November 30, 2003

Fictional Offering

Eric Klaber’s maternal grandfather, Bill, radiated ascetism. Lean in word and physique, his words were as spare as the hairs on his balding head.

Lean too was the family history – if anything happened before Eric's mother’s birth it must have been unworthy of mention. If his grandparents hadn’t sprung fully formed from the soil it would’ve surprised him. Only one event before their eldest child’s birth was ever mentioned, an event invoked in the hushed breath of warning: the Depression. The Great Depression left a lasting impression. The fruit of it was a frugality so sharp that years later Bill would still burn his lips attempting to smoke cigars nearly reduced to ashes.

He was a member of the Holy Name Society and relentlessly dutiful. If he wasn’t home he was at work or church. The ever-present cigar was his only extravagance, a sort of talisman he used to ward off the need for words, as if the wisp of smoke was contribution enough to the clamour of voices at family gatherings. Every night he and his wife had a single beer before bed and every year they vacationed in Michigan for two weeks where he caught fish and his wife cleaned and cooked them and his kids swam among them.

Eric’s paternal grandfather, Ernst, was nearly the opposite of his maternal grandfather. He was the center around which his father's family universe orbited. His sons and grandsons and friends were drawn to his charisma and wit and gambling prowess and hung around him hoping some of his élan would rub off on them. A widower for twenty years, he often said ‘the young keep me young’ while closing down bars into his seventies. He died the easy death of a heart attack, his exit as graceful and effortless as his life.

Ernst was generous as Bill was frugal. You’d have a battle on your hands to buy him a beer. He’d never come for a visit empty-handed, bringing a bag of groceries for the family and an old issue of Sports Illustrated for Eric.

When he was young, Eric tended to think that Bill was the holy grandfather and Ernst as questionable. After all, Ernst drank and smoked cigarettes and gambled and didn't seem all that pious. But later in life Eric couldn't help wondering if the mere physical presence of Ernst at Mass didn’t exert more earthly influence on more people than all of Bill’s marches in Holy Name Society parades and all of Bill's laconic devotion. Eric, charismatically-challenged, took after Bill and knew he'd have to make up the difference in prayer.
A Rose or Stinkweed?

I rented The Name of the Rose over the weekend and watched it with my wife, who happens to be non-denominational, which means I'm a bit more thin of skin on how Catholicism is portrayed on screen than I otherwise would be.

I rented it because I'm halfway through the well-written book and, although it would prove a spoiler, I'm tired of movies letting me down and thought this one hardly could.

Think again.

The film depicts all the monks (except the one played by Sean Connery) as tortured homosexual sado-masochists or evil control freaks. There was also, thank you very little, an extremely flagrant sex scene with full frontal nudity. I'm sure it was integral to the plot that I see too much of the character's anatomy. Give me a break.

Obviously I should've read the reviews. But given the nature of the book - about violent happenings around a monastery - I hardly thought it would be a hatchet job on monks and chastity.
Geographical Fortunateness

This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this OHIO!

Not buying it 'eh?

I've been noticing some geographical pride among the fair Southerners among us. Jeanne of FindMeInFlorida, Lee Ann of the Literarium and Alabama, or should I say of Alabama and the Literarium (I sheepishly admit I mistook her initial comments praising 'Bama as sarcastic in nature) and, of course, the Summa Mommas down thar in Texas (no one mistakes a Texan braggin' on Texas as sarcasm. I once visited Kerrville in an attempt to run into Kinky Friedman or Willie Nelson. I ended up finding a state highway patrolman instead as I was exceeding the speed limit because the rental was far more powerful than my own jalopy. The officer kindly let me off the hook when I told him we were making our way to LBJ's ranch, which in Texas I imagine is like running up to the Communion rail. Hard to fault saintly exuberance.)

I digress. Anyway, glad to see the geographical pride. I feel the same about things Irish. As a born and bred "War of Northern" Aggressor* this is where I say, with crossed finders: "I love the changing of the seasons! How could I appreciate the summer without nearly losing my toes to frostbite? I love the gloomy, atmospheric days of clouds and rain and the bitter-cold months! What doth not kill me makes me stronger!"

*- As the Indigo Girls sang, "When God made me born a Yankee He was teasin'".
From Today's Church Bulliten:

"Don't give up! Remember, even Moses was once a Basket case."

November 29, 2003

Dorothy Day - Magnificat Excerpt

I've heard that the burn-out rate for social workers is very high. Their idealism is sorely tested. But part of what makes Dorothy Day a likely saint was that she never lost her idealism or faith even though I've long suspected that the poor of a rich country are much harder on one's idealism than the poor from a poor country. Which makes Dorothy all the more impressive a figure. From November's Magnificat:
Dorothy [Day] didn't romanticize the poor. She told the correspondent that he had experienced "the bitterness of the poor, who cheat each other, exploit each other."

Dorothy once received a letter in which the correspondent wrote that he had taken in "a gentleman seemingly in need". He took him home, let the man have a nap, gave him a meal, and went through the want ads with him. After the man left, the good Samaritan found that his wallet was missing! Dorothy noted that such rejections aren't easy; the crushed heart can make us more compassionate or make us more bitter. "It was agony to go through such experiences," she wrote, "but the saints would only bow their heads and try not to judge...These things happen for our discouragement, for our testing..We are sowing the seed of love - and we are not living in the harvest time...We are indeed fools, as our Lord himself was who died for such a one as this."   --G. Gneuhs
WWII and the French

I was listening to a Brian Lamb interview of historian John Keegan, and Keegan was asked what is the root cause of French dislike of the English-speaking West. I was surprised when without hesitation Keegan pointed to 1944, when the Allies liberated the French from their Nazi humiliation. (Gen'l DeGaulle once said that the French Resistance played a major role in removing the Germans, which suggests a bit of denial wouldn't you say?). The unforgivable thing America and the Brits did is save the French from the unthinkable: the devil, in the form of Hitler, owning Paris.

We are the French too. We are the victims of a fallen world, robbed of our graces by the devil and left for dead as surely as the victim in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Our liberator is Christ. May we, unlike the French, always be grateful.

Half-Full or Half-Empty?

Interesting John Allen column via Hernan, via Gerard:
Expressing the difference between Rahner and von Balthasar is not easy, but one way to do so is in terms of attitudes towards “the world.” Rahner stressed the presence of grace at the deepest level of every human being — the so-called “supernatural existential.” Von Balthasar saw an “analogy of being” between God and humanity, which placed more distance between the two and thus left room, he felt, for greater realism about sin. Rahner was a basic optimist about culture, so much so that von Balthasar once accused him of negating the necessity of the crucifixion. Rahnerians tend to take Gaudium et Spes as their charter, while Balthasarians often see that text, and especially subsequent interpretations of it, as dangerously naïve.

November 28, 2003

Blog Diversity lieu of runnin'

Fat and full from a couple Thanksgiving meals (noon with my wife's family and six at my side's), I'll put off the exercise I should be doing by blogging...

I'm surprised by the diversity within what's known as "St. Blog's". You would think that the self-selective nature of blogs combined with the further grouping of hard-practicin' Catlickers would lend a certain homogeneity. Sure, the blogs here are all friendly to orthodoxy. But variations within the terrarium are fascinating.

Those with the broadest appeal, Mark Shea and Amy Welborn, combine sound Catholic understanding with pleasing personalities. They avoid a knee-jerk conservatism or liberalism.

Other blogs explore the niches - amateur writers earnestly plying their trade, diarists, seekers of camaraderie or support, a half-dozen extremely bright people weighing in on the IOTD (issues o' the day), a prig or two AWOL from St. Killjoy's, converts and cradles and an uproariously funny ex-atheist, breast and bottle feeders, teetotalers and bingers, and godly folk here or there whose blogs give off the perfume of saintliness.

Compared to the homogeneity I expected, St. Blog's nearly has the biodiversity of a good bar.

November 26, 2003

Umberto Eco

I'm (finally) reading The Name of the Rose and much enjoying it.

On the future of books. An excerpt:
After having spent 12 hours at a computer console, my eyes are like two tennis balls, and I feel the need of sitting down comfortably in an armchair and reading a newspaper, or maybe a good poem. Therefore, I think that computers are diffusing a new form of literacy, but they are incapable of satisfying all the intellectual needs they are stimulating.
Saints with an Edge

I like the quizzes Chris of Maine Catholic posts. I found it predictable that St. James gets few votes among the apostles for intercessory purposes. It sort of reminds me of what I felt when I entered St. John Chrysostom Byzantine Church for the first time. His stern visage on an icon in the corner seemed to say, "what are you doing here? You couldn't fast your way out of a paper bag."

Commenter Nathan says of St. James, "He's too severe for our relativistic, cushy culture." Chris says "he was a tough bird, but that was what the early Church in Jerusalem needed at the time. He was kind of a Ratzinger to Peter's John Paul II."

