May 31, 2006


...old photos for my in-laws 50th wedding anniversary party & found this one of my wife's First Communion Day:

Gosh, it's almost like art isn't it?
Various & Sundry

Saw Poisedon over Mother's Day weekend. Weak. Fine special effects but did I care about the characters? No, and for that I was grateful because the deaths would've been much harder to take. (No, I won't be seeing United Flight 93. I'm a wuss.)

Spent $9 on that movie. By contrast, spent $0 (well, there is the cost of cable) to watch a mid-'40s film called "Black Narcissus". Not only was it scarier than Poisedon despite less impressive special effects, but it asked much weightier questions than "What do you do if the ship you're on begins sinking?". Perhaps it's comparing apples to oranges, but give me a 1940s movie any day.

Sometimes Sen. McCain sort of reminds me of Rod Dreher: seemingly intoxicated with reform for reform's sake.

I know it's "his turn" in '08 and that the Democratic alternative is scary, but boy it's hard to get enthusiastic about him. You want to thank him for his tremendous service to the country during Vietnam. You want to recognize the gallant forgiveness of the less-than-savory tactics of his opponent in '00. But I don't seem to much share his enthusiasms. Fact is, with the Supreme Court mostly taken care of, I don't much care about '08.

My brother-in-law wants to refute a Pat Buchanan column. To be honest, I don't follow the Palestinian situation as closely as I should and there are Palestinian Christians who are suffering but here he goes:
"a brutal Israeli/U.S.-led cutoff in aid has been imposed
on the Palestinians for voting the wrong way in a free election"

Complete misrepresentation. The aid is cutoff because the currently elected government openly advocates the destruction of a neighboring country. For the aid to start again, all they need to do is modify their thinking to be more in line with reality. We don't provide aid directly to the governments of North Korea or Iran now, do we?

It would be monumentally uninspired to willingly fund an organization whose main thrust is the elimination of another people. The rest of the world is not governed by the US -- why don't they pony up their side of the cash to Hamas? Because they see what everyone sees - funding Hamas in any way will free up resources to wrongfully kill innocent people. That includes Isrealis, Palestinians, and others around the world.

What kind of a message would that send to other terrorist organizations? That you can run a country and still get boatloads of cash from the US and allies in order to fund your terrorist armies?

Why not see the argument another way - the Palestinian people knew the West would demand Hamas give up their terrorist creed -- they want the much more capable Hamas to govern their country and quit trying to destroy Israel. They had no idea Hamas would rather see them in terrible poverty rather than properly run the goverment they were elected to run!

The Palestinian State only works because of the billions in aid rec'd each year. To think, suggest or dream that aid would be given without strings attached, for instance the cessation of violence, is nonsense.

"The aid cut-off appears to be increasing anti-U.S. sentiment here," writes the Post's Scott Wilson, quoting 33-year-old pharmacist Mustafa Hasoona: "The
problem is the West, not us. If they don't respect democracy, they shouldn't call for it. We are with this government we elected. I voted for it."

That's rich - 'increasing anti-US sentiment.' It's already so bad no matter what action we take, what does a few percentage points matter? Who cares anymore. Besides, I don't really care what the Palestinian people think we should do with our money, now do I?

The problem isn't the West. The problem is those with liberal views in the West who think that entitlement is a right provided to all people of the Earth. Hardship? Too bad. It is the Palestinian Leadership and the people themselves who have built a society with the destruction of Israel as their main drive, even if it means their own destruction. Palestinian society has molded several successive generations of lawless haters and killers.

It's well past time the world quit coddling Palestinian society and starting helping them change their mind about their course. If it works fine, if not, well we've saved a couple billion dollars in the process!

Hamas is winning converts for refusing to buckle. Said Khalil Abu Leila, a Hamas leader, "They have misunderstood the Arab mentality. As long as the pressure increases on Hamas, the more popular it will become."

We don't care who they pledge their allegiance to - they could pledge allegiance to Hitler Jr. - as long as Hitler Jr. didn't advocate a lawless killing society.

Then, at the end of the article, he calls the US a terrorist organization:

Terrorism has been described as waging war on innocents to break their political leaders. Is that not a fair description of what we are doing to the Palestinians? No wonder they hate us.

RIDICULOUS! Hamas is anything but innocent in this issue. They are an organization that publicly endorses the killing of Israeli citizens and soldiers, and the destruction of the State of Israel. We don't provide aid directly to the governments of Iran or North Korea for similar reasons.

The fact that they hate us doesn't mean we should cough up cash to buy their favor. They hate us for many reasons, why should hate guide our foreign policy? It's our cash, and there's plenty of places it can go to do good rather than the evil Hamas brings.

Most gullible country in the world? Story here:
"The least credulous country of all those reporting box office revenue was Nigeria (...) Nigerian skepticism should come as no surprise to anyone who has been reading their emails."
UPDATE: Responding to my '08 thoughts, a correspondent mentions Mike Huckabee, someone I may actually be able to get enthusiastic about voting for!

Sic transit Site Meter. - Terrence Berres of "The Provincial Emails"

As with most infants, growth was rapid, indeed prodigious, and resulted in a few growing pains--commonly known as heresies. Through the post-apostolic period, up through the Reformation, we can see the development of faith in the stages of childhood--a rocky toddler, learning to stand and walk, gradually coming into his or her own and exercising a kind of power. But all through this time, a dead-level certainty in the wisdom, power, and deep love of our Father. Never any doubt as to His love for us, but rather some questions about what form that takes and what exactly obedience to that might entail. With the Reformation, we begin the outright rebellion correlative to the teen years. There is a questioning and a refutation of all power figures, because indeed the flaws in the figures are exposed for all to see. Simony, the selling of indulgences, and other figures of a Church gone awry in parts, are all too present blemishes on the facade. So rather than rejecting the blemishes, humankind rejects the entire authority figure, and with it, the idea of God that was implicit in the figure. With the Reformation, doubt about God's abiding love surfaces. First it makes its appearance in the puritan's fear of the world, then with Quietism, Jansenism, and Deism... Present day, it seems we're in the height of the teen rebellion years...There is a saying regarding the fact that at 15 I couldn't believe how stupid my parents were, by the time I was twenty-one it was amazing to me how intelligent they became. So one can hope with respect to the maturation of society. - Steven Riddle, positing that society has "undergone an ontogeny in faith similar to the development of the individual with respect to his or her relationship with a parent"

Almost as if on cue, as Benedict's voyage to Auschwitz drew toward its close early Sunday evening, the wind picked up and a cool rain began to fall. The final ceremony began with the Pope pausing to pray at memorials in the different languages of the 1.5 million killed. But by the time he reached the final plaque, the rain had stopped, the umbrellas were tucked away, and the pack of reporters noticed that across the broad field of half-standing brick barracks of Birkenau, a vivid rainbow had appeared. The editors of TIME, like those who A. M. Rosenthal worked for back in the 1950s, would surely not normally consider this news. But on a day that the German Pope came to Auschwitz to ponder God’s silence, that surprising explosion of colors seemed well worth reporting. - TIME magazine article

Evelyn Waugh died on Easter Sunday 1966. So, this being the Easter season, we can still commemorate the fortieth anniversary of his hoped-for entry into the Church Triumphant. There are a handful of influences that brought me to a deeper appreciation of the faith I was privileged to be born into, but foremost among them is Waugh. His biography of Edmund Campion forced me to examine -- confront is closer to the mark -- my conscience for perhaps the first time in my adult life. What, really, could make a man destined for esteem and comfort in Elizabeth's Settlement choose a path that led to certain death? The answer, I later found, wasn't a "what" but a Who. Peter Kreeft likes to say that God prefers the honest atheist to the indifferent Christian, and I felt that for too long I had been in the latter camp. It was time to either pick up an oar or leave the boat. Waugh's "seditious Jesuit" helped me do that. After Campion, I dove into the Sword of Honour trilogy and Brideshead Revisited. What struck me about Waugh was his realism. The Faith wasn't an abstraction or a mere set of ethical guidelines. He wrote, "Conversion is like stepping across the chimney piece out of a Looking-Glass world, where everything is an absurd caricature, into the real world God made; and then begins the delicious process of exploring it limitlessly." Sword of Honour's Guy Crouchback describes this Catholic optic in an exchange with a befuddled Anglican minister:
"... Do you agree," [Guy] asked earnestly, "that the Supernatural Order is not something added to the Natural Order, like music or painting, to make everday life more tolerable? It is everyday life. The supernatural is real; what we call 'real' is a mere shadow, a passing fancy. Don't you agree, Padre?"

