September 30, 2009

Dis & Dat

Thoughts not deep enough to support their own post but too long for Twitter:
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There are times I'm greatly relieved I'm not a radio or television pundit. Say, in the aftermath of Michael Jackson's death. Or now in the wake of a quieter tempest regarding Roman Polanski. I'm especially disappointed that Morning Joe is beating that puppy since they're usually more serious. I daresay most people under the age of 40 have never heard of this "celebrity". The guy is a fugitive and he should've acted accordingly if he didn't want to get caught, i.e. stay in France where there's no extradition treaty. It's a tiny, tiny story getting ridiculous press. (Does this count?)
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David Brooks wrote a column recently dissing social conservatives and implying we were generally clueless of the real problem, economic spendthriftedness: "This erosion has happened at a time when the country’s cultural monitors were busy with other things. They were off fighting a culture war about prayer in schools, “Piss Christ” and the theory of evolution. They were arguing about sex and the separation of church and state, oblivious to the large erosion of economic values happening under their feet."

Note he didn't mention abortion, perhaps tacitly realizing that the death of a million babies in the womb would not bolster his argument of economics uber alles.
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Funny exchange this morning with my wife:

Her: "I love you!"
Me: "I love you more!"
Her: "'em's fighing words!"

Maybe you had to be there.
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Heard The Catholic Guy on XM channel 117 talk about meeting with his spiritual director or therapist and how he decided against accepting an offer from a major publishing house to write a book. Impressive. Now that's countercultural. Says he's already too involved in work and wants to devote more time to God. Go on retreats. Too much living live "exteriorly" via the distraction of work in order to avoid going inside and being still. He was also using his work to try to become "more worthy" of God's love and grace but notes that's not how it works.
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I'm tempted by the Fr. Rutler book on the St. John Vianney. In it he makes mention of the arduous path of sainthood and the modern way of dealing with this is partially simply to avoid saints. I immediately thought of how Graham Greene had an opportunity to meet Padre Pio and was too fearful to do so, knowing that he might have to change.
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Today's "moment of Zen", to use an especially inapt metaphor, was praying the Divine Infant of Prague novena. It opened in a new way the fact of the Incarnation and how He "restored to us our dignity". In that single line there was much fruitful meditation.

September 29, 2009

Spanning the Globe to Bring You the Constant Variety of Posts

Reading is not life. But for some of us reading is more than a leisure-time activity. Reading is real work--it is part of the formative work that goes into writing and it is a form of shifting from the day-job mind into the relaxation/replenishing mind. The creative required by reading is of a different type than that exercised during a day of putting out fires. What I've discovered is that I receive less and less pleasure from things that do not present some form of challenge. I've spent a lifetime in "leisure" reading--absorbing all sorts of fun things that almost immediately slip out of my head and make no real difference in my understanding of the One Thing Necessary (soon to be trademarked). - Steven of Flos Carmeli

Like the devil “I will not serve.” If I give myself entirely to God, reject evil completely, he might ask me to serve people who are perfectly capable of serving themselves (my children, my husband), people who are not weak and helpless, but actually flawed. I do not wish to expend my energy, which could be spent on my interests or on garnering the undemanding love of other people. This is the failure of my love. “The closer a person is to God, the closer he is to people.” (Pope Benedict) - Betty Duffy

On our own we simply cannot be good, and whether we realize it or not we rely entirely on God’s grace for all that we do. And more than that, God desires for us the sort of happiness and joy, even here on this earth, that we cannot even fathom. That joy is experienced when we encounter the abundant love that God has for us, when we realized that not only are we created by Him, but indeed we are loved immensely by Him, so much so that He became like us and died for us, so that the divisions we have placed between ourselves and Him can be broken down for good. And the way that we encounter this love most profoundly is by developing a life of prayer... But my point is simply that lately I have not been disciplined in this prayer life, and with me this always has profoundly negative effects on my spiritual outlook. I become more irritable, less motivated, and so forth. I go into that spiritual and psychological “bad place,” and it takes a lot of hard work to get myself out. The beauty, though, is that this hard work is not done alone, but rather is done in cooperation with the grace of God. - Michael at Psalm 46:11

Someone whose only charitable activity is writing checks will usually have a more distant experience of charitable action than someone who volunteers in a food pantry or crisis pregnancy center on a weekly basis. It's going to be hard for someone who _only_ gives money to experience at a human level the fact that the money he's making for a couple hours during his workday is going to help a particular cause. At the same time, however, I think it's important to recognize that donating time is not the only legitimate form of charity. - Darwin Catholic

It is surely true that Christ's command to clothe, feed, house, etc. the poor are meant as much or more for our eternal benefit than for the temporal relief of those helped. - commenter Kate on above Darwin Catholic quote

For traditional Christians, Jews and Muslims, the most advanced being in the universe is one who remembers every sin and deals with it justly. For the post-Christian world, an advanced being is someone more like Klaatu, who doesn’t care what we’re fighting about so long as we don’t drag it into his space. - Camassia

I remember when we were planning to move to Ohio, my siblings and I carefully wrote out a list of what we wanted in a house: wood floors, a fireplace, a secret passageway, a laundry chute -- marks of a home that was built quality, built to last...It did not occur to me as a child that some people would not value a beautiful older house in a beautiful older neighborhood. Perhaps the term "Victorian" applied to architecture had a particular allure because it was so different from where I lived. The concept of upkeep or the desire to flee a crime-ridden neighborhood despite the original glory of the houses were completely alien ideas, as were "white flight", "urban decay", or "factory closing". But I did know that in 100 years our trailer would be rubble (as indeed will the suburban box I now inhabit), whereas even at their century, the gorgeous homes that were built for living and built to last still cast spells even through a heavy haze of neglect. - Mrs. Darwin

Reminds me of how I resisted joining the KofC for so long. I would just reply, "Nah, I don't want to help you run a gambling drinking joint". - Commenter on Darwin Catholic post

Perhaps we ought to separate asking God for things we want and thanking Him for things we get...we thank God for allowing us to ask Him for things, for the grace by which we've just asked for one particular thing, and for whatever good He does in our lives in answer to our prayer. But that's just a special case of the more general "Prayer of Thanksgiving" process, in which we thank God for everything He gives us. Breaking the supplication-obtaining-thanksgiving chain teaches us to be thankful, not just when we get what we ask for (like children), and not even when we don't get what we ask for (like philosophers), but when we get anything at all. - Tom of Disputations

September 28, 2009

The Daily Blog (Now Free!)

Fellow midwesterners will note the serious degradation in temperatures, first of the season. We're looking at highs of 65, 56, and 61, numbers of a dimension that won't allow denial of the obvious: summer ist kaputt. If it were a horse we'd shoot it. Tis disturbing, made worse by a ridiculous graphic I saw during Sunday's Bengals game: 133 days till the Superbowl. The ridiculous over-hype now begins 133 days early. That's even a longer time period than between the pre-Christmas sales and Christmas. Of course the graphic reminded me about how long 133 days are, and how that won't even get us out of the winter season. But then I remembered yesterday was the feast of the Nagasaki matyrs and how one 12-year old boy enroute to his crucifixion told someone who was crying: "Sing an 'Our Father' and die like a man." Ouch. Out of the mouths of babes.

The song goes that in Heaven there is no beer, but I'm hoping it will be sunny and doggish (link via Bill Luse).
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I happened across the Facebook page of an old friend's wife yesterday and was interested to see he's apparently resisted the Facebookian pull given he wasn't a friend on his wife's page. It's interesting to see the ol' social climber isn't hip to the new social media. Perhaps his ambition's cooled or perhaps he's simply too busy to network. (Not that networking is the only use obviously or even the primary use.) Inquiring minds wanna... There's nothing more satisfying than finding out a little piece of gossip, be it ancestor gossip (we genealogists call this 'research') or Facebook findings.
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Now it can be told!: Enjoying the sweet smell of grass cuttings on the back patio and the glow of the porch lights against the broad expanse of said patio. I'm having a pseudo-beer, O'Doul's, and am looking forward to watching Bill O'Reilly.
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Today's Godincidence: I'm reading an email from a charismatic Catholic blog-friend. She's refuting suggestions that praise of Satan occasionally comes out in tongues. I head to the bathroom with my Kindle, open up the first (free) chapter of Mother Angelica's book on Scripture, and Raymond Arroyo in the introduction mentions how her love for the Word came after she was "baptized in the Spirit".

Sunday, Sunday

4pm is the new 6pm, given the earlier-ending days, so I headed out at that hour for an hour bike ride. But the real gemstone of the day was hiking at a local park with Buddy, the sun reminding me of my last trip here when the world was my oyster - or at least the lake at Prairie - where I glided through the sylvan waters on my canoe chariot.

We hiked this time against a lakean backdrop amid breathtaking fields of goldenrods and I thought with satisfaction how weeds could look so pretty. We garden and prepare the soil when here nature herself, with no assistance from us, makes these to bloom. I took in the satisfying mix of plants and trees and flowers and it pleased me to think that any given particular growing thing might've been inadvertently planted by birds, through their droppings. The seemingly random profusion of blooms was the handiwork of wind and birds and I enjoyed and applauded their efforts. It made me hungry to read some Annie Dillard.

