May 31, 2011

Ian Hunter on C.S. Lewis

Found here:
The distinguished American novelist, Walker Percy, once remarked on the countless converts who had come to Catholicism through the writings of C. S. Lewis: Walker Percy wrote: "....[in stories told by Catholic converts] writers one might expect, from Aquinas to Merton, turn up. But guess who turns up most often? C. S. Lewis."

Yet Lewis himself never converted; he lived, and died (in November 1963) a lifelong Anglican.

In 1999, Joseph Pearce wrote a book called Literary Converts, a study of the veritable stampede to Rome of English authors and intellectuals in the twentieth century; men like G. K. Chesterton, Ronald Knox, Evelyn Waugh, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Malcolm Muggeridge. I reviewed Literary Converts when it came out and nominated it as the best Christian book of the year. More recently, Pearce wrote another book, this one called C. S. Lewis and the Catholic Church, and I reviewed that too. In this book, Pearce tries to find the answer to the Lewis paradox; namely, why has C. S. Lewis influenced so many Catholic converts and yet never himself become a Catholic?

Despite Pearce's diligent research, and his insightful and balanced reflections, the answer, I believe, eludes him. Pearce's answer – that Lewis was never able to shake off his virulently anti-Catholic Belfast upbringing – I consider unconvincing. I know that kind of upbringing: I experienced something not altogether different myself. It is an obstacle, unquestionably, but not an insurmountable one.

I believe that the answer is much simpler: in the nineteen forties, fifties and early sixties, when Lewis lived and his influence was at its height, it was still possible to regard the Church of England (particularly in its Anglo­Catholic manifestations) as part of that " holy, catholic, and apostolic Church" that all Christians, when they recite the Nicene Creed, profess to believe in.

May 30, 2011

Freedom's Dynamic Duo

Read successive posts from the great Heather King and Betty Duffy and thought, "now that's what I'm talking about."

I loved HK's fierce declaration of independence in the writing life. I thought that going to Patheos seemed too predictable a path, too..."blog hip". I'd rather a thousand flowers bloom in their stark individuality. So no branding for her and she's willing to take the punishment in terms of lesser number of readers.

Betty Duffy's post on Walker Percy's The Moviegoer ends on a similar independent note:
Binx’s search draws him to Kate, a broken woman who can give him no guarantee of happiness, a woman whose great epiphany is that “a person does not have to be this or be that or be anything, not even oneself. One is free.”

Personally, I’d prefer, for the time being, to remain “Betty Duffy.”

May 29, 2011

Books of Summer

I’m overlooking the vast horde and hope I remember to bring one fat novel in particular to the Head of Hilton: the one by William F. Buckley’s brother Reid. I read about 10% of the long book yet it still strangely resonates. I suspect I like the idea of that novel more than the actual reading of it. It sits fat on my shelf. Other physical books vying for Hilton Head status include the Oddie biography of Chesterton, the Stan Musial bio, and countless others! I’m hungry for more Joseph Pearce on Shakespeare as well. The only negative about reading is that it seems like you have to Read So Much to get to that snippet meant for you.

On Oddie’s biography of Chesterton, GKC’s childhood was filled with wonder such that it’s not too surprising he became the “wonder prophet”. It feels a bit deterministic, as if he were fated to be exactly who he was. Are we all merely extensions of our childhood, either reactions against it or emanations from it? You can certainly see the seeds (or even saplings) of who he would be in childhood. He was a romantic, preferring Shakespeare, Dickens and Scott.

Poetry Sunday

Emblazon on, oh sun, blaze on
as perfumed air lifts its burning
maple head, and undiluted Summer
lay upon my patio stones.

Blaze on, oh altar incense, blaze on
as perfumed prayers lift their smoky
longings and undiluted God
lay upon our mortal flesh.


I remember Aunt Mary
and her hermitage on Hooven
and the sounds of doves
on otherwise quiet mornings
and that bank of books
leather-jacketed but long unread
(for her eyes had gone bad).

I remember Aunt Mary,
who lived simply
and died simply
without a fuss,
for all her desperations were quiet.

I remember Aunt Mary,
who lacked the world’s props:
of long walks or bike-rides,
or pints of beer or shots of whiskey
no European trips or internet companions
nothing but the television and it’s glassy glow
and God, when she could feel Him.

Memoir (to be continued)


I was born in 1963 and childhood, naturally, followed. Having been asked to produce a memoir of my early years despite a poor memory and a general distaste for the childhood memories of my contemporaries, I will nevertheless attempt a book-length review of my early life.

Perhaps my current dislike for struggle comes from having had to do so from such an early age. Colic produced a massive release of stress hormones, and studies show cortisol blood level remain high for some months and years afterward.

And yet who could dismiss those early memories? Having little sense of “this happened when I was five, and that happened when I was six” I can only peg a general feel for the time with the music associated with it. I remember Gary Lewis and the Playboys singing “This Diamond Ring”; if that was popular in 1967, then I can remember when I was four.

My early literary influences were viewed uncritically. I read “A Light in the Forest”, which sort of encapsulated the-then fetish for Native American nobility (recall the conscience of the nation was then a tearful Indian concerning the environment) and the rancidness of Western civilization. At 25, I was donating copies of “A Light” to childrens' libraries and buying copies for my nieces and nephews. There was a sense in which something that was “of me” was inherently good and thus worth passing on. Such self-patriotism - my favorites right or wrong - now seem to strike the wrong note.


It's beyond the scope of this post to construct a day-by-day account of the year I was seven or eight or nine. But I will try, at the risk of trying the reader's patience.

The grass held a special kind of dew that morning when...