"Up to a point."
The story of the modern age is man's attempt to move the "point," to impose a tight, artificial boundary around the supernatural. Waugh understood this to be a form of insanity, an active negation of reality, and that the consequences would be catastrophic. - Rich Leonardi of "Ten Reasons"

First, I think we all need to be ready spiritually and we have to keep it in our minds that we know not the day nor the hour. I have been thinking a lot about death personally and I want to teach people more about it. - priest/blogger Fr. Todd Reitmeyer in January of this year, who died this past week in a jet ski accident

studying psalm 84, two things strike me in this passage about ezekiel's valley of dry bones, also interpreted as the valley of tears. the first is that we are called to pass through it (verse 5 [pilgrimage] and 6). and the second is that it takes great humilty and trust in God. so far, i've yet to meet anyone who hasn't been called to pass through their own valley of dry bones (it wasn't until i became a catholic that i heard the term referred to as a sort of dark night or night of the soul). call it what you like, i've learned that if i talk about it, even in very vague terms, everyone i know has gone through this valley in one form or another. what's eerie is that the experiences are so very personal for what seems like such a universal experience. but isn't that the beauty of catholicism? we know that even in the midst of excruciatingly lonely experiences, we are never alone. for the first time ever in my own personal spiritual struggle, i have been experiencing the truly dry portion of the experience; and it wasn't until i found out yesterday that the word "baca" [in the psalm] is also interpreted as "tears" that everything started to make sense. of course, this may mean nothing to you since it is so personal, but for me this was a huge epiphany! and, i'm sharing just in case someone else stumbles across this site. just remember, "His anger is but for a moment,His favor is for life; weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning". (psalm 30) - Smockmomma

When a faith-life enters the doldrums, or even when it is humming along on an even if unenthusiastic keel, one thing which can be very helpful in ratcheting it up a notch is gratitude. Too often I am so self-centered that I forget to give thanks for the myriad of small things that make every day so wonderful and beautiful. Caught up in the tide of what needs to be done next and how do we manage this, that, and the other thing, and where is my next hour of entertainment coming from, and such like petty desires and thoughts, I forget the importance of being thankful and thus lose a certain graciousness, a connectedness that might otherwise blossom and grow more perfect...Thankfulness helps reignite a tepid faith life. Gratitude moves us from the central, fibrous core of self into the realm of God who grants all of these good things. Gratitude. Thankfulness. Two indispensable words for one essential reality--recognition that everything I have comes to me as a gift from the fullness of the love of God. Even the words I read and write come to me from Another--One whose love completes me by helping to eradicate me and replace me, still myself, and yet now more Him. - Steven Riddle

How to become grateful? There's no formula, but I know it's more than an assent in a certain cirumstance. It's a way of life, a posture for living. And I know what helps me become open to it. Slow down. Pay attention. Breathe. Listen. Receive. - blogger at "Emergent Self"

I think use of the word 'sanctity' by politicians ought to be outlawed. - Bill Luse

To find yourself praying for the grace to know and love God's law, edicts, commands, precepts, words, utterances, ways, decrees, and teachings is a remarkable experience. It is to recognize, insist upon, and celebrate your creatureliness, your dependency on God. It is to say, "Lord, You have something I need to be happy, and You will give it to me, and I will use it, and I will be happy, and You will be happy with me." Then the repetitions aren't so repetitive. They're variations, riffs on this most basic realization that God is He Who Is and this most astonishing revelation that He loves you who are not. - Tom of Disputations

How old is the Didache? Most scholars place its composition between A.D. 60 and 110. However, one of the top scholars alive, Enrico Mazza, argues very persuasively that the liturgical portions of the document were composed no later than 48 A.D. If he’s correct, that means that our oldest liturgical texts pre-date most of the books of the New Testament. The Didache, which was rediscovered at the end of the 19th century, reads like a time capsule from the apostolic generation...Amid this [first century] confusion came order and orthodoxy in the Didache. It is, perhaps, the earliest ancestor of today’s Catechism of the Catholic Church. - Mike Aquilina, at the "Fathers of the Church" blog

We understand Divine agape as the, if you will, ordinary "descending love" of unearned benevolence God has for His creatures. Divine eros, on the other hand, is, in Scriptural terms, God's jealous desire for us, whole and entire, spirit, soul, and body. So how can these two loves, expressed in terms that suggest they operate in opposite directions, be "totally" the same?...The Holy Spirit is also the "breath" of God. So we can think of breathing out as sending the Holy Spirit forth as agape, and of breathing in as the Holy Spirit returning to the Godhead as eros. Out, in: it's all breathing...What remains to be explained is how an unchanging, perfect, and simple God can love His creatures in this way. The short answer (if you'll pardon the presumption) is that, having received the Son and the Holy Spirit, we share in their lovableness. The Trinity doesn't say from eternity, "We love Each Other... ooh, and hey, We also love these creatures here!" It's all the same love. (It has to be. Otherwise, it's not the same Spirit, and that's a Bad Thing.) - Tom of Disputations
A Humorous Endless Loop

"I need a spiritual director in order to find the right spiritual director."
More Harm than Good?

Interesting post regarding the Christian Appalachian Project and how a culture of dependency has apparently developed. I do wonder though if the "things have to get worse in order to change" really works in these fatalistic situations. Is there a "fatalism unto death" that means things can't get bad enough in order to have the drive for self-sufficiency kick in? In Africa things are often much worse than rural Kentucky but it's as if once the welfare virust has set in there's just nothing one can do. I suppose when things get bad enough those not completely fatalistic move away, which is already probably happening on a minor scale and makes the situation worse for those who remain. Heck, Ohio's already experiencing a "brain drain" in which the best and brightest flock to more economically vital states.

On the other hand I, like Josue of Katolik Shinja, appreciate some lack of ambition although I part company with him on seeing starting a company as a negative thing:
Writing for, resident Fred Reed answers ‘What’s Mexico Really Like, Fred?’ Short answer: "it isn’t nearly as bad as many Americans think."...One part Mr. Reed's article in particular of caught my interest. In response to the question of "why is Mexico a comparatively poor country?" Mr. Reed gives the following as part of his answer: "Lack of ambition…perhaps. Mexicans (yes, I’m generalizing) seem to want enough, and to stop there. The focus is on family, friends, and a quiet life. Thus an intelligent and competent mechanic, say, will make a comfortable living from his garage, but will not try to start a chain of garages. Americans are much more driven, and much more materialistic. These qualities pay off economically." That sounds like me. I've never wanted much more than "family, friends, and a quiet life." The idea of starting a business seems almost offensive to me. During a year in Chile, I found that the word ambicioso has negative connotations in Spanish. Not so in English. I prefer the Spanish meaning.

May 30, 2006

Augustine's Favorites

Scholar James O'Donnell writes in Augustine: A New Biography:
If we look at his history as a reader, the Psalms come first in his affections. Genesis second, Paul's letters third, an the Gospel of John fourth. Nothing else quite competes. The synoptic gospels he knows well, but they don't move or impress him with their theological depth the way John does...Jerome wrote endless commentaries on the prophets, but Augustine never felt the magic (or dared to compete with the old master).

One of the things I find most interesting in Chesterton's work is when he bloggishly talks about fellow Victorians and the literary figures of his time. Steven Riddle points us to his complete works online. I wondered what he (Chesterton) had to say about Henry David Thoreau:
'I SINCERELY maintain that Nature-worship is more morally dangerous than the most vulgar Man-worship of the cities; since it can easily be perverted into the worship of an impersonal mystery, carelessness, or cruelty. Thoreau would have been a jollier fellow if he had devoted himself to a green-grocer instead of to greens.'
Yet elswhere he is more appreciative of Thoreau, at least by comparison:
Omar's (or Fitzgerald's) effect upon the other world we may let go, his hand upon this world has been heavy and paralyzing. The Puritans, as I have said, are far jollier than he. The new ascetics who follow Thoreau or Tolstoy are much livelier company; for, though the surrender of strong drink and such luxuries may strike us as an idle negation, it may leave a man with innumerable natural pleasures, and, above all, with man's natural power of happiness. Thoreau could enjoy the sunrise without a cup of coffee. If Tolstoy cannot admire marriage, at least he is healthy enough to admire mud. Nature can be enjoyed without even the most natural luxuries.

Nostalgic about 1995? Hmm... makes me want to lapse into parody...
Local Man Yearns for Last Month

COLUMBUS, OH-- John Switzer pines for an earlier period of his life. 29 days ago. No, not much happened in the interim. "It was a forgettable month as far as months go," he says.

But he keenly misses the "golden age" twenty-nine days ago when he was a month younger and "all the world seemed at his feet".

"I long for the gilden era of my life 29 days ago. The television show 24 was not on hiatus. I had more hair. The sky was a bluer..."
Self-Sacrificing in Popular Love Songs

In the movie Casablanca, the hero sacrifices his own happiness for the good of the girl.

How popular was this in love songs? Is it less popular today than before?

I recall the group Bread had a hit with a (grammatically-challenged) lyric that went:
It don't matter to me
If you take up with
Someone who's better than me
'Cause your happiness is all I want
A sentiment that seems just a tinge off from Humphrey Bogart. The Bread singer is giving the girl the choice while I seem to recall Bogart making that choice for her. In the '60s, Gary Lewis and the Playboys put out a song that was generous to a fault, although (I assume) the definition of "fling" has radically changed:
Walk along the lake with someone new
Have yourself a summer fling or two
But remember I'm in love with you and
Save your heart for me

When you're all alone, far away from home
Someone's gonna flirt with you-ou
I won't think it's wrong if you play along
Just don't fall for someone new
Playing with fire if'n you ask me, but then that probably shows a lack of self-sacrifice on my part. He wants his girl to have fun without him.

