October 23, 2014

Lead Me Chat

So this afternoon our company had an online "leader chat" , a post-meeting interactive session concerning the happiness speaker (as mentioned on this blog!). I commented, hopefully anonymously (because later I learned our VP was in the room with head honcho Eric). I said basically that choosing the optimist over the competent when you can't get both (as was asserted by Mr. Happy, er, the speaker) seems like what we tend to do electing presidents in recent years. Obama, Bush and Clinton all seemed like optimistic, likable fellows you'd want to have a beer with. Unfortunately they were impressively incompetent. See health care (Obama), Iraq (Bush), and allowing bin Laden/Al Qaeda to flourish (Clinton). Give me competency or give me death!

(Aside: Who were competent presidents in recent years? Reagan. Bush the Elder.)

Eric didn't answer the query, of course, it being way too opinionated, negative, and political. A pluperfect trifecta of reasons not to answer. Leader chats are intended as substance-free cheerleading sessions with astute comments like, "I'm fired up about engagement and our new 2020 vision for creating value!" and "What can you tell us about synergizing the eschaton?"

But I'd kind of wish now I'd written something like, "I truly see the value in positive thinking, but wonder how far before that becomes a sort of Stepford mentality?"

October 21, 2014

Good Posts...

...over at Darwin Catholic:

Sex, marriage, and relationships are one of the main areas of conflict that we as humans encounter. Sex and relationships are important to us. Why is it that so many movies and stories involve sex and relationships? Because drama is built on conflict and one of the main areas in which we have personal conflict is around our relationships.
So unless we believe that God doesn't care if we treat people well, unless we believe that he doesn't care whether or not we suffer: Yes, God does care about sex and marriage. He cares about it because one of the main ways that you personally can either make others happy or make their lives miserable is your treatment of your family and loved ones.
And one on papal infallibility as well.

Seeing God Too Anthropomorphically

I think back years ago when I struggled to understand just when God takes on the "effort” of ensouling a human fetus, as if God says, “oh my, a new birth, I guess it's now my part in this equation. I need to ensoul it.”

God may be a "just in time" God, but obviously is never taken by surprise. Pope Francis recently quoted Scripture and said that “a Christian is a chosen one, one who has been chosen in God's heart before the creation of the world.”

It's a really mind-blowing thought that God thought about us before we were born and even more so before the creation of the world. This is the sort of stuff that deserves to be “pondered in our heart” like Mary did in hers.


Elsewhere, a neat find - a reference in the Vatican II documents to Daniel 3:57-90, famous from Morning Prayer (“fire and ice…praise the Lord!”):
The call to grandeur and the depths of misery, both of which are a part of human experience, find their ultimate and simultaneous explanation in the light of this revelation.* [* footnote reference is to Daniel 3]
This was always my sense of Daniel 3, i.e. to praise Him in good times and bad, and here it is so explicated.

October 17, 2014

Quick Picks

Well now given the roil of current Vatican politics, one can see why Pope Francis asked us to pray for him before his pontificate. Somehow it seems like he needs it more than John Paul or Benedict.


So I learned the reason old woman often have blue-tinted hair is that as eyes age they can't see blue as well. So hair they think is yellow or salmon. In a book I'm reading one lady doesn't want to change her hair color even knowing this fact - she says it's more important that she see her hair as natural than the rest of the world do so.


A homilist the other day said that a politically liberal friend of his was angry with God for failing to provide a cure for cancer. The priest's friend was stridently pro-abortion, and Fr. B. told him of an interconnection.

“Human problems require human solutions!” he said. “The fact that we're aborting a million people a year, how does that help solve human problems? By killing the unborn we are killing many brains that could potentially solve human problems like cancer!”

Arresting perspective, especially about how the homilist is so comfortable with disease being a human problem that requires a human solution. “God gave us brains that we might use them,” he often says. It seems a high view of human potential, especially given the almost half the country voted for Obama.

But it goes along with something Heather King once wrote about how God doesn't give us a lot of unnecessary help, or words to that effect.

God certainly doesn't have the “soft bigotry of low expectations” concerning us, and it's like that from the beginning of the Bible (“let us make man in our own image” is certainly God putting a lot of faith in human power & reason). St. John Paul writes in "The Gospel of Life":
The Book of Sirach too recognizes that God, in creating human beings, “endowed them with strength like his own, and made them in his own image” (17:3). The biblical author sees as part of this image not only man’s dominion over the world but also those spiritual faculties which are distinctively human, such as reason, discernment between good and evil, and free will: “He filled them with knowledge and understanding, and showed them good and evil” (Sir 17:7). The ability to attain truth and freedom are human prerogatives inasmuch as man is created in the image of his Creator, God who is true and just (cf. Dt 32:4).
That's pretty potent stuff and seems to fly in the face of Christ saying, “without God you can do nothing.” I suppose "nothing" means spiritually-speaking, in terms of the REALLY important stuff like one's heart rather than curing disease.

