June 24, 2014

Shortish Takes

Listened to a bit of Brian Lamb's podcast with Bernard Tate, the British chap who's worked for CSPAN for 25+ years and is retiring. He was C-Span's man in London and talked about British distinctives, like the eccentric House of Commons guy who hollers out a snarky line every year when the Queen “demands” (as the script goes) that the House of Commons go to the House of Lords in order to meet with the Queen. No fan of royalty, he'll make a complaint about royal expenses, like the Jubilee celebration coming on the heels of the Great Recession. Oh those crazy Britons.

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On Saturday made the drive to Cincy and we rode bikes along the Ohio River for a mile or so till we hit the stadium. I hadn't been to a Reds game in years, maybe five? - and the length and width and breadth sort of the baseball cathedral sort of took my breath away. I'd gotten so used to the small confines of our minor league park in Columbus that it was sort of astonishing to see how big everything was here, and how packed the sold-out game was. Everything first class - the tall stacks, the craft beer choices, the nooks and crannies of alternate entertainment options within the ballpark (such as a small astroturf'd whiffle ball field for kids). Just outside the park they had a rose garden with a white rose marking the exact spot Pete Rose's 4192 hit came. Pretty impressive all around.

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A spit in the eye of utilitarianism came from a book review of a book on reading offering the following:
You must conclude [her reading] stunt useless - and wonderfully so. There is something freeing in that uselessness, particularly at this moment, when so manny act as though reading were a civic duty, good only for its power to teach empathy or improve job performance.
The New Yorker piece continues:
It is a decidedly contemporary feeling, this feeling of missing out (FOMO)…And what about the books right in front of you? My own bookshelves are filled with books I haven't read, and books I read so long ago that they look at me like strangers. Can you have FOMO about your own life? Reading more books begins at home.
It occurred to me to wonder why it is that perfectly wasteful occupations seemed such a salutary pursuit when I was a boy, pursuits that either paid or unpaid were almost designed not to make a splash?  My habit of collecting things illustrated that.  What is more useless than collecting colored pieces of paper (stamps and baseball cards)?  Why did steady, low-profile occupations also attract me?  I tend to think partially due to weak faith - I didn't feel worthy of being called to something greater and (also indicative of weak faith), I desired financial security.

I think part of it was a reaction to the folly of ambition, of all the "dress for success" books out then, of the whole gamesmanship part of it.  I wanted to opt out and be judged objectively on merits, not on personal presentation, hence I hated the idea of schmoozing but loved the idea of accountancy or being a mailman. The numbers add up - or they don't.  The mail gets delivered - or it doesn't.  Part of the reason I changed my major in college was I began to understand that the green eye-shade bookkeepers of yesteryear were becoming a figment of our imagination, that even accountants had to present an image, had to be outgoing, had to, at least at some firms, move up or move out.

I always liked those stories of eccentric men in Ripley's Believe It or Not! who collected every newspaper from the last thirty years.  Or who diligently collected on tape the birdsongs of two hundred calls.  There seemed something of a spit in the eye of pragmatism.  Surely part of the appeal was my own introverted tendencies.  I liked nothing more than the thought of long nights in a carrel of a library; I wanted, in essence, to be a "professional student".

Even the great Samuel Johnson spent years on a dictionary which seems, perhaps in retrospect, slight use of his prodigious talents.  How many lives were changed by a dictionary?  How many people said, "I read the dictionary back when I was twenty and it changed my life."  Life-change is where the action is, and it's certainly right where the gospel is.  Metanoia is everything in the NT.

There's a continuum of course - the man collecting newspapers is a less worthy enterprise, it would seem, than Samuel Johnson's quest, which is less worthwhile than Ronald Knox's translation of the Bible, which is arguably less worthy than a papal encyclical.

What I'm getting at is wondering how you can waste time without injuring eternity. We are called to be junior St. Paul's and so it seems kind of crazy to spend time in philately.  Better than fellatio I suppose.  But it is sort of remarkable how few saints were collectors of anything save "treasure in Heaven" as the gospel from today went.  (Who, I wonder, is the patron saint of philately? Surely no one but I will google it -- well, omg as the kids say.  St Gabriel the Archangel is supposedly the patron saint of stamp collectors, presumably on the strength of his being sent, like a letter.)