May 28, 2011

TV Shows

My favorite show on television seems the least likely: “Swamp People” on the History Channel. It takes you into another world, away from your brother-in-law’s divorce and the quotidian of daily corporate life and into the natural world of the swamps of southern and central Louisiana. It’s a window into the Cajun culture, epitomized perhaps mostly strongly by Troy, an accented alligator hunter. The latest episode strayed from the all gator, all the time format into frog-hunting and shrimp-catching and snake-grabbing. And occasionally there’s a wide sweeping shot of the swamps from the air, and it’s beautiful in all its high definition goodness.

It was also the finale of Dancing With the Stars Season 12, or season 2 for my wife and me. I get a kick out of how short Brooke’s interviews with the stars are: it’s cotton candy for short attention spans like mine. It makes O’Reilly’s short interviews look like collegiate seminars by comparison. The success of the show seems to be at least partially due to the fact that people like to look at attractive people. Add to that the elements of dance and music and you have at least part of what made musicals like “Singin’ in the Rain” so popular. Good music, good stars and good movement = the makings of good entertainment, almost regardless of plot. In this case the favorite, Hines Ward, won. Not too surprising; the football players overachieve here (perhaps because women like to reward he-men for having the balls to ballroom dance).

May 26, 2011

From Universalis & the Pope

On the feast of St. Philip Neri:
Laughter is not much heard in churches: perhaps that is to be expected... but outside church, Christians should laugh more than anyone else – laugh from sheer joy, that God bothered to make us, and that he continues to love us despite the idiots we are. Everyone is a sinner, but Christians are sinners redeemed – an undeserved rescue that we make even less deserved by everything we do. It is too serious a matter to be serious about: all we can reasonably do is rejoice.
And from Benedict, on Abraham's prayer.

Boss, Boss, No Plane, No Plane

Un-bowl-lievable line from a review of Among the Truthers: A Journey Through America’s Growing Conspiracist Underground, by Jonathan Kay:
But the British Truther and former MI5 agent David Shayler easily wins the prize for the most far-fetched theory; he believes that “no planes were involved in 9/11.” (In fact, he says, they were giant holograms.)
And, an honorable mention:
A young construction worker from Brooklyn called Luke Rudkowski must have won the record for multiple conspiracy beliefs, when in April 2007 he asked Zbigniew Brzezinski in a public meeting: “How do the American people know that 9/11 wasn’t staged, wasn’t engineered by you, David Rockefeller, the Trilateral Commission, the Committee on Foreign Relations, and the Bilderberg Group, sir?” (I love the deferential little appellation “sir” at the end of this accusation of mass murder.)
The Flâneur

He considers the boulevards ideal for thinking,
so he takes the air on a weekday evening
to best appreciate the crisis of modern life.

I thought I would try this for a while,
but instead of being in Paris, I was in Florida,
so the time-honored sights were not available to me
despite my regimen of aimless strolling-

no kiosks or glass-roofed arcades,
no beggar with a kerchief covering her hair,
no woman holding her hat down as she crossed a street,
no Victor Hugo look-alike scowling in a greatcoat,

no girls selling fruit or sweets from a cart,
no prostitutes circled under a streetlamp,
no solitude of the moving crowd
where I could find the dream of refuge.


Who needs Europe? I muttered into my scarf
as a boy flew by on a skateboard
and I fell into a reverie on the folly of youth
and the tender, distressing estrangement of my life.

-Billy Collins

May 24, 2011

The Sea!

A Bouguereau:


"[Harold] Camping said his prediction that the Rapture would occur Saturday might have been wrong, but he stands by his prophecy that the world will come to an end as forecast on Oct. 21." --via ABC News

To Billy Joel tune "Honesty": just so hard to find
Everyone is so darn proud...
Humility is hardly ever heard
but mostly what I need from me...


From the inimitable Betty Duffy:
It seems like I was just getting into competitive running at about that time, and I never was very competitive, because I was very precious to myself and concerned about the onset of pain.
Reminds me of my favorite eighth-grade saying: "I don't like pain. It hurts."

Great Title

A Crisis magazine post has the fun title*: The Church Paid 1.8 million and all I got was this lousy report. My sentiments as well. At the risk of sounding anti-intellectual, I think then-Cardinal Ratzinger's diagnosis worth more than these "experts" (since experts in part got us into the crisis given that there was the thinking that pedophiles could be rehabilitated).

* - full disclaimer: I mostly only read the title. I haven't done much of a study of the study.

The SYSTM System

Note: In my continuing attempt to not just jump the shark on this blog but to jump the whale, I hereby offer my advice on what to do with creeping weight gain.
You've seen ads for weight-loss products and exercise equipment complete with before and after photos promising a new and fitter body.

Well there's a little secret I've discovered that provides the same results with no calorie counting or tiresome exercise routines! For just $19.95, you'll receive the secret of my fitter and leaner body.

But don't trust me. Let the results speak for themselves! Here are actual unretouched photos taken before and after the new SYSTM system:

Note flabby "beer belly" stomach.

After the SYSTM system (this photo taken just three seconds after the photo above):

Note the toned, slimmed down stomach.

The SYSTM system is a marvel in simplicity and has been used in cultures since the beginning of time. For $19.95 plus $19.95 in shipping and handling, you'll receive the secret behind this time-honored system such as what SYS stands for ("suck in your stomach"). You'll also received detailed instructions when to use SYS (when shirt off, at beach, or in presence of attractive woman). If you act now, you'll also receive a handy fake barbell with the motto "SYS instead!" on it at no extra charge!

Parody blog updated...

Parody is Therapy blog updated with Newt Gingrich's surprise win of the 2011 Spring Pander-bear contest and news that unborn babies are not okay with a "truce on the social issues".

May 22, 2011

Picking on Christians?