I don't think they make love songs like that anymore though I could be wrong, not having heard a new love song in the past decade or so. But if I'm right perhaps the turning point was Whitney Houston's "Learning To Love Yourself...Is the Greatest Love of All" song, which, if taken seriously, means the suitor has a serious conflict of interest on his hands. The suitor's needs are placed at least as high as the needs of his intended. This was expressed by Cheap Trick in a song in which the singer abandons all pretence of self-sacrifice:
I want you to want
I need you to need me
We've come a long way baby.

May 29, 2006

Follow the Love, not the Money

David Brooks examines the causes of the widening gap between the rich and the poor:
When you look at these causes, you keep coming back to one them: human capital. The people who do well not only possess skills that can be measured on tests, they have self-discipline, which is twice as important as IQ in predicting academic achievement, according to a study by Angela Duckworth and Martin Seligman...

If there's one thing that leaps out of all the brain literature, it is that, as psychologist Daniel J. Siegel, director of the Center for Human Development, puts it, "emotion serves as the central organizing process within the brain." Kids learn from people they love. If we want young people to develop the social and self-regulating skills they need to thrive, we need to establish stable long-term relationships between love-hungry children and love-providing adults...

I started out in the company of economic data, but the closer you get to the core issue, the further you venture out into the primitive realm of love.
Wounded Soldier Jessica Clements' Story... amazing:
"I think I'm a better person now. I'm not as judgmental," she says. "I don't take anything for granted anymore."
"We Praise You For Your Glory"

That line from Sunday's Gloria in Excelsis always leaves me a bit cool. I've always been partial to the line from the Psalm that goes "Praise the Lord for he is good." "Glory" seems to connote impressive special effects while goodness connotes well, love. And I'll take love over special effects any day of the week.

I figured I must be missing. Michael Dubruiel, in The How-To Book of the Mass, explains that God's glory sometimes refers to the Presence of God (Acts 7:55) and writes:
"The thanks we give to God at all times is done because the 'glory of God' is always before us...In worshipping God we participate in this 'glory' in God's Presence."
That makes excellent sense. I'll be mentally substituting "We praise you for your Presence" from now on!

May 28, 2006

A Memoir in Books in (Allegedly) Poetic Form

In the mists of pre-history there was Mowgli
and Richter’s A Light in the Forest
‘til the renaissance of Shakespeare read by candle
in the upper crypt of a fraternity house.

I raced thru the Bard like Scripture,
copying foreshadowings by hand
drinking deep of that magic elixir
beginning with A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Allergic to the didactic
the prose washed over me in waves
and I looked for no wisdom
except the wisdom of escape.

Fresh from the columnar oaks
of the campus glade came Colwin
followed by Dickens and Dillard
before Chabon’s Mysteries of Pittsburgh.

George Elliot’s Middlemarch was born
of second-hand intoxication
from an Oxford late-life student
to be followed by Austen’s oeuvre.

The stirrings of an atavistic hunger appeared
in McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City,
ushering the start of the Post-Collegiate Epoch
some three years after graduation.

Cloaked in the garb of history
still in search of the lush
Memories of the Ford Administration
begat the Updike Era.

The pendulum swung to cowboy poets
and the sweet brainlessness of country music
'til the Celtic myths before the Age of Theology,
ushered in the Epoch of Percy...
Various & Sundry

Saturday I impersonated Jeff Culbreath, pretending I was a gentleman farmer. Took down a 30 foot poplar that was blocking the sun on the porch. Wasn't sure which way it would fall so tied a rope to insure success even though only about 90 degrees of the 360-degree radius would cause bad consequences (i.e. hit my neighbor's house). Watered the garden (radishes, sunflower, corn & tomatoes). Mowed the lawn. Then took a chair out to the end of the propery line and read about Eveyln Waugh in between long glances at my neighbor's four acre field.

Soon I was hungry for a run. How long had it been since I wanted to run? On a lapidary day I lapped up the miles...

Interesting Q&A for ex-Congressman/current FoxNews O'Reilly fill-in John Kasich in Columbus Dispatch:
"Q: Do you ever read strictly for pleasure? A: It seems that all I ever do is read. Reading is necessary for individuals to be interesting. I don’t read political books; they bore me."

"Wisely, sadly" Kathy Shaidle added parenthetically in a paragraph in A Catholic Alphabet regarding a meeting that didn't take place between author Graham Greene and Padre Pio. He had refused to meet because "meeting a saint would mean I would have to change". I found it tragic though I asked myself what would I have done in his shoes. Perhaps the same. A meeting with a saint is perfectly optional; there are no laws requiring it. And yet Greene knew that with Pio, who could see souls, there was no chance of self-subterfuge.

That St. Philip Neri quote I'd happened across Friday ("Sympathy with those who have fallen is the best way of not falling yourself") came at a good - dare I say providential - time. Later that night I would learn of a particularly hypocritical betrayal of trust. Weakness is understandable, but weakness topped with the hypocrisy of thinking oneself innocent? Or is that merely another weakness coating the original weakness? Rationalization has got to be one of the key ingredients in sin since otherwise the conscience kicks in, so I don't know why I am so surprised. And yet does not his emphasizing of God's mercy in his writings implicitly hint that deep down he is aware of his crime? It reminds me of a gentle priest in our diocese who constantly emphasized God's mercy. It was like a salve. And then it came out that he had sexually abused a young boy many years ago and then that message of mercy, at least from him, had a bitter taste. It was like he had an agenda. And yet don't we all? Who among us has not sinned?

I've long wanted to read a biography, or autobiography, of one of the fallen televangelists. Jim Bakker or Jimmy Swaggert. How did they preach while doing what they were doing? Was their being exposed actually a sign of God's mercy (i.e. 'He chastizes whom He loves')? If only the strong survive in the physical world, do only the weak survive in the spiritual? The words to a Peter Gabriel song come unbidden:

I looked up at the tallest building
Felt it falling down
I could feel my balance shifting
Everything was moving around...

Downside up, upside down
Take my weight from the ground
Falling deep in the sky
Slipping in the unknown

All the strangers look like family
All the family looks so strange
The only constant I am sure of
Is this accelerating rate of change
I feel more deeply what Bill Luse recently wrote: "Now if...Zippy or Riddle or Terry or Ellyn or Peony and some others went haywire, I'd be upset because I feel I know them in some limited way. If Culbreath went, I'd know the world was coming to an end." There's a keen desire for me to talk about this scandal as if that would be heal it. But it doesn't. Better to recall St. Philip's admonition. Between the pedophile priests, Bud MacFarlane and now this latest, it at least serves to solidify my trust in the only place it is secure: with Christ.

UPDATE: MamaT writes:
Perhaps those writings on mercy (and homilies on mercy by the pedophile priest) were cries out to God himself, knowing perhaps even subconsciously, that they were in such need of mercy that it was the only straw they had to hold onto in the roiling sea of sin that they were in. I'm not saying this right, I'm sure. But perhaps in both cases they weren't preaching/writing it as an AGENDA, but as a way of begging God for what they could not ask outright.

And maybe it was a case of being like a child with only undeveloped faith--"Oh, please, please, please let this be true."

I say this, not to make light of either Chris' or the priest's sins. I am appalled by them. But I know that the children involved were not the only ones damaged by the sin. And whether WE can see it or not, the potential loss of those two OTHER souls mean something to God, too. It's hard for us to see that, in our righteous (and I believe in many cases it IS righteous) anger, God is mourning the damage to ALL the souls involved. Even the ones we'd like to kick to the curb.

Blessings to you! This is hard, isn't it? I spent a great deal of last night praying for Chris' soul. Lord knows he needs it. And one day, maybe when I need it too, someone will do the same for me. I have long said that I live and breathe only because some obscure Carmelite nun somewhere is praying for someone she doesn't even know.

May 27, 2006

Camassia Meme

Camassia mentions popular things she just doesn't get.

Pulp Fiction was completely unremarkable to me too. The lone Sopranos episode I watched left me cold.

I recall having liked Unforgiven when it first came out, presumably due to Eastwood and the excellent cinematography, but now find it unwatchable - just violence to core, which means it has no core.

Fantasy and science fiction are something I've never been able to relate to. I've tried to read some of Tolkien's LOTR but never got anywhere. Probably because I am too much a creature of this age and want more "non-fiction-y" fiction?

I've read Updike, a close literary relative of Roth as far as prominently featuring "perpetually horny men" but I'm not sure I learned anything other than Updike can write things sexual in an incredibly colorful and descriptive way. But then, being a guy, by definition I wouldn't have need to learn anything on that score. (No pun intended.) I suppose it would be helpful for women to realize the extent to which men are perpetually horny although if they don't know that by now I'm not sure a book would help. In fairness to Roth and Updike, some of their books have almost no sex in them. I don't recall much of it in The Human Stain or Gertrude and Claudius and I woulda recalled it.

I've never been able to appreciate "Suthern" novelists, with Walker Percy being the great exception. I'm not a fan of Faulkner or anyone else where the language is hard to decipher because it's written in the Southern idiom ala "I bin there...". I liked Tom Sawyer as a kid. As an adult I wanted to re-read Huck Finn but found it sluggish going and didn't finish it.