This makes sense to me. There are not too many fans of Jeremiah either. And Christianity is certainly not a popularity contest. But I think Ratzinger is able to combine severity with a sweetness of heart which surely can be accomplished only by grace. Severity is easy. A crossless Christianity is also easy. But that elusive combination must be from God, just as only He can effect both justice and mercy. I think it was Kierkegaard who said, "First, severity. That is to say, the severity of the ideal. Then, mercy."
Interesting look at Andy Warhol, Byzantine Catholic. Via Swimming the Tiber
Spanning the Globe to Bring You the Constant Variety of Posts

American culture is so deeply niched these days, I have no idea what it means to talk about American culture, or any shared culture, except that which is dictated by corporate entities. The only shared culture we have, it seems to me, is what we buy. And, in brief, I have a really hard time taking any argument that conservatives have "won" any culture war in a society in which pornography, as 60 Minutes reported last night, is consistently the most profitable sector of countless businesses, from hotel chains to cable and satellite providers to the Internet. Yeah. That's a victory for you. --Amy Welborn

It’s amazing really. From Bach to Eminem, every bit of music is a variation on eight simple notes. The same goes for literature – the Greeks identified roughly a half-dozen different plots, and that’s all anyone has ever used. Unhappiness is the same way. There are only a handful of ways to become unhappy. Seven means to seven sorrows. --Steven of the Fifth Column, on the seven deadly sins

The only succor I took from this little exercise was that "I was wrong" doesn't seem to appear over on Disputations, the blog Minute Particulars aspires to be like when all grown up. -- Mark of Minute Particulars, whose blog Video Meliora aspires to be like when all grown up, on the absence of "I was wrong" on his and most blogs.

If my sinfulness -- and it's sinfulness here that counts, I think, rather than the discrete sins circumstances afford me -- isn't really all that big of a deal, then neither is God's mercy toward me. If His mercy isn't that big of a deal, then God Himself isn't that big of a deal, at least as lawgiver and judge, and Christ Crucified is something of a show-off. --Tom of Disputations

In My Angel Will Go before You, Georges Huber wrote, "Man has too little; God has infinitely too much, if we may put it that way;--and to spread himself he creates guardian angels and uses them to distribute his largesse." - Enbrethiliel of Sancta Sanctis

Fear sickens. Secrets kill. Embarrassment liberates! - Karen of Anchor Hold

Of Matthew 25:31-46 , of " I was hungry, and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty.... "... in the story, those that did the good are astonished so much as the others, and thus they ask " Sir, when we saw you hungry, and we gave you to eat; or thirsty, and we gave you to drink? ". That is to say, those that helped the brother, made the good to Christ, of a way hides... but also it hides to its own eyes. It is that Simone considers this ignorance like an essential characteristic, as a necessity or to have for the Christian. He is interesting and suggestive, although debatable - like so many things of Simone. And some funny one could object then that the sermon of Jesus would be a " spoiler ": if we do not have to know it, it harms when telling us the end of history... In truth, if we read too much literally, we would say that, arrived the case and hoping that we comprise of the safe ones, we would not make the question " When we saw you hungry and we gave you to eat ", because we - having read the gospel according to San Mateo- we know ... We know? But... we would have to know it or we would have to ignore it? - Hernan of Fotos, through the lens of the Babelfish translator

With St. Benedict, let us roll naked in the nettles until we are cured of this scourge of electronic ephemera that substitutes pride, emotionalism, and modernism for the reality of life. -- Trad commenter "JG", against blogging and the internet, on El Camino Real

If we followed the Pope's advice [to Lena Allen-Shore] to "be ourself" would we be something else? I know deep down that when the Pope tells Lena to be herself that he knows that she is a follower of Christ. That something in her early years catechized her to the truth of the Gospel and it has never left her. And I truly believe that if each of us was the person that God created us to be, namely ourself, we too would hear the truth of the Gospel and coming to Christ in the Eucharist would be something that would enable us to become even more truly who we are! --Michael of Annunciations

His Holiness John Paul II, Vicar of Christ, Pius IX, Pius XII, Leo XIII, Innocent III, Nicholas I, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val, John Henry Cardinal Newman, Bishop Fulton Sheen, Frank Duff, Christopher Dawson, Richard M. Weaver, Heinrich Rommen, Jaques Maritain, Deitrich von Hildebrand, Hillaire Belloc, John C. Calhoun, James Longstreet, and Robert E. Lee --Secret Agent Man of SecretAgentMan's Dossier, under title "People Who Definitely Ought to be Canonized"

I think there's a tendency to romanticize the persecutions of the Early Church...Some of that may be due to a sense that the only way we're going to be canonized is through martyrdom, but some may be due to a false sense of our own ability to withstand persecution. The problem is, our own ability to withstand persecution does not exist in this cosmos. Any such ability we might have is an undeserved gift from God. --Tom of Disputations

I have a sense, based on Matthew 4:8-9 and similar passages, that the world is Satan's home field, and the Christians are the visiting team. --commenter Rob on Disputations
More Economics

The joke goes that a conservative on crime is a liberal who's gotten mugged. And the liberal is a conservative who's lost his job. Lately the dark side of capitalism, and a global economy, is hitting close to home. Ham of Bone was laid off in part due to a company rep whispering sweet nothings to a NY stock analyst (in the form of an arbitrarily chosen earnings number that was subsequently missed).

A few days ago I learned 70% of the employees at my brother's shop were laid off while the other 30% forced into contracting jobs (thankfully my brother was in the latter group). The 70% were replaced with workers from India. My brother was told by his boss that, in terms of expense, the ratio of foreign workers to US workers is 6-to-1. Pretty hard for any one man to do the work of six, although Bone always said I did the work of ten men. You were serious right Bone?

We tend to be capitalists at 90-95% employment rate, socialists or communists at 75%. The tacit agreement we make is that nearly full employment is part of the deal. But the capitalist model is if you can find someone to do it cheaper, then so be it. Which means "some" job dislocations as our economy moves forward. How to protect jobs while enjoying the benefits of free enterprise is problematic. But enough whine. At 94% employment, the US economy is healthy as all get out and it's ludicrous to the extreme to complain about a material situation that is arguably the best in human history.
Mark of Minute Particulars has an interesting post concerning sex before marriage. The Insta and Vodka pundits claim that sex beforehand is grounds for a happy marriage.

From a purely empirical point of view, I don't think we have a basis of comparison by which we can say whether someone is "happier" in a marriage after having sex with others or not since no one can marry a person after both having saved themselves for that person AND by not doing so. How much happier would that person have been if he or she had saved themselves? That is unmeasurable. It's also beside the point for a person of faith since we can't do wrong for a good end. God must be more real to us than the realness of skin on skin.

November 25, 2003

BBC America's 'The Office'

I saw this on Phil Albinus a few weeks ago:

I ordered The Office - Series One DVD and have been chuckling, giggling and once at four in the morning howling with laughter for the past few days as scenes from the show playback in my head.

I recorded it a couple times and have to say that it is creative and funny. The opening scene pans up a grey office building that has all the panache of ....well...a grey office building. Inside, the characters go through their day with looks of numbness. The boss is perfect foil to their greyness. Born without an embarrassment gene, the sheer exuberance of his folly seems somehow life-affirming. The show does grow on you.
Links You May've Already Seen...but just in case

Tom of Disputations has a maddening tendency to be right, which, in charity, we must forgive. He makes an excellent case against a "race to the catacomb" mentality.

The other link you may've already seen but is worth your time is this fascinating article on Johnny Cash via Amy.
Variations on Goldberg

Thomas the MP (as in misplaced Protestant, not military policeman) writes about Jonah Goldberg's thoughts:

Here’s more from the excerpt: ‘Intellectuals like to fight ideas, not gadgets. This is especially true of conservatives, since we favor individual liberty and economic freedom; in a free-enterprise system, there's no acceptable policy position against the walkman or the cellular phone.’ Note that being conservative is equated with support for something called ‘a free-enterprise system.’ It should be painfully obvious to all of us, whether we’re Left or Right, that such a ‘system’ does precious little to conserve anything. On the contrary, in just this one instance, Marx was right – the Free Market sweeps away all that stands before it. All tradition, ties of kinship and friendly association, all sense of honor and local loyalty, even the very center of human personhood, must be sacrificed to the tender mercies of the Free Market.

Perhaps so, but it's easy to say that this (fill in your own 'this') sweeps away our freedom (to hold to tradition and to maintain our ties of kinship). Does the fact that we have raging hormones mean that we don't have the freedom to be chaste? In the case of the free market, have not some souls (like the Amish) escaped its clutches? The difference between the Soviet Union and the Free Market should be startling. The former (a morally repugnant force) attempted to crush tradition and religion via force, the Free Market (a morally neutral force) attempts via a kind of seduction. Seduction may seem to us the same as force, but it isn't. Certainly the wonderful group of home-schooling mothers at St. Blog's shows the fortitude of individuals resisting societal pressures.

