about anybody except maybe Jesus?) The Brian Lamb interview was interesting enough despite the subject matter. I've long had zero interest in the wealthy liberal Republican; many say his decision to divorce and ruined his political career - John F Kennedy couldn't fathom that, saying he can't understand why any man would choose love over politics (telling us a lot about JFK). Smith said that the key way to understand Rockefeller is he believed every single problem could be solved. Thus he spent years fruitlessly trying to end the drug problem in New York as governor. Not everything has political solution or can be "fixed" externally via force. The human heart isn't as simple as he made it out to be (Jeremiah 17:9). Smith says that draconian NY state drug laws are a legacy of Rockefeller. Apparently he didn't learn the lessen of Prohibition...

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On the recent feast of Sts Simon and Jude, and I thought about how Jude Thaddeus is listed second-to-last among the apostles (Judas Iscariot being listed last), and I thought about how his low ranking is turned upside down by his reputation concerning impossible cases. There's something of the last shall be first in that. St. Peter's miracles might seem to have ebbed but St. Jude keeps on going.

Made me hungry to read about these obscure fellows and so I turned to Pope Benedict's book on the apostles. He's allergic to legends or pseudo-historical material that may or may not be true, so there's mention of what became of them other than the book in the Bible attributed to St. Jude. That book was not candy-assed - Jude was fierce in his denunciations of pseudo-Christians and heretics.

In the gospels, Jude asks only one question, that of why Jesus manifests himself to them but not others. Jesus replies "Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them."

Pope Benedict writes that this is very relevant to the modern world:
"The Risen One must be seen in a way so that God may take up his abode within us. The Lord does not appear as a thing. He desires to enter our lives, and therefore his manifestation is a manifestation that implies and presupposes an open heart. Only in this way do we see the Risen One."

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Seems like an undeniable side effect of modern universalism and denial of free will is co-dependency. How can one say "no" to an irresponsible brother or sister if they're not responsible for their actions? So while the downsides of traditionalism are well-known, i.e. that of a harshness and lack of mercy, there could be danger in the other side as well.

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The downside of romantic literature is it sets up unrealistic expectations. For men, serial infatuations, for women loneliness or cynicism. But the upside is a vision of self-sacrifice, aka Humphrey Bogart in Casa Blanca.

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Listening to a Jimmy Buffet song on the radio in which the singer expresses his not untypical loathing of religion. Reminds me of poet James Wright's unforgiveness of God for a world that includes suffering. Sometimes I think being a believer comes down to whether a person believes he or God is more guilty of crimes against humanity. And a great proof of our own guilt, as if we need it, is the death of the innocent Christ. I think he was probably killed because man cannot tolerate being called a sinner.

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On the road saw car with high-laire bumper sticker poking gentle fun at folks who have either a "13.1" on their cars (indicating they ran a half-marathon) or 26.2 (full marathon). This sticker said "0.0". Got ridiculously vested in this joke and found one on 'net to buy.

October 23, 2014

Lead Me Chat

So this afternoon our company had an online "leader chat" , a post-meeting interactive session concerning the happiness speaker (as mentioned on this blog!). I commented, hopefully anonymously (because later I learned our VP was in the room with head honcho Eric). I said basically that choosing the optimist over the competent when you can't get both (as was asserted by Mr. Happy, er, the speaker) seems like what we tend to do electing presidents in recent years. Obama, Bush and Clinton all seemed like optimistic, likable fellows you'd want to have a beer with. Unfortunately they were impressively incompetent. See health care (Obama), Iraq (Bush), and allowing bin Laden/Al Qaeda to flourish (Clinton). Give me competency or give me death!

(Aside: Who were competent presidents in recent years? Reagan. Bush the Elder.)

Eric didn't answer the query, of course, it being way too opinionated, negative, and political. A pluperfect trifecta of reasons not to answer. Leader chats are intended as substance-free cheerleading sessions with astute comments like, "I'm fired up about engagement and our new 2020 vision for creating value!" and "What can you tell us about synergizing the eschaton?"

But I'd kind of wish now I'd written something like, "I truly see the value in positive thinking, but wonder how far before that becomes a sort of Stepford mentality?"

October 21, 2014

Good Posts...