Fr. Charles recently posted a tweet in which he said he was uncomfortable with all the ridicule heaped upon the Rapture folks given the prospect of no similar ridicule coming in 2012 when the Mayan calendar supposedly has the world ending.

It's worth considering, but I think there are two defining differences.

One is that the Mayan claim has the patina of age, and thus a tiny slice more credibility. It's one thing to predict in 2009 that the world will end in 2011. It's another to predict it a thousand years earlier (disclaimer: I know nothing about the Mayan calendar thing; merely reporting my impressions which I suspect are not that different from the man on the street). If you predict something will happen well beyond your lifetime you are removing the "credit" you'll receive by the prediction. Tis true you also remove yourself from potential blame if it doesn't happen, but there's something a bit more palatable, in this age of self-promotion and hype, to come up with a calculation way beyond your lifespan. It seems less...arrogant.

Second, the promotion. If the Mayan story came complete with huge billboards and full-page ads in newspapers and someone presumably making money off it, then there's bound to be more ridicule than something that hangs more quietly in the background.

May 20, 2011

Art Friday


Fukuyama Excerpt

Fukuyama in "The Origins of Political Order":

Click to enlarge:

Reading that excerpt I couldn't help but think that it's fundamentally anti-Christian, or at least an implicit call to transcend it via spiritual means. Because if recognition is "zero-sum" then it is quantitatively different than, say, a quest for health or wealth (both of which could be seen as win-win, or at least are not dependent on someone else losing something). Trade, for example, is a win-win. But if recognition is you lose-I win then it's fundamentally anti-Christian. To me it was illustrative of a result of the Fall, because God wouldn't have set up the world originally this way. What really interested me was how we need to base our recognition for self and others in our being children of God and valued by God, and yet Fukuyama says that doesn't work since we only experience value relative to how we rank with others.

May 19, 2011

Corner Posts

It's a good thing I don't read NR's "the Corner" too often, else I'd never emerge from it. It's interestin'.
‘Why, in My Day . . .’
May 18, 2011 7:08 P.M.
By Michael Potemra

One of the most annoying clichés I have run across among my fellow middle-aged people is the whine that kids had it so much tougher back in our day. Over on Patheos, blogger Max Lindenman has delivered a pitch-perfect parody of the genre:
“These poor bubble-wrapped Oprafied kids! Why, in my day, we poured ground glass on our pancakes and chewed the dishes like breath mints. After we finished, I’d grab my Kenner stainless-steel tomahawk, my brother would grab his Hasbro single-action Colt Navy revolver, and we’d play cowboys and Indians. Once my dad told me, ‘Son, I’d rather see your sister in a whorehouse than you in a seat belt.’ To make his point, he beat me bloody with a sjambok. That was my ninth birthday.”
Spot-on. I grew up in the 1970s, with (perhaps a little more than?) my share of issues, and it was tough enough. When I look at the pressures, stresses, and competitiveness (in both the economy and the overall society) that today’s kids put up with — all of which look vastly more difficult than the ones my generation faced — all I can say is, 1) Be brave, kids; and 2) Good heavens, I’m glad it’s not me having to face all that.

A Word to the Unwise
May 19, 2011 9:48 A.M.
By John Hood

The spectacular self-destruction of Newt Gingrich should have surprised no one. It fits with his personality and history. He is a smart man, but not a wise one. You can see it in both his public career and his private life.

Intelligence and wisdom are very different things. For example, a smart person may want to be the smartest person in the room, but a wise person wants to be in the room with the smartest people. A smart person may spend a great deal of time developing sweeping, elaborate, and internally consistent ideas, but a wise person spends his time identifying a few simple ideas and practicing how to deliver them persuasively. A smart person may place a great value on self-actualization, but a wise person reserves a higher place for self-discipline.

While there is nothing wrong with attracting smart people into the ranks of political leadership, wisdom is a far more important trait. A leader can hire highly intelligent people to fill key roles, give him ideas, and carry out his directives. But if he is unwise himself, it is unlikely that he will successfully hire for wisdom — or listen to it.

President Obama is another person who exhibits far more intelligence than wisdom. He is the ideal candidate of the academic Left, for whom verbal acuity and abstract thinking are markers of status. Gingrich has a far different ideology, obviously, but he is also essentially a man of the intelligentsia. You listen to such people. You learn from them. You honor their intellectual accomplishments. But you don’t put them in charge of anything.


Rare Library of Congress color photographs taken during Great Depression.

May 18, 2011

Longenecker's Rebuttal to Hawkings

Stephen Hawkings recently said that Heaven was a "fairy tale". Response here.
* * *


You want fire in the belly? Newt Gingrich has fire in the belly. Too bad he couldn't have loaned some of that to ol' Mike Huckabee. It might've made Newt more politically viable and Huckster more willing to jump in.

So much fire hath Newt that he'd been planning this run for Prez for years and yet a few days after he announced he shot hisself in the foot by trying to placate seniors in Iowa. Yes, he figured he'd corner the leave-Medicare-untouched part of the political market and thus get a leg up on his competitors. Machiavelli, he.

Usually you run to the right for the primary, and move to the center for the general election. Ol' Newt, too clever by a half, thought he'd try to further granulize the process: go for the older voters for the early primaries, move to the right for the later primaries and then move towards the center for the general. It seems to have caught him by surprise, but being too politically transparent has its risks. Too much political ambition is unseemly, despite it being something of a catch-22: you don't run for POTUS unless you're full of political ambition.

Short Takes

The weather report reads like a bad parody. The little icons of four days’ worth of local weather on my Google home page are all identically pictured as long knives of rain pouring down. Just like the last couple days in fact. And cold for mid-May! 48 high yesterday, 53 today. Very reactionary weather, a throwback to late March/early April. We’re starting to cut into potentially really good weather given the calendar date and summer feels no obligation to stay around longer despite having arrived later. Still, I sort of like the bad weather pattern because I’m working. I think: “Thank God I didn’t take this week off!” and indeed nothing better suits a day at work than a cold, damp day.