Churchill said that democracy was a terrible form of gov't but the best on earth. The same might be said of capitalism. But a bridled capitalism, where both labor and management have some power, would seem to be the way to go even though mandating that is troublesome. One of the negatives of a global economy is that inefficiencies are squashed, and inefficiences can be humane. For example, companies in France and Germany are having to become leaner in order to remain competitive with the U.S. and Japan. Vacation time and benefits in European companies are higher, and they are paying the price for it. Instead of America tending toward the "more civilized" European model, the Europeans are tending towards our more cut-throat model. I mentioned this (anonymously, of course) during an e-meeting with our company President and he replied, "Clearly global competition is requiring companies do more with less and European companies have come to understand that American capitalism will win in the long-term. This does not mean that individual employees will need to sell their souls to the system, and I see evidence that younger employees are finding ways to lead balanced lives, staying home with their children, taking their vacations, and finding more ways to enrich their lives outside of their job."

Capitalism has worked in the sense of a rising tide lifting all boats (shown by the fact that poorest Americans are better off than the richest Somalis?). It bothers me not one iota that Bill Gates makes billions. I don't care about disparities between the rich and poor - much of that is envy. I am interested in how many are poor and how severe their poverty in a given economic system.

What I need to study is the "small is beautiful" ideas of Belloc and more about distributism. Peony of Two Sleepy Mommies has an good post echoing many of our concerns about unions and big businesses like Walmart.

Update: more on distributism here.

November 24, 2003

Ideas vs Technology

Interesting Times article written by Jennifer Egan:
Serendipitous love as a romantic ideal is a paean to cities and their dislocations, the unlikely collisions that result from thousands of strangers with discrete histories overlapping briefly in time and space. And online dating is not the opposite of this approach to love, but its radical extension; if cities erase people's histories and cram them together in space, online dating sites erase both cities and space, gathering people instead under the virtual rubric of a brand.

The defining fact of online dating is that it begins outside any context -- historical, temporal, physical. To compensate, dating sites offer the old-fashioned comfort of facts: income, life goals, tastes in music, attitudes toward having children -- the sorts of things you might wonder about a stranger you locked eyes with. To ask whether this lack of real-world context is ''good'' or ''bad'' is to oversimplify; online personals are a natural outcropping of our historical and technological landscape -- one more proof of the fact that time and space are ceding their primacy as organizers of our experience. Better questions might be, How do they work and how is the way they work changing the nature of courtship?
What affects us more more: new technologies or ideas? See the following paragraphs from Jonah Goldberg.
There is a split in the ranks of intellectuals about how much ideas affect culture versus how much impersonal events affect it. Did society become secular, self-indulgent, morally subjective, etc., because Nietszche & Co. introduced a bunch of bad ideas? Or did society become all of those things because material prosperity, education, birth control, the automobile, etc., made such changes inevitable? To some extent it's a bit of a nature-versus-nurture argument, in that everybody agrees there's at least some of both going on.

But most of the time, conservatives ignore the fact that the automobile did as much to destabilize communities as rock and roll or Allen Ginsberg. The problem is that it's very difficult to argue with the car — but it is not only easy, it's fun to argue with hippy-dippy beatniks. Intellectuals like to fight ideas, not gadgets. This is especially true of conservatives, since we favor individual liberty and economic freedom; in a free-enterprise system, there's no acceptable policy position against the walkman or the cellular phone. There are plenty of people on the Left who want to ban cigarettes, certain foods, even the automobile. On the Right, we may entertain censorship of ideas (as does the Left; the difference is, we're just too dumb to lie about it) but censoring innovation is strictly and rightly verboten.

Unfortunately, we can focus so much on the perfidy of ideas we convince ourselves that if we can just prove to the world why these ideas are bad, everything will be fine. It's like the guy who looks for his lost car keys under the street lamp because the light is better there; academic nihilism may not be the chief cause of moral decay, but we can see things clearly there, so that's where we do the fighting.

Leaving aside the well-documented stubborn refusal of millions of people to let go of their bad ideas, culture is not just a collection of ideas. Almost every custom and tradition anywhere in the world — from the use of cutlery to burying our dead to the languages we speak — was begun out of some practical necessity. (Go read Hayek if you want a smart person to explain all that.) Anyway, the point is that technology changes the times we live in but it doesn't change human nature (at least not yet). One of the challenges, today more than ever, is the need to recognize the problems which come from convenience. For example, many college kids today — and maybe even more journalists — think that if something isn't on the web, it doesn't exist. The truth is that the web excludes vastly more information than it includes. But because it is easy to use, we rely on it. This may be the greatest instance of socially imposed amnesia since the Russian Revolution, or the revolts of the iconoclasts or the Luddites. It is certainly the most successful one. At the same time, we think that simply because the web makes something easier to do, it means we should do it.

Think of it this way: Hard work leads to character. There isn't a person in the world who's written on the topic who doesn't say something like that. Now imagine if you could take a pill that would automatically make you very smart and in perfect physical shape overnight. Intelligence and physical strength used to be well-recognized by-products of character building. With the pill, there's no building — just the final product. That pill would be more dangerous to a virtuous society than any "if it feels good do it" doctrine coming out of Brown University.
Not Either/Or but And/But

Via Amy Welborn, interesting article on AA & recovery:
In his comprehensive book "Not-God: A History of Alcoholics Anonymous," Ernest Kurtz notes that two conflicting impulses have been internalized in Western cultures -- Enlightenment secularism and its reaction, Romanticism, which places a premium on feelings at the expense of reason and science. "Thus," Kurtz writes, "in yet another paradox, moderns readily accept 'feeling' even as they resolutely reject belief."
Interesting NY Times article on American artist John Currin by Deborah Solomon:
...a retrospective of Currin's work will open at the Whitney Museum of American Art [and] seems likely to establish [him] as one of his generation's most esteemed painters, the fashionable art start who claims to disdain fashion...

Currin made his reputation by doing the most defiant and scandalous thing he could think of. I mean, of course, that he drew a normal human head. It had two eyes, a nose and a mouth, each in its proper anatomical place...Over time, his paintings rehabilitated all the supposedly offensive no-nos that political correctness had outlawed in art -- namely, a conservative painting style based on technical virtuosity...

'Progressive ideas are just a machine for ruining art', Currin said...'No one would question the value of technique in any other field. No one would say that a tennis player would be better if only he could stop hitting the ball.'
Absent-minded Blogger

One of the more unfortunate side effects of blogging is the tendency to want to compose posts in your head at inopportune moments, such as when you are trying to listen to your wife, or worse, during prayer.

A rationalization is to say that the blogger is like the absent-minded professor who, during real life, is distracted by his laboratory experiments. A major difference is that the professor is getting paid and feeding his family, and is involved in experiments designed to aid mankind. So I must blog less, or at least be more disciplined in letting go of posts during inappropriate times.
The Queenship of Mary

One of the things I take from the fifth Glorious Mystery, the coronation of the Blessed Mother, is that with God all things are possible. Pope Pius IX wrote that she is "exalted above all the choirs of angels and saints." The seeming rigidity of the hierarchical structure of creation - that man is below the angels who are below God - is altered with the lifting up of Mary to a place of honor above that of the angels. This reinforces the biblical theme that the lessor often trumps the greater. It also emphasizes that to whom much is given even more will be given, since Mary's earthly role, great as it was, is somehow exceeded in heaven. As in Rev. 12:1, she is "crowned with stars": a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head.

November 23, 2003

Book him Dano

Secret Agent Man has a helluva Christmas wish list. Man, I still haven't read all of Newman's Apologia. He ought to be offering a Home Library Quiz.

I also like his suggested vacation schedule.
Blessed Margaret

One of the more haunting images at our church is the large quilt in back of church that depicts the story of Blessed Margaret of Castello. Born a hunchback, dwarf, blind and lame, the first panel of the quilt shows her and her parents riding off on three horses. The next panel shows the parents coming back with a riderless horse in the middle. They had abandoned her like some do unwanted animals.

But later panels show the great esteem in which she was eventually held due to her beautiful faith and remarkable lack of self-pity. Two shackled prisoners are shown experiencing a vision of Blessed Margaret, who often visited the sick and imprisoned.

The irony is haunting: her parents abandoned, out of embarrassment, a child who would be venerated by millions. They jettisoned what they most needed.

November 22, 2003

Charles McGrath is, like many of us, surprised by the succes of the egregious Da Vinci Code (from the NY Times):
You could argue that this is nothing more than the continuation of an authentic religious tradition in America, where we have always been suspicious of orthodoxies -- and of Rome, in particular -- and where we believe that everyone has the right to discover and interpret the truth for himself. But what seems different in the thriller theology is the element of paranoia and distrust, and the sense that even personal virtue may not be a sufficient bulwark against being duped. Religion, in this formulation, turns out to be less about revelation than about plots.

On the other hand, at least in the Brown version, there's that welcome notion of a sexy, uxorious Jesus; Jesus the family man. What would he read? People magazine probably. What would he drive? A van, of course -- one big enough for all the kids.

My sentiments eggsactly.
Poetry you'll find no where else...(much to your relief):

Straight Arrows

Farmer, farmer,
what makes your lines so straight?
No double yellows
no guardrails
nothing to stop your Deere
from figure eights.


