December 31, 2004

Ire’ Land

Cuculain was there,
     dreamt by skiff’d seas
and beehive huts
     till Patrick called to Joy
those of farm and sacrament.

        Eire,
        Sweet Eire!
thee honeysuckle maidens
sing a chaste past
without regard to time or fashion
your Ave Maria’s in the rain
drip-drop Holy Water
echoing Baptism’s song:
        Sing to me again!
I Dream of Emily Dickinson

I dream of Emily Dickinson
        and her camera obscura,
with the leverage of words
        and the breath-scape of whisper
she removed the thorn from Civil's paw
in the silence of a drawing room.
End o’ the year and the password is “chastened”. I feel chastened. Nothing more self-flaggelating than reading the sermons of John Henry Newman. They say the past is a foreign country and I never so believed it as I read his words decrying those who read novels, even good ones that teach the virtues. He argues that reading’s purpose is to excite emotions and feelings with no outlet, no opportunity for action. We separate feelings from action resulting in us failing to act when it we need to, and encouraging sloth. He also said that we read of the heroic acts and deeds but never of the small tiny, boring, irritating tasks we need to do on a daily basis which causes us to devalue the latter. Ouch.
Elevation, Not Return

Human nature doesn't change, but cultures do. So how does that affect religious practice? Joseph Pearce interviews Solzhenitsyn:
Pearce: Is the only hope a return to religion?

Solzhenitsyn: Not a return to religion but an elevation toward religion. The thing is that religion itself cannot but be dynamic which is why “return” is an incorrect term. A return to the forms of religion which perhaps existed a couple of centuries ago is absolutely impossible.On the contrary, in order to combat modern materialistic mores, as religion must, to fight nihilism and egotism, religion must also develop, must be flexible in its forms, and it must have a correlation with the cultural forms of the epoch. Religion always remains higher than everyday life. In order to make the elevation towards religion easier for people, religion must be able to alter its forms in relation to the consciousness of modern man.

Pearce: Related to this, there are two points of view amongst members of the Catholic Church about the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. One side says that it was good because it modernised the Church, the other side saw it as a surrender to the modern values with which the Church was essentially at war. What are your own views?

Solzhenitsyn: This question stands also now before the Russian Orthodox Church. It also has two currents within it. The one which is hierarchically dominated does not want to develop at all whereas the reformers seek change. For instance, a question peculiar to the Russian Orthodox Church is should we continue to use Old Church Slavonic or should we start to introduce more of the contemporary Russian language into the service. I understand the fears of both those in the Orthodox and in the Catholic Church, the wariness, the hesitation and the fear that this is lowering the Church to the modern condition, the modern surroundings. I understand this fear but alas I also fear that if religion does not allow itself to change it will be impossible to return the world to religion because the world is incapable on its own of rising as high as the old demands of religion. Religion needs to come to meet it somewhat.
via Leo Wong
What He Said

Scipio (thru the lens of Babelfish) writes about the Asian tragedy:
"Nature", the life, planning, the fate, the all-powerful God - they are not fair. Not so, as we understand justice. "Gibt it Gott?", "Wie knew God zulassen?" - inevitably the age-old questions are again louder placed. Age-old, never grown silent questions, never once and for all and finally answered questions. The answer would be so obviously or so obviously "Nein, it gives it nicht", as it again seems now - then it would have never "Ja" in human disaster history; to give may. My "Ja", my "Nein" - both do not cost me to anything. Not in this instant, in which I sit fullly in a warm room, in the midst of a healthy and intact family, with a firm income, in one of the safest, richest, ungefaehrdetsten countries of the earth. But the victims of these days - not only in south Asia, not only in the Iraq, not only over there in the hospital on the other valley side -, the victims of earlier days and the victims from tomorrow and the day after tomorrow give their answer, cry or whisper it "Ja", you "Nein", you "Vielleicht", you "Ich white it nicht". And once I will belong to them. I hope, hope instaendig that HE may to be met to me then met as HE all other victims. And the fact that then, at least then all find our suffering, our concerns, our pain, our death their sense and is waived in IT.
Meanwhile an Eastern Orthodox theologian weighs in, in the WSJ:
Perhaps no doctrine is more insufferably fabulous to non-Christians than the claim that we exist in the long melancholy aftermath of a primordial catastrophe, that this is a broken and wounded world, that cosmic time is the shadow of true time, and that the universe languishes in bondage to "powers" and "principalities"--spiritual and terrestrial--alien to God...
An old-fashioned clock.

December 30, 2004

Win-Win

Aspirants who make STG speak of "intense euphoria" and bask in endorphin'd bliss for periods of up to (but not including) sixteen minutes. But not making STG often results in mortification of self and a shorter time in Purgatory. Which would thou prefer?! :-)
A Blog PSA

...as in Public Service Announcement. (Testing, testing...)

I'd like to thank the Academy...(Oops, wrong speech.)

I'm always surprised by the seriousity with which some follow "Spanning the Proverbial Globe To Bring You The Constant Variety of Posts". Since many people read this blog expressly for that particular feature, its continuance is assured. But I was chagrined to find people keeping score.

As I do not wish to alienate 10% of my reading audience, I would like, by way of recompense, to hereby recognize one MamaT and one Enbrethiliel, two of the hardest workin' bloggers in showbiz, and present them with the coveted STG Lifetime Achievement Award. Their underrepresentation on STG shows only my weakness and failure to recognize greatness (which was most recently demonstrated by devoting space to a quote about a sixty-year old skinny-dipper).

On a personal note, I know how they feel. There ain't a priest in St. Blog's who links to this blog. How's that supposed to make me feel? Like a heathen? And one of my favorite bloggers of all time has never noted my existence, for which I'm honestly grateful because his audience is too big and I'd rather not have strangers nosin' around. But remember the '70s commercial where the kid gets tossed Mean Joe Greene's smelly jersey in the lockerroom after Mean Joe won the Superbowl? I am that kid, waiting forlornly by the side of Joe's locker, hoping for a nod. But wouldst thou hearest me complain? Na baby na! Just got to shake these things off! I've already forgotten about it. *grin*

But Enbrethiliel writes, beautifully, "As much as I wish I could write something very POD and very beautiful--something with enough wit, moreover, to number it among the fortunate few posts mentioned in 'Spanning the Globe . . .' (an honour granted to nothing I have written for at least two months) . . . well, as much as I wish I could write the most splendid post of my life today, all I can offer are some thoughts inspired by Samuel Butler's Erewhon."

To which I can only reply, Erewhon? Oh, yeah, was he the alien from the planet Nebulon on Buck Rogers in the 25th Century who flirted with Erin Grey's character?
Fictional Thursday

"Got to be the unlikeliest story of all," said Brad, patron sinner of Oliver's Bar & Fill.

"In-doob," replied Jack, who did his best to keep the language moving; no use wasting breath on -itablies. "Bloody unlikely."

"I'd have gone back and kissed His feet."

"A cure concentrates the mind wonderfully. Like winning the lottery. Ungrateful bastids."

"Ten leprotics and one returns? What're the options? One, they didn't know they were sick. Which couldn't be because they were quarantined, outcasts. Sores all over. Impossible to forget. Two, they knew but expected him to do it so it was 'no big deal'. It was 'his job'. Three, they were too busy telling wives, girlfriends, children, golfing buddies, the local barkeep, massage therapist, and the priests."

"Yeah, well they had to be grateful inside - how do you separate surprise from gratitude? Surprise at receiving something they badly wanted after presumably years--"

"Maybe they were surprised but already had new priorities and didn't bother to go back to thank Him."

"True, but the foreigner was the one that came back. What's that say? That he was the only one who didn't have an entitlement mentality?"

"Yup. Same reason converts are saving the Church. They appreciate."
Tempting...

I don't need this DVD. Yet, oddly, I want to buy it.

UPDATE: SoDakMonk says it perfectly:
So there's a documentary DVD just released about Ann Coulter. It sounds interesting enough to watch but not important enough to own. Which is very much the way I think about Ms. Coulter. It's good to have a media "personality" like her who provokes libs, and she is a pretty good on-the-spot debater.
Oh This Hurts

...from a commenter on Amy's blog, concerning the Asian tragedy:
Today's (Wednesday's) WSJ has a head-shaking story about why the victims got no warning. Australian scientists spotted the event immediately but were not allowed to issue a general warning for the Indian ocean because information had to pass through foreign governments, observing the niceties of diplomatic protocol. And the relevant officials just couldn't be located in time, even over the course of hours.
Noonan's Latest

Peggy sounds Walker Percy-ish here:
...if Steven Spielberg went to the Mideast tomorrow, announced he was making a movie, and sent out a casting call for males age 12 to 30 he would immediately establish a new Mideast peace, at least for the length of the shoot. Because the only thing the young men there would rather do than kill each other is be a movie star. Hmmmm, a suicide bombing that raises my family's status in the neighborhood or a possible date with Cameron Diaz, let's see . . . Mr. Spielberg would also get a Nobel Peace Prize. I am actually not kidding.
Emerson, Quindlen & Individualism

From the New Pantagruel:
COMMENCEMENT speakers sum up the wisdom of the age, and last May, Pulitzer Prize–winning author Anna Quindlen did so with particular clarity. “I have seen your salvation, and it is you,” she told the graduating seniors of Sarah Lawrence College. “Custody of your life belongs in full to you and you alone. Do not cede it to anyone else,” she warned. “Why should you march to any lockstep? Our love of lockstep is our greatest curse … because it tells us there is one right way to do things, to look, to behave, to feel, when the only right way is to feel your heart hammering inside you and to listen to what its tympani is saying.” For Quindlen, conformity of any kind is our original sin, and salvation comes when we discover and express an authentic self unencumbered by the demands of others.