* * *

It occurred to me again the reality that we can’t “earn” Heaven. And the reason is not merely because we aren’t perfect. Even if we were we couldn’t earn Heaven, it seems to me, because nothing we could do during a finite and extremely brief time on earth could be worthy of immortal joy. Think about that: our lives on earth are a blink compared to eternity. What could anyone do with a blink that could be said to have earned eternal joy?

* * *

So the big bossman in these parts is heading trading green acres for a house near Manhattan. Ambitious cuss, he. Going to work in the financial district. Said he’ll be living 30-40 miles north of work. I’m vicariously excited for him. The heart of it all! The belly of the capitalist beast! I google his new location and am there, on google road map, and I can see the towering buildings, the sun glinting in through the canyons. The cost of living is surreal there so I’m wondering if he’s factored that in. He’s one of those guys I somewhat misread. Short & mild-mannered, he had that Napoleon complex for willingness to gratuitously end careers without a shred of pity.

* * *

My mom thinks the Old Testament is full of cruel happenstances and a cruel God, but funny I find my greatest comfort in the verse in the OT, IS 54:5, that goes, “Your maker is your husband!” and the least comfort in the NT verse that goes, “Not everyone who says, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the Kingdom!” Just goes to show how perspectives can differ.

* * *

My tendency is to think Jesus was recreating the whole of salvation history in his life and that the Old Testament was reflected in the days up to his Passion & Resurrection, the New Testament reflected in the Resurrection life.

* * *

Finally succumbed and bought an iPad. I could seemingly justify it by the greater portability of the word processor, the ‘easier on the eyes’ web-surfing (compared to the little iPod). I see it as a replacement of the slightly cumbersome netbook and partial replacement of the iPod. I plan on giving it a solid week or two trial to see if it makes sense and truly does replace the heavier netbook. If not, I can always send it back. Ergonomically speaking, the touch screen is a nice touch. And it’ll go easier on my shoulder and allow greater room in the European shoulder bag that I carry the Kindle & netbook in.

* * *

After the glow of Sunday Mass - the homilist reminded us that our chances of safety are much better as sheep being part of a community - Buddy the German Shepherd (not Good Shepherd) and I headed on the heels of “Alleluia, Sons and Daughters” to the environs of the local metro park. I expected few fellow hikers given the chill and damp but alas there was little privacy and, what’s much worse, a fellow dog-walker. That resulted in a Buddy eruption that was historic. It lasted thirty seconds, perhaps a minute, but he gave me a battle and ripped my church pants like they were made of paper, and removed the skin from my left knee, causing it to bleed into the already ruined green khaki. What I’d hoped was a peaceful sojourn into the wilds of the park to see the grazing bison (caught sight of them, though they were afar), I was left with adrenalin pumping and a pain in the knee literally, ass metaphorically.

* * *

I've heard the John Jay study on priestly abuse of minors cost something like $1.8 million. Oy vey, a study to find out why sin exists. Good luck with that. Funny, the Pope (then Cardinal Ratzinger) already called the scandal the result of a lack of faith.

Catholic Sensibility writes, "This study won’t help the rehabilitation. It will spark new outrage. And even among those of us loyal to the Church, we will wonder what bombshell is next."

May 17, 2011

How to Appreciate Glass

From Chesterton's "Outline of Sanity":
Now this has a considerable relevancy to the real criticism of the modern mechanical civilization. Its supporters are always telling us of its marvellous inventions and proving that they are marvellous improvements. But it is highly doubtful whether they really feel them as improvements. For instance, I have heard it said a hundred times that glass is an excellent illustration of the way in which something becomes a convenience for everybody. "Look at glass in windows," they say; "that has been turned into a mere necessity; yet that also was once a luxury." And I always feel disposed to answer, "Yes, and it would be better for people like you if it were still a luxury; if that would induce you to look at it, and not only to look through it. Do you ever consider how magical a thing is that invisible film standing between you and the birds and the wind? Do you ever think of it as water hung in the air or a flattened diamond too clear to be even valued? Do you ever feel a window as a sudden opening in a wall? And if you do not, what is the good of glass to you?"

This may be a little exaggerated, in the heat of the moment, but it is really true that in these things invention outstrips imagination. Humanity has not got the good out of its own inventions; and by making more and more inventions, it is only leaving its own power of happiness further and further behind.

I remarked in an earlier part of this particular meditation that machinery was not necessarily evil, and that there were some who valued it in the right spirit, but that most of those who had to do with it never had a chance of valuing it at all.
A poet might enjoy a clock as a child enjoys a musical-box. But the actual clerk who looks at the actual clock, to see that he is just in time to catch the train for the city, is no more enjoying machinery than he is enjoying music.

How to Read Free

(I need a How to Stop Writing 'How to' Posts but if I knew, I'd stop this.)

Sunday’s quenching read included the neat trick of gathering the pollen of Christian scholars’ work for free. I downloaded the introduction to “Moby-Dick” and “Romeo and Juliet” from the Ignatius Press classics series. It’s nirvana to read a Catholic perspective on great works of art such as the aforementioned. It opened up Romeo & Juliet in a surprisingly new way. I’d long been attuned the modern, romantic spin that Romeo & Juliet’s love was beautiful and pure and that it was their families that wrecked it. But the redoubtable Joseph Pearce points out the pains Shakespeare went to in describing a Romeo whose definition of “love” was tragically immature and whose love for Juliet was no different than the feeble type demonstrated towards Rosalind. Which should be obvious of course - how do you “love” someone you’ve just met? I've breathed too much of the noble savage myth.

