September 27, 2018

The Hearing du Jour

I got sucked in today by the dramatic Kavanaugh versus his accuser confirmation hearing. It’s powerfully addicting soap opera but I suspect not good for one’s soul.

It seems to me the cause of this debacle of bad feeling, of further division of the hate-filled camps, was created by three prime actors: wavering, dithering GOP senators like Jeff Flake and Susan Collins who cherish their image as powerful mavericks and demanded to hear a fact-free but emotional Dr. Ford, Diane Feinstein (I’m old enough to recall when she was respectable) about whom the best one can say is that she doesn’t like to ruin someone’s life prematurely unless she deems it “necessary”, and the poison of non-forgiveness in the form of a woman bringing up a 36-year old accusation from high school.  A potent enough cocktail.

Extremely moving opening comments by Kavanaugh.  His righteous indignation was apparent and perhaps it helped that he figured if this country wants to be run on emotion and not facts, he’ll serve up some emotion. As Fr. Philip Devous tweeted:

Apparently the new epistemology of corroboration, evidence, fact-finding is that becoming emotional=truth. Next time a priest is accused of something we’ll see if this new convenient cultural standard is remembered.”

As Raymond Arroyo said, it’s all Oprah, no Perry Mason.

I think it was unintentionally funny that the Dem congress folks acted like lying to Congress was no big deal at all, compared to lying to FBI. Then why hold hearings at all?

It’s frustrating that a committee supposedly spearheaded by the GOP gave Ford a platform despite her having no collaboration other than her own imperfect memory.  And then had a questionner... oy vey. Optics I get, but the optic was supposed to be a woman challenging another woman, not a woman playing footsie with her.  Senate GOP hired her? This is exactly what gave Trump traction, the belief (rightly or wrongly) that Republicans like to play by the rules set by the media.

It’s also interesting that both Ford and Kavanaugh won rave reviews today even though (because of?) they conformed to sexual stereotypes: the fragile, vulnerable woman, and the tough protective guy upset over the carnage done to his friends’ reputations, as if appealing to subconscious archetypes or prejudices.

September 26, 2018

Stream of Semi-Consciousness


Thought I’d try a new thing on the blog, a stream-of-thought(lessness) vibe induced by sensory pleasures like running or music or massage. Call it anti-politics.

This morning I dissociated with perfect insouciance from the lush landings of Parini poetry to a double-play of Hotel California (a song so Hell-scary one could use it as a sermon). Later I swum-run the ovals in the gym; I had a choice of taking dogs on a scrum or soloing around the track and oh the release of it, the lock-point unjammed. The ship sailed from the gated community. Athena from beyond her trapeze’d bars, rings the rung-bells and I dreamt from dazed eyes of the torched light.

I ran regales of Gaul, provinces of distant pleasures, azures of blue sand and white skies of tremulous clouds breaking in and out of consciousness along the horizon line of raised hairs and hares beyond cares. Work fatigue and a general world-weariness led me into the zone of Disney animation, into a doze of days, into that lush garden of fruitopia.  Work fled.  I wandered to and fro, near and far. Memories inched to the surface without quite reaching the surface.  I didn't think about the "noise".

My eyes fell into spheres quoi-distant, I ran into childhood memories.  I slowed down latitudinally under the influence of longitudinal touch.  My mind bloomed with the agate of sleep;  I pictured a luminescent blue sea that became caramelized as stone that I could carry in my pocket.  I drifted off, drifted in, my body and all its manifold flaws handled by this tactile witchcraft.  All oils and smooth sailings with terabytes of tactile data, I experience ESP: extreme sensory perception. I perceive every nuance of motion and I cauldron up places half-remembered like when I was a kid at night in bed a memory of being on the edge of sleep the comfort of voices downstairs. It's like Ps 133: "It is like precious oil upon the head, coming down upon the beard."  Like what E.E. Cummings wrote:
“Now comes the good rain farmers pray for(and no sharp shrill shower bouncing off burned earth but a blind blissfully seething gift wandering deeply through godthanking ground)”
Alley alley umcomefree!  Or words like that. Is that even English? The guppies we caught at kids in creeks.