But there is plenty of evidence that the more intensely and dogmatically our culture has embraced the freedom to march wherever our hammering hearts take us, the less free we have become. John Adams wrote that should the citizens of this country surrender “for any course of time to any one passion, they may depend upon finding it, in the end, a usurping, domineering, cruel tyrant.” For most of Quindlen’s audience, the realization may dawn too late that they are not, in fact, a triumphant phalanx marching together for their rights, but a confused assortment of individuals cut off from family, community, and every other meaningful connection.

And a First Things look at our founding individualist, Emerson. Link here:
The flanking stones of Emerson’s wife and daughter remind us that, for all the ways that we worry ourselves about individualism, it is in some ultimate sense an illusion, for there is really no such thing as an unencumbered self. There never has been, and never will be. Indeed, it is hard to imagine what such a creature would look like. The belief that the individual can live, as Emerson said, "without let or hindrance" means simply that one has forgotten about the sources of one’s being, not that those sources have ceased to exist. In the fullness of time, a reminder of those sources comes to us all.

But another reflection, more charitable and perhaps more valuable, also arises out of the contemplation of Emerson’s tombstone. It is the singular glory of the civilization we call "Western" that it places so high a value on the soul and conscience of the individual person. That this valuation has been allowed to grow beyond all bounds, like a heavenward-aimed Tower of Babel, should not finger it as flawed from the start, unless one is prepared to say that all the growth and constructive residue of history is vanity, and nothing more. (Partisans of that view may prefer to spend their Sleepy Hollow time at Mr. Hawthorne’s tombstone.) Emerson’s belief in the lavish creativity of the individual human spirit, and "the unsearched might of man," was, like most heresies, an intensification of something true, if not quite true enough...

There are, however, far better ways to think about individual possibility. Addicted as we now are to the shallow and wasteful dynamic of unending generational rebellion—a dynamic that Emerson himself celebrated and helped to create—we often find it difficult to understand that one can both revere and criticize the actors of the past. But such a complex disposition is one of the chief achievements of a mature adulthood.
Anxious About Joy

I've been reading a lot of Fr. John Catoir lately, whose Advent meditation booklet was sent to everyone in the parish (chosen by a parish committee).

My reflex reaction to his homilies of joy (including a "dance for the Holy Spirit" preface) was not pretty. It was to Google his name and see if he's got heretical opinions. Have we really gotten to the point where joy = heresy? Yet, too often the orthodox (self included) are sad sacks because we believe in sin but don't fully believe in mercy.

Perhaps the challenge for the Fr. Greeleys of the world is to be joyful without "defining sin downward" or lowering the standard. The challenge for the "conservative" side is to be joyful despite the prevalence of sin. No wonder the combination is so rare.

Fr. Catoir writes that the great enemy of joy is anxiety. But anxiety cannot be reduced by "preaching another Gospel", by maternalizing God or diminishing the danger of hell.

Might the problem be that moderns aren't as tough as our ancestors in this age of anxiety, perhaps due to constant technological change, rootlessness, a lack of strong families, or affluence and worship of comfort? Might we also not drink as much alcohol, thereby forfeiting some natural courage? *haha*.

My hunch is that the "maternal God" folks of the world are mostly reacting against something - against the way they were brought up, in the hard '50s American Catholic Church where mortal sin was but an impure thought away. The '50s church collapsed like a house of cards in the '60s, suggesting a weakness. But the cures - i.e. listening to James Taylor as a devotional exercise and introducing liturgical dance - were worse than the disease. Fr. Andrew Greeley seems to think the '50s Church was joyless (I don't know since I wasn't alive) but the alternatives, executed in the '60s & '70s, have flopped.


Beautiful image via Jeff Miller
    Spanning the Globe to Bring You the Constant Variety of Posts

I used to read Lileks every day, but after a year or so wearied of it partly because I lost interest in The Wink or The Tic or whatever his daughter's nickname is, and partly because I found his fecundity - in words - just demoralizing. Had to stop and focus on what I can do rather than what I can't. - Amy Welborn

Oh, and Catherine Zeta-Jones is devastatingly beautiful in this film.  I mean it.  I let out an audible gasp when I first saw her.  It seemed to annoy the couple next to me.  I was, to be honest, disappointed in him – no reaction, not a peep.  I mean, such a lovely woman manifests the glory of God who created her.  [My Lutheran friends may now be crowing, ‘Theology of Glory!  Theology of Glory!  Have at thee thou heretic!’  To which I say, shuddup shutin’ up!] - Thomas of ER

In a very nice essay in a recent issue of The New Yorker, Anthony Lane points out that Tolkien's "view of English literature, incidentally, ended more or less where the current view begins; he rarely ventured later than Chaucer, and thought Shakespeare to be pernicious nonsense." - Jonah of the Corner

Catholicism is more like the family you were born into, or the one you acquire over time. All the stupid time-wasting cantankerous crap your family can put you through is there in spades. You can fight for ages before you realize that nothing's going to change and you'll just have to put up with it, somehow. - S.A.M.

It seems to me there's something serious beginning
A new approach found to the meaning of life
Deny that happiness is open as an option
And disappointment disappears overnight
- on Fr. Jim Tucker's blog

[Henry] James may be in some ways out of date and out of fashion, but what he has to say is not confined to any time, and his neglect is due more to the progressive deterioration of the art of reading and the impulse to use reading as recreation and escape rather than as a learning experience. I suppose it is the inevitable result of the training of generations of children in the reading of substandard multi-culti literature. It is a shame that great figures of the past can no longer command attention merely because of their race and sex. In more enlightened times such an attitude would have been labeled, parochial, or perhaps even sexist. - Steven Riddle of Flos Carmeli

Class presidents and football heroes, he had finally come to learn, required careful and suspicious watching. They were like the potted hyacinths and daffodils that he sometimes bought for Sylvia in midwinter—spectacular but they often yellowed around the edges once you brought them home. The same was true with bright young men who had come along too fast. They were tired because of premature effort, or else overconfidence had made them arrogant. At best the cards were stacked against someone who made good too young. Willis could see now that he had once been in this same dubious category. He could no longer wonder, as he once had, that Mr. Beakney had made no effort to keep him. In fact Mr. Beakney must have been relieved to let him go—gray suit, trimmed hair, polished Oxfords, sharp mind and everything—because he had come along too fast for the age of twenty-nine. --John P. Marquand, "Sincerely, Willis Wayde", via Terry Teachout

My mother is a mighty tough 60-year-old, whose idea of a good time is nude swimming in barely melted mountain lakes. - Camassia

Ladies Welcome - Men, We'll Talk - Bill Luse, caption below a link to his Apologia Groupies Site

Most Catholics probably think like I do. "Does this war seem like it's a sin according to Church rules, taking into account what the various Vatican statements say? No. Okay, time to gather information about it from secular sources." So "most" of the influence on my thinking is indeed from secular sources. But the basic right/wrong decision came from being Catholic and examining the war according to that. Afterwards, the question becomes less of right/wrong than good idea/bad idea, justly/unjustly prosecuted, and/or effective/ineffective. (Enough slashes there for ya?) - commenter on Amy's blog concerning the Iraq War

Catholicism... isn't utopian at all. It says that whatever beauty and joy there is in this life, it is still a life lived, so to speak, in a burning house. Its concern is not with the general, the broad patterns of change and culture. Its concern is with imbuing the individual, sojourning through this vale of tears, with the faith and ability to survive the conflagration and emerge into a life whose true happiness cannot be found, or found to any great degree, here. - Secret Agent Man on St. Blog Parish Hall

Like it or lump it, we belong to a Church which has given honor both to honorable warriors and honorable people who would rather die than hurt a fly. We are supposed to turn the other cheek to our own enemies but protect others to the full extent of our ability. This is supposed to be a challenge to everyone. And it is. We could avoid a lot of trouble if we could assume that both war and peace are honorable callings for honest Christians, but that not everyone is called to the same thing. If both kinds of folks really worked to understand the other and quit calling names, we might actually be a lot farther along the road to making Christianity more reflected in our lives. - Maureen, on Amy's blog

December 29, 2004

Friends vs. Family

Secret Agent Man answers a query about why Protestant churches often appear more successful:
A lot of what you mention, it seems to me, has to do with the following question: "Why aren't people as excited about their families as they are about their friends?" We spend lots of time with our friends, far more time in many cases than we do with our families. Relationships with friends seem more intense, more comfortable, and often "click" better than familial relationships.

