June 07, 2013

Seven (now with even more for the same price!) Quick Takes
...hosted by Jennifer of Conversion Diary

Surprised to see famed blogger Fr. Z was/is visiting Manhattan. He writes that he's seeing the Met early and often and posted photos of some of the art he's seeing there.  Small world!  Funny that he and I should both find the Met so awe-inspiring and a primary purpose in going there.  Looks like he got there the day I left.


Mildly annoyed at the use of "blog" in place of "blog post".  The priest blogger at the Washington diocese said in a FB post: "New blog today" and linked to his latest blog post.  In my day "blog" referred to the site. Must look up the dictionary definition. Yes it seems like the current definition, perhaps already outdated, sees a blog as a website, not a website post.  We're all pedants I guess, just in different ways concerning different pet peeves.


The homilist the other day said it was all about right order. That when we have things in the right order: God, church, family, work...It providentially answered Lino Rulli's query about why personal goodness does not translate to preferential treatment by God in this life: in one sense it doesn't matter (at the risk of entertaining a Stoic philosophy). If God is our idol and object of worship then the externals of health, wealth and happiness are extraneous. We already have the one true treasure. As a recent gospel went, we have to love God with all our heart, mind and strength and our neighbor as ourselves. (In that last Benedict and Francis perfectly reflect this with Benedict focusing on our love for God and Francis on our love for neighbor - and how providential the timing with Benedict coming first, just as our love for God need come first and out of that flow our love for neighbor.)

Line from the Catechism: “Love seeks to be definitive.” And I thought about how the definitive aspect is available to all of us given our immortal souls. It's the forever-ness of our spiritual souls that make our love potentially permanent. When I look at others, so much of the time I see their bodies or their actions or their brains. The way they look, talk, think, etc… I hardly ever consider what they primarily are, that is as permanent-living souls created and redeemed by God. Sure we'll have Resurrected bodies some day, but the permanent aspect of ourselves - the part that never decays even for a time - is our soul. Permanence is what really matters.  I think the hard thing to figure is why the need for separation of soul and body for a time. It seems ill-designed. Of course sin is the answer, not God, but it just seems clunky, like the soul and body of a human should never be separated – albeit I'm biased, not being a particular fan of death. One of my Thomist teachers said that the human consists of body AND soul, and so when we lose our bodies we are not human anymore, not really. That's how important our bodily component is to our identity. God made us different from the angels and animals in precisely this way.


 “Ahab wants the impossible: to know what Providence intends for him, a knowledge Melville associates with the unfathomable depths of the sea. When one of the captured sperm whales has been butchered and Ahab sees its head hanging from the hawsers, he address it: 'Speak, mighty head, and tell us of the secret thing that is in thee. Of all divers, thou has dived the deepest…Oh head! Thou has seen enough to split the planets and make an infidel of Abraham, and not one syllable is thine!'” - Philip Gura, Truth's Ragged Edge

Indeed this craving for that which we cannot know with certainty is part of what it means to be a creature and not Creator, and is frustrating.My tendency is to mimic the rich young man and say, “tell me what to do to be saved” as if there were a mechanical formula, a burnt offering of sorts, as if God wasn't personal but a lever to be pulled. As the gospel went, God seeks love not burnt offerings. You get the feeling that God is allergic to formula, to the safety of anything but trusting him.

So the proud Ahab is one type, and the humble Psalmist quite another (from Ps 131):

“Lord, my heart is not lifted up,
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.”

What's also intriguing is how Ahab and the Psalmist define depth and that which is secret so differently. For Ahab it's entirely negative – that which can “split the planets” (destroy, disturb order, tranquility) and “make an infidel of Abraham”. For the Psalmist it's something “great” and “too marvelous”.

I read the sermon on Jonah in Moby Dick, and think of the great parallel, of how Christ too was on a boat in danger of sinking, sleeping like Jonah during a great storm. What is the significance? Surely not a coincidence. Perhaps as a sacrifice, at least eventually. Jonah goes overboard to save his crew mates, and Christ dies on a Cross to save his.

Some of Melville reads like poetry.  Like: “Nor does this – it's amazing strength, at all tend to cripple the graceful flexion of its motions; where infantileness of ease undulates through a Titanism of power.” Did I not feel, in those words, an infantileness of ease undulating with a Titanism of power exhibited by the author himself?


There's something resurrectional about starting the day in a normal workaday fashion and then, apropos of nothing, finding oneself looking over a gold-lit baseball field. How do such things happen besides in dreams? Well it was the annual work outing at Huntington Park. There's something special about arriving fifteen minutes before a game to soak up the music, sun, and anticipation. Even absent of players the field itself is a wonder, in fact I feel vaguely stupid to think so, as if I'd pay simply to gaze out on an empty baseball diamond. All too soon it was National Anthem time and I bought a hotdog and cracker jacks (nearly everyone else - excepting those who, more understandably, went directly for beer - eschewed tradition and chose boneless chicken wings. At fifty cents a wing it wasn't a bad deal.)

It was hot. Eight-five degrees hot. Not-acclimated-to-it-yet hot. With little wind either. But surprisingly there was a good contingent in the seats this time. I sat next to the always friendly Dan S., who monkishly records every out in his scorebook.


Meanwhile succulent June calls, and everything so preternaturally alive! Every leaf, tree and flower has not a dead or lean thing about it! There's something awfully consoling, if momentarily so, in this time in which we see no death and can almost believe there is no death, the only season that can so boast.