Speaking of treasure in Heaven, the deacon-homilist at St. Pat's is awesomely gentle.  He boldly interpreted our Lord's words in rather surprising fashion, saying that by "treasure in Heaven" it's not helpful to think of it as a pile of good deeds, a big pile of merit, that we either cumulate or not (with bad deeds subtracting from the pile) and with our Heavenly place depending on the size of our cache.  No, he said we should look at it as something we already have, that the "treasure in Heaven" is within you and me by virtue of the  gift of our Baptism. Very hope-inspiring.

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It's still slightly surreal to see "Pride" banners around town.  Odd times we live in.  Our company went so far as to actually have a "Pride" table in the entrance to cafeteria, with two people there presumably to answer questions about the Pride club.

It's interesting to see the 180 degree turn from when I was a kid.  Then gays in school were persecuted.  Now they're celebrated -- the Columbus Library tweeted today a list of gay books for toddlers, of the "Heather Has Two Mommies" variety. We swing from extreme to extreme.

I think you see the tendency to overdo past wrongs not only with the election of Obama, a candidate with nothing going for him but skin color and a decent way with words, and also to some extent in fathers.  Back in the day, fathers had it easy.  Now - presumably because a lot of present-day-parents felt bereft of fatherly interaction - they are going to the other extreme such that missing Jimmy's 28th ballgame of the month is seen as bad parenting.

Balance seems to be something we human beings have real difficulty with.

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There's the famous saying that “the rich get richer, the poor get poorer”. And I've certainly seen it in action. But how much of this is simply the result, for good or ill, of the power of compounding?

Compounding means that those in debt will tend to get more in debt due to spending on debt servicing, and those with assets will tend to acquire more assets since assets often generate wealth. Shouldn't the phrase “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer” be always followed with “so don't get into any more debt than you have to.”  Easier said than done of course.

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Good FB comment on the wonderful Cat Hodge's feed:
Do you feel guilty when you have a negative reaction to something a saint wrote or said? I used to but it's happened so often that I don't anymore… I figure that either I am seeing something out of context and can't evaluate it, or that it's good in itself (the Church says so) but not meant for me because of my personality or situation in life.
I was kind of glad to see that several on her feed aren't attracted to St. Jose Escriva; I do fall into that camp. Which is why I sold my “Escriva Bible”, the Navarre, a few months ago. Cat mentions how she's put off by St. Pio after hearing that he scolded a woman for going to Confession immodestly dressed. Interesting how people react to different saints. But understandable given we're all different, with different sensitive areas. Different paths to our heart and conscience.

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Last night was elated to find that Garry Wills wrote a book on Chesterton. As much as I loathe Garry Wills' heterodoxies, I can't help but be impressed over his erudition. A formidable foe. I half-fear reading it since it might undermine my appreciation for Gilbert, but on the other hand there's this feeling that I've got to know what the opposition thinks or else I'm, in some sense, blind in one eye.

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So you know you have too many books if you end up buying a book you already have. A tell-tale sign as it were. In this case I was about to pick up Peter Brown's biography of St. Augustine when I thought I'd just better check that invaluable website, LibraryThing.com, where all my books are cataloged. And I was pleased to find it, and even more pleased to actually locate the physical copy after some bookroom searching. Found not one but three biographies of Augustine, which is a bit much given I haven't read any yet. I've read a biography of Aquinas; I owe it to myself to read Augustine, seeing how these are the two giants that go a large part of what Catholicism is. And they complement one another; Augustinian pessimism and Aquinas optimism. I can't find much of what Chesterton wrote on Augustine. I wonder if the optimist GKC leaned towards the optimist Aquinas over the pessimist Augustine.