Protestant churches have a spring-like freshness that puts one in mind of a first love. Many are begun as "niche" churches that cater to the specific needs or theological quirks of the founders. Like-minded people then join, experiencing the "friendship rush" described above. This happens even within denominations, with one Lutheran Church being the elegant home of empty-nesters and retirees, and another across town tailored to young professionals or blue-collar families. When this goes too far, one has insular, tight-knight cliques which are the very antithesis of "Church." But it does make for a high level of interest and satisfaction among members.

Catholicism is more like the family you were born into, or the one you acquire over time. All the stupid time-wasting cantankerous crap your family can put you through is there in spades. You can fight for ages before you realize that nothing's going to change and you'll just have to put up with it, somehow.
Stream o' Conscious Post

I've long been fascinated by people who are so right on some issues and so wrong on others. Devout Southerners of the Civil War era come to mind, although I tend to give them somewhat a pass since if you are a bible-only Christian you might have trouble outlawing slavery since it didn't much concern St. Paul. Lacking a Magisterium has its problems.

But the Magisterium doesn't answer everything. And the difficulty, as I see it, is I want somebody who is right all the time -- and you just don't see that this side of paradise. St. Thomas Aquinas seems a likely suspect, but how can I know? I'd have to be correct in all my views in order to know if Aquinas is correct in all of his.(St. Thomas, forgive the hubris of mentioning myself in the same sentence with you.) And, of course, there many moral issues that have come up since his death. (Btw, I was disappointed to read on Amy's blog today that Umberto Eco lost his faith reading St. Thomas. Whoda thunk it?)

These musings were brought about by the fact that I'm reading Andrew Greeley's book about Jesus, a wise and edifying read. But at the same time I see things like this and well, you know what I think of that. The charitable thing to do is to ascribe it to ignorance of economics and not hold it against him. But what other areas does his ignorance compromise? Or, heaven forfend, could I be ignorant about what constitutes his ignorances?

I was also saddened to hear of Susan Sontag's death. I could never quite bring myself to read her novels because of her politics, surely a superstition. If her writing was aesthetically and stylistically good it didn't matter because I didn't trust her not to Trojan horse some of her annoying secular/liberal Manhattanite views.

This tendency can extend to religious matters. My evangelical wife notes with disapproal my unecumenical reading tastes. It's often too easy for me to say, "if they're wrong about this -- fill in the blank -- then why should I trust them at all?". As I said in the Cornwell post, how do you know what's true when he was so wrong about Pius XII?

December 28, 2004

NYTimes & The Anonymous Lawyer Blogger

The Times outed the "anonymous lawyer", a 25-year old would-be writer who cleverly made readers think he was a burned-out lawyer at a big firm. Link here. This line is priceless:
It is not surprising that a group of highly verbal computer-bound professionals who are paid to complain would gravitate toward the blogosphere.
The Violent Bear It Away

Watched the film Patton recently & have been reading Victor David Hanson's biography of the same. Patton fascinates me because of his controversial "cruel to be kind" methodology. He captured or killed ten German soldiers for every one of his lost yet still was considered reckless and wild. He wasn't someone concerned for appearances; he'd rather the war end sooner rather than later, with casualties up front rather than strung out over a long period of time. (If Rumsfeld had gone into Baghdad without assuming it was a victory party we might not still be getting walloped by insurgents.) I was thinking too of spiritual parallels, of St. Therese of Lisieux who lived not long but intensely. There was something of Patton about her, a little warrior she was. Perhaps she would second the sentiment of Patton's line: "I am different from other men my age. All they want to do is live happily and die old. I would be willing to live in torture, die tomorrow if for one day I could be truly great."

I think George C. Scott looks more like George S. Patton than Patton himself. I was surprised to see his picture in an encyclopedia; he looked like a cross between Lou Holtz & my Aunt Mary. Appearances deceive, often intentionally. If Napoleon wasn't height disadvantaged the course of history probably would've been different.
The Pope & Poetry

I'm reading Cornwell's biography of Pope John Paul II and learned that the Holy Father hasn't written any poetry (or done any creative writing) since becoming Pope. Apparently, at least from Cornwell's account, he is sensitive about it; it's a subject he stiff-arms. The only comment he made to an inquiring Vatican monsignor was that poetry now lacks "context" - the environment of the papacy is not favorable for poetry. I was saddened to hear this for his sake because I think creative types lose some of their humanity when their creativity is truncated, even though I can understand why the enormous responsibility and loneliness of the highest Church office might discourage it. I feel personally sheepish for not writing more fiction & poetry despite having no crushing responsibilities to prevent it. So expect more Spam Poetry, more pointless meandering on this blog for the new year. In fact, the previous post was inspired by knowledge of the Pope's situation.

UPDATE: Steven Riddle pointed out this amazon.com description of The Poetry of Pope John Paul II: "In this trio of poems written in the summer of 2002, Pope John Paul II uses the imagery of a mountain stream, the Sistine chapel and the story of Abraham and Isacc as he reflects on God as the origin and end point of all creation and ponders the beginning and end of his time as Pope."

Since Cornwell wrote a book of fiction about Pius XII I realize this book probably has all the credibility of the National Enquirer (not to insult the Enquirer). I'm kind of embarrassed to be reading about it, but it's interesting to read what Chris Hitchens said about Mother Teresa or Cornwell about the current Pope if only to see what is the worse someone can dig up. On the other hand, if he's wrong about half the things he's writing about, how do I know what is right and what isn't?
Fictional Tuesday

John Spoerl's favorite part of books – the part he went to like gamblers go for the sports pages – was “About the Type”. He read the reviews rapturously, marveling at the ubiquitous excellence. There was apparently never a bad type, never a font that wasn’t readable or agreeably aged or without a euphonious name. Just once he longed to read: “The type is 'Sandusky', developed in 1953 in Lansing, Michigan. While plain and not pleasant to read, it tries harder due to its mediocrity.”

It was the early 80s, before the Internet made clipping newspaper articles superfluous and replaceable by Google. He clipped articles from the dozens of papers he subscribed to, collecting them like S&H Green Stamps. There was a comfort knowing they were there, even as they yellowed worrisomely. On sick or rainy days he’d haul them from the closet and spread them out before him, catching up on a prior self who’d found such things interesting.

He liked the sophisticated even when he didn’t understand what they were saying, like a child trying on his father’s woolens. Coleridge was a poet whose very name was poetic by virtue of being referred to by writers who talked of summers immersed in books at Cambridge or Oxford, where the ancient buildings and expansive lawns caused deep thoughts to spontaneously combust. There was glamour, there in olde England, there in the summer lit programs. The most memorable of the clippings described a young lady’s account of meeting a young man at an Oxford series covering English literature. She was deep into George Eliot’s Middlemarch while he was a Bardophile. It was a Reese Cups tryst: he got chocolate (Shakespeare) in her peanut butter (Eliot). [insert groan here]

The strangest thing was to find the glamour more attractive than the actual. He’d rather read someone quoting Shakespeare or Coleridge than actually sit down and read Shakespeare or Coleridge. Or he’d rather hear Bloom or Bellow or Borges talk about The Larger Picture and explain what the writing of Shakespeare or Coleridge told us about their philosophy. It was the Great Books transmorphed into glorifed self-help books, as Botton eventually did with “How Proust Can Change Your Life”.

But it wasn’t all about self-help. He was oddly relieved by crypticisms, by blanks, by unfamiliar foreign languages, by 17th-century maps with territories still marked “Unknown”. The glamourous spoke a language he scarcely understood. William F. Buckley spoke the English tongue sprinkled with territories marked “Unknown”. The New York Times assumed a familiarity with literary classics he’d never heard of let alone read but eventually he'd casually drop in references. In his valedictorian speech he fatally rhymed elite with "alight". He was ridiculed by those who knew how to pronounce elite words as well as by those who'd actually read Trollope. The necessary mortification had the unfortunate side effect of a burgeoning professionalism, a new vision of literature without the magic. No longer would he refer to anything that wasn't completely familiar. Literature had to be completely comprehensible, every line in Shakespeare decoded by Dr. Johnson or Rexroth or Bloom. Enthusiasm was amateurish, for professionals saw nothing miraculous in text or fonts...
Came across...

...an old First Things article about Mother Teresa which contrasts Stoicism with Christian joy:
We may prefer to think that [Mother Teresa] spent her days in a state of ecstatic mystical union with God, because that would get us ordinary worldlings off the hook. How else could this unremarkable woman, no different from the rest of us, bear to throw her lot in with the poorest of the poor, sharing their meager diet and rough clothing, wiping leprous sores and enduring the agonies of the dying, for so many years without respite, unless she were somehow lifted above it all, shielded by spiritual endorphins? Yet we have her own testimony that what made her self-negating work possible was not a subjective experience of ecstasy but an objective relationship to God shorn of the sensible awareness of God’s presence.

