July 31, 2004

Defending Polarization  ...but not propaganda

I received an interesting email today from a gentleman who suggested there needs to be a re-emphasis of style over content in religious institutions and political parties. He equated George Weigel and Garry Wills, calling them "absolutists".

I agree that style needs to be re-emphasized, but only in the service of content. The content in the case of an abortion is a dead child, and we owe that child not only our speaking, but our speaking in a style that is persuasive and will woo and not repel those who are on the fence. That's why I like FFL which doesn't demonize opponents but explains how pro-life is pro-woman, and doesn't make religious arguments (i.e. Truth capital 'T') but broader ones (truth, small 't').

Christ was a polarizer, but he never engaged in untruths, half-truths or propaganda in seeking his end. Just as God uses flawed individuals to effect his will, I believe he can use the flawed - though superior to the alternative - Republican party also. It's the increase in half-truths and propaganda in the parties that is worrisome, not the polarization between them.

July 30, 2004

Things You Won't Find on Video Meliora...  inspired by Jeff Culbreath

1. Nudity other than in animals.
2. Explanation of the Video Meliora Official Blogroll Policy.
3. Payment amounts required for Spanning the Globe inclusion.
4. Payment schedule for the above.
5. Midway rides.
6. Nigerian scams.
7. Full-assed opinions (all guaranteed 100% half-assed).
8. Examinations of Marxist concepts that can be related to Barthian conclusions.
9. Lyrics to Good Morning Starshine. (whoops!)
10. Stealing ideas for posts from El Camino Real.

Prairie dog naked but for his fur
Fr. Groeschel, National Treasure

Excerpts from his recent thoughts:
One of the hardest of all virtues to acquire is humility. Once you realize you have it, it’s lost. God gave me a little lesson in humility just this week. I never watch my programs on television, in fact I saw one twelve years ago at a rectory, where I was visiting and they had it on. I couldn’t believe that I was such a peculiar looking fellow...
Whether you are young or old, as you read this message, think of the day when you will leave this world. Remember it, because that’s the day when you will understand completely the mercy of God, when you will have to put yourself completely at His mercy. You will have to trust God that He will go with you, that Our Blessed Savior will receive you. If you are a Catholic, you have been saying all your life, “Pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of our death.” Death is not to be feared; rather it is something to anticipate. If you make death your friend, you will not spend your life being terrified.
Sister Mary Anastasia, a wonderful old Carmelite sister from Alhambra, California, just passed away. She was filled with wise observations about life in general, the spiritual life, and everyday life. One of her best remarks is, “If it doesn't’t hurt, it’s not a sacrifice.” When we make up our mind to do things for others, it should be a sacrifice, it should hurt a little bit. I once heard a rabbi say to an audience, “You’re not giving till it hurts. You’re giving till it feels good.”
We Catholics, along with a number of other religious denominations, think that God takes care of us first and that other people are rather on the outside, although they might make it to eternal life. These religions are convinced that they are the true religion, as we are convinced that we are the true Church. I am absolutely convinced that we are the true Church because we couldn't’t go on if we were’t. On the other hand, I think our view of God is rather narrow-minded. He loves all His children. He seeks the salvation of all, and Christ came for the salvation of all. It changes your view of reality. This is one of the things that the Pope has tried to stress in his twenty-five years as he worked so hard for ecumenism and received the leaders of so many religious denominations.
Honin' Down the Book List

Steven's post reminded me of a Columbus Dispatch book reviewer's column, in which he said that being a reviewer means reading many books at one time. He remarked how surprisingly easy it was to pick up something that he'd left weeks or months ago.

But Mr. Riddle's post has inspired me to try to re-group and face a reading situation that is dissolute and full of disarray.

I want to read mainly three or four types of books: Fiction which cleanses the palate of "too much journalism" and, if the author is good, provides a bit of beauty. Non-fiction historical, which is time-travel. Non-fiction spiritual such as "Father Joe" and "The Miracle Detective" which attempt to sort out grace from nature. Non-fiction prayerful books, like the marvelous "The Great Means of Salvation and Perfection" by St. Alphonsus Liguori which is a soul food beyond comprehension.
Fictional Friday...old journal entries never die...(aka more pointless fiction)...-written 7/8/00

It was ’79 and Laura was a classmate of mine at the Livery Day School for brilliant pre-pubescent children of vicariously overachieving parents. We had a latte before our first lesson, a droll lecture from an ex-hippie on potential career choices (I thought he spent too much time on School Administrator).

In the cautious Livery system, controversial subjects like religion and politics were never discussed because they weren't considered to be in the "value-added" category. The only reference to things spiritual was how God could best be used to improve productivity. Something about studies proving that meditating on a God-force gives you more energy. When Laura devil-advocated him on the oxymoronic notion of reducing God to servant status he mumbled something like, “don’t let your opinions get in the way of the value the lecture has for you.” Laura seemed satisfied with his response.

During breaks we licked orange Tang crystals and felt the burn. Laura was a smart-aleck as usual; she called all my ideas either “sad” or “deluded”. She had granny glasses and read the poetry of Adrianne Rich. I read Shakespeare, but only Falstaff’s lines. We had nothing in common, as is appropriate for the male and females of the species, marriage being a microcosm of the Jew-Arab conflict only more intractable.

This is a keeper - scriptural commentaries from St. Thomas. I was just looking for something like this the other day, go figure. Via Thomas o' Endlessly Rocking.
Democracy's Good Side

My take on representative government is you get the government you deserve. We the voters are ultimately responsible. The "Pox on Both Your Houses" is an understandable sentiment this election due to the controversy of the war, but if that attitude is chronic it screams of utopianism. I like that the blame or credit for a government lies with me, to an infinitely small degree, rather than with a monarchy in which you roll the dice. When monarchy is good, it's very good, and when it's bad it's a dictatorship.

In a democracy you get a real sense of interdependence, which I think is precisely what God wants us to feel. In a monarchy, you are dependent on your sovereign. In a democracy, like it or not, I am dependent on the 20-year old down the street who listens to death metal and votes for pro-abort candidates. And there is something very right about that. I should be somewhat dependent on her, because she is my neighbor and potentially a sister in Christ. This interdependence ideally should make me, if only for selfish motives, pray for her.

I like the long-view of Elena of "My Domestic Church", who understands how individuals make a difference within the Church or society even if it not be in our lifetime and even if it not be through converting our opponents but by outlasting them (although converting them should be our goal and not 'let them eat cake'):
It's a matter of mathematics. If Liberal Catholics have embraced a culture of elective sterility, (contraception, same sex unions, some even support abortion etc.) it's only logical that they will have fewer offspring to carry on their liberal causes. Catholics practicing their faith, open to new life will just logically have more children, and raising them with solid Catholic teaching, will produce the next generation of church leaders.

So I don't lose any sleep over my "faith coming crashing down" around me. Because I've done my homework and with each diaper change, each boo boo bandaged, each wet sticky kiss, each heart-to-heart talk with a teenager at midnight over a cup of coco at the kitchen table, I've helped changed the culture and the church. I'm very optimistic about the Catholic Church!
Lying about Lies

Sen. Kerry said last night that he will tell the truth to the American people, implying that George Bush has lied.

Every third word from Michael Moore's lips is "Bush" and every sixth is "liar".

It looks as though the left is going to try to make Bush seem untruthful, which is, ironically, a lie. If you want to make it about incompetence that's one thing, but about lying? This is part of the ongoing effort to destroy the meaning of words. The 9/11 Commission says there is no evidence Bush lied about WMDs. Clinton, Putin, Blair, Chirac all thought Hussein had WMDs, so it can scarcely be called a lie, but I looked up the definition:

1) A false statement deliberately presented as being true; a falsehood.
2) Something meant to deceive or give a wrong impression.

A key word is "deliberately" and a key phrase "meant to deceive". Here's an excerpt from the Moore/O'Reilly debate, an endless tail-chasing on the word 'lie':
O’Reilly: You’ve been calling Bush a liar on weapons of mass destruction, the senate intelligence committee, Lord Butler’s investigation in Britain, and now the 911 Commission have all come out and said there was no lying on the part of President Bush. Plus, Gladimir Putin has said his intelligence told Bush there were weapons of mass destruction. Wanna apologize to the president now or later?

M: He didn’t tell the truth, he said there were weapons of mass destruction.

O: Yeah, but he didn’t lie, he was misinformed by - all of those investigations come to the same conclusion, that’s not a lie.

M: uh huh, so in other words if I told you right now that nothing was going on down here on the stage…

O: That would be a lie because we could see that wasn’t the truth
and on and on and on it went...
Real Courage

Mary has the pluperfect rejoinder to the "I Had an Abortion" t-shirt: the "I Have 4 Children" t-shirt.

Now that is something to be proud of and takes real courage. My mother-in-law had six children in six years (no multiple births). Try that Kate Michelman.