I thought about how interesting it was that of a body made up of nearly countless muscles, we tend to hide our tension in a tiny subset of them, and how an algae bloom of relaxation can occur when released.  The whole body and mind and soul feel it, feel the release of that single muscle tendon.  An image of the Body of Christ and how the tension found in its smallest member affects the whole.  An image of the 99th sheep restored, or the the mustard seed and how we slough it off at our own peril.  The catering to the "insignificant to the point of invisible" muscles as sign of St. Therese's "Little Way".  It made me want to do my job better.
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Ah gliddy gloop goopy ah la la lee low... to borrow from Good Morning, Starshine. The Sierra Nevada alps of my shoulder blades. Straightenin' the curves. Ah, ah, triple awe-ah. That little green space alien from childhood cartoons fixed in my semi-consciousness. I dreamt of outer places in my inner space, I dreamed of inner spaces in outer space.  Wandering the dream beam.  Mustn't lose balance!  Epidermis epiphanies. Ectoplasmic ecstasies, the neck that holds the unlock. Into it I bowered, accepting of fleeting emotions till I was wrung and loosed, stamped, franked and freighted to Frankfurt.  I wandered lonely as a cloud or, alternatively, I wandered lowly as a cloud.  Low cloud alert!
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Dizzily, tingly, past Rembrandt’s of the past revisited in mind eye like watercolored tourniquets around veins running sideline passes.  All around the watchtower I felt the booze-soothe of the manifold, uncovering layers upon layers, lost in beckoning horizons under induction and fellow-feeling.

I was back running laps in the basketball overlook at the old YMCA gym, the banked curves...I was on the shore-beach of Calypso. The bass treble of the trombone back. The high trills of the neck groove.  The trellising along the instep and the inscape. To berry fields and bonny days, to the windswept windows of the great ship Norwegian.  My blades slumped then reversed guard, en garde! no more. More sleepy than sleep...

September 25, 2018

Done With Catholic Schools

It's anecdotal of course, but the fact that some of my nieces and nephews rarely attend church despite going to Catholic schools from cradle through high school is  souring me on Catholic schools. To put it mildly.

I'm feeling like the Church shrinkage is due to poor Catholic education at least in part. And certainly the bishops and the institutional church are hapless; it’s no accident that the bishops tried to start a TV network that was dead-on-arrival while an obscure monastic nun made EWTN a fixture on every cable box.  The problem with EWTN now is that it lost its star power (Mother Angelica) and now likely appeals only to the elderly. But I could be wrong.

And it was interesting to hear on a news podcast an author (Franklin Foer) say that the addiction to smart phones has a spiritual cost as they distract us from the eternal, non-superficial questions. It seems a perfect storm: modernity’s profound religious ignorance combined with a tech age of constant distraction. Looks like there is no hope, only Hope.

The answer is prayer, not money, but on the latter I think the way to go is to support non-institutional third parties like the Augustine Institute and the St Paul Center, both aimed towards high school kids and seminarians. Scott Hahn is also doing a lot of work in this area and the fact that two of his sons are in the seminary shows me he’s doing something right. So I stopped donation to local Catholic grade school and to the bishop's fund drive and started one to Augustine Institute.

A Twitter thread from professor Gregory Hillis, on the current bleakness:
I have students in my intro theology class write spiritual autobiographies and almost every one written by a Catholic witnesses to the failure of the Church in educating families and children in the faith.

I've thought a great deal about what needs to change. My first suggestion would be that catechesis needs to be mystagogical in approach so that children in particular are immersed in the experience of God, apart from which its doctrine and morality remain incomprehensible.

I mean by this primarily that attempting to teach the faith apart from an immersion in a genuine and profound understanding and experience of the sacraments is bound to fall short. Prayer and theology should never be separated.

My second response would be that young people have many questions and they should feel welcome to ask difficult questions without being made to feel as if they're virtual apostates for questioning the faith.

We're long past the time when theology teachers and clerics can simply say "Because the Church says so." They need to be allowed to doubt, allowed to explore, and allowed also to understand & experience the generous response the Church has always given to well-formed consciences.