Humanly, there were times when Mother Teresa felt burnt out, but faith supplied what was lacking even to troubled faith; spiritually she was often desolate, but her vow endured and her visible radiance—to which everyone attests—was undiminished. This lifelong fidelity should not be confused with a Stoic determination to keep going in the face of defeat. It was something else entirely: objective Christian joy.

December 27, 2004

Iraq War

It's been said that the Iraq War was a continuation of the Gulf War. But how about WWI? Someone on C-Span said that at the conclusion of that war the British cobbled together three disparate groups of peoples, causing the need for a brutal dictator to keep them together, a dictator who would later look upon a fourth disparate group - the Kuwaitis - as an enticing victim.
Rambling Post

     ...dealing with child-rearing, snow-shoveling, book-snuffling, and epidurals

Working backwards in time, we went to aroma therapy this morning: aka Border’s bookstore. Nothing like fishing for literature in the papery margins of a fine bookseller. The scent led me to buy three, which seemed excessive given the three thousand I already have.

Last night we went to “The Aviator”, the long but engrossing story of Howard Hughes. Before that dinner at Confluence Park overlooking the river & downtown Columbus. What a treat to embrace the warmth of family & food before a snow-encrusted vista looking like something out of Doctor Zhivago! The expanse of nature was spread out like a banquet before us, soon to be replaced by a banquet of food. No wonder the Kingdom of Heaven is depicted as a feast. The bread was hot and humble to the butter; the salad arrived in superabundance with a glorious dressing and various lettuces (aka “letti”). The steak was simply other-worldly, un-recreateable except at a Seven Stars. Outback is a steakhouse, but by comparison is unworthy of the name.

Christmas was preceded by the painful trial of over nine inches of ill-timed snow. We awoke on the 23rd to a broken city; 200,000 homes without power, the roads unpassable, the driveway covered with a devilish ice/snow combination nearly impossible to remove with our ordinary plastic snow shovels. The few inches I’d shoveled off Wednesday night appeared to have gained me nothing – I shoveled for an hour today and tested the driveway by driving the truck down it and got instantly stuck.

But help was on the way in the form of son & daughter-in-law. It was still tortuously slow work; one of us would go around using a shovel to break up the ice while the rest of us tried to do the best with what we had. About 2/3rds of the driveway was done before we gave out, our arms dead, and I went to Kroger to pick up some salt which promised to melt the snow. On Wednesday night my wife was hesitant about using salt – she said it damages driveways – but by Wednesday afternoon she was a like a woman intent on a natural birth saying, “get me an epidural!”. Or like Rocky saying to Apollo Creed after the fight, “ain’t gonna be no rematch!”

After dinner they decided to go shopping and I was suspicious, with good reason. I knew he wanted us to buy a snow-blower and I was reluctant because of financial considerations. It seemed like our sore muscles were talking and not our brains. I’m in decent shape and we haven’t had much snow the last few winters. But they went and sure enough came back with a $300+ snow-blower. Oh well.

Christmas Eve day dawned and I’d hoped for a little reading, relaxing before the two (three) hour drive to Cincy at 2pm. But no time for frivolities like that. Two-oh-five and there's a migraine-sized backup on the main artery. I gained ground by inches, and the CDs I had brought brought little comfort.

Within an hour I had a windshield mostly obscured by salt without a way to clean it off (the wiper fluid was frozen). The traffic was heavy and so I had to be hyper-alert since everyone would suddenly slow to 30mph when ice patches were encountered. Meanwhile I had to pee like a racehorse. The lack of shoulders on the freeway and the lack of privacy along the side of the highway prevented the possibility of abandoning ship and lightening my bladder. Finally, after seeming forever, there was a McDonald’s. Afterwards I used my gloves to wipe the salt from the windshield, which gave me a clear view for all of five miles.

December 26, 2004

NYT's David Brooks...

...calls this one of 2004's best essays. The essayist argues that, of the last five decades, the high point of U.S. culture came ever so briefly: in 1960, 1961 and 1962. The claim he makes is those were years of orthodoxy without rigidness, openness without a caustic irreverence:
To read through the bound volumes of the newsmagazines Time and Newsweek, issue by issue, from the late ’50s onward, is to be struck, sometime around the beginning of the 1960s, by the sudden proliferation of the word new. Society was newly open, popular culture newly experimental, religious institutions (in the words of one contemporary observer) “newly irenic.” There was even talk among Vatican II-influenced, reform-minded Catholics of a “New Church.” A new national order was under construction: After three centuries, it appeared that America was at last beginning to confront its racial divisions and inequities and move toward greater unity and fairness...

Though the naiveté of the early 1960s is not something to which we should wish to return, much about the times remains highly appealing. The period seems in many ways to represent a congenial balance between highbrow and middlebrow, between seriousness and frivolity, and between ideas and values that we now associate with the political Left and Right.
Overheard on ABC's This Week this week:

"Humor is essentially conservative in the sense that it recognizes human nature never changes and that all grand liberal plans will fail." - cartoon editor of the New Yorker
Interesting drive to & from Cincy

I-71 was a nightmare rouge. Took 3 hours to go 2 hours (say like Yogi Berra) on Christmas Eve. So on the return trip I took I-75N to I-70W.

I-70 was studded with diamond-hard ice patches, not flat but 3-dimensional, abrupt little spikes that gave the shocks a workout. There were sudden backups since no one expects to go from 60 mph to 30 at the drop of a icicle. And it took a toll. I saw four or five vehicles lying on their sides, looking like relics of the Paleolithic Era. How odd to see cars so un-carlike! "Car-ness" is motion, it is what cars do, and to see cars neither in motion nor in "motion potential" (as a stopped car has) is odd. Instead trucks the size of tiny houses lay like beached whales amid snow banks riddled with the dark stain of exhaust, their undersides showing, their windows kissing the white ground.
Divisions

Perhaps a major division between atheists and theists is atheists think God simply did not make himself evident enough for them.

And it seems the major division between loving Christians and less loving ones is the latter's thinking that God simply does not love us enough.

“I seem incapable of love, Father Joe” said Tony Hendra to Fr. Joe Warrilow in his memoir Father Joe.

“Tony dear, you will only be able to love when you understand how much you are loved," Fr. Joe responded.

Not Either/Or

Overheard during the holiday someone say how terrible it was churches waste money on expensive organs or physical improvements to the church when they should be spending it on the poor or outreach.

This is a typical complaint. And many thoughts come to mind including this: isn't it interesting that as our homes become ever larger and more grand (even the middle class can afford $300K "McMansions") our churches have become less and less grand?

I often find myself entangled in the modern bureaucratic, utilitarian mindset in which everything has to be a means to an end I can clearly see. The utilitarian calculation might be: "do beautiful churches attract enough converts and/or convert the already-converted"? But there is something beautiful (pardon the pun) and non-utilitarian about spending money on Jesus' house, assuming it is His will.
Excerpts from Poem by William Butler Yeats

“The other night, while he was playing it,
A beautiful young man and girl came up
In a white breaking wave; they had the look
Of those that are alive for ever and ever.

My mother told me that there is not one
Of the Ever-living half so dangerous
as that wild Aengus. Long before her day
He carried Edain off from a king’s house
And hid her among fruits of jewel-stone
And in a tower of glass, and from that day
Has hated every man that’s not in love,
And has been dangerous to him.

A melancholy that a cup of win,
A lucky battle, or a woman’s kiss
Could not amend.

The cozening fortune-teller that comes whispering,
‘You will have all you have wished for when you have earned
Land for your children or money in a pot’
How are we better off than Seaghan the fool,
That never did a hand’s turn?
_

That crazy herdsman will tell his fellows
That he has been all night upon the hills,
Riding to hurley, or in the battle-host
With the Ever-living.

What if he speak the truth,
And for a dozen hours have been a part
Of that more powerful life?

His wife knows better.
Has she not seen him lying like a log,
Or fumbling in a dream about the house?
And if she hear him mutter of wild riders?
She knows that it was but the cart-horse coughing
That set him to fancy.

All would be well
Could we but give us wholly to the dreams
Not in its image on the mirror!

While in the body that’s impossible.

And yet I cannot think they’re leading me
To death; for they that promised to me love
Aengus and Edain ran up out of the wave –
You’d never doubt that life it was they promised
Had you looked on them face to face as I did,
With so red lips, and running on such feet,
And having such wide-open, shining eyes.

Aibric: It’s certain they are leading you to death.

Foragel: One of the Ever-living I shall find
one of the laughing People – and she and I
shall light upon a place in the world’s core
Where passion grows to be a changeless thing,
like charmed apples made of chrysoprase,
Or chrysoberyl, or beryl, or chrysolite;
And there, in juggleries of signt and sense,
Become one movement, energy, delight,
Until the overburthened moon is dead.

Meets his queen, Dectora, an Ever-living, who asks, “Why do you cast a shadow? Let go my hands! They would not send me one that casts a shadow.”