Having gotten enough of lake and sun, I hiked to the dense tree-line and put my head into one clearing to take in a breath and a view but found my face full of spider web. Momentarily annoyed, it occurred to me nonetheless that the poor spider would have to begin her work again. But what else do spiders have to do? I thought. Then I recalled the monk who burned his baskets and I figured it wrong to think of the spider's work as meaningless. The tendency to regard nature as meaningless can easily leach into our thinking about humans, such that Terri Schiavo's life might be seen as worthless. God cares even about the least of his creation else he'd not have created it. At the risk of sounding more solipsistic than usual, perhaps the reason the spider spun that web was so that I may get entangled in it and think about God's providence. As one priest put it, "God's care extends beyond the human family to the whole family of creation. All creation is good. There is no dichotomy between the secular and the sacred. God loves all creatures."

September 25, 2009

Greek Christian Poetry for $200 Alex

Liked this first reading from Mass yesterday:
"So now, the Lord of Hosts says this:

'Reflect carefully how things have gone for you. You have sown much and harvested little; you eat but never have enough, drink but never have your fill, put on clothes but do not feel warm. The wage earner gets his wages only to put them in a purse riddled with holes. So go to the hill country, fetch wood, and rebuild the House: I shall then take pleasure in it, and be glorified there, says the Lord.'"
Liked the witty truth of "wages put in a purse riddled with holes". Especially easy to see now that we know all our currencies are as substantial as flim-flam.

But the real beauty is "Go to the hill country..." for that is what Mary did just after conceiving Jesus, and she did begin to rebuild His House and indeed the Father took pleasure and was gloried in the Son, and indeed in the Old Testament there was much sowing but little harvesting and drinking but not having a feeling of fullness, for in the OT you could not yet see and taste God.
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Our cheery Dominican substitute friar today read Matthew 16 about building the Church on Peter the rock, a special reading due to commemorating 150+ years since the original dedication of the church. I thought of the many generations and how even though so much of the interior has changed over the years, I wanted to know that the altar was in the same place, that that was and is holy ground, and that this was a place of refuge for so many before me such that might help put into perspective our gnat-length'd lives. And when the priest used the following analogy (the one I'd thought I'd come up), I smiled; he spoke about the saints on the sidelines and in the grandstands rooting us on here on earth. I couldn't help but think they were cheering him on right now, thanking him for his cheerful giving and urging the rest of us to do the same.
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Speaking of giving, I was inspired by Betty Duffy's latest. Nobody does it better though sometimes I wish I would. I found myself thinking that Betty was right (especially after perusing this) and that she shouldn't go over and "enable" her friend's lazy behavior (pot, kettle, I know), but then that could be because I'm not as good a Christian.
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I did not know that the great theologian St. Gregory of Nazianzus had written poetry or that he had struggled with great physical and spiritual ills, or that he was of a "highly sensitive temperament...liable to despondency and irritability, constitutionally timid, and somewhat deficient, as it seemed, both in decision of character and in self-control." Capax Dei!

Oktoberfest!


Eins, zwei, drei, vehr, who's going to buy the beer? Me, at Oktoberfest. Ron's coming and it's my turn to buy. It wouldn't be fall without a little Klaber, would it? And their new theme is inspired: "Let's Get Klabbered!". How many ways can one euphemistically refer to getting liquored up? My, let me count the ways.

September 24, 2009

את מבנה האתר שינינו מעט

What to make of Qaddafi's 90+ minute rambling speech at the UN? Perhaps he's following the suggestion found in Mark Helprin's Digital Barbarism, that a little long-windedness in a soundbyte culture never hurt anyone. Helprin's intentional obliqueness extends as far as offering us untranslated Hebrew text on the dedication page (hence the title of this post). In the preface he says that the chapter titles are opaque by design:
"[this book] is partly a memoir that is in service of a principle it espouses - that man need not model himself, the way he lives, and by derivation even his arguments, after machines."
Okay admittedly that's quite a leap from Qaddafi expounding on jet lag and who killed JFK, other than to say his lack of coherence was not at all machine-like. Helprin writes,
"in its complexity, mystery, intelligence, and beauty, humanity is unexcelled as a masterwork of God and nature. Why then must its qualities be filtered from argument and cleansed from reason as if they were pollutants?"

September 23, 2009

Some day they won't be laughing at Laffer.


"I am amazed at all the crap Padre Pio had to put up with. Not just cluelessness from superiors which often thinly disguised malice, but physical and spiritual ailments. But through it all, that is how he functioned. Because He believed that God would deliver him, any problem and strife was tolerable. It simply had to be offered up." - Fr. Shane

(Image found here.)

The Spirit, Corapi & the Infant of Prague

Stuck in surreal traffic, 670 closed. Turn on the radio and remember there's a reason they call it "commercial radio": there's a commercial every six seconds, which leads to an ever-decreasing attention span. This is true even for satellite radio stations carrying political talk so I turn on Fr. Corapi on AM and hear him speak for almost an hour without commercial interruption. And the more I hear him, the more I like him. Amazingly, he says he hates preaching, gets sick of words (perish the thought!), and that his dream is to be a hermit in the woods, but that God won't let him do that now. He even wrote a religious rule for hermits. Says all he wants is contemplative prayer and the Blessed Sacrament. He said, paraphrasing, that often what we dislike is what God will use to make us saints, and that reminded me of my recent pondering about why St. John was the only apostle not to be martyred and whether that was connected to the fact that he, unlike the others, was with Christ at His crucifixion. Did the other apostles pay for their sin of leaving their Master's side during his martyrdom with their own martyrdom? Or does that make God out to be a monster to even suggest it? Was John's martyrdom like Mary's, in the sense of living it vicariously through Jesus? It's almost like God wants to heal our Achilles heel and for John, his Achilles heel was not fear of martyrdom given that he risked his own life to be with Jesus as His death. But the funny thing about saints is this: I bet those apostles who were martyred were glad for it, glad to be able to give Christ the gift of their own lives. They didn't see it as "a price to be paid" for their earlier cowardice, much as those in Purgatory are said to be thrilled to be purified before seeing the King.

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Heard someone else make a true comment connecting Adam & Eve's disobedience with the suffering messiahship of Christ. God could've come to earth as King, but that was precisely what Adam & Eve suspected God of. God came into the world weak and suffering in response to our response (via Adam). Adam and Eve said, in effect, "you are not like us, you know more" so God came among us knowing less, as an infant. And then He left us something less than us to worship, a piece of bread. We have the same opportunity that Lucifer did in electing not to serve something less than us.

She also mentioned the value of "baptism in the Holy Spirit" from a local charismatic Catholic parish (something Mother Angelica had done). She said the gifts at Confirmation (piety, fear of the Lord, fortitude...) are different from the ones given in the Baptism in the Spirit, the latter towards the building of the Church. I did a search of Catholic blogs and found at least one mention of it.

The goosebump moment was when she offered me a small prayer pamphlet with a novena to the Infant of Prague. The statue on the front was instantly familiar - it was the crowned infant in the nave of a local downtown church. About two weeks ago, I began bowing to this unknown infant I'd so long ignored because it was a child and I bowed in recognition of my "ageism" bias and the fact that Jesus said, "unless ye become as little children...".

UPDATE: Turns out the Infant of Prague is Jesus Himself. Appropriate, huh? In bowing in humility I was actually bowing to Christ.

September 22, 2009

Spanning the Globe to Bring You the Constant Variety of Posts


The "problem" with tutoring children is that one first has to become as simple and humble as they are. It's not easy to do at all. Jesus had the opposite issue: He was already as simple and humble as could be, but there were hardly any spiritual children He could reach. He must be facing the same situation when He comes to souls today. - Sancta Sanctis

I would add one other potential plus for earlier marriage that sociologists have yet to grapple with: treating marriage like the home version of Waiting for Godot also risks perpetuating a kind of human consumerism, a habit that cannot possibly be good for anyone. After all, once a sufficiently large number of relationships have all failed to lead to marriage for one reason or another, it becomes terribly tempting to view the whole enterprise as more like comparison shopping than spiritual discernment. For example, I once knew a man who had dated a great many women by his late twenties – so many that his friends privately rejoiced when one finally appeared who seemed perfect for him. They shared the same religion, political views, and other interests; she was smart, successful, and what today would be called a real babe, to boot. Yet the consumer’s diffident response upon meeting her rang far more of the Consumer Checkbook than of the swain. “I’m not sure,” he temporized. “Her complexion seems really sallow.” Needless to say, no walk down the aisle. This is what comes of people shopping, perhaps – the destructive habit of making comparative checklists about human beings. - Mary Eberstadt

“But I’m just going through the motions,” I had complained once about my prayer life to Fr. Aris, the wise Greek Orthodox priest who would later become my son’s godfather. “That’s all right,” he said to me. “The important thing is to keep on saying them. You can feel them later.” They would save me when I least expected it. - Caroline at Image Journal

Many commenters have pointed to the Land O'Lakes agreement and the false autonomy and idea of academic freedom that was championed by then-Notre Dame University President Fr. Hesburgh. Professor Rice agrees that this was a turning point and really a rejection of Cardinal Newman's thoughts in his classic "The Idea of a University." - Jeff of Curt Jester; review of "What Happened to Notre Dame?"