Moby-Dick’s introduction was less satisfying but still interesting. Melville was ahead of his time, the introduction reports, with some of it modern and even post-modern. Melville was trapped between belief and unbelief and wanted to either do one or the other.

Finally, all of this Christian perspective on art led me back to Lucy Beckett's The Light of Christ, which I'd actually bought. Read her chapter on St. Augustine’s “City of God”.

How Not to Give Money Back to Gov't

(A Note to Self)

You get an inexplicable direct deposit from the US Treasury. What to do?

Don't try to call the agency responsible since they'll just say, "Did you talk to your bank?" (which you already did, which pointed the finger at the government agency).

They'll say that it sounds like an error was made. You'll think silently, "ya think?"

They'll recommend the time-honored method of error-correction: procrastinate and see if it'll go away on its own.

And don't spend the money in the meantime.

How to Extract Wife's Ring Size Info

(A Note to Self)

First, find proximate cause for inquiry, but mask it with leading questions.

Example: "Has the weight loss affected your ring size?" doesn't work because it's too specific.

A better method is more roundabout, requiring the patience of Job:

"Are you really still able to wear the same clothes after the weight loss?"

If yes then say, "does the wedding ring still fit?"

If yes then say, "that's good. I don't want no excuses for not wearing it!"

Then add, "Your shoe size is so small. Hey, speaking of rings, I bet you wear a small ring size."

A Strategy That Might Work

One political strategy that might work, with me at least, is for a politician to say and do absolutely nothing. At least then their favorability numbers wouldn't look like this graph:

May 16, 2011

Who Could Tire of Conversion Stories?

From Jennifer Pierce
When I decided to try on atheism, as a philosophy major at a secular college, it may have been sleep deprived induced lunacy. I had spent the whole night reading William Styron’s “Sophie’s Choice,” after having read Elie Wiesel’s “Night” the night before that, both about WWII concentration camps. I realized that Wiesel and Styron’s fictional Sophie were Jewish and Christian respectively and suddenly became aware of a world full of God’s faithful, who endure the unthinkable, all the time praying for a mercy that never comes. What does prayer mean, then, if it is answered with such a monstrous silence?

If there was a God who could abandon me, and a devil who could so easily get hold of me, despite earnest prayers for deliverance, non-belief seemed safer. Randomness was math and seemed to have the better odds. No judgment. No abandonment. If I lost the odds game and suffered, at least I wouldn’t also feel the secondary pain of being abandoned by God. It would be, then, just very, very bad luck. That seemed a lot more acceptable to me.

Despite the realization that belief doesn’t save you from suffering, however, I gradually realized that atheism was intellectually and emotionally untenable. For one thing, it’s untenable logically: “I believe there is no God” is a creed. It is kind of like saying I have no tolerance for intolerance. If we reject moral anarchy, why did any emergent, secular moral law seem to be uncannily based on the Ten Commandments? The hound of heaven still pursued my thoughts; nothing but God would make sense.

I am stubborn, though. I floated my way through non-exclusionary, Unitarian and New Age inspired beliefs. Eventually — I have a suspicion my mother’s prayers may have had a hand! — I became attracted to attending the Latin Mass at Yale University. I enjoyed it as an exotic form of charming human ritual with nostalgic value from my childhood — just as I also enjoyed going to synagogue and attending a pentecostal service. I saw them as all equivalent. I still felt relatively free to stitch together a patchwork quilt of belief based on what “felt right” and what seemed to be in agreement with and least offensive to most human beings.

That’s when I picked up a book called “Orthodoxy” by G.K. Chesterton. It read like it had been written as a letter to me in my restless “belief,” a belief I place in scare quotes because it had the odd character of seeming a lot like non-belief and the convenience of suiting whatever I felt like doing. There was one sentence that lives in my memory. I can see it on the page as if I’m reading it, any time I recall it: “I did try to found a heresy of my own; and when I had put the last touches to it, I discovered that it was orthodoxy.” That was it. My twitch.

May 13, 2011

Parody blog updated...

...with a newstory about "Obama Math" being taught in our schools and with Mitt Romney's curious defense of Romneycare.

On Patriotism

Jonah Goldberg of NRO opines, sounding a bit like Chesterton on this issue:
If I said, "There's really nothing special about my wife," you might think not only that I'm a cad, but that I don't particularly like my wife. If my wife said, "My daughter's fine, but she's really no better than any other kid," you might think she's lacking in the maternal-love department.

Now before I continue, let me say clearly and on the record that these are hypotheticals. My wife is very special. Indeed, this is an understatement of equal magnitude to "Breathing is popular" or "Jeffrey Dahmer would make a poor high-school guidance counselor." And though we might eschew a bumper sticker saying so, we both think our kid is better than your kid. But I don't want to clutter this space with too much romantic or paternal treacle.

This illustrates a truth about how love works. At some basic level, if you love something, you must find it preferable to something else, perhaps everything else. Your reasons can be subjective, or indeed impossible to identify. I put it to you that men who marry women solely because they meet a checklist (Blond hair: Check! Green Bay Packers fan: Check!) aren't really in love. They may grow to love their spouse, but that happens only when they come to appreciate what makes her different from a mere manifestation of categorical bullet points.

I bring this up because I continue to be amazed by the bizarre obsession liberal intellectuals have with "American exceptionalism."

May 11, 2011

Novel Read

Homered to straight-away center in finding another wonderful lyrical novel to read: The Tragedy of Arthur by Arthur Philips.

Some of the other books strongly considered include but don't preclude: Dream of Ding Village by Yan Lianke, I Could Love You by William Nicholson, Old Town by Lin Zhe, The Phantom Tollbooth by Juster and Feiffer, Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl, and The Dream Life of Sukhanov by Olga Grushin.

