June 29, 2003

Literary Elitism

Mark tells it like it is with respect to a creeping elitism:

... I wonder if "difficult" sometimes refers to the accessibility of a work to someone of average intelligence and education more than its literary depth. A book might be difficult if it constantly makes references to other literature or distant events or cultural proclivities that I as a person of average intelligence and education find difficult because the references are too esoteric and most people with my background wouldn't know them.

Oprah has been so villified that some are now taking shots at Steinbeck's "East of Eden", as if she is tainting Steinbeck by mere association....

I once sent a lefty colleague this, which makes some immoderate claims about war but then the reasonable "sometimes the herd is right" and he reacted viscerally, completely turned off by that more than the controversial stuff at the beginnning... I recall emailing a blogger/columnist/lapsed Catholic who said she wasn't so much a liberal as an elitist... Least he/she was honest.
Supreme Court Says End Justifies the Means

What especially interests me regarding the recent Supreme Court decisions is the common thread it represents among all branches of government over the past thirty years. And that common thread is an amazing lack of restraint when it comes to respecting what your branch of government entails compared to the others or what the role of the Federal gov't is to state gov'ts.

The Senate has basically taken over the nominating process for judges - Presidents now have to get on their knees and ask "who is acceptable to you?" rather than pick his own man. The Senate's power to block appointments was hardly ever used for one hundred and seventy years and now it's commonplace.

Presidents have more or less decided that war is their perogative, for which they may or may not ask Congress' permission despite that power being given, consitutionally, to the legislature.

The Supreme Court, having no one to answer to, simply rolls over precedent, consistency and rational thinking. The Court acts as a super-legislature when it wants to and make arbitrary rulings that constantly surprise for the very reason that they have no rational basis. Certainly the Constitution has ceased being much of a guide for them.

The Court has become purely outcome-based and law is arbitrary enough to allow that. Thus when the Supremes decided that the Florida Supreme Court rulings against Bush in 2000 were a joke (which they were, any eight-year old could tell you it wasn't fair to re-count just a couple counties), they recognized that Bush had won and then came up with some flimsy reasoning afterwards. The Court's motto could now be "the end justifies the means". Mark and Tom ought to be on the Supreme's case.

End of whine.
Hambone Update

Ham of Bone reflects on week four of his being laid-off....

What day is it? The seemingly endless supply of summer days stretches out into perpetuity. The uneasiness of ease has passed replaced by the uneasiness of pending unease - knowing that money-gathering must resume at some point. I will work harder than I ever have before to avoid going back to "work".

June 28, 2003

Reporting Live from ComFest 2003

Onward to CommunistFest! A rite of summer is a three-day party at Goodale Park in downtown Columbus known as “Comfest”. It’s been going on for some thirty years, and the right-wingers around the office refer to it as “CommunistFest” for reasons that will become clear. Lots of beads and peacenicks, tie dyes and stoned people. Lots of political causes, supporting everything from saving animals to killing unborn children. I go every year mostly to submerge myself in an entirely different culture, to feel completely alien like the time I toured Central L.A.

In the cozy streetwalk there were a disconcerting number of food shops – how bourgeois! Don’t sell out, Comfest! But I was misled, they merely increased the length of the street walk, winding inside Goodale Park for further opportunities to extract either loyalty or money via booths like “Bastard Nation” (I didn’t ask) or “Choice” (i.e. “pro”, except before intercourse).

To be fair, Comfest is not all anarchy and socialism. The social justice concerns resonate. The anti-war booths could be taken seriously. There was a t-shirt for sale featuring Pope JPII. Obviously not your father's Comfest.

The obligatory gays holding hands was spied, as was the peaceful, zoned out bearded man, seemingly longing for an escape hatch to 1969. (I'm with ya brother! I was six years old and didn't have to shave).

Comfest was everything I could ask for, which wasn't much. The beer and the second hand smoke and the live rock band and sun combined to touch some atavistic memories – I could feel it to the soles of my feet. I remembered this me - the one who drank beers in the sun to the sounds of live rock bands and inhaled second hand smoke.

The people were lively and interesting-looking. I felt a vague sense of guilt, since I contributed little given that I am relentlessly middle-class looking. Reminds me of my long-held views on lawn care: since you see the neighbor’s landscape across the street more than your own, it’s more crucial they keep up their end of the bargain. In that sense, being interesting is an act of charity for neighbor.

And interesting they were. Lots of interesting clothes which I could describe if I knew anything about clothes. Such are the limitations of a wanna-be writer who can’t tell you the difference between wool and saffron. (Other than you can eat the latter). Lots of self-mutilations, also known as piercings. Lots of somber, beetle-eyed girls who want to evangelize their view of the world.

ComFest is succumbing to nostalgia. This year there was a booth titled “Retro” in self-consciously Sixties-type script. Inside were pictures of moon landings, old radios, and a poster of the Brady Bunch. The Brady’s looked scrubbed and elated (just like I remembered them) and it’s interesting that now some kid might buy the poster as irony. I watched them in the 70s and was preternaturally incapable of irony. Times change, lightning fast...

June 27, 2003

Oh the Irony...

The name "Barabbas" means "Son of the Father".
Chivalry Ist Nicht Tot

There is something satisfyingly elegiac about chivalric orders. "The Sovereign Knight-Almoners of Malta"...what a beautiful name.

Here are some slightly less beautiful:
- Knights of the Cold Ale
- "Don't-Call-Us-Masons" Order of Utica
- Dreher Dukes of Adversary
- The Imperial Yet 'Umble Knights of Northeast Pennsylvania
- The Dilbert Order of the Knight-Errants of Ergonomically-Correct Work Environments
- Second Chivalric Order of Knights of Insomnia
- The Manly-Men of Malta-zuma
- The Gallant Knight-Salmoners of Oregon

Okay, ok I'll stop. Remember what you paid.

June 26, 2003

Convention Wisdom Watch

Shamelessly borrowing from Newsweek's watch... of course the "conventional wisdom" is entirely my subjective opinion. Your mileage may vary.

Canada:

You know it's bad when our Dominican priest says, "Pray for Canada", three words I've never heard together before but appropriate given the morality freefall of her politics.

David Mills:

Saw him give a great interview on EWTN's "BookMark", a show that can be a little dry at times. Had to order his book, "The Saints Guide to the Real Jesus" purely because I think it will be helpful to difficulties my mother has w/r/to the subject. I'll want to read it first though.

Fr. McCloskey:

Not his fault, but having to going on the O'Reilly Factor and talking about the bishops in general and Bishop O'Brien in particular is tough sledding.
Coultergheist

Can you imagine Ann Coulter with a blog? Apparently it's going to happen.

Maybe she'll let her hair down and be controversial for a change.

Speaking of controversial, here's an unfortunate statement by a "Margaret" in a post regarding taxes: "Persons "earn" [poverty] by demonstrating little ambition, few skills and poor work habits, thus keeping them at entry level wages."

False. Reasonable people can disagree on tax policy, but it is helpful, I think, for everyone to pay some tax so that they have some "skin" in the game. Otherwise we can vote themselves services without tax repercussions.
The Last Words Written by St. Thomas Aquinas?

Answer is here.

June 25, 2003

Beautiful Magnifcat meditation today:

We read in Genesis, "and God said, 'Let us make mankind in our image'".

Now this is precisely what humanity will not accept. The whole problem of religion lies here: the problem of the dignity of life, the problem of truth, the problem of deceit - they are all here....God is what ultimately defines us.

To say...that in God is the ultimate identity or the 'definitiveness' of the human being means that the definition of the human being and of his destiny is a mystery. --Msgr. Luigi Giussani


Today's reading is from Genesis (15:1-12, 17-18) and there is something sublime about the trouble God went to to convince Abram of His loyalty and fidelity, which is like Tiger Woods having to prove he's can play golf.

It's wonderful to see this ceremony where Abram brings a heifer, she-goat, ram, turtledove and pigeon and then a flaming torch passes between those pieces, the sign of the covenant. Why? Because it shows God's love and the dignity he chose to confer on man. The fact that God exists is easily believed, given the order of the universe and the unlikeliness of life. But the fact of God's love is something biblically revealed.
Such a woman indeed...
Nice article on fasting in the Washington Times via Dappled Things. After reading that, I fear I'm not doing enough. Rich meditation on the book of Wisdom at Old Oligarch.

Today is the feast of Saints Perpetua and Felicity (wonderful names!):

The day of the martyrs' victory dawned. They marched from their cells into the amphitheater, as if into heaven, with cheerful looks and graceful bearing. If they trembled it was for joy and not for fear....The others stood motionless and received the deathblow in silence, especially Saturus, who had gone up first and was first to die; he was helping Perpetua. But Perpetua, that she might experience the pain more deeply, rejoiced over her broken body and guided the shaking hand of the inexperienced gladiator to her throat. Such a woman--one before whom the unclean spirit trembled..
--via Bill at Summa Minutiae.