It reminds me also of part of a book I read recently titled, "From Shame to Sin" about how sexual promiscuity was seen as sin as the society went from pagan to Christian during the first centuries after Christ. The key issue was said to resolve around free will and a feeling of empowerment - the early Christians believed we have it, while the pagans gave up and excused sexual perversions as part of the human condition, i.e. more deterministic.


The full context of St Irreaneus famous quote about the glory of God being man fully alive:
And for this reason did the Word become the dispenser of the paternal grace for the benefit of men, for whom He made such great dispensations, revealing God indeed to men, but presenting man to God, and preserving at the same time the invisibility of the Father, lest man should at any time become a despiser of God, and that he should always possess something towards which he might advance; but, on the other hand, revealing God to men through many dispensations, lest man, failing away from God altogether, should cease to exist. For the glory of God is a living man; and the life of man consists in beholding God. For if the manifestation of God which is made by means of the creation, affords life to all living in the earth, much more does that revelation of the Father which comes through the Word, give life to those who see God.

October 15, 2014


From Catholic Bibles for those spending too much time worrying about the synod:  http://www.catholicbiblesblog.com/2014/10/for-those-who-are-spending-too-much.html

Happiness is the New Black/Gay/Whatever's Hip Now

Yesterday was dominated by a work meeting, and the guest speaker was the author of a book on happiness, how it makes us more productive on the job. Tail, meet dog.

The guy came out wearing a Cheshire grin a mile wide. He was happy, the very definition of happiness! You couldn't accuse him of hypocrisy, that's for sure. He looked like he was on the verge of an ejaculation.

Then he spoke, rapidly, humorously, interestingly. The Good Book unsurprisingly has it right: Science shows it's better to give than to receive, that we are social beings (i.e. “not good for man to be alone” in Genesis), and that habits of gratitude are good.

The workplace execs are fascinating to me in that they so perfectly mirror the zeitgeist. They are nothing if not plugged in and well-connected. This is helpful to me since I'm so semi-divorced from popular culture, business trends, and even the news to some extent. I'm as disconnected as they are connected. And it's good to know what's going on, especially for ostriches.

What companies are learning is it's not what you can contribute but how closely you fit the schema of the perfect employee as defined by studies of the employees of successful companies. Optimists only need apply; competency will follow. Negativity is seen as more dangerous than second-hand smoke now given the contagious nature. Soon those who engage in snark or complaining will be ostracized like smokers. Already our company is hyper-concerned with our physical health given how much skin in the game they have for our health care costs: now they have a dog in the hunt as far as our mental lives, defined by how cheerful we are.

I have mixed emotions. All of this positive thinking is in the biblical camp. And yet...I think of the necessity to vent, of humor, of what Larry David, Seinfeld creator, once said: “Positive is not funny…when you speak in negative terms the more negative, the funnier it is.” (Speaking of humor, funny line from a comedian: “You'll get unconditional love as soon as you do something to deserve it!”)

The guest speaker said that joy is something detached from external circumstances of want or privilege. Very gospel-ish. He said that we don't find happiness in acquiring or even achieving but in the striving, and in that sense I guess I get why God has us in a situation of “constant striving” to paraphrase k.d. Lang.

At Mass the other day the priest gave a pro-life message. He said that how we treat a gift is a reflection of what we think of the giver. To receive a tie and then throw up on it in disgust is to insult the person who gave you the tie. Similarly to the extent we complain about the gift of life we are saying what we think of God. And yet I think of how Job in the OT complained much of the time, understandably, and yet found much favor with God. On the other hand Jesus - who is a type of Job in that he was likewise innocent and suffered - didn't complain about God the Father, that's for sure. Except perhaps about feeling forsaken.

Chinese Pay Cash and Other Non-Sequitors

The other night was one of those exceedingly rare occasions we hoofed it out for a “night on the town”.

The event, in this case, was and Evening With Authors series, this time held at the art museum and featuring Simon Winchester, author of the million-book seller The Professor and the Madman.

The talk itself was mildly entertaining if at times a bit dry. It's the sort of thing that really looks good in the Dispatch: literary talk by one of the authors I'm currently reading (The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary).

He grew up in London and he's lived everywhere since but has had a fascination with America since childhood and eventually he became a US citizen of which he is hugely proud. He says the country is “better than its politicians” which drew rousing, bipartisan applause, although I've always been of the sense that living in a democracy get the politicians we deserve.