What follows will be so scattershot, it'll make a blunderbuss look like a laser. But I never promised you a precision garden! - eve tushnet

What you do is, you pull up to the truck, roll down your window, and yell, "I can see why your wife cut them off, but why'd she nail them to your truck?" Of course, this being Texas and all, you may need to be prepared to return fire. - Mrs. Darwin on what to do about Trucknutz

I am passionate about the opposite of whatever the loudest person in the room is arguing (hence I am frequently at odds with myself). - Betty Duffy

The average man’s objection to Christian civilization is not an objection to medieval culture, which incorporated every act of social life in a sacred order of sacramental symbols and liturgical observances – such a culture is too remote from our experience to stir our emotions one way or another: it is the dread of moral rigorism, of alcoholic prohibition or the censorship of books and films or of the fundamentalist banning of the teaching of biological evolution. But what the advocates of a Christian civilization wish is not the narrowing of the cultural horizons, but just the reverse: the recovery of that spiritual dimension of social life the lack of which has cramped and darkened the culture of the modern world - English historian Christopher Dawson during his brief stay in the United States, via "The Catholic Thing"

September 21, 2009

Various & Sundry

Am reading an anti-modern technology book on Kindle and transcribing quotes to my netbook. Ironic. I find myself agreeing with a lot of what he says. We go faster and faster with less purpose.

The author of Digital Barbarians, Mark Helprin, writes of the man on holiday near the turn of the 20th century:
"During your holiday you will climb hills, visit chapels, attend half a dozen formal dinners, and read several books, more than a thousand pages all told. If upon reading a classical history you come across a Greek phrase with an unfamiliar word you will have to wait until the library opens, walk there by the lakeside, and consult a Greek lexicon: one and one-half hours."
It sounds good, but I'm skeptical of our hindsight nostalgia. Maybe the best things about the "good old days" (besides the greater faith in God) include the fact that without electric lights and television you would sleep when it was dark. And the other thing was that people were so physically active (see Samuel Johnson quote on 'how much misery is escaped...').

Surely part of the reason non-fiction is more popular than fiction these days is that people want explicit direction, they want facts, they want you to get to the point. There's a lack of patience with nuance, but humans are nuanced creatures. "Necessitated by that, and by a life (my own) spent writing fiction, is an obliqueness uncommon in modern nonfiction, a trust that the reader can, according to Shakepeare's exhortation, 'by indirections find directions out.'" Helprin describes Flannery O'Connor's Convergence as "besting in a single short story the many erudite volumes of Teilhard de Chardin". Which would suggest that in all our desire for directness - for speed - we are actually taking the long cut.

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Patrick Kurp sagely opines on the sport of would-be kings, i.e. blogging:
How do you respond to this statement?: Blogging is just another hobby, like stamp collecting or hockey.

It would be easy to get defensive about this question (I did, and I wrote it). Some of us take blogging seriously but must be reminded not to take ourselves seriously. David Ferry writes in his poem “Rereading Old Writing,” “writing / Is a way of being happy.” Remember too that “hobby,” meaning a small horse, entered the language in the 13th century. In less than three centuries it morphed into a child’s toy horse. By the 17th century it meant a pastime or avocation, the connection being that both signify activities going nowhere.

Some say the golden age of blogging has already passed, that blogging has failed to fulfill its early promise; and the evidence which is given is that no one becomes famous from blogging any longer. Do you agree?

There are no golden ages, only golden moments. I once worked with a newspaper editor who said something like this: “You pay your dollar and read the paper. If you find one story that amuses you or teaches you something new, you got your money’s worth.” To read a blog costs nothing. Peruse the blog roll at Anecdotal Evidence. If you can’t find something there that moves or enlightens you, or drives you pleasingly irate, go check your pulse.
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The faint smell of leaf burnings tells us Fall is in the air. I've spent so much more time outdoors lately that I can scarcely remember a time when the thundering crickets weren't serenading us. Assuming we don't move to Florida, which I devoutly wish we would, I suppose we're going to have to move into a house and yard with a "Florida room". I think it's the law that any Ohioan over the age of 60 has to have a 3-season room, and I seem to be precociously fond of the idea.

I sit dry under the canopy as a steady but gentle rain falls. It's cool outside but very pleasant. I'm going to try holding off giving up on summer as long as possible although it's nice to know there's a comfy and private and quiet alternative: the book room. I should call it the "lost room" for how seldom I go in there these days. Mostly I just open the door and sniff and sigh.
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Am pondering potential trip ideas this fall, sort of the "last chance before winter" vacation sale. Get out while the gettin's still good, weather-wise. So far I like the idea of riding a bike down the Shenandoah parkway in the Appalachian mountains. I hear it's hilly. Read about it in the Dispatch last week. Also keen to the idea of heading to Salt Lake City and doing genealogy research in their mammoth library.
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An annoying thing about technology is that it incessantly requires battery rechargings (cell phone, Kindle, netbook anyway) and is constantly in danger of being outmoded. Pity the fool who built the world's largest library of 8-track tapes. Nothing is forever, but technology seems ever more transient and thus ever more expensive in terms of replacement costs, maintenance and hassle factors. But I've signed onto the technology gadget-goo's as long as I have a job. Then it's back to paper and frugality...or so I tell myself.
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When I was a kid, the scariest movies were not of ghosts or goblins or threats you could avoid if you could run fast enough or preserve your virginity (all the teen slasher movies seem to target the ones messing around), but those involving the loss of one's mind, since it is the brain that gives us our sense of control and I tend to be a control freak. The scariest part of the movie Gone With the Wind, which I saw at a tender age, was not the limbless soldiers (one can be in control with only one arm) but the insanity of Mr. O'Hara. Similarly the film Ordinary People. I remind myself that with God one need not have fears.
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Made a pleasing discovery of today by sheer happenstance photos of the pseudonymous blogger "Betty Duffy". A look-what-I-found-rebound and another for the "would've never guessed she looked like that" file. Pretty and younger than I'd imagined. (Same with Mrs. D btw.) It's always cool when you find a sort of "Easter egg", a loophole whereupon you found a secret blog that in this case includes photos. Naturally I won't link. Wild horses & all that wouldn't drag it out of me. Will protect anyone's pseudonymous identity to the death.
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So what else is happenin'? Oh yeah, the Great Pee War. Part of the appeal of the fight over keeping my old chair (by the way, the hilarious thing is that the company is willing to pay hundreds upon hundreds for a new chair but not half that price for a laptop, the latter which would actually be of real use), is the sheer cussedness it brings out in me, the desire to 'fight the man". Well I'm starting to feel the same impulse with respect to our cat. The other day I caught him him on a chair hunched over my gym bag spraying his urinous pee (how's that for redundancy? I say, how's that for re-...) all over it. One washing and two coats of Nature's Miracle later, the bag was mostly scent-free. But I didn't learn my lesson, in not being 100% diligent in keeping said gym bag at least eight feet off the floor at all times. He did the same thing with my running shoes, the little bastid. I don't have to tell you that it's irritating to have to keep all shoes and gym bags eight feet off the ground at all times. Shoes were made to be on the ground. It's personal: I can outthink a cat, I hope. I suggested to my wife that we decoy him by placing old clothes at strategic intervals in the basement, hoping he'll use those for target practice. She didn't like that idea much, and I don't think our cat would fall for it anyway.

I Like George

Watched George Stephanopoulos, an island of civility in a sea of chaos. Choosing between Russert & Stephanopoulos in the past was tough; choosing between Stephanopoulos and Gregory and the others is a no-brainer. I also appreciate the humilty and guts it takes for a beltway denizen like George to go on a show like O'Reilly. Not cool in the Georgetown set, though admittedly Washington doyen Sally Quinn has already broke that barrier. Cynically you can say that he's going where the numbers are, since O'Reilly leads the cable race, but I consider it a holy ambition for the former Clinton staffer to reach out to the conservatives and moderates who watch FOX News.

Sunday's panel was almost perfect, a murderer's row of great pundits: George Will, Peggy Noonan, Robert Reich and Donna Brazille. Doesn't get any better than that and I wasn't disappointed. Reich was a paragon of honesty, saying that if he were grading the Baucus Senate bill he would've given it "somewhere between a 'D' and an 'F'". It's a Sunday pleasure, and one of the last places to find only limited bias, at least small enough bias that I can normally watch it without irritation.

Stephanopoulos's interview with the President was not softball, he called him out on the ludicrous Clintonian-sounding debate about "it depends what you mean by tax", going so far as to read Obama Merriam-Webster's definition of the word "tax".

Methinks the President protests too much. If you have to explain it as not being a tax, for all intents and purposes that means it's a tax. I like his creative math though - Obama saying that you're premiums would go up 5-6% anyway so let's just make sure they go up by adding a new tax.

Peggy Noonan shot and scored by saying that most Americans are more worried about the economy and the wars than health care, but the thing Obama can't say but is true is that this is the only time in this term he'll be able to do health care since most Presidents lose Congressional seats in their first off-year election, and if he's gonna ram it on through he needs every Democrat vote he can get.