I've found with fiction much research is required. Having decided to finish novels I start*, I'm much more serious about the selection process.

Snippets from the latest Arthur Philips novel:
Fact is, most people like the brand name, and the brand name helps them enjoy the product and opens them to trust other products. So being the big Dutch queen who prances around snatching off the brands—even if he’s right, which there’s no saying he is, although I do know the truth in one case, and he is right—that stops a lot of people from learning what they like. They don’t want to say they like it, because they’re afraid the Dutch guy’s going to call them a fool for liking the wrong thing.”

* * *

"I loved him without reservation until the age when reservations were required."

* * *

“In those days, you walked outside your house, or twenty minutes outside of London, and you were in an endless forest, as magical and terrifying as you can imagine. Wonders were in the grass, mysteries. Something invisible was trying to communicate with you, frighten you, charm you, maybe steal from you, or help you, lead you to riches or just laugh at you. Now, boring, boring, we know there aren’t grotesque fairies out there. We cut down those forests to prove it. We know what causes twenty varieties of discolorations of the turf. We have so many facts, and with them we can cut down anything.”

He returned to his theme as I tore into a tenderloin of pork covered in apples and cream: the world’s vanishing faith in wonder, in relation to the vanishing natural world, and in inverse proportion to its growing store of dubiously valuable scientific knowledge.

“Fairies have to travel farther to reach us nowadays,”...“All our skill at disproving things is like a wall we build between us and wonder. To jump that wall, you need a long running start.”
* - unless seriously dreadful, as The Imperfectionists was.

News....Earth-shattering and Otherwise

So, found out that a co-worker made a major national news outlet - including picture - for his warning folks about the upcoming end of the world on 5/21. It's just wild seeing someone from work get his fifteen minutes of fame.

What I don't get is how a mathematical model can be derived using the date of the Flood when no one knows exactly when the Flood occurred. Faith and reason -- it takes two wings to fly and one wing just makes the MSM love you, either because reason alone makes you reasonable in their eyes, or faith alone makes you a tempting target of ridicule.

* * *

In other news, I don't know who's more naive. Me for trusting something found on TMZ, or dear Maria Shriver, for thinking a Hollywood movie star/playboy/atheist like Arnold would be a good risk, marriage-wise. I suppose that's too snarky for a Catholic blog but I'm just sayin'.

May 09, 2011

This & That...

Liked this Heather King picture from her blog:

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Stephen Moore on the rank hypocrisy of the pro-tax rich.

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A site
to donate for tornado relief for Alabama (diocese of Alabama).

May 08, 2011

Sunday Thoughts

A royal warmth exudeth, the likes of which rarely seen in these parts. It’s 70 degrees, full sun and no wind and it feels hot out, enough to find me scurrying around looking for the backporch sunbrella. It’s MIA, so I drink beer quickly so that it won’t get too warm too fast.

There’s a huge offensive line of clouds overhead but the sun is in the far western sky now and has avoided them all, like a successful broken-field runner. It seems odd to have so many clouds in the sky with such long-lasting full sunshine.

The hammock lay a short distance away, with those exotic white lines (rope strings) all converging on the ring that hooks to the pole. It conjures up half-remembered scenes of British colonial India, as well as the O’Connor title: “Everything That Rises Must Converge”. The stunning white ropelets sing against the light green foliage of the burning bushes. I feel a great sense of well-being in this maiden sun overlooking the sublime, reclined hammock. I have a hunger to read something Asian, such as “Old Town’ by Chi Tsu Tong (made up name since I can’t recall the author’s). It’s funny how it doesn’t take the Grand Canyon to satisfy my lust for the natural, but just a tiny corner of solitude flanked by all manner of green living things. It reminds me of that childhood space, under the stairs with a book and a candle. Needing only a book, a 25-cent candle and I was set for who knows how long. I stored books under there like semi-buried treasures.

I throw caution to the winds, my belly to the wolves, by drinking another beer. A day like today, after the long parade of Soviet-issued grey days, deserves a bit of celebration. The week impends also, a sobering deluge of routine and requests and so I drink now under the tree-spackled sun and pretend the workweek is done.

* * *

Brother-in-law Bud is the most likable guy on the planet. Really. I can’t help but think the hard worker in him is part of what makes him so likable. A hard-worker is humble, and the humble are likable. Now of course there is the nakedly ambitious worker who isn’t humble, but I’m thinking of one good at his job not for the reasons of advancement or credit. Sort of like the Christian who isn’t in it for Heaven, but for He who lives in Heaven.

* * *

My lust for object de technologie still rears its head, ugly or otherwise. What I’m really looking for is a word processor I can use in the sun (they call this pencil and paper in the olden times) but now I find I’m hungry for an expensive alternative. I’m guessing it has to be a 9 inch tablet with e-ink, something that doesn’t exist yet. Amazon is said to be working on a 6-inch tablet that can be used in the sun but I think that’s going to be too small a keyboard. I am to gadgets what Bud is to movies and camping.

May 04, 2011

Your Daily Weather Report

Downright cold today. “March, what have you done with fair May?” Locked her up in a closet somewhere south of here apparently. My slogan about never having to wear a coat in May seemed somewhat tested by the 53 degrees plus wind. And the rain? Omni-present in a way heretofore scarcely imagined. It’s rained so much and so long that now we’re seeing the grand-raindrops and great-grandraindrops of earlier rains.Not since the days of Noah has the phrase, “Not since the days of Noah” been so oft used. Suburbanites have been racing to cut the grass in the ten minute increments of non-rain. The sky has been so full of stationary clouds that a screensaver has been activated to prevent sky phosphor burn-in.