May 26, 2006

St. Philip Neri Day

"Sympathy with those who have fallen is the best way of not falling yourself." -Saint Philip Neri
Hungry for some P.O.D.? Check here and here.
Fr. Todd Reitmeyer, R.I.P.

How painful it is to lose a young, orthodox priest! It reminds me how our diocese lost a great priest at a relatively young age.

May 25, 2006

Bingo Redux

Bingo is a bit like the spiritual life. At first it’s exciting and moving but then you go thru dry period. We had a new guy today and he was really hepped up - much like my first time. He's a real salesman type, a go-getter construction worker who begged individuals personally to buy instant winner tickets: “only four quarters! Twenty nickels!...You gotta play to win!”. That sort of salesmanship is foreign to St. Maggie's bingo where we generally just circle the bingo hall saying the name of the lottery ticket.

He so stirred up the No-Smoking room that afterwards they were expecting Kim and me to do some song & dance routine as if he’d set a new standard. Kim was ready to do a can-can but I really can't dance and claimed it wasn't in my job description. I was fooled by their reaction because I thought it a quiet crowd - it’s always church-quiet in there. I thought his style would bomb but I was wrong and told him afterwards he did well there and he says loudly, “yeah they want my body!” and a great portion of staid, bingo-players in the smoking section overheard and cheered him on. I’ve always noticed that late in a Bingo evening, as a result of fatigue and the buzz of the secondhand smoke (I don't smoke but Ham o' Bone says 1 cigarette = 2 beers), there’s a tendency to say things you wouldn’t normally say but this was taking it up a notch. I was kind of glad to see that it wasn’t just me as far as being a bit too relaxed, though he is far more a livewire than yours truly. Of course I don't have a construction worker's body either. *grin*

Co-worker Kim made a Freudian slip. She was selling a lottery ticket called “Bank Busters” and mistakenly called out “Ball Busters” and it broke up the crowd. “I’ll buy $20 worth!,” cried one woman, obviously wronged by a man in the past and the whole crowd began turning on me, as one of the few males in the no-smoking room. So I slipped out the back, Jack. Makin’ new plans, Stan. For the rest of the night Kim was re-christened "Ball-buster" and I promised her I'd blog about it. Least I can do.

I still have a real hard time selling a lottery ticket named “Rednecks”. It’s not easy to find a comfortable way to say it, a least in this venue. I experimented with "scarletnecks" or I’d just say, “Red…” and let “necks” fall off into the ethersphere. Or I'd just say “Instants” though that's somewhat contrary to Bingo etiquette. If they want to buy, they call out the generic “Instants!” while we call out the specific name, be it “Bank Busters” or “Rednecks” or “King of the Mountain”.

There’s also something called “Second Chance”, a drawing for losing tickets. And I’ve never yet had anyone said “Put this in the Second Chance box” though it is clearly labeled as such. They’ll always say, “Put this in Lucky Losers”. Maybe there was a name change and the new name hasn’t caught on?

Certainly the novelty and excitement that is Bingo has worn off despite appearances to the contrary. Yet there is a feeling of bonhomie afterwards, in our Heavenly after-bingo when we commiserate over difficult players or complain and say we’re going to quit soon. We hear of each other’s childrens, talk about schools or argue the best pizza joints. Tonight there was a health scare. One woman had a suspicious lump that was pushing up her collarbone. She went to the doctor and had a scan and it turns out she has four extra ribs, two on each side that were now pushing up her collarbone. Imagine going your whole life not knowing you had four extra ribs? It is harmless though needless to say she got a lot of ribbing (you bet that pun was intended).

Our team leader Joe is a well-tanned blue collar type in his late 40s who's mostly a curmudgeon though occasionally shows he’s soft on the inside. You can always tell the mood he’s in. And you can see he’s got a temper - the bingo grapevine has it that he got in a physical altercation a couple weeks ago with another worker at bingo. This is an Italian parish and Joe is pure Italian. One gets the sense that if you get on his wrong side you might receive a visit from the local Cosa Nostra. (Just kidding!)

Matthew is the soul of calm and dependability. He's so calm & bland that most don't take him seriously. I think he probably had a serious conversion experience because last year he suddenly signed up for Bingo, became an usher at Mass (I see him ushering at every Sunday late Mass) and now he got himself elected to Parish Council. You don't go from 0 to 60 without a conversion. Wants me to run for council which was flattering and took me aback. I told him I'm not a joiner contrary to appearances (I had joined bingo after all). He's only had one council meeting but his job appears to be a lot of arm-twisting and setting up committees, neither which are like my strengths. He says he just wants to serve the parish in as many ways as he can.

Christine, is in her mid-40s, and desperately wants to find a guy. I can't much help her, since the only single guy I know seems weight-conscious enough that Christine might not be appealing to him. It's a good reminder how difficult it is for singles.

The bingo trenches are as close as I’ll get to foxholes and we’ve grown surprisingly close given the rarity of “battles”. A couple of co-workers have professed dismay that I won’t be there next month (my birthday falls on the Bingo day). They said they’d bring me a cake. I told them I may come just so they can serve me and I can yell “Instants!” at them. We all cringe at the mere suggestion of defecting to another Bingo night and to work with a different unit. You can get a tiny sense of how in the military they say you eventually begin serving mostly to support your buddies rather than the more abstract vision of commander or country.

The funny thing about bingo is sometimes it seems like the servers are actually having a better time than those being served. There might be a message in that I suppose. We workers smile and laugh at each other through our “suffering” while those buying are tickets are usually curt and grim, often frustrated by the lack of payoff.
Bill Buckley reviews Jon Meacham's "American Gospel":
Meacham declines the challenge to examine some of the cliches he passes along from [Billy] Graham, as in, “In our pluralistic state we have learned to live with each other and to respect each other’s religious and political convictions.” The phenomenon being celebrated arises from indifference to religion, not from toleration of it. Graham adds: “There’s a truth reiterated throughout the teachings of the various religions, but especially in the Bible, that no man rules except by the will of God.” But that is either meaningless or wrong. There are no grounds for believing in the pietistic notion that the will of God had anything whatever to do with the advent of Hitler.

The American experience is leached of meaning by platitudinous stress on the freedom of worship. Of primary concern, surely, are the secularist engines that mock the very idea that worship is compatible with higher thought. That subject engaged this reviewer when at Yale, fifty-five years ago. And the subject of religion was once considered worth noting every week in sections of Time and Newsweek. Still, Mr. Meacham’s invaluable book serves as a lodestar for original thought on — the American gospel.
I'm currently reading Jarrett's The Relation of Church and State in the Middle Ages and am getting a keen appreciation for the difficulty. In a way, the relation of church and state reminds me of the apparent irresolvabilty of God's sovereignty and man's free will. (At least in the second case, we are assured it can be resolved.) Jarret points out how different Christianity is from either paganism or Judiasm with respect to the state:
That the difficulty is wholly Christian can be seen if it be remembered (using the words in their present day sense) that to a pagan his State was his Church, and to the Jew his Church was his State. In either view there were not two powers but one. The Jew considered God to be the head of the State; the pagan made the head of the State into a god, i.e. he deified his ruler: Caesar, Alexander, Pharaoh, seeing in him divine guardian spirit of the State. For the Christian, however, the problem was much more delicate, since he was brought up to look on both the Church and State as divinely authorized powers and to believe that the authority of both was from God.

At the beginning of the preaching of the Gospel this at once arose, due in part to an anarchical spirit amongst some of the early Christians. The New Testament, therefore, contains many passages insisting on the necessity of obedience to the civil power , and Our Lord is deliberately described as teaching and practicing obedience to the civil power....

But the problem became even more complicated when...Christians were allowed freedom of worship, and when the Emperor himself became a catechumen. The difficulty now was no longer the simple difficulty of heroic obedience to a persecuting government, but of adjusting obedience to two authorities which were both interested in the application of the moral law of Christ to life.
Buckley writes of how American law has made it impossible to assume our government is interested in the moral law at all:
With magisterial sweeps, traveling from the Founding to the beginning of the 21st century, Meacham (who is managing editor of Newsweek) disposes of the internecine absolutists, but acknowledges that there are unresolved and bitter questions brought on — most divisively — by the Supreme Court’s intervention into the City of God when it ruled, in Roe v. Wade, that abortion was a constitutional right. President Jimmy Carter would comment privately that he did not believe that Jesus would have accepted abortion (or capital punishment), but as president Carter was under obligation not to the word of Christ, but rather to the word of the Constitution. One has to believe that such reservations as his were privately held by other presidents and lawmakers who, while standing by their Christian faith, defended a Constitution that protected slavery.
Baby's Got Her Blue Jeans On

Kevin Jones of Philokalia Republic points us to The Rat via Eve Tushnet:
"Bluntly equating literary discourse with sexual intercourse, Wister indicates [in the novel The Virginian] that a cowboy can make love to a woman only by first gaining intellectual access to her through an acquaintance with canonical fiction."