With Afghanistan, I've never quite understood why Al Qaeda needs that godforsaken country when it already has Pakistan and Sudan and Somalia in which to plan attacks against the U.S.. If there were no failed states in the world then maybe it would be risky for Afghanistan to become another one but.. For us to think we can pacify a country that broke the Russians and others strikes me as naked hubris.

Bibliophilic Monday

For you '80s musicphiles/bibliophiles, sing this to tune of Poison's "Talk Dirty to Me":
You know I never
I never seen you look so smart
You never really act the the part
But I like it
And I know you like books too
The way that we want them
I gotta hold them too
Oh yes, I do...

Chorus:
Cause baby we'll be
At the library
In the old man's study
Behind the parlor
Till I'm screamin' for more
Down the basement
Lock the athenaeum door
And baby
Talk books to me

September 18, 2009

Tippecanoe and Tyler too!

I was on the cusp of whether to take a vacation day today, egged on by wife's one-two punch: "canoeing" and "breakfast". She had me at canoeing but the magic word "breakfast" made it official. And, like a movie script it worked out perfectly. A heaven-sent day heavenly spent, we started off with me reading my recent writings to her and she laughing at all the right places. Then a delicious breakfast at Bob Evans.

Full of the energy of vacation and breakfast, we skulled the canoe down from its perch and hippity-hopp'd it atop the truck cab and pronounced it and the truck hitched (with the help of orange suspenders) and then took off for parts unknown, specifically Beaver Lake just across the county line. We scouted the area for a place for Steph to exhaust our dog (she biking, he running) so that he'd keep still in the canoe and not tip it over (I'm dying to use a "Tip a canoe and Tyler too!" reference here somehow). It seemed unsuitable for that purpose, having only lanes of green grass that wended around the lake, and so it was back to the familiar dog-leg lakes at Prairie Oaks.

I started off in the canoe while she took Buddy to the dog beach. Clouds had the day off too so the sun was permanent but not hot, accompanied as it was by a breeze, and so I hunted off and sung the shoreline and smelled the tung of the earthy-earth and shared it all with sunning turtles and quirky shore birds. I soon found a little haven and felt encircled by all the beauty and breathed a sigh of relief not unlike that day long ago when hiking the parallelograms of Hocking Hills.
The smell of mackerel on my skin,
the taint of the water borne,
an elbow skims the surface hush
the oar brushing the brim.

I gleam-glomm'd the starry lake,
star'd by the sun's strong graces,
verisimilitudes tide the muddy shore,
the land grown green with envy.

When I was a child, the ocean trumped lakes and natural lakes trumped man-made lakes in the hierarchy of goods. This was in the American tradition of "bigger is better" and the Ewell Gibbons tradition of "natural is better". But it seemed God exists even in man-made lakes and that I ought not be so snooty. Yellow and white wildflowers, garish as Solomon, felt no disdain toward this "man-made" lake, clinging as they did to her shores. Then too the fish that swam by and by seemed happy and content. And the cool waters shown like diamonds under the sun and proclaimed goodness, not artificiality, no less than the waters of the Jordan. Though these were once excavating pits for business, they've now been reclaimed by God and God can do all things.

Looking on the reclaimed beauty, I was reminded of Jim Curley's yard of sand and how I wondered how vegetables would ever grow there. But then he told me about the elixir of manure and how he'd plant a cover crop or let grass or other weeds grow and then till that and then - at last - it was a soil rich, a soil capable of sustaining life, a soil that could be used. It was inspiring, seeing that sand patch and knowing it was on its way to goodness. It seemed magical that sand just needed manure to start the cycle.

September 17, 2009

It's in the Culture

In a comment on this post, Tom of Disputations disputes the Richard Rohr quote, saying:
"...there is a Christian disappointment that isn't 'the human situation,' it's the divine situation when faced with human hard-heartedness.

Is 'the central Christian logo' really 'a naked, bleeding, suffering man' because 'life is suffering'? Or is it because the central Christian teaching is that we are saved through the suffering of one particular man, whose sufferings were not those of the human condition but those of God's Anointed One?...to suggest 'life is suffering' is a doctrine shared by Christians and Buddhists is stuff and nonsense.
The "life is suffering" motif ingrained in our current culture has effects both good and bad; the good effect is that in some ways there is more desire to prevent and ameliorate human suffering than there was a hundred years ago (see the very low tolerance for casualties in war, greater health and safety precautions in the work place, child labor prohibited, a prevalence of handicap ramps, children wearing helmets while bicycling etc...). But the bad effect is the culture of death shown most explicitly by euthanasia and abortion. (A co-worker once shocked me when he said he favored abortion since most of the kids who are aborted would likely live lives of suffering and want.)

Carl Anderson, author of Our Lady of Guadalupe, acknowledges this factor in our culture:
A culture of life respects life for what it is, not for what hardship and suffering frame it to be. A culture of life does not deny the reality of death. A culture of life deals with death as a serious but not ultimate principle. In fact, one of the most strikingly human elements conveyed in the apparition account is Juan Diego's grasp of the reality of death...In his words to the Virgin, we glimpse how powerfully this impending death colored Juan Diego's view of life: 'because in reality for this [death] we were born, we who came to await the task of our death.' This statement, perhaps more than any other in Juan Diego's dialogue with the Virgin, resonates with contemporary views of the person; and the Virgin's response - 'Am I not here, I who have the honor to be your mother' - tests our understanding of the person and points us toward hope.
Upon first reading I didn't find Juan Diego's view very unremarkable, seeing in it shades of the familiar Christian theme of memento mori. Richard J. Neuhaus begins one of his books with "We are born to die." A quick check of wikipedia regarding memento_mori was interesting:
In ancient Rome, the words are believed to have been used on the occasions when a Roman general was parading through the streets during a victory triumph...The thought came into its own with Christianity, whose strong emphasis on Divine Judgment, Heaven, Hell, and the salvation of the soul brought death to the forefront of consciousness. Most memento mori works are products of Christian art, although there are equivalents in Buddhist art. In the Christian context, the memento mori acquires a moralizing purpose quite opposed to the Nunc est bibendum theme of Classical antiquity... Colonial American art saw a large amount of 'memento mori' images in their art because of their puritan influence.

September 15, 2009

Dusk Thoughts

Drank in the last dulcet rays of sun while eating on the back patio; my wife went to her evangelical small group meeting and so I had visions of an open sun roof, blue grass music, and a writing pad. Not necessarily in that order. (I ought mention that I don't usually WWD, write while driving, but occasionally sit in the car in the driveway in order to take advantage of the satellite radio.)

...

And so now I sit in the open-ish cab, the lovely and talented automatic windows - first time I've gotten that option and it is nice. I open the windows a lot more which goes to show that "if it's convenient, they will use it". Yes, unfortunately the mantra of the typical American consumer. For years I thought power windows an invention of the devil, inculcating laziness. But it's wondrous when you have a dog in the backseat who wants to hang out the window. And it's not bad for me to sidle an arm out the window and feel a carafe of sun caress it.

...

I think good writing most often comes in blog where the writer is in semi-desperate straits and is in obvious need of a beer. A lot of those uber-successful Mommy bloggers give off an air of non-quiet desperation tinged with humor, and well they might given that kids can make you crazy when they aren't charming your socks off. Mrs. Darwin & Betty Duffy display that quality sometimes and it's obviously part of the reason I like reading them.

...

My taste in classical music seems to be shifting somewhat...more towards Mozart and Hayden, away from Beethoven and later composers. Some Bach is okay. My taste in books has shifted decidedly away from novels, particularly literary novels, but then nowhere does it say I have to read Bernanos just because I'm a Catlick blogger.

Currently listening to some very pleasant music by Carl Weber, Ruler of the Spirits Overture, as the sun leaves pink and blue fragments behind as if it creating a room meant for boy or girl. There are jet trails that ski along either side of the neighbor's large sycamore. The telephone poll stands in stark relief against the sky and I imagine the attached cylinder near the top as a bell-tower, with Quasimodo hustling up and down for the Angelus. The garden lingers on, struggling but unbowed, still producing a tomato here and there despite the cool nights and shorter days. The brussel sprouts are loaded with studded tubers like poker chips along the sleeves of a rich man.

Buddy the dog got sent in the house for conduct unbecoming of a six-year old: his squirrel angst was causing him to jump like Michael Jordan into the spruces in innumerable futile attempts. Looked like he was even taking the occasional zap from the electric fence. The things we do for love, and he does for squirrels.

...

It occurred to me at Mass how important it is not to waste time worrying about my health but about the Body's health. Let me help the Body of Christ, through prayer and works. That's how to build treasure in Heaven. I like these motivational books like Purgatory and the Means to Avoid it. It says that Purgatory is not as bad as some say, title notwithstanding. But I like these objective scorecard things, like where you say a novena and get a year off Purgatory. I know that's all out of favor now and that the afterlife is outside of time but I like the idea of being able to track my progress in the next life from this one. I love & crave statistics - "you are 36.7% of the way towards Heaven". But that's all wrong, its focuses on me rather than loving Christ. St. Therese the Little Flower didn't smile at difficult sisters because she'd get $10 worth of Heavenly credit. She loved Christ. She wanted to show it, to please Him.