Okay now that really makes my Lenten sacrifices seem small. There is a sense in which I can bear anything if someone next to me is bearing something worse, which is sad in a way. There is an amazing relativity in these things. I was complaining about someone the other day and realized that the gulf between myself and your average saint is infinitely greater than the gulf between myself and that person. And there is an infinite gulf between the saint and the holiness of God. It sort of reminds me of that "Powers of 10" link that Disordered Affections posted that showed showed the grand scope of the universe by showing pictures at millions of light years out and until the sun is faintly visible, then earth, then a tree on earth, then a leaf, a cell, a nucleus...
Witnessed the disturbing image of a protest in downtown Santiago featuring naked middle-aged men, proof-positive that the "I'm anti-war, so I'm taking off my clothes" movement has definitely jumped the shark.
Lunacy
Still struck by this Khalid Shaikh Mohammed guy who apparently was rudely awakened from sleep, not quite ready for prime-time what with his swarthy unshaven shoulders and bleary eyes, his t-shirt hangin' low ala Jennifer Beals in Flashdance...I'm just blown away by the fact that he got up every day thinking of ways to terrorize and kill Americans, that it was his job. Like a businessman he's got his laptop computer, cell phone, and his job is sit around and "think outside the box" on how to kill people. I don't get it. I guess part of it is that that picture was taken without his sheik-wear and thus he looks less alien and more "guy next door". It's just so calculated and corporate. You get the idea he's written up one of those ubiquitious mission statements and is reading Seven Habits of Highly Successful People. (Or was).

His hatred of America and disregard for life seems of an impersonal variety, like that old cartoon where there's this sheep dog, Sam, and his job is to protect the sheep from wolves and at 5pm the whistle blows and then Wile E. Coyote calmly says to the dog "See you tomorrow Ralph" or words to that effect. Nothin' personal, I just have to kill your charges. Of course the coyote is killing for food and this wolf is killing for ? Anyway I can relate to Kathy's comment "I find it easier to pray fervently for Osama's soul than for the souls of people who irritate me!".
Quote

With the disappearance of the idea of Original Sin, with the disappearance of the idea of intense moral struggle, the human beings presented to us both in poetry and prose fiction today, and more patently among the serious writers than in the underworld of letters, tend to become less and less real...If you do away with this struggle, and maintain that by tolerance, benevolence, inoffensiveness, and a redistribution or increase of purchasing power, combined with a devotion, on the part of the elite, to Art, the world will be as good as anyone could require, then you must expect human beings to become more and more vacuous.

-- TS Eliot
Frederica Mathewes-Green's latest column is Finding Your Other Half

there are two mistakes I think a new couple can make. The first is to take marriage too seriously. The second is to fail to take it seriously enough.

Some pastors have noticed that the success of a marriage is inversely proportional to the scale of the wedding.

Via Touchstone's David Mills
Been pondering the Disputation's quotation from St. Dominic, who advises that we "act, with religious decorum, as men of the Gospel following in the footsteps of their Savior and speaking with or about God to themselves and their neighbor, being careful to avoid undue familiarity with others."

I doubt he'd be a fan of journals masquerading as blogs.

The "undue familiarity" struck me as especially interesting. St. Dominic's strategy would seem a way to lessen distractions and maintain charity, given that undue familiarity may lead to contempt or its opposite. And it is also strikingly counter-cultural in a day and age where we tend to let our hair down at the drop of a blog post. Nancy Nall sees this tendency as a generosity: "this is one reason I'm something of a fool for personal blogs, if they can sustain my interest (most can't) -- finding these little moments of real life that people are generous enough to share." But to what end? Or does there have to be one?

One of the blogs I read is something of a soap opera. I have to read between the lines a bit, which adds to the mystery (an element perhaps lacking in most personal blogs). But I think part of what makes it interesting is that she is on a spiritual quest and spiritual quests are inherently interesting. You root and pray for her to find the Church, just as you would root for the protagonist to slay the dragon. It gives hope to us all when progress is made.
As a fundraiser for a campaign to feed the hungry, our company sponsored an "American Idol" contest, a chance for amateurs to get up and pretend they're, say, Hootie & the Blowfish (to date myself).

And while I've never seen the real "American Idol" I went out of my way to see the winner perform at the company's contest, if only because embarrassment is something I can relate to given that blogging is to professional writing what karaoke is to professional singing.

Except something happened on the way to the forum. The winners, a group of five, weren't embarrassing at all. In fact they were damn good. And the choice of material was important too - it was the Star Spangled Banner, sung acapella, or, as we used to refer to it when we were kids, "Acapulco".

I thought about why this group was so good and part of it was that they were singing about something larger than themselves. And part of it was they had great voices and a great arrangement.

So the lesson is to figure out how we can blend our talents towards the service of God. He is the arranger, conductor and subject of our song...now how shall we sing?
Cardinal Ratzinger Quotable

The cardinal leaves room for arguments that are sometimes heard nowadays: "I can also pray in the woods, submerged in nature."

"Of course one can," Cardinal Ratzinger replies. "However, if it was only that way, then the initiative of prayer would remain totally within us: Then God would be a postulate of our thought. That fact that he responds or might want to respond, would remain an open question."

"Eucharist means: God has responded," the cardinal continues. "The Eucharist is God as response, as a presence that responds. Now the initiative of the divine-human relation no longer depends on us, but on him, and so it becomes really serious." ...

..."In this prayer we are no longer before a God we have thought about, but before a God who has really given himself to us; before a God who has made himself communion for us, who thus liberates us from our limits through communion and leads us to the Resurrection," Cardinal Ratzinger concludes. "This is the prayer we must seek again."
-- God and the World: Believing and Living in Our Time -- by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
Time Bound

Christ's Second Coming is somehow instanteous with his Ascension from God's eye-view, since God is outside time. But the long-awaited Parousia isn't so long-awaited even from the time-bound perspective of human history. Given this, if 150,000 years ago is noon and the present time is midnight, then Abraham was born at about 11:58pm, Jesus at 11:59:20.... Biblical revelation has proceeded apace, despite our impatience. And it is obviously God's perogative and plan to design a world that moves from the less finished to the more finished, both in the natural sphere (evolution) and the spiritual (us).

June 24, 2003

Amy quote:

I love watching animals for the same reason I love watching very little children. They are so completely themselves. There is no pretense, no second-guessing, no self-doubt, no mission statements, no policy papers, no committee meetings, no therapy. They just are who they in great purity and honesty.

Which is what God calls all of us, to be, I think, and the reason why faith is so important. When God is the only One to whom we answer, and we live knowing that God is our only judge and our most faithful friend, we can begin to strip away all that inexplicably attaches to us as we grow, and we can look to God as an excited, open-hearted child does, and we can bask in his love, like the sleek sea lion, slicing through the water as if weightless, needing to be no one and nothing but himself.

June 23, 2003

All we are saaaaaaying....is give Harry a chance

You're probably sick of the blogspace devoted to this subject. The right thing would be to remain numb mum, but I'll add my two cents (see blog title):

Everyone has their own definition of what an "evil book" is. Mine would include those by Philip Pullman, not J. K. Rowling. But instead of treating symptoms, why not treat the root cause? Kids in the UK are trying out the occult not because of Rowling's books, but because they don't believe in Christianity. In rock-papers-scissors, Christianity trumps paganism but paganism trumps a vacuum.
Might as well work

Riveting essay via Bookslut by the girlfriend of Johnathon Franzen, Kathryn Chectkovich, about her fight with envy... a fight applicable to the Christian life where we also encounter our "limits of goodness". She writes that she was raised to admire a life of service and that she considered writing a way of service only if it is good:

Isn't this perhaps one reason why women, as a whole, are more apt than men to see writing and reading as therapeutic acts? All that private time spent rendering and transforming personal experience on paper is easier to justify if the writer - and, ideally, reader - is healed in the process.

She concludes:

And yet I am doing better because something within me has surfaced: another story. In this new story, every ugly impulse and selfish yearning, the whole insecure unlovable mess, has been given wing. There's no better self to protect any more; the moral high ground has been ceded.

In this story I don't do the work I was born to, perhaps not even the work I am best at, but the work I have chosen - incompletely, erratically, often unhappily and uncertainly.

I have met the circumstances that are larger than my capacity to be gracious, it turns out. I have come up against the limits of my goodness: someone I love has what I want, and he probably always will. What else is there to do for it? I might as well work.
Reading the Bible With the Church Fathers...an interview with historian Robert Louis Wilken. Via David Mills.
Africa & Charity

Been reading Paul Theroux's "Dark Star", a travelogue of Africa, and it's sobering, including where philanthropy is concerned. He writes:
..This [is] the age of charity in Africa, where business of philanthropy was paramount, studied as closely as the coffee harvest or a hydroelectric project. Now a complex infrastructure was devoted to what had become ineradicable miseries: famine, displacement, poverty, illiteracy, AIDS, the ravages of war. Name an African problem and an agency or a charity existed to deal with it. But that did not mean a solution was produced. Charities and aid programs seemed to turn African problems into permanent conditions that were bigger and messier.