- Blake Allmendinger, "The Cowboy: Representations of Labor in an American Work Culture"
Uhh okay... whatever. "An intellectual stretch", Kevin says, and it made me wonder what an academic might do with the old country song "Baby's Got Her Blue Jeans On" by Mel McDaniel:

Down on the corner by the traffic lights
Everybody's lookin', as she goes by
they turn their heads and they watch her 'til she's gone
Lord have mercy, baby's got her bluejeans on

Up by the bus top, & across the street
Open up their windows, to take a peek
While she goes walkin', rockin' like a rollin' stone
Heaven help us, baby's got her bluejeans on

She can't help it if she's made that way
She's not to blame if they look her way
She ain't really tryin' to cause a scene
It just comes naturally, No -- the girl can't help it

Well up on Main Street, by the taxi stand
There's a crowd of people, in a traffic jam
She don't look back, she ain't doin' nothin' wrong
Lord have mercy, Baby's got her bluejeans on

"Baby's Got Her Blue Jeans On" -- Mel McDaniel
Place tongue firmly in cheek while I attempt to "decode McDaniel":

Baby's Got Her Blue Jeans On is a particularly deft example of a preconceptual paradigm of reality. In the song the term "blue jeans" evokes the American myth of Emersonian independence. "Blue" conjures a limitless expanse of the sky with its "Manifest Destiny" overtones, while "jeans" is an obvious literary allusion to Victor Hugo's character Jean ValJean, who represents the peasantry and the casting off of the law's tyranny as America casted off English tyranny.

"Baby", a nickname the songwriter uses to suggest innocence, wears a pair of pants that would seem to command the attention of the eye. By saying that "everybody is looking at her" we may infer that the threshold of some sort of community standard has been met in her case, and indeed exceeded. Baby is ignorant of her body's impact and represents the Rousseauian "noble savage" in her unencumberances; the songwriter hints that if we could all be like her - innocent and unaware - there wouldn't be any "scenes" or "traffic jams". "She ain't doin' nothing wrong" implies that those watching her are doing something wrong.

Listeners to McDaniel's work might find Baby's lack of self-consciousness difficult to believe. How, we might ask, can she be insensible to a community response that results in traffic jams (obviously symbolic of the social upheaval of the '60s and the accompanying sexual revolution)?

The song appears to leave unexplored as to how to resolve the tension between the unconscious individual and a society that prefer she remain unconscious even at its own peril. We might wonder, but cannot know, whether Baby is clinging to an "invincible ignorance" in order to avoid the possibility of having to change her behavior, a change that might result in a decrease of status and social standing which are conferred by the rubberneckers. But that would be unfair to McDaniels, who insists that Baby wears her blue jeans sans social motive. In the end, the community decision to keep Baby ignorant is only impoverishing. The truth is its own reward, but, as Felix Adler said, "The truth which has made us free will in the end make us glad also.".

Update: Steven Riddle demurs with great post-modern fluidity:
Obviously the song is about the dysphoria that comes with the paradigmatic shift that results from the hegemonic oppression proceeding from a hermaneutics of infantalism--this is the "baby" of the song title, thus diminishing capacity and objectifying and essentially reinforcing the cultural entreclat while undermining ego identity creating the collapse of "eigen" space (or augen space if the central dimension is visual.)
MASS: It Does a Body Good


Pictorial representation of a soul before and after Mass
Fun With Catholic Blog Search

Number of search hits:

Jesus = 2475
Christ = 1908
Holy Spirit = 1225
Da Vinci = 1123
Our Lady = 575
Virgin Mary = 502
Augustine = 334
Mary Magdalene = 274
Aquinas = 257
St. Francis = 251
Blessed Mother = 210
Amateur Hour

I didn't see "American Idol" last night or whenever it was on but have watched two episodes in the past so that I wouldn't be completely clueless concerning the pop cultural phenomenon.

One was an audition show and the other between semi-finalists.

I liked the audition show better.

I found it more entertaining because, in the style of Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest , it was deliciously bad. I was also hyp-mo-tized by the fact that they seemed to believe they were actually good if not even great.

The show involving the semi-finalists was less interesting because I thought: "why would I watch them on television when I can hear professionals as good or much better on the radio or via my CDs?". My attitude was: "when you get to Carnegie Hall, phone me." This was disturbing because, as a blogger, others can - with great accuracy - say the same thing of me!

Update: Steven Riddle makes an excellent observation:
The point of American Idol is that none of these people would have a chance in the ordinary system, and some seem quite deserving. I am also frequently reminded that Carrey Underwood was last year's winner. The point being that in many different disciplines there are people of professional caliber who are too numerous to be recognized by the very restrictive system that allows for larger publicity.
I always tend to think that great talent will always rise to the top and I think it normally does, but it's true the system doesn't always work. Cerainly with major league baseball, if you were black or Latino you couldn't play until 1948! Definitely a case of talent not rising to the top. That is obviously just one example among myriad. Besides that my post was ridiculously elitist. Count me rather with Chesterton who always defended the amateur.

Deliberate, it seems,
their curve,
the gentle winding
of young branches
that break my numbness
in this soft near-June
when white pillowy seeds
ascend and descend
like snow.

May 24, 2006

No Zero Sum Game with God

Jesus goes to Heaven to be with the Father. Our loss, His gain, right? Wrong. Even this is in our best interest:
Having Jesus live among us, teaching and demonstrating the life God wants us all to have, would have been a good thing in and of itself. But our Father is a God of abundance, not merely of sufficiency, so he gave us more. He gave us his Holy Spirit. And what a gift the Spirit is!... He is far more than a “tool” for building the kingdom of God. When we give a gift, we don’t tend to present something merely practical and functional. No, we aim to surprise and delight the person. We want our gift to be a sign of our love and appreciation for that person. So it is with the Father. In giving us his Spirit, he has made it possible to surprise and delight us continually with more and more of his love (Romans 5:5).
Conservative Rock Songs?

...and you thought it an oxymoron. Top ten of fifty listed in the latest National Review:
1. “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” by The Who.
The conservative movement is full of disillusioned revolutionaries; this could be their theme song, an oath that swears off naive idealism once and for all. “There’s nothing in the streets / Looks any different to me / And the slogans are replaced, by-the-bye. . . . Meet the new boss / Same as the old boss.”

2. “Taxman,” by The Beatles.
A George Harrison masterpiece with a famous guitar riff (which was actually played by Paul McCartney): “If you drive a car, I’ll tax the street / If you try to sit, I’ll tax your seat / If you get too cold, I’ll tax the heat / If you take a walk, I’ll tax your feet.” The song closes with a humorous jab at death taxes: “Now my advice for those who die / Declare the pennies on your eyes.”

3. “Sympathy for the Devil,” by The Rolling Stones.
Don’t be misled by the title; this song is The Screwtape Letters of rock. The devil is a tempter who leans hard on moral relativism — he will try to make you think that “every cop is a criminal / And all the sinners saints.” What’s more, he is the sinister inspiration for the cruelties of Bolshevism: “I stuck around St. Petersburg / When I saw it was a time for a change / Killed the czar and his ministers / Anastasia screamed in vain.”

4. “Sweet Home Alabama,” by Lynyrd Skynyrd.
A tribute to the region of America that liberals love to loathe, taking a shot at Neil Young’s Canadian arrogance along the way: “A Southern man don’t need him around anyhow.”

5. “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” by The Beach Boys.
Pro-abstinence and pro-marriage: “Maybe if we think and wish and hope and pray it might come true / Baby then there wouldn’t be a single thing we couldn’t do / We could be married / And then we’d be happy.”

6. “Gloria,” by U2.
Just because a rock song is about faith doesn’t mean that it’s conservative. But what about a rock song that’s about faith and whose chorus is in Latin? That’s beautifully reactionary: “Gloria / In te domine / Gloria / Exultate.”

7. “Revolution,” by The Beatles.
“You say you want a revolution / Well you know / We all want to change the world . . . Don’t you know you can count me out?” What’s more, Communism isn’t even cool: “If you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao / You ain’t going to make it with anyone anyhow.” (Someone tell the Che Guevara crowd.)

8. “Bodies,” by The Sex Pistols.
Violent and vulgar, but also a searing anti-abortion anthem by the quintessential punk band: “It’s not an animal / It’s an abortion.”

9. “Don’t Tread on Me,” by Metallica.
A head-banging tribute to the doctrine of peace through strength, written in response to the first Gulf War: “So be it / Threaten no more / To secure peace is to prepare for war.”

10. “20th Century Man,” by The Kinks.
“You keep all your smart modern writers / Give me William Shakespeare / You keep all your smart modern painters / I’ll take Rembrandt, Titian, da Vinci, and Gainsborough. . . . I was born in a welfare state / Ruled by bureaucracy / Controlled by civil servants / And people dressed in grey / Got no privacy got no liberty / ’Cause the 20th-century people / Took it all away from me.”
One of the more...

...amusing sentiments of the Left is the thought that George Bush "squandered" the love and affection of the world in the wake of 9/11.

That's a rather utopian thought given that it was only the presence of the Soviet Union that kept our European allies tolerating us during the '70s-'90s. As long as there was the threat of the Soviets, they made nice.

So, in the aftermath of 9/11, unless Bush had decided to begin offering cabinent positions to European ministers, the honeymoon was destined to be shortlived. It is no doubt very difficult for them - they who consider themselves more intelligent and civilized than Americans - not to be able to exert more power over U.S. governance.

There are lots of things to criticize Bush about, especially concerning the war, but the idea that he should be blamed for squandering the love and affection of allies who were secretly making deals with Saddam Hussein is risible.
Create Your Own Post Here!