Spanning the Globe to Bring You the Constant Variety of Posts

When Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope, I was a little horrified. After reading [his encyclical] God is Love, I had an attitude correction. - Penny at "In Both Life and Death"

I made a selection for my husband's second wife, and put her number on speed dial on his Blackberry. - Betty Duffy, before reports of her impending death turned out to be greatly exaggerated

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who was elected Pope Benedict XVI, once said that Steppenwolf is among his favorite books because it "exposes the problem of modernity's isolated and self-isolating man". The protagonist, Harry Haller, goes through his mid-life crisis and must chose between life of action and contemplation. His initials perhaps are not accidentally like the author's. - Petri Liukkonen via Terrence Berres

There is this thing called love. The movement to give, to receive, to find the greatest joy in helping another find the greatest joy. There is also this thing called creativity. The movement to reach out with mind and spirt, whether it be with equations, words, paint, cupcakes, musical notes or a plow driving a furrow through fertile soil. It makes no sense to me that when the being who is capable of those things – loving and creating – stops breathing and his body grows cold and heavy – that all to which he has been moving – all the love, all the creativity, all the sacrifice and compassion – that it just ends there. “Living on in the hearts of those left behind” doesn’t cut it for me either. It would, to put it bluntly, seem to me to be an injustice – if that was it, there. I’m not talking about rewards. I’m talkng about life. It is too amazing to have come as the result of a process and too tragic and unjust if it just ends in decay. - Amy Welborn

Is your religion helping you to transform your pain? If it does not, it is junk religion. We all have pain—it’s the human situation, we all carry it in a big black bag behind us and it gets heavier as we get older: by betrayals, rejections, disappointments, and wounds that are inflicted along the way. If we do not find some way to transform our pain, I can tell you with 100% certitude we will transmit it to those around us. We will create tension, negativity, suspicion, and fear wherever we go. Both Jesus and Buddha made it very clear to their followers that “life is suffering.” You cannot avoid it. It is no surprise that the central Christian logo became a naked, bleeding, suffering man. At the end of life, and probably early in life, too, the question is, “What do I do with this disappointment, with this absurdity, with this sadness?” Whoever teaches you how to transform your own suffering into compassion is a true spiritual authority. Whoever teaches you to project your doubt and fear onto Jews, Muslims, your family, heretics, gays, sinners, and foreigners, or even to turn it against yourself (guilt and shame) has no spiritual authority. - Richard Rohr

Enlightened believers are not scandalized that misfortune and suffering happen in the world. They know that God is good, that He only permits evil; that He is capable of bringing good out of evil; that we are only here in passing, that we have been damaged by original sin. They do not know what more to say. They do not know how to answer the numerous and anguishing "whys" about the evil in the world. They can, however, answer one question, how to act in suffering. How...as Jesus Christ did. - Pope John Paul I, pg. 204 of "The Smiling Pope"

It is an outrage, a shame and a scandal and a sin, that the old and ill should feel that they are alone with their demons, that those demons render their lives worthless, and that the only sensible, charitable thing to do is to take themselves and the demons as far out of everyone else's way as possible. - Sally Thomas in First Things via Roz of Exultet

The headline from a recent Newsweek article by Kathleen Kennedy Townsend reads: "Why Barack Obama represents American Catholics better than the Pope does." An alternative does suggest itself. "Why Barack Obama represents Kathleen Kennedy Townsend better than the Pope does." - First Things, via Exultet

In the so-called cosmic scheme of things, the VMAs have all the significance of belly button lint--but Taylor Swift was a seventeen year old girl who had just been made the happiest she had ever been in her life. - Shredded Cheddar on the Video Music Awards

The most obvious critique against so much of contemporary art is the absence of the transcendent, of God. And its pretension. True dat. But do you see how the two are related? When we push God away, we get pretentious without even trying. By definition, without God, we are pretentious. But that doesn’t make the art any less interesting to me. Because if you are interested in people …as they are…rather than only in ideals, it seems to me that you just can’t wave things off. What is meaningful to you about the cupcakes? Why’d you bother to encase them in a box with motor oil? I want to know. Because it helps me know why I arrange and rearrange words and if there is any point in the apparently pointlessness of it. - Amy Welborn

The poet would tell us that, though one drop of our Lord's Blood was sufficient to redeem the world, (Cujus una stilla salvum facere / Totum mundum quit ab omni scelere, as St. Thomas says,) yet out of the greatness of His love to us He would shed all. As every one knows, the last dainings of life-blood are not crimson, but of a far paler hue: strictly speaking, roseate. Change the word, and you eliminate the whole idea. - John Mason Neale on his translation of a hymn, via Bill of "Summa Minutiae"

I believe it is also the vow of chastity that makes it so necessary for the religious to develop a deep life of prayer. As liberating as celibacy can be, it obviously also involves a sacrifice of intimacy, and there is no doubt that at times every religious is going to encounter a sense of loneliness. This is one of the primary reasons I felt called to religious life as opposed to diocesan priesthood, because the sense of community, especially as it is understood by the Augustinians, is a great aid in the fruitful living of this vow. But above all else, the vow of chastity requires contemplative prayer, whereby the religious experiences the intimacy of God in ways that flood the soul with grace. - Michael of Psalm 46:11

Adventures of Boss Man

My boss just got back from his Arizona vacation, staying on an Indian reservation for quick access to Indian-owned casinos.

His hotel room included, free of charge, a large buzzing sound that he initially mistook for crickets. Eventually he realized it was the sound of rattlesnakes, apparently just outside his patio door but so loud as to make him think they were under the bed. He lay, paralyzed, lest they come up and bite him during the night.

He was told they come out at night. Sounds like he'll stick to Vegas next time.

A Place of Springs

I've been lately fascinated by the life of John Paul I, by how strong he seemed prior to the papacy and how he seems to have become so anxious during those 33 days. Anxious not on his own behalf but the Church; it was because he took the papacy so seriously that it had such an impact. I tend to think that Christianity is an antidote to fear and distress but it's more subtle. The saints have the most fear and distress because they are living, by faith, out on that dividing line where the natural no longer avails. They are, that is, flying without a net. And there is no courage without fear.

The beautiful thing about the saints, about Pope John Paul I, was how they were able to serve God despite obstacles. I tend to see self-help books as something of a scam given their typical lack of effectiveness, but they are always encouraging and in that they are not to be scorned. We need encouragement and inspiration - that's what much of the Bible is.

"A new theme now inspires their praise of God; they belong to the Lamb." That's the set-up before Psalm 96 in the Liturgy of the Hours; my eyes soaked it in. That is an easy reason I can praise God although I sometimes think about the generations before Christ and how it doesn't seem fair that we have knowledge of Him and they don't. And yet the Psalms speak of Christ such that it's as if He's already with them: "As they go through the Bitter valley, they make it a place of springs..."

September 14, 2009

Friday Night Hoist

On a ravishing sunlit eve sat out on the Gordon Biersch patio tipping a few cold ones with Ron aka "Hank". I ordered the Czeck pilsner because it looked good in Ron's glass but looks can be deceiving - it was not nearly as good as Sam Adams' Summer Ale, which I'd grown fond of if in small quantities. Perhaps too it was just because it was the first, but regardless the Marzen was better than I remembered it. Other than Barley's Pale Ale, it's the best that local Columbus brewing has to offer.

Ronald was his usual jovial and generous self, already on a first name basis with the waiter by the time I got there although chastizing him when he brought out a pint with a large head on it: "Do I look like a effin' priest!" he said in a mock brogue accent, "look at the collar on that!". Colorful. I heard that football star Kurt Warner quizzes his kids after being waited on in a restaurant as to the color of the waiter's eyes in order to teach them to see others, including those serving them. To his credit, that is one lesson Ron would never require.

We covered much the same ground initially, his complaints about a local Byzantine Church, the music, the liturgy, and the current priest. All of which are superior to most Roman Catholic churches but then we all get spoiled. He made some good points, especially in regard to a hermenuetic key to understanding Fr. T - that is, Fr. T looks at the church building the way Bob Villa looks at a house in need of a make-over. Indeed I was surprised that a relatively poor parish would install a new floor.

Thoughts on the Sunday Homily

The homilist yesterday mentioned how God gave us his Son, who gave of himself completely. "He bled every last drop..." and I had an image of Jesus on the cross with every single bit of blood and water draining from him and of how he multiplied it, like the bread when feeding the 5000, only this was multiplied through all generations to all generations, his body & blood in the Eucharist and his water in Baptism.

What's funny or ironic is that it's precisely this quality of God - his love without limits - that both terrifies me and consoles me. Terrifies me because he expects the same from us - our everything, as the homilist reminded us today. And yet it is consoling because it precisely this qualty that gives me hope of my salvation. It is only the knowledge that God is willing to do practically anything and go to extremes as vivid as becoming man and allowing twelve-inch nails piercing his skin, bone and tendons that offers consolation.

