June 30, 2005


The slippery slope between the personal and professional just slipped a bit.

We don't know all the facts, but if this guy got fired despite mentioning any names, well then we've reached a new level of arbitrariness.

(HT: Dawn Eden)
Shelby Foote, R.I.P.

I catch so little news these days that I'm glad Amy linked to this. One of my favorite books is "The Correspondence of Walker Pecy and Shelby Foote". From a commenter on Amy's blog:
Shelby Foote on Walker Percy's conversion to Catholicism:

When Walker told me he was thinking about going into the Catholic Church, we were in Santa Fe, New Mexico on a sort of vacation. And I couldn't believe he would do that. I knew nothing about the Catholic Church. I knew that they had an index of books that people are not supposed to read, and I certainly didn't want him belonging to anything that would do that to you. So I said, "You are a mind in full intellectual retreat," and it's a wonder he ever spoke to me again. He found exactly what he was looking for in the Church. It gave him exactly what he wanted, and it was a great comfort to him when he was dying, and it was at the wellspring of his being, the Church and its teachings, and he was truly devout. He had a lot of trouble, always called himself a bad Catholic, but he got a great deal from it.

Shelby Foote remained Episcopalean by some accounts, but others consider him agnostic.

Their greatest bone of contention was Percy's recent conversion to Roman Catholicism. Foote's initial reaction - yours is "a mind in full intellectual retreat" - stung Percy. Foote believed the move was "cowardly." Worse, "no good practicing Catholic can ever be a great artist." Foote, still active, confessed to a recent interviewer he was "very, very wrong" on this score, even though he remains an agnostic literary modernist.
Various & Sundry

Ham of Bone's latest. So true. I recall being in a Border's purchasing Augustine's "City of God" when the young clerk apparently thought it was a gnostic gospel. He said "now this is a book I'd read. You know the Catholic Church suppressed books like the 'Gospel of Thomas' for centuries." Where do you even begin?


And an interesting paragraph from National Review:
Some people regard Sharansky as a providential figure, spared death in the Gulag to perform his work now. What does he think? “I long ago stopped asking myself whether God gives us a mission or we give ourselves a mission, in an effort to be worthy of God.” He recalls the prayer that he invented for himself in prison, and mutters a little of it: “Grant me the strength, the power, the intelligence . . . and the patience to leave this jail and reach the Land of Israel in an honest and worthy way.”
Imagine No Gulf War, It's EZ If You Try

Alternative histories always interest me even if they serve little purpose. Pat Buchanan recently said that he thinks if the U.S. would've stayed out of WWII longer the two evil empires, Russia & Nazi Germany, would've knocked each other silly and weakened the Soviets to the point of preventing Korea and Vietnam and the whole Cold War.

I've recently been wondering what would've happened if we'd not rolled back Saddam Hussein in 1990. Leaving humanitarian impulses beside, what if there was no Gulf War, as the godfather of paleo-conservatism, Russell Kirk, advised? Knowing Hussein's desire for hegemony and his delusions of grandeur (he still thinks he'll rule Iraq some day) I don't think it's much of a stretch that he'd taken over Kuwait and Saudi Arabia and much of the Middle East.

Which, on the positive side, would mean we'd have one enemy instead of many. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran, and Syria are all exporters of suicide bombers to Iraq (and we already know how many of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudi's). So it would seem easier to fight one crazy dictatorial state than five shrewd terror-sponsoring states.

But on the negative side, there'd be a crazy person in charge of the world's oil supply. And the problem with oil is that filling up our S.U.V. is the least of our problems. Our whole economy runs on it. Trucks use it to get everything everywhere. There is a multiplier effect with oil because it's built into every product we buy. And the worse part about oil is that it's real painful in moving off it. We haven't got a Methadone equivalent and one of the great mysteries of the last twenty years is why the government hasn't funded/given tax breaks to alternative fuel industries. It almost makes a conspiracist out of me. But George Will would say let the market dictate when alternative fueling is needed because the private sector will do it better anyway. A free market has its vagaries.

The other problem with that scenerio is that with all that oil money it surely wouldn't be difficult for him to acquire nuclear weapons. And that, more than the possibility of a global depression, makes you sick. In the nuclear age, any country who gets nuclear weapons becomes exempt from war, at least exempt from being attacked by another nuclear power. You can fight proxy wars as we did with the Soviet Union (Korea & Vietnam) but the tacit agreement was 'no nuclear weapons'. But just as we couldn't go to war with the Soviets, we couldn't go to war with Saddam at that point. So in the end the positive of having just one enemy isn't positive after all.

Update: Great coment from Dan at Lofted Nest:
I remember reading "The Turning Point" by Fritjof Capra and his discussion of Europe approaching the Middle Ages. Their whole culture, he wrote, was based on wood -- wood tools, wood spoons and forks and bowls and plates, wood furniture, wood houses, wood for heat, wood for shaping metal, wood for fishing boats, wood for arrows and on and on. And as population grew, the forests shrank until society reached a turning point. The monarchs took over the forests and the people could no longer make their way without leave of their kings, etc. Society descended into Dark Ages.

Next, Capra started listing everything in modern society that is oil/gas/carbon based -- and it really is an amazing list, everything plastic, transportation, power grids, heating, cooling, farming... and when we run out of oil? Again... expect a dark age for man. It was a scary book & gave me quite an appreciation for just how many eggs we have in the oil basket.

June 29, 2005

    Spanning the Globe To Bring You The Constant Variety Of Posts

The last couple of months have been crazy...Dylan has been taking care of me, had heart attack and surgery... and on top of all this I moved..just recently...Dylan is doing good...we both thank everyone for all there prayers..don't give up on him..he has been my right arm since March.. thank you again. - Dylan's (of "more last than star") mom

RCIA, he said, stood for Repelling Catholics In-Advertently. - Dawn Eden, (despite that, congrats to Dawn for entering RCIA!)

Her father died when she was three. Her mother remarried to a non-Catholic man who you find in the story in another place was an alcoholic. All of this provides an interesting backdrop to her fight against the "patriarchy" of the Church. Then there is her bout with polio when she first entered into religious life. Take all of this as a whole then add to it her views against the miraculous, the power of God to intervene...what you are left with is a very human religion of Sr. Joan. Why is she allowed a stage to share this religion with bishops, priests, religious, and laity? This best can be explained by the lack of faith that she enunciates so well for those who think like her. Why do they stay in the Church? Security. - Michael of Annunciations, regarding Sr. Joan Chittister and her recent book

"Hey, this isn't going to kill the mystique is it?" - Elena of My Domestic Church to her husband, during the birth of their child as the doctor pointed out 'anatomical details' to him

I went to a poet's meeting on a whim a few years ago and the main topic of interest was how to copyright your poems. Some people, back then anyway, were sending their poems into the copyright office, others were mailing their poems to themselves to secure the post office date stamp. They were all worried about sending poetry off to editors who would steal it for themselves. I asked them why they bothered since even good poetry isn't worth a dime and magazines only pay in copies to up their circulation numbers anyway... That didn't go over very well. - Dan of "Lofted Nest"

Speaking as one born into abject poverty (by American standards at least) I have to admit, in my own adulthood, I was far less happy making $60k than I am barely clearing $12k. My life is so much better now that I own a little stuff, instead of being owned by a lot of stuff. On the partisan economic thing, I admit I have always bristled at leftists talking about the poor. Capitalists may not have the right solution, but they do tend to at least see poor folks as capable folks and that means a lot to me. Welfare, as practised in the West, can be soul-deadening.- commenter on Disputations

I'd like to propose [St. John the Baptist] for patron saint of the Internet. John was a herald, a man whose job it was to announce the coming of the King. In essence, that means he was a communicator, first and foremost. Also, that whole "baptism of repentence for the forgiveness of sins" was quite a contrast with what his father Zechariah was up to in the Temple (the "sacrificing of animals for the forgiveness of sins"). It shows he was open to "new technologies". Finally, he was quite a firebrand, so I think he'd be quite at home within the kinds of discussion that sometimes happens within the Internet. I can just see his ears perking up at the mention of a "flame war". - Fr. Dowd on St. Blog's Parish Hall

I plan to one day piss off all my relatives and friends (as well as random St. Bloggers, I suppose) by writing a chapter-by-chapter analysis of that book [Christ the King, Lord of History] and why we're destroying our children's critical faculties and opening them up for a loss of faith, by using that book as the basis of their history education. - commenter on Amy's blog

Brave New World is relentlessly taught at schoolchildren as a warning and yet our society grows more and more like it with each passing decade. Subliminal brainwashing of children on a national scale?? - commenter on Jimmy Akin's site about the "Most Dangerous Books Ever Written"

MOM, turning to me, deadpan: I'm beginning to side with Rev. Phelps. - Dawn Eden report after hearing Billy Graham mentioning Hilary Clinton running the country

Everyone has a conversion story these days; even cradle Catholics, since no one perseveres in the faith from childhood anymore...I was raised in a very devout Baptist home myself. Due to my pride and vanity it almost seems the only way I could be made receptive to the Faith was to languish in dreadful wickedness for a time, so that I could begin to see I needed something far greater than myself. We’ve all went through it, each in our own way. Our lives literally rot away from the inside until something new and beautiful can be made to spring forth from within us...This time a mature faith that, with God’s grace, can face the very world that killed our innocence and wonder the first time. - Franklin Jennings as quoted on "Hallowed Ground"

The RC understanding of baptism and its relation to faith is quite different from the evangelical perspective. In short, the baptized Catholic coming forward in a Graham Crusade would not be taught that she, indeed, has had a relationship with Christ since her baptism. The Catholic understanding of John 3 is pretty much totally related to baptism as the beginning of life in Christ, and officially buying into the Graham interpretation would be strange. - Amy Welborn

Forgiveness [is] all of a piece with God's love. It's not something extra or optional. If God is love, if God is God, then God is forgiveness, and He will forgive all of us everything....For a Christian to forgive is not for him to say, "I forgive you your offenses against me," but, "God forgives you your offences against Him." Christian forgiveness is no more a juridical act, fundamentally, than is Christ's forgiveness. It is an act of evangelism, a proclamation of the Gospel, and to whom are we not to evangelize? - Tom of Disputations

Joy is a sign if a healthy spirituality. How many Catholics do you find that are really joyless, and that joylessness is not confined to either liberals or conservatives, but exists on both ends of the spectrum. (There are a number of blogs that seem absent of joy—or a sense of humor—which illustrate the point adequately.) ... So 'laugh away to your heart’s content. Be as merry as you you please.' [Blessed Jordan of Saxony] - Dom of Bettnet.com
Peter, Paul & Mary

One of the many things I like about Orthodox icons, like this one or this, is how they typically show the apostles centered around Mary during Pentecost. Party poopers might say this isn't scriptural since we don't know for sure if Mary was there, though it strains credibility to think otherwise given that Acts 1:12 (a few verses before Pentecost) says, "they all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers."