(Inspired by this.)
Icon at a Byzantine Catholic Church

At St. John's there's an icon of the Theotokos holding the Christ child who in turn is holding, rather precariously, the world. I wish I had a picture of it to share; it's a beautiful little work. In contrast to many Eastern icons Mary is smiling warmly - but not cloyingly - while the child Jesus holds the earth almost as if an afterthought. It often *seems* that God holds the earth almost carelessly given how we are always a hair's breadth from total disaster, though that is a false notion since not a hair on our heads is uncounted. Still, there is a great message written in that icon: the Christ child holding the world carelessly would be infinitely safer than the wisest man on earth ruling with great attention.

May 23, 2006

Only the Good Die Young

Ham o' Bone patiently refutes those on the IMDB (movie database) message board who call him a nutcase for believing in the Jesus of the Scriptures. He says refuting them feels like using a thimble to empty an ocean of ignorance but he's doing his part, taking them seriously, and God love him for that. The bible says if you seek Him you will find Him and he relayed the message, the rest being up to God and the hearer. Do conversion stories ever really begin, "I was on this message board and this Christian told me I was an idiot and I began to see the light..."?

I'm fascinated by when to hold your powder dry and when to let go. Back in the early 1800s Southerners were more amenable to the idea slavery was wrong than in the 1840s, partially because Abolitionists had basically called them anti-christs and, by offending them, helped cause them to retreat to the ridiculous position that slavery was a positive good. In an email Steven Riddle writes that "refutation is futile once the virus has taken hold", a nice turn of phrase that contains much truth. He said that is one reason why he wished the Da Vinci controversy would lead people to the solid realization that the time to fight this is before it becomes a matter of urgency - through ongoing adult education and encouraging adults to explore and understand their faith more.

Ignoring slights and bigots have the benefit of 1) not giving the slight or bigot more publicity and 2) presenting yourself in a positive image by being unlike other groups who whine and complain and play the victim. But it seems as though the very time the American Catholic Church least defended itself - the 60s & 70s - was also the time when it began semi-collapsing. (No cause/effect suggested though.) The first time I recall Church leaders speaking out against a pop cultural criticism was when Billy Joel hit the charts with "Only the Good Die Young". Did it help? Did it hurt? Neither?
Emails...We Get Emails...

Joke from a friend:
While I was watching the NFL playoff games one weekend, my wife and I got into a conversation about life and death, and the need for living wills. During the course of the conversation I told her that I never wanted to exist in a vegetative state, dependent on some machine and taking fluids from a bottle.

She got up, unplugged the TV and threw out all my beer.

Man, sometimes it's tough being married to a smartass.
Book List!

List-lover Enbrethiliel take note! Steven Riddle posted thoughts about a NY Times list of the greatest fiction of the past twenty-five years, something that initially struck me as relevant as listing "top rap songs" or "best French beers". I would echo Steven's opinions. It seems to me that modern fiction has, to some extent, gone the way of fine art over the past two and a half decades. The best of either crop are a pale shadow of what came before. But who am I to say? I am surely no more credible than a music neophyte criticizing Pavarotti. Listen to modern author David Foster Wallace instead.

It's interesting that so many non-churchgoing readers are interested in Jesus, disheartening that they're so Biblically illiterate. Still, given the success he's had dismissing the premise of the New Testament as a fraud, perhaps Dan Brown could try writing a revisionist biography of acclaimed prophet Muhammad. Just a thought. - Mark Steyn

Just as Pope John Paul II permitted some of the ugliness and weakness of age to be put on view, the better to witness to its inherent dignity, perhaps the Holy See, and orders such as the Legionaries, can risk more candor about the ugliness and weakness of their human endeavors, the better to witness to God's grace at work. - Diogenes at "Catholic World Report"

And divine grace is the inestimable treasure through which vile creatures and servants like ourselves become dear friends of our Creator. -St. Alphonsus

One of the concerns today in having children seems to be the idea that we have to provide and plan for the material needs of our children, particularly with regard to a college education. The best clothes, the nicest shoes, their own room, expensive education etc. I do not believe that worrying about these material goods is the message of the Jesus Christ. (Matthew 6:25: "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?")...That's not to say that education isn't important..but rather that as parents, our main goal for our time with our children is to teach them to be ready to meet Jesus, to develop their talents in a way that will be pleasing to God, and to live a life that gives Him glory. Anything else, is just extra. - Elena of "My Domestic Church"

The [Da Vinci Code's] poor quality changes nothing about the impact that the book has had. And sneer if you like, it has had an impact, especially in terms of confirming the rather widespread conviction that the events of the 1st century are essentially unknowable, and the Jesus story that "won" did so because of politics. History is written by the winners, and so on. But what have we learned? I hope we've learned that 1) Given the right push and inspiration, people will discover an interest in the historical core of Christianity. 2) There is widespread, abysmal ignorance about that historical core among the general public as well as among Christians Why the ignorance? Because no one teaches it. - Amy Welborn

While typing that about the weakness of [Flannery] O'Connor's characters, I thought, "Why doesn't she write any nice stories with happy endings? Well, there's "Revelation." I think I need to read another author for a while. Not Gene Wolfe, either.) - blogger at "Opiniatrety"

On the occasions I feel like shocking people, I've sometimes adopted a cynical pose out of The Onion's news article "American People Declared Unfit to Rule." There is of course a great deal to dislike about my fellow Americans. In my more hypocritical moments I imagine more to dislike about them than to dislike about myself. - Kevin Jones of Philokia

During the last couple of days the majority of Catholic blogs have linked to negative reviews of The Da Vinci Code movie, kind of a gloat bloat has appeared. It of course makes us quite happy that the film is a stinker since less people will be influenced negatively by it, or that the film makes Dan Brown's propositions even dumber (if that's possible). I think something else is going on though. What if Methodist Ron Howard took one for the team? After all is he a quite capable, though not great, director. What if he purposely gave the movie the Springtime for Hitler treatment? That he purposely made the movie bad. By doing the movie himself he insures that no one else will make it anytime soon. - Curt Jester

[What] did Jesus have in mind when He spoke in terms of "whatever you ask" [it will be granted to you]? Some have proposed a tautological scope along the lines of "requests that God will grant," the idea being that Jesus' promise is given only to those who remain in Him, and by definition those who remain in Jesus wouldn't ask for anything God wouldn't want to give them. But while that may be true -- as I've mentioned, tautologies do tend to be true -- it's not particularly helpful in understanding what Jesus means. Another approach is by using [a] set of increasingly-limited scopes: all requests, moral requests, pious requests, P.O.D. requests, and "Thy Will Be Done"...Let me propose two reasons "Thy Will Be Done" is too limited. First, it would imply that by, "If you ask anything of me in my name, I will do it," Jesus means, "You won't ask anything of me." That's an unnatural interpretation...that would need to be applied all four times Jesus makes this promise in John 14-16. While it's certainly true that God will always answer that prayer, the words Jesus uses do not mean God will always answer only that prayer...The model of a Christian as a passive instrument in the hands of God -- which I'd say is equivalent to the proposal that a Christian ought to pray only "Thy Will Be Done" -- conflicts with the reality that we are called to be, not God's tools, but His children. We are subjects of His love, not merely useful goods but (by His grace) good in ourselves. If we lack all personal will, we lack all eros; God's agape will find nothing to adhere to in us...A loving human family tends to a single will, conceptually speaking. The whole family knows the father personally enjoys an afternoon nap, say, so the whole family wills that the father take an afternoon nap. - Tom of Disputations

[Eamon] Duffy is the English historian known to many, even over here, for his groundbreaking Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England 1400-1580, in which he very effectively set the widespread assumption that pre-Reformation England was a swamp of ignorance, superstition and even religious indifference - completely on its head. [Faith of Our Fathers] reflects Duffy's historical groundings as he takes us through various aspects of Catholic belief, examining foundations, eyeing changes. It's excellent. Personal, in a way, as he traces his own loss and rediscovery of faith (appropriate David Lodge references abound) - and the rediscovery of faith for Duffy always means a deeper appreciation of the 1950's Catholicism which he rejected.... The chapter on dying concerns the old notion of dying as not something that happens to you, but rather, as something you do. A "good death" was not, as we might assume, one that's easy and effortless, but one in which the dying person is prepared, in which he or she seeks to imitate Christ in his dying. - Amy Welborn

Cynicism makes one predictable although when taken too far it makes you eccentrically interesting the way those who believe the government staged the moon landing are. But the lack of it exhibited in Ham o' Bone makes him a more interesting than your average man on the street. Long time readers (first time callers) will recall Ham's employment saga and his failure at detecting the difference between three month old beer and fresh beer in the famous Bobber Beer Test, both described on this blog. But one has to take chances to be spectacularly wrong, and I play so much closer to the vest that neither my successes nor failures have been dramatic. Ham, ala Donald Trump, played big time in stock options while I dabbled. He won big, he lost big.