The other thing that occurs to me is this: how can God show Himself to be trustworthy to us without rescuing us from bad situations? Doesn't this mean that, de facto, one need be put in bad situations? And doesn't one have to doubt God and then have him come through in order for you to learn that doubt is inaccurate? Isn't that what the apostles went through time and again, when they doubted God as Thomas did after the Resurrection? If you're never surprised by God's mercy and love then doesn't that mean you never feel need of that mercy and love, which means you never feel estranged from him?

St. Francis de Sales said, "At times we are almost lucky to have committed a sin, almost lucky because then we are humble, then we understand what wretched creatures we are, then we no longer dare to look down on others because we are sinners."

September 12, 2009

Merciful Thoughts...

...from a bishop on Sen. Kennedy, [update] via Roz of Exultet.

September 11, 2009

Cruising Speed

In lieu of writing about my own experiences, which consist primarily of making Welbornian travel arrangements (not to Europe, just somewhere warm this fall though I'm also itching for a NYC weekend such that I may go solo), I thought today I'd write a post documenting the adventures of Ham of Bone.

I'm calling it Cruising Speed after the documentary of a week in the life of William F. Buckley but I could've titled it The Last of the Rugged Individualists, seeing how Ham is a sort of Eustace Conway for the computer programmer set (to the extent that's not oxymoronic).

Son of a non-itinerant preacher, upon coming out of the womb he asked the doctor to turn off the lights not because they were too bright but out of concern for the hospital's electrical bill. He grew up in the belt of Protestant Christianity and has slowly come closer to the Catholic faith, albeit balking at his paternal (the Pope) and maternal (the Mother of Jesus) inheritance. A fan of the evangelist Francis Shaeffer, he considers himself non-denominational today.

A few months ago he informed me that his retirement date is set for the end of next year, he who is all of 45 and has 4 kids between the ages of 5 and 13 (give or take). [Insert gasps here.] If true, it's primarily due to a case of a strong work ethic and intelligence (which provided him a good salary) along with draconianly small spending habits. These two potent ingredients, along with his avoiding taking a bath in the recent stock market debacle, has resulted in a good-sized nest egg which promises him a future freedom which I'm not sure how he'll use.

So, he's focussed on God, his family, his investments, his job...leaving no time for political concerns, right?

Wrong!

Despite almost weekly commutes to Manhattan from Ohio, he is politically engaged to the point of making a speech at a local tea party and, now, on a moment's whim, marching on Washington.

(The real reason for the trip, it is said, is that he's too cheap to pay for cable and so has to watch the beloved OSU Buckeyes in a hotel room...the latter which is free, I understand, due to the frequency of business travel.)

He's taking the whole family and his flexibility in travel plans is awe-inspiring, seeing how for me a trip across town is planned farther in advance.

Ham o' Bone has come far in his knowledge of politics, religion, and his chosen career - in fact, everything but beer.

Fr. Corapi: Apostle of Hope

On the way to work I saw two cars, one turning right and the other turning left. I stopped and waved for them to go. The car turning right went first but impatiently I didn't allow the one turning left to go, despite there being no cars coming the other way.

I felt discouraged that I failed in such a small matter to "do unto others as I would have them do to me". But then I listened to Fr. Corapi and he said something very pertinent like, "what do you do if you are weak and feel of little account and of little service? Do not grow discouraged but look to St. Therese and the 'little way'. Know that in weakness there is strength, and boast as St. Paul did of his weakness. It's an opportunity for God to show His great love." Very encouraging and I resolved to do better, if only in the littlest things.

September 10, 2009

It's High-Laire

...to see the outrage of Democrats over someone calling the President a liar. They must think we have short memories. You really can't make it up.

Randomized Thoughts

Through the miracle of Bloglines I was alerted to fresh magic from Steven Riddle & Betty Duffy today. I'm semi-fascinated that Betty's psuedonym is so plain; I suspect it means her real name is not and that for her it's a relief to have a name you don't have to spell. Betty's latest post was funny and I admit to a hypochondriacal streak far stronger than hers.

Lately I've been concerned by high blood pressure but when the nurse took my BP for the yearly physical it was 124/80, not 140/90 as it was on the BP machine just outside the nurse's office.

"Do not trust that machine!" she said.

But contrary to the "white coat disease" where your BP goes up higher when being measured by a medical professional, I find the touch of a woman nurse calming. So now, hypochondriacally, I wonder if female nurses artifically lower my pressure.

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I'm really loving the comments on this bible blog post, even if it's rank stereotyping and helps further divide the church by placing labels on people. It's all so wrong. But see my blog title. I also find, to my dismay, that I sometimes like talking about bible versions even more than reading one.

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Conservative pundit Laura Ingraham sees the proliferation of social networking sites like Facebook & Twitter as a negative, asking why it is that we don't live more instead of going online and dishing out minutiae like what we ate today. Ingraham had on an expert saying that online communication is not nearly as therapeutic (if you will), as the real thing. We are embodied and all that.

Sometimes it does seem like the vacation triplogs got out of hand because I was writing more about vacation than actually vacationing, in fine cart-before-the-horse fashion. But then I enjoy writing so much that it could be said to be part of the vacation, an excuse and inspiration to write. I find it calming. And it probably lowers my blood pressure.
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I watched the Obama speech last night with the fast-forward button handy in order to ward off pointless applause. The high point was someone yelling something after Obama said no health care for illegal immigrants ("You lie," it turned out to be) and I found the frowning faces of Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden particularly compelling as any burst of true emotion would be in an otherwise contrived affair. Speeches like this one, before a joint session of Congress, have a sort of Academy Awards flair to it, at least for political junkies. While she was glad-handing down the red carpet I kept waiting for someone to ask Hillary who she was wearing. Disappointing was the lack of Supreme Court justices, wearing their sober black and sitting on their hands. It's like American Idol without Simon. I like how they act apolitical when the opposite is mostly true.

September 09, 2009

Spanning the Globe to Bring You the Constant Variety of Posts

The Mass recapitulates, reexperiences, all of Christ’s life and thus church history. I suddenly realized that – DUH! The Gloria is Christmas! We’re singing with the angels (in the new translation at least) — “Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth to men of goodwill”! It’s CHRISTMAS! The start of Mass is the Annunciation. That time when the priest says, the Lord be with you — he’s talking Emmanuel. It’s like Gabriel and Mary all in one! The Gloria is Christmas, the Liturgy of the Word is the public life of Christ, the Creed is Peter and the rest believing. Then everything from the Offertory on is the Last Supper, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection. (Well, that part I did know.) Then after Communion, the Lord sends us on our way with the Great Commission. When the Real Presence is no longer present within us, it’s Ascension. And the whole time we look toward the East, if we do, we’re looking toward the Second Coming. - Suburban Banshee

I may be weird, but I like the NRSV and ESV the best of those mentioned. The NIV, TNIV, and NLT treated Paul as the first Lutheran.- commenter concerning bible versions on Scott McKnight's "Jesus Creed" blog

So often in my life, especially since my rediscovery of faith, I have found that God fills me with such tremendous graces as a means of preparing me for some struggle or another. I remember when I was diagnosed with cancer, those first two weeks or so I was flooded with grace and an overwhelming sense of the presence of God in my life, a gift I recognize was given to me so that I would be able to maintain hope during those subsequent weeks of great spiritual darkness. It is very easy in this life to lose trust in God, to forget that we are indeed under His loving providence, and that He loves us more than we could ever know. I believe that was the case again here, where God blessed me with such a magnificent experience of community, of the Augustinian vocation, just as the first real challenges would arise. These past few days have had some struggles, some hardships, some of which I anticipated, some I certainly did not. At first they began to weigh on me, until finally I was able to remember that I did not join religious life because I sought a life of comfort, but rather because it is where I trust that God is calling me and that for me it is the truest path to God. It is the same for someone called to marriage. A marriage is certainly going to have difficulties, but one does not choose marriage because it is easy, but rather because love compels each towards the other. And it is that love that not only makes the struggles endurable, but that even transfigures those struggles into virtue. - Psalm 46:11 - A Journey to Truth

Acedia,[Kathleen] Norris wrote, is essentially, an unwillingness to accept God’s gift of today... I would rather just skim the surface of the present, driving up and down 280 several times a day, then sitting and re-watching every single episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, thinking of how Michael would say Suzie was me (gee, thanks) and how Jeff reminded him of his friend Brian. Which over the past month, is exactly what I have done...The server brought a box, the bill and a fortune cookie. I wondered what it would say. I cracked open the crescent, bent in on itself, and pulled out the slip of paper. I almost felt the need to brace myself. Stop it, I said. Superstition.Working hard will make you live a happy life. Well. - Amy Welborn via Bill of Summa Minutiae

It seems strange to think of the modern WWJD movement and all these obviously Catholic characters and quirks as branches from a single vine. Yet they are all clearly rooted in the same desire to follow Jesus as closely as possible--to be able to say, as did St. Paul, that Christ lives in one. WWJD is what you have left of the Catholic brand of discernment after you take the Eucharist away. The Catholic (and therefore, original) version of WWJD dates from the first century and can be abbreviated as QVD: Quo Vadis, Domine? Note the essential difference. It is not, "Where would Jesus go?" It is, "Where are You going, Lord?" So St. Peter followed Him into Rome and to an upside-down cross . . . his brother St. Andrew followed Him into Scotland and to yet another kind of cross . . . St. Anthony of Egypt followed Him into the desert . . . St. Augustine and St. Anselm followed Him into the episcopacy . . . St. Monica followed Him by following her own son . . - Sancta Sanctis

Latin orations, especially the Post-Communion orations, tend to conclude strongly with a teleological or eschatological point. The new translations in English follow the sequence of these Latin prayers in order to end on a strong note. One example from Tuesday of the First Week of Lent:

"Grant us through these mysteries, Lord,
that by tempering earthly desires
we may learn to love the things of heaven."