Even marriage takes courage, although far less than having six children. I think back to my bachelorhood, that long-nursed self-sufficiency out of which grew a false sense of heroism, such that I thought marriage do-able. Only a foolish bachelor, ensconsced in his ritual relaxations, would have the confidence to get married. A married man is humble, understands his limitations, and would not be so bold. No wonder it is single men who marry. *grin!*
Angels & Bread

I was thinking the other day about how the angels worshipped Jesus while he was in his human appearance. For humans, Jesus is an impressive figure whether or not his divinity is believed. History is divided into "B.C." and "A.D.", and most honest non-believers will admit the beauty of his ethical teachings and how so thoroughly he understood human nature.

But to angels, whose intellect far exceeds that of humans, Jesus in his human form must've cut a less impressive figure. But still they worshipped him for who he was. That's why the prayer "O God, as once the good angels humbled themselves to adore You appearing before them as a man, may man humbly adore You appearing before us as bread" is such a moving one.

July 29, 2004

Bush Hatred

Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown, a Democrat, thinks there are three reasons there is so much polarization and hatred of Bush:

1) Bush lost the popular vote but won the election and the left expected him to govern more in the center.

2) Because many young people feel they "missed out on the anti-war movement during Vietnam and now they get their chance".

And later in the interview he came up with a third one:

3) Because the issues are "life and death - abortion, stem cell...". "We're not dealing with whether to add an extra hundred million to Medicare".
Losing Our Say

Of the three branches of government, the judicial began with the least amount of power, or, more precisely, exercised the least amount of power out of custom and a respect for the words of the Constitution. The executive branch has also increased its power. Which branch has been the loser? The most democratic one.

The scariest grab of power has been the judicial's, which looms with increasing menace. This was recently brought home to me when a half-million Ohioans signed a petition to get a defense of marriage issue on the ballot this November. Ohio law is pretty straightforward: if you get more than 323,000 petititons from 44 of our 88 counties, it goes on the ballot. End of story.

Or not. The legal-wrangling is going on now, and there's a chance it won't end up on the ballot.

One thing lawyers will tell you is that ultimately the wording of a law or statue is somewhat academic. If not meaningless, it's becoming less meaningful all the time. When Clinton asked what the meaning of "is" is, he wasn't kidding. The point is that he who interprets the law can make the words mean whatever he wants them to mean. Scary.

Catherine Crier, a lawyer who wrote a book making the case against lawyers, quotes De Tocqueville who predicted that Americans will eventually lose their liberty to lawyers.

The unborn already have.
Fictional Thursday  ...remember what you paid...

Hannah Cleary wore perfume of rose-honey and planted dogwood blossoms in her sheened hair. It was ’41, just afore the war took our innocence, and we danced till our nerves wore off. She wore out them leather shoes, the shine did fade with the sweat and floor paste. Her hair‘s bob-weave did prance about in the light, liquid as amber. The bands from Nashville, one after another, kept goin’ till the cool dew-hours. My straw hat come off from the dancin’ going on and from lookin' at her smile pert and compact as a sweet little put-together puzzle. She wore toe necklaces of goldenrod, perched there on gentle-feet, little feet-falls of girlishness. She impregnated the silences with quick-drawn breaths and her dimpled gaze swung adoringly from me to her shoes and back, shy as'n if she couldn’t look up for long. When the bluegrass came on, her feet'd divinize and she’d dance like a silly colt and we all’d pretend-gape & then join in. The bluegrass was gas to her fire, and her feet would blur to “Polly, Pretty Polly” or “How Mountain Girls Can Love”. She’d beat that floor, and I reckon such a floor should count itself lucky.

Afterwards we hung the curves of that dark country road, so silent and still, the only sound the crickets and the whistle-tunes of the wind. The mountains loomed like stage props in the distance, melting into benevolent distant guardrails, and it felt as if no matter what we did they’d hold us in, close to their bosomy mountain fastness. The guazy haze of fog enveloped us and made us believe we were immortal.
Journal Entry on Travel...written 4/2/2000
I ache to travel. Real travel, not beach slumming. I ache to throw myself into some other world There is little more delicious to me than the role of unobserved observer, to be able to surreptiously delve into the way another culture handles the human condition.

I ache to drive a rental through the cajun country of southern Louisiana, up and down, east and west, where they begin drinking at 9am and begin dancing at noon. Is the longing to travel inseparable from lust though? Where does the itch to experience the "strange", as a co-worker called it, in women, part from the strange in language & culture? They may be of apiece.

I ache to re-visit Ireland, and travel by bike mile upon precious mile, small town after small town, collecting and comparing them. I long to see old, laconic farmers in their fields and thatch-roofed houses and indigenous pubs. I long to smell the earth, the sky. I long to gaze upon the green-greens stretching out in that idiosyncratic tree-less landscape.

I long to visit Arches National Park and get lost amid the dust-red roads and weird wind-shaped monuments. I long to ride my bike until the sweat and red dust commingle and I am no longer an outsider but an Indian, a native.

I long to visit Iran, the secret society where I am hated just because I'm an American, where the women where veils and the men beards. I long to explore it so I will be able to differentiate what in life is cultural and what is our shared humanity - I long to find the border where culture and politics and religion and race end and our simple basic universal humanness begins, and there is no greater opposite to America than Iran. I long to see Damascus, Syria and touch centuries-old Persian carpets in the Muslim holy places. I long to visit Middle Eastern bazaars and wander the maze-y streets.

I long to eat a big, fat pizza on the terrace of a Zoder Motor Inn room at Gatlinburg, Tennessee, where a mountain stream, as pristine as creation, gurgles with godlike endlessness.

I ache to see new things so I can see the old anew. I ache to re-open these uncurious dead eyes, and give them a small resurrection.

I long to hear Mel & Pam Tillis sing in Branson, Mo. And to hear the original Baldknobbers, the blue-grassy real country group that started Branson - oh I love even their name! The Baldknobbers! It puts me in mind of some reclusive mountain pasture. Now there's a name not driven by a poll!
"I have never been anywhere but sick. In a sense sickeness is a place, more instructive than a long trip to Europe, and it's always a place where there's no company, where nobody can follow..." - Flannery O'Connor
Chesterton Is Never Boring:
By insisting specially on the immanence of God we get introspection, self-isolation, quietism, social indifference - Tibet. By insisting specially on the transcendence of God we get wonder, curiosity, moral and political adventure, righteous indignation - Christendom. Insisting that God is inside man, man is always inside himself. By insisting that God transcends man, man has transcended himself. - GKC
Audacious Hope

Conservative NRO writer praises Democrat speech, apparently for good reason. Now there's a man bites dog story!
Myrna Blyth on on what women want
...a new Gallup Poll of women ages 18 and older published in the August Marie Claire notes that today abortion is practically a non-issue for most women. In fact, only six percent of pro-life and three percent of pro-choice women say it will matter when they go to the polls in November.

Actress Ashley Judd...found the polls results "amazing" because she is so "passionate about reproductive rights."

Ashley even confided that she disagrees with her mother, country star Naomi Judd, about the issue and tells Marie Claire readers, "My mother always talks about how she chose not to have an abortion when she was pregnant with Wynonna. But I'm like: Mom, it was illegal at the time." Bet sister Wynonna loves to hear Ashley's views on what Mom should have done. Personally, I'd take a pass on their family's Thanksgiving dinner next year, wouldn't you?

July 28, 2004

More Good Quotes

"...no one who experiences this difficulty should think that the mystic, with his apparently immediate experiences of divine things, has an easier life. For every true mysticism, however rich it may be in visions and other experiences of God, is subject at least as strictly to the law of the Cross -- that is, of non-experience -- as is the existence of someone apparently forgotten in the desert of secular daily life. Perhaps the mystic has to pass through dry periods that are even more severe. Where this is not the case, where we are offered acquirable techniques to attain a mysticism without bitterness and the humiliations of the Cross, we can be certain that it is not authentically Christian and has no Christian significance. [pp.

--Hans Urs von Balthasar, via Ratzinger Fan Club Blog ... from "Experience God?" New Elucidations Ignatius Press, 1986

"The temptation to turn Christianity into a kind of moralism and to concentrate everything on man's moral action has always been great. For man sees himself above all. God remains invisible, untouchable and, therefore, man takes his support mainly from his own action. But if God does not act, if God is not a true agent in history who also enters into my personal life, then what does redemption mean? Of what value is our relationship with Christ, and thus, with the Trinitarian God? I think the temptation to reduce Christianity to the level of a type of moralism is very great even in our own day ... For we are all living in an atmosphere of deism. Our notion of natural laws does not facilitate us in believing in any action of God in our world. It seems that there is no room for God himself to act in human history and in my life. And so we have the idea of God who can no longer enter into this cosmos, made and closed against him. What is left? Our action. And we are the ones who must transform the world. We are the ones who must generate redemption. We are the ones who must create the better world, a new world. And if that is how one thinks, then Christianity is dead." -Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger

Ye olde Literariumian returneth, as Florence Kingish as ever.
    Spanning the Globe to Bring You the Constant Variety of Posts

We are limited in our lack of imagination. We can not imagine how merciful and how loving God is to us. All of our methaphors and comparisons are insufficient. But we must try. - Jeff Miller of Curt Jester