But to depict Mary as the center is fitting because, being our mother, we know her differently and more intimately than we know the apostles. We see her in the picture and say - hey - my mom's there! Would we not center our camera on our mother if she was at some great historical event?

And I'm sure even on this day St. Peter and St. Paul won't mind because she is their mother too! They can relate.

June 28, 2005

Ora pro nobis, Flannery

The Flannery O'Connor blog has been updated.
Blogging Like It's 1984

I was looking for summer clothes in the nether regions of our house when I came across a journal from 1984.

Man, oh man but it was like a retreived memory! Names that would otherwise be completely unrecoverable were resurrected thanks to the persistence of paper and ink.

Naturally, I went directly to the internet, do-not-pass-go, to super-sleuth these folks. Mostly I came up empty, although the UCC pastor at my best friend's church (oddly, my close friends have always been Protestants & Jews) is pastoring way out in the rural Pennsylvania near the Appalachian trail. He always did love the natural world.

The journal has an extremely high "cringe" factor, as in "I can't believe I wrote that". Earnest if trite, some of the frankness in the area of sexuality makes it feel like I am carrying radioactive material around. I really need to burn this. Not that I was that bad but it sounds like it. It's embarrassing on nearly every level imaginable and I'd druther my wife not read the poetry directed at other women. So I could: a) type it into a password-protected Word doc (which would take forever)or b) get it rid of it now or c) save it and hope that I don't die suddenly and thus have time to destroy it before my death.

But the memories are something else.

I worked that summer with a guy named Bob who was a man-of-the-world 24 year old who'd graduated from college and taught school for a couple years before working at the local restaurant enroute to the military (I found only that he lives in Birmingham, AL now). Seems I was impressed with him, or perhaps impressed by the fact that he was impressed with me. A snippet:

"Knowing someone like Bob makes me realize how little I've really experienced of life. He has more stories than one would think was possible. Wild stories of travel, of skinny-dipping, of spying on the girls locker room. He seems to me to be an extremely interesting man and complex one - a person not easily categorized as "good" or "bad". He's a churchgoer who loves baseball, collects baseball cards and takes pictures with his expensive camera. He can seem a child, and as innocent. And yet he's done things he can't even mention."

In hindsight, Bob wasn't exactly the picture-postcard role model, to put it mildly.


Then too there was the uber-kind Protestant pastor. My best friend's parents were always so smart, always so ahead of the curve. That they were United Church of Christ members back in the 1970s doesn't surprise me - they were non-denominational before non-denominational was cool. Was the UCC the first denomination to end all denominations? But instead of coming home to Rome they went to the newly formed UCC: "the UCC was founded in 1957 as the union of several different Christian traditions: from the beginning of our history, we were a church that affirmed the ideal that Christians did not always have to agree to live together in communion" says the UCC website. I'm not saying I would've done any different if I were in their shoes. It's understandable if someone doesn’t see the truths of Catholicism if they were raised in another tradition. Flannery O'Connor wrote that
"all voluntary baptisms are a miracle to me and stop my mouth as much as if I had just seen Lazarus walk out of the tomb. I suppose it's because I know that it had to be given me before the age of reason, or I wouldn't have used any reason to find it."
It's also understandable for an uncatechized Catholic to convert, of which there are legion. It's the fully catechized Catholic who converts which is a puzzlement - but for free will and the "diamond hardness of the human heart" as Steven Riddle put it.
Opposite World

We like dandelions when they are young, when their bright yellow flowers dot the meadow. But when they are old they seem unlike themselves, they lose their attractiveness and we say they have "gone to seed". Nearing death they wear crowns of white seeds, crowns that prove that they have not become less than they were but more, a multitude.

Watching an older person lose their memory makes it easy to say that they "are not themselves". But they are not not themselves. That which makes them who they are has not changed. God within them has not changed. And they are closer to Heaven, which is Reality itself, and will be restored to a reality much greater than their best day on earth.

To be resolved: the fact that there are Scientologists is the best proof of Chesterton's adage that "when people stop believing in God, they don't believe in nothing -- they believe in anything".
True Words

Ham of Bone said yesterday: "No one on their death bed regrets that they did too much for Christ."
Heaven's of the Energetic

If I read correctly, which I surely did not, Enbrethiliel spent almost seven hours on one blog post, the 100 Greatest Catholic Quotes of All Time.

Two of my favorites, if lesser known, are:
Discouragement is not from God. - St. Ignatius of Loyola

If you pray, you will have faith. And if you have faith, you will love. And if you have love, you will serve. And if you serve, you will have peace. - Mother Teresa
Update: Also one from Chesterton:
Man can be defined as an animal that makes dogmas. As he piles doctrine on doctrine and conclusion on conclusion in the formation of some tremendous scheme of philosophy and religion, he is, in the only legitimate sense of which the expression is capable, becoming more and more human. When he drops one doctrine after another in a refined scepticism, when he declines to tie himself to a system, when he says that he has outgrown definitions, when he says that he disbelieves in finality, when, in his own imagination, he sits as God, holding no form of creed but contemplating all, then he is by that very process sinking slowly backwards into the vagueness of the vagrant animals and the unconsciousness of the grass. Trees have no dogmas. Turnips are singularly broad-minded.
He Just Loves Everybody, Doggone It

I've always been a "I hope everyone gets to Heaven" person, although not to the point of wanting to socialize with everyone there. In my defense I don't expect to be elbowing out Blessed Margaret to get to talk to St. Thomas Aquinas. I know my place, though pride being what it is I don't doubt that I overestimate it. Besides, I assume we'll be so distracted (for once distraction as a positive good!) by the beatific vision that we won't be worried about distinctions. Or, as Fr. Neuhaus once famously wrote, "Hitler in heaven will be forever a little dog to whom we will benignly condescend. But he will be grateful for being there, and for not having received what he deserved," just as "we will all be grateful for being there and for not having received what we deserve."

This was all prompted by news of the recent Graham-Clinton lovefest. My reaction was that it waters down Graham's praise of Pope John Paul II, rendering it as meaningful as an "Up With People" song and as discerning as Bush's soul-seeing ability in light of Vlad Putin's oily behavior. At the very least it showed that the Reverend has terrible taste in friends. But then I realized that by that definition God has the lowest taste in friends of all since the goodness differential between Billy Graham and Bill Clinton is infinitely less than the distance between Billy Graham and God.

So I'm trying to come 'round Billy. Hope this doesn't mean you won't talk to me in Heaven.

June 27, 2005

Remembering "Moonlight" Graham
No wonder it took quite awhile for his story to get around -- and for author W.P. Kinsella to make Graham a part of the poetry and romance that celebrate the lore and lure of baseball.

More than a decade after Graham died in 1965, the prize-winning author was leafing through the Baseball Encyclopedia that his father-in-law had given him a few days earlier. Among the listings for every player and their lifetime statistics, Kinsella came across something that stopped him.

"I found this entry for Moonlight Graham. How could anyone come up with that nickname? He played one game but did not get to bat. I was intrigued, and I made a note that I intended to write something about him,'' he said.

A few years later, he did. His 1982 novel Shoeless Joe was adapted into the film Field of Dreams in 1989, and Moonlight was reborn.
Of Books

Interview in the Columbus Dispatch with Steve Leveen, author of The Little Guide to Your Well-Read Life, who discovered reading in middle age (beats most responses to the midlife crisis):
Q:  Why own books insted of borrowing them?
A:  Borrowed books are gold; owning books is magic. Having your own library of 'candidates' is like having your own bookstore...They are like friends waiting for you to come play, friendly old uncles ready to tell you an amazing story, lovers ready for a weekend away. Don't deny yourself those pleasures.

Q:  Why should people write in their books?
A:  I do a whole section on this in the book, but here's one convincing reason: In future years, your loved ones will delight to know what you thought of a passage. Write to your grandchildren.
Bike Ride

Took a long bike ride out to the country, the first one of the summer. I’m amused by my reaction to seeing a corn field again, amused that after six months it can almost fill a need, as if it's on Maslow’s hierarchy. So I crossed that one off. One can certainly live without seeing green, living things and we do all winter, but we’re richer during the summer. As John Denver once sang, “I know he’d be a poorer man if he never saw an eagle fly.”

I see a groundhog disappear on invisible legs into the brush line and later three bunny “hoppits”, as my wife calls them, their noses and ears twitching nervously. A perfect golden-hue’d field lies to my right, contrasted pleasingly by the emerald of young soy. The farmhouse and out buildings are fantastically kept up, the rural equivalent of not having a “hair out of place”. I long to rest in that order, in the short-clipped grass resting against the straight edge of the green crops. After watching the movie “Field of Dreams” back in the late ‘90s I wanted to plant a corn field in my backyard. Of course the work involved would be daunting (we have about 3/4ths of an acre) and my wife would never stand for it. But it’s always been a dream to have my own corn field and to disappear among the tall stalks.

Apropos of nothing an old song comes to mind
Living on Tulsa Time.
Living on Tulsa Time.
Gonna set my watch back to it
'Cause you know that I've been through it.
Living on Tulsa Time.
I always wanted to go to Tulsa. I love the name; it rolls off the tongue. Going to a town because you like the name is probably not the best reason to go but I figured that a city no one purposely goes to might be worth going to. Oklahoma isn’t exactly a hot destination but just as on the political curve the extreme right-wing is actually left-wing, I imagined Tulsa to be so uncharismatic as to make it charismatic.