Play that Irish Music White Boy

oh but for another blast of Hooligan lung-power
where the faces beet red with the beat to
full-throating lyrics known only by the cognoscenti or the drunk
or the drunken cognoscenti
and there a sixty-plus old man with the corrugated hands my grandpa had
looked at me with the camaderie of a fellow soldier
and I was taken aback
unexpected as it was.


Bikers and Farmers

Bicyclist, bicyclist,
do you ever look up
from your bicycle tread?

do you look up
and see the shorn fields
swatched and chopped like bitten cuticles?

do you look
to the distant house in splendid isolation
its lack of pretense
caused by never being seen?

Farmer, farmer
do you look down?
and hold the soil from which you came?
Knead and lift and fluss and tuck it,
wear its scent upon your beard?

Farmer, farmer,
do you look down?
to that from which your bread is made
to which you will return?

November 21, 2003

Your Home Library - Take the Quiz!

Test the mettle of your home library with this admittedly idiosyncratic and not to be taken seriously guide:

1. Oxford English Dictionary - all 20 volumes = 10 points
    Oxford English Dictionary - small print with spyglass - 5 points
2. Boswell's Life of Johnson - 2 points
3. Complete Works of Shakespeare - 2 points
4. Gibbon's Decline & Fall - 2 points
5. Proust's Remembrance of Things Past - 5 points
6. Catholic Catechism - 1 point
7. Companion to the Catholic Catechism - 3 points
8. At least one work by both Augustine and Aquinas - 2 points
    the whole Summa - 5 points
9. Catena Aureau - 5 points
10. Three bible versions - 3 points
11. At least two major philosophers - 2 points
12. A set of encyclopedias - 2 points
13. at least one art history book and poetry anthology - 1 point

30-45 - first degree knight of the bibliomanic order
18-29 - second degree knight of Things Book
6-17 - the downtown library serves most of my needs
0-5 - I have nice telephone books

Update...Thomas the Misplaced Protestant owns not only the Catechism but the Companion to the Catechism. Whoda thunk it?

Update 2... Some flaws in the ointment have been discovered. Alicia has the complete set of the "Great Books of the Western World": 'Euclid, Herodotus, Dostoevsky, etc in that set - and I have actually read most of them!'.
Goethe & Ham of Bone

Hambone, my unemployed friend, continues his "permanent vacation". Reports of my jealousy are not greatly exaggerated. Bone claims he bought a book, which is news in itself since buying anything is something he does with extreme prejudice. It was "Conversations with Goethe", a sort of Boswell's Life of Johnson for the Deutsche set. I know next to nothing about Goethe; my reading seems to have deteriorated in quality since I started blogging. I can't remember the last time I read any Shakermon (as my wife calls Shakespeare).

Various & sundries...
Got a kick out of a commenter on Jeff's elcamino real (link at left). "JG", a Trad Catholic, urged Jeff to quit the internet and pray more. There was a marvelously unhibited "physician heal thyself" quality about it, given his own presence on the 'net. I saved the quote for a future "spanning the globe" offering.

Inclusive language seems to be St. Blog's topic du jour. I'm glad mankind has woken up to the scourge of sexist language. A lack of inclusivity shows poor sportsmanship.
Of the Natural

Some Christians attempt to defend their stand against homosexuality on the grounds that it is learned behavior rather than an inborn tendency. I think this is a mistake. Even if a "gay gene" were discovered (which I doubt since I'm not sure how it could be passed on) it wouldn't matter because conflating a natural tendency with God's will is a common error.

Chesterton said that the one truth of Christianity that can be empirically proven is the existence of original sin and the Fall. And I think it is important for the Christian to believe that. If, for instance, Andrew Sullivan believes in the Fall, then he won't equate nature with God. A baby is born naturally selfish. You don't have to teach that. Just because something is as natural to Sullivan as his homosexual tendency, doesn't mean that God wishes him to practice it.

A sociology professor at my alma mater taught us that men are biologically programmed to spread their seed as far and wide as they can, to impregnate as many women as possible. Does that mean we should and that God okays it because it is 'natural'?

Sex, like life itself, is not a right but a privilege. Ultimately, for the Christian, God dying on a cross pretty much sums up the grim situation we find ourselves in. If the creator of the world can die on a cross, then sex looms a little smaller. But, as Muggeridge wrote, "Sex is the mysticism of a materialistic society" - we worship sex in part because we are materialists. So Sullivan is understandably in a difficult situation and I emphathize with him since I'm far from immune from materialism or sin.

What bothers me is not that Sullivan can't accomplish the ideal - chastity, in his situation - but rather rejects the goal outright. The tension in not meeting the ideal is difficult, seemingly unbearable, but we all sin, so we all have to deal with not living up to the goal.

The unfairness of it is a big problem, which goes to the larger issue of the mystery of evil. But the Beatitudes suggest, rather starkly, that the recompense for the afflicted will be greater than the recompense for the unafflicted.

November 20, 2003

Now Playing: 'Mountain Soul' by Patty Loveless

Two coats were before me
An old and a new
I asked my sweet master
Oh what must I do

The old coat was ugly
So tattered and torn
The other a new one
Had never been worn

I'll tell you the best thing
I ever did
I took off the old coat
And put on the new

The first man was earthy
And made from the ground
We bore all his image
The whole world around

The next was my savior
From heaven so fair
He bought me this new coat
You now see me wear

I'll tell you the best thing
I ever did
I took off the old coat
And put on the new
Spanning the Globe to Bring You the Constant Variety of Posts

While writing, I am frequently challenged by this standard: how do I know I am really writing truth? There is no scientific measure of how sin and grace affect man; all I can know is how they affect me, along with a dim guess of how they affect others. And I'm hardly clear-sighted enough to fully perceieve the entire truth. There is nothing more frightening than nearly hitting the truth, and in doing so, writing a piece that appears truthful, and yet, seen through the eyes of God, is a gross misinterperation of it.
- Katrina of Wanderings of My Mind

I'm not in a very good mood right now. But that kind of thing is supposed to be subordinated to various Virtues, no? But how much is being charitable and positive, and how much is lying? If I told you I had a wonderful time going through the Sistine this afternoon, it would be a lie. However, instead of doing that, I could tell you about how wonderful the paintings were, how the Delphic sybil is framed by a graceful and satisfying circle because of her cloak on the one side and her arm on the other. AARARRCGHGHHG, trapped by virtue! - Theresa of Destination:Order

Elijah's Mother: 'Always work hard son. God is not going to provide you with a Golden Chariot.' Abraham's Mother: 'All this traveling and your self-importance of being the father of nations, and yet still you have not given us any grandchildren.' Isaac's Mother: 'All father and son trips aren't like the last one. Next time your father asks you to go up a mountain carrying wood on your back, just ask him if you can go fishing instead.' - Jeff Miller of Curt Jester, on what some biblical mother's might've said to their sons.

So haben Gerhard Schröder und die katholische Kirche ein gemeinsames Problem: Wie bringen wir die Leute wieder dazu, an das ewig lodernde Feuer zu glauben?
-Scipio of Credo ut intelligam. [I do span the globe, you know. Translation? 'So Gerhard Schroeder and the Catholic Church have a common problem: How do we bring the people back to believe in the eternally blazing fire?']

As Br. Nicholas pointed out, a person's actions flow from his character, which needs to be formed by virtues. I heard somewhere (it might have been von Hildebrand cited in Moral class?) that the man who is most virtuous, right, ordered, is going to be the least able to explain the detailed rationale for his acts. There is a point to that. In the end you need guidelines, the moral rules which act as a frame for virtue to raise up and make live. - Theresa of Destination:Order

From this central doctrine of the Gospel, the Atonement, may be drawn two contradictory conclusions. The first is that from the moment of our Lord’s death upon the Cross all evil would be annihilated; or secondly, that since He did not in his own Person destroy it instantaneously, no wonder if He should take time in destroying it in the world or in His Church. The former of those conclusions is perhaps the more natural; but the interval of gloom and sadness which overwhelmed His followers on His death, and still more their history, as contained in the Acts of the Apostles, is sufficient to show that it is not the right conclusion.
--John Henry Newman of Heaven

I think getting people to laugh or smile can be a good end, but I'm starting to suspect we aren't as particular as we ought to be regarding the means we use to get people to laugh. - Tom of Disputations

Last night, after my RCIA presentation on Mary, I felt inspired to pray the Rosary for the first time. I did it according to the instructions in the back of de Montfort's "Secrets of the Rosary", a book that has freaked me out every time I glanced through it. It was a surprisingly prayerful experience, one whose benefits I'm still enjoying this morning.
- Sean of Swimming the Tiber

Oh, and did I mention how truly baffled, perplexed, and otherwise simply DISMAYED I am that a naked woman isn't enough? As in this one woman, right here, the one, oh, I don't know, to whom I'm MARRIED??
- Thomas the MP, on the Naomi Wolf link that suggested a naked women isn't stimulating to the average porn-addicted male anymore

The real secret code that largely goes unnoticed by many Bible believing Christians is the Bethlehem code. The subtle message that is written into the New Testament that points to where the Risen Christ may be found... In Luke 2: 8 the shepherds are told by the angels who appear to them that this will be "a sign" to them...What is the sign they will witness? They are told that they will fine an "infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger." A manger is a feeding box for animals. When the angels leave, the shepherds look to one another and say, "Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us." The key phrase here is "Bethlehem" which literally means "house of bread". "Let us go to the House of Bread to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us." ....All of this is how the Gospel of Luke begins... how does it end? The Risen Christ joins two disciples on the road to Emmaus. They do not recognize him. He opens the Scriptures to them. They invite Him to stay with them. He takes bread, says the blessing, breaks it, gives it to them, then physically vanishes from their site. Luke tells us quite blatantly, for the really dense reader, that they recognized Him in the "breaking of the bread". Where are we to find Jesus this day? In the bread that is broken in the Eucharist!
- Michael of Annuciations
Allergic Reactions

I've blogged in the past about the local Protestant minister who hosts a radio show which I (preversely) continue to listen to. A fine drinking game would be to drink every time he takes a jab at the Catholic Church. He seems to be an intelligent person, well-read if only theologically, so I assume the jabs are persuasive to the average non-Catholic listener.