I'm a convert as well, and many of the cradle Catholics I know who understand the faith are those who have explored it on their own independently of the church. They shouldn't have to do that.

September 24, 2018

Kavanaugh (Sing like Van Halen's "Panama")

I’m kind of obsessed with the Kavanaugh hearings. It’s beyond frustrating that Sen. Grassley let slip the golden opportunity he had to get Kavanaugh confirmed when Dr. Ford was making all these unrealistic demands and wishy-washy senators like Collins and Flake were getting peeved at the arrogance of Ford (or her lawyers)...  Grassley could’ve manned up and said, “no Ford” and gotten the vote done. But he dillied and dallied, enthralled with the woebegone farce of having a “fair hearing” which is the most ludicrous thing ever.  It appears the 85-year old is stuck in the 1980s - didn’t he get the memo that the Dems play bloodsport? It’s a straight party line vote now and will be for as long as the eye can see.

It's too bad the whole confirmation process wasn't two days long and a vote done immediately.  Kavanaugh was already vetted six ways from Sunday but for some arcane reason this Congress has spent almost three months and still hasn’t gotten him out of committee.  You can’t make it up.

It’s ironic that about the only congressional prerogative that the Congress wants to hold on to is the “advise and consent” of presidential Supreme Court appointments — and, of course, they’re doing an abysmal job of it.

It feels almost quaint now that the Founders intended for the Congress to make laws, declare wars, and balance the budget when the Congress now does little but grandstand, smear, and tacitly approve law-making by executive and judicial branches all so they can keep their precious jobs.

But as much as I feel like the country is going downhill I do recall that states like dysfunctional California -  and cities like Chicago and Detroit  - still muddle through somehow and survive despite their horrible governance. I guess people are resilient even given bad leadership.  Until they aren't.

September 21, 2018

When Two Titans Clash

Arguably there's no one in the public square I more admire and follow than Jonah Goldberg and R.R. Reno (National Review and First Things respectively). 

So I was shocked when Reno wrote a hit piece on Jonah and his new book. Wow. I go back longer with Jonah but Reno has the gigantic influence of being formed by Catholic Christian faith.

Reno comes off as unhinged though, sadly.  Just makes it as personal and vituperative as possible.  While Jonah’s book’s great fault lay in how he refuses to see the West’s soul infused by Christianity, and Reno’s left field rejoinder is histrionic and sympathetic to Woodrow Wilson and FDR. Jonah says a little nationalism is good, but it’s a jealous god and demands more and more. 

John Zmirak opines on the clash of the titans and seeks a middle ground perhaps: 
Catholic theocratic "Integralism" and soulless, ahistorical Liberalism are equally futile and destructive. The vital synthesis of English liberties and Christian resistance to intolerant governments is what forged America.
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Speaking of stars, the morning prayer psalm that asks “oh stars of light, give praise to God!”  is more meaningful now that I have a more intimate relationship with the stars thanks to the new transom in the sunroom. I see them now, and they feel more real to me.  It still kind of astounds me that Mars and Saturn, both so far away, were so present on the southern horizon last night. They had both seemed kind of abstract to me, pictures in astronomy books back in grade school but now they’ve come alive and they seem like they’re only a mile or two away.   It’s funny how approachable the stars can be if one suspends disbelief in the rational knowledge of their great distance. No wonder the ancients were far more conversant with the stars given they probably didn’t feel that far away to them as well. 

September 20, 2018

Waylaid and Off-Kilter

I feel waylaid and off-kiltered by the news of one the early Catholic bloggers (one with extreme high-octane intellect) died in a bicycle accident.  Left a wife and college-age children, about my age.  He was wearing a helmet yet apparently still died of head trauma.  In one of those morbid things I tend to do, I went to his blog and read his last comment to one of his posts. Just feels so sad. 

He was a strong debater but not into ad hominems or straw men attacks, which made him feel like a throwback and the rare seeker after truth.  
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I recently encountered someone on FB who had his back up and we got into it. It’s always surprising to encounter rough seas on the FB page of a Catholic, but Lord knows I should be used to that by now.  The funny thing is that my expectations have not altered going way back to circa 2003 when I got blasted by somebody on a Catlick blog for sport.  