I think of my favorite aunt. And I think that maybe I understand something she had in her cellar better. When she was young she contracted a disease that resulted in not having body hair for the rest of her life. She wore a wig and painted on eyebrows and in my youth and sweet obliviousness to appearances, I had not a clue. But I remember that she had a picture in her basement of a woman with long, beautiful hair and admiring herself in a mirror. If you looked at the picture from farther away it appeared to be a skull, and at the bottom there was a caption warning agaist vanity. It occurred to me for the first time that she must've keenly felt her lack of hair and so that picture must've been somewhat consolatory, in knowing that all things pass.
In Our DNA

There’s nothing that seems quite as silly as believing cultural characteristics lurk in our DNA. Such as thinking that we of Irish heritage like the sound of the Irish language because our ancestors spoke it generations ago. Or that the smell of burning peat dug from Irish bogs awakens some distant ancestral memory. Yet writers like Pete McCarthy and Tom Hayden and others written of it and I think its kind of cool.

I think that desire is interesting, this odd hope that our ancestors left not just their physical characteristics but in some vague sense part of their soul. It’s is a very Catholic sensibility, since we have been given the great gift of Jesus, Body and Soul, in the Eucharist. The boundaries of time and substance are not fixed, the impossible made possible.

June 26, 2005

Worst List

Another book list, this one looks at the ten worst Christian books of the modern era.

No. 10 is: "Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, The Power of Positive Thinking", about which the blogger writes, "A little happy narcissistic Pelagianism never hurt anyone, right?"

I came to a similar conclusion about Peale last year although I still find it an interesting topic. One of Peale's prescriptions was to repeat the phrase "I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me" ten times every morning, which is ironic given that that verse from St. Paul would seem to be about as anti-Pelagian as it gets since it is Christ giving us the strength. Since grace builds on nature rather than obliterating it, it would be lame to take no responsibility for one's thoughts and simply assume that it's God's job to have us think positively. I'm thinking aloud here, but the danger seems to come in attempting to use God as a means to our end, i.e. to our improved mental health, instead of allowing Him to use us for His end.
Crack Cocaine to a Bibliophile

I love lists like this.

This book, while casting absolutely no aspersions on its content, has the quintessential American title doesn't it? Reminds me of the phrase "get rich quick".
Odds 'n Ends

From bookshop's advertisement flyer (run by a former British R.A.F. woman pilot):
As 98% of you now buy all your books on Internet, how sad you are missing the major Aura of buying a book. The ombience created by each O.P. specialist. Out West were the weirdest. Stuffed lion, carpets & cushions invited laying on! I used to love to guess the background of these interesting owners! Esentrics we Brits called them. Bred by the 1,000's because of the *Empire builders journeys* took them to the mystical East of the torid Tropics, then *home* to chilly G.B. to spend their wayning years sharing adventures & love of books that had kept them sane. So dear book lovers, use us for the last few years & visit by appointment remembering the Internet & phone pay the OVERHEAD!

(Translation hints: G.B. = Great Britain and O.P. = out of print)

It's not good that men should live alone. For man living alone = television golf. Overheard a late 20-something male on the elevator say this week:
My roommate moved out so I'm on my own for the first time. It was great, drank six, seven beers while watching golf all day.

June 25, 2005

...Because I Just Love Writing Fiction
Rob Meyers was twelve years old when he became acquainted with the television show “Wonder Woman”. He was surprised the bad guys weren't distracted by her outfit and why it seemed she didn't get more mileage out of that. Didn’t Batman use his good looks to trap Cat Woman at least once? Why shouldn’t Wonder Woman do the same? He congratulated himself for his fairness and wondered if that made him as a feminist.

He felt close to the actress Linda Carter because she looked like the 16-year old who babysat him when he was ten and whom he had a secret crush on. All crushes at that age were secret so that was redundant, but her proximity was an additional aphrodesiac since she lived right next door. She wore the hotpants that were the fashion in the ‘70s and used to loudly play a song on her stereo with the lyric, "I love to ride my bicycle, I love to ride my bike”. He could very much relate to that song since he loved riding his bicycle too. He felt they had much in common.

One night, as he was taping over the Beatles “Yellow Submarine” in favor of the theme to “Buck Rogers of the 25th Century”, he asked her if they could order a pizza but she said no because it caused “zits”. He didn’t have any zits but never really noticed if she had any either. That would involve too close a study, and he felt worshipped objects should not be subjected to such rude scrutiny.

The next day, while using a tape measure to determine how far he could long jump, the babysitter came home from her glamorous high school life. He watched dumbfounded as a teenage boy dropped her off from school. He wondered if he was her boyfriend. He didn’t like it. He liked it better when she rode the bus like everybody else.

He went to the backyard to think it over, and to see if the Phillies could beat the Dodgers on his Pitchback. “Pitchback” was a large net mounted on a pole with a square in the middle indicating the strike zone. He took his cap and after making a quick writing motion in the air (he was right-handed) he laid the cap against the left side of his chest and sang the Star Spangled Banner.

“Play ball!” he said, as Davey Lopes stepped to the plate...

June 24, 2005

Something New & Old in the "New Covenant"

Cardinal Ratzinger's Many Religions - One Covenant is a deep and satisfying read, particularly in the way he makes connections between the Old & New Testaments:

Paul is well aware that, prior to the Christian history of salvation, the word "covenant" had to be understood and spoken of in the plural; out of these various covenants he selects two particularly, sets them up in mutual opposition, and refers each one to the covenant in Christ: these are the covenant with Abraham and the covenant with Moses. He sees the covenant made with Abraham as the real, fundamental, and abiding covenant; according to Paul, the covenant made with Moses was interposed 430 years after the Abrahamic covenant; it could not abrogate the covenant with Abraham but constituted only an intermediary stage in God's providential plan...

God's pedagogy with mankind operates in such a way that its individual props are jettisoned when the goal of the educational process is reached. Particular paths are abandoned, but the meaning remains. The convenant with Moses is incorporated into the covenant with Abraham, and the Law becomes the mediator of promise. Thus Paul distinguishes very sharply between two kinds of covenant that we find in the Old Testament itself: the covenant that consists of legal prescriptions and the covenant that is essentially a promise, the gift of friendship, bestowed without conditions.
      'Law is Grace' is not a Contradiction

For the Law is not only a burden imposed on believers - as we are inclined to think, due to the one-sided emphasis of the Pauline antitheses. As seen by Old Testament believers, the Law itself is the concrete form of grace. For to know God's will is grace. And to know God's will is to know oneself, to understand the world, to know what our destination is. It means that we are liberated from the darkness of our endless questioning, that the light as come, that light without which we can neither see nor move. "You have not shown your will to any other nation": for Israel, at least for its best representatives, the Law is the visibility of the truth...
Pope John Paul II Moment of Silence

I didn't realize the Reds did that on Opening Day. Very cool.

The Reds and Mets line up after introductions and pause for a moment of silence in honor of the passing of Pope John Paul II before the start of their opening day game at Great American Ballpark. (Greg Lynch/Cox News Service)
Bob Dylan on Sixty Minutes

Dylan's book Chronicles is one I'd like to read but surely never will. Watched a recent interview with Ed Bradley. He's more interesting than the usual celebrity:
[Do you] ever look back at the music [you've] written with surprise?

"I used to. I don't do that anymore. I don't know how I got to write those songs. Those early songs were almost magically written," says Dylan, who quotes from his 1964 classic, "It's Alright, Ma."

"Try to sit down and write something like that. There's a magic to that, and it's not Siegfried and Roy kind of magic, you know? It's a different kind of a penetrating magic. And, you know, I did it. I did it at one time."

Does he think he can do it again today? No, says Dylan. "You can't do something forever," he says. "I did it once, and I can do other things now. But, I can't do that."
Say It Ain't So, Joe

It's chilling to learn there are conservatives who would not rule out voting for Sen. Hillary "The Ends Justifies the Means if it Means I'm in Office" Clinton. But then since some fellow conservatives are okay with torture as a means to a good end, so perhaps it's not as far-fetched as I'd thought.
The Great Bingo Riot of 2005

Okay so I slightly exaggerate. But at the end of one of yesterday's bingo games we had five winners and the caller thought there were four so we ended up overpaying all five. After the miscue was discovered four of them graciously gave back the $50 overpayment but one said "go fish", "sorry about your luck", or "bank error in my favor". Pick your phrase.

So our intrepid leader Joe announced that the last bingo pot would be shy $50 and an uproar ensued. "BULLSH-T!" many yelled. "Why should we suffer for your mistake" was the verdict of an increasingly ugly crowd.

I told Joe that that was an unpopular message to deliver (just doing my impression of "Master of the Obvious") and he tersely said "I don't care." Sensitive subject.

So the next game was tense, the air pickled with pangs of purple'd rage (or at least purple'd prose). Something had to give. So Joe made another announcement requesting that the person who was overpaid give back the money. And eventually, seemingly hours later, he or she did. Order was restored.

"A happy ending," I said to a co-worker.

"No it's not!" snapped someone who overheard me.

Just another night in the ol' bingo parlor.

Earlier that evening I'd arrived a tad late and all the floorworkers were already doing their thing. So Joe had me training at the window where the players buy their bingo sheets. I was stationed with a guy I'll call Sam who wore a small hoop earring but was straight as the 4th of July. North of sixty years old and quick as a whip, he had white silver hair and in manner & appearance seemed a cross between Little Jimmy Dickens and Ross Perot. To say he was flirtatious is like saying Shaq can play basketball. I mean this guy holds a black belt in Flirt; he's a jujitsu instructor in female flattery. He told every woman how lovely they looked and would often hold their hands or caress their wrists and lower arms. I haven't felt as much a third wheel since high school when my best friend was always canoodling his girlfriend. "There's a shack out back we can go to..." Sam tells a particular favorite.

He took a short break to get coffee. Said he was tired. If he was tired than I've never not been tired.

June 23, 2005


...you could say a quick prayer for my stepson I'd appreciate it. He's 24, been married a year, and is thinking of quitting his 9-to-5 office job in order to join the Navy.
Pep Talk

Well it's late in the week and it's summer and you know what that means. It means the likelihood that I'll have something meaningful to say approaches critical non-mass. (It's heartening to see I'm not the only one.) The temptation is to type "Yes, we have no blog posts! We have no blog posts today!" to tune of "Yes, We Have No Bananas".