Pearl Jam has a line in one of their songs that goes, "you won the lottery / just by being born". That might be applied in multiple ways but Vedder was talking about the sheer fortunateness of being born in the U.S., at least from a material standpoint. I've long thought the best thing to do with the charity dollar is, after providing for the local church, giving to something like Catholic Relief Services, which spends the bulk of their money outside the U.S.. But then I read something like the above and wonder. Can charity become uncharitable? Maybe "Habitat for Humanity" is a better option because it provides something long-lasting without corrupting - since welfare arguably ruined many U.S. families by the culture of dependency being passed down generationally. On the other hand, it's necessary to have people on the ground and in place in time of crisis such as a famine.

June 22, 2003

Remembering the Feast of St. Thomas More

"If I am distracted, Holy Communion helps me become recollected. If opportunities are offered by each day to offend my God, I arm myself anew each day for the combat by reception of the Eucharist. If I am in need of special light and prudence in order to discharge my burdensome duties, I draw nigh to my Savior and seek counsel and light from Him." --

"It is a shorter thing and sooner done, to write heresies, than to answer them."
--Saint Thomas More

June 21, 2003

Spectator article on Malcolm Muggeridge
Fictional Friday



In rain-besotten Galway stands a public house by the name of O’Hara’s. Its exterior matches the color of the peat fire that warms the interior and scarcely a night passes that the chief proprietor, Mr. Coinneach O’Hara, doesn't pose in the doorway proud as a Beefeater outside Buckingham Palace.

Ivy frames the pub like a halo and mosses and lichens fill the space between the road and O’Hara’s. The air is filled with something between a mist and a sprinkle. For every variety of green in Ireland there is a variety of rain.

Mr. O’Hara begins each day with the pleasant agate of the Irish Times and a cup of hot tea. It doesn’t much matter what the news is, the ritual of creating meaning from the wriggly symbols is enough. He has the craggy face of one who has lived well, yet one still capable of surprise. “Your face at twenty is a gift,” he always said, “your face at forty is what you’ve earned”.

Near the peat fire retirees hold court on the events of 1921, cursing the perfidious English and lamenting the death of Michael Collins. Finely carved canes lean against the bar like horses in a corral.

A group of forty-somethings sit around the single pub table, enlivened by a half-dozen pints drunk in honor of a work friend who recently quit. They talk work, sex, movies, and occasionally drip acidic comments about co-workers not present, making the rest glad they came. Invitations to parties here imply “Come or be talked about”.

The retirees and the workers never mix, although both are often present. The retirees always sit at the bar and the younger folk at the table. The young people can't imagine sitting at the bar and having to stare at their own visages, growing more silly-looking by the pint. The old ones can’t imagine having to sit around a table, shedding their cherished illusion of solitariness for the forced bonhomie of a small table.

But everyone loved Mr. O’Hara.

“Mr. C - who you like in the 5th at Galway?” asked one of the regulars.

“‘Break a Leg’ – trainer says he’s ready!”

June 20, 2003

Interesting Combination

My problem comes when it is argued both that the Eucharist is a case of the Church seriously straying into paganism and that the Bible is a reliable guide to faith. Because, as far as I can tell, from my reading of the Church Fathers and of church history, the Church was making that gravely erroneous foray into paganism at the very same time that it was assembling the lists of that thoroughly reliable source of faith, the Bible. So, on what basis am I supposed to believe both that the Church was thoroughly reliable in its choice and recognition of which books were canonical, and that it was thoroughly unreliable in other beliefs that it seems to have been evolving at the very same time? The Shepherd of Hermas was on some of those early lists; Revelations was not on all of them. Is there any really good reason, other than the authority of the early Church, that I should accept Revelations as more authoritative than the Shepherd of Hermas? (Hmm, this makes the anti-Catholicism of some popular "Rapture" fiction particularly ironic.) Could the Church have been simultaneously right in its selection of the canon and wrong in its doctrine of the Eucharist? Sure, easily. But so seriously wrong about the Eucharist that it ought now to be called pagan, and so seriously right about the Bible that I can trust its authority thoroughly? I find this particular combination improbable.

--Lynn Gazis-Sax via Disputations
Edward Oakes on the Prescience of Cardinal Newman
The reason for so harsh a judgment is that Newman could see a coming storm of dissent throughout all of Western Christendom, especially with the rise of an educated Christian public:

"We live in a novel era - one in which there is an advance towards universal education. Men have hitherto depended on others, and especially on the clergy, for religious truth; now each man attempts to judge for himself. Now, without meaning of course that Christianity is in itself opposed to free inquiry, still I think it is in fact at the present time opposed to the particular form which that liberty of thought has now assumed. Christianity is of faith, modesty, lowliness, subordination; but the spirit at work against it is one of latitudinarianism, indifferentism, republicanism, and schism, a spirit which tends to overthrow doctrine, as if the fruit of bigotry, and discipline as if the instrument of priestcraft."

Now obviously the future author of The Idea of a University is not here recommending obscurantism or an illiterate laity. But the tension between orthodoxy and obedience, on the one hand, and liberalism and free inquiry, on the other, meant that the Church was entering into a new and dangerous era. "The church party," Newman ruefully admitted, was "poor in mental endowments," and relied too much "on prejudice and bigotry." That hardly meant, of course, that an uneducated faith was wrong. But it did mean that the Church needed great men who "alone can prove great ideas or grasp them," since moral truths are "gained by patient study, by calm reflection, silently as the dew falls" and do not show well "in the argument of an hour."

--Edward Oakes via Firstthings
Stop, I'm Getting Aroused

"Books are lovely objects and intensely personal. We are not talking about the people who buy complete sets of Encyclopaedia Britannica for the leatherette binding, but most people still love books as objects," she added.

"They are the right weight, they are tactile, they smell nice, they are quite sensuous. Also people hang on to books because they have been significant at a particular time in their lives. Most people will have a beloved volume from childhood.


The Scottsman, via Bookslut

June 19, 2003

Oprah and Me...(separated at birth?)

I'm glad I read "East of Eden" before Oprah made it her latest book club choice because I probably wouldn't have read it. Not that I have anything against her - it was just that I took her choice in reading material to be helpful to me in the sense of knowing what to steer clear of. Until now, her taste struck me as relationship-y chick-flick books in which the protagonist is a cheated-on woman who eventually triumphs over the horrors of paternalism. Not my bag.

But now Oprah has helped re-establish the quaint notion that literature can cross political, economic (definitely economic!), ethnic, religious and cultural differences, because we both put "East of Eden" pretty near the top of our all-time all-star favorite novels. That's what a classic is.

At least three times Jesus was given especial glory by his Father: at his baptism, at the Transfiguration and at his Resurrection. All involve humility.

At the time of the baptism, his cousin was a famous, revered preacher. John was the important one in the family, a living prophet. Some thought he was the Messiah, though he baptized with nothing but impotent water. And yet the real Messiah allowed himself to be baptized by John in this surreal event of man baptizing God. Jesus' astonishing humility is rewarded with the words all sons crave: "This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased".

The Transfiguration occurs just after Peter's confession of Christ and Jesus' announcing of his own death. The new awareness on the part of the apostles and acceptance of Jesus of his coming humiliation is rewarded with the Transfiguration. "There he was transfigured before them," given the glory that he'd promised to give away.

The ultimate disgrace of Jesus' death and disfigurement is rewarded with the Resurrection. All power is shed in death, even the miniscule human powers of speech and thought and motion. But instead of merely having a restored physical body, Jesus is raised with a flesh far superior. The reward exceeds what was lost, for the Father did not "make right" in restoring Jesus' corruptible body but went far beyond.
Two Hours....Poof!

Saw the most excreable (literally) movie yesterday - "Daddy DayCare". I could feel my life essence flow out of me. When I got home I read the telephone directory to compensate for the banality.

Oh sure it was cute. Parents of young children might like it, especially if you're amused by nose-picking and flatulence.

But this is one movie where instead of wishing I'd read the book, I was wishing I'd brought a book.

Perhaps my sense of humor is atrophying. I don't remember a funny comedy since Bill Murray's "The Man Who Knew Too Little".

Maybe part of it is not being properly prepared. Marathoners load up on pasta the night before the race in an effort to impregnate their muscles with extra carbohydrate. Similarly, any time you are faced with an intellectual tundra, be it a gathering with the relatives or reading anti-Catholic blogs or watching a lame comedy, it would behoove you beforehand to read draughtily of deep books until you've been surfeited. Then you are refreshed and ready. Another option is to indulge in books or movies drenched in horror. Then you are so glad to be alive that even commercials will appear as oasises. When I was a child I recall being wonderously comforted by Quaker Oats' ads during the terror of Hattie the Witch.
You may not agree...

Okay, I'll fess up. I've been relishing a certain blogger's reluctance to suffer fools gladly.

It seems as though imperfection in knowledge is more easily corrected by the fellow who's just graduated from that particular state of ignorance. Thus the child who can tell the difference between a watermelon and a water balloon is eager to share this knowledge to the one who isn't sure, while the debate can be annoying for the one who polishes off algorhythms. Even more so when the child who thinks the watermelon is the water balloon has already made up his mind and is going around affixing "This is a water balloon!" on every watermelon he sees.