An example: yesterday's show he described the Russian Orthodox Church's recent denunciation of the consecration of Bishop Robinson. You would think this is a topic Catholics and "bible-believing Christians" (as he calls himself) would have something in common. But he manages to squeeze in a jab at the Church, suggesting that the RCC hasn't been tough enough on the Bishop Robsinon mess. (No credit given, of course, when the Pope made worldwide headlines with his denunciation of gay marriage.)

At some point the bias becomes amusing. But the reason I bring all this up is this: what is the proper Catholic response? My response a couple years ago was to call his show and write emails. But now I think a better response is to to quietly pray. I may be wrong, but I'm guessing that Catholicism is the invisible thorn that is keeping him from complete confidence that what he thinks is true, and we all crave complete confidence in our beliefs. A prickling conscience is hard to tolerate but is to some extent a 'cost of doing business' here on earth. (Ask Andrew Sullivan, who put up with it for years before recently leaving the church.) Since my conscience bothers me often, and did severely in the years before my re-conversion, I can empathize.

So I'm beginning to think that pro-Catholic emails or phone calls merely 'feed the beast of anti-Catholicism', and are the allergens that cause him to become even more anti-Catholic. And never argue with a guy who talks to 50,000 people every day.

November 19, 2003


You've heard of the Da Vinci Code. Now read about the Bethlehem Code.
The Deteriorating Language

John McWhorter laments the cold-blooded murder of the English tongue. McWhorter opened himself to predictable criticism by writing a book that is part of the problem rather than the solution:
The book's free-wheeling prose and unorthodox usage — Mr. McWhorter frequently combines a plural subject with a singular verb — has put off at least one critic, Jonathan Yardley in The Washington Post, who ended his review with the words: "Physician, heal thyself."

Yet Mr. McWhorter, who defends his writing style in the book, says it was a deliberate choice on his part. "I wrote the book in a style that channels speech in a way I certainly could not have gotten away with 40 years ago," he admitted. In part, he said, his goal was not to sound like a scold. But his prose is also, he insisted, a reflection of the era in which he was brought up.

"I'm very much a part of this," he said.
I'm intrigued by the idea of being simultaneously part of the problem and part of the solution, something me and many fellow Christians may be able to identify with.

As a youth I always wanted to call foreign phone numbers at random, both to practice my beginning German and to be alert for clues of "otherness" that would banish the sameness of Midwestern culture. But the high price of long distance calls and the unlikelihood of reaching a willing party made for high hurdles. So there is a sort of wonder inherent in this technology's ability to deliver information from a given point A, such as my site, to a given point B, a point so unimaginably distant that the seasons there are reversed, or to an even further point C. That we might influence each other would seem a laughable proposition until a decade ago, at least on the earthly plane.

Examples abound: I hear that Kathy was contacted by someone she hasn't heard from in five years (via a google search); I receive an email from Sr. Mary Catharine Perry after casually mentioning her new book; occasionally there are fellow searchers for an obscure childhood poem. The internet can also serve as connective tissue to memories of former selves - such as this, our eighth grade graduation song:
Today, while the blossoms still cling to the vine
I'll taste your strawberries, I'll drink your sweet wine
A million tomorrows shall all pass away
'ere I forget all the joy that is mine, today

I'll be a dandy, and I'll be a rover
You'll know who I am by the songs that I sing
I'll feast at your table, I'll sleep in your clover
Who cares what the morrow shall bring.
Amusing column by David Brooks on the fairer sex's magazines:
As you know, there are two kinds of women's magazines in the world, nonsmiling and smiling. In the nonsmiling magazines, which tend to be upscale, the models in the photo spreads wear these blank or haughty expressions because, you know, happiness is so middle class.

One model will look as if she is contemplating the meaninglessness of existence in her Helmut Lang dress. Another will look catatonically bored in her Givenchy gown, driven to this unbearable state of ennui either because she is forced to live in a world of people less perfect than herself or because she is in the advanced stages of collagen poisoning.
Flannery O'Connor Quotes

On the title of her book "The Violent Bear It Away" (from Matthew 11:12):
"One thing I observe about the title is that the general reaction is to think that it has an Old Testament flavor. Even when they read the quotation, the fact that these are Christ's words makes no great impression. That this is the violence of love, of giving more than the law demands, of an asceticism like John the Baptist's, but in the face of which even John is less than the least in the kingdom - all this is overlooked. I am speaking of the verse apart from my book; in the book I fail to make the title's significance clear, but the title is the best thing about the book. I had never paid much attention to that verse either until I read that it was one of the Eastern fathers' favorite passages - St. Basil, I think. Those desert fathers interest me very much.

On grace and nature:
I have a much less romantic view of how the Holy Spirit operates than you. The sins of pride and selfishness and reluctance to wrestle with the Spirit are certainly mine but I have been working at them a long time and will be still doing it when I am on my deathbed. I believe that God's love for us is so great that He does not wait until we are purified to such a great extent before He allows us to receive Him.

Grace, to the Catholic way of thinking, can and does use as its medium the imperfect, purely human, and even hypocritical. Cutting yourself off from Grace is a very decided matter, requiring a real choice, act of will, and affecting the very ground of the soul...In the Protestant view, I think Grace and nature don't have much to do with each other. The old lady [the one who would've been a good woman if she'd been shot every moment of her life], because of her hypocrisy and humanness and banality couldn't be a medium for Grace. In the sense I see things the other way, I'm a Catholic writer."

November 18, 2003

God Bless Brian Lamb!

There's something refreshingly anachronistic about him. Uber-liberal Michael Moore was on Booknotes Sunday wearing a Boston Red Sox cap. Lamb asked, with a straight face, what the "B" stood for.

Lamb fascinates because his life is a mystery; he's a blank slate in a world where everyone's a pundit (one wag said that America is becoming dumber, but more opinionated - not true of Brian Lamb).

Even though he's a mystery, you can pick up clues. He appears to be interested in and have a respect for religion, but when he peppered Jeffrey Hart with questions as to why the Catholic Church wouldn't allow women priests, I surmised he isn't a Catholic. He asked Michael Moore for his take on religion, though he never offers his own.

Single, never married, Lamb appears to have a great love for history and for details some might think minutiae. He seems to have a mild obession with De Tocqueville and obscure Presidents from the 19th century (sounds like a "Jeopardy" category - "obscure presidents from the 19th Century, Alex!").

I'm curious about his spiritual journey. My sense is that anyone who is interested in politics for a long time eventually becomes interested in religion (often rejecting it outright, but at least they think about it) because politics is the poor man's religion, a way to effect change on the temporal plane only. Religion, or lack thereof, is often the "first principle" upon which one's politics (e.g. view of social issues like abortion) is based, rather than the other way around.

via Alicia. Sign acquired here
Avoid the Stacks. That Way Madness Lies! Bwahahhahha...

Local writer Bill Eichenberger interviews Library of Congress chief James Hadley Billington (now doesn't that sound like the name of someone who's the head of the LOC?):
A passage in the novel Of Time and the River by Thomas Wolfe resonates with Billington:

The protagonist, Eugene Gant, reads books "insanely, by the hundreds, the thousands, the ten thousands. . . . The thought that other books were waiting for him tore at his heart forever. He pictured himself as tearing the entrails from a book as from a fowl.''

"Well,'' Billington said, "when you are presiding over a library with more than 126 million items in it, you don't even have the illusion of covering even a small section of it.

"I did get a note of congratulations from a distinguished scholar when I got this job (in 1987), and he wrote: 'Avoid the stacks. That way madness lies.' ''

Billington hasn't entered the stacks in 10 years, because the library closed them to browsing. He denied the rumor that mad scholars have been roaming the library's 530 miles of shelves for a decade living off bookworms and condensation on the pipes.

Before Rome burned, Seneca, counselor to Nero, wrote, "It does not matter how many books you have, but how good they are.''

"Very true . . . up to a point,'' Billington said, "although, with a collection like ours, you don't want to apply too rigorous a standard to what's a good book and what isn't.''