F: (says he cannot let her go, and can’t put her on the ship to sail away):
But if I were to put you on that ship,
With sailors that were sworn to do your will,
And you had spread a sail for home, a wind
Would rise of a sudden, or a wave so huge,
It had washing among the stars and put them out,
And beat the bulwark of your ship on mine,
Until you stood before me on the deck –
As now.

Dectora: I am not afraid,
While there’s a rope to run into a noose
Or wave to drown…

F: Do what you will,
For neither I nor you can break a mesh
Of the great golden net that is about us.

D: I shall have gone
Before a hand can touch me!

F: My hands are still;
The Ever-living hold us. Do what you will,
You cannot leap out of the golden net.

(after pages of protestations and exaggerations, falls for Forgael):

D: “Bend lower, that I may cover with with my hair,
For we will gaze upon this world no longer.”

F: (gathering Dectora’s hair about him) Beloved, having
dragged the net about us,
And knitted mesh to mesh, we grow immortal.”

December 23, 2004

They Don't Make Sermons like St. John Chrysostom

S. M. Hutchens says.

December 22, 2004

Positioning

Cats
       like Civil War generals
seek the high ground;
Flat ears and frowns
       are the valley cat’s crowns.
Alarming Mere Comments link on pornography.
Our Eyes Have Changed

The short days of December are abruptly conquered by a stronger foe. The sky is lit by a reflecting base of snow causing me to see, for once, the blank branches of the maples against a pale sky, a sort of ghost-summer. The odd hue of the sky is the color of vampire’s skin tinged blood-rose. The branches circle in the shuttering wind; I open the window and the cold is surprising. My ancestors knew not such embittered temps for Ireland is embraced by the moderating sea.

Such weather details enthuse. I read Updike & Percy for derivative experiences; I cannot mine the unmineable and write of frolics in Access databases where the fields are of the unnatural variety. Blood, turnip. But to seek adventure for writing is folly! Writing is byproduct pure & simple. The act of creating, a poem especially, can be a maneuver similar to running awol in a field of seven-foot corn: labyrinthically satisfying.

Mark of Irish Elk posts G. K. Chesterton:
Religion has had to provide that longest and strangest telescope - the telescope through which we could see the star upon which we dwelt. For the mind and eyes of the average man this world is as lost as Eden and as sunken as Atlantis. There runs a strange law through the length of human history - that men are continually tending to undervalue their environment, to undervalue their happiness, to undervalue themselves. The great sin of mankind, the sin typified by the fall of Adam is the tendency, not towards pride, but towards this weird and horrible humility. This is the great fall, the fall by which the fish forgets the sea, the ox forgets the meadow, the clerk forgets the city, every man forgets his environment and, in the fullest and most literal sense, forgets himself. This is the real fall of Adam, and it is a spiritual fall. . . Most probably we are in Eden still. It is only our eyes that have changed.
Japanese is really different.
The Corner...

...is talking of the great books. John Miller writes about Middlemarch: "I found Rev. Casaubon to be a riveting and haunting character. Maybe it's inevitable for a writer to think that."

Meghan Cox Gurdon says "Moby Dick is one of the funniest, cleverest, most breathtaking books, ever. I read it three years ago and walked around for months grabbing people by the lapels and telling them, "Listen, you have GOT to read Moby Dick! It is one of the funniest..."

Jonah Goldberg: "since nobody has mentioned it I would throw in that War and Peace is a great read. It's one of the few giants -- in all senses -- I've read all the way through and attentively and I'm extremely grateful that I did."

Brookhiser defends Ulysses:
Oi, the modernism wars again.

Ulysses is a funny, poignant and very readable book. It evokes a lot about early twentieth century Dublin, which is one of the functions of novels, which is why they're called novels (new things--new to us, the readers). The "hard" writing is easily figured out. As with most "hard" modernist works, the best thing is not to sweat the details, as if you were in freshman English, but just sit down and read rapidly through (just like all the swarming Italians in Dante). Kingsley Amis's reaction is a favorite English stunt, pretending to be dumb John Bull. Ulysses is not the best novel of its century, but it is better than Lucky Jim (which is good).

Moby Dick--now there is a masterpiece, but Meghan Cox Gordon has already defended it.
From Amazon.com review of Introduction to a Devout Life:
In the beginning it might be a little hard to read but after going through it, you feel better as a human being. When I first heard about this book I didn't think it would be great, and I thought it would be St. Francis de Sales lecturing me on how I can become more like Jesus Christ. But as I went through the book page by page I started to realize how much I needed this book in my life. The best part about it is that you don't have to read it cover to cover. You just think about some troubles in your life and then you look them up in the table of contents. You only have to read things you would like to read at that particular moment in your life. As I said before, I love the book and anyone who doesn't own it does not know how much closer you become to God after reading it.
And from the flyleaf of A Modern Interpretation of Introduction to the Devout Life:
Centuries ago, Francis de Sales–bishop of Geneva during the lifetime of many first generation Protestant Calvinists–wrote about the importance of having a spiritual director. Yet he later told his biographer such a person “would be difficult to find,” suggesting that in these circumstances, “We can look for guidance among the books of authors who are no longer living. Devotional books are our best Directors.”
Bury My Heart at Widener's Knee

Ich habe ein unusual hunger for reading lately. One book triggers the fetch of another, usually to compare and contrast the argument of one author against another. And, unfortunately, fiction is denied its rightful pride of place (it ought come second only to spiritual reading).

So I've been taken by Twomey's "The End of Irish Catholicism?" (who argues that Irish Catholicism of memory is neither Irish nor particularly Catholic), Alain de Botton's "Status Anxiety", Fr. Catoir's "Enjoy the Lord: A Path to Contemplation", Andrew Greeley's "The Jesus Myth", Fischer's "Albion's Seed", Percy's "The Moviegoer", Updike's "Early Stories"...Russo, soon.

Four Food Groups of Reading:

1) Religion
2) Fiction (i.e. the deep-imprint beauty of words ala Updike or Percy)
3) Humor (i.e. Russo, David Lodge, Keillor)
4) History (i.e. how we got the way we got)
Last of the Mohicans

Watched the last C-Span Booknotes thru the watery fog of tear-stained eyes, brine-leak to mouth's edge as I contemplated the impending loss of my Sunday night ritual.

I jest. I'll save my tears for worthier tragedies. I didn't watch the show as much as I intended because sometimes, frankly, it was on the dull side.

But I did watch the final Lambian episode, which featured the author of Why Read?. He gave a fine speech on Proust's Remembrance of Things Past, saying that Proust intended it to be all-encompassing, applicable to everyone and to all times. It was said that someone once told Proust that part of his classic was dull and Marcel replied, "that's because that part wasn't meant for you."

December 21, 2004

Can a Portable Sauna be Far Behind?



Is this in the true spirit of ice-fishing?

Speaking of cold weather, I'll never forget trying to get the autograph of Reds' star Eric Davis one chilly March day (in town for exhibition game). He shrugged us off with a "brrr...it's cold!". The ice fisher reminds me of Eric Davis.
Schieffer Syncretism

Curt Jester has a good post titled Merry Syncretism in response to Bob Schieffer's "all religions are basically the same" speech.

I don't have much to add other than for me everything hinges on the promises of Jesus. Your religion is only as credible as your founder, and no religion has a founder as credible. And Christianity is arguably the only faith other than Judiasm that is comfortable with both faith & reason.

Finally, small differences in the conception of God make HUGE differences over time. So do seeming slight theological variations. Witness what the blogger Old Oligarch wrote:
"When the idea of 'rational sufficiency' first reared its head clearly in a Christian society, about the beginning of the thirteenth century, the Christian soul felt an immediate shock of horror, as faced with the concupiscence of the mind which was the completion of original sin." -- Henri Cardinal DeLubac... DeLubac was talking about the slight theological aberrations which encouraged the subsequent 15th century heresy of Louvain theologian Michel du Bay who basically claimed that unfallen man could reach beatitude without the assistance of grace. The whole book is a study of how late Medieval theologians are in part responsible for the genesis of philosophies which made atheism plausible for the first time in history. Well, that's actually a "byproduct" of the study, which is about a more technical issue in the nature / grace debate and the havoc it caused when handled incorrectly. It's the kind of book that makes you want to run screaming from the practice of theology, lest you screw something up and generate a monstrous ideology. DeLubac shows how many brilliant men with good intentions ended up having a hand, most unwittingly, in some devasting intellectual movements.
Comment Box Hopping

Steven Riddle has a fascinating post on reading your way to holiness. Color me skeptical.

Viktor Shklovsky wrote that "Habit devours objects, clothes, furniture, one's wife and the fear of war... art exists to help us recover the sensation of life." So I can see how literature (and art in general) gives us new eyes to see, but I'm always leery of leaning on the crutch of defamiliarization. After all, somebody's gotta live in Manhattan, Kansas and not the isle of Manhattan.