I have what could be termed friends who disagree with me pretty darn near 100% of the time. Feelings of pity are often the necessary antidote to feelings of disgust, although the patronizing nature of the former may not be exactly virtuous. Tis a tricky line between where personal responsibility ends and unwitting ignorance begins. The latter is more easily dealt with but it's not ours to judge.
Solstice

The days bend themselves round
light coming out the corners
exuberance freighted by greys
of pregnant clouds where
seeping fields make
homes for mallards.

Sleep comes to men of pentitent brows
who allow their feet to be washed
and from whose bred-bones’ marrow
grows the holy words.

June 18, 2003

Maybe by July...

Sunshine good:

Can sunshine, now shunned by so many who fear skin cancer and wrinkles, save many more lives than it harms? Most definitely, says a leading expert in the field, Dr. Michael F. Holick, a professor of medicine, dermatology, physiology and biophysics at the Boston University School of Medicine.

Dr. Holick, who discovered the active form of vitamin D, has pulled together an impressive body of evidence in support of his advice that no one should be, as he puts it, a "sunphobe" or, for that matter, a sun worshiper.

He has concluded that relatively brief but unfettered exposure to sunshine or its equivalent several times a week can help to ward off a host of debilitating and sometimes deadly diseases, including osteoporosis, hypertension, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, depression and cancers of the colon, prostate and breast. In other words, Dr. Holick says, sunshine is good medicine.


Okay...so the ideal trifecta is exercising in the sun while drinking red wine. Don't try it at home.
They Say the Lights Are Bright at Night on Blogway

Excerpts on the art of bloggadocia from Glenn Reynolds:

...there's a way in which blogging, like jazz, always succeeds: if it's reflecting the feelings of the blogger, it's a success at some level, regardless of whether anyone else likes it. (There's only one hard-and-fast rule: get rid of the typos. No blog that's full of typos looks good.)

But that said, there are some things that - in my opinion - make good blogs good. And the most important of those things are (1) a personal voice; and (2) rapid response times.


And from James Lilleks:

A wire story consists of one voice pitched low and calm and full of institutional gravitas, blissfully unaware of its own biases or the gaping lacunae in its knowledge. Whereas blogs have a different format: Clever teaser headline that has little to do with the actual story, but sets the tone for this blog post. Breezy ad hominem slur containing the link to the entire story...
Crisis?

Amy Welborn cogently describes the dilemma Catholics have in wanting a hierarchical structure (to avoid the disunity of Protestantism) while at the same time having checks & balances. I appreciate the way she cuts to the core issue.

But instead of modelling the Church on American democracy (after all, we of little faith place more faith in political structures than religious ones), it might be better to ask what Jesus' model was.

The fact that he singled out Peter (despite the presence of many other apostles - there was no communication problem then such that he couldn't have had that discussion with all twelve) suggests that he intended a hierarchy. The fact that Jesus told some things in private to just the twelve (instead of the crowds) again suggests a hierarchical element.

The biggest reason bad priests were shuffled around and unfit ones ordained is because of the shortage of priests. But Jesus told us there would be few priests unless we asked for them. And how many of us pray for vocations? "The harvest is rich and the workers are few" he said. This is something I have failed to pray regularly about and need to change. The trigger for prayer is usually crisis - and crisis w/r/t priests is probably defined as the day Mass isn't convenient (i.e. there aren't enough priests to say three Sunday Masses). We'll all pray then, though it be late.

One of the worst things about the scandal is that it will mean many non-Catholics won't even give the Church a chance now. And that is a shame, but understandable. When you see Catholics threatened by the scandal of bishops doing bad, then you certainly are going to have non-Catholics completely turned off. But I also believe that there will be no more priests getting away with abusing children (either with or without the lay panel) because the bishops finally *get* it. The bishops know that they will go to jail the next time they cover for priestly misdeeds. So I don't believe there is a crisis w/r/to protecting children.

June 17, 2003

Quotable

Scott Hahn teaches occasionally at the seminary in Columbus and he says the number one challenge facing seminarians and all of Generation X is learning how to pray. He says the biggest challenge is "will they be able to develop an interior life in this culture"?

Fr. Vincent McNabb, (via Disputations):

It is not very good for people to know how well they pray! To try to find out whether we are standing well with God is rather a perilous thing. It is not a good thing for us to be taking our spiritual temperature. But experts seem to say that prayer is a sort of spiritual thermometer. The state of our prayer would be an index of our perfection and our love of God....

It is very important to have such simple things as morning and right prayers. That was dinned into my ears by an old theologian. He said, ` If penitents say to you that they have committed grievous bodily sins, and are very sorry, that is enough. But if they say they have habitually omitted their morning and night prayers, have a row with them.’...

It is very important to have even a minimum of deliberate prayer...It is very difficult to think and to keep our attention fixed. St. Francis de Sales said we could only keep our attention for a quarter of an hour. St. Thomas Aquinas, who knew much more about prayer, said we could only keep it during one Credo...
Man of La Mancha

My friend Ham of Bone, having received his sixty day notice eighty days ago, is now living la vida loco and is reveling in the freedom. He just called to offer the news and seemed in a bit of hurry - is there no man more busy than one fully alive? He received his severance, a very healthy 5-figure number, and given his frugality it should have some legs. He looks for jobs on Monster.com for the purpose of collecting unemployment, but the IT descriptions leave such a distaste that he says he'd rather frame houses.

I look at his grand experiment with conflicting emotions - a tinge of jealousy, a tad of relief. Vicariously I imagine that I would read to delirium, and write...would I write! I'd spend my days panning for bad poetry with a Guinness for coaxing.

Ah but prince Bone is not lolling about his day bed...

Ah, ha, my lord, this prince is not an Edward!
He is not lolling on a lewd day-bed,
But on his knees at meditation;
Not dallying with a brace of courtezans,
But meditating with two deep divines;
Not sleeping, to engross his idle body,
But praying, to enrich his watchful soul


Ham hews to a strict 8-5 schedule of reading and writing; his booklist includes philosophy, mythology and lawncare. The latter is not for any personal lawn hygiene, but for character-development for a screenplay which revolves around a failed landscaper. The mythology book is to attempt to write characters that will cross national, cultural boundaries. Wouldn't want to lose that Polynesian audience. He has so much of Don Quixote about him doesn't he?

*

Never durst poet touch a pen to write
Until his ink were temper'd with Love's sighs;
O, then his lines would ravish savage ears


(all quotes are Shakespeare)
Serving Up the Minutiae*

My wife misspelled a word in an email and sent a retraction.

"I mean indisputable. ugh"

I missed that faux paus. I must have had a dyslexic moment. Misspellings appear correct to dyslexics.

"A faux pas with foreign words doesn't count, does it?"'

Hey aren't there two ways of spelling it?

"But only one that is recognized by dictionary.com. It's French! You're the German Knower, I'm the French Knower!"

True, you are more right than me. But I wanted it on record that there are a lot o' mispellers of faux pas out there.

* - or pondering the difficulty in placing the words "was", "I" and "wrong" in the correct order.
First Things Article on Mother Teresa

Yet only in the modern period has the dark night of the soul taken the form of radical doubt, doubting not only one’s own state of grace, but God’s promises and even God’s existence. A wise Benedictine, John Chapman of Downside Abbey, made this point in a 1923 letter to a non-monastic friend: “[I]n the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries most pious souls seem to have gone through a period in which they felt sure that God had reprobated them. . . . This doesn’t seem to happen nowadays. But the corresponding trial of our contemporaries seems to be the feeling of not having any faith; not temptations against any particular article, but a mere feeling that religion is not true.”

For this annihilating temptation, Chapman wrote, “the only remedy is to despise the whole thing, and pay no attention to it—except (of course) to assure our Lord that one is ready to suffer from it as long as he wishes.” The “feeling of not having any faith” is painful because it is an authentic purgation, during which “faith is really particularly strong all the time,” and one is being brought into closer union with the suffering Christ.

*
If these days are in any sense a dark night for the Church, then Mother Teresa shows the way forward: faith that we are undergoing a purification rather than a free-fall, and fidelity, in small things as well as big, to the vows that bind in order to set free. --Carol Zaleski
Bad, man, Bad!

"...This reminds me of a story I heard of a conservative Episcopal priest, forced to endure hours of instruction on “inclusive” language at a clergy retreat. The instructors, beamed upon by the bishop, stressed how language shapes thinking and how “gender stereotypes” and traditional generic language distort our understanding of men and women, and how they all had to go.

At the end of the day, this priest raised his hand and asked the bishop, “Does this mean that we can renounce Satan and all her works?” I am told all the clergy collapsed laughing, even the liberals. —David Mills
Read, don't write books say two blowhards.

Poetry, short stories, blogging -- all of these can deliver fun, satisfaction and the pleasures of craft. But writing a book isn't something that can be done in a week or a month.
Phone the Kids, Wake the Neighbors...

The 3rd Annual Nigerian Email Conference.

Keep your tech skills up-to-date.

June 16, 2003

Robert Lowell

Interesting piece on the poet Robert Lowell and literary reputation. Charles McGrath concludes:
Lowell may have belonged to the last generation to believe seriously in the poetic vocation. His friends and colleagues...didn't imagine themselves teachers of creative writing who would turn out the occasional slim volume; they saw themselves as the heirs to, and the equals of, Yeats and Eliot.... They believed that poetry must be the ''ruling passion'' of life.