I take my problems to the Lord on Sunday, I take my blues to the honkytonk. - lyrics to country song by "Pirates of the Mississippi

I've read a lot of comments recently that don't seem to appreciate what it means for Christian forgiveness to be based -- as all things Christian are -- on love. In particular, the "God doesn't forgive unconditionally, so neither should we" sort of argument that I've already looked at betrays a misunderstanding of mercy. If you love someone, you forgive him the reparation that is due you out of love. Love doesn't wait to be asked before it acts, thank God. - Tom of Disputations

Sinners must also endure purgation in order to be in shape for eternal life, which God doesn't forgive (at least not entirely), because He "can't" forgive it, in the sense that He wants us to be the kind of creatures who must endure purgation in order to be in shape for eternal life. It all sounds a bit screwy to me, and it can be mercilessly proof-texted against, but today I think it would hold together and even resolve some standard "justice vs. mercy" problems....Of course, Christian forgiveness happens by grace, and becomes a virtue by practice...And once you've forgiven someone, what's to stop you from unforgiving him later? Nothing, as far as I can see, except grace. Christian forgiveness, then, demands all sorts of prior virtues and is given in an intangible and so-to-speak insecure manner. - Tom of Disputations

I was reading a reprint of an old catechism and it had a chapter entitled, "Our duty to God." It made me realize that our treatment of God is a neglected topic. It even sounds weird to ask "how do you treat God"? ...In terms of our relationship to God 'being good' means fulfilling our duty to God. It's not only about how well we treat others: "I don't steal, lie or cheat so I'm I good guy."...What are our duties to God? What do we owe him? This neat book spells it out like this: A-C-T-S. A is for Adoration C is for Contrition T is for Thanksgiving S is for Supplication - Mary of Ever-New

Another NYT column by Barbara Ehrenreich urged women to stop listening to the cultural ordering of "good" and "bad" reasons for abortions, and just stand up and say they did it for whatever reason. It's hard to imagine, though, that a woman who wrote about how she killed her dog because it got in the way of her lifestyle would win any sympathy. Not because anyone this side of PETA thinks dogs are equal to humans, but because they think dogs are worth something, and that wanton cruelty to animals is immoral and, in some cases, criminal. That seems to be more or less the position that Kerry is taking about the unborn -- that there's an "evolution" (ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny?) that winds up with a full person, but it doesn't happen all of a sudden. - Camassia

The Passion of the Christ is not a documentary any more than the Gospel according to St. John is journalism. Like Brother Sun Sister Moon...[these] films are, for good or ill, less concerned with facts than with meanings. They are also intensely personal, the fruits of their respective directors' meditations on Scripture or the life of a great saint. People who quibble about the historical accuracy of the The Passion somehow remind me of skeptics who reject Sacred Scripture because the creation account in Genesis is not scientifically accurate. For the umpteenth time, the creation story is symbolic, emblematic, idiomatic . . . fill in the blank with your adjective of choice. Cosmological books may be dazzling and exciting reads, but they are only about what has happened to the universe; they say nothing about where the universe came from or why humans are such freaks of nature. The Scriptures do, but they cannot be faulted for having been written in a style vastly different from that of a scientific dissertation. Similarly, it is unfair to reject The Passion only for being too much like a Eucharistic celebration than a reconstruction of an historical event. - Sancta Sanctis

The Church is a place where healing takes place, a hospital for the sick. But it is not only men who are waiting for their final redemption, but also the creation itself. When you look at the example of Saints like St.Seraphim, or St. Anthony (so sanctified that wild beasts were not adversarial towards him), you get an idea of how another world is possible. In fact, glimpses of it are seen, here and there, even now. One interesting example in the case of St.Seraphim, was the fellowship he had with wild beasts. The animals did not fear him, nor acted with hostility towards him. He was even known to sit serenely, as a gigantic brown bear approached...but it had no malice, but was his friend, and St. Seraphim would smile and feed the wild animal as if it were a pet. -commenter on a msgboard, on the tension between a world created good but also wounded. - poster on a message board

The loss of joy does not make the world better -- and, conversely, refusing joy for the sake of suffering does not help those who suffer. The contrary is true. The world needs people who discover the good, who rejoice in it and thereby derive the courage and impetus to do good. We have a new need for that primordial trust which ultimately faith can give. That the world is basically good, that God is there and is good. That it is good to live and be a human being. This results, then, in the courage to rejoice, which in turn becomes commitment to makng sure that other people, too, can rejoice and receive good news. -Cardinal Ratzinger

Will someone explain Ms. Kerry's Clintonian semantics in her Tuesday DNC address where she said America should be a "moral nation" but not a "moralistic" one? - Hambone

I do want to become a saint. I want it for a great many mixed reasons, some good, many bad. But the desire, the longing to know God face to face, is a gift from Him. It is an undeniable grace, and having been given it, I would be less that grateful and less than saintly were I not to act upon it. I act upon it most effectively when I do so least consciously. Self-conscious saints (in the way we understand the term self-consciousness) seem to be an oxymoron. Normally we think of saints as selfless, but I would say rather that they participate in the great Self and this cannot happen if you choose to separate yourself in a self-conscious way. The long and the short of it is, that God grants the longing to be with Him. He will use, I think, almost any motive and turn it to good. - Steven of Flos Carmeli

(art credit: Disputations)
Bourne Supremacy

Saw the above movie over the weekend and really enjoyed it. Sure the car chase scene went on forever and bordered on parody, but what was really fascinating was to be placed in the places the main character goes. From Moscow to Berlin to India. Arm-chair travel with an attitude!
Found this interesting old journal entry from 1999. Pardon the self-indulgence in posting it, but it is interesting how I viewed things then (i.e. Faith not as a supernatural gift but the natural gift of native confidence):
I think I can understand it better now, for the one thing Joe [false name] and Bob [false name] and Ern [false name] all have in common (and you thought there was surely nothing they all had in common? how wrong!) is that they all have rock-hard faith. I mean undentable, diamond-hard faith. Their combined faith’s could not only scratch glass but pierce the devil’s heart. Their faith resides not only in the traditional sense – i.e. faith capitalized as Faith (in God) – but faith in their own visions. Each has a surreal belief in other things - stocks or a girl for example. Is it just their natural inclination to trust?

Joe showed me that he could believe, despite incredible evidences against it, that Susan was the girl for him. Bob believes this particular stock has only one way – no doubt – and though it may not go up, he has the same undoubtable belief in God, and that is infinitely desirable.

It is attractive - how doubt plays no role. Joe is Ern reincarnated – and Bob – all three believe, BELIEVE, that their way is correct, whether it be their vision of God or in self, Bob’s utter belief that this stock is on a highway to heaven, Joe's vision that if you want to do something, you have to do it ‘his way’, aka right.

I wonder if you get one without the other. If Bob or Joe is to believe in God utterly and completely, they have to believe that their way is the only right way. It’s feast or famine.
And another from a few months later...
It seems God made the female form too well, the lush curves but simple design. I obey the laws of nature, I am subject to them as much or more than most. The female form is endlessly, addictingly attractive. I wonder why it seems that God puts these endlessly inviting targets and then asks us to resist them? Do we have the smallest doubt the account in Genesis is true, that of the forbidden fruit, for has human nature not succumbed over and over and over to forbidden fruit? To the endless pursuit of knowledge that turns out to be meaningless? I may uncover her form and find in it nothing that teaches me anything, and yet I am drawn irresistably. In the end it seems God puts these targets here and asks us to choose Him over them. Fasting is choosing God over food. Chastity is choosing God over sex. Martyrdom is choosing God over life. Being continually chaste is a form of suffering, it seems to me, so either suffering is a positive or what sense can you make of it?
The Pope on Beach Attire

There's been a call to modesty in female bathing attire in certain quarters of st. blogdom, and it's a healthy thing. I'm all for the mercy shown by a woman who covers herself and helps us avoid sin. But on the other hand it seems that context and "what we are used to" plays such a big role in lust. That many Islamic men have a fetish for women's ankles (because that's all Muslim women show) leads one to despair or to at least to a focus on the viewer rather than the viewee.

The Holy Father wrote in Love & Responsibility that context is important. "When a person uses a form of dress in accordance with its objective function we cannot claim to see anything immodest in it, even if it involves partial nudity. For example, there is nothing immodest about the use of a bathing costume at a bathing place, but to wear it out in the street or while out for a walk is contrary to the dictates of modesty."

One could say that the function of a bathing suit is to swim, but the real function is to tan, which requires less clothing. One might question the importance of this goal, but there it is. The Pope is saying that context matters, but what I don't understand is that my eyes don't understand context. In other words, mine react to the provocation of skin whether it be on the street or on the beach.

And the Holy Father recognizes this. "Although physical immodesty cannot be identified in a simple way with nakedness as such, it none the less requires a real internal effort to refrain from reacting to the naked body in an immodest way."