But I understand that art is a gift from God and we shouldn't take it lightly. Perhaps I should read the book The Mighty Barrister recommends and not take beauty - in whatever form found - for granted!
Local Union Strikes for Christmas

ALBANY, NY--Union local 512 of Thieves and Con Men* announced at a press conference today that they would be sitting Christmas week out.

"I'm not going to being five-fingering anything this week it being Christmas and all," said union chief David "Ripper" Offer. "And I told my fellas that nobody is going to break into any houses."

Temperatures near zero have already curtailed recent activity, causing thieves to be behind schedule.

"But it don't make no nevermind. And don't be calling it a 'holiday strike'. Thieves get a bad rap, everyone thinks we don't have a heart. But we care about the Cyndi Loo Who's out there. So you can leave your doors unlocked folks."

Local Police Chief Harold Wiggins said that residents should continue to lock their doors despite Mr. Offer's offer.
_____

* - Beginning in '05, the official name will change to Union of Thieves & Con Persons, Local 512
Bern's Father

A public thanks to one William Luse. I like that he tries to keep my delusions of grandeur going (to steal his catchphrase), although they've been harder to maintain ever since I learned that The Mighty Barrister gets about ten times as many hits as I do. Blogging is a meritocracy. But then lessons in humility are meritorious, no? *grin*

Fr. Catoir in Enjoy the Lord: A Path to Contemplation writes that most of us grow up thinking we are especially talented individuals and then run against the untruth (and vanity) of this for the rest of our lives:
Most human beings have programmed themselves since childhood to become someone special. Consciously or unconsciously, they seem to seek their own glory. Their earliest fantasies involve the attainment of greatness...The first thing you have to learn if you are to pray well is to stop condemning yourself because you feel inconsistent, unworthy or guilty. In fact, you have to stop judging yourself at all.

By middle age most people feel that time is running out; that they haven't done anything of any great importance; that they are in fact declining in every way, particularly on the spiritual level. It is a common human experience, but remember that feelings are not facts. Expecting too much of yourself and everyone else is a form of vanity.
    Spanning the Globe to Bring You the Constant Variety of Posts

Camassia's blogging like a fish on fire this week. - Tom of Disputations

Fr. Murray recounted a tale of his novitiate, when he asked one of the older fathers, Cahal Hutchinson. "What is the secret of Dominican contemplation?" Father Cahal answered, "never tell the Carmelites or the Jesuits, but we have no secret other than the Gospel secret! But I will tell you the two great laws of contemplation: 1. Pray, and 2. Keep at it!" - Fr. Jesús Hernando, OP

Families are wonderful things. But some families are more wonderful than others. (Although, I'm sure yours is among the best.) A tip for those seeking someone to marry: if you have a choice and are torn between two people (no, it never happened to me either; but it sure happens a lot in the movies and in country and western songs) study the families. Go to family weddings and funerals and observe. Some families are not much fun at weddings. Some are a delight even at funerals. You want to be a member of the second. - John at the Inn at the End of the World

During the campaign, Joseph Bottum of The Weekly Standard quipped that John Kerry apparently believed that the fact that his church agreed with him about the wrongness of abortion was a reason not to act on that view. The mental tic Bottum neatly identified is a special case of liberalism's general tendency to identify reason with irreligion. - Ramesh Ponnuru in National Review

The most of the interesting arguments these days are within intellectual camps (libertarians versus conservatives, leftists versus liberals) and not between them. - Jonah Goldberg of the Corner

I've got an amazing girlfriend who's stuck by me for three years despite having little in common with me other than a general interest in Jessica Simpson's marriage and a tendency to make jokes in inappropriate situations. - Jacob of Schadenfreude

Best Book we've read in group? Tie, Till We Have Faces and The Power and the Glory. 2. New (to us) authors I'm glad we found: Jon Hassler and Richard Russo. Hands down, my favorite contemporary writers. - MamaT of Summa Mamas

Being a Godparent is about far more than honoring a family member. It is far more than a social gathering, an excuse for pictures and a party (as much a part of the Baptism as those should be). It is a solemn oath made to God, made in the Church, gathered with fellow believers, in the presence of the Church's minister (representing Christ the Head of the Body). As such a solemn oath it carries serious consequences for the eventual entrance into the Heavenly kingdom for both the parents and the Godparents. - Fr. Hamilton of Catholic Rage Monkey

Dismantling [How to Dismantle an Atomic] Bomb’s origins, Bono recalls an early version of "Vertigo" that was massaged, hammered, tweaked and lubed before it sailed through two mixes and got U2's unanimous stamp of "very good," which meant not good enough."Very good," Bono says, "is the enemy of great. You think great is right next door. It's not. It's in another country." - USA Today quote via Terry Teachout

I am fortunate to know a handful of Catholic souls who possess a very high degree of personal sanctity. Spending just a few minutes with these people can be a wonder and an inspiration - but it can also be a discomforting rebuke. - Jeff of ECR

As near as I can tell, it would appear that creation has been under assault since the fall of Satan, and from what little we can glean from the Tradition, it would appear that a) angels are the first creations of God, b) the fall of the fallen angels takes place, so to speak, instantly upon their creation and their being given the fundamental option of God or self, and c) the problem of evil superhuman spirits mucking about in the rest of creation is therefore, from our perspective, a "given". Certainly the Genesis account envisions some sort of primordial, non-human intelligence involved in the fall. And significantly, it portrays that intelligence working through other creatures to tempt us. What the account seems to clearly deny is that evil originated with us. We are given the opportunity to participate in a rebellion that has been going on since before we arrived on the scene. And it would appear from the pre-human record that it may very well be possible that such evil intelligences may have been laboring to damage and harm the Creation (all within the Providence of God, of course). - Mark Shea, commenting on Disputations' blog

Come forth from the holy place,
Sweet Child,
Come from the quiet dark
Where virginal heartbeats
Tick your moments.
Come away from the red music
Of Mary's veins.
Come out from the Tower of David
Sweet Child,
From the House of Gold.
Leave your lily-cloister,
Leave your holy mansion,
Quit your covenant ark.
O Child, be born!
Be born, sweet Child,
In our unholy hearts.

- excerpt of "Advent Summons" by Sr. Mary Francis, P.C. , via MamaT

December 20, 2004

Advent Meditation by Fr. Andre-Joseph LaCrosse, O.P.

When a woman is carrying a child she develops a certain instinct of self-defense. It is not selfishness; it is not egoism. It is an absorption into the life within, a folding of self like a little tent around the child's frailty, a God-like instinct to cherish, and some day to bring forth, the life. A closing upon it like the petals of a flower closing upon like dew that shines in its heart. This is precisely the attitude we must have to Christ, the life within us, in the Advent of our contemplation.

We could scrub the floor for a tired friend, or dress a wound for a patient in the hospital, or lay the table and wash up for the family, but we shall not do it in martyr spirit or with that worse spirit of self-congratulation, of feeling that we are making ourselves more perfect, more unselfish, more positively kind. We shall do it just for one thing, that our hands may make Christ's hands in our life, that our service may let Christ serve through us, that our patience may bring Christ's patience back to the world.

By his own will Christ was dependent on Mary during Advent: he was absolutely helpless; he could go nowhere but where she chose to take him; he could not speak; her breathing was his breath; his heart beat in the beating of her heart. Today Christ is dependent upon us. In the host he is literally put into a man's hands.
Rule-based Morality & Accidental Evangelization

Went down to pick up lunch at the cafeteria, and so to make use of the long wait in the queues I brought reading material in the form of this post from a conservative blog and this one from a liberal.

It fell out of my pocket on the way back up. So somewhere in a large corporate office (probably on one of the many elevators) lay the words of these two loquacious bloggers. Tracking down that elevator would be daunting, so I hope someone found it who needs it.

The second post, the blogger at "The Lesser of Two Weevils" discusses paragraph 25 of the CCC and rule-based morality, and is a fascinating read.

December 19, 2004

Mother Nature's Son

Christopher Hitchens reviews "BACK FROM THE LAND: How Young Americans Went to Nature in the 1970's, and Why They Came Back":
Eleanor Agnew's lovely memoir of this movement of primal innocence is at once honest and hilarious. She recaptures the period with unerring skill: a period when the Apollo mission had shown us our fragile, blue planetary home from outer space, thus promoting (first) ''The Whole Earth Catalog'' and (second) a mentality that despised the science and innovation necessary for the taking of that photograph in the first place.

Countless educated young Americans went off the map, in pursuit of Walden or some other version of bucolic utopia. They learned to chop wood and sometimes to grow crops, and they got hypothermia and piles.

Agnew is at her driest and wittiest when she describes the reaction of her sodbusting "sisters," in particular, to the hygienic arrangements and then to the knotty question of natural childbirth. More than one agreed to have a baby on a kitchen table before getting pregnant again and heading as fast as possible back to town for "serious numbing drugs."