So the “two-month rule” has certainly applied. This is the general rule that on any given day the temperature is not likely to deviate more than the characteristic weather two months prior to two months later. What’s weird here is the consecutive day streak in which the weather is more characteristic of March or early April.

* * *

Immensely enjoyed the morning half-hour read, this time the beginning of a biography of Chesterton by William Oddie. Few things give me as much pleasure as reading something compelling in the utter silence and comfort of the bookroom light. For one thing, there’s the scarcity principle: I have a limited number of minutes which therefore makes them precious. Then too I love learning something interesting, and it’s very interesting to me that his “Wild Knight” poetry collection was thought by some to be “too dark” such that one reviewer said he needed to read Walt Whitman and let his lightness lift him. And he eventually did.

* * *

Been considering the great issues of our time - such as how many tickets to purchase in a “Win an iPad!” contest at work. The great piece of missing data is how many people have bought tickets but it seems likely that at least thirty people have purchased an average of 2 tickets each. That’s 60 tickets outstanding. How many tickets do I need to buy to give myself a decent chance to win, while not paying more than 50% of the actual cost of an iPad? I think it’d be cool to have a 40% chance (that’s better than you get in some Vegas games). That would mean 40 tickets (then I’d hold 40 of 100 outstanding). It’s 3 for $10, so that means $130-ish. Too pricey but relative to the price of an iPad not terrible. But 40% is no guarantee at all.

* * * *

Some pragrant (prayer + fragrant) insights yesterday. In the gospel Philip says, "Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us." How similar to the lament, "Jesus, show me yourself, and that will be enough for me." But Jesus refused to show Philip the Father, saying that "if you've seen me, you've seen the Father." And likewise if we've seen the saints, the poor, the wretched, we've seen something of Christ.

Then a line from Morning Prayer goes, "So I gaze on you in the sanctuary / to see your strength and your glory." And I thought the strength was well-represented by the crucifix in every sanctuary, by his dying for us and having the courage and strength to endure it. And I thought his glory represented by the Eucharist in every tabernacle, which is not his human body but the Resurrected body.

Okay, Okay...

Okay POTUS, you've proven your military bona fides. Now can we declare victory and get the hell out of Afghanistan?

May 03, 2011

Beautiful Pics...

...of the recent beatification...

Groeschel's Latest

Been reading Fr. Benedict Groeschel's I Am With You Always*, a frank study of devotion to Christ in Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox circles that turns out to be devotional in its own right. In the chapter on the particulars of Russian spirituality there is St. Tikhon:
St. Tikhon spent endless hours with the poor...but he was not unrealistic. He counseled against giving money to drunks. He spoke in defense of women, who were much abused in Russia at that time, and he did the same for the serfs. He confronted the rich in the name of Christ.

St. Tikhon often focused on the Passion of Christ, and Bouyer says that he had representations of Christ's sufferings in his cell, something almost unique in the history of Orthodoxy. He advises others to do the same. 'Keep in your house a picture of the passion of Christ, look at it ofen and with reverence: it will be to your a substitute for continual reading and visible history.'

No adequate Christian spirituality ends with the Passion, and for St. Tikhon, Christ's Passion always points to the Resurrection. Tikhon urged the Christian to look forward with great hope to what awaiits him...St. Tikhon, so human and so profoundly spiritual, so genuinely Orthhodox and yet open to the spirituality of Western Christianity, offers us a marvelous bridge.
* - Disclosure: Did not receive this as a review copy. I've only gotten two review copies in all my bloggin' days. (Sent whine off.)

Hitchens & Rushdie & O'Reilly

I've been imbibing too much news coverage which, of course, is all bin Laden, all the time, hence concerning this blog bin Laden in, bin Laden out. The surprising thing, to me at least, was that he was found in a compound with 12-foot walls. Seems like that might stick out on satellite photos like Prince Fielder at the royal wedding.

Christopher Hitchens, who no doubt feels glad that he lived to see Osama killed, writes of our "ally":
If you tell me that you are staying in a rather nice walled compound in Abbottabad, I can tell you in return that you are the honored guest of a military establishment that annually consumes several billion dollars of American aid. It's the sheer blatancy of it that catches the breath.

There's perhaps some slight satisfaction to be gained from this smoking-gun proof of official Pakistani complicity with al-Qaida, but in general it only underlines the sense of anticlimax. After all, who did not know that the United States was lavishly feeding the same hands that fed Bin Laden? There's some minor triumph, also, in the confirmation that our old enemy was not a heroic guerrilla fighter but the pampered client of a corrupt and vicious oligarchy that runs a failed and rogue state.
If we were played for a fool there's the fact that we played them in crossing into their territory to get him. Salman Rushdie chimes in:
Many of us didn’t believe in the image of bin Laden as a wandering Old Man of the Mountains, living on plants and insects in an inhospitable cave somewhere on the porous Pakistan-Afghan border. An extremely big man, 6-foot 4-inches tall in a country where the average male height is around 5-foot 8, wandering around unnoticed for ten years while half the satellites above the earth were looking for him? It didn’t make sense. Bin Laden was born filthy rich and died in a rich man’s house, which he had painstakingly built to the highest specifications. The U.S. administration confesses it was “shocked” by the elaborate nature of the compound.

We had heard—I certainly had, from more than one Pakistani journalist—that Mullah Omar was (is) being protected in a safe house run by the powerful and feared Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) somewhere in the vicinity of the city of Quetta in Baluchistan, and it seemed likely that bin Laden, too, would acquire a home of his own.