But being the blogging professional I am - hey another for my oxymoron collection! - I thought I'd give a spiel on the importance of nutrition and exercise.

Since grace builds on nature, we can hardly expect God to overcome the abuses we inflict on our bodies. He gives us the tools and we use them. And so a couple months ago I began regularly mixing nutritional saccharomyces cerevisiae in milk and having that for breakfast. And I now take a daily multivitamin, something I've ignored for over a decade. And I do feel better. It certainly beats the morning donut.

Exercise is also something not to be taken for granted. Dr. Paul Dudley White said that a "vigorous five mile walk will do more good for an unhappy but otherwise healthy adult than all the medicine and psychology in the world."

The point is not to raise fitness and nutrition to the be all and end all, but simply to recognize that our physical and mental health is somewhat dependent on the conduit of our own behaviors or misbehaviors. Or, as the saying in our house goes, "self-inflicted ponc is the worst kind."
Crystal's right. All I can say is wow.

June 22, 2005


The brine in our cells danced
to the ocean’s motion
till sea memories
implanted and blanch’d
sand white as Purity
washed to our feet
as night fell on sunburnt
sheets wet with aloe.
Aquinas & Augustine

Over the past year or so I've become interested in St. Thomas Aquinas & St. Augustine, the two spiritual giants of Catholic theology. And it's fascinating to me why someone becomes a Thomist and someone else an Augustinian. Is it merely a personality difference? Why a Fr. Groeschel adores St. Augustine and a Jacques Maritain finds Thomas to be his guru? Perhaps part of why Aquinas is so appealing is because so often in our lives (and in Christian history) there have been delusions (aka heresies) and his logical systemizing is like a salve on those wounds. And, as Saul Bellow once wrote,
I was always drawn to people who were orderly in a large sense and had mapped out the world and made it coherent. We had a buddy back in the States who liked to tell us, 'Order is charismatic.'
And no where does one find more order than in St. Thomas. Still, there is something very appealing about Augustine because he is so personal. This tends to be a very personal blog so it would seem I lean towards Augustine despite my admiration for Aquinas. I recently read something from a commenter on Dispuations that I hadn't seen before. The commenter quoted John Allen:
Of Aquinas, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger once wrote, "His crystal-clear logic seemed to me to be too closed in on itself, too impersonal and ready-made."
The Summer of Our Discontent

Well the Reds fired their manager today. Probaby a month overdue actually. To tune of Sweet Molly Malone:
In Cincy's fair city, where the girls are so pretty,

that's where I first met the oldest pro team.

They stole many bases and hit many johnsons

And in '75 beat the Sox in Boston

and we cried 'Go Reds, Go Reds!

Alive alive-o'! (Chorus)
But alas, now they are 'dead, dead-o'! But don't cry for me Argentina, cry for area kids who are ten, eleven and twelve. That's when it means everything. And that's when the Big Red Machine years ran for me, right down the boulevard of my youth, winning pennants when I was 7, 9, 12 and 13. I experienced a second youth in 1990 they swept the Oakland A's.
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Keep your eyes on the crucifix, for Jesus without the cross is a man without a mission, and the cross without Jesus is a burden without a reliever. - Fulton J. Sheen of Heaven

My parents were very strict about music with us when we were growing up. We weren't alowed to listen to anything my parents thought would disorder our souls... which I guess meant, anything that would add more troubles to our day then the day itself had decreed sufficient...I also remember being flummoxed repeatedly by my high school friends increasingly darker attitudes and perspectives. The music was always with them - on the bus, at their parties, on their alarms, in all their free-time, and they kept getting more glassy-eyed and rebellious as they got more and more into Pink Floyd, Metallica, Black Sabbath, etc...We had lots of music in the house, but it was happy music... But the happy music we had in our lives warded off any resentment we might have otherwise nurtured. Music is very important. The songs in your heart can give you either inner hope and joy, or inner meaninglessness and cynicism. I always marvel how parents can just shrug off what their kids are listening to. - Quote from "Church of the Masses" via Amy Welborn

When we hear someone speak of what is true or good, we brace ourselves for the implied imperative to change our lives. We don't like that. But beauty, well, we already seek beauty....beauty connotes no fear of punishment; we go straight to enjoyment of the pleasure we derive from it. That would be a strictly limited submission to authority, limited by the duration and quantity of pleasure we experience, until and unless we advance to the third stair, of filial love for the Beauty Who created us. - Tom of Disputations

Perhaps it's like putting up a statue of Tonto, the Loan Ranger's Indian sidekick at Wounded Knee -- just how would that go over? - Falcon of "Lofted Nest", on news that a statue of the Bewitched sitcom is going up in Salem, Mass

May I please,please,please count the four Haynes auto repair manuals I own for each of the cars? They're not exactly leisure reading but I do read them, and in precisely the way they were designed to be read. I caught a friend reading The DaVinci Code the other day (he's a mechanic, incidentally) and I'm sure he would be allowed to count it among the books he owns. But a Haynes auto repair manual is a far more worthy work for a number of reasons: first, it actually imparts accurate and useful knowledge; second, it does not consciously mislead you (tell lies); third, it does not presume to know what it cannot know but deals only with the facts at hand; fourth, it has no designs on destroying that which you hold most dear (your religion) but would in fact help you preserve that which you hold most dear (your car); fifth, the prose is better; sixth, there will be no sequel. - Bill of Apologia, on "How Many Books Do You Own" meme

Over the past 24 hours, my total ‘hits per day’ count has inexplicably risen by one. - Thomas of ER, in a post tited "For That Special Someone.."

Our parents weren't 'the greatest generation' -- we're the worst. That 'greatest generation' stuff is sheer Yuppie self-serving: we call our parents 'great' to imply that we're normal, when in fact they were normal and we're a bunch of self-absorbed cowardly gits." - Cacciaguida. (Git?)

[The book of] Job is a comedy – the status quo is not restored, but he’s given a hundred-fold of what he started with. Think of the great story of the Bible as a whole, how it starts in a Garden, but finishes in a grand City with a Garden in the middle, the Tree of Life prominently given for all to enjoy. - Thomas of ER

The humidity is so high that breathing is considered aerobic exercise.- m'Lynn of "Scattershot Direct" on summer Texas weather
~ June 22 ~

Today the Church celebrates my patron saint's birthday into Heaven!

I feel a deep affinity for St. Thomas More. He didn't volunteer to become a martyr, doing everything he could think of to avoid it but not flinching when it was required. He was also a man with a strong libido. And I deeply appreciate that I get to share his name and my earthly birthday with his heavenly one.

He was the person of the greatest virtue these islands ever produced
-- Samuel Johnson (quote via Sancta Sanctis)

St. Thomas, pray for us!

June 21, 2005

Depends on the Definition of Sanity

Was reading a biography of convert/priest Isaac Hecker over the weekend and it says that when he was still and praying he longed for activity and mission, but when he was working he longed to be still and prayerful. Alas, the human condition in a nutshell.

There was also a blurb about how he had a "breakdown", then "common among 19th century idealists". Lots of madness in the Romantic era. I guess in some ways we're more sane but also more at the risk of living in Brave New World-ish comas.
Write, Son. Write like the Wind!

There was a Writer's Club meeting during lunch today but I blew it off. Sponsored by work, no less. I'm not much of a joiner and writing is such a solitary activity anyway that all I could picture was a bunch of introverts sitting around the table engaging in pretentious conversation.

But fortunately one of my work colleagues attended. He reports, you decide if it was worth it:
I had thrown on a mud colored corduroy jacket with leather patches on the elbows that I had bought off a bum for a fiver. I mussed my hair a little, pasted on my best cynical sneer, and slouched sullenly into the room. After quickly scanning for a good looking young thing to set next to I eased into a seat between an earnest looking Arab man and a thin oriental girl...Most of the workshop revolved around generating good ideas. Something I haven't done since I wrote that pioneer day parade piece for the Mt. Vernon Times last summer. I came out of there with a couple of handouts and free copy of Writers Digest. Not a bad haul considering my low expectations.
Not to be outdone, another frustrated writer/co-worker weighs in, not letting not having gone weigh him down:
I forgot all about the writers club. I pictured a room of heavyset Jean Teasdales wearing muumuus and clutching dog-eared manuscripts, waxing rhapsodic about how the last rejection letter was personally addressed (unlike all those ones addressed to Dear Submitter), who entertain fantasies of meeting Fabio when he poses for the cover of their blockbuster bodice-ripper that turns the genre upside down; mingling with mouth-breathing slumpshouldered pastyfaced thirtysomethings with the bad posture, curved back and narrow shoulders of lifelong D&D junkies who have expanded on the fictional "I never thought I would be writing to Penthouse Forum, but the most unbelievable thing just..." letter they submitted in college; interspersed with earnest young emo males sporting Cleopatrick eye makeup, angular bangs with carefully and conscientiously tousled back and sides, whose two-dimensional characters serve as editorial backdrops demonstrating that they have not outgrown the obligatory college-age phase of Ayn Rand worship. I pictured all that, and couldn't decide which one I wanted to go as. I'll stick with launching sarcastic broadsides from my pathetic cubicle.
Now that boy can write.
Will Blog For Beer or Links

Okay Erik. Have I not done sufficient penance for quoting the Indigo Girls yet?
Sign of the Apocalypse, #37,102

As they say, you can't make that stuff up.
New Perspectives on Paul

Interesting link from Amy about how many scholars have been reconsidering Paul. Bill Cork comments:
Paul needs to be understood in context. He only discusses justification in two letters, Romans and Galatians, both of which have the context of how can Jews and Gentiles both be members of the new covenant in Jesus Christ. Paul's response is that we are members of this covenant (justified) not through the Law (the Torah, the Mosaic Covenant) but through Faith.

Paul is thus not interested in the question of Luther, how can I, wracked with guilt and a troubled conscience, find peace with God.