It seems that much of it might be what you are used to. If you are used to seeing women in burqas, it doesn't take much to provoke arousal. Since many of us rarely visit a beach...
Various & Sundry

Read O'Connor's short story "Revelation" last night. Riveting. Then went to "The Habit of Being" and read all the commentaries on the story in letters to friends (HOB is well indexed). Speaking of F.O., I've updated the blog thanks to a generous reader.
Excellent Amy Welborn column on the problem of evil and the differing attempts to explain it, via working papers.
Mario Cuomo's advice to St.Thomas More? "Just tell the king you're personally opposed to divorce."
Reading this, one understands why Rod Dreher gets paid to write: "About Teresa Evita Rodham Streisand Lollobrigida Lady MacKerry, my first instinct is: I like this dame. She's an exotic flower, a loose cannon, a firecracker." Too funny.
Shades of O'Connor's "she woulda been a good woman if..."? Overheard Laird Hamilton, big wave surfer on Sixty Minutes, (transcript here):
Does Hamilton understand why he needs this danger in his life?

“Probably not. I know that if I scare myself once a day, I'm a better person. And I think everybody would be. I think it's part of actually existing," says Hamilton.

"I think that we've gone so far away from that [physical fear]. A dinosaur was chasing you [in pre-historic times] and wanting to eat you. I think we need [some fear].”

July 27, 2004

Running the Race

I've been thinking a lot about Steven's candid I want to be a saint post (an antipodal to Garbo's "I vant to be alone"?)

St. Paul likens the Christian journey to a running race and that we must train. And training = pain. (I ran cross-country in HS, and it wasn't a bed of roses.) Studies have shown that long-distance runners deal with pain in two ways: associative and dissociative.

Elite marathoners use associative techniques, which means during a race they constantly monitor themselves and their environment. They monitor their form, stride-length, where their opponents are, whether that twitch in calf is something to be concerned about, etc... They are aware.

Mediocre marathoners use dissociative techniques, which means they try to get their mind off the pain by listening to Beethoven or the theme from Rocky on their headsets. They might think about what they're going to do next week, the vacation next month, a particularly memorable moment in their past, etc...

I was trying to apply this to the spiritual life, with mixed results. Most of us use dissociative techniques, by using distraction to avoid the message God might be sending. I'm not sure associative techniques are that helpful either, because they place the focus on self and on one's performance, rather than on the Other.

So the third way might be the coined term Deociative, which means focusing on God and seeking first his kingdom. Everything one needs to know about the Christian life is contained in the single Gospel scene of Peter attempting to walk on the water but only being able to do so as long as he was focused on Christ.

But Steven asks a good question in wondering why we want to become a saint. Fortunately - Thank God! - He works with impure motives. Steven writes, "He will use, I think, almost any motive and turn it to good." I fear I'm motivated mostly by pain avoidance, but that since the option is to become a saint or be damned, I'd just soon get it over with (i.e. become a saint). It can happen now or later but either way it's gonna hurt. So why procastinate?

Another reason to want to be a saint is that it is where the action is. Just as it is more fun to play sports than to watch them, it's more fun to be in the game. Sometimes we're on the sidelines because we reject God's initiative, preferring the pine time. But Mother Teresa played every snap. Have I exhausted the hard corn sports metaphors yet?

Ultimately, Jeff Miller applies hammer to nailhead with this response:
I see my goal as loving God for God alone. Not for any grace that I might receive, not for the myriad blessing involved in following Christ (and the plentiful crosses). Not for the fear of hell. While I will never receive the purity of this goal in this life if I can slowly crawl forward I will be happy. Maybe the hardest part of this moving forward is trusting in God to bring me forward.

I watched Clinton's speech yesterday, proving I have latent masochistic tendencies. But the real irony was listening to a MSNBC reporter ask former California Gov. Gray Davis what Kerry must do to win the election. Delicious.

I dedicate the following Seamus Heaney poem to Carter and Clinton and myself sometimes, to all afflicted with I-Am-Always-Rightitis...
Heroes. Victims. Gods and human beings.
All throwing shapes, every one of them
Convinced he's in the right, all of them glad
To repeat themselves and their last mistake,
No matter what.

People so deep into
Their own self-pity self-pity buoys them up.
People so staunch and true, they are pillars of truth,
Shining with self-regard like polished stones...
I hate it, I always hated it, I am
A part of it myself.

--Seamus Heaney

Mary of Ever-New posts a moving reflection (go and read the whole thing), including this quote from the Catechism quoting St. Catherine:
"I distribute the virtues quite diversely; I do not give all of them to each person, but some to one, some to others.... I shall give principally charity to one; justice to another; humility to this one, a living faith to that one.... And so I have given many gifts and graces, both spiritual and temporal, with such diversity that I have not given everything to one single person, so that you may be constrained to practice charity towards one another.... I have willed that one should need another and that all should be my ministers in distributing the graces and gifts they have received from me."(St. Catherine of Siena, Dial. I, 7.)
(art credit: Fra Angelico. The Last Judgement. c.1431) via Mary of Ever-New
J. R. R. Tolkien said:
I can recommend this as an exercise: make your Communion in circumstances that affront your taste. Choose a snuffling or gabbling priest or a proud and vulgar friar; and a church full of the usual bourgeois crowd, ill-behaved children -- from those who yell to those products of Catholic schools who the moment the tabernacle is opened sit back and yawn -- open necked and dirty youths, women in trousers and often with hair both unkempt and uncovered. Go to Communion with them (and pray for them). It will be just the same as a Mass said beautifully by a visibly holy man, and shared by a few devout and decorous people. (It could not be worse than the mess of the feeding of the Five Thousand -- after which our Lord propounded the feeding that was to come.)
- in a letter to Michael Tolkien - November 1, 1963
Cajun Country

Heading to Louisiana for 4 days in October and hope to find some authentic cajun music. Came across the following link during that search (btw, if you find authentic cajun music via a website, can it really be authentic?).
Experiencing the Cajun culture is like no other. The Acadians of today are a thrifty, hard-working, fun-loving, devout religious folk. They work and play with equal enthusiasm.

The Cajun's pleasure-loving nature expresses itself in the community festivals, dancing and food that are integral parts of bayou life. Cajuns are known for their "joie de vivre" (joy of living), and to add excitement to their food they experiment with herbs, spices and ingredients to create some of the most flavorful dishes that people throughout North America now enjoy.

Latin blood shows through: Cajuns can be quick to anger, quick to laughter, and quick to change from one to the other. The Cajun can still "make do" from the abundant resources around him. And he still wonders sometimes why anyone would want more. And there are subtler aspects: The Cajuns are a tolerant people - perhaps to a fault. They sometimes tolerate a little too much drinking, a little too much dancing, some chicanery in their politics. Some outsiders cluck their tongues and wonder why. The Cajun suggests that some things just aren't worth the trouble to change.
Some cultures sound so Shangri-La, don't they?

July 26, 2004

Not a parody.
KTC Blogs!

Kathy the Carmelite is reprinting the 1973 autobiography of KGB man-Turned-Defector Sergei Kourdakov, a modern hero of the faith.

Does anyone know how to get the posts to sort in reverse chronological order?
Godspy Articles

The Pope on Hell:
The thought of hell... must not create anxiety or despair, but is a necessary and healthy reminder of freedom within the proclamation that the risen Jesus has conquered Satan, giving us the Spirit of God who makes us cry ‘Abba, Father!’
Interesting Godspy article by a would-be evangelizer.
The Other Mary Poppins

About the book by Pamela Travers from whence the movie came:
PL Travers's Mary Poppins is plain and grave, has airs and graces, is prickly and can be mean, but she is reliable. Her very bareness, her "non-explaining'', is a crucial part of her surrealism and, when magic is around, she becomes almost benign. As the stories progress, she becomes a Seer. She is the most bizarre, most looked-for of literary nannies and it is on the page rather than the screen that she lives. On finishing her third book, one small boy wrote to Travers: "Madam, you have sent Mary Poppins away. Madam, I will never forgive you. You have made the children cry." Michael Banks, watching her figure sweep back up into the sky, presages the feelings of generations of young children as he weeps: "but she is the only person I want in the world". Pamela Travers was never so loved.
Intuiting Goodness

Edifying message by our learned pastor, who will be giving a talk about the Early Church at the Coming Home Network's annual Conference.

Sunday's First Reading concerned how Abraham bargained with God in trying to save Sodom. Abraham asked if there were 50 righteous people would God save the city and God said yes. Same with 40, 30, 20, 10.

Our pastor said that each one of us has a divine spark within us, an "intuition of goodness". And what Abraham was acting on was that intuition of goodness. Our pastor suggested it would've been nice if Abraham would've gone further and not stopped at ten (and thus possibly save Sodom), but the lesson is that Abraham was going deeper and deeper towards that divine spark, which is what we must do in our prayer if it be authentic.
Pope & Council Documents

I've noticed that the Vatican II documents and the writings of this Pope share a spirit of optimism. This goes against the tenor of the times as well as my own temperament, so they act as a kind of balm of Gilead for me.

It's interesting how they manage to thread the difficult path between being too "Up With People" sugary and too "let us count the ways in which we suck" morose.

Viva our Pope!
Praying for the Dead

"You love the dead more than the living," ran a recent allegation, and I must admit it has the ring of truth. Given their state of utter helplessness, my sympathy for the dead is unbounded. Their decisions have been made and now live with the regret full knowledge must reveal.