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And in the secret way
If human hearts, where in the sordid street
The modern slave, and master dumbly meet
And in the other's eyes
Each, unaware, beholds the eyes of God,
That ever after burn and scrutinize…

-Percy MacKaye

Obama & Clinton Obligatory Vent

There's a cumulative effect at work with my Obama-disgust: Each of these upped the ante: 1) the way the health care bill was passed 2) the bigoted "guns and religion clinging" comment 3) the HHS anti-religious liberty mandate 4) Benghazi (for the cover-up, not for the fact that he was incompetent with respect to defending the embassy)  5) NSA spying and eavesdropping on Germany's Merkel  6) IRS scandal, i.e. calling it a "phony" scandal.

And Hillary? She's starts in huge deficit of course. But unlike with Obama there's some sort of weird voodoo she's casting. I can't turn my eyes away from her during these book-tour interviews. Just going on Fox News was something of an ask for forgiveness. It's just penny dreadful that we'll surely have to put up with her for a term or two as Prez. I can't quite turn my head away because it's a man-bites-dog story given that she wants something from me/us: i.e. book sales and a potential vote. Come inauguration day we'll like be treated as pond scum. Ah politics! What a perfect waste of a good attitude!

June 06, 2014

Quotable

From the New Jerusalem Bible footnotes on the recent readings from John chapter 17:
It was Jesus' mission to reveal the 'Name', i.e. the person, of the Father; now love for all people is a characteristic of the Father, and he proves this love by delivering up his only Son; it follows that all people must believe that Jesus is the Son, if they are to appreciate this love; and thus 'know' the Father. 

June 05, 2014

Favorite Scripture


Interesting to read this from Tim at Catholic Bibles:
As part of this blog tour, I have been asked to comment on chapter nine, which focuses on St. Paul. I was very delighted to get to write a bit on St. Paul. When I ask people what their favorite part of scripture, I often hear one of three things: 1) The Psalms; 2) The Gospel of John; 3) Paul. Notice I didn't say which letter of Paul, but simply Paul. I have found that Paul has touched so many people who are daily Bible readers, Catholic or Protestant, that often they are unable to pick which of his letters they like best. It would be like selecting your favorite child. I have often felt the same way. Those thirteen letters of St. Paul provide us a rich insight into understanding the Church, how to live as Christians, the role of Grace and Faith, and, put simply, Jesus Christ himself. As Hahn says: "When we read them, we sometimes feel as if we're being propelled forward by a hurricane, a tidal wave, or some other force of nature. But it's even stronger than that, because it's a force of Grace (104)." And as Hahn points out, when we read those letters, or hear them in the liturgy, we are exposing ourselves to that same powerful force (105).
Timely for me in part because I recently snarked in my journal:
Hour in the evangelical church was heartfelt, if a bit Hallmark-y. Readings from the Psalms and Paul's letters, and why not? The gospels, other than John 3:16, aren't quite as beloved in many circles as St. Paul.

What amazes me about Popes Francis and Benedict is they encourage without cloying. And I'm deeply grateful for how the liturgy allows the priest to more or less disappear, how the focus becomes God and not the priest. Except for the homily, the words the priest says are not his own and thus our inner critic need not emerge. We can truly pray. When I hear extemporaneous prayer at a non-Catholic church spoken by the minister I'm always sensitive to “how he's doing” (how fluid he sounds) rather than actually praying. Though I assume that's something I'd get over with practice.

June 03, 2014

Equinoxical Splendor

Amazing quality of light these days:



The return of greenery and equinoxical light makes for an almost unbearable beauty, even, perhaps, exhausting beauty?