I'd say this insight is taken for granted today by most Biblical scholars, Catholic and Protestant; and as such, it provides an opportunity for ecumenical advance because it gets us out of the passions and blinders of 16th century polemics to ask what Paul meant to his first hearers.
It seems like the whole "Salvation Formula" (to borrow from the Zipster) is something that really took a life of its own around the time of the Reformation. Our mutual contagiousness is so striking when you see how most everyone of that era and beyond was afflicted to a greater or lesser degree; saints like St. Alphonsus de Ligouri and St. Philip Neri were at points in time afflicted with terrible scrupolosity and dark doubts about their salvation. My impression is that Eastern Christianity was somewhat protected from this disease given their distance and almost hermetically sealed environment. Perhaps I'm wrong, but they seem to have mostly avoided the whole pox of seeing our relationship with God as contractual rather than familial. Of course when individualism became big in Western society it's not surprising that salvation came to be seen solely in individualistic terms.
Isak Dinesen quote II

She writes of experiencing an earthquake for the first time, and after her intial fear and terror by the third aftershock she writes of the joy of hope:
The feeling of colossal pleasure lies chiefly in the consciousness that something which you have reckoned to be immovable, has got it in it to move on its own. That is probably one of the strongest sensations of joy and hope in the world. The dull globe, the dead mass, the Earth itself, rose and stretched under me. It sent me out a message, the slightest touch, but of unbounded significance. It laughed so that the Native huts fell down and cried: Eppur si muove.
He Knew Too Little But Trusted Much

One of the reasons I love the Bill Murray movie (I’ll resist saying ‘vehicle’) The Man Who Knew Too Little is that everything Murray's character does is inadvertent. He is completely clueless and unaware of the danger he is in but somehow he manages to escape disaster, unlike his prideful know-it-all brother.

How like our story! We are clueless of most of the dangers we face. If we had any idea of our true fragility we wouldn’t get up in the morning (which reminds me of what Peter Kreeft wrote in his book about angels: if we had any concept of the power of prayer and how its effects resonate through the centuries we’d be paralyzed to the point of never rising from our knees).

Yet we somehow barely escape disasters because God protects even the ignorant. Bill Murray's character is a trusting child (in the good sense, i.e. child-like) and that is what Our Lord said we must be in order to see Heaven.

June 20, 2005

Returning to Africa

I've been enjoying Isak Dinesen's Out of Africa for the past five years or so, averaging maybe fifty pages per annum. It's one of those books that lends itself to episodic visits since it is chockful of anecdotes and small stories. Lately the book concerns itself with the differences between the native Africans and Europeans. Written in 1937, she sees moderns growing continually less civilized and the natives more so, and predicts we'll eventually trade places.
The people who expect the Natives to jump joyfully from the stone age to the age of motor cars, forget the toil and labour which our own fathers have had, to bring us all through history to where we are...We of the present day, who love our machines, cannot quite imagine how people in the old days could live without them. But we could not make the Athanasian Creed, or the technique of the Mass, or of a five-act tragedy, and perhaps not even a sonnet. And if we had not found them there ready for our use, we should have had to do without them. Still we must imagine, since they have been made at all, that there was a time when the hearts of humanity cried out for these things, and when a deeply felt want was relieved when they were made.
Dinesen goes on to suggest that the doctrine of Transubstantiation was greeted with the same delight by natives that moderns greet technological innovations. She chided the skeptical Europeans who blamed ulterior motives.
Father Bernard came over on his motor bicycle one day, his bearded face all beaming with bliss and triumph...[for] nine young Kikuyu, from the Church of Scotland Mission, had come and asked to be received in the Roman Catholic Church, because they had, upon meditation and discussions, come to hold with the doctrine of the Transubstantiation, of that Church.
On where Europe and the natives will be a few generations hence:
Where shall they find us then? Shall we in the meantime have caught them by the tail and be hanging on to it, in our pursuit of some shade, some darkness, practising upon a tomtom? Will they be able to have our motor cars at cost price then, as they can now have the doctrine of the Transubstantiation?
Prescient, she.
Piratical Nonsense

"Walk the plank ye bla'guard!" said the swarthy pirate, swarthy in the way most pirates at the Island of the Chronologically Incorrect are.

"Hold your hooks!" said a lawyer for the accused. (The accused had killed twenty-three men and raped six women but was on trial for allegedly saying to the captain, 'a bit greedy ain't ye?'.) "The plank must be at least thirty inches long in order to insure that the accused won't hit the ship's hull on the way down."

"Ayyyye!" said the pirate-in-charge. "Lawyers will be the death o' me!"

Spare wooden treasure chests were quickly dismantled and within the hour the plank was lengthened to the requisite length. Several pirates then tapped their glassware with their forks in order to re-quiet the crowd.

"Pirates & gabberdeans, ne'erdowells and misunderstood misanthropes, I am here to pronounce the words that will result in the death of the man who insulted our esteemed captain, Bob Keeshan. So again I say, ye bla'guard, WALK THE PLANK!!"

"No --wait!" said the lawyer. "Regulations for plank walking require a plank surface that is completely free of nails, splinters and other imperfections pursuant to the safe passage of the party of the first part."

The pirates gathered around the plank and saw, to their dismay, many nails and splinters and imperfections that would prevent the defendant from traveling the length of the plank with anything approaching peace of mind.

"OWWWYYYYYYIIII!" screamed the pirate-in-charge in a vowell-crushing spectacle that would've broken the spirit of Professor Higgins. "Aww heck, let's just go find a ship to sack! Got a problem with that mister attorney?"

"No, as you well know ship-plundering and the taking of innocent lives are protected under the law."
Full moon crosses the night sky
a pale orb full of jobs
with tides to affect and places to be
ever toting its borrowed light.
Dog & Pony Shows

Whenever we come home we always find our dog waiting for us and always with at least one of his toys in his mouth. We judge his enthusiasm for our return by how many stuffed animals he has. We occasionally get "two shows" and on exceptionally rare occasions "three shows". We've also taught our 118-lb animal to do a few basic tricks such as shaking hands and giving us a high-five.

There's nothing more exciting than pleasing God and that excitement is most palpable when it happens in matters where heretofore He hasn’t seen much obedience. But the trick is to never tire of showing God the same "toy", or showing him the same ol’ "trick". Our dog never tires of shaking hands. And that we’ve learned to obey in one matter doesn’t mean that obedience there can then be discarded after doing it once or thrice or a million times.

June 19, 2005

Get 'er Done

Government funded studies show that blogs with catch phrases receive fifty percent more hits. Studies also show that when every living American has said "Get 'er done" twice, then that phrase will fade from the nation's parlance.

So I'm just doin' my part to get 'er done!
Sowell's Latest

Been reading Thomas Sowell’s Black Rednecks with the proverbial mixed emotions. My sepia-tinged sainted Irish forbears, or at least the Scot-Irish (which is presumably close enough for guvmint work), don't come off too good. Lazy, ill-educated, mean-spirited, and prideful. Not exactly paragons of virtue. His thesis is that the reason blacks have had trouble assimilating is because they were influenced by southern whites who were influenced in turn by their Ulster & Scottish forbears. Which is to say, very sensitive to insult, very concerned about their reputation and thinking little of education.

The persistence of culture is something often underrated; David Hackett Fischer's "Albion's Seed" was a real eye-opener for me. New England was founded by East Anglians while the South was founded by the Scots, the Welsh, the Scot-Irish, and they were as different as night is to day, perhaps because the former didn’t have to fight the British for eight centuries, which might make you much more of a fighting, take-no-crap fatalistic culture. Sowell, who is black, points out the similarities between Southerns of the 19th century for whom honor meant everything and urban blacks who now will also kill over an insult. So I guess Clinton was closer to being the first black president than we thought.

June 18, 2005

"Same As It Ever Was"
    - from "Once in a Lifetime" by the Talking Heads

I was a groomsman at my brother-in-law's wedding yesterday and it was quite an event (as one could expect from a groom with such a theatrical bent). The ceremony was emotionally uplifting, as weddings usually are, and they'd done some spade work for the reception. The wedding party was introduced not just with names but with mild "roasts", toddling out individually to a hand-picked song. The song they chose for me was the Beatles "Paperback Writer". (Ironically, later I would meet a real writer, whose girlfriend was a bridesmaid.)

But the intended reason for this entry is what happened before the wedding. It was 3:55, just thirty-five minutes before the wedding began, and I was wandering around this Lutheran church when I came across the empty pastor's office. And there were books inside. Lots of them. And it drew me like a flame and so I was in there all of twenty seconds before the pastor came in, looking surprised to see me.

I immediately explained that I love books, especially theology books, hoping that was adequate justification to a fellow bibliophile for such a brazen trespass. And I explained how I'd overheard him talking to my daughter-in-law at the rehearsal dinner about a book he strongly recommended.

He was the type who really likes to talk, so we talked about his current read that explains why Pilate was so quick to execute an innocent man despite the reputation Roman law had for being thorough and fair. And then we talked about why the Jewish high priests and scribes didn't see Jesus as the Messiah. And then out o' the blue - an apparent nonsequitor to my ear - I hear something about Jesus having brothers. I didn't respond (he didn't know I was Catholic) but then he mentioned it a second time and I said, "well, the word could also mean cousins".

I think y'all can predict the rest.

It was all very friendly, which was cool. It helped that I felt like I had the weak side of the argument and so wasn't the least bit annoyed at him. It's when I feel I have the strong side of an argument that I get annoyed. Still have to work on that. (Fortunately he wasn't too much annoyed at me.)

I brought up Jesus giving Mary to John and not his brothers and he says that Jesus couldn't trust his brothers since they thought He was insane. I said that might be true but did that mean they wouldn't care for their mother? And he said I was extrapolating my own beliefs on the text and it was all very friendly. He said why on earth would Mary & Joseph not had other children and I said that vows between married people not to have sex were not unheard of at that time, when there was great expectation of a messiah. Plus John the Baptist was an Essene and they were into virginity.

Basically it's not an argument much worth having, which he tacitly admitted when he said that he thinks Roman Catholics and the Orthodox are surely wrong for believing in the perpetual virginity of Mary but that if he gets to Heaven and finds out he's wrong he won't mind being wrong one bit and that he expects I wouldn't either.