Man is the most pitiable of creatures. Animals live happy, if ignorant, lives free of anxiety. But if a living man possesses scarce power and control, the soul in Purgatory possesses even less.
New Form of Blogger Comedy?

William Luse rewrites Faulkner for the sensitive types. Very funny:

...(the sisters were twins, born at the same time, but both were, unfortunately, very weight-challenged. It wasn't their fault. It's a genetic thing.They had made up their minds to enter a twelve-step program for poor people who were compelled by class injustice to subsist on diets heavy in starch. Problem was, that couldn't help her at the moment.), the sister, as I was saying (sorry about the unwieldiness - is that a word!? LOL! :~))
“He was an independent and highly articulate African-American, I tell you...

Really gives you a sense of time and place, doesn't it? Very (19)90s. I'll have to try to cook me up something similar, although I suspect Bill's already parodied the good stuff. Save something for us next time Bill! LOL! :)
Today's Embarrassing Moment...

...is being mentioned by Steven next to Tom of Disputations and Karen of Anchor Hold. No one ought come to this blog without first going to theirs because they provide answers while I mostly have questions. Albeit I don't always follow my own advice.

Steven offered an interesting perspective here, in wondering what "level of distraction" is good for us. It's something I've wondered too. He writes:
I think early in the Christian journey all legitmate and licit pleasures are good and should be gratefully accepted. However, as we grow in the faith, it seem to me that the things we take pleasure in should also advance. That is, that while we might enjoy light reading at the start of our Christian career, as our lives move into conformity with God, we might move on from this legitimate interest to more profound things. Perhaps Scripture reading replaces some of the light reading we do. Perhaps reading of Christian classics, theology, and other spiritual helps begins to move in.
...so "how fanatical should I become?". I suppose as fanatical as God desires, which is difficult to discern. Where does a wholesome hunger for God end and scrupulousness begin?
Excerpt from 'The Wishing-Caps'
--Rudyard Kipling

Life's all getting and giving,
I've only myself to give.
What shall I do for a living?
I've only one life to live.
End it? I'll not find another.
Spend it? But how shall I best?

July 25, 2004

Stranger than Fiction

Father Tom Sherman

Interesting story of how General Sherman's son became a Jesuit priest, and how he came to be buried next to kin of the vice president of Confederate States of America.

So many 19th century stories are a potent cocktail of odd coincidences, episodes of madness and deathbed conversions.

July 23, 2004

George Will on reading:
There have been times when reading was regarded with suspicion. Some among the ancient Greeks regarded the rise of reading as cultural decline: They considered oral dialogue, which involves clarifying questions, more hospitable to truth. But the transition from an oral to a print culture has generally been a transition from a tribal society to a society of self-consciously separated individuals. In Europe that transition alarmed ruling elites, who thought the "crisis of literacy" was that there was too much literacy: Readers had, inconveniently, minds of their own. Reading is inherently private; hence, the reader is beyond state supervision or crowd psychology.

In 1940 a British officer on Dunkirk beach sent London a three-word message: "But if not." It was instantly recognized as from the Book of Daniel. When Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are commanded to worship a golden image or perish, they defiantly reply: "Our God who we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods."

Britain then still had the cohesion of a common culture of shared reading. That cohesion enabled Britain to stay the hand of Hitler, a fact pertinent to today's new age of barbarism.

A tip o' the Guinness (this blog's sponsor) to the dapper Thomas of Endlessly Rocking, who I finally got a chance to meet. Long o'erdue, we made haste by enjoying some fine fried fish at Ol' Bag of Nails Pub and by solving all the world's problems. He's to the left of me politically but to be always in agreement wouldst be boring.
Varying Opinions

It's always interesting how the same object can provoke equal and opposite reactions in people.

Alan Epstein, who is Jewish and wrote a book about Rome, called the Catholic Church "an institution that is the most successful idea - in the sense of longevity and loyalty - the species has ever produced."

Diarmaid MacCulloch, an atheist, recently mentioned on C-Span that the span of 2,000 years is nothing and the Christian Church is finally reaching adolescence. He hopes that the Church will grow out of the childishness of reactionaries like Mel Gibson & Cardinal Ratzinger.


The Onion
sizes up the Democratic Convention schedule

Intriguing Excerpts...
...from the 100 greatest books, via Steven Riddle:
27. CERVANTES. DON QUIXOTE... Cervantes' great, ironical, romantic story is written in a style so noble, so nervous, so humane, so branded with reality, that, as the wise critic has said, the mere touch and impact of it puts courage into our veins. It is not necessary to read every word of this old book. There are tedious passages. But not to have ever opened it; not to have caught the tone, the temper, the terrible courage, the infinite sadness of it, is to have missed being present at one of the “great gestures" of the undying, unconquerable spirit of humanity.

86. GILBERT K. CHESTERTON. ORTHODOXY...Mr. Chesterton has his own peculiar “religion”—a sort of Chelsea Embankment Catholicism, in which, in place of Pontifical Encyclicals, we have Punch and Judy jokes, and in place of Apostolic Doctrine we have umbrellas, lamp-posts, electric-signs and prestidigitating clerics...If we don't become “like little children”; in other words like jovial, middle-aged swashbucklers, and protest our belief in Flying Pigs, Pusses in Boots, Jacks on the top of Beanstalks, Old Women who live in Shoes, Fairies, Fandangos, Prester Johns, and Blue Devils, there is no hope for us...

87. OSCAR WILDE...His supreme art, as he himself well knew, was, after all, the art of conversation. One might even put it that his greatest achievement in life was just the achievement of being brazenly and shamelessly what he naturally was—especially in conversation. To call him a “poseur” with the implication that he pretended or assumed a manner, were just as absurd as to call a tiger striped with the implication that the beast deliberately “put on” that mark of distinction. If it is a pose to enjoy the sensation of one's own spontaneous gestures, Wilde was indeed the worst of pretenders. But the stupid gravity of many generals, judges and archbishops is not more natural to them than his exquisite insolence was to him.
A New View

I'm always grateful when I hear a sermon that presents a very familiar gospel passage in a new way. That happened with this parable:

Jesus said, “Hear then the parable of the sower. When any one hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in his heart; this is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is he who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the delight in riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.

Now what the priest started to say was something about how fruitfulness is a cooperation (..."between God and man" I finished his thought -- but no!) between the Word and the Holy Spirit, as would be happening at the altar. The Holy Spirit works through the priest as He did with Mary, the Mother of God, and in both cases the fruit is Jesus.

So where is the work of the Spirit in this parable? It is implied by the fact that the Spirit's seven gifts are the antidotes to infertile ground. Thus:

-"When any one hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it..."
...is prevented by the gift of Understanding

-"As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away."
...is prevented by the gift of Fortitude

- "As for what was sown among thorns, this is he who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the delight in riches choke the word."
...is remedied by the gift of knowledge, which enables those who have it to "judge the whole spectrum of creatures and objects from a supernatural viewpoint" which is to say a rightly ordered view of created things and money.
The Shock of the Unexpected

The 25-mile bike ride I spoke of in an earlier post was to & from a small town, the home of the private and politically liberal Antioch College.

The quaint college town was lined with bookstores "callllin' my name" as Clarence Carter would've sung. There were four of them, all delightfully mom & pop-ish, all as left-leaning as a punch drunk.

One in particular was memorable. Inside were loads of books about female goddesses, lots of Buddhas and Eastern philosophy books, books like "The Lesbian Body", which suprised me because I didn't know they had a different one!

Bookshops like these often have three or four rooms and so I wandered into a far room that really was the study or office, but I couldn't help taking a peek before exiting. And on the walls, amid posters of winsome mermaids and such were a dozen statues and photos of Our Lady of Gaudalupe. It was a shock but perhaps edifying to see something so familiar and personal to me in a setting so politically and religiously alien.
And I Thought it Was Because of Beer!

Funny line from a co-worker from Ghana, who said that his father used to say "A man's belly grows big so he can stomach all the family problems."

Since it's a rule around our house that no Civil War movie can be missed, I was only in temporary violation when I missed Cold Mountain at the theater. I got the video and am half-way through it. I'm struck by the spiritual parallels.

The bare bones story is that Inman is an idealistic soldier going off to the Civil War when he meets Aida, arriving just as he's leaving. For the briefest moment they imagine a life together and baptize it with a kiss. On that slim hook she promises to wait for the end of the war, presumed to be a month.

Inman's journey parallels our own. He's trying to get home, to somewhere heavenly. The pilgrimage is fraught with dangers - demons in the form of Union & Confederates trying to catch him (he's on the lam), temptations in the form of prostitutes and lonely widows - while having to fend off disbelief in Aida's love given how fragmentary the vision.

The disbelief weakens as he gets closer. He has sacrificed so much to get this far. Meanwhile, Aida is waiting.

July 22, 2004

For comedic purposes only. Please use as directed...

9-11 Commission Finds Guilt, Guilt, Guilt!
The 9/11 Commission today ruled that several key players lacked omniscience.