November 17, 2003

Belloc to Chesterton to Lewis ...(or Tinkers to Evers to Chance)

Tom of Disputations has an interesting post discussing to what degree sharp sarcastic humor is acceptable for the Christian.

Three famous apologists defended the faith with varying degrees of "sharpness": Hilaire Belloc was bellicose enough to make an enemy of atheist H.G. Wells; Chesterton warm enough to count Wells a good friend. In Joseph Pearce's biography of Belloc, Pearce makes a compelling case that Chesterton's conversion was brought about in part by Belloc. And C.S. Lewis has said that Chesterton's "Everlasting Man" was instrumental in his conversion.

So we have Belloc - to - Chesterton -to- Lewis. Kinder and gentler was each succeeding one, to the point where Lewis, in an effort not to offend, suggested only mere Christianity was needed, while he himself believed in the Real Presence of the Eucharist and the doctrine of Purgatory (even though the latter was explicitly ruled out by his Anglican Church).

The kindler/gentler trend is not limited to apologists. From Trent to Vatican II, the swing has been towards the pastoral and away from the sectarian. Is this bad? I think not. But one could say: the state of Christianity got worse during that period of time - how effective could the "kindler/gentler" approach be? But what we do not know is how badly things could be. Imagine a world without C.S. Lewis and we imagine how much worse things would be. But Lewis did depend on Chesterton and Chesterton on Belloc. So Belloc deserves respect.
Tracy Bird and Fr. Mastroeni's Moral Theology class

I study popular culture, often while sipping one of the national products of Ireland.

During a recent study period, I heard country singer Tracy Bird's latest, which suggests a linkage and repeating cycle between thought, word and action in a colorful way:
The drinkin' bone is connected to the party bone
The party bone's connected to the stayin' out all night long
And she won't think it's funny
And I'll wind up all alone
And the lonely bone's connected to the drinkin' bone
Vaguely reminds me of Theresa's moral theo professor, as quoted here:
Sow a desire, reap a thought,
sow a thought, reap an action,
sow an action, reap a habit,
sow a habit, reap a character,
sow a character, reap a destiny.
Next Sat: Ohio State vs Michigan
What would a "liberal" Pope look like?

The hopes and dreams of the Garry Wills crowd is that the next pope will be liberal. But isn't a "liberal pope" an oxymoron? A pope's very job is to conserve - to conserve the deposit of faith. The development of doctrine comes about as a defense mechanism against heresies. Heresies tend to drive development; the pope doesn't go out freelancing.

Obviously church disciplines can be tightened or loosened, and that might be what some mean by a 'liberal' pope. But acceptance of homosexuality as not sinful, for example, will never happen because then the Church would no longer be conserving the deposit of faith.
Coming Home Network Comes to Columbus

Had the opportunity to listen to a talk by Fr. McCloskey, someone who's long fascinated me (although not enough to join Opus Dei). The substance of the talk was not meaty (his discussion of the dead faith of Europe and the rise of faith in Africa and Asia I've heard many times before), but the sugary anecdotes were tasty. There is a kind of hope when the rich and powerful - like recent convert Robert Bork - bow their heads in humility and accept the waters of baptism.

Fr. McCloskey had just gotten the opportunity to go into the Oval Office and meet the President and First Lady and said that what doesn't come through the television is the sheer physical vitality of this man, surely one of the most fit 55-yr old officeholders in the country - with the possible exception of the new governor of California. He told GWB that he and his Catholic Information Center pray for him every day (walks by the White House every day and says the Memorare) to which Pres. Bush replied, "that's how I can be comfortable in this job".

I also got to see Joseph Pearce, although I didn't speak to him. I have all his books already so I didn't buy anything for him to sign. Reminds me of when I was young and met Hall of Famer Joe Morgan. I thought authors just signed their names, so when I got to the front of the line and he asked me how he should preface it I said "To Tom". Lame, lame lame. Now I think of lines like, "to a fine ballplayer". :)
Strange Bedfellows

Even some secularists are down on pornography:
“Things are always a little tense and uncomfortable when you just start seeing someone,” he said. “I prefer to have sex right away just to get it over with. You know it’s going to happen anyway, and it gets rid of the tension.”

“Isn’t the tension kind of fun?” I asked. “Doesn’t that also get rid of the mystery?”

“Mystery?” He looked at me blankly. And then, without hesitating, he replied: “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Sex has no mystery.”

November 15, 2003

One of the most irritating things is to hear a secularist tell me to leave my religion outside the public square. A former OSU professor does this this, saying that basing laws on religious doctrine are "anti-democratic". First, we aren't a pure democracy (we've got courts to insure that) and second I don't see anything MORE democratic than voting based on your religious principles (or lack thereof). If Christianity in America becomes watered down to the point where gay marriage is acceptable, then it will happen. If not, then secularists should quit complaining and prostelyze their atheism rather than trying to silence theists in the public square.

He writes that laws made for religious reasons aren't democratic because some folks are "out of the loop". Newsflash - there are many people of faith who are "out of the loop" when it comes to the revelation that religious convictions shouldn't influence law-making. I also appreciated the irony in his speaking for God in saying that He isn't allowed to have preferences. I guess I’m out of the loop on that one.

Oldenquist also claims that religion should be kept out of politics because there are intelligent people of every faith, or no faith at all, which is true but beside the point. To attempt to ban religious arguments from the public square is like trying to separate eggs from batter. Philosopher E.A. Burtt said that the only way to avoid metaphysics is to say nothing, because thought and language are metaphysical. This is even truer of law-making and voting. Don't let secularists silence you.

November 14, 2003

Rally Time

Well it’s time to buck up. Garrison Keillor famously says he loves Minnesotan winters because “it keeps out the riff-raff”. That Nov. 3rd, 77-degree day at the lake looms large now, carrying as it does the weight of the coming four months. Facing a Jansenist winter, its grim embrace momentarily escaped, makes that day the sweeter.

The well-timed vacation day is a thing of beauty – part art, part science and subject to the elements like an old shed. This year, the weekend after the draconian knife slips – the end of daylight savings time – I gave myself a little momentum goin’ in. That day the grass waved green as Irish Republican flags. The sun percolated in an empty sky. Paul Theroux wrote of disreputable goings-ons in Hawaii and I cleansed the palate with a little Flannery O’Connor, the closest thing to a writer-saint as was ever invented. The radio played all the right songs, geese droppings were dodged, and the rhythmic lake ripples went on and on, even when you looked away. Like love.
Pieper's Book

We have a lot of November birthdays in our family, and between that and Christmas I tend to purchase a lot of books for people. This tends to bust my own book budget, because it becomes a "2 for you, 1 for me...3 for you, 1 for me" type of deal. "STET, Damnit!: The Misanthrope’s Corner, 1991 to 2002" by Florence King, "Amata Means Beloved" by Mary Catharine Perry are hovering as possible buys. Another is Joseph Pieper's Faith, Hope and Love. From an reviewer:
This book really cannot be praised too highly. Pieper's discussion is more deep and insightful than any psychology text I've seen, and he's not even trying to do psychology.

He uses traditional and technical words (like "sloth"), but this is necessary to distinguish shades of moods, emotions, and actions. I used to think of "slothful" as synonymous with "laziness" -- but this book made me realize what a huge difference there was. You could work hard every day, but if deep inside you know you could do great things, and you simply don't bother to do them, then you are guilty of sloth. Many Christians (and non-Christians) that I know, including myself, will recognize this as a part of their lives.
On the virtue of hope: a past Dominican friar used to emphasize the importance of realizing Jesus was fully human - in soul and body - because otherwise he ceases to be a model for us. If he is some sort of amalgaman of divine and human, some kind of 'superman' then it is hopeless to attempt to be like him.
No Mr. Smiths

I'd carefully taped a couple of random half-hour segments from the 30-hour U.S. Senate debate that went on all night Wednesday and into Thursday. I picked the 3:00-3:30 and 5:00-5:30am slots.

Now, as good a cause as it is on the merits (i.e. a desire by Republicans to get some of their judicial nominees filled), I must confess that my primary motivation was to see the senators looking like Mr. Smith in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. I was looking for dissheveled clothing, wild hair, unfeigned passion and unguarded remarks. I'd settle for a pained look caused by a full bladder. Many of the same reasons we watch the Jerry Lewis Telethon, or Dan Rather for that matter.

But noooo....the entertainment value was nill. They looked blow-dried and professional as always. I didn't expect Orin Hatch to look like Otis Campbell on the Andy Griffith Show, but couldn't somebody look like they just got out of bed?

It sounds as though I'm trivializing it. Perhaps. I do believe it's worth fighting for. But I suspected this event a publicity stunt. And publicity stunts need publicity, which this event didn't gin up.
Reporting Live from Campus Crusade for Christ

We took our seats in the last row, the elderly folks amid the protean youth, a foretaste of what is to come. The girls looked prettier than in my college days, back when I had a gimlet eye, and they answered their cell phones with impressive alacrity. The boys had lubed their hair to form stray stalactites, something I'd have tamped down as an altar boy before Mass.

A band played praise and worship music, the lyrics posted on a huge screen above them, obviating the need to thumb through a hymnal or squint since the words were big enough even for the near-sighted.