In the aftermath of the raid on Abbottabad, the old flim-flam (“Who, us? We knew nothing!”) just isn’t going to wash.
Bill O'Reilly points out the Muslim problem:
Yet [bin Laden] still gets some sympathy in the Muslim world, and that's what I mean when I tell you there is a Muslim problem. A few countries like Saudi Arabia have applauded the U.S. action, but most Muslim countries are silent. If there was not a Muslim problem in the world, every responsible Muslim leader would have called to congratulate President Obama. Would they not? "Talking Points" would like to know exactly how many calls the president has received from Muslim leaders worldwide.
Indeed, there's an acid test for you. If you can't be pleased about removing the threat of bin Laden, then...?

Meanwhile libertarian Lew Rockwell has a snarky piece on Osama. He sounds too conspiratorial/cynical for my taste (did the moon-landing happen?) He's also a bit disingenuous in stating the whole operation was about getting Osama; we've also killed countless Al Quaeda operational types along the way and have mostly disabled them (hence the lack of attacks on US soil). I think if any war is justified, then the war on Al Quaeda and Osama is/was, but Afghanistan is a joke (there are only a couple dozen Al Qaeda there now) and Iraq a tragic boondoggle. On the making of enemies, history teaches that powerful countries make enemies just by being powerful. Envy is alive and well. Concerning bin Laden, unless pacifism is true, then justice seems a reasonably noble venture in its own right.

May 02, 2011

First Catlick Blogger to Blog on Bin Laden Is...

I used the catholic blog search engine to find the first mention of bin Laden's death and it appears to be a Margaret in Minnesota in a post dated 10:35pm (presumably Minnesota time):
The kids were tucked into bed and kissed, and the finishing touches were put on this post. News in the background...Bin Laden is dead...which is weird and unexpected and great, I guess, but also uncertain...and I know that this day, this post, this life, that cake...everything is a gift and every moment, to be cherished.
Among the Catholic blogosphere there is mention made of the irony of our worst enemy dying on Mercy Sunday, and much mention of the Vatican's statement that we not celebrate anyone's death.

My own reaction seems so bloodless. I felt ... nothing. Neither exultation nor relief nor much dismay over the celebrations. I was a bit discomfited and taken completely by surprise by the celebrations that ensued (including OSU students jumping shirtless into Mirror Lake). Had mixed emotions since I liked the patriotism it seemed to exhibit but obviously felt that the call to love our enemies appeared not being practiced.

After the surprise wore off I thought about how this means Obama will be that much more likely to be elected in '12.

Quick Takes (Now 55% Longer!)

Osama bin Laden was living in a mansion not far from the Pakistan capital and right next door to the military academy? Pretty far from the conventional wisdom he was living like a hermit in caves and subsisting on grasshoppers and wild honey.

* * *

I don't get the paranoia on the part of the right or the left concerning George Soros and the Koch brothers (respectively). Rich people have free speech too and can spend their money on political causes if they want to.

* * *

The sky is full of spring poignancy and coolness; the wind picking up in anticipation of (yet another) potential rain. It feels so fresh and full of potential; May means never having to wear a coat (or at least rarely). I look at a sky so tall and inwardly grin at the distinctions made among houses: 8 ft v 10 ft v 12ft ceilings. One can go outside and achieve more than hundred-foot ceilings!

The visually rich corner of the backyard is the fountain flanked by flowers and I set my chair towards it instead of towards the green blankness of the flat-grass. How rarely do I face east or west. If necessity is the mother of invention then surface appearances are the mother of convention: it simply looks better to have the chairs facing towards the back lawn instead of towards the house. So inertia means that I usually just look into the green abyss.

* * *

Yesterday felt special given the ceremony making Pope John Paul II blessed. I am surprised but gladdened by the attention it’s gotten in Catholic circles and elsewhere given that it’s not a canonization but a beatification. It got mentioned by our priest today at Mass and, slightly more surprisingly, by ABC’s “This Week”. A priest on television said that declaring someone “Blessed” means we are sure they are in Heaven, but I thought that’s what canonization was. Regardless, I’m heartened by the recognition of the late Pope and feel like maybe I should’ve taped and watched the EWTN coverage of the beatification. Al Kresta thinks that the reason Princess Diane’s death got so much more coverage than Mother Teresa’s was that the world doesn’t recognize Christian values and priorities. It seemed a trifle unfair given that a) Pope John Paul II’s death received massive secular news coverage and b) Princess Diana’s death was so shockingly unexpected compared to Mother Teresa’s. I’m far from a defender of the secular media, but new editors respond to the unexpected with more coverage.

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Can’t seem to put down a book located in German Village and subsequently purchased on Kindle. It’s the age-old story of the fall of the Roman empire. The author doesn’t seem capable of a dry page; he cuts to the chase and writes interestingly if not exactly sympathetic to Christians. He suspects the reason that the empire fell was that due to losing land and tax revenue at a time when they couldn’t afford either. He makes the point that for Rome the defense budget was THE budget, to a certain extent, and there wasn’t our huge health and education spending. Thus any decline in revenue meant fewer mercenaries could be hired, or troops paid. Not good when you’ve got Vandals and Goths at your back.

* * *

Am strangely addicted to Twitter on iPod. Such a colorful, succinct aggregater of real-time micro-posts. It’s full of little aphorisms and inspiring words by those more spiritual than me, as well as links to interesting news articles. It’s so addicting that here I was half-tempted to buy a whole ‘nudder instrument (color Nook) in order to enjoy it on a bigger screen (7inch versus 3.5 inch). Of course with an iPad I could have the additional option of having a writing instrument. (Ah...I recall the days when a ‘writing instrument’ was a simple as a pen and paper!)

Was pleased to listen to the sermon at Westminster for Kate & William, as well as the beautiful music from the boys choir before and after. Sublime sounds such that I headed over to iTunes to see if there was a royal wedding soundtrack. Nope...