Ham has paid a price for his lack of cynicism, believing (naively) that his job was safe due to the quality and quantity of his work. Instead he found himself unemployed for a year. Ever a prodigious saver, he lives on 50% of his income and so he was able to easily live for that year on his 20 weeks' severance. Bone's lack of cynicism was later expressed when he acquired a literary agent only to find that he had to beg the agent to actually read his stuff (I think it took two or three months). The agent was big on flowery words but didn't seem to be interested in seeking Bone's publication. In fairness, it's tough to crack the writing market.

Ham o' Bone, like Rod Dreher, always seems to be "on to something". Dreher flirts with novel foods and novel Christian denominations while Ham appreciates new health formulas, including ones espoused by the author of a book called "The PH Miracle". (Beware of any book with the word miracle in the title. Or am I being cynical?) Bone's explanation of the author's thesis screams quackery as loudly as an email that begins "I must solicit your confidence in this transaction, this is by virtue of its nature as being utterly confidential and top secret" screams Nigerian scammer skullduggery.

So Ham explains how the pH book suggests a few drops of hydrogen peroxide in your morning water. And/or a lime too. I think this helps raise your blood/urine pH level. You can pee on test strips for a reading but blood is always the more effective measure. The author also suggests never drinking fluids with your food because it mixes and dilutes the acid in your stomach. (I guess this leaves out all soups?). Needless to say, cow's milk and meats are verboten, although something called "almond milk" is okay. After four days on the diet, Ham reports improved physical health, including the cure of a dry patch of skin.

Linguistics lessons: whenever Mike Wallace prefaces a question with "forgive me, but..." protect your jugular. And whenever the adjective "common" precedes another word, don't believe it. You can assume what follows is actually uncommon (i.e. 'common courtesy', 'common sense'). Common courtesy would suggest that you don't play a stereo in a residential neighborhood such that the whole neighborhood can hear it and common sense might suggest you erect a wall if you want to limit illegal immigration. Conventional wisdom, like common sense, may not always be right but it is what a democracy is predicated on.

Watched the season finale of 24 last night and felt too much of the imprecatory psalms with respect to Logan. Was I thirsting for revenge or justice? The difference seemed blurry. Also caught the end of one of those shows about missing children. Dateline I think it was. And there was a shot of a mother on the side of a street that didn't look too busy, holding a large sign depicting her long missing daughter. It was heartbreaking, like those pictures posted around Manhattan in the days following 9/11. Every day she holds the sign hoping that someone might have a lead for her. And I think that's what God is like too. Every day He holds a sign hoping to find his missing children, his many missing children. It can seem futile, but not to Him. With God, like Jack Bauer bruised and bloodied on a slow boat to China, there's always a means of escape.

May 22, 2006

The Vinny Code - Part II

Note: I enjoy the Da Vinci parody because facts or grammar don't much matter. A two-fer. Mistakes I make, either conscious or unconscious, are simply to be taken as part of the parody. The only negative aspect is I suppose it has to make some sense. Shucks. But some posts you do merely for your own entertainment. Chapter 1 here.
Chapter 2

I followed the action from Peoria to a large metropolis in the northeast. Dan Tan whispered, as if what he were about to tell me could get me killed: "Cloaked under the satyr of night, the heroes of Opus Taylorus traveled to Paris, Tennessee, with the film canister in their hands. They'd heard of an artist named Leo Vinny who'd painted a velvet Elvis that held many clues."

"What sort of clues?" I interrupted.

"I'm getting there. Vinny was commissioned to do a painting of Elvis eating a peanut-butter and banana sandwich with Priscilla at Graceland, only it wasn't Priscilla but bodyguard Sonny West who - as was the custom of the '60s - was wearing his hair long, almost waist-length. Now I'm not implying that the King was gay. In fact to my knowledge he was not. But a lot of folks in the film industry are gay and there were people who saw Sonny at the breakfast table in that painting and made false assumptions. Think about it: everyone is told that Sonny is Priscilla in that velvet masterpiece and you have to ask yourself why? Why lie?"

"But that doesn't prove a conspiracy. And besides, what do Presley or West have to do with the Vatican keeping down the film industry?"

"Elvis wasn't just a great singer but a great movie star, a very credible actor. His Hawaiian pictures make Citizen Kane look like the B-movie of a film academy dropout. And he was the most connected dude of that generation. Elvis knew everybody in the music and film industries. Elvis found out the secret! Found out that Kevin Costner is of divine lineage and that A Field of Dreams had been suppressed for centuries. So the Vatican had Elvis killed in order to cover up Emperor Bushantine's crime. In 1978 Leo Vinny painted that kitchen scene on the very day the King learned the secret and if that is Sonny in the painting then Sonny's a dead man because there was no doubt in anyone's mind that the King would've told Sonny. He told Sonny everything. So after they got Elvis, Sonny talked up Priscilla as the one in the painting and Pricilla went along with it because she wanted to squash any Elvis-is-gay rumors, fearing that it would lessen the value of residuals and syndication monies."

"Why didn't they kill Priscilla?"

"The Vatican figured that Priscilla wasn't credible. No one would believe her. Pure prejudice."

"To be honest, it sounds a little farfetched."

"Look, I said this was a work of fiction didn't I? It's a catch-22. If you take it as fact and research it I'll emphasize it's fiction. If you dismiss it as fiction I'll call you close-minded and emphasize the facts, like the existence of the Priory of Peoria and the Sonny/Priscilla controversy in Vinny's The Last Supper of Elvis Presley. To tell you the truth I'm beginning to believe it myself. And besides, you got ten thousand conspiracy theories and one of them bound to be true. Sort of like a million monkies typing one of 'em's gonna produce Shakespeare. It could be true couldn't it?"
Gratitude for Created Gifts

Goethe said that Christianity "gave us a reverence for what is below us" which I'd always taken to mean in the sense of the radicalness of the Beatitudes and in the truth of the last shall be first. I had looked at it only from the human angle. But it also applies to creation itself, and those who dismiss it and its pleasures risk displeasing the Giver. Mark Judge writes in God and Man at Georgetown Prep of an adolescent trip to the beach:
...The main sensation of the experience was the discovery of new modes of love. The highest, of course, was the absolute fecundity of God's love for his creatures, as expressed in the miracle of the world itself. The great theologian Jean Danielou has observed that "creation is the first revelation." At the beach the splendor and self-giving force of this creation was evident. Our every day revolved around this splendor. In the morning we would bring our blankets down to the beach to lie in the sun - which, as Chesterton noted, dances in the sky. We would spend hours in the surf, surrending ourselves to the embrace of the waves until we were so stupefied with fatigue that we trudged like old men back to our blankets. At exactly two o'clock - it was never planned, it just seemed to happen that way - we climbed to the second-story balcony of the house to play drinking games for a couple of hours, a preverse Liturgy of the Hours. Then it was a nap, dinner - most likely, fast food - and a shower and a shave to get ready for that night's party. Through it all the laughter never stopped. What is so sad about this is that we considered this new joy an escape from God rather than an entrance into God's self-giving mystery. The deep sensuality occasioned by a place like the beach - the brief, rapturous loss of breath when one is smothered by a wave, the feel of sand under toes; the unquenchable grandeur of the plain of the ocean illuminated by the moonlight - all herald the closeness of the Maker. This was evident to Ignatius Loyola, about whom we had read nothing at Georgetown Prep. Loyola celebrated and encouraged the practice of "seeing God in all things" - even in the nautical world.

May 21, 2006

Amy Welborn's Mailbag...

...contained the plurperfect all-cylinders ignorance we've come to expect of followers of Dan Brown. The first line says it all:
I am curious as to why a woman would have such misogynist attitudes toward women and marriage. I speak of you.
It always strikes me as odd that many of the same people who tell us to be color and gender blind are actually the most color and gender conscious. That infects us all because we begin to look at people only as members of a group rather than individuals because they see themselves only as members of a group and not individuals. Group identity takes precedence over everything, including the search for the truth. The assumption of Amy's correspondent is: "you can't be against a book that is positive towards your sex" which, ironically, gives Amy no credit for preferring the truth to falsehood, as if her sex would be better served if she were ignorant.
S.O.C. Post

Bill Luse continues his "stream o' consciousness" travelin' man1 series. I like his stream o' conscious style2 though I can't seem to generate enough of a stream to get a lengthy post like that going. (Er, that didn't sound quite like I anticipated. We'll edit that out.)

I thought I'd give it the ol' college try3 in this post although you'll find no borrowed text messages from son, wife or anyone else. "U bitch4," sayeth one of Bill's daughters, and I think we can add the word "bitch" to that list of words that only those who are within the group can say to each other. I need not mention the others. So that means I guess I can call Bill or Steven "honkey"5.

Well, is the quality of this stream o' consciousness everything you expected? I thought so6.

The weekend passed with remarkable alacrity. She was just 48 hours. Taps was played at 10pm on Sunday and internment is scheduled at midnight. Gosh, sorry to sound so morbid but I just watched 60 Minutes'7 long goodbye to Mike Wallace. It felt more like a eulogy than a television show though I did like the Johnny Carson clip.

What does Bill segue? None of these awkward, "well...what else"'s I'm guessing. Well, what else--doh! Oh, our Byzantine priest mentioned how fast the Easter season goes compared to Lent. I agree. If Easter goes by so much faster than Lent, imagine how much faster our eternal Easter will seem compared to our current Easter season. Although I guess we'll be outside of time so I'm not sure that's applicable. (Keep hope alive! The quality of this stream o' consciousness post is risin'!)