Production values were keen; a short film advertised a men’s conference to be held next week by showing the word “PARTIES” against a black background followed by shots of empty beer cans, spent cigarettes, woozy characters of questionable sobriety. This was, I took it, the equivalent of showing prison bars and chain gangs to would-be criminals, a sort of “Scared Straight” for the fundy set. It didn’t exactly have that effect on me, at least until it showed a guy hugging the porcelain god (i.e. retching in the toilet). After the film a young man ascended the stage and said that the men’s conference would have none of what you just saw.

Next, our reason for being there stepped on the stage. Our presumed future daughter-in-law was going to give a talk, which was enough to drag us from the comfort of our digesting meal. She described her circumstances growing up in a Christian home, and explained movingly how being away from home for the first time was the acid test for her devotion to Christ – would she choose the way of men or of God?

We bolted after her talk, but on the way home there was a certain gnashing of teeth over her list of the support she’s received: Campus Crusade for Christ, close friends, etc.. – no mention of her boyfriend.

“It was probably a simple oversight,” my charitable wife said.

“Yes, besides, if I were a single male in that audience would I want to hear a girl mentioning her boyfriend? No way. She had to target her audience.”

“Yes it was for God and not for Matt.”

It sounded hollow even as we were saying it.

November 13, 2003


Mom saw my blog!

Oy Vey
Before you think our friend is too sentimental, he adds that he wouldn't compare the erasure of a blog with "the burning of a 15th century Gutenberg Bible. But I believe that in the future, maybe even the most trivial of today's sites can be of interest to people."

Varieties of Blog
Spanning the Globe to Bring You the Constant Variety of Posts

I've perceived a subtle difference between the way the left usually talks about power, and the way Christianity (in my view) talks about it. The message men -- especially straight, white, able-bodied men -- usually get from the left about power is that they have too much of it and others have to little, so they should share. The Christian message, on the other hand, is that you may think you have power, but that power is nothing compared to God. As far as God is concerned, the "privileged and dominant" are his children like everybody else. That's why they should see the beggars in the street as their brothers -- or as Jesus...That's why I said in the last post that a little more emphasis on God's power could be helpful in communicating with that group. If you only talk about how much power they have and how awful that is, you're actually building them up in a way. - Camassia

To say that The Da Vinci Code has taught one about Christianity is as absurd as saying Stephen King’s The Shining is the key to understanding the hospitality industry. --Ellyn of Oblique House

Those who don't want to be a burden on other people when sick or old are usually healthy people who have the ability to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, so to speak. So being a "burden" on someone is resolved only when you become a 'burden' on someone and then realize your dignity is in who you are not in what you do. --reader Jeannie Schmelzer, helping me get over my allergens to burdenhood

People who live close to uncultivated nature don't know how lucky they are. Being so close to creation, which God saw and said was good (Genesis 1:31), makes one much more open to whatever else God gives us for our good. - Enbrethiliel of Sancta Sanctis

I’m not one to sit in front of the mirror to primp. However, I do take a few seconds to “look at myself”, because I believe that our eyes are the windows to our souls. I often do this immediately after reception of holy communion or confession. When I get into my car, I pull down the rear view mirror and take a look into my eyes…and I look, if you will, to SEE JESUS. It is something I started doing after my confirmation. It is the eyes that are the windows to our souls. A heart filled with love, filled with the Holy Spirit, has tender eyes. Looking into someone's eyes is one way I can touch their soul. If you don’t already, look into your brother's eyes and pray when you do. -Nicole of 'Notes to Myself'

I feel the same edginess when I am selfish with my time and hoard it, as when I give too much without stopping for renewal -- aka "me time." I have the same yucky heaviness of self and I lose my peace and sense of freedom - Kirsten of Summa Mommas

Equip yourself for the Christian life with these new Bible Belts™ for every person and occasion so that that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. A just man's pants fall seven times a day so keep that from happening with these great Bible Belts™. --Jeff Miller of Curt Jester, proffering a new marketing tool.

Cardinal Francis George, Archbishop of Chicago, said this in a speech last month: "André Malraux once asked a priest to name the single biggest lesson he had learned from hearing confessions. Without skipping a heartbeat the priest said, 'There are no grown-up people.'" A too-glib way of putting it is that men need to love something other than themselves to grow up, while women need to stop loving everything equally. --commenter on Camassia's blog

It's a bit thick to appeal to Sts. Augustine and Thomas over the recent popes, since both saints would have deferred to a pope in an instant. -Tom of Disputations

I've oft wondered whether or not my life is supposed to be an example to other. Of course, it's one big sign to others that reads: DO NOT LIVE LIKE THIS! -- smockmomma commenting on Davey's Mommy, being overly modest
Books vs Film

NY Times link:
[N]ext year should see the appearance of another Roth movie, "American Pastoral." Whatever the outcome, it's unlikely that this book will fall victim to that other hazard of adaptation: being all but rubbed out by the brilliant film version. Why? Because "American Pastoral" is probably too good a novel — in the way that Charles Dickens's "Great Expectations" is too good to be erased by David Lean's classic film of same, and in the way, conversely, that Mario Puzo's "Godfather" is too bad a novel to avoid being trampled to death by Francis Ford Coppola's "Godfather."

The greater the novel, the more it is apt to embody the special, nonreplicable properties of the written medium; the more likely it is, to adapt Dylan Thomas, to move from language rather than toward language. Similarly, the finer the movie, the greater its tendency to emerge from visual images rather than flow in the direction of visual images.

It's this dual fidelity — to one's medium and to one's profoundest imaginative urges — that, at the highest level, gives a work of art its mysterious soul. If one thing emerges from the scant filmography of Saul Bellow and Philip Roth and John Updike, it's that no cinematic adaptation could help itself to their best work's moving spirit, and no self-respecting movie would ever try to. --Joseph O'Neill
Pity the Bishops

St. Martin de Tours was chosen bishop in an unorthodox way. So great was his reluctance that he was kidnapped and consecrated at gunpoint. (Just kidding about the gun.)

But the first reading from yesterday's liturgy certainly gives one pause and explains the reluctance (Wisdom 6:1-11):
Hearken, you who are in power over the multitude and lord it over throngs of peoples! Because authority was given you by the LORD and sovereignty by the Most High, who shall probe your works and scrutinize your counsels! Because, though you were ministers of his kingdom, you judged not rightly, and did not keep the law, nor walk according to the will of God,
Terribly and swiftly shall he come against you, because judgment is stern for the exalted-
For the lowly may be pardoned out of mercy but the mighty shall be mightily put to the test.
For the Lord of all shows no partiality, nor does he fear greatness, Because he himself made the great as well as the small, and he provides for all alike;
but for those in power a rigorous scrutiny impends.
To you, therefore, O princes, are my words addressed that you may learn wisdom and that you may not sin.
New Religious Order Forming in Central Ohio

Children of Mary
Corrections & Retractions II

This could be a daily column. I should have a disclaimer on the blog, "thoughts I write do not necessarily reflect my thinking - see here for a more accurate rendering."

In this post, I might've implied an equality between abortion and the death penalty. I utterly reject and bristle at that notion and always have. There is no mercy and no justice in an abortion, while there is justice in the death penalty.

When I said "equally persuasive", it was more a measure of who is doing the saying (the Pope), rather the argument. Our Pope speaks with heavy amount of persausion even when I don't understand it, which is why the Gulf and Iraq wars were/are so problematic for me.

Also Fr. Damien is Blessed Damien now...he was beatified in 1995, which was over a hundred years after his death. Slow by recent saint-making standards. Thanks John!

November 12, 2003

Not that Margaret?

My 8-yr old niece recently had to write something about a saint. She picked St. Margaret because that is her great-grandmother's name. But her grandmother, in the course of research, found that St. Margaret of Cortona was a prostitute before her conversion.

"How about St. Margaret of Scotland, sweetie?"
Dark Beer Here! finds dark beer is good for you

Story here.

Guinness proved to be about twice as effective at preventing the blood platelets from clumping and forming the kind of clot that can cause a heart attack.
Eastern Orthodox Struggle with the War
...widespread Orthodox opposition to the Iraqi war, particularly by the bishops, was a source of discouragement, even dilemma, for some Orthodox Christians, especially when that opposition was accompanied, as it frequently was, by the comment that “the Orthodox Church does not accept or espouse a just-war theory; all wars are evil, and participation in them is necessarily and intrinsically evil.” This judgment, voiced by some of the names most respected in Orthodox moral theology, was a cause of bewilderment because, if true, it appeared to guarantee that the Orthodox Church, committed to an ethics of pacifism, would remain forever on the fringes of American life, along with other pacifist groups, like the Amish.

This was not a danger to which the Roman Catholic Church, with its robust and traditional theory of just war, was subject. The American bishops of that church could denounce the Iraqi war with complete safety on the point, because everyone knew that Roman Catholicism was not committed to a philosophy of pacifism. (One recalls that old-style Catholic pacifists, like Thomas Merton, were forever lamenting this fact.) Official Roman Catholic criticism of the Iraqi war, consequently, was consistently based on the argument that that projected war did not measure up to the traditional criteria for determining a “just war.” --Patrick Henry Reardon
Why Not?