They were all a little nuts, of course -- or, in the case of Lowell and Schwartz, more than a little sometimes. Except for the teetotaling Jarrell, they were all alcoholic, and they smoked like chimneys. Berryman killed himself, and Jarrell most likely did. Major American poet, mid-20th century -- it's not a job description or a lifestyle that you would wish upon anyone.

Part of their misery was that so few people were paying attention. Poets have always complained about the smallness (and unfitness) of their audience, of course, and in fact the mid-20th century was not such a bad moment for being a poet in America. It was a far better moment than the early 21st century is -- when poetry has become an art form with more practitioners than actual readers..... The poet must dedicate himself to poetry, Schwartz wrote, even though ''no one else seems likely to read what he writes; and he must be indestructible as a poet until he is destroyed as a human being.''

Poems still get written, naturally, but the flames, one suspects, don't burn quite so hot these days. Poets behave better, live longer and probably settle for less.

I wonder at this implied assertion that a person's happiness is tied in some way to the amount of prestige/"props" they receive in their job. Part of why I liked Henry D. Thoreau was that he cared so little about his literary reputation. I don't have a lot of sympathy for those who can't get read (*grin*). Creativity is its own reward.

With respect to poets I think the real issue of their unhappiness might have more to do with this. But the greats in any profession pay a heavy price. That would obviously include the saints. (Editor's Note: Obviously we are all called to be saints).

Walker Percy in one of his non-fiction books argued that there is a "re-entry" problem for artists, that it is very difficult to experience transcendence and return to "earth" (just as the alcoholic wants to live forever in the transcendence of drunkenness). I think that if Lowell had stuck with Catholicism (he was a convert in '41) he would've been much better for it, mentally as well as spiritually. Whether poetically is debatable. Some say that TS Eliot wrote his best poetry before he became convinced of the Truth, perhaps because God then came before his art and genuine art is a jealous mistress. But what is it to win the whole world but lose your own soul? I also wonder if Lowell's attempt to fill a God-shaped void motivated him in a way that exceeded those who've believe and have received at least some small measure of divine fullness. Certainly Lowell's poetry during his Catholic period (at least what was quoted) sure seemed lame even to me.

Le Weekend Excerpts

Drove south Friday and endured the suffocation of a clogged freeway, moving three miles in 40 minutes while a dinner reservation waited at the end of the hundred mile trip. I exercised patience by taking it out on the unlit end of a cigar.

Ran a 5K Saturday. The race was a pleasure, if you can believe that. The delightful early morning ride to Oxford, the gathering anticipation, the presence of Katelyn this time all contributed. And the race, this glorious excuse to leave nothing on the table, this invitation to knock the pavement of all that’s been eating you... to run "on the brink" miles and experiencing the body’s disbelief while not allowing the disbelief to matter. Afterwards lingers a hard-won mellowness, a contradictory combination of mental sharpness (an oxygenated brain) and physical lassitude. I wonder why I only do it twice a year. May have something to do with the pain.

*

My niece has crossed a boundary of some sort. At the tender age of 7 ½, I can see a slight loss of enthusiasm. She’s still as effervescent and sweet as the day is long – a living example of “Thank Heavens for Little Girls” – but she is starting to acquire, if not irony, then its pre-adolescent relative. And watching this unfold is fascinating. She is more easily bored. She no longer runs to her uncle with the same frenzy. But that, of course, is the difference between dogs and humans; humans are less easily impressed.

*

It’s mid-June and reports of summer’s arrival are greatly exaggerated. At least I've been conditioned to it by the last two Junes. The Junes of this century are nothing like the Junes of my youth, when unendurable classroom instruction extended to a sweltering arid June 5th finale....but then everything is improved by nostalgia.

But also how can I protest when my landscape is reaping the benefits of constant rain? The asparagus grows fast as grass, the tomatoes have revivified from their earlier disputatiousness. The annuals look pleased. Everybody but me. But there is nothing quite as wonderful as reading indoors with the rain slap-happy against the roof. I feel no compunction to be running or biking or weeding or otherwise engaged in trivial outdoor pursuits.

Plus there is nothing quite as wonderful as reading indoors with the rain slap-happy against the roof. I feel no compunction to be running or biking or "sunning while imbibing" or otherwise engaging in trivial outdoor pursuits. So I tell myself.

Besides, sunny days induce panic, as described by Helen Fielding in "Bridget Jones Diary":

Feel strange sense of unease with the summer....Realize, as the long hot days freakishly repeat themselves, one after the other, that whatever I am doing I really think I ought to be doing something else. The more the sun shines the more obvious it seems that others are making fuller, better use of it elsewhere: possibly at some giant softball game to which everyone is invited except me; possibly alone with their lover in a rustic glad by waterfalls where Bambis graze, or at some large public celebratory event...Maybe it is our climatic past that is to blame. Maybe we do not yet have the mentality to deal with a sun and cloudless blue sky, which is anything other than a freak incident. The instinct is to panic, run out of the office, take most of your clothes off and lie panting on the fire escape is still too strong.

June 13, 2003

Moving post via Nancy Nall concerning loss of faith and a sound system. Pray for him and his "pastor".
The Marvel of JPII

There are two sorts of spiritual reading that I dislike - that which leads me to despair and that which leads me to untruth. The latter is typically the "I'm okay-You're Ok" sort as exemplified by John O'Donohue's New Agey "Celtic Wisdom" or more formidably by Teilhard De Chardin. The former type might be St. John of the Cross or my current spiritual read - selections of St. Catherine of Siena's Dialogue. There is nothing that lacks truth in it but I always feel after that I am on the brink of damnation (inducing further 'servile fear'). Perhaps that is salutary. I read it like I eat spinach.

But I bring this up to just say there is one author who neither lets us off the hook nor induces despair - Pope John Paul the Great. He navigates this line between despair and hope and inspires. There is something to be said, it would seem, to reading the works of those who live in our time since the Holy Spirit speaks to our condition. Even if that condition be that we are wussies (i.e. unable to take the strong drink of St. Catherine).

Robert Hutchinson in When in Rome writes that the papal encyclicals of the church are 'beautiful but unliveable'. Pope John Paul, to my mind, writes encyclicals both beautiful and liveable.
Much Ado about Clothing

Kathy the Carmelite brings up a vexing issue near and dear to my heart - what to do about a beloved article of clothing that acquires a stain that you cannot remove. What I try to do when that happens is simply drape my arm or hand over the offending spot while wearing. Sure sometimes it's awkward (depending on where the spot is!) and your arm gets tired, but it is the Hambone-approved way to save money that would be wasted on new clothes. The trick is to be casual about it.

Kathy replied, Do you know, I actually DID that? I went to the supermarket for a couple of items--instead of using a basket, I clutched the items up to myself to strategically cover the stain!

Plus, nobody really cares. What are they going to say? "Look! That lady has a stain on her dress."

Not exactly grounds for Molokai.


Very true, but I always assume (to assume otherwise would be unChristian) that if someone sees a stain they will think, "oh, he must've just eaten lunch", rather than, "oh, he's a tightwad who won't buy new clothes!". (This works better at the supermarket or opera than at work, where repeated viewings necessarily limit charitable thinking).

June 12, 2003

Books

I've been managing to go longer and longer periods without buying a book (up to a lunar month). Fortunately I have some excellent current reads: Paul Eli's "The Life You Save", Paul Theroux's "Dark Star Safari: A Journey thru Africa", et al and thus am in no hurry. Wodehouse's "The Code of the Woosters" has been a tasty new find, proving my susceptibility to blogfluence.

But time waits for no man and the ol' Amazon shopping cart grows apace. If you've read and/or have input on any of these, let me know. I don't take these decisions lightly.
Final Four  

1. "Good Faith" - Jane Smiley
2. "The Way of the Disciple" - Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis
3. "Electric Light" - poems of Seamus Heaney
4. "Lord Have Mercy" - Scott Hahn
5. "Living History" - HRC
"Her Citizenship is Ardent"

You're sick, I'm sick, we're all sick ....of the hype. But you gotta love Updike's take:

Senator Clinton is an excellent and thorough-going politician and not a novelist; her description of "the most devastating, shocking and hurtful experience" of her life is nowhere as moving or human as the legalistic vignettes of furtive partial pleasures in the Starr Report. Her surprise at her husband’s belated confession is indeed surprising, as if they had never quite met before. But I loved the sentence, "I hadn’t decided whether to fight for my husband and my marriage, but I was resolved to fight for my President." Her citizenship is ardent.
--John Updike
Around the Horn

Nice posts on "Why Blog?" here and here.

Also through the lens of Bablefish you can get a flavor of Hernan's ascetic February vacation. I haven't done anything like that since a trip to Bardstown, KY back in '95. Perhaps it's time.

He also analyzes spam (never thought I'd see the word 'penis' on his blog) as well as Jansenism (old heresies never die, they just fade away...).
Recent NY Times column makes one proud to be male:

They may have started as hunters and gatherers, but in commercials and comedy, American men still bask in their antifashion, antishopping attitudes.