Anyway, I was told to do something to myself that is anatomically impossible and is, or would be, against Church teaching. So I’m shocked a Trad(ish) Catholic would recommend I do something to myself against the tenants of the Church.  As is typical in these situations and as my pride is wont, I swung back hard although I didn’t ask him to contravene Church teaching, so there’s that. 

So today I read a lovely post on the same FB page (not the commenter mentioned above but the FB owner) who wrote about trolls: 
One of the clearest evidences that there is life outside of Facebook is that people will endure abusive, offensive comments from friends because they know that there is more to that friend's character than their FB persona suggests. The rest of us have to take it on faith, though...
It's how I know that Christian charity exists, that some people are given chance after chance even after most people would just block them.
And lo and behold my nemesis chimed in and humbly admitted he was trollish and then mentioned the loss of his wife to cancer and I realize that his life and mine may be on the same green earth but he’s seen troubles thus far that I pray I don’t have to endure.

Someone chimed in on the FB post and said, “I am lacking in Christian charity, so I tend not to post controversial things.”   Ditto for me.

And no less than Pope Francis has led the way inasmuch as he says he does not read his critics as it’s not good for his mental health. I think that’s true for most of us. (Although the Holy Father's recent homilies, like Trump's protestation that he never watches CNN, shows that he's at least tuned in to what his opponents are saying.) 

Everyone is going more towards their “natural” political and religious camps given that the unnaturalness of social media encourages spleen-venting and thus the unlikeliness of logic-based, civil discourse.   

The other telling thing is how Pope Francis went through a very dark period during the late ‘80s in which he has to basically just be a priest, which apparently was unsatisfying for the lack of power and influence. He went to a Jewish psychologist for six months of weekly visits for mental health help. This tracks well with his highly ambitious persona (such that he would feel at sea in just being a priest). 

Interestingly, he says he can’t live alone, again for mental health reasons, so that’s why no papal apartments.  This would seem to mitigate the meritoriousness of his eschewing the regal papal apartments.

September 12, 2018

Reno in First Things

R.R. Reno in First Things senses the end of conservative accommodation to the longstanding attitude of “keep the church together at all costs by sweeping disagreements and corruption under any available rug".  Seems the McCarrick mess followed by the Vigano letter has been a permission slip for conservatives to stop kowtowing to the status quo, or to emperor-bishops wearing no robes.

It reminds me of the Trump nomination, how Republican primary voters finally got exhausted with the long project of trying to go along by getting along by buying into the Democrat premise that Republicans needed to do better on diversity, racial accord, political correctness.  Like how Romney could scarcely defend himself from charges he was involved in a war against women which later was “confirmed” by stray comment showing his dedication to the Democrat ideal of patronizing women and minorities by saying he had “binders full of women” on his short list for some office.

There comes a time when even conservationists no longer want to conserve the current environment. I thought Trump was a mistake but I began to marvel at a world in which a Republican president felt free enough to speak his mind with such candor (if limited truthfulness). It was a modest revelation and a guilty pleasure. Trump reminds me of the citizen legislator who isn’t there for a career and is wiling to be unpopular.

And I have to feel like Pope Francis didn't sign up for this when he was made pope some 5 years ago, that he'd have to deal with gay clerics engaging in clericalism, or more accurately fornication.  For the pope to be blindsided by Viagno is just movie-script-like drama that would be almost too unbelievable to make the celluloid. 

I’ve been reading the book Conspiracy about how Peter Thiel secretly kept his powder dry against Gawker for outing his being gay, and how over years of picking the time and place for battle ended up backing Hulk Hogan and bankrupting a malicious outfit.  While Viagno, unlike Thiel, went about it in a much more slipshod and emotional way, he too planted this bombshell such that it upstaged the papal visit to Ireland and elicited the famous “no comment” from the pontiff.  I imagined, rightly or wrongly, that the image cagey Francis was forced to do something difficult for him - to not retaliate verbally perhaps because he thought Viagno might have something and that he could get caught in a thicket.  Francis seems to have weathered it well from a PR standpoint since the press was on his side to begin with and the lack of comment seemed to make a non-issue, ginned up by angry conservatives.