In one of his books, Kinky Friedman expresses displeasure that the Catholic Church has not canonized Fr. Damien of Molokai. (Fr. Damien heroically served a leper colony and eventually died of leprosy.) From what I know about the good Father, it does seem like he should be on the fast track to sainthood. Does anyone know why it appears that our Pope, who has made so many, has not made him? I realize, of course, that God makes saints and that miracles are required, but it seems as though enthusiasm for his cause is a bit sluggish and I do wonder why.
Flannery O'Connor Quotes

Flannery as a child
I have got to the point now where I keep thinking more and more about the presentation of love and charity, or better call it grace as love suggests tenderness, whereas grace can be violent or would have to be to compete with the kind of evil I can make concrete. At the same time, I keep seeing Elias in that cave, waiting to hear the voice of the Lord in the thunder and lightning and wind, and only hearing it finally in the gentle breeze, and I feel I'll have to be able to do that sooner or later, or anyway keep trying.


After the interview with the Time [magazine] man I am very much aware of how hard you have to try to escape labels. He wanted me to characterize myself so he would have something to write down. Are you a Southern writer? What kind of Catholic are you? etc. I asked him what kind of Catholics there were. Liberal or conservative says he. All did for an hour was stammer and stutter and all night I as awake answering his questions with the necessary qualifications and reservations.

Friends in High Places

TLS of Summa Mommas has excellent crew members.

The Blessed Mother is numero uno and in a special category much as my own mom is compared to my friends:

- Blessed Margaret of Costello - bereft of the senses of sight and hearing, but full in soul.
- St. Pio - saint of the confessional, he had a great bullsh*t detector, which is something all the Irish need.
- St. Thomas Aquinas - not for his work, but for his sanguinity at being called "The Dumb Ox"
- St. Therese of Liseux. 'If you are willing to bear serenely the trial of being displeasing to yourself, you will be to Jesus a pleasant place of shelter,' she wrote.
- St. Thomas More - because I was born on his feast day and my given name is the same as his.
- St. Patrick - freer of Ireland from paganism
- St. Anthony, boyhood pal
Claiming them is easy; just hope they claim me.
Life Issues

This post is probably all wet, since I'm weighing in beyond my competence, but what interests me in some of the pro-war/anti-war talk is how a respect for life can seemingly be displayed in two opposite ways, almost as respect for religious truth can be displayed either by suppressing untruths (remember 'errors have no rights'?) or by promulgating truths. I recall presidential hopeful ('hopeful' might be a stretch) Alan Keyes defending the death penalty by saying that he respected life so much that those convicted of murder will lose their life. In other words, we'll send a message of how precious life is by denying it to the perpetrator. And Keyes was persuasive.

But of course the other side says, equally persuasively, that life is precious and that extends to the perpetrator of murder, for life that is not respected on the margins (i.e. infants, the severely handicapped, criminals) is not really respect for life at all.
Corrections and Retractions

Prompted by a reader's email, I apologize for referring to my wife's church as "cult-like", which is a gross distortion. The fault surely lies with me. To an introvert, a harmless sales convention can seem 'cult-like'.

Her church wants to avoid, understandably, stagnation, so there's a constant effort to keep things "pure" by accountability and by bringing in new people. Some thrive, though my mother-in-law appears burned out. She used to go to bible studies, small groups, Alpha groups - and now never goes to Sunday services. Perhaps she felt that it was an all or none situation.

But my wife seems perfectly content to miss small group activities (she's studying for her MBA and has no time), so mea culpa. And how can I complain about a church who helped convert my stepson from agnosticism to Christianity?

Chris of Maine Catholic also points out, correctly I think, that just about every teen tests limits and flirts with danger. Fortunately, most of the time they get away with it. So it's not an issue of overconfidence in God as it is typical teenage behavior.

November 11, 2003

Anathema vs Pastoral

I've always been interested in line-drawing (perhaps due to a lack of virtue) and of late I wonder how the Christian should debate.

For instance, in the latest Crisis, Ralph McInerny responded to a criticism by saying words to the effect "I appreciate your teaching me Aquinas", which, in light of his books about Aquinas can only be seen as sarcastic. A minor off-key note, since it contributed nothing to the debate. Would JPII write it? No. Would Cardinal Newman? Probably.

That is mild of course. A famous Catholic blogger recently wrote that Andrew Sullivan thinks of the world only in terms of his "little Willie", which, as any guy can attest, is cruel only in its use of the diminutive.

Perhaps no one can skewer like Fr. George Rutler, a priest in Manhattan whose rejoinders read like poetry. The passage below, about the Kennedys, is mild compared to his normal balpeen hammer blows:
In Boston, the Kennedys and the clergy made unlovely music playing each other like pianos. Current distress in that archdiocese may be traced in part to defective spiritual chromosomes in Joe Kennedy and Cardinal O’Connell. A generation later, an obsequious Cardinal Cushing greased the slide from the solid piety of the work-worn 19th-century Patrick Kennedy to a latter-day “I never worked a (!!**!#!) day in my life” Patrick Kennedy accusing the pope of bigotry.

The decay of the Kennedy dynasty now is marked not so much by the hypocrisy of more colorful earlier generations, whose vice paid tribute to virtue, as by a dull humbug whose virtue pays tribute to vice. P. J. Kennedy dancing on tables and Honey Fitz singing “Sweet Adeline” are more splendid figures in their corruption than Kathleen Kennedy Townsend delivering confused animadversions on Galileo.
If this be vice, it pays a certain virtue to vice.

Some negate, some affirm. Some stamp out heresy, others promulgate truth. Some fight wars, some are pacifists. I guess there is room for both in the universal church.
But What Would We Have to Talk About?

Amy's tired of treating symptoms; she tells it like it is:
The crisis is not met by issuing statements about those second-tier issues [pro-abort politicians, the fondness of Catholics for the Left Behind books and The Da Vinci Code....]. The crisis is met head on by admitting that in the past forty years, Catholics have lost sight of Christ, that you can sit in a Catholic Mass and not have any strong sense, week after week, that this about the passionate love that Christ has for you and calls you to embrace and share and live. That's the crisis. Catholicism, in its American manifestation, is hardly about Christ. It's mostly about insititutional concerns: membership, money, leadership and public perception. And contrary to current wisdom, none of those things happen to be God.
True. The fact that there are American Catholic pro-choice politicians, for example, says nothing about abortion and everything about the state of American Catholicism. My idea of fighting current ills has moved from donating to the "National Right to Life" PAC to giving away copies of Scott Hahn's "Rome Sweet Home" - because the source of the problem has less to do with politics than with love - as exemplified by Hahn's commentary on John 6.

And last Sunday our priest said that we need to read the Gospels more often, explaining that otherwise "how will you get to know Christ?". How indeed.
A Modest Proposal

Proposed new high school. Cost = $10,411

Recently our school district asked us to approve a new $60 million (say like Mike Myers in Austin Powers) high school.

I'm sort of curious why it costs $60 million to build a high school, which is over half what it cost to build a state-of-the-art professional sports arena. (Which, when publically financed, are boondoggles, but that's another story.)

Why is it that kids got better educations fifty years ago with less technology and infrastructure? How is that children learned to read in one-room classrooms when the McGuffey Reader was de rigeur?

Why not pay teachers $200K a year and have them teach in heated tents? I bet the education would be better because it's teachers who teach, not buildings.

Proposed annual salary for this man: $201,200

Disclaimer: I am not a teacher and thus have no inherent conflict of interest. No school buildings were harmed in the making of this post.
A tragedy for the local community recently occurred with the death of a 16-yr old student who was active at my wife's church.

Outgoing and devout, he did missionary work in other countries as well as among his high school classmates. My wife knew him and his youth minister father and it saddened her to tears.

Shortly after noon church service, without a drop of alcohol to "explain it", he drove over 100mph because he wanted to see if he could get the car airborne. He lost control, went into a ditch, flipped the car and hit a tree. The two passengers received only minor injuries.

I didn’t know him, but it irritated me that he could be so reckless. Does confidence in God overflow into areas of life it shouldn't? Popular and genuine among his peers (a combination in high school as rare as hothouse flowers above the Arctic Circle), he was much more courageous than me - and I'm not talking about driving habits - but perhaps, at age 16, you don't get courage without foolhardiness.

I can’t help but think it God-appointed that neither of the kids he was with were seriously hurt. His parents, bearing the nearly unbearable burden, at least don’t have to have the additional weight of their child being responsible for another parent's nightmare.

His memorial service was happy and enthusiastic, not sad. Which I didn't know what to make of. Given eternal life, a death is not the loss that it is to an unbeliever. But given the cult-like, 'put on a happy face at all times' aspect of this non-denominational church I had the proverbial 'mixed emotions'.

But perhaps that is prejuidice. Our previous Dominican friar, half-Irish and half-Italian, said that funerals that involved both sides were always strained because the Irish half were joyful and the Italian side grim.