There's something humorous about having an argument that might've happened at least three hundred years ago. (I would say 500 years ago but I think Martin Luther was pretty orthodox concerning Marian beliefs.) It had a theatre-of-the-absurd aspect to it as if this pastor and I were acting in parts of a play that have been continually re-acted with almost the same words for hundreds of years. Same as it ever was. The thing I regret is not having read Tom of Disputations's recent post& once gigantic thread on the topic...

June 17, 2005

Non-Sequitor Communication

Chris Matthews was positively giddy on IMUS tdoay. "See I told you", he said, "the Schiavo autopsy proved it was all a huge publicity stunt on the part of Republicans".

Say what Willis?

Who in the world didn't think Terri was brain-damaged? I thought the issue hinged on whether a life is worthless if it's not productive, and whether we have the authority to take another's life. Not whether it was reversible. From Not Dead Yet after the autopsy:
The autopsy also documented significant brain atrophy, and the medical panel called the damage "irreversible."

This is not the same as saying she had no cognitive ability.

"It's always seemed to us that PVS isn't really a diagnosis; it's a value judgment masquerading as a diagnosis," said Stephen Drake, research analyst for Not Dead Yet, a national disability rights group that filed three amicus briefs in the case. "When it comes to the hard science, no qualified pathologist went on the record saying she couldn't think or couldn't experience her own death through dehydration."...

"The core issues remain the same. Protection of the life and dignity of people under guardianship, and a high standard of proof in removing food and water from a person who can not express their own wishes."
Protests Form Outside Steven Riddle's Blog

Let Us Now Praise Famous Ethnic Groups

At the risk of sounding like Miss Mortimer...

Went to the rehearsal dinner for my brother-in-law's impending wedding. He's marrying into an old-fashioned Irish Catlick family from Illinois, all U of I grads and according to my brother in law, 'all witty and charming --if you think our family is funny you should hear them around the dinner table' he said. Telling stories and being charming are two Irish characteristics that have evaded me, though I suppose I can drink like an Irishman. The family has those large Tip O'Neillian noses and I feel a bit of nose envy since my nose is much more pedestrian. The patriarch told a joke at the dinner and we laughed uproariously, though I wondered if we did more for the excellent quality of the joke-telling than the quality of the joke.

The Lutheran minister who will be officiating was earnest and animated, somehow managing to be both intense and laid back. Eventually I realize who he reminds me of-- the wonderful German family I grew up next to in Cincy. I suspect he comes by his Lutheranism honestly. So while enganging in stereotypes, I may as well extend it to religious denominations. I think of Luther & Lutherans with great sympathy; while Calvin was a healthy individual hobnobbing atop his anti-clerical hobbyhorse and King Henry was interested in gaining progeny, Luther was looking for relief from scrupulosity. He wielded a wrecking ball too but seems less culpable, as if backed into a corner until forced to say "here I stand, I can do no other." If he denied free will, he wasn't too far from Augustine, who had to do so to combat the Pelegian heresy.

June 16, 2005

Free Steven Riddle!

I was tempted to put this blog on hiatus until Mr. Riddle*, who has been crushed by work, begins blogging again. But then I concluded that if I did so the terrorists will have won. Or something like that.

Most of 2001 was a nightmare, work-wise, for me. That was when we tried to do the impossible and largely succeeded due to the preternatural drive, intelligence and skinflintedness of Ham o' Bone. (We are exempts but were paid for overtime for that seemingly crucial project. While this proposition was not attractive to either myself or the other team member (valuing time more than money), it drew Ham like odd people are drawn to Michael Jackson.) I recall that project with horror, a time when even my dreams were filled with work thoughts and approaching deadlines. So Steven has my sympathy and prayers.

* * *

During the work week my thoughts typically go unfertilized by deep reading or Guinness and so they begin to fray and shallow. You say: "well, why blog if you don't have anything to say?" and I say "see my blog title". :-) So in lieu of profundity I'll pass along a link a friend passed along which told me I have a "birth tree":
Your birth tree is

Fig Tree, the Sensibility
Very strong, a bit self-willed, independent, does not allow contradiction or arguments, loves life, its family, children and animals, a bit of a butterfly, good sense of humour, likes idleness and laziness, of practical talent and intelligence.
Looking at this a bit more closely....

"Very strong, a bit self-willed, independent..."
Aren't all Americans a bit self-willed and independent? It's part of our cultural legacy. (See Emerson.)

"Does not allow contradiction or arguments"
I would argue with this. Am I not contradicting this birth tree nonsense?

"Loves life, its family, children and animals"
Well only Andy Rooney & Bill Mahrer don't love family, children and animals. So there's a real limb.

"A bit of a butterfly, good sense of humor"
I'm half German, and Germans aren't known for their "butterflyness" or their sense of humor, so if true I credit my Oirish side. Anyway everybody thinks they have a good sense of humor.

"Likes idleness and laziness"
Surely this applies to at least 90% of people who would actually take the time to read about their "birth tree" for heaven's sake.

"Of practical talent and intelligence"
I'm practically flattered.

* - and Bill Luse as well.

June 15, 2005

Didn't Take...

..any pictures at the beach this time, but here are a couple found via the miracle of the internet:

One investing "no-brainer" is beach front property since, as the cliche goes, they're not making any more. Of course buying property would be way too expensive but since there are real estate investment mutual funds, why not coastal property mutual funds? If it were properly diversified (in order to avoid hurricane & storm problems) it'd surely have almost no risk while promising fantastic longterm returns.

UPDATE: I may be a little late to the party. But I like how back in March that analyst singled out Archstone Com Trust as a bad buy. It's since appreciated 10%. Weathermen are right more often than stock analysts.
    Spanning the Globe To Bring You The Constant Variety Of Posts

Like many of you, I affect a high-minded disdain for such things, but for all that I could not turn away from the spectacle. And, to be honest, I’m glad I didn’t. First, there was the young lady in a halter top with a sign reading 'Poland Loves Michael’ – that was almost worth the whole thing right there. Then, I got to see a mindlessly jubilant middle-aged blonde woman awkwardly release a white dove into the air. Sublime lunacy – in the end, that’s what Jacko’s all about.

- Thomas of 'Endlessly Rocking'

None. Why? Because "blog" covers a number of different formats. To criticize blogs for being free from traditional journalistic standards, for example, doesn't wash because most blogs aren't attempts to do journalism – they're opinion.

- Amy Welborn, on Ignatius Insight, answering the question "what are the problems with blogs?"

God bless anybody who happens to wander in! BTW, I'm doing OK in my wild-n-wacky little ecumenical world. Thank God for Francis de Sales and his uber-useful Introduction to the Devout Life. He's helped me weather attitudinal storms and harsh judgments, plus given sensible guidelines for avoiding scrupulosity and unnecessary guilt.

- Kathy the Carmelite, posting after a loooonnnng absence

I find it extremely annoying that (a) I loathe astrology and (b) I fit the Taurus personality almost exactly.)

- Bob of "Trousered Ape"

A Google search for "baby laughing in his sleep" yielded no results. I thought there should be at least one.

- explanation of blog title "Baby laughing in his sleep" at notgoodwithnames.typepad.com

In the ongoing dispute over whether burying a statue of St. Joseph is categorically superstitious, a few people have suggested rules for how to tell the difference between a superstitious act and a non-superstitious one. I don't know that I have a general rule that applies in all cases, but I do have an idea for a heuristic in the present controversy: if the person performing the act views it as a devotional act pleasing to the saint, intended as a concrete act of devotion in conjunction with asking for the saint's intercession, it is not superstitious. If the person performing the act views it as something that compels the saint to grant a wish like a genie summoned from a bottle, it is superstitious.

- Zippy of Zippy Catholic

On the flight to Atlanta, the safety briefing says federal regulations prohibit "conjugating" in the aisles.

- Terrence Berres of "The Provinical Emails"

What on earth is left for the groom to do?

- St. Augustine in "The City of God", mocking the pagan Roman marriage ceremony, which invoked one god for this and one god for that including the "god of erection" and "god of penetration"

The saints are like the stars. In his providence Christ conceals them in a hidden place that they may not shine before others when they might wish to do so. Yet they are always ready to exchange the quiet of contemplation for the works of mercy as soon as they perceive in their heart the invitation of Christ.

-- St. Anthony de Padua

For as Christ's sufferings overflow through us, so through Christ does overflow encouragment.

- St. Paul, 2 Cor 1:7

A life that is full of such extremes is emblematised perfectly in the popular image of him holding the Child Jesus. In St. Anthony, great learning met meekness, nobility met poverty, orthodoxy met charity, and miracles met faith: in the miraculous apparition of the Child Jesus, Heaven met earth. Of course, as any Catholic can tell you, Heaven meets earth everyday, in every Mass and every Communion; but not everyone receives such a confirmation of their faith in Christ. Sancti Antonii, ora pro nobis.

- Enbrethiel of Sancta Sanctis
All Time Favorite Baseball Cards (all cards are TOPPS unless otherwise designated)

 1) 1961 Mickey Mantle
 2) 1972 Pete Rose
 3) 1971 Roberto Clemente
 4) 1971 Johnny Bench
 5) 1972 Willie Stargel
 6) 1961 Whitey Ford
 7) 1972 Frank Robinson
 8) 1954 Ted Williams (Bowman)
 9) 1971 Hank Aaron
10) 1971 Nolan Ryan
Without a blue dress...

What's fascinating is where to draw that reasonable doubt line. With the Jackson case - after watching more television drivel tonight - I guess I have to agree that it's a close call. But let's look at what is uncontested:

1) boy slept with Jackson in Jackson's bed
2) the fingerprints of both Jackson and the victim are on a homosexual porn magazine in Jackson's bedroom

With number 2, you can no longer assume that Jackson is an ingenue. It shows he's not asexual nor a misunderstood Peter Pan. He has the adult drives. And he has accusers. Is Michael Jackson like Ghandi, who slept with naked women in order to train himself in greater self-control? Now that's doubtful.

June 14, 2005

A June Kind of Day

How sweet to come home on an ordinary Tuesday night, still whipped from yesterday's 3.5 mile run and from vacation’s excesses, and to linger in the lingering sun, an equinoxical treat where even the seven o'clock sun is for real, here to lay and let the body cells remember Hilton Head Island almost as if I were there again.