If you look back to the founding document of the 60's left, which was the Port Huron statement (also promulgated in Michigan), you will easily see that it was in essence a conservative manifesto. It spoke in vaguely Marxist terms of alienation, true, but it was reacting to bigness and anonymity and urbanization, and it betrayed a yearning for a lost agrarian simplicity. It forgot what Marx had said, about the dynamism of capitalism and "the idiocy of rural life." Earlier 18th- and 19th-century American communards had often been fleeing or preparing for a coming Apocalypse, and their emulators in the 1960's and 1970's followed this trope as well, believing everything they read about the impending crash, or the exhaustion of the world's resources. The crazy lean-to of the Unabomber began to take dim shape at that period, even if many of the new pioneers were more affected by the work of the pacific Tolstoy or of C. Wright Mills (who used to recommend, if memory serves, that people should build their own cars as well as their own houses).

Is there a moral to point out here? Of course there is. Maybe more than one. The first is that, as Agnew deftly notes, more of her friends ought to have read about the Joad family before setting out. The second is that not all was wasted or futile. Everybody in society now has a better idea of our relationship with the natural order and our kinship with animals, and we are no longer so casual about what once seemed the endless bounty of our environment. In some ways, we have the "love generation" to thank for this.
Powerful Columbus Dispatch Story ...

...About a life-changing accident leaves boy paralyzed but creates a glimmer of hope in God for a family who doesn't believe in Him.
Fr. Jim's Book List

Book recommendations are crack-cocaine for bibliophiles, and Fr. Jim has obliged us. (Though I exaggerate my bookishness. As Marilynne Robinson had one of her characters say: "I’ve developed a great reputation for wisdom by ordering more books than I have ever had time to read, and reading more books, by far, than I learned anything useful from," he muses.") Amen.

It's always slightly exasperating to be just on the edge of understanding Hernan Gonzalez (who scribes in Spanish). He said of books:"I resist the temptation to mention books that have helped me... but that they do not adjust so much to the proposed aim. To the majority already I have mentioned them throughout the life of blog, on the other hand...". If I catch his drift I feel similarly.

December 18, 2004

On Death, Because the Irish are Morbid

They say that to overcome fear when giving a speech you should imagine your listeners in their underwear. This is supposed to make the audience less intimidating, but given that there are some attractive ladies at my office this might only be erotic.

But I think I have a more effective remedy: to imagine them in a hundred years. All will be equal then, physically-speaking; we'll all be mouldering in our graves. This occurred to me while hiking past a city of the dead out in the country. It was set on a hill, as cemeteries often are, and it takes very little imagination to imagine a cross-section of the hill and what lay beneath: bones as lifeless as the stones that mark them.

Death can create empathy for our neighbors. Everyone of us is passing towards an equal ruin. Death is a great failure, a spectacular destruction of everything sensible about us, though not an eternal one. As Fr. Andrew Greeley wrote in "The Jesus Myth":
The Christian, then, believes in failure just as Jesus believed in failure, but he knows that failure is not the end. He believes in fulfillment though he knows that he cannot achieve it himself. He knows that he is weak and will be defeated; but he knows that with God's help he can transcend defeat to achieve victory. It is therefore impossible for him to quit; he cannot give up...When the charity of others runs out because of age, infirmity, discouragement or frustration, the Christian knows that this is not an option available to him...The question of whether life is ultimately a tragedy or a comedy, Jesus replied with the absolute assurance that it was comedy.
The Ruin of the Library Manse

The past scent fore
as the dusty library falls
         aft of Memory.

Oh, then the rotundas were studded
with the oils of patriarchs
the smell of endpapers
scrawled and scribbled
         into our very blood.


+



December 17, 2004

It's in the Rocks

Beer, that is:
The refreshing bitterness of an English pale ale, the clean light taste of a Pilsener, the dark, almost burnt graininess of Irish stout. To Dr. Alex Maltman, these are prime illustrations of the power of geology.

...The waters of Dublin, sitting on 300-million-year-old limestone, are even more alkaline and require even more roasting of the barley. "What they call black malt," Dr. Maltman said. "Even then the extraction isn't that good. It means the beer has a distinct grainy flavor and it certainly means the resulting beers are very, very dark, black even." That yields the distinctive taste of Guinness and other Irish stouts.
How the Movie Ends

Moving story of a parent of an autistic child:
Yesterday I chatted with a PR person for a financial firm and asked her to send over some answers to a news story tomorrow. I told I was taking the day off to prepare our house for my son’s fourth birthday party. She sucked in her breath and clucked her tongue in the instant camaraderie that parents all recognize. "You’re having a party in your house with all those kids? I would never do that," she bantered. Then it dawned on me: Matthew has no friends.

It’s a weird relief -- as the father of an autistic child, we don’t have to invite a dozen kids over and strain with the small talk with their parents in the kitchen as the kids play games, eat cakes and fight the birthday party lull. Matthew has no friends outside of me and Regina and his older sister, Nora. Regina has a special talent for awarding the kids nicknames -- Nora was 'Yompie' and Matthew is 'Stubbie' and when she calls the six-month old Tim 'Goobus,' we heard Matthew repeat the name. He can’t say Nora but he loves to spend time with her and his bath tubs are more enjoyable with her. He said 'Baby' when Regina held the brand new Tim in her arms when coming home from the hospital in May but he has never said Mommy to the best of my memory. He does say Dada, but it can be weeks between the time that I hear my beautiful and heart-warming title.

So, no friends. And yet, we are blessed. He has beautiful eyes, a fine head of hair, a radiant smile and it is a pleasure and a marvel just to watch him think and process a thought. The hardest thing about being the parent of an autistic child -- or pardon me, the parent of a child with autistic spectrum disorders -- is to wonder where this will all lead...Does he go to college? Does he even finish junior high? Am I wrestling him into an adult diaper when he is a 200-pound 17-year old? Does he go to Harvard or a community college or into a group home and we see him on weekend trips to Wendys and maybe a movie? I have no clue. We have no idea how this movie ends.
Complementary



It seems Eucharistic Adoration and reception of the Eucharist complement one another. In the first case, the experience is one of God as Other, wholly transcendent, present on the altar in His singularity. In the second, the act of receiving Communion is God in us, His ubiquitousness and immanence shown in the multiplication of Hosts.

-photo via Inn at the End of the World
The Fault, Dear Brutus

Visited Lilek's place (gif above is his) and well, what a clean, well-lighted place. The handsome expanse of Christmas red & green, the cheering order to it, the lack of links or congestion or indigestion, the online diaristic feel, the broad expanse, the large bank of words free-flowing unobstructed by data, politics, rants, or links...

No I haven't read the post yet. It seemed long and didn't have enough data/links/politics/rants to keep my interest. *grin*
Original Sin & the Aborigine Sinner

Lots of action & reaction on the topic at Camassia's. Call it "Everything you wanted to know about evolution & the Fall but were too afraid to ask".

December 16, 2004

When Life Brings Lemons

Set Old Fogey On.

Sigh. I recall when being an altar boy was a privilege and not a right to convenient Mass times. Shows my age.

Set Old Fogey Off.
It Was a Dark & Bloggy Night...

According to the NY Times, publishers are noticing blogs.
Teasin' the Bureaucrats

I study the arcane rituals of that species known as beltus australopithecines (known colloquially as "inside the beltway types") and the things they find compelling always amaze me. Of course they have forgotten more about politics than I know so this post is necessarily of the "how can this be?" rather than "they are wrong!".

One little mystery is this brou-ha-ha over Bernard Kerik. I puzzle over how this will harm the career of Guiliani. I haven't read much about this since I find it mind-numbingly boring, but the 50,000 foot view is that Guiliani put up Kerik and thus embarrassed the President for all of six minutes. Are not failed candidacies for cabinet positions painful only to the candidate himself/herself? Does anyone outside the candidate's nuclear family gives a rat's a*s about this flub? Is someone going to say, "well, I think the President was right about Iraq, but he screwed up with the DHS nomination so I'm not going to vote for Guiliani". Yet somehow not only is the President damaged, but even a third-party twice-removed type like Guiliani. Amazing. I suppose the thinking is Bush will hold a grudge for gosh sakes. He doesn't strike me as that petty.
_

It's great that someone is watching the homefront and has the President's ear. So, assuming Ridge did more than make air travel more painful & color code threat levels, this wouldn't seem to be a bad cabinet position, if you're into them. But Commerce? Education? Education is a prime example of a useless cabinet post. It was a way to getting people to think you care about edu-ma-cation without doing anything. Since the Dep't originated, S.A.T. scores have dropped and more and more children got "left behind".

Cabinet posts and gov't spending tend to grow like lichen on creek rocks. At some point we'll have to build a bigger cabinet room for those weekly photo ops with the President. It's not widely known, but the White House is considering additional departments and I obtained the list from my friend Bob Novak. Without further ado, the new posts are: "Department of the Internet", "Department of Sports" (for the regulation of steroid abuse and overturning wretched rules like the designated hitter), "Department for the Ethical Treatment of Republicans" (requested by Tom DeLay) and the "Department of Departments" (to keep track of all the cabinet positions).
Where's the history?