In colloquial speech we would probably say, “we may learn to love the things of heaven by tempering earthly desires.” Yet the order is reversed. The result: there is now a strong teleological emphasis on the things of heaven.

This use of inversion is a characteristic of the Latin Missal. In the Proper of Seasons, eighteen of the Prayers after Communion (14%) use inversions. The result is powerful. When prayed, the prayer does not simply dribble off into insignificance. It retains the distinctive theological emphases of the Latin text. In fact, the slightly non-colloquial word order leads the listener to a greater attentiveness to the point of the prayer.
- taken from the Address of Bishop Arthur Serratelli to the 2008 National Meeting of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions

Handy Hint for Conscience Formation of Vowed Religious #7: Quoting Martin Luther approvingly is a bad sign. - semper helpful Tom of Disputations on a nun supporting women's ordination

This & That

Biblical tribalism
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Been thinking of the sometimes ridiculousness of office work - the trivial infighting and politics and tiny-to-the-point-of-zero effect that any one person can contribute to the bottom line of a corporation - but also how those feelings can be leavened by humility.

The example that comes to mind is offered by Kathleen Norris in Acedia and Me of a hermit monk who made baskets but who was too far from civilization to profit from it, so every year he burned all his baskets. Interesting. It puts work on a completely different plane; by removing all trace of utility that monk was really proclaiming that work is made for man and not man for work, as John Paul II said.
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A controversial view of Medjugorje
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St. Leo the Great's exegete about "blessed are those who mourn":
"The mourning for which he promises eternal consolation, dearly beloved, has nothing to do with ordinary worldly distress; for the tears which have their origin in the sorrowcommon to all mankind do not make anyone blessed...Religious grief mourns for sin, one's own or another's; it does not lament because of what happens as a result of Go'd justice, but because of what is done by human malice. Indeed, he who does wrong is more to be lamented than he who suffers it, for his wickedness plunges the sinnner into punishment, whereas endurance can raise the just man to glory."
Well, you can tell why he's a saint.
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Humor seems at least partially generational. A friend writes, "Jerry Lewis was needlessly vulgar and 'ethnic' at some points during the telethon. Came off more like an unfunny (unfunnier?) Don Rickles. He told a little girl, "Tell God that the Jew is on your side," or words to that effect. The girl looked duly appalled."

And during the thirty seconds I watched indeed he did sort of insult this Burger King executive who came on, telling him he was boring. (He was.) I'm guessing people over 60 find Rickles and Lewis very funny.

September 08, 2009

Sincerity is Overrated?

Eve's anti-sincerism posts sincerely fascinate me. She packs a lot in a little when she says,
"I note that 'safe, sane, and consensual' is an extraordinarily sincerist credo; its assumptions about our ability to know ourselves, and its assumption that self-knowledge and self-ownership form the core of morality, are basically my exact problems with the sincerist ideal. Not to mention that s/s/c = three things vocation isn't."
Calling vocation not consensual reminds me of that seminarian blogger who titled his blog, "You Duped Me, Lord!". (He later changed his title, presumably because he really wasn't being duped.)

I wonder if Eve's thoughts are applicable to other things. It's a Catholic credo that the Bible is not self-interpreting and that it should be read in the mind of the Church. Could we say of sola scriptura the same things Eve said were problems of sincerism? Namely:
* It's a genre which thinks it's the whole of art; it's a perspective which won't acknowledge its contingency.

[i.e. the Bible came out of the Church...]

* It's the privilege of those whose beliefs are basically mainstream to think that "realism" and sincerity are good ways of conveying the truth. Only those whose experiences and interpretations line up with mainstream culture can be guaranteed that their sincere heart-baring tales will be believed.

[i.e. sola scriptura seems a good way of conveying the truth to those in communities where sola scriptura is already the standard.]
She also links to someone who writes:
Journaling about some difficult family memories last year, I wrote, "I became a poet so that I could tell the truth without being understood." I hadn't ever realized this until I wrote it down; apparently, transparency is a privilege I don't always grant to myself, let alone other people.

Post-Laborous Day Post

Sayanora says the summer on this the unofficial end, Labor Day.

Long-time readers first-time callers may recall that this is the time of year I traditionally whine about the end of all that is good and true, i.e. the summer.

But perhaps I look at the flowers differently, those beautiful if haunting images(haunting for their obvious transience), and perhaps I can enjoy them in a new way (even for the first time) in not trying to "consume" them. They are nice-to-haves. I realize that no matter how long I gaze at the green trees and landscape that it will never be enough, and that's fine because that's how we were designed. We are designed for more.
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My favorite bible verse may well be where Jesus tells his apostles that He loved them first. Indeed that is the crux of faith, in believing and living that truth. From the Our Lady of Guadalupe book:
"...The Virgin's words express how this is a relationship that already exists. She is already (Juan Diego's) mother. She already holds Juan Diego in her arms. Mary's motherhood affects each of us individually, as she intercedes and cares for us."

Last Things

2009 has been a year of deaths of public people personally influential on me. There's been William F. Buckley, Richard Neuhaus, Michael Dubruiel, and John Updike to name a few.

Reading Christopher Buckley's memoir of his late father's last days has pretty much cured me of my semi-morbid desire to read of anybody's last days, although it did keen my desire to be more like John Paul II in his final days than, say, a Jack Kerouac (God rest his soul). It was John Paul the Great who taught us how to age with dignity, to the extent anyone's earthly example can.

But then, while saying the second decade of the rosary, it occurred to me what a misbegotten project that is because it still focuses only on self. I wasn't really thinking of God in this situation. Unlike St. Joan of Arc, who wanted desperately to see a crucifix while on the stake - because it was there she found her motivation and inspiration. The tendency to focus solely on self multiplies expotentially with pain, understandably.

Love alone avails, even/especially when it concerns performance-related issues like "how am I dealing with this suffering?" Is the question itself the wrong one? Perhaps it's as simple as asking: "God, please give me - all of us - the courage and strength to endure whatever crosses we will face in the future!"

September 05, 2009

Whereupon I Wax & Wane About My 2-hr Friday Night Camping Trip

It was a land strewn with faeries and faerie lights surrounded by woods and gnawing Augustian insects and curious lit-encirclements which appeared to the naked eye as re-enactments of early-19th century homesteads albeit ahistorical ("must have flush toilets," said the beefy, tatoo'd ex-truck driver brother-in-law and Bluto look-alike with the heart of gold).

I walked our dog along the narrow blacktop'd campground road, cringing inwardly when the klieg lights were colored because it reminded me too much of Christmas and I was morally opposed to seasonal reminders outside of the season because I suffered from rigidity according to my flexible wife. (She could even read in the presence of other campers, a characteristic I longed to ape.)

Our favorite homestead, I say speaking also for my dog although I can't say for sure he agreed, was the one that had old country music playing, so old such that it might only be found on an eight-track tape buried under other eight-tracks in a flea market so obscure that even the fleas wouldn't find it. It sounded Conway Twitty-ish though even I, a wanna-be connoisseur of old time country, couldn't identify song or singer and so I was necessarily filled with wonder. I gaped at the figures sitting around a make-shift country porch, as if they were the wax figures at Madame Tussauds, feeling the same joy of possibility I'd felt as a kid while reading Ripley's Believe it or Not!

The campfire beckoned as I pulled out "one for sorrow, one for joy", Kathleen Norris and a history of the Cincinnati Reds (which is which will be left intentionally ambiguous) and just as the solar grill light lit up the page it lit up the tongues of previously quiet campers.

The air smelt of woodsmoke and ash and the heavens were dotted with seldom-seen stars up there where seldom, if ever, is heard a discouragin' word. All was pleasantly disorienting as I made my way back to the car, the dark making the road only slightly effable and I had not a flashlight with me other than a full yellow moon I named Mary.

September 04, 2009

The Corporate Nature of Christ

Jesus said, "it was not you who loved me first, but I who loved you." And who can doubt it with respect to the apostles! Their love was weak and tepid until after Pentecost and if Jesus loved the apostles first, he loves even us first too because we know, intuitively, that we're not really any better or worse than the apostles. They were chosen seemingly randomly as representatives of our race. What is possible for them - to be filled with the love of God - is possible for us because God plays no favorites.

I find it consoling that someone as strong & manly as Padre Pio could be more consoled by the epistles of St. Paul than any other part of the Bible. "Whenever I read [Paul's] letters, which I prefer to all other holy writings, words cannot express my relish for them," he wrote. Being beaten around by the devil as he was likely inclines one to a certain amount of humility and compassion such that he could say fervently, "Pray, hope and don't worry". Those prone to hopelessness and despair are the ones mostly likely to preach hope and peace. Those who are already strong have no need of mercy.