I soak in the preternatural beauty of the maples. They stand on pedestals as the age, their roots so voluminous that they inadvertently create a platform. How cool is that? "Only God could make a tree" and truer words were never spoke. It’s hard to think of anything natural more strikingly beautiful. The interplay of striving branch and green accompaniment is like a symphony. It reminds me of the old oaks and beech at Miami University, where the trees shade scholars as they move inexorably to graduation.

Saw yesterday the first lightning bug, the nightly lanterns that signal the true beginning of summer. They alight as they will, or light as the Spirit wills, and it's poignant to see them again as if they were old friends revisiting from long ago. I marvel at how orderly their arrival; every year within a few days, always this, a week or two into sweet June.
But What Would John McCain Do Without His Mission?

...might I humbly suggest saving unborn children? From NY Times, Q & A from Stephen Dubner and Steven D. Levitt, authors of "Freakonomics":
Q. 10. Based on your observations of human nature and the actions and reactions in which we engage, do you believe that there is a way to end the pernicious influence of "Big Money" in our political campaigns — or is this a feature of democracy that will always be with us?
— Alexander Clemens, San Francisco

A. To be honest, we do not think Big Money is as pernicious as others do. In "Freakonomics," we show how campaign spending does not affect elections nearly as much as most people think. And there is not that much evidence that politicians vote differently as a result of donations (many donations go to politicians who are already sympathetic to Big Money's causes). Our hunch is that Big Money already knows that money doesn't matter that much in politics. Why do we say that? Because there are relatively low limits on how much Political Action Committees can contribute to campaigns, yet hardly any PAC's max out on these limits. Relative to the government budget, campaign spending is tiny. We believe that Big Money has figured out they don't get a very good return on contributions, so they don't give that much.
Random Thoughts

Discouragement is part of that wide road that Jesus mentions in the gospel. There’s nothing easier than discouragement given the daily news and our personal experience. But "discouragement is not from God" said St. Ignatius of Loyola. And if we see the seemingly routine nature in which God lovingly forgives we will want to do no less. The wonder of the sacrament is its generosity and ubiquity, like the farmer sowing costly seed everywhere, not just on soil that looks to be a "good risk" but everywhere, willy-nilly, on paths here and there and everywhere...
Ham's Grand Adventure

For those following the saga of Ham of Bone (i.e. KTC & Bill Luse), he's pursuing his dream!

A local director and producer of commercials read his screenplay and liked it and they are going to produce a couple seven-minute segments of the Cheapskate to pitch to Rich GuysTM in a bid to have the whole thing financed.

Ham has landed professional actors, thus saving the film from utter ruin by having myself and him in lead roles.

June 13, 2005

MJ & "The Situation"
     ...or breaking my pledge that this blog be Michael Jackson-free

Well, to paraphrase Baretta, don't do the crime if you aren't a celebrity. But is it the great lawyer you can hire or is it your fame? Scott Peterson got a great lawyer but wasn't famous and was convicted. With Martha Stewart it went the other way, although I think that just proves that juries will punish hubris. Celebrity trumps non-celebrity but snobbishness trumps all. And Michael Jackson, O.J. and Blake came off as sufficiently humble during their trials. It helps if you can act; both Simpson & Blake know how to woo an audience.

I'm wondering if part of the reason for the acquitals is disbelief that someone we "invite into our homes" could do such heinous things. Connecting this to the abuse scandal, I remember hearing that some parishes were actually upset that their abusing priest was not allowed to continue in his ministry. A priest can be a sort of quasi-celebrity figure in a congregation and perhaps either there was disbelief that he was an abuser or a desire to instantly forget what he did even to the ludicrous point of putting young children in harm's way. It's all quite a head-shaker. With the Jackson case, you had two brothers testifying (whom the jury presumably believed were lying), and you had the unchallenged evidence of Jackson & the boy's prints on the same porn mag. 'Twould seem an uphill battle for the defense, at least if your name was Roger Smith.

But my hunch is that most of these celeb trials are won or lost in jury selection and experts handpick the jury they want. They know body language and can read us like a book. When you combine that with the fact that we are like sheep, easily led by an charismatic lawyer, than you see how the cards favor the defendant in celebrity trials.
News You Can't Use has been updated...
The Year of the Eucharist

“The Word Among Us” this month has a good reflection concerning the Eucharist:
When Jesus said, “this is my blood that has been poured out for the forgiveness of sins,” it is certain that this blood offering contained an element of protection. Back in Egypt, when God had Moses prepare for the angel of death, he told him to have the people take some of the blood from their Passover sacrifice and put it “on the two doorposts and the lintel” of their homes. “When I see the blood,” God promised, “I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you” (Exodus 12:7,13)...These essays would be incomplete unless we ask the question, “Given all that the Eucharist does for us, and all that is ours in the new covenant, why is the church in the state it is in?” Why is there so much division? Why is there so much selfishness and disobedience? Why is there so much complacency?

While the answers to these questions are long and complex, one thing is clear: Unity in the church is integrally linked with an ever deepening appreciation of the Eucharist...Communion heightens communion.
The Old Law & the New

It must be evidence of some personal flaw that I like Andrew Greeley's non-fiction so much. Even when he aggravates & grates (Exhibit A: in his 1970 The Jesus Myth he eschews distinctions between mortal and venial sins while in his '99 book Futhermore! he says that voting for Bush might be a mortal sin. So it would seem the categories are still useful when it comes to politics if not fornication.) But the guy can write and The Jesus Myth is strewn with interesting observations that will annoy just about everybody (which makes them seem more truthful). An example:
...Joachim Jermias notes that there have been two misunderstandings of the ethics enunciated in the [Sermon on the Mount]. I will call one misunderstanding "Catholic" and the other "Protestant". The Catholic misunderstanding is to see the ethical ideal laid down by the Sermon as a counsel of moral perfection rather than a strict moral imperative. Those who wish to or are able to are strongly encouraged to live by the Sermon on the Mount, but it is not expected of all men.

According to the Protestant aberration, the Sermon is indeed a description of a strict moral imperitative, but one which man cannot possibly respond to. Therefore, when faced with both the imperative and his own weakness, man has no choice but to throw himself to the mercy of God and plead for forgiveness for his inadequacy.

Both interpretations assume that Jesus is in fact laying down an ethical code, more noble indeed than that of the Pharisees, but fundamentally a code demanding maximum effort to see that each of the regulations is honored. But, as Jeremias observes, if we look at the life described in the Sermon on the Mount in its proper context, it does not represent an ethical code at all. It is a description of eschatological reality. The "hunger" and "thirst" are not physical; they are a yearning for God's kingdom. The "mourning" is not for earthly suffering but for the fact that the kingdom has not yet been fulfilled completely. So the Sermon on the Mount is a description of how those who positively respond to the invitation of the kingdom will be able to live...The Sermon on the Mount does not present a moral or ethical code that must be adopted...it is rather the way those who have decisively chosen for the kingdom will in fact behave.
The more reliable Cardinal Ratzinger, in his excellent Many Religions - One Covenant: Israel, the Church and the World, says that "Where the conflict between Jesus and the Judaism of his time is presented in a superficial, polemical way, a concept of liberation is derived that can understand the Torah only as a slavery to external rites and observances." He goes on to quote the catechism, which defends the Pharisees:
This principle of integral observance of the Law not only in letter but in spirit was dear to the Pharisees. By giving Israel this principle they had led many Jews of Jesus' time to an extreme religious zeal. This zeal, were it not to lapse into "hypocritical" casuistry, could only prepare the People for the unprecedented intervention of God through the perfect fulfillment of the Law by the only Righteous One in place of all sinners.
And later:
The Lord's Sermon on the Mount, far from abolishing or devaluing the moral prescriptions of the Old Law, releases their hidden potential and has new demands arise from them: it reveals their entire divine and human truth. It does not add new external precepts, but proceeds to reform the heart, the root of human acts, where man chooses between the pure and the impure, where faith, hope, and charity are formed and with them the other virtues. The Gospel thus brings the Law to its fullness through imitation of the perfection of the heavenly Father, through forgiveness of enemies and prayer for persecutors, in emulation of the divine generosity.

June 12, 2005


The great convert & writer R.H. Benson wrote something that makes sense given that the problem of depression seems more prevalent these days (although I'm thinking a lot of that is environmental factors - an agricultural society is somewhat protective; melancholy has always a problem for sedentary scholar types). Anyway, Benson wrote something that might be applicable to some:
"I would say that 'subjective prayer' and self-reproach, and dwelling on one's temporal and spiritual difficulties, is not good at times [of depression]; but that objective prayer, e.g. intercessions, adoration, and thanksgiving for the Mysteries of Grace, is the right treatment for one's soul."

June 11, 2005


Naomi Riley in “God on the Quad” says that what divides Catholics is not the liturgy or view of matters sexual but their take on ecumenism. An example is whether to avoid prostelyzing Jews –liberals are comfortable with that while conservatives would ask why prohibit Jews from the truth? I wonder if the true divide – caution you are entering a Bias Zone – is more that conservatives see the church as their parent (i.e. Mother Kirche). Conservatives accept Church rules just as we accepted our mother's rules because we believed her when she said it was for our own good. We brushed our teeth as children trusting that the temporary boredom of the action promised some future unseen good. But I have trouble remembering the last time a progressive wanted the Church to do something that was for some spiritual good that wasn't attached to some obvious temporal benefit. Not that I've given much thought. Remember, you entered a Bias Zone.

“God in the Quad” is a very interesting read. She mentions how not all students at Thomas Aquinas College are Catholics but that “many will (convert) after they read Augustine’s “City of God” their sophomore year.” Alas, another classic book I haven’t read. (Jeff Culbreath wants to read it too. I will if you do? Can I get a witness?) She says the great debate at Thomas Aquinas College is Plato vs. Aristotle. Since Augustine used Plato and Aquinas used Aristotle, is this the source of the of the Augustine/Thomist divide (happily, an unthreatening divide) in the Church? Knowing little of Augustine and Thomas and less of Plato and Aristotle, I’m wondering how the Augustinianian/Thomist debate manifests itself “one layer up”, i.e. when you get to my undereducated level.
Hilton Head Trip Log

I was on an hour hike, a break on the way to Hilton Head S.C., in the North Carolina mountains when I realized it had been too long. There was the ache of my forgetfulness of the Great Smokies, the trails flooded with rhododendron and glistening with washed moss, the ferns, the conifers, the mountain streams with hue’d rocks. It triggered a contemplative episode years ago when on a five hour hike I’d sat on a rock in a creek stream with the Beatles song running through my mind:

Sit beside a mountain stream
Watch her waters rise!
Listen to the pretty sound of music
as she flies.