"The fact that many in our government could not predict the future accurately is an abomination," said a commission member today.

Additionally, the Commission found out that communication within and between the FBI and CIA was grossly inadequate. They also discovered that dogs chase cats and revealed that the earth revolves around the sun.

When asked about the Commission's findings one member, who declined to be identified, said "Hey, we're a hangin' jury here. If we don't find someone guilty then what'd the taxpayers pay us fer? As for recommendations, I recommend a terrorism czar. It worked with drugs and home security, didn't it?"

Sandy Berger Rues the Day He Bought Socks
Former National Security Advisor Sandy Berger admitted today that buying to-the-calf socks that contained pockets was probably a mistake.

"The appearance of it is questionable. I'm a suit and tie guy, I dress pretty well, so wearing tube socks with specially-made pockets in them looks pretty damning. But the truth is I use those pockets for my Pocket FishermanTM."

Former President Clinton commented at a recent booksigning. "We're all laughing about it. That wild Sandy getting in trouble again. There is nothing in those charges."

Clinton then winked and said, "of course, if you lie only for yourself what does that say about you? If you can't lie for your friends then-- hey, this is on background, right?"

It was not.

France Stops Air Travel, Declaring U.S. a 'Nincompoop' Nation

In his harshest criticism to date, France President Chirac declared that the U.S. would never be able to fly planes over French territory again, including commercial jets, helicopters, hang-gliders, model airplanes and paper planes.

"No longer will an American plane fly over French soil!" Chirac said in French.

When asked how long, Chirac said "until America stops enforcing U.N. resolutions!"
Project Blog

Whoda thunk it? Sounds like a good, if torturous, idea. The quality of those 3am entries might slip just a bit. "Boy am I tired. Tahhh-erd. Tarred. Tear-d. Ty-erd. T-i-r-e-d. Did I mention I was tired?":
Project Blog is here because we care and because we want to make a difference. On July 24th, bloggers from all around the world will be updating their own blog every 30 minutes for 24 solid hours all in the name of each blogger's favorite charity.

'I’m afraid we’re going to have to let you go.’   Spectator cartoon

Reading Takes Work

David Mills on the decline of reading, with reader response.
Sea Change

From Amy this morning:
I'm telling you, this is where we are. For a long time, pro-lifers thought that getting the message out that what abortion is is killing a human being was the bulk of the job we had to do. (Besides giving material and emotional support to women in unexpected pregnancies). But I think a lot of people are beginning to see that for a hard core, this is irrelevant. They know what it is perfectly well, and they don't particularly care, and they aren't interested in any kind of moral analysis as to why it's okay to end the life of a baby in the womb but not outside. I started seeing this fifteen years ago, when I was reading a lot of pro-abortion rights feminist material. These women were not stupid. They knew what was going on in an abortion. They just felt that women's rights took precedence, period. I also started seeing it in college groups to whom I was speaking. Once I addresssed a group, along with the PR person from a local abortion facility. I took the opportunity to push her on how far they performed abortions - up to 24 weeks - and how they did it. She responded coolly, describing dilitation and extraction. A young man sitting nearby murmured "chop-chop" and there was a small swell of laughter from others. Perhaps uncomfortable, but still laughter. And not a bit of outrage in that group.
How chilling is that? The slippery slope from callousness to extreme callousness always applies. Between 1800 and 1860 slavery went from being seen as a "necessary evil", something that even the big plantation owners were sheepish about, to being defended by Calhoun and others as a positive good! The small lie becomes the big one.

One effect of horror is to galvanize. To see the starkness of inhumanity, such as that perpetrated by Stalin, can have the unintended effect of making us want to be more humane. The Crucifix can have a similar impact - I see where my sin leads.
The Priest Who Hears Confessions

they'd keep a distance
walking three paces behind
as if I were leading a parade
and they were keeping
       the proper Float distance.

A shame,
twas only their indoor plumbing
I'd seen,
one blockage the same
as another.

July 21, 2004

True Words

Hernan mentions a positive of blogging: "And -last but not least- another reason: the most interesting (and very different) people who I have known this way."

Very true. You would think that the self-selection that goes on in St. Blog's, i.e. Catholic, literate, etc... would ensure more uniformity, but I'm often surprised at the diversity of personalities, styles and opinions of different bloggers. One could never, ever, confuse Tom Kreitzberg, Steven Riddle and Bill Luse to name a random three. Each is larger than life on the blogging canvas.


Went on a 25-mile bike ride with my uncle yesterday. He's a fervent Audubon Society, National Wildlife-subscribing lover of nature. He talked about how different plants and animals not native to Ohio are taking over the landscape and how species are disappearing. We're seeing an homogenizing effect in nature. We see it with race, a good thing, since intermarriage between blacks and whites will ultimately fix what we can't on our own. We see it in gender, as men become more womanly and women more manly. We see it in cities too, where Honolulu is Chicago with a Polynesian accent, and in regions, where the South has lost so much of its unique culture.

So it is reassuring to see the diversity within St. Blog's, a healthy sort of diversity indeed, though we might appear similar to outsiders.
 Spanning the Globe to Bring You the Constant Variety of Posts

One of the pictures I took was from the large front porch. I wanted to capture What Flannery Saw. But of course, no one but Flannery could do that. - Amy Welborn, on a visit to Andalusia, home of Flannery O'Connor

I live alone. I have no kin less than a full day's drive away. I'm chronically ill with a disease that is incurable and fatal. Though I am doing all the things I need to do to collect on the "15 to 20 years of medically manageable symptoms", such as taking all my medicines, doing my physical therapy, using my oxygen, and so on, the fact is that I could easily be Called at any time. And the first notice of my passing, when my body finally stops working entirely, is very likely to be a blaring loudspeaker just like the one in the cafeteria this noontime, at some hospital or skilled nursing facility. I hope that when my time comes, and the loudspeakers start hollering about my room, that there is someone who takes pity on me and prays for me. It's on that list of the Things Catholics Do, the Works of Mercy: Pray for both the living and the dead. - Karen Knapp of Anchor Hold

A 'virtual benediction' is the ecclesial equivalent of 'cyber sex'.  One is just as joyless, lifeless, and ridiculous as the other.  If you can't get to a parish for whatever reason, you're better off just praying Scripture and the Office with whatever prostrations, bows, signs of the Cross are proper.  And please, please, please don't get caught up in the illusion that anything on this screen is 'really present' to you. - Thomas of ER   

My country just keeps on suckin' - title of Kathy Shaidle post, who is a Canadian

mmmMMMmmm Krispy-Kreme. i love food porn! - smockmomma on Bill Luse's blog

I think the Church is still discerning what voting and cooperation actually mean and I think they're coming to terms with the fact that it isn't as far from us as we might once though it had been. Also, this is a sign of the struggle against the culture of Death, whereas in the past some of these issues were nonexistant, now we must deal with the ascendant, destructive reality of those who deny God and seek to become gods. - Steven of Flos Carmeli

I'm no intellectual, you understand, but I like Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh, Hemingway, John P. Marquand, Louis Auchincloss, and Simenon. - Bing Crosby, via Terry Teachout's blog

Offering up the sacrifice of my efforts, the time spent, the work done, IN AND OF ITSELF, makes my attempt pleasing to God. He can bring out of it what HE chooses. - MamaT of Summa Mamas

My travels around St. Blog's over the last couple of years have taught me a valuable lesson: I'm not as smart as I thought I was. I don't know as much as I thought I did. I'm not as articulate as I thought I was. The end result has been a reduction in my posting. Certainly, my busy schedule is the main culprit of my lack of posts, but when I do get time, I usually don't post anymore. So how does pride fit into this? Perhaps I'm too concerned that if I post, I will only reveal how truly ignorant I am. When that thought hit me yesterday, it really caused me to pause and think. Certainly blogging can stem from pride, but not blogging can also stem from pride. See how ignorant I am? LOL!!! - Tom of Santificarnos

I look(ed) up the following prayer of Dr. Johnson's (it is in Boswell's Life under the year 1764): "I have now spent fifty-five years in resolving; having, from the earliest time almost that I can remember, been forming schemes of a better life. I have done nothing. The need of doing, therefore, is pressing, since the time of doing is short. O GOD, grant me to resolve aright, and to keep my resolutions, for JESUS CHRIST'S sake. Amen." - Derbyshire of the Corner

This makes me an even more ardent propopent of teaching a certain amount of skepticism early on. It's like push polling. People will call and say, "If you knew that George Bush was accused of molesting children and once was detained for loitering outside a YMCA would that affect your intention to vote for him?" Now, the point is that none of this is true, but enough doubt is introduced by the question that it often affects the decision-maker's choice. - Steven Riddle in an email stressing the importance of skepticism given how so many uncritically accept the "history" in the DaVinci Code.

I'll adopt one of them, or two if you want. - Jane Wangersky, commenting on Amy's blog, on what she would say to the woman who wrote a column in the NY Times who learned she had triplets and wanted only one child. The women had two of her unborn children killed.