These days I cut the grass almost hourly it seems, the wide golden swaths lit by late day sun.


Wondered about Psalm 5 today, specifically about God that “no sinner is your guest” which seems to have been refuted by Christ when he sat down and ate with prostitutes and tax collectors. I likely take things too literally. The New American Bible has it as “no wicked person finds refuge with you” which can be read spiritually as no wicked person goes to Heaven. The NET version has it “no evil person will dwell with you” which brings home the point more firmly. “Dwell” suggests more of a permanent arrangement while “guest” seems temporary. Am tempted to pick up "Restless Flame", a historical fiction about St. Augustine recommended by Julie Davis of "Happy Catholic".

The delightful Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary is a tasty morsel! A nice article on ancient Babylon complete with pictures that you can zoom in via the iPad. Fascinating to see the place now, a wrack of sand and ruin. How did it fall? The article doesn't answer that, other than to say by 200 A.D. it seems to have emptied out. Amazing that such an incredibly wealthy and beautiful city could pretty much disappear while cities like Rome continue. Of course I suppose that's why they call Rome “the eternal city”. I wonder if Babylon deserves such a negative reputation as the Jews of that time credited it; surely any country that conquers you instead of vice-versa is going to be looked upon askance. Rome seems a lot worse, at least according to my limited knowledge.


Couldn't resist the monthly live-streamed American Chesterton Society meeting. There's Dale Alquist against a bookish background, his sharp-looking study, answering questions (including mine, about what Chesterton had against jazz (answer: it was played during meals and he felt that was an insult to both the musicians and the chef)). It's a rather pleasant diversion given there's a chat window where you can pontificate and/or query your fellow sixty-plus viewers. Got to love an operation small enough with such a hands-on approach and such a lack of “buffer”. He's offering a first edition of Chesterton's The Ball and the Cross - signed by the great one (GKC) himself - which is enticing enough for me to enter the raffle by donating $25.

I was struck that Chesterton was not fond of women voting because he saw the family as a unit and they should vote as one with the husband as the representative. Which I can see. But less convincing was that he said that politics was a dirty business and women were above it. That sort of belies his passionate belief in democracy, doesn't it? I mean if you believe in democracy so strongly then shouldn't you want everybody to vote?


Funny line in Andrew Greeley obit:

“I suppose I have the Irish weakness for words gone wild,” Greeley told the New York Times in 1981. “Besides, if you’re celibate, you have to do something.”


I'm always notice the evolutions in womanly attractiveness, expressed in that continual drive towards more effective attention-grabbing. The easy way is, of course, via short skirts, but lately I've seen a lot of very short shorts as well. But the new evolution on the block appears to be these pants that define the buttocks with pluperfect fidelity. I'm not sure what the material is made of, but it seems to go behind simply wearing tight clothing. It seems as though this is some sort of space age material that is both comfortable (at least it looks comfortable) and is extremely body-conforming.


One of the marks of our age seems to be the shrugging off of ceremony, occasion, specialness, especially specialness in the form of permanent vows, particular affection for their country, or even celebrating a given day on that particular day. Thus “Ascension Thursday” can be celebrated in some dioceses on a Sunday. Even more trivially, but somehow symbolic, backyard fireworks used to be for the 4th of July only but slowly morphed into being set off all of the first week of July in our neighborhood. And then late June. And then mid-June. And on May 31st I heard somebody already setting them off. What used to be essentially a patriotic symbol have now become a summer activity. By disassociating the celebration of fireworks from that particular holiday, he or she is ruining the specialness of July 4th for everybody.


I tried to work out what love is which is always sort of impossible since God is love and thus to some extent we're dealing with a Mystery. Love can be see as an end in itself since our end is God and, as I said, God is love. If love is seen as a means in order to get to God, that is perhaps shady theology, as if we can love Him before He loved us. We can't earn Heaven. If love is seen merely as self-sacrifice and human will (St. Paul writes that self-sacrifice without love is useless in 1st Corinthians) then you could see where love would be a means to an end. The love expressed by the martyrs, “the seed of the Church”, was a means to an end (the 'witness' of the Church) as was, of course, the death of Our Lord on the cross which accomplished our salvation. So there's a sense in which acts of love are means, but that's distinct from love itself I suppose. They are byproducts of that love accomplished really by God within us. Even Jesus said that the crucifixion and his words were not from him but from the Father (“Let this cup pass…if it is your will”.) Priest said part of dying to ourselves was treating others better than they deserve, which is the way God treats us.


This sudden interest in history displayed by my humble suburb and my large corporation are understandable in terms of the drive towards the local, towards the “handmade” and not mass-produced.

Anchor Steam, the first craft brewery of the modern era, advertised fifty years ago: “Made in San Francisco since 1896”. “[It] enticed consumers to think about their beer in terms then increasingly uncommon: as the carefully created product of a certain time and a certain place. Made only in X since Y– it was the antithesis of mass production, where history matters little and place even less.”

I think back to when I was growing up in the late '70s and how something mass-produced was seen as better for at least three reasons: one, consistency and predictability of product. “It tastes funny,” was the most derogatory thing you could say in an unstable era that was seeking, above all, stability and predictability. Another reason is that it was generally cheaper. And a third is perennial: popularity carries its own reward. If something was popular it was cool, and if something is cool you can be cool by partaking of it. In other words, branding.

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