...over at Darwin Catholic:

here:
Sex, marriage, and relationships are one of the main areas of conflict that we as humans encounter. Sex and relationships are important to us. Why is it that so many movies and stories involve sex and relationships? Because drama is built on conflict and one of the main areas in which we have personal conflict is around our relationships.
So unless we believe that God doesn't care if we treat people well, unless we believe that he doesn't care whether or not we suffer: Yes, God does care about sex and marriage. He cares about it because one of the main ways that you personally can either make others happy or make their lives miserable is your treatment of your family and loved ones.
And one on papal infallibility as well.

Seeing God Too Anthropomorphically

I think back years ago when I struggled to understand just when God takes on the "effort” of ensouling a human fetus, as if God says, “oh my, a new birth, I guess it's now my part in this equation. I need to ensoul it.”

God may be a "just in time" God, but obviously is never taken by surprise. Pope Francis recently quoted Scripture and said that “a Christian is a chosen one, one who has been chosen in God's heart before the creation of the world.”

It's a really mind-blowing thought that God thought about us before we were born and even more so before the creation of the world. This is the sort of stuff that deserves to be “pondered in our heart” like Mary did in hers.

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Elsewhere, a neat find - a reference in the Vatican II documents to Daniel 3:57-90, famous from Morning Prayer (“fire and ice…praise the Lord!”):
The call to grandeur and the depths of misery, both of which are a part of human experience, find their ultimate and simultaneous explanation in the light of this revelation.* [* footnote reference is to Daniel 3]
This was always my sense of Daniel 3, i.e. to praise Him in good times and bad, and here it is so explicated.

October 17, 2014

Quick Picks



Well now given the roil of current Vatican politics, one can see why Pope Francis asked us to pray for him before his pontificate. Somehow it seems like he needs it more than John Paul or Benedict.

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So I learned the reason old woman often have blue-tinted hair is that as eyes age they can't see blue as well. So hair they think is yellow or salmon. In a book I'm reading one lady doesn't want to change her hair color even knowing this fact - she says it's more important that she see her hair as natural than the rest of the world do so.

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A homilist the other day said that a politically liberal friend of his was angry with God for failing to provide a cure for cancer. The priest's friend was stridently pro-abortion, and Fr. B. told him of an interconnection.

“Human problems require human solutions!” he said. “The fact that we're aborting a million people a year, how does that help solve human problems? By killing the unborn we are killing many brains that could potentially solve human problems like cancer!”

Arresting perspective, especially about how the homilist is so comfortable with disease being a human problem that requires a human solution. “God gave us brains that we might use them,” he often says. It seems a high view of human potential, especially given the almost half the country voted for Obama.

But it goes along with something Heather King once wrote about how God doesn't give us a lot of unnecessary help, or words to that effect.

God certainly doesn't have the “soft bigotry of low expectations” concerning us, and it's like that from the beginning of the Bible (“let us make man in our own image” is certainly God putting a lot of faith in human power & reason). St. John Paul writes in "The Gospel of Life":
The Book of Sirach too recognizes that God, in creating human beings, “endowed them with strength like his own, and made them in his own image” (17:3). The biblical author sees as part of this image not only man’s dominion over the world but also those spiritual faculties which are distinctively human, such as reason, discernment between good and evil, and free will: “He filled them with knowledge and understanding, and showed them good and evil” (Sir 17:7). The ability to attain truth and freedom are human prerogatives inasmuch as man is created in the image of his Creator, God who is true and just (cf. Dt 32:4).
That's pretty potent stuff and seems to fly in the face of Christ saying, “without God you can do nothing.” I suppose "nothing" means spiritually-speaking, in terms of the REALLY important stuff like one's heart rather than curing disease.

It reminds me also of part of a book I read recently titled, "From Shame to Sin" about how sexual promiscuity was seen as sin as the society went from pagan to Christian during the first centuries after Christ. The key issue was said to resolve around free will and a feeling of empowerment - the early Christians believed we have it, while the pagans gave up and excused sexual perversions as part of the human condition, i.e. more deterministic.

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The full context of St Irreaneus famous quote about the glory of God being man fully alive:
And for this reason did the Word become the dispenser of the paternal grace for the benefit of men, for whom He made such great dispensations, revealing God indeed to men, but presenting man to God, and preserving at the same time the invisibility of the Father, lest man should at any time become a despiser of God, and that he should always possess something towards which he might advance; but, on the other hand, revealing God to men through many dispensations, lest man, failing away from God altogether, should cease to exist. For the glory of God is a living man; and the life of man consists in beholding God. For if the manifestation of God which is made by means of the creation, affords life to all living in the earth, much more does that revelation of the Father which comes through the Word, give life to those who see God.