There's always a girl, isn't there? I even married mine. Which was, of course, a horrible mistake. When we finally split up in '97 my brothers, my mother, Roy, my best man Robert, and all my other friends, told me to a person that they had agreed the marriage was doomed from the start....And yet, they did nothing to stop me. Now, it's true that you can never talk someone out of getting married if they are, for whatever reason, determined to go through with it. But you can take 'em to Key West and get 'em so drunk that they miss the wedding altogether. - Thomas of ER

Our refutations of the relationship between Mary Magdalene and Jesus will always be an argument from silence, since history doesn’t speak of it at all. Thus, our arguments will always allow people to believe that He really did have sex with “that woman.” - Steve of "Fifth Column"

But as a priest friend of mine once told me and I go back to it as often as it makes me feel better: "The spiritual life is like a pendulum always swinging one way then the other and there's always some time spent hanging straight down in between." - commenter Alexa on "Barefoot & Pregnant" blog

I believe that the tygers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction. I believe in the instinctive use of spondees. I believe in Rossetti and pine-cones; Alighieri and effervescence. I believe in matrigna mia, who left us not too long ago. I believe in my friends. I believe in my enemies. I believe in Ecclesiastes and the Gospels and the Psalms. I believe in the first Epistle of John. I believe in the poetry that Daniel Berrigan wrote, before he became a leftist sloganeer. I believe in construction-workers and carpenters and in people who do things that I can't do. I believe in Mozart and Tracy Chapman and Oscar Wilde and in the invaluably salvific properties of a really good laugh. I believe in dew and frost, forests and deserts, Carretto and Campion, rain and fire, light and darkness, speech and silence. - from Dylan's archives

Too bad I can’t get a copy of the X-ray. I’d like to have put on a T-shirt so people would stop asking me what’s wrong with my leg. I could alternate with a shirt that says, “THIS IS MY BAD LEG - THE GOOD ONE WAS STOLEN BY AN ITINERANT BIBLE SALESMAN” on the front and “HULDA” on the back. - Ellyn of Oblique House
Yin and Yangs

Read books last night about two men at opposite ends of the spiritual spectrum, Hendra's "Father Joe" and Montefiore's "Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar". The contrast is edifying. Father Joe is as unselfish and loving as Stalin was selfish and unloving.

Of Father Joe Warrilow, well, too often I appreciate saints for their heroism (St. Perpetua is a favorite) or intellectual prowess (St. Thomas Aquinas). But Father Joe is only about love. He wasn't particularly bright nor particularly heroic, in the sense we are accustomed to.

Stalin was almost a relief after Father Joe since it quit me from thinking about myself, which books about spiritual giants sometimes do in one prone to pride and the desire to avoid pain in the form of Purgatory (i.e. one sees how dauntingly far the journey to holiness is after seeing saints like Fr. Joe).

July 20, 2004

"Behold the body of the most holy virgin Cecilia whom I myself saw lying incorrupt in her tomb. I have in this marble expressed for thee the same saint in the very same posture of body." - the artist Cicognara
What if William F. Buckley Had a Blog? (a parody)

WFB's recent travels on the talk show circuit reminded me of an old post and inspired a new one:
Went on a Fox News show called "Hannity and Colmes" to promote the new book. Mrs. Buckley suggested afterwards that my oratorical metabolism, uncompensated by gesticular flourishes, seemed phlegmatic compared to masters Hannity and Colmes. She recommended an aperitif in the Green Room before Hardball.

Posted by WFB 6:35pm July 20, 2004

Spent the morning at the NR office followed by lunch at an Indian food restaurant called "Curry in a Hurry" at Lowry's suggestion. Some have questioned handing over the NR reins to someone so young but they forget I began National Review at a younger age. Lowry's choice in restaurants does give me pause though...

Posted by WFB 11:15am July 12, 2004

Received a call from Don King, the fight promoter, regarding a possible allumette-vers le haut between myself and Gore Vidal. I replied in the negative.

Posted by WFB 3:01pm July 11, 2004

The thought of Catholic politicians who openly controvert Church teaching receiving at the communion rail is reminiscent of the bride who, expert in matters carnal and caught in flagrante delicto with the postman, still chooses the whitest white in wedding apparel. The small hypocrisy of the shade of gown pales before the taking of Communion, so the bishops must untangle a twisted skein given the on-going, unrepentent nature of the sin. The bedlamitic uncle in this attic appears to be the fact that John Kerry could not successfuly export his odious views on human life issues but for the enabling votes of millions of Catholics, begging the larger issue of an apparently new thing - the wholesale disregard the majority of Western Catholics have shown towards the Magisterium in their discarding of Humane Vitae and support for pro-choice political candidates.

Posted by WFB 2:12pm July 9, 2004
Michael Oakeshott Quote:
Everybody's young days are a dream, a delightful insanity, a sweet solipsism. Nothing in them has a fixed shape, nothing a fixed price; everything is a possibility, and we live happily on credit. There are no obligations to be observed; there are no accounts to be kept. Nothing is specified in advance; everything is what can be made of it. The world is a mirror in which we seek the reflection of our own desires. The allure of violent emotions is irresistible. When we are young we are not disposed to make concessions to the world; we never feel the balance of a thing in our hands - unless it be a cricket bat. We are not apt to distinguish between our liking and our esteem; urgency is our criterion of importance; and we do not easily understand that what is humdrum need not be despicable. We are impatient of restraint; and we readily believe, like Shelley, that to have contracted a habit is to have failed. These, in my opinion, are among our virtues when we are young; but how remote they are from the disposition appropriate for participating in the style of government I have been describing. Since life is a dream, we argue (with plausible but erroneous logic) that politics must be an encounter of dreams, in which we hope to impose our own. Some unfortunate people, like Pitt (laughably called "the Younger"), are born old, and are eligible to engage in politics almost in their cradles; others, perhaps more fortunate, belie the saying that one is young only once, they never grow up. But these are exceptions. For most there is what Conrad called the "shadow line" which, when we pass it, discloses a solid world of things, each with its fixed shape, each with its own point of balance, each with its price; a world of fact, not poetic image, in which what we have spent on one thing we cannot spend on another; a world inhabited by others besides ourselves who cannot be reduced to mere reflections of our own emotions. And coming to be at home in this commonplace world qualifies us (as no knowledge of "political science" can ever qualify us), if we are so inclined and have nothing better to think about, to engage in what the man of conservative disposition understands to be political activity. --via the Corner
Provoking Sympathy
Here literature's weakness - that, unlike philosophy, it is unsystematic - becomes its great strength. It draws on all our ways of knowing at once: not just the analysis of the outer world, but introspection and intuition as well. We can understand what is going on in the hearts of others because we know what stirs our own hearts, and what could stir them. When a writer imagines his characters' inner drama, his description rings true to us because we have felt similar impulses or imagined analogous situations, and , further, can identify sympathetically with something beyond our ken. We grasp intuitively the complex internal mix: the simultaneous interplay of feelings, thoughts, beliefs, and hopes, of conscious and subliminal impulses - as pity combines with social anxiety, say, or eros or vanity or sudden insight to impel a character to behave as he behaves. Literature is the great school of motivation: it teaches us how, out of the complex welter of impulses churning within us, we make the choices that define us and seal our fate.
-- Myron Magnet, from the preface to the ISI edition of Dickens and the Social Order...via Collected Miscellany
Teasing Tidbit from Terry Teachout
A regular "About Last Night" reader writes:
In general -- and with all exceptions duly noted -- I think your preferences reflect a taste for lightness over heaviness, for charm over depth (as conventionally understood). As I grow older, that is the direction in which my taste is headed. Do you agree that aging has something to do with it?
Very perceptive. But while I think aging may have something to do with it, I think the effects in my case are limited. My taste has always run more or less in those directions: French over German, "comic" (broadly speaking) over tragic, short over long, color over line. In the best of all possible two-kinds-of-people divide, that formulated by Schiller, I tend to opt for "naive" over "sentimental." As Sir Isaiah Berlin explains, "naive" artists are those "who create naturally, who are not troubled by the burden of the tragic disorder of life, who do not seek salvation in art as some people seek personal salvation in religion or Socialism or nationalism." He cited Verdi as the quintessential example of the naive artist of genius. For me, it's Balanchine.