Various & Sundry

Check out the electrically charged wisdom of St Jerome (showing again that intimacy is not optional):
It is hard for the human soul to avoid loving something, and our mind must of necessity give way to affection of one kind or another. The love of the flesh is overcome by the love of the spirit. Desire is quenched by desire. What is taken from the one increases the other. Therefore, as you lie on your couch, say again and again: “By night have I sought Him whom my soul loveth.” (Song of Songs 3)
He waxes poetic amid the asceticism:
Be like the grasshopper and make night musical. Nightly wash your bed and water your couch with your tears. Watch and be like the sparrow alone upon the housetop…Say to yourself: “What have I to do with the pleasures of sense that so soon come to an end? What have I to do with the song of the sirens so sweet and so fatal to those who hear it?”
And one more:
Born, in the first instance, of such parentage we are naturally black, and even when we have repented, so long as we have not scaled the heights of virtue, we may still say: “I am black but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem.”
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Author Tom Robbins writes in his memoir about being born on the cusp of Cancer and Leo, on July 22nd, and how his Cancer half wants to “live in a cave like a hermit and rarely come out.”

Astrology is frowned upon by the Church, but only, as I understand, to the extent we use it to discern the future or see the stars as superior to or replacement to God, rather than simply used to understand ourselves better. But while it seems nonsensical and irrational that the very month/day you were born could matter in personality, I certainly seem a fit to the Cancer astrological sign given my own hermetic tendencies. Perhaps it's not so irrational anyway. For one thing, there's often an underlying wisdom to ancient thought or custom that only becomes evident to science much later. And secondly, would it be so odd that someone conceived in the autumn and who grows in the womb during the cold, bitter months of winter, picks up some of the hibernatory feelings of his mother and father? The baby in the womb is far from insensate of maternal emotions and the winter is, normally, a less social time.

More from Robbins, in an interview:
I particularly like [writing] on rainy days with the skylight up above and the rain pouring down. There is something really cozy about it and comforting, and it has a tendency to turn one inward, to make one introspective and get down into what Hume calls “the bottom of the bottom of the soul.” The rain, it stimulates my literary juices.
If the astrological signs have any truth, and I'm not saying they do of course, then it seems the would apply as well to Jesus given he was fully human. The downside is we don't know when Jesus was born. Based on biblical and other evidence, John the Baptist's birth (based on his father Zechariah's time as High Priest) and other data, September is the mostly likely month of his birth, making Jesus most likely Virgo:
Virgo exists in the mind, everything is inside. To the world, Virgo presents a calm and collected exterior but on the inside, nervous uncontrolled intensity in the mind, trying to figure things out, how to improve everything, analyzing and thinking. Virgo has a constant drive to improve and perfect, this can lead to extreme pickiness and finickiest. They are pure, their motives are honest never malicious and they want to accomplish something.
Certainly that desire for improvement and perfection and wanting to accomplish something seems much like Jesus. And to the world he certainly presented a calm and collected exterior but one that matched interiorly.

What's interesting to me about natural inclinations is how much God intends them to be operative. Despite the fact that Creation is good, the flesh is weak and the spirit prized, so I'm not sure how much we should honor or accept the flesh. I guess the catholic view is grace builds on nature, rather than replacing it.

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So, it's always feels like a whole different world when the boys come over. Our quiet-as-a-monastery home gets filled with hustle and bustle, laughter and tears. Filled with life in other words. It certainly feels like time is suspended or in some way altered. My consciousness raised or lowered, ha, I'm not sure which.

We started goldenly, with Kentucky Fried Chicken (I'm sticking to revered old name and not the KFC- initials abomination that strips pride of place). We ate out at our picnic table in “the forest” at the back of our lot. I'm always impressed by the different look and feel of simply sitting somewhere other than on our back patio. Whole different perspective.

What I've learned about children aged 2-4 is the tremendous amount of personality they possess, even at such an absurdly young age. The other thing that occurs to me is the incredible amount of learning and life lessons they will need to go through over the next few decades. It's stunning how much they don't know, of course, despite being “competent toddlers” given their sphere of ability. As do we adults, of course.

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Read more of the Tom Robbins interview in a Kindle single. A hippie through and through, he wants to produce a reality show where they take middle-aged corporate men and given them a large dose of LSD and then follow them for the next 24-48 hours. “Fungi for the Straight Guy” he humorously titled it. Interesting premise, ha. Given my often unsavory and/or unpleasant dreams, it's hard to believe I would have anything but an awful acid trip.