October 15, 2014

Funny

From Catholic Bibles for those spending too much time worrying about the synod:  http://www.catholicbiblesblog.com/2014/10/for-those-who-are-spending-too-much.html


Happiness is the New Black/Gay/Whatever's Hip Now


Yesterday was dominated by a work meeting, and the guest speaker was the author of a book on happiness, how it makes us more productive on the job. Tail, meet dog.

The guy came out wearing a Cheshire grin a mile wide. He was happy, the very definition of happiness! You couldn't accuse him of hypocrisy, that's for sure. He looked like he was on the verge of an ejaculation.

Then he spoke, rapidly, humorously, interestingly. The Good Book unsurprisingly has it right: Science shows it's better to give than to receive, that we are social beings (i.e. “not good for man to be alone” in Genesis), and that habits of gratitude are good.

The workplace execs are fascinating to me in that they so perfectly mirror the zeitgeist. They are nothing if not plugged in and well-connected. This is helpful to me since I'm so semi-divorced from popular culture, business trends, and even the news to some extent. I'm as disconnected as they are connected. And it's good to know what's going on, especially for ostriches.

What companies are learning is it's not what you can contribute but how closely you fit the schema of the perfect employee as defined by studies of the employees of successful companies. Optimists only need apply; competency will follow. Negativity is seen as more dangerous than second-hand smoke now given the contagious nature. Soon those who engage in snark or complaining will be ostracized like smokers. Already our company is hyper-concerned with our physical health given how much skin in the game they have for our health care costs: now they have a dog in the hunt as far as our mental lives, defined by how cheerful we are.

I have mixed emotions. All of this positive thinking is in the biblical camp. And yet...I think of the necessity to vent, of humor, of what Larry David, Seinfeld creator, once said: “Positive is not funny…when you speak in negative terms the more negative, the funnier it is.” (Speaking of humor, funny line from a comedian: “You'll get unconditional love as soon as you do something to deserve it!”)

The guest speaker said that joy is something detached from external circumstances of want or privilege. Very gospel-ish. He said that we don't find happiness in acquiring or even achieving but in the striving, and in that sense I guess I get why God has us in a situation of “constant striving” to paraphrase k.d. Lang.

At Mass the other day the priest gave a pro-life message. He said that how we treat a gift is a reflection of what we think of the giver. To receive a tie and then throw up on it in disgust is to insult the person who gave you the tie. Similarly to the extent we complain about the gift of life we are saying what we think of God. And yet I think of how Job in the OT complained much of the time, understandably, and yet found much favor with God. On the other hand Jesus - who is a type of Job in that he was likewise innocent and suffered - didn't complain about God the Father, that's for sure. Except perhaps about feeling forsaken.

Chinese Pay Cash and Other Non-Sequitors



The other night was one of those exceedingly rare occasions we hoofed it out for a “night on the town”.

The event, in this case, was and Evening With Authors series, this time held at the art museum and featuring Simon Winchester, author of the million-book seller The Professor and the Madman.

The talk itself was mildly entertaining if at times a bit dry. It's the sort of thing that really looks good in the Dispatch: literary talk by one of the authors I'm currently reading (The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary).

He grew up in London and he's lived everywhere since but has had a fascination with America since childhood and eventually he became a US citizen of which he is hugely proud. He says the country is “better than its politicians” which drew rousing, bipartisan applause, although I've always been of the sense that living in a democracy get the politicians we deserve.

He spoke about how his experiences with the generosity of Americans and how he wanted to write a book about this country and now has. He has a humorous fascination with the mundane - he thinks East Liverpool, Ohio has a great tourist attractions in America but don't realize it. They have an obelisk that is “point zero” of the 1785 Public Land Survey System that would open what the Northwest Territory for settlement. Definitely with historians there seems a tendency to be fascinated by minutiae. I've noticed it in some of David McCullough's books as well. It comes with the territory to some extent because you have to be fascinated by the mundane in order to be a decent researcher. You can't uncover a gold nugget without finding interest in the avalanche of rocks you have to sift through, i.e. if you don't love something, you really can't do it well.

Then he told a lengthy story of one of the first geologists who two wives and children and was able to keep them separate for his whole life, although it was hard financially for him, to put it mildly.