He spoke about how his experiences with the generosity of Americans and how he wanted to write a book about this country and now has. He has a humorous fascination with the mundane - he thinks East Liverpool, Ohio has a great tourist attractions in America but don't realize it. They have an obelisk that is “point zero” of the 1785 Public Land Survey System that would open what the Northwest Territory for settlement. Definitely with historians there seems a tendency to be fascinated by minutiae. I've noticed it in some of David McCullough's books as well. It comes with the territory to some extent because you have to be fascinated by the mundane in order to be a decent researcher. You can't uncover a gold nugget without finding interest in the avalanche of rocks you have to sift through, i.e. if you don't love something, you really can't do it well.

Then he told a lengthy story of one of the first geologists who two wives and children and was able to keep them separate for his whole life, although it was hard financially for him, to put it mildly.


Many gospels can hurt - the Scriptural blade is two-edged after all and meant not simply as a corrective to others but a corrective to self - but there's an “out” that is tempting: see all Our Lord's comments mainly directed at the Pharisees and scribes, not poor sinners. Many of his parables can be seen thus with a tiny bit more distance, notwithstanding how patently easy it is to be a present day Pharisee or scribe.

Of the excellent explanation of the Ignatius Study Bible on one passage, I certainly prefer the second interpretation, given that it emphasizes God's power:
A parable about Jesus’ generation. It may be understood in two ways.

(1) It is a warning to those who benefit from Jesus’ ministry without embracing his message and its demands. Since one must be not only emptied of evil but filled with divine goodness, the messianic works of Jesus should lead people to accept his messianic kingdom; otherwise they land themselves in a worse state than before (2 Pet 2:20–22).

(2) The controversy over exorcisms in the preceding context (12:22–29) sets the stage for Jesus to establish the superiority of his New Covenant ministry over the Old as administered by the Pharisees. Although the Pharisees expel evil spirits (“your sons” [12:27]), they leave a vacuum that exposes individuals to more severe counterattacks from Satan. Jesus also drives out demons, but, unlike the Pharisees, he fills believers with the greater power of his kingdom through the Spirit (12:28). Jesus’ contemporaries must prefer these blessings of his kingdom ministry to the real but limited benefits of the Pharisees’ ministry; otherwise they are left vulnerable to spiritual catastrophes worse than before.


So a Chinese guy with limited English appeared at my brother's door to buy the car my brother had put on Craigslist. After some haggling $4,000 was agreed upon, which the guy paid in 50-dollar bills. “Chinese pay cash” he explained. And indeed, just now I googled “Chinese pay cash” and lo and behold tons of hits came up, including one from the New York Times titled “Chinese Way of Doing Business: In Cash We Trust”. The article says that most Chinese don't trust Chinese banks or the government, and that certainly makes sense.


Night before last night was readerly joy. Lots of the Edmund Morris bio of Roosevelt with a heathy dash of an oral history of the Letterman show. What memories it bought back! Hal Gurnnee. Larry “Bud” Melman. What a cast of characters. I think Letterman lost his footing, no pun intended, when he swapped his trademark tennis shoes for dress-up shoes.

Also enjoyed the MLB app this morn, watching highlights of playoff baseball. I was struck dumb by the visual poetry of the ballpark at San Francisco. Late afternoon sun was stunning - as is usual out west - but the ballpark itself is a gem. A huge statue of baseball glove beyond the outfield, large wall Budweiser advertisement that reminded me of '40s/'50s ads, and of course that glittering, breathtaking bay just beyond the right field line. I watched the game recap mostly just for the setting.

October 07, 2014

Loose Ends Tied Up with Asterisks

Theodore Roosevelt's reading habits:


You know the end is nigh when there's a Bible now called “Puppies”. I kid thee not. Inside there's tiny biblical print but full color illustrations of pups. It's the ultimate glurge-ification of the Bible, and seems to treat the Scripture as an adjunct to the pictures of puppies beside neutered Scripture denuded of context. It's fascinating, and understandable, I suppose. Sort of how the halo of nostalgia collects around saints like St. Francis and Patrick, both of whom weren't to be trifled with but now are taken as harmless jolly makers! I have the proverbial mixed emotions since I like saints with smooth edges but at the same time feel uneasy over it.

Puppy Bible in bookstore:

One verse I sense is not singled out for approval anywhere, Puppy Bible or otherwise - from Psalm 119: "It was good for me to be afflicted, in order to know your statues."


Dire news from The Economist:
[Two economists] recently concluded that 47% of employment in America is at high risk of being automated away over the next decade or two. Messers Brynjolfsson and McAfee ask whether human workers will be able to upgrade their skills fast enough to justify their continued employment.  


I thought of how God loves little actions, little thoughts of gleam, and how those pre-Christians from