...asks one of the two blowhards:
...all this makes me wonder that I don't see more references to history either to support or to criticize social theories, be they economic, political, or even moral. It would seem to me hard to determine what in any given situation is merely local or accidental as opposed to what is fundamental and permanent, without examining multiple examples of similar situations from history. My sense is that history served exactly this function for previous generations. Has our society, despite our vast historical resources (never more plentiful than today) become oddly a-historical?
Yes.
Teachout's Book List

Terry Teachout wanted suggestions on what to read, and one of them was Berlin Noir, a trilogy by Phillip Kerr. I read that five or six years ago and recall it fondly. The only other thing I've read on that list is Wolfe's book, but the next fiction for me (after finishing Updike's Early Stories) is Richard Russo's Empire Falls. Everbody love that book! Surely anything that MamaT, Amy Welborn & Erik of Erik's Rants can agree on must be good.

Update: Though how can I pass up Russo's Straight Man after this recommendation?
Prayer of the Confederates

I'm slogging my way through biographies of the major players on the Confederate side of the Civil War. After reading of Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson & Robert E. Lee, Cooper's Jefferson Davis:American is a bit of a letdown.

Last night I read about how Davis' intelligent and charming wife said she was praying for Confederate successes but she feared her "righteousness does not my prayers avail."

There are a couple ways to look at this I think. One is that you have to have confidence in your prayers regardless of your "righteousness". That's not to say you have to think you are righteous but merely that your prayers do avail. Prayer without confidence is sort of oxymoronic.

The second thought is that righteousness might be best expressed as wanting the will of God, so perhaps the righteous choose their prayer targets correctly. They are so aligned with God's will that they pray for that which is in accord with it.
It's an Odd World After All

Via Two Sleepy Mommies, I've been hyp-mo-tized by this blogshare thing.

I feel a burgeoning sense of responsibility to my shareholders. Now I will have to sweat quarterly hits, or earnings, if not for my sake than for theirs. Suddenly it's not all about me anymore. Suddenly I have kids to support.

You can imagine my surprise when I learned a blogger from Manilla, whom I don't know from Adam, purchased shares in the seldom updated Flannery O'Connor blog. 'Scuse me while I hie me to Habit Of Being...
Metablogging

...the practice of writing each day seems to act as an aid to invention. If we write 20 or 30 times a month, we will have thoughts that would not have materialized without the blogger's writerly habits of mind. --"Weblogs in Higher Eduction"
Exactly. If I hadn't been a blogger it'd never occurred to me to write the following:

ACLU in Arabic means "al jazeera".

And the world would be poorer for it. But seriously writing does help one think. In keeping a journal there are times I write and discover something I didn't know I thought. If that makes any sense.

December 15, 2004

From the latest National Review

Ramesh Ponnuru writes:
It may be said that apparently reasoned arguments against embryo destruction are really rationalizations for religious views. The opponents are overwhelmingly evangelicals and Catholics. It is certainly possible that our reasoning goes wrong because we are influenced by extra-rational, unacknowledged factors. But the reasoning of people from different religious traditions or none can go wrong, too. Atheists may have their own forms of rationalization, as do we all. Self-consciously secular thinkers can generate their own orthodoxies. Liberals tend to assume, without reflection, that the rational view of an issue is the one that most non-religious people take. The idea that a religious tradition could strengthen people's reason — could help them reach rationally sound conclusions they might not otherwise reach — rarely occurs to them.

During the campaign, Joseph Bottum of The Weekly Standard quipped that John Kerry apparently believed that the fact that his church agreed with him about the wrongness of abortion was a reason not to act on that view. The mental tic Bottum neatly identified is a special case of liberalism's general tendency to identify reason with irreligion.

Liberalism's hymns to reason always end up truncating reason. They are pleas for open debate designed to rule things out of debate. John Rawls himself notoriously ruled that arguments against abortion could not meet the test of his "public reason" (a position from which he later backed away). To someone unsympathetic to liberals, it must begin to look like a kind of trick. Let us imagine a conservative who says that abortion should be illegal because it kills human beings. His liberal friend responds that this sort of theological talk is inadmissible in a democracy because it violates the rules of open debate. We can see that this liberal has misrepresented his friend's views and shut down the discussion — all in the name of reasoned argument. Yet that conversation happens all the time in our politics, and somehow we don't see it.
He also says:
...And while there is no constitutional requirement that people make political arguments in terms that can be understood by fellow citizens with different religious views, it is a reasonable request. Since an appeal to a religious belief, authority, or text will be unpersuasive to people who do not accept it, such an appeal will often be counterproductive (rather than "dangerous").

But even that concession must be qualified. The contention that blacks, like whites, were made in the image of God and thus deserve fair treatment was probably "accessible" to more people when it counted than were purely secular arguments. The vast majority of Americans do not find such religious rhetoric alienating, and in a democracy that ought to count for something.
Bible Only?

Amy Welborn vents:
But this "Where is that in the Bible?"...drives me crazy because 1)it's intellectually nonsensical 2)those who use it as a weapon don't live and believe by it themselves and 3)it's novel in this present form. An innovation of the last hundred years, really inconsistent with the way the Christians have understood their faith and its relation to Scripture, for the most part, since the beginning.
More on Garrison Keillor's Joke...

...about denying evangelicals the right to vote.
Three Sizes That Day

I didn't know that the "Welcome Christmas" song in "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas" has a history:
Welcome, welcome, fah who rahmus
Welcome, welcome, dah who dahmus
Christmas Day is in our grasp
So long as we have hands to clasp
__
Three thousand feet up! Up the side of Mt. Crumpit,
He rode with his load to the tiptop to dump it!
"Pooh-Pooh to the Whos!" he was grinch-ish-ly humming.
"They're finding out now that no Christmas is coming!"
"They're just waking up! I know just what they'll do!"
"Their mouths will hang open a minute or two
Then the Whos down in Who-ville will all cry Boo-Hoo!"

"That's a noise," grinned the Grinch,
"That I simply MUST hear!"
So he paused. And the Grinch put his hand to his ear.
And he did hear a sound rising over the snow.
It started in low. Then it started to grow...

But the sound wasn't sad! Why, this sound sounded merry!
It couldn't be so! But it WAS merry! VERY!

He stared down at Who-ville! The Grinch popped his eyes!
Then he shook! What he saw was a shocking surprise!

Every Who down in Who-ville, the tall and the small,
Was singing! Without any presents at all!

December 14, 2004

Old Book Resurfaces

While trying to corral marauding books, I came across Mary of Agreda's Mystical City of God found at a garage sale when I was a teen, since lay buried, unread, for lo these many years. A couple scenes from Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ were based on this book.

It's difficult to know what to make of private revelations but the quotes inside the cover are nothing short of amazing:
The learned and pious Cardinal D'Aguirre says that he considers all the studies of fifty years of his previous life as of small consequence in comparison with the doctrines he found in this book, which in all things are in harmony with the Holy Scriptures...The Venerable Superior-General of St. Sulpice, Abbe Emery, adds: "Only since I read the revelations of Mary of Agreda do I properly know Jesus and his Holy Mother."
Even allowing for hyperbole these seem astonishing claims.
Fr. William Most...

...attempts to answer the age-old query: How do the saints avoid lying when they say terrible things about themselves?
Fun With Google Searches

Here are some of the strings that found the way to this blog (my replies in italic):

dominic the donkey sound byte
Ass not what your country can do for you...

vitamin k i by dr.henry poncer
Alas, the perils of drinking & Googling...

poetry about the colour blue
Blog, sung blue every garden grows one...
Christianity Today review of Tom Wolfe's "I Am Charlotte Simmons", concerning the book's premise that all human behavior is sociobiologically pre-determined:
What is really happening in the story is something that theists have always known: that we choose to think the things we think, and that what we think will largely determine what we do.

That is precisely what happens to Charlotte and to all the other characters in the book. After all, it is only when Charlotte finally changes her simple, down-home, Christian way of thinking about what a human being is, and what choice means, that she descends into the personal miasma that is the inevitable consequence of the bad choices she makes. These latter, in turn, are the direct result of the bad ideas she chooses to hold. If she had kept to her old assumptions, her behavior would have been completely different. Of that, there can no doubt whatever.

Despite Wolfe's extremely skillful and detailed efforts to show exactly how relentlessly events push Charlotte toward doing the things she does, he cannot conclusively establish that she could not have acted otherwise. Such a thing would be utterly impossible to prove, of course. One can only accept or reject it inductively. And that leaves freedom of choice as a possibility, and indeed the more likely explanation for her actions—the one that in fact best fits the facts of the story.

This leads to a very interesting and important sociological observation that one can draw from the book: that a society's leaders, and in particular its intellectual elite, its philosophers, bear a heavy responsibility for what goes on in it.
That last paragraph sounds very Fr. McCloskey-ish, who has said that society won't become healthily Christian until the elites do. Ideas matter, and their noxious nihilist philosophies are in the very air we breathe.