The air was drunk on moonshine and superoxygenated by a trillion photosynthesizing leaves. It led to a sense of awe but awww there’s the rub: "sense" of awe. Awe by senses. Awe for things you can’t see is of more value. But nature is in her glory here and the slow arching hawks seem to mock men who would deny the goodness of creation.

Hiking the hills not far from the Virginia border reminds me of the 19th century and of Virgina’s Civil War battlefields. I long to see the battlefields again. I remember how the pastor at my parent's church went to Gettysburg five or six consecutive years, each time spending a week there. People can be interesting. I would’ve thought that might be just a tad of overkill. And one might get the impression this pastor, with such reverence for history and patriotic impulse would be a traditionalist in matters religious. But instead he's happy to plant doubts about where Jesus was born (not big on Bethlehem) and he once called Mother Angelica "an eccentric old nun who’s trying to pretend Vatican II didn't happen." People can be hard to predict.

I came across a restored homestead originally built in the 1850s. The cabin and farm are complete with information posts with pictures of the settlers, the Hutchinson's, and they look so alien in their dress and manner. They squint with those hard 19th century faces, so blank and devoid of expression. On the drive there I passed a Baptist church with a sign that said "This church rated PG: pure gospel". Cute. Corny, down here where they "drink the corn from a jar" (although presumably not the good Baptists). I can’t help thinking how times have changed. These hardscrabble pioneers who drank the doctrine of that hard Calvinistic whiskey are the spiritual fathers of those who put up corny signs.

Driving to Stone Mountain State Park I get a vertiginous view of a green mountain with a house on the top and it looked like Heaven: distant but possible. And within these mountain walls I can see how residents might have a greater sense of place. Their land is marked not by an arbitrary boundary like the farmer's in Iowa, but by the personal green castle walls of their holler. So when the Civil War came, even while not having much slavery to protect, they might've felt the threat of Northern will more keenly? Stone Mountain is aptly named. It’s like one of the stones from a stream got misplaced while at the same time getting magnified a million times. A big billiard ball of gray stone, it was a wonderously large and yet...and yet like a grass blade to an ant, big only to us.

I-95 in South Carolina is the cruelest highway. The scenery is relentless and ever the same, the highway flanked by seemingly identical pines of identical heights. And so it goes for fifty, sixty, ninety miles. It’s like in cartoons or old Westerns where they show the same repeating background. The smaller “blue highways” that William Least Heat Moon wrote of are so much more interesting. In just the few miles we drove to escape a backup on I-95 we saw a house with a six-foot Marine Corp rug hanging upright and on the other side was the same-sized Confederate flag. Just stuck in the middle of their front yard as if it grew there.

“And suddenly you’re in a different place,
Where everything seems to happen in waves”

– Elizabeth Bishop, from poem “Letter to NY”

I’ve discovered it's not easy to be leisurely in advance. Even knowing that loads of time stretch out before me I seem unable to proactively tap into that future lack of hyper. In the pell-mell rush to the beach, I carry gargantuan quantities of stuff and smash my foot with the cooler. As the song goes, "we’ll get there fast and then we’ll take it slow." I recommend getting there slow so that you’ll be ready to take it slow when you get there.

And pick your location carefully. Finding a good spot is akin to curing cancer – possible, but unlikely. I try to avoid those playing music since it’s inevitably bad music. Only in Heaven do you hear the Chieftains. I also try to avoid immodestly dressed women, which is like trying to avoid Italians at an Italian festival. There's more butt exposed here than at a plumber's convention. Observational prowess is no virtue here in the Island of the Nearly Unclothed Female, and I’m hoping that the propulsive nature of words will serve as a subliminative. I do my part for beach beautification and the prevention of salacious thoughts by eschewing Speedos and thongs. I give and I give.

Today we experienced that rarest of birds: the man who can’t stop talking to his wife. He’s in his late 50s and via the miracle of a walkman "I know nothing" (say like Klink.) But my wife unavoidedly hears his opinions on everything from anti-depressants (a waste, no one should take them) to the European Constitution (not really). Bloviators are uncommon on the beach (pot, kettle, I know), but when it turned out that it wasn't his wife he was talking to I felt oddly relieved, for no man talks to his wife that much. Which is fortunate for wives everywhere.

Like Mexican cliff divers
pelicans plummet,
reminding me of Tennyson’s line
“And like a thunderbolt he falls”.


There’s a map of Europe on my chest etched in scarlet from missed splotches of sunscreen. Sicily hurts. It already seems a long time since we arrived and I noted Applebaum’s "Gulag" in the time share; I was surprised someone left such an expensive and unlikely beach read there. I usually end up leaving the beach in far better physical shape than when I arrive. Beach bling (skin is bling to the male eye) makes me restless so instead of reading I run, bike and swim. Every day a triathlon. Philosopher/runner/writer George Sheehan once wrote that racing is the love-making of running, so while out for a jog I spied a bunch of folks lining up for a race and I found that irresistible so I lined up myself, about ten yards away. It’s a sprint to the surf, about a hundred meters, and the six and seven year olds all wear expressions of great seriousness. At the finish line is the day care worker or teacher and we’re off! Those kids really have a good first step and I find myself lagging early. Teach gives me a wide grin as I hit the water.

My two o’clock rule (before which I’ll drink no ale) feels arbitrary and wicked here under the blazing beachball sun. My IQ falls twenty points under this gladsome sun tide; I was reading “God in the Quad”, hardly “War & Peace”, but after going outside it feels near burdensome. I sift “Treasure Island” and “Sanibel Flats” to the top of my book bag.

My wife moves the cooler to use as a foot stool. I’m genuinely impressed. I say, “all the time I’ve been down here and I didn’t think of that!”

“Babe, I’m an expert relaxer,” she coolly replies.

But I should never mistake this for retirement. Three beers and a beach in front of me. Nay, retirement is probably shuffleboard and dyspepsia. I’m reading “Early Bird”, the account of a 28-year old joke-writer for David Letterman who burned out on his job and went to live in a Florida retirement community. The book vaguely depresses me, for reasons I can quite put my finger on. And yet it is extremely absorbing and witty and humorous. But the depiction of the community sounds so frivolous and superficial. Both too much seriousity and too much frivolity wear. Balance, where art thou?

The people who live there are depicted one-dimensionally. They gossip and talk about their health problems. There’s no mention of the spiritual. It reminds me of spring break for college kids – there seemed to be no there there. No family, no cooking (the film Babette’s Feast makes cooking seem sort of holy, but at the very least there is something indicative of “roots”), no religion.

Those who age best, it seems, are those professors who still love learning and still enthuse over Romantic poetry. Or retired symphony conductors who lead a small town band for free. Or St. Vincent de Paul members who give out bread and go to daily Mass. Or priests, whose power to consecrate remains undiminished.

Later, I’m sitting in a chair that the ocean is slowly reclaiming. The guy next to me is fishing and reels something in. It’s a small fish, small enough that I might’ve confused it for bait. He turns towards me and I give him a look of sympathy, as if to say, "aw that’s too bad." But he’s proud, nay, he’s exultant. He’d turned towards me not for sympathy but congratulations.

Buy mass market paperbacks
for the scent alone;
where memories of
Weekly Reader
mix with coffee and scone.

The island soil is black and crumbly, richly allusive of all that went into the making of it. The dank smell of decomposition is present in the moist green interior, all things fermenting, just as thousands of grapes make up a wine. One state to the north, up in the mountains, there are patches of soil the color of lamb’s blood, little splotches of farm-ploughed hillock. The only thing in nature that seems unnaturally straight is the ocean’s unblinking horizon.

I wonder: do artists have a completely different painting experience when painting nudes compared to flowers and landscapes? Is one a different aesthetic experience? Are they like the Scripture scholars who toil over minutiae without fever for the Lover it describes? Do they paint nudes and landscapes for similar or different reasons or does that depend on the painter?

The picture of the island I’d most like to take but have never gotten around tp it would be the newspaper stand where the stairs from the time-shares end and the parking lot begins. There the expectation of pleasure is intense, the unseen ocean just beyond, the sun streaming triumphantly from the gloom of the dark stairs:

son of an Englishmun
blind, gum’
here in the summer sun,
bliss this
plenteous shall miss.

Hie thee blood,
to the wave’s rud!
Rhythm thee,
to the break of the sea!
The sail, lo’
hail, so
hear the whale blow!



Went to Mass and saw Scott Hahn and family. They obviously go down the same week we do every year since this is probably the fourth time I’ve seen him there. I know I wouldn’t want to preach a homily with Scott in the audience if I were the priest! But the padre makes the point in the homily that St. Matthew would probably have not volunteered for martyrdom, as he eventually did, when he was first called by Christ. This was said to illustrate the need for ongoing conversion and how it’s a process, not an event. To “look ahead” and wonder if we are ready for some huge task like being tortured or killed for Christ is probably not a good idea; better to just take whatever challenge comes to us. Dickens, in “Bleak House”, has an ingĂ©nue say, “I thought it best to be as useful as I could, and to render what kind services I could to those immediately about me, and to try to let that circle of duty gradually and naturally expand itself.”

Saw statue of Mary at Holy Family Church with exposed heart, red and large. It’s slightly distracting but then I consider: what more handy symbol of our Mother’s love? Her claim to fame is not the white with which she is robed or her veil, but her maternal heart, her love for God and us.

Grim is the last day
when clouds fall
a scatter of drops
“this is what it sounds
like when doves cry”.

The problem with Hilton Head is it becomes improbably beautiful in inverse proportion to how much time remains. Am I more given to reverie because I’m finally relaxed, or because it’s the last day? Meanwhile, the water appears the color of envy, washed white by foam clouds...