July 19, 2004

Asking the Saints to Intercede For Us

There is something charismatic about St. Thomas Aquinas apart from the charisma every saint has in being close to God. Something about his sense of order and the sheer comprehensiveness of his writings, and the confidence with which he teaches! Here is a rich vein on why ask the saints to intercede for us:
According to Dionysius (Eccl. Hier. v) the order established by God among things is that "the last should be led to God by those that are midway between."...It is not on account of any defect in God's power that He works by means of second causes, but it is for the perfection of the order of the universe, and the more manifold outpouring of His goodness on things, through His bestowing on them not only the goodness which is proper to them, but also the faculty of causing goodness in others.
Why ask prayers of lesser saints?
Although the greater saints are more acceptable to God than the lesser, it is sometimes profitable to pray to the lesser; and this for five reasons. First, because sometimes one has greater devotion for a lesser saint than for a greater, and the effect of prayer depends very much on one's devotion. Secondly, in order to avoid tediousness, for continual attention to one thing makes a person weary; whereas by praying to different saints, the fervor of our devotion is aroused anew as it were. Thirdly, because it is granted to some saints to exercise their patronage in certain special cases, for instance to Saint Anthony against the fire of hell. Fourthly, that due honor be given by us to all. Fifthly, because the prayers of several sometimes obtain that which would not have been obtained by the prayers of one.
Another Chesterton Excerpt...Everlasting Man

This excerpt is so indisputably true. I can never for the life me understand how anyone can say the Catholic Church is "strict". Have they read the Gospels?
We have all heard people say a hundred times over, for they seem never to tire of saying it, that the Jesus of the New Testament is indeed a most merciful and humane lover of humanity, but that the Church has hidden this human character in repellent dogmas and stiffened it with ecclesiastical terrors till it has taken on an inhuman character. This is, I venture to repeat, very nearly the reverse of the truth. The truth is that it is the image of Christ in the churches that is almost entirely mild and merciful. It is the image of Christ in the Gospels that is a good many other things as well...The Church can reasonably be justified therefore if she turns the most merciful face or aspect towards men; but it is certainly the most merciful aspect that she does turn. And the point is here that it is very much more specially and exclusively merciful than any impression that could be formed by a man merely reading the New Testament for the first time. A man simply taking the words of the story as they stand would form quite another impression; an impression full of mystery and possibly of inconsistency; but certainly not merely an impression of mildness....I have deliberately stressed what seems to be nowadays a neglected side of the New Testament story, but nobody will suppose, I imagine, that it is meant to obscure that side that may truly be called human. That Christ was and is the most merciful of judges and the most sympathetic of friends is a fact of considerably more importance in our own private lives than in anybody's historical speculations.
There's No Business like Show Business

Longtime-readers-first-time-callers will recall the long saga of Ham of Bone, father of four children and three screenplays. We had lunch today, and I'm sure he won't mine this reportage as long as I spell his name right. (Bone, correct me if I'm wrong.)

"IT is dead to me and I am dead to IT," he began*.

I didn't know quite how to respond to this dramatic declaration, although I admired its clarity. I probably could've said something like IT might be dead to you, but it's providing a paycheck, which is nothing to sneeze at. But where's the poetry in that? How much more Wildean to say, "IT is dead to me."

Of course he is not quitting his job, but has discovered a new way of expressing his desperation: a self-financed movie. The idea is to convert his screenplay 'Cheapskate' (the main characters being Bone and myself) into a movie for as inexpensively as $10,000.

Sounds like a good idea. He has prodigious amount of energy and $10,000 is only six month's worth of savings for Bone. The one negative is he wants me to play myself, because I'll work cheaply (i.e. for free).

* - (IT stands for information technology, which is his field of expertise. I offered him a book on job burnout but he's too burned out to read it.)
Reading Like It's 1999

It takes discipline to read on a sunny Sunday afternoon and not fall prey to the honey-do list. I did succumb to Thompson water-sealing the new mailbox, which took all of ten minutes but made my wife happy. Nice bang for the buck there. She knows Saturdays are fair game where work around the house is concerned but expects nothing from me on Sundays.

I recall fondly how Peggy Noonan tried to put the best spin on negligent housekeeping by calling spiderwebs "Irish lace" and by saying the reason the Irish don't keep their houses pristine was because who has time to clean when there is Joyce and Yeats to read? Amen to that.

So I'm proud to report I was up to the challenge of not doing much work around the house Sunday. I read till I could read no mo'. As can be discerned from recent bloggings, I re-read parts of the Pope's "Love & Responsibility" and Chesterton's "Everlasting Man". Then there was also an Updike piece in the New Yorker, which led me inexorably to the book "John Updike and Religion".

After that a dollop of Victor Hanson's "Soul of Battle". He's now on to Patton, and I made a mental note to read Shelby Foote's thoughts on Sherman in his Civil War narrative.

Channel-fipping led me to a Discovery show on the fall of Rome, which eventually led to a few chapters of Epstein's "As the Romans Do: An American Family's Italian Odyssey".

Finally, Tony Hendra's "Father Joe" rounded out the elixir.

I guess reports of my book monogamy are greatly exaggerated. So many books, so little time.
Take Me Out to the Convention

Ham of Bone, writing under a psuedonym, cracks me up.
More DVC

Steven Riddle emailed me with a counterpoint that I could've/should've anticipated. He said that there's nothing sinister about Brown's sales because:

"I would point out that... Michael Crichton, Tom Clancy and others routinely sell this well or perhaps a bit better. Further, I would point out that the errors in Crichton are every bit as profound, pernicious, and irritating at those in the DaVinci Code, but they don't happen to reflect on religion."

This is true, but I think that errors regarding religion are more catastrophic than errors in science since the former involves the soul, the latter the body. But Steven makes a good point on the ability of fluff to have large sales.

The only answer I have to that is that, whatever their merits, Crichton & Clancy & others are living off the fame of their past books. They are a name brand now and could put out anything and it would sell. The key is their FIRST book, their break-out book. DVC is Brown's break-out book and there is something in a breakout book that might say something about a culture...
Keeping an Eye on Fast Food ...so you don't have to

Sign of the Apocalypse: Burger King now has a Low Carb Menu. Oy vey.

Sign of the Apocalypse II: McDonald's new oven-roasted sandwiches aren't bad (I asked for a sample of the Grilled Reuben and they gave me some). The Cobb Chicken salad isn't bad either. This from someone who used to eat at McDonald's (other than breakfast) once or twice a year.
Equal Time for Pullman

Though I dislike DVC for personal reasons (i.e. relatives have been disturbed by its 'history') the Pullman stuff is worse. Christopher of Ratzinger Fan Club Blog provides a round-up on Phillip Pullman.

July 18, 2004

War & Peace...a Chesterton Excerpt

G.K. writes about how Christ does not offer platitudes (like the earthly philosophers that some in the Jesus Seminar are wont to compare Him to), but paradoxes. Chesterton makes the point that it gives Christ's teaching a universal application and helps disprove those who say his teaching came out of his culture. Here is one on peace and war, from the perspective of someone reading the NT for the first time:
He would find several paradoxes in favour of peace. He would find several ideals of non-resistance, which taken as they stand would be rather too pacific for any pacifist. He would be told in one passage to treat a robber not with passive resistance, but rather with positive and enthusiastic encouragement, if the terms be taken literally; heaping up gifts upon the man who had stolen goods.

But he would not find a word of all that obvious rhetoric against war which has filled countless books and odes and orations; not a word about the wickedness of war, the wastefulness of war, the appalling scale of the slaughter in war and all the rest of the familiar frenzy; indeed not a word about war at all. There is nothing that throws any particular light on Christ's attitude towards organised warfare, except that he seems to have been rather fond of Roman soldiers...

There is nothing that wants the rarest sort of wisdom so much as to see, let us say, that the citizen is higher than the slave and yet that the soul is infinitely higher than the citizen or the city. It is not by any means a faculty that commonly belongs to these simplifiers of the Gospel; those who insist on what they call a simple morality and others call a sentimental morality. It is not at all covered by those who are content to tell everybody to remain at peace. On the contrary, there is a very striking example of it in the apparent inconsistency between Christ's sayings about peace and about a sword. It is precisely this power which perceives that while a good peace is better than a good war, even a good war is better than a bad peace.
Where We Find Ourselves

My oversimplified and perhaps flawed view of the pre-Vatican II era (after all, I wasn't even alive during it) is that you didn't do (fill-in-the-blank) because the Church said so. Vatican II tried to offer why, to give reasons for our observances and to emphasize the positive over the negative, as exemplified by the lack of anathemas in the Council documents.

Similarly, Pope John Paul II emphasizes God's love, his mercy, and consistently sees in man a grandeur that comes from a deep faith. I think that this passage from the Pope's Love & Responsibility speaks volumes about how the Church has changed:
For man is a being internally constructed that the promptings of carnal desire do not disappear merely because they are contained by willpower, although superficially they appear to do so; for them to disappear completely a man must know 'why' he is containing them. It may be said that the prohibition is self-justifying: 'why not?' - 'because I must not' - but this does not solve the problem satisfactorily...Only when the will is confronted by a value which fully explains the necessity for containing impulses aroused by carnal desire and sensuality. Only as this value gradually takes possession of the mind and the will does the will become calm and free itself from a characteristic sense of loss.
Doesn't our recent history mirror in some micro way the differences of emphasis in the Testaments? Wasn't the OT (and pre-Vatican II) mostly about telling you that you'll do this because...God or the Church said so? And the NT (and the Vatican II documents) reminded us why? (i.e. Love, i.e. Christ, i.e. because God so loved the world that he sent His only son.).

It seems as though a "hard ass" method was employed pre-Vatican II, while a more "here's why" way was employed post-Vatican II. But is it any wonder that the Church struggles with where to draw the line respect to dissident theologians or how strict to make the fasts when, in our own lives, we have so much difficulty determining whether we are too easy on ourselves or too hard? It'll be fascinating to see where we go from here.