I hate to play into stereotypes, but when I see men following women around the couture departments of Bergdorf's on a rainy Saturday afternoon like trained poodles, it crosses my mind that they should be home on their Barcaloungers watching ESPN and eating a Jerry's sub.
....

"It's true that a lot of men might not like shopping," Ariel Foxman says. "But certainly men like to have things. So we can advise them how to make shopping an easier, more pleasant, quicker experience. Gay or straight, every guy needs a new pair of jeans sometimes."
....

"Men don't need to see 40 different pairs of black pants, the way women like to see," Mr. Cohen said. "They want to see three pairs of black pairs, have some clerk tell him what to wear with them and move on."
--Maureen Dowd


Three pairs?? Talk about redundancy, sheesh.

June 11, 2003

Received an interesting email from a fellow inquirer on the religious/lay issue.

She writes in part:
Just last night on our family walk around the neighborhood I was pondering whether those in the religious life need more grace than the married. I was actually wondering whether it was that people who were too distracted by human relationships are called to celibacy so they can focus better on God, or that people who aren't strong enough to cope without the constant support of marriage and family life are called to marriage so they don't despair and lose their focus on God. I had always figured it was the latter, but maybe it's both. Maybe neither.

I think in theory a celibate could have less need for grace because he would have the time to focus on God and even in his human relationships there would be less distraction than in marriage where a couple can end up feeling just like partners in managing a house and paying the bills and so on. But marriage has so many lesser goods to help keep your strength up if you don't let them displace God which I suppose is the hard part. I only have one child but I'm really disorganized and wasn't the best prepared for these responsibilities, still, having him has done so much to help me get my priorities in order -- meaning put God first which is the only way I can be the best mother for him. And it's not just that I realize I'd better shape up because raising kids is hard and I need help from God; it's also that he is so incredibly sweet and wonderful and naturally elicits a flow of gratitude and praise to God for this gift. Having six children I honestly believe would multiply the blessings much more than the crosses or temptations.


I replied that she may be right that additional blessings accruing from having more kids, but a mother I know well had three and said it about killed her. Another PIQ (person in question) had six and experienced severe depression - it almost broke her. That was back in the days when men just went to work and did nothing around the house or help with the children.

So to my mind it's more impressive in some ways to be a mother of six than to be, say, an average priest, one of whom told me that selfishness is a real problem among his fellow priests precisely because they don't have anyone to answer to. They often live quietly with a housekeeper and lots of free meals. With any exercise you only develop the muscles you need for that particular exercise - in other words, running won't prevent sore muscles after playing tennis. Similarly, developing the muscle of patience is done by exercising it (easier said than done) and unselfishness ditto.
Shot Glasses

Been ponderin' posts at Disputations and Steven Riddle (you know the links by now, right?) on the religious life versus the lay life.

It would seem the religious life is a higher calling, but that personal holiness is not a reflection of the height of the calling but to what extent you fill the role of the calling. St. Therese said that everyone's glass will be full in heaven, just that some glasses will be taller than others. So those called to the religious life typically have taller glasses. If the glasses are taller, that suggests a need for greater graces. So the religious require greater graces. But where this analogy breaks down is that it seems as though a mother of six has more need for grace than your average monk...

It would thus seem there are two ways to have a "short glass" (i.e. 'shot glass'): one is to have been pre-destined to a smaller role, a smaller calling. The second way is to poorly fulfil the role that God has given you. The first is legitimate, the second not.

I don't think the Church has fully thought out the laity/religious dictonomy. And I think the fear in calling the religious life a higher calling stems from a desire to not have the laity think their sacrifices are small potatoes. But in the world of the Kingdom humility is a virtue, so to fill a shorter glass would seem to be something to, if not boast of, at least be sanguine about since its size was determined by God's design. Shot glasses, at the very least, serve to lend perspective.
Spinning Spam into Gold

Author Jonathan Franzen of The Corrections fame once wrote that good fiction writing takes what is mean and base and spins that silk (or worse) into gold. (Not a bad analogy for God's creative action, come to think of it).

So with Franzen's comment in mind I greet the usual spam-full inbasket and try to spin it not into gold, but garnet. Or perhaps quartz. Feldspar?

But I'm at a loss. I keep an eye on spam, thinking it may give birth to some sort of poem or comedy such as the unintentionally ironic ("re:How to Get Rid of Spam!") to the gross ("Free Sample of Sceptic Treatment") to the wildly improbable ("re: add inches!"). But it's just plain banal.

Similarly only differently, my screen-writing friend "Ham of Bone" laments that his experience is a thin gruel from which to fashion art. If he writes what he knows he will have written either an elaborate Dilbert cartoon (work) or a portrait of the typical suburban existence (home). That's not to say he can't find compelling material in his home situation; I've told him it is a rich vein. I passed on the warm blogger reception to my post about how he didn't flush the toilet to save money and he was encouraged enough to begin down that road. Urine into gold I suppose.

Anne Tyler, by the way, writes well of the home front, although not comedically, and the latter is how Bone would be presumably be presenting his story. His book could be a cross between "Please Don't Eat the Daisies" and "The Tightwad Gazette" titled "Please Don't Flush the Toilet".
New Yorker article on Helen Keller:

She is not an advocate for one side or the other in the ancient debate concerning the nature of the real. She is not a philosophical or neurological or therapeutic topic. She stands for enigma; there lurks in her still the angry child who demanded to be understood yet could not be deciphered. She refutes those who cannot perceive, or do not care to value, what is hidden from sensation: collective memory, heritage, literature.
--CYNTHIA OZICK
Humility through Sex and Food

I was puzzled by a line I'd read recently which recalled Malcolm Muggeridge joking to the writer Graham Greene, "I am a sinner trying to become a saint and you are a saint trying to be a sinner". Greene talks of his "unhappy affairs", which strikes me as almost oxymoronic since affairs imply a short-termness that would be ended in the event of unhappiness. I guess his were semi-committed affairs.

His perspective on food and sex is more head-scratching, a way of looking them that I'd never considered:

The helplessness or complicity of our humanity in its involuntary needs, cravings, and decay aroused a resentment conspicuous above all in many of Graham's responses to women. For much of his life he had wrestled, in love and in his books, with the paradox of desire and consummation, illusion and disgust, ectasy and blame. It was not difficult to imagine him holding the view ascribed by Plutarch to Alexander the Great - another abstemious eater - that 'sleep and the act of generation chiefly made him sensible that he was merely mortal.'
-- Shirley Hazzard, Greene on Capri

June 10, 2003

Good post from Steven Riddle:

One person in the group brought up an interesting point, she said, "But as a mother with two small children, I really want those periods of quiet and respite that allow me to regenerate and be a better mother later." I pointed out to her that her desire for quiet was likely to make her unquiet. The need for the time of regeneration would be likely to engender short-temperedness and other negative qualities, because we seek rather than accepting what comes. There would be nothing wrong with using quiet time that comes to us to regenerate, but it is in seeking it that we go wrong, because then it becomes a driving goal--when we do not achieve it we are diminished, tired, angry, frustrated, and less capable of being ourselves. I noted that the saints seemed to work tirelessly, dawn to dusk, without complaint, without request for rest, though they undoubtedly could do with some.

The desire for peace, quiet and respite is often disquieting.
On Immigration

As long as Latin Americans make about 5% of the average U.S. wage we will have illegal immigration, which begs the question:

Why is Mexico poor, given their abundant natural resources (like oil)? The succession of corrupt governments is surely a big part of the cause; how much are the people culpable for their governments? Surely somewhat. Yet I know that I have little to do with having the government we have, given that I didn't arrange my birth in a country with brilliant Founding Fathers and technologically efficient national zeitgeist.

And does the infusion of U.S. dollars into the Mexican economy (via illegal immigrants who send money home) hurt Mexico in the long run by ignoring the root problem? Again, I don't know...

On Lay vs Religious

Is it, though, in some sense "easier" to be holy as a vowed religious than as a secular layperson? I think that might be an ill-formed question. Holiness isn't a quality amenable to statistical analysis. We become holy only be responding to God's grace, which is as present on a city street as in a rural cloister. Personally, I think I have a much better chance of becoming a saint -- and, for that matter, of helping others to become saints -- living in the world than in a monastery. And "personally" is the only real way to speak of holiness. -- Disputations

I found this very interesting. It is reasonable and persuasive. Yet should we not mark Christ's words that Martha had chosen the better way? Does not the religious life, with its constant prayer, its constant access to the sacraments, to trained spiritual directors, et all not make a difference? But God is not bound by those things. Certainly our experience screams that the religious life confers not so much advantage as we might romantically think - Thomas Merton paints a picture in his journals of his fellow monks as, well, not quite completed Christians. No surprise there.
Ha!

Worship and entertainment are distinct, and both Catholics and Protestants frequently forget that the focus of worship is God, and He does not need to be entertained – He has the spectacle of human folly to contemplate should He ever feel the need for amusement.