Since I was a child the letters of St. Paul were likewise my favorite and I think it's because they are exceedingly encouraging, and they are extremely encouraging because Paul himself was first a persecutor of Christians and so was more gentle than he otherwise might've been, understanding his own weaknesses. And it was inconceivable to him that God might save him but not others. One need look only as far as yesterday's first reading, Colossians 1:9-14:
"Therefore, from the day we heard this, we do not cease praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding to live in a manner worthy of the Lord, so as to be fully pleasing, in every good work bearing fruit and growing in the knowledge of God, strengthened with every power, in accord with his glorious might, for all endurance and patience, with joy giving thanks to the Father, who has made you fit to share in the inheritance of the holy ones in light."
Paul says boldly that God has made us "fit to share in the inheritance of the holy ones". It doesn't get anymore encouraging than that. And we feel it even more keenly because we know that the early Christian communities that Paul was writing to were not exactly paragons of virtue. They squabbled and acted selfishly and were remonstrated for numerous sins, sins that obscure our vision of God but which could be forgiven.

Christians still have to "pass by the dragon" said an early saint. I've heard it said that Christ's suffering was not as long in duration as other people's sufferings, but I think that misses the point in the sense of not fulling understanding the corporate nature of Christ - that He is within us literally and that when we suffer He somehow participates. When I look at a saint like St. Francis, who received the stigmata, I see Christ. If it's hard to differentiate sometimes between Jesus and the Father because they are so close, it's similarly sometimes hard to do so in St. Francis and Jesus, given their mutual earthly miracles and sufferings. The unreal suffering of some tortured martyrs can be understood only supernaturally; they could not have withstood it without God's presence, and in that way Christ suffers much longer than anyone else, through us. We think of ourselves as individuals when God thinks of us much more communally, for what else could it mean that when Adam sinned we all did? What else could it mean that when Christ was redeemed all were redeemed? The imagery of the Body of Christ is not merely an image but a reality we can barely comprehend.

September 03, 2009

Quotes from Koontz

Read long last night from the Dean Koontz memoir while our dog Buddy went ballistic over some creature living under our shed. Likely a mole, and he's making a moutain out of it. I'd gotten home late and so missed much of the still generous sun and had to be content with the leavenings of small vanishing rays in the deep backyard. This time of year the sun is at such at angle that even the basketball court is shaded by 6 or 6:30. 95% of our house and lawn is shaded between 6 and 8 despite a cloudless sky. The culprit? Neighbor's trees mostly. I set out another chair just in front of the porch which seems to be the last of the late-day sun, a sort of reverse Mr. Freeze spot. Am I obsessive about it? Of course. Free sun is like free beer; I won't kick it out of bed.

Koontz's life seems very livable although tis true he's a ferociously hard worker despite not needing to be. (Has all the money in the world.) He's an interesting figure because he works in part simply out of the recognition that that is part of our earthly repentance. Ah but to do all our work in that spirit! Alack, I lack!

There is a simplicity about him. He'd gotten cynical when teaching high school and thereafter, near despair over how little natural justice there is. But getting a dog restored his wonder and led him to return to his Catholic faith. A providential dog encouraged within him a sense of the mystery of everyday life - another case of the little teaching the strong. "Unless ye become as children..." (Or as dogs.)

He writes of his experience of teaching and it reminds me of how my own sense of wonder had been undermined by the scandals in the Church (most especially one involving a novelist named MacFarlane):
At Mechanicsburg High School, I enjoyed teaching and had a knack for it, but the educational bureaucracy and the theories on which it fed proved to be the opposite of that beautiful machine of natural law, was instead a big, ever-growing, mindless, mechanical leviathan wreaking havoc as it ground through the decades, certain to produce eventually a generation of perfect barbarians. Seeing through to the truth under the illusions that have shaped you is important, but it can be dispiriting and can tie knots in your wonder.
What he says about writers isn't pretty but is something most of us intuitively grasp:
My heroes had long been novelists, and although I met some writers who became good and cherished friends, Gerda and I found this community as a whole to be solipsistic and narcissistic and irrational to such a degree that when I showed her a newspaper story about a university study headlined "80 Percent of People With Writing Talent Show Signs of Schizophrenia", she said, "Can you believe it's only eighty percent?"
What's also interesting is that he would've never gotten the dog except for his humanitarian efforts directed towards serving people with handicaps. It was in reaching out to others that he was ultimately reached. He saw how the dogs helped the wheel-chair bound, and when one of the dogs was injured during training he was asked to become an owner. He said yes.

Two Can Play at that Game

... just call me a Grandpa at 46 - my stepson's wife is pregnant! :-)

September 02, 2009

St. John of the Cross in the Word Among Us


From the latest Word Among Us here and here:

When people read John of the Cross’ two books, Ascent of Mount Carmel or Dark Night of the Soul, they tend to come away overwhelmed.

John can sound so demanding that we think to ourselves, “How can I possibly live out his words today? Do I really have to suffer as much as he did—or as much as he talks about it?” But I believe that when we understand John’s view of the Christian life, we discover a very human and complete path to God.

So in these next two articles, I want to look at John’s teaching from another angle—an angle that will help us draw closer to God. I want to show how John’s teachings really are encouraging and hopeful, and how he is convinced that all of us can come to the point where we are able to love each other with the very love that God has for us...

He is also clear that this emptying can be painful despite the good work that is going on inside. In other words, for the transformation to occur, we need to surrender.

This is where many people find John to be too harsh or demanding. But while he does talk about the pain involved in dying to our old life, John makes it clear that this is something we begin to desire because of the love we are experiencing:
In that sweet drink of God, in which the soul is imbibed in him, the soul most willingly and with intense delight surrender wholly to him, in the desire to be totally his and never to possess anything other than him… . And since he transforms the soul in himself, he makes it entirely his own and empties it of all it possesses other than him. (The Spiritual Canticle, 27, 6)
There is no doubt that for John of the Cross, God does everything. But this does not mean that we remain passive, merely sitting back and waiting. Rather, God challenges us to enter into the process by actively loving and surrendering to him. In fact, he wants us to become as active as the flames of love by which his Spirit transforms us.
...

According to John, it is God who gives us everything that is necessary to put off the old life and put on the new life—to change and focus fully on him. This process is a pure gift, an undeserved grace. It is not something we can accomplish on our own and it does not happen overnight. Rather, the process occurs over a lifetime, within the concrete circumstances and events of our lives

September 01, 2009

Spanning the Globe to Bring You the Constant Variety of Posts

Homesteader. Wannabe. Five months ago we dumped the very nice house with a very nice, big, privacy fenced yard in a very nice neighborhood with fairly stable property values, cashed in the sadly meager 401K, quit the husband’s job, and moved into the middle of nowhere. We live on four forested acres in the mountains in a manufactured home that was foreclosed on by HUD and left fallow with deer running through it and — well, you don’t want to know — for a long time before we found it. We are going commando — pay as we go, no debt, no mortgage. No jobs. . . . .we are so broke. But, I want chickens. And a cow. And to be able to keep food on the table and insulin in the pump for my kids. The little things. Pray for us? Will ya? - blogger at "Two Ways of Renouncing the Devil"

If the choice to kill my child in the womb is a matter between me and my doctor, why isn't the choice to undergo a tonsillectomy a matter between me and my doctor?" - Peony of "Pansy and Peony"

My mom was reading the crawl on Channel 5, which said that Kennedy's Mass will be held at the Mission Church, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, "the cavernous basilica in Roxbury." My mom confused "cavernous" with "carnivorous"! "What does the Mission Church have to do with eating meat?" - Dylan of "dark speech upon the harp"

I have struggled with perfectionism for as long as I can remember, and I have learned that it is essential for me to keep my eyes on Christ's choice to accept the limits of a human frame. If I look only to the exalted Lord, crucified, risen, ascended into Heaven, it is easy for me to get stuck in perfectionist hell -- which is unpleasant as well as unproductive. - commenter Jamie on "Darwin Catholic"

If we have unrealistic expectations of others, our spouse, our kids, we probably have unrealistic expectations of prayer. If we are nitpicky fault-finders, we think that is how God will be with us. Who wants to go to prayer to be nitpicked? If we appreciate others and enjoy their presence, their good and bad, we will know that prayer is not always a perfect scenario, but is good and necessary. - paraphrase of talk given by priest, via Betty Duffy

The other point that hit me...– as it did in Dorothy Day’s letters, as it does in any unvarnished reading we are able to do of holy people – is how hard it is. I don’t know where this notion that once you give yourself to Christ, everything will be “fine” on every level comes from. I really don’t. Michael used to say, “The only thing Jesus promised his apostles was that they would suffer.” Actually, I think he was quoting Groeschel when he said that. And when you read the saints with a clear eye, that’s so true. And not just “suffer” in the sense that we tend to define it today – suffering from you know, self-doubt, lack of self-confidence and low self-worth – but really suffer from persecution, even from within the Church, suffer failure and disappointment, suffer from the consequences of their own mistakes and misreadings and wrong turns, suffer from doubt, and suffer because…I really could be doing something else more pleasant. I could just walk away. Why don’t I? - Amy Welborn