Also came across a funny line in Marsden's biography of Jonathon Edwards today. Trying to dissaude a young man from marrying a Christian young woman with a very difficult temperament, the father counsels: "Martha is a good girl...but the grace of God will dwell where you or I cannot!"

1 - Also see Terrence Berres'(oy!- see last footnote) traveling series.

2 - Very Lilek-ian I thought.

3 - Speaking of college, my brother-in-law is starting a "Cans for College" project in which he painstakingly collects the pop cans of various & sundry family members. He generally gets maybe 200 cans a month and makes maybe $10. We dub this informally as the "Cans for a Collegiate Textbook" enterprise, or, alternatively, "Cans for A College Meal". This is exactly the sort of inspiring Don Quixotian type thing that sends shivers of delight up my spine. Also speaking of college, do check out Meredith's "Basia Me" pictures.

4 - Can you say that on a Catholic blog?

5 - Honky?

6 - As you can see, I'm a shameless borrower. I not only borrowed Bill Luse's stream o' conscious style but you can see I've also borrowed David Foster Wallace's penchant for footnoting. He actually footnotes his fiction1.
1 - but rarely footnotes footnotes

7 - I really dislike these possessive plural situations. You generally have three choices and I roll the dice. For example, if I want to say "60 Minutes's long goodbye" I can say 60 Minutes', 60 Minuteses, or 60 Minutes's. Now the middle one fails the smell test, although I have seen nouns that add an es as a plural. The other two choices are viable, so at this point you pick one and hope. Or, alternatively you could alter the sentence in order to avoid the problem: "60 Minutes had a long goodbye to Mike Wallace...".
Thoughts on a Hike Through the Woods

I could see the waist-high, burnished-gold flowers in the middle distance just beyond reach of the trail. They looked like a festively robed choir amid the green and I wondered why they were there and not here or anywhere else. Three miles of forest path had revealed no such flowers. Were the ground and growing conditions special or the seed itself? Was this a chance happenstance of bird or wind dropping the rare seed from which grew this quiet, riotous choir that visitors could reach only by sight? Or was it merely that the seed is everywhere and it was only in this special combination of soil, light, temperature and moisture that produced such singers?

"Busy as a bee" the cliche goes, though at one time it wasn't a cliche but a newly coined alliteration that had the added benefit of being true. I observed one today and he had a sense of urgency about his business. "Stop and smell the flowers" is another cliche, but flowers are a bee's business and they would be the last to take that advice. No talking shop for the bee population.

Honeybees were ubiquitous a generation ago. Now they are rare enough that perhaps soon children will have to take an old codger's word that "busy as a bee" is a truism. They'll have to accept it on faith.

May 19, 2006


Heavy Lifting Ahead!: Christopher of Ratzinger Fan Club looks at just war theory. An excellent contribution to the blogosphere.

Our diocese has adopted the orans position during the Our Father. There are a variety of hand positions, including palms up (facing the ceiling) as well as the more priestly palms facing directly forward. I do the palms up pose which is perhaps "rubrically incorrect" but the psychological difference between the two positions is astonishing given the smallness of the physical difference: with palms up it feels as though I am supplicating and asking for the petitions included in the Our Father. With palms forward, it feels as though I am cockily imparting something, such as a blessing; it feels more like a position of a bishop about to confirm someone. I like the palms up better but will go with the other if that indeed is part of the rubrics.

Bluegrass song lyrics: "She's more to be pitied than scolded / She needs to be loved, not despised / Too much beer and wine, too many good times / The lure of the honky tonk wrecked her young life."

This is the Age of Productivity. The counter to this age of anxiety and ever greater emphasis on utility is calmness and non-utility, and I think I have a particular gift for the latter. I think it might be my calling to be lazy since that is the Sign of Contradiction in an age where 3-year olds are carted off to soccer practice after Beginning Piano. I get cheerful thinking about this as a possible calling since I feel I could be good at it though it will require much practice.

In one of his letters, Padre Pio discusses the effect of Baptism on the Christian soul and is also disarmingly frank, saying: "Don't be envious of my state, for I am more to be pitied than envied." When I wore a younger man's clothes I envied him. Now I pity him, or at least would if he were still on earth and not paradise. (Not sure if this is good or bad; I call this the Zippy progression.) Elsewhere: five maxims of the spiritual life according to St. Pio.

You didn't ask, nor should you care, but here's my ranking of how comfortable I am with the moral soundness/trustworthiness of certain NRO's pundits:
I'm Wary:   Andrew Stuttaford
Somewhat Wary:  J. Derbyshire, Victor Hanson
Neutral :  J-Pod, Brookhiser, R. Lowry
Comfortable  K-Lo, Kate O'Beirne, Jonah Goldberg,Ramesh P.

Been pondering why I received so little instruction about the historicity of the gospels during my Catholic education, and I think part of it is that, given scriptural hermeneutics, our local church was squeamish about the subject since even orthodox scholars like Fr. Brown suggested the infancy narratives were difficult to reconcile. There's a sense the Church doesn't want to "go there" since if you say cast doubt on any part of the gospels then you have a problem of people picking and choosing what they want to believe. It's no wonder that growing up it seemed like the field was left wide open to the likes of Dominic Crossan.
Fictional Friday: The Vinny Code
While this is a work of fiction, everything presented within is true and factual; there is a Greek word for scribes, and there is a Priory of Peoria.
Chapter 1

Having a case of blogger's block, a non-fatal cousin to the more famous writer's block, I recalled admonitions to "write what you know" and thought fondly back to those halcyon days when I hung with a certain writer named Dan Tan, who told me a story of perfidy going back millennia...

I feels like it was only yesterday he told me of the scriptorium in Peoria, Illinois where a group of hairy, dark-skinned scribes known in the Greek as "monkus", or monks, perpetrated the greatest conspiracy in the history of humankind. Twenty centuries ago they'd begun the Latin order in nearby Decatur only to be squashed by Emperor Bushantine, who'd forced them to go underground until this very day. They called themselves "the work of the goddess" or "Opus Taylorus". Opus Taylorus believed in the divine feminine, to the extent it led to the divine lucre.

Clues left by surviving Tayloruses leave an exciting trail of murder and mayhem, not necessarily in that order. The eldest monk, the wizened Dan Tan, told me of Order members in the 5th century who had discovered a dusty cannister proving that the Vatican had held down the film industry for centuries. He said films we enjoy and pay money to see today had actually been around for centuries and only the Opus Taylorus monks had preserved them. The first find was a dusty cannister which contained a remarkably well-preserved 482 A.D. copy of Kevin Costner's A Field of Dreams. Dreams of great lucre appeared within reach for the Order. That is, until Emperor Bushantine's NSA spies learned of the discovery and had them all put in Guantamino [editor's note: I have no editor].

But from the film they learned: "if you build it, they will come" and it was said by the head monkus in Peoria that women buyers beget lucre since they buy books, CDs, DVDs far more than men. "Ergo," he said, "veee mussen create our own Opus Taylorus book and movie so that vimmen vill buy it and make us all filled with lucre! We'll make it more realistic by acting like it's true!". Evil laughs resounded around the Knights of the Templar table.

"Mr. Ergo!" one impertinent voice said, piercing the aromatic air of crisp Benjamins and fine cigars. All looked at the hairless, white-skinned monk. "Why not just represent it purely as fiction?"

They huddled around, calling him an idiot even though they'd done focus groups and knew the book and movie would be taken factually by a third to half of the readers.

"If a tree falls in the woods and nobody hears it, did it still fall? If a book is taken as factual by half of its readers, is it still fiction?" said the albino monkus.

"I can't be held responsible for other people's stupidity," came the reply.


I followed the action from Peoria to a large metropolis in the northeast. Dan Tan whispered, as if what he were about to tell me could get me killed. "Cloaked under the satyr of night, the heroes of Opus Taylorus traveled to Paris, Tennessee, with the film cannister in their hands. They'd heard of an artist named Leo Vinny who'd painted a velvet Elvis that held many clues..."

May 18, 2006

Monday... May 22, St. Rita de Cassia's memorial, and I was pleased to receive a picture of her from a fellow Byzantine Catholic parishioner who was unaware why I would be so pleased. St. Rita's day coincides with my anniversary and is the patron, among many other things, of "difficult marriages". I hope I don't have to ask her intercession!

Her optional memorial is new to the USA liturgical calendar. I wonder how does it happen a saint from the Middle Ages get added and not subtracted from the calendar? Perhaps because her patronages are so needed? She was made a saint relatively recently, in 1900.

Speaking of saints, I was in a Catholic bookstore the other day and there was an attractive three volume set of Padre Pio's letters I hadn't seen before. The owner explained that only the first volume was worthwhile to her since in the subsequent volumes he was writing to his spiritual advisor instead of giving advice to struggling penitents. Volumes II & III were inaccessible to her, she said, because saints are so much farther along the path. That makes much sense. If someone is describing a land way beyond what I can conceive I'm not going to get as much out of it as someone describing the flora and fauna and obstacles on the path just ahead. Unfortunately my desire to move ahead on the path is often questionable at best.