--Leon Podles
Life Uber Alles

Kathy the Carmelite mentions the death penalty and her son's reasons for being for it.

People I respect think differently about the issue, but to look at it from a crass, political angle it seems like a no-brainer to be against it. Why? Because although to equate the unborn with those on death row is a crudity, given the innocence of the former and guilt of the latter, abolishing both abortion and the death penalty would send a consistent message about human life to a culture that is very confused about its value. And although 99% of pro-choicers would not make the trade (i.e. abolish the death penalty in exchange for an end to abortion), it would take away a sword we Christians offer them - that of our perceived hypocrisy. St. Paul wrote about not being a scandal to our brethren; in this case the scandal that the death penalty represents to many is reason enough to abolish it given the alternative of life imprisonment. If we want to emphasize the value a life has, why not make prison much tougher and enforce life in prison for murderers rather than end the life of the perpetrator?

June 09, 2003


Aunt Pixel in younger days...

Where are the Nigerian scammers when you need 'em?

It'd been a long time between scams and last week's email caught me off guard since I lacked a ready reply. My personal favorite episode in what I call "Scammin' the Nigerian Scammer...so you don't have to!" was sending a reply in Greek and receving the reply, "Sir, I cannot understand your language". All Greek to him too. Anyway, last week I was caught off-guard and I won't make that mistake twice. Here is my proactive response:
Dear Nigerian Scammer,

Thank you for your missive. I believe it is very possible for us to make this deal since it's a win-win - you free up your funds and I get a modest, "awww-shucks" cut. But in order to make this work, I humbly ask the smallest favor from you. You see my Aunt Pixel from Pittsburgh has put me in a bit of a pickle.

Aunt Pixel never married because she had a birthmark on her left calf and feared it would turn off men (which showed a gross misunderstanding of sexual response in men, but that's another story). We shook our heads about it because other than that subtle birthmark (which looked like a cross between that animated Nemo fish and the annoying Microsoft Paperclip masquerading as 'helper') she was a looker. But she was so self-conscious about the birthmark that she wore lycra pants to the beach.

Auntie understood the time value of money and began socking it away from the time she turned twenty. As her favorite nephew, she promised a large chunk of it as inheritence. She's decided to give it to me early, so that she can see me enjoy it instead of waiting until she's dead.

However, she did make one stipulation.

She requests that I, in a sign of solidarity and affection, get a tattoo that looks like a cross between the animated Nemo fish and the annoying M$ paperclip - on my left calf!

Well I started looking into it and I don't like pain (it hurts) and moreover I don't trust the needles. May well be tainted with HIV or hippopotamus B.

So I contacted a VERY reputable tattoo artist in Munich who will do it as an operation - you know, give me the anesthesia, knock me out completely, use sterilized needles, the whole big-bang - for $10,000. Now I don't want to go Auntie and confess my wussiness, so if you wire $10,000 to me I could get the operation, collect Aunt Pixel's money, provide you with 35% of the inheritence with which you could use to free up your own clotted money problem and then receive 25% of the proceeds (all percentages negotiable)!

Delta's sale price on flights to Europe ends Friday so please remit the $10,000 immediately if not sooner.
Amy writes on European Christians:

What comes through loud and clear is the crisis in authority - and not just institutional authority, but authority, period. Subjective experience has won the current battle, and if anyone here is serious about evangelization, we should understand that this is the issue at hand.

Nail...hammer..head. I've been long interested in this tension between the personal and the "impersonal" knowledge of God. There is the modern's constant desire to prevert the process by basically telling God, "hey, I'm not going to take the Pope's say-so on anything. In fact, I'm not going to trust the apostles, because the fact that they died for the faith is not that impressive given Muslim extremists and the Heaven's Gaters...If you want me, you have to perform some fireworks and prove yourself to me experientially."

But if this is way God intended, why wouldn't he simply appear to us individually as he did to St. Paul and allow us to experience in the flesh - touch his wounds as St. Thomas? On the other hand, God loves us enough to be willing to satisfy the honest inquirer. And I think that the little clues and helps in a daily relationship with Him are a fuel for praise and gratefulness though the latter should be present at all times.

My stepson perceives that his conversion was due not so much to C.S. Lewis and other apologetic materials like Strobel's "The Case for Christ" or even the bible. What converted him was "a feeling in my chest, this amazing burning sensation of the Holy Spirit", which was facilitated by an openness triggered by meeting and dating his beautiful Christian girlfriend. But what is ironic now is that he has come under the sway of the pastor of his evangelical church and accepts the dogmas (such as sacraments as symbols, etc) unquestioned. So in a sense he now submits to authority, the very authority he was not attracted to before his conversion. This isn't uncommon of course. As a revert it took me a long time to get from seeing the Church as providing helpful opinions to seeing the Church as possessing the fullness of truth.

*

Btw, our priest gave an interesting sermon Sunday on the Pentecost and answered the question, "why is it not like this today?". And he said that our personal Pentecost is, obviously, the Sacrament of Confirmation at which time we receive not a tongue of fire but of chrism, of oil - of potential fire. And he asks, "do we really want to be Christian, to be apostles? Are we willing to let God determine the shape of even our religion - willing to be missionaries...or charismatics... if that's what he wants?"

June 08, 2003

Verweile Doch

Interesting coincindental juxtaposition of readings this weekend, excerpted below:

From The Kulture of Germany by Henrique de Medonca:

The Germanic spirit, prone to expansiveness like all its earlier contemporaries, used to indulge from the first in the most exaggerated flights of romantic idealism. We have a familiar instance of the kind in the youthful creation of Goethe - Werther. Remember how he could find no other means of ridding his brain of a criminal passion than by shattering it with a pistol-shot. The vogue created by this romance became so extraordinary throughout Germany that imitators arose on all sides. An epidemic of passional suicide ran throughout the nation. Goethe had to hasten to check it...

From Belloc How the Reformation Happened, after the explaining that the posting of the 95 Theses was not unusual nor heretical:

But the point was this: Luther's action came at a moment of perilous instability, and a wild enthusaism seized not only the people of the place, but great bodies of German folk. It was a confused enthusiasm, but its general inspiration was unmistakable. It was a violent reaction against the authority of Rome...


Of Science & Religion

As theology and metaphysics arose out of mythology, likewise did ancient science. Mythology was the great mother science. And as the special sceinces gradually freed themselves from mythology and became more strictly scientific, so did theology and metaphysics also. Hence, instead of Comte's statement being true, that theology and metaphysics have become outgrown and useless, precisely the contrary is the case. With the methodical and logical advance of the special sciences, theology and metaphysics have advanced in like manner. Theology, metaphysics, and science have all advanced in concert, or in close relation to one another, sometimes one, sometimes another being in the lead. And there is not any rational ground for inferring that the course of civilization, in this respect, will be different in the future.
--William Elkin

June 06, 2003

Seamus Heaney Poetry



Perch

Perch on their water-perch hung in the clear Bann River
Near the clay bank in alder-dapple and waver,
Perch we called "grunts," little flood-slubs, runty and ready,
I saw and I see in the river's glorified body
That is passable through, but they're bluntly holding the pass,
Under the water-roof, over the bottom, adoze,
Guzzling the current, against it, all muscle and slur
In the finland of perch, the fenland of alder, on air
That is water, on carpets of Bann stream, on hold
In the everything flows and steady go of the world.


Excerpt from The Loose Box

Michael Collins, ambushed at Beal na Blath,
At the Pass of Flowers, the Blossom Gap, his own
Bloom-drifted, soft Avernus-mouth,
Has nothing to hold on to and falls again
Willingly, lastly, foreknowledgeably deep
Into the hay-floor that gave once in his childhood
Down through the bedded mouth of the loft trapdoor,
The loosening fodder-chute, the aftermath ...
Divine!
Journal du jour

A brilliant-lit sunny day, a day of small piquancies, of trees palpably strong in their greenness, in their confidence. The rains have subsided and I know without seeing the roots are fat and full. Leaves are brandished by the wind and the picture of it all is unbearably beautiful.

People of every age and ethnicity are walking down the street and I am struck by their fragility – by our fragility – how temporary these bodies, these markers of differences. How silly to fixate on gender, race or beauty! To dust we shall return, soon. Walking skeletons, they and me. How to live with that knowledge? How to make best use of time?

*

Undefragged

Scrupulousity grows lichen-like
where the shadows gather
where the devil’s reasonable voice
speeds beads of 'feit moisture
whispering always of lack.

*

Seamus

Print falls like scales from my eyes
Finned words of Heaney’s Lough Neagh
Lines like softed turrets and wedding banns
Like salmon leaping into the perfect white.

*

Veiled

Was instantiates versteckt
in die reveries entfernt und streng?
Von verlorenen Ursachen und heiligen longings
reels die Spannvorrichtungen
des gerbstoffartigen Wassers
über eklektischen Träumen
des Jahrwunderns hinaus.
Revel in the Complement

One of the great things about Christianity is that it's the obverse of the world and we can relax in that complement. By not having to measure by outward signs we can find tremendous rest. Inferiorities shrink in His sun. Instead of viewing the apostles in the Upper Room as having received something we cannot, we can have confidence that nothing is held back that but that we make it so.