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Many gospels can hurt - the Scriptural blade is two-edged after all and meant not simply as a corrective to others but a corrective to self - but there's an “out” that is tempting: see all Our Lord's comments mainly directed at the Pharisees and scribes, not poor sinners. Many of his parables can be seen thus with a tiny bit more distance, notwithstanding how patently easy it is to be a present day Pharisee or scribe.

Of the excellent explanation of the Ignatius Study Bible on one passage, I certainly prefer the second interpretation, given that it emphasizes God's power:
A parable about Jesus’ generation. It may be understood in two ways.

(1) It is a warning to those who benefit from Jesus’ ministry without embracing his message and its demands. Since one must be not only emptied of evil but filled with divine goodness, the messianic works of Jesus should lead people to accept his messianic kingdom; otherwise they land themselves in a worse state than before (2 Pet 2:20–22).

(2) The controversy over exorcisms in the preceding context (12:22–29) sets the stage for Jesus to establish the superiority of his New Covenant ministry over the Old as administered by the Pharisees. Although the Pharisees expel evil spirits (“your sons” [12:27]), they leave a vacuum that exposes individuals to more severe counterattacks from Satan. Jesus also drives out demons, but, unlike the Pharisees, he fills believers with the greater power of his kingdom through the Spirit (12:28). Jesus’ contemporaries must prefer these blessings of his kingdom ministry to the real but limited benefits of the Pharisees’ ministry; otherwise they are left vulnerable to spiritual catastrophes worse than before.

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So a Chinese guy with limited English appeared at my brother's door to buy the car my brother had put on Craigslist. After some haggling $4,000 was agreed upon, which the guy paid in 50-dollar bills. “Chinese pay cash” he explained. And indeed, just now I googled “Chinese pay cash” and lo and behold tons of hits came up, including one from the New York Times titled “Chinese Way of Doing Business: In Cash We Trust”. The article says that most Chinese don't trust Chinese banks or the government, and that certainly makes sense.

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Night before last night was readerly joy. Lots of the Edmund Morris bio of Roosevelt with a heathy dash of an oral history of the Letterman show. What memories it bought back! Hal Gurnnee. Larry “Bud” Melman. What a cast of characters. I think Letterman lost his footing, no pun intended, when he swapped his trademark tennis shoes for dress-up shoes.

Also enjoyed the MLB app this morn, watching highlights of playoff baseball. I was struck dumb by the visual poetry of the ballpark at San Francisco. Late afternoon sun was stunning - as is usual out west - but the ballpark itself is a gem. A huge statue of baseball glove beyond the outfield, large wall Budweiser advertisement that reminded me of '40s/'50s ads, and of course that glittering, breathtaking bay just beyond the right field line. I watched the game recap mostly just for the setting.

October 07, 2014

Loose Ends Tied Up with Asterisks

Theodore Roosevelt's reading habits:


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You know the end is nigh when there's a Bible now called “Puppies”. I kid thee not. Inside there's tiny biblical print but full color illustrations of pups. It's the ultimate glurge-ification of the Bible, and seems to treat the Scripture as an adjunct to the pictures of puppies beside neutered Scripture denuded of context. It's fascinating, and understandable, I suppose. Sort of how the halo of nostalgia collects around saints like St. Francis and Patrick, both of whom weren't to be trifled with but now are taken as harmless jolly makers! I have the proverbial mixed emotions since I like saints with smooth edges but at the same time feel uneasy over it.

Puppy Bible in bookstore:


One verse I sense is not singled out for approval anywhere, Puppy Bible or otherwise - from Psalm 119: "It was good for me to be afflicted, in order to know your statues."

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Dire news from The Economist:
[Two economists] recently concluded that 47% of employment in America is at high risk of being automated away over the next decade or two. Messers Brynjolfsson and McAfee ask whether human workers will be able to upgrade their skills fast enough to justify their continued employment.  

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I thought of how God loves little actions, little thoughts of gleam, and how those pre-Christians from 30,000 years ago, those early humans struggling for subsidence, could please God just as much as the devout saint today. Because they too could be humble and be a childlike towards God even in their ignorance. Child-likeness and humility perhaps aren't time dependent. But I feel guilty sometimes knowing about Christ's love and mercy while those before Christ did not. Scandal of particularity I guess.

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I like how every day there's fresh Scripture as if come down from Heaven: the daily Mass readings. It's something to look forward to and feels much less forced or arbitrary than reading it when it's not singled out for attention. Plus I always feel like if a certain bit of Scripture doesn't make it anytime in the three-year cycle then it's probably not that important, though that could certainly be very mistaken. I don't think St. Jerome would approve of that statement.

My pet peeve in books of meditations on the day's Scripture is the inclusion of questions for discussion. Instead of opining themselves on some important item they just throw it out there.
In The Sunday Word this time the New Jerusalem editor asks: “Are the tenants of God's Christian vineyard any better than the previous tenants? Who are they anyway?”

Questions without answers don't interest me as much although they say that "the questions of God are more satsifying than the answers of men".

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Saturday's alright for fightin' they say, but this past one was mostly just alright for sitting indoors. Cold! A real game-changer. Temps started in the 40s and never left, like how the Reds never left mediocrity this season. Definitely not used to it, especially when combined with a zephyr-ous wind. It actually hailed this morning and I trotted out the old chestnut, “What the hail?!” Turned on the heater for first time since April.

But despite the conditions we headed out at the early hour of 9:45am to do something I've always kind of wanted to, and that was to take the 'mules to St. M's for the annual blessing of pets on St. Francis's day. And indeed this time it fell exactly on his feast, which was nice. The 'mules were pretty well-beaved and it helped that Fr. Jeff didn't go on too long. I got a little nervous when I saw there was a reading from Scripture, but it was only a couple verses. Buddy had a few walloping barks, which each time drew smiles from Fr. Jeff. One thing's for sure, when Buddy makes his presence felt, he makes it felt.

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Read more of the tragic story of West Virginia author Breece Pancake. On paper he was a huge suicide risk: alienated artist in the hollows of West Virginia, a man without a country, and his father committed suicide five years beforehand (a great risk factor for sons). So the odds were high. More explicable I suppose but no less sad.

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Read more of Lino Rulli's book Saint. He's more self-revealing in this book than his first, perhaps coming close to oversharing but I didn't mind. I also thought it interesting how he loves to travel and yet hates to leave home. He's been to Russia, China, Peru, Rome, South Africa, Egypt… the list goes on. And on every trip he plays some of his favorite songs, which he listed. And wow, what a melancholic group of songs! They certainly tends toward nostalgia, the maudlin, self-pity, and loss. All of which fit me snug enough in my bachelor days as well. Occupational hazard. Surprised he devoted a chapter to exulting in sleeping in the nude. He's a real evangelist for the practice. Another roommate got him started and he says it's freeing and all. I've never tried it myself.

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The morning commute was gleeful – Terri Gross had country music legend Marty Stuart on Fresh Air and indeed the show lived up to its name. Great stuff about how he talked with Johnny Cash four days before he died.
Marty: “I'm going to Washington this weekend. Anything you want there?”
Cash: “The Washington Monument.”
Later Cash wanted to give things away given his life was nearing its close. “Anything you want in here?” Stuart answered, “Just your love.” Cash said, “You got that.” Very Jesus-y and inspiring.

September 23, 2014

Early Baseball



Read delightedly of the book The Summer of Beer and Whiskey (it had me at “summer”, or maybe “beer”, certainly by "whiskey"). It's an engaging history of the very early years of baseball.

Nugget of interest: Read where Oscar Wilde spent about a year visiting America, including going to a Cincy Reds game I believe. 1882-ish.

The book explains the popularity of baseball in those days to our desire for the interplay between communal activity with brilliant individual achievement, emphasis on the latter. Which baseball does showcase pretty effectively. The football counterpoint might be the quarterback and running back, both of whom have a huge individual role to play in football. But when your team is on defense you have no individual to key off since there's no pitcher equivalent in football. The 1880s version of baseball was quick-quick-quick. Fast-paced. No endless drag-out of batters stepping out between pitches, no commercial timeouts between innings. Games lasted between 90 minutes and 2 hours. Perfect.

Mark Twain called baseball the perfect image of his America: “the drive, push and rush and struggle of the raging, tearing, booming nineteenth century!” Wow. That feels like a completely different game than what we have now, a game that feels leisurely, lazy, and relaxed. It's almost like he's describing football, not baseball. Although perhaps baseball in the 1880s was the football of its generation: very driving, pushing and rushing compared to the alternatives. (Golf?) Probably in 40 years football will seem to slow to us and we'll look back at football as boring.

Kindling

Everyone knows the beginning of the Declaration of the Constitution right?
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of ... Kindle e-readers!
Yes it's that time of year when Amazon unveils the new line of Kindles.  Always saliva-worthy.

A short history of my Kindlic propensities follows, and while Amazon has perfected the form factor with the Paperwhite 2, with each  previous iteration the incremental benefits perhaps doesn't justify the expense.
Kindle 1: ugly, clunky, but lovable because it was untied to computer and could wirelessly download books! I waited months before ordering which displayed a level of gadget restraint never heard of before or since. 
Kindle DX: upgraded to this because I wanted a bigger screen. I always felt like Kindle needed to have pages the size of those you'd see in a hardback. Two columns. The type was faint though; not great contrast of letters on background. I'd planned this to be my “lifetime Kindle”. Lol as the kids (used to?) say. 
(Girl not included)
Kindle mini/basic/baby: I bought this for my mother in 2011 because it was unearthly cheap ($79) compared to previous models, but I found I liked it so much I got one for myself! Small screen didn't bother me as much as I thought it would and I loved the elegant look and feel of it.  Portable enough to fit in my pocket.  
Kindle Paperwhite 1: Bought this because the big "problem" with the basic Kindle was reading at night, the hassle of my wife not wanting the light on and the inadequacy of the cheap reading lights I had. I liked the touchscreen idea too. At this point I was beginning to suspect I would buy every year's new model. This seemed reasonable given what I assumed the new annual pricetag would be: $119 and falling, with re-sale of my old Kindle in the $60 range. Amazon threw a monkey wrench this year with their Voyage. 
Kindle Paperwhite 2: Bought this because although the old light was certainly functional, the uneven distribution bothered me early and often. Call me OCD and irresponsible.  And this Kindle solved that perfectly, with gorgeous distribution. So at this point, theoretically, there's no real reason to upgrade. Right. 

Paulian Scripture

Riveting first reading last week or so from St. Paul. It's the beginning of 1 Cor 8, and it talks about how going against conscience - even if it's not concerning something objectively sinful - is sinful!

In other words, “if you think it's sinful, it is, even if it's not.”? Pity the poor scrupulous?!

In this particular case, Paul is saying that meat consecrated to idols is fine, but if someone thinks it isn't fine and does it because he sees you partaking in it, then you've contributed to that fellow's downfall.

The Bible commentaries have varied things to say:
the weak Christian will be undermined: he will be encouraged to act against his (erroneous) conscience, and all acts against conscience are sinful…. [Those who know the meat is okay] have overlooked Christ’s teaching about stumbling-blocks (skandala): that an act lawful in itself may become even a mortal sin if it is foreseen that it will place difficulties or temptations in the way of a weaker Christian.
Consciousness (syneid─ôsis, vv. 10b, 12) arises from knowledge (syn-eidenai). The term “consciousness” first appeared in the papyri as of 59 c.e. Paul probably took the term over from its use in popular philosophy. As used by Paul it retains its traditional meaning of self-awareness. There is no need to see in Paul’s use of the term the modern notion of moral conscience.
Those with a weak consciousness... Their old habits had left a residue on their self-awareness such that it was not governed by their present Christian beliefs. Their self-awareness would be defiled were they to eat food they considered to have been offered to idols.
Those who are weak would be led to idolatry because of the knowledgeable person’s indiscriminate eating in temple precincts. They would eat food offered to idols as if it were truly dedicated to one or another idol
Their salvation (cf. 8:6) is lost because they have been led to engage in what they considered to be idol worship.
It is the believer’s responsibility not to trip up weaker persons (Chrysostom) who might think that there is some spiritual power in food offered to idols, a power they might acquire if they eat (Ambrosiaster).
So I guess the problem is that some of these people who thought eating meat sacrificed to the gods was sinful, ended up doing so anyway and felt some sort of divine benefit from it. Maybe it's sort of like the guy who tells another guy that drinking a pint is not sinful, but for the other guy, call him John, it always leads to sin in the form of, say, cleptomania and he derives the "benefit" of theft.  But that's not the same as John thinking drinking itself is sinful and thus is going against his conscience which is, thereby, sinful.  Maybe the act of eating it and going against his conscience was not the sinful part so much as feeling that the fake gods were in fact real?

And also “conscience” as self-awareness is interesting given how we associate it with the modern moral conscience.  Are these concepts so different?