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From latest National Review:
You observe in [modern man] a flattening of the soul like the flattening of personality - the numbing of the life-spirit - detectable in those who, to escape the succubae that prey upon them, take medications that reduce them to a uniform mediocrity of temper, a dead level of tranquilizing inanity. It is the tragedy of Whig progress that, if it comforts the body, it dulls the soul - issues in a sedation of spirit that leaves so many of us unable to apprehend the divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will.
Hmmm….well we've had a drug, namely alcohol, since the invention of agriculture so it's not a modern Whig thing, as he implies.

He also seems to link comfort - surely one of the gifts of modern civilization - as a bad thing, as something that leaves us unable to apprehend divinity. I can't really believe God wants us to live in huts in order to apprehend him better?

Still, his point about bodily comfort dulling the soul hits extremely close to home. There's a reason St. Thomas More wore a hairshirt and it wasn't for bodily comfort but for soul comfort.

Tom Robbins writes that: "Meditation, by the way, while generally effective at reducing anxiety, is useless as an aide to literary composition. By its very nature, a writer's mind is a monkey mind - and meditation, alas, kills the monkey."

Desperation is the mother of good writing? And good spirituality? witness Mother Teresa?

My Irish Journey

My appreciation for Ireland, unlike that of Germany (which was almost inborn given the Teutonic influence of an early friend and his family) seems to have arrived slowly. One of my earlier memories was seeing a poster of the country at cousin Terry's house and being underwhelmed. It depicted a tree-less landscape, overcast sky, and grey-stone fences. It was not my idea of picturesque at the time; I preferred lots of trees and sun, like the Great Smokies or the Amazon jungle.

Another early memory was seeing Gone with the Wind and I came to associate Scarlett's father, who went mad, with his Irish heritage. Irish had a gothic twinge for me, at least after seeing that movie.

But really there didn't seem much to Ireland, St. Patrick's Day notwithstanding. I was unfamiliar with the music and there weren't any famous landmarks. No Eiffel Tower, no Grand Canyon (the Cliffs of Moher notwithstanding). No famous Irish cooking or sunny beaches or cosmopolitain atmosphere. Irish whiskey, like all whiskey, held no interest to me. “There was nothing in him to draw the eyes of his contemporaries,” as was prophesied of Jesus in Isaiah. Sure there was literature, James Joyce and William Butler Yeats, but both were forbiddingly cryptic, at least at the time. And besides, you could read a book at home - who needed to travel for that?

But gradually my indifference faded. It seems like the major turning point was when I went to Boston with my uncle in 1994. We hung out an Irish pub and heard “traditional” Irish music, the most memorable being The Moonshiner by the Clancy Brothers. It was accessible Irish music, much like Guinness is an accessible alternative to familiar pilsners like Bud and Miller Lite. So just as Guinness was my entry point to more interesting tasting beers, so too was The Moonshiner a gateway to more interesting Irish music which culminated a few years later in hearing Tommy Makem's amazing Four Green Fields.

The jigs and reels grew on me too; I'd caught echoes of the bluegrass music I was starting to like after having discovered country music and going to Branson in '93. Turns out Irish music was in my blood even if I came to it via American bluegrass music, derived as it was from the Scotch-Irish bringing it with them centuries ago.

The next huge milestone was my uncle wanting me to go to Ireland with him. The London part of the trip was enticing and I can't be sure if that wasn't the major draw for me at the time. But now that I was actually committed to going to Ireland my interest took off. I read Irish books as if on assignment. I was charmed by Irish mythology and poetry. I even took a couple Irish language classes at St. Patrick's Church. I was fully hooked - there was something mystical and otherworldly about the olde sod and it was fueled even more by a rediscovery of Catholic apologetics which showed the religion of my birth had the added benefit of being the one True religion.

So the visit there in '96 lived up to all of what I'd imagined. If I had to pick a favorite of all my vacation trips, it would have to be that one. And now what's left but to forgive Ireland, forgive the swift fall from the grace of being the world's most Catholic country to being just like the rest of us. But still there's a magic, I think, hidden deep within the Eire soul, that one day shall rise again.