We can look at many of the mysteries of the rosary as great outpourings of grace upon our mother and brothers; the nature of a close family is that if success occurs to one, it occurs to all. Outsiders no more, we hold the mysteries as precious family heirlooms.
Interesting Comment from Ben on Disputations

Last night I was speaking to my wife, and she was troubled by the repetitive and burdensome nature of her work as a housewife. I can understand her complaint. I'm also troubled by the seemingly useless and repetitive nature of my work as an office worker.

But then I came to an understanding, that the root of our disatisfaction is that the both of us were conditioned by 16-20 years of education to be goal-oriented creatures. We were taught that what we do is inherently meaningless unless we do it for the greater purpose of achieving some goal or other (this is an essential ideology for the current economic system). Yet the work of a housewife is not goal oriented. There are no quarterly reports or major accomplishments. One does not really improve at the task of vacuming the floor, nor indeed accomplish it since it must be done again in a matter of hours.

Yet I feel this relates to your point about Creation. Creation is not goal oriented. God does not have "objectives" He is trying to achieve by adhering to "core principles" and "mission statements" He is not striving for "measureable outcomes for success". He is pure actuality. The capitalist mind can't get arround that concept, becaues we are too involved with "continuously improving our processes".

Anyway, your post, coupled with the conversation I had with my wife last night has given me a whole new insight into the parable of the birds and the lilies of the field.
Today's Assignment

Pick up a copy of Hitler's Mein Kampf and everywhere it says "Jew" mentally substitute "George Bush", everywhere it says "bourgeoisie" mentally subsitute "Big Oil" and everywhere it says "Zionist" substitute "Bush Administration" and voila - you now have a fresh Salon.com article. Or a NY Times/LA Times/Pravda editorial. Picture Maureen Dowd with slightly less humor.

By way of background, Ham of Bone & me and two other co-workers created a little email club in which strident voices are sometimes heard. (I joke that the club should be renamed "cancelling each other's vote since 1984"). Two lefties, two righties - can they get along? It sounds like a sitcom.

Some recent bon mots:
I have called Bush "venal", "dimwitted", "hypocritical", "dishonest", and "morally bankrupt"...His brand of pharisaical religiosity gives Christians a bad name, but it is the unapologetic, breathtakingly self-righteous hypocrisy of his administration that sticks in my craw the most.

The ongoing venality of the current appointistration will make Clinton look positively statesmanlike in comparison.

If it is OK for heads of state and captains of industry to be interchangeable, then let's just call it what it is: fascism. The checks and balances inherent in our purported system of government are largely theoretical at this point.


And that's the nice commentary. Bush = evil is commonplace.

It's a training camp for charity. Set vent off.

June 05, 2003

Truth be Told

I've been pondering of late the idea that the gospels leave a lot of questions open, which invites one, well, to ask. Ask others, ask theologians, or best of all, ask Jesus. But I struggle with the idea of asking Jesus questions like that for a couple reasons. First, it strikes me as presumptuous, to ask questions which far holier have longed to know. Second, I'm not sure it's relevant as far as helping me on the road to salvation. Third, if the experience of Protestantism teaches anything, it's that one can trust only the Church, not personal revelation, to the point that I so fully distrust the latter that it probably borders on the unhealthy. Our Dominican priest has a very different view, telling us that there is a wide pasture of things we can explore and believe, and that the Church only teaches us what the boundaries are - for example the divinity of Christ. But there is much freedom. But freedom to error? If I am convinced of something and my neighbor something else and we are both Christians, someone is wrong. It bothers that previous generations - our forefathers in faith - believed lies. Jews believed, for example, that their personal sins or their father's sins caused sickness. Still, the root issue might be one of pride, for even if I believed no outright untruths the knowledge I do have pales beside the fullness of truth. It is our portion and cup to look through the glass darkly. I recall visiting a tiny olde-timey ship in Boston. The actors on board portrayed 17th century pilgrims and played their parts. I asked, "how do you have privacy for sex?" (I was 22 at the time - 'nuff said). He pointed his nose skyward at such an impertinent question and intoned with a British accent, "Privacy is something given to you, not taken by you". In a fallen world, truth is a privilege, not a right.
Post-Resurrection Different from Post-Ascension Body?

Jesus' body after the Resurrection was normal in that he could eat and Thomas could probe his wounds and the hundreds who saw him could look upon Him without incident (although it could pass through walls). But post-Ascension seems a different matter, given St. Paul's encounter on the road to Damascus and St. John's in the Apocalypse. At that point His glory seems so powerful, more powerful by far than during the Transfiguration, that those who look upon Him fall involuntarily immediately to the ground, sometimes blinded. I've never heard anyone remark on this before. It's almost as if Jesus, after returning to the Father absorbed His glory in a way similar (only infinitely greater) than how Moses came down from the mountain glowing. I bring it up because I've heard it said the Eucharist is a way to receive Him without being blinded or overwhelmed by his glory...
I received an email suggestion from a correspondent who I daresay would prefer to remain anonymous (as many Cincinnati Bengal fans likewise would). He suggested boobs as a way to increase site traffic. Bad, Phil*, bad!

On an entirely different subject, you wouldn't believe how many folks come to this blog attempting to find the lyrics to Donny & Marie's "Morning Side of the Mountain". And you thought I was the only closet lover of corny love songs?

* - not his real name

State of the Blog Address

From: TS O'Rama; Chief Financial Officer

SiteMeter stats are down this month, and we're going to have to make some reductions to make our June number.

During the 2003 All-Associate Meeting, our CEO Reilly Girtz described the challenges we face given difficult blog markets. Reilly understands that the work we do today to build a great website prepares us for when the environment is more supportive of our posts. As the chief financial officer for Video Melioria...blah, blah,blah my main focus in Building a Great Blog is, of course, Financial Discipline and performance.

Great blogs review expenses as a matter of practice. At Video Melioria...., we call this Challenging the Base and it needs to involve everyone. This is not a project. It is a discipline and it is about continually evaluating our costs as part of our ongoing expense management process.

Our current goal is to permanently remove $125 billion in expenses from our bottom line. This will help us keep our 2003 promise, but, perhaps more importantly, better support our future goals starting in 2004. As bloggers, our role is to uncover why hits are down and what can be done about it. Weather-related excuses are simply not acceptable; it is sunny in Los Angeles every day of the year and their blogs have not been hit.

We should all recommend and decide ways for improvement and then act upon them. Please share your ideas with your Finance Office.

*******the Blog-In News*******

Jeff Culbreath of El Camino Real has an interesting post on blogging. He made the move to blog-city just in time. I concede his point that in the flesh is better, but it's probably a symptom of my preverse desire for speed & efficiency that I say I can read more quickly than I can listen, and I can write more interestingly than I can speak.
From yesterday's Magnificat meditation

It's in the nature of the Church to survive all crisises - in however battered a fashion...Everything has to operate first on the literal level...I suppose what bothers us so much about writing about the return of modern people to a sense of the Holy Spirit is that the religious sense seems to be bred out of them in the kind of society we've lived in since the eighteenth century. And it's bred out of them double quick now by the religious substitutes for religion. There's nowhere to latch on to, in the characters or the audience. If there were in the public just a slight sense of ordinary theology (much less crisis theology), if they only believed at least that God has the power to do certain things. THere is no sense of the power of God that could produce the Incarnation and the Resurrection. They are all so busy explaining away the virgin birth and such things, reducing everything to human proportions that in time they lose even the sense of the human itself, what they were aiming to reduce everything to.

--Flannery O'Connor
Written to a Nigerian Scammer Pastor Joseph:

Pasture Joe, thank you for your missive. As a fellow fiction writer, I feel a certain solidarity. Here's a poem I wrote for you:

"There is a land
where the men never grow tired
where the pounds shed easily
and the women all want you...

Where Nigerians offer you a cut
to free their money.

There is a place
called Spam."
Reviewed "Drop City" over at Catholic Bookshelf...

June 04, 2003

Quick Quotes...from Russel Kirk's The Sword of Imagination

'At certain epochs,' says Innocent Smith in Chesterton's Manalive, 'it is necessary to have another kind of priests, called poets, actually to remind men that they are not dead yet.'

Ordinary human senses measure only a small range of the phenomena that are in heaven and earth. Dogs, for instance, hear sounds imperceptible to humans even at close range, and can be summoned by whistles silent to the human eardrum. In a mechanized world, the average man - aye, even the average educated man, or perhaps especially such a one - tends to fancy that everything is an exercise in technology. Kirk suspected that a people whose imagination has been atrophied by the machine may lose the faculty for ruling themselves.

--Russel Kirk
Our Dominican priest gave an interesting homily the other day. He said that the Church, even the local one, is typically built on martyrs, something the American church lacks (and suffers for). North American martyrs who gave their lives hundreds of years ago are not part of our culture - the flag under which the martyrs died was French or Spanish. He suggests that the lack of having canonized martyrs might be due to the fact that we are products of a culture in which compromise is not only valued but is the basis for our form of government. He wonders if that tendency to compromise extends to the Faith to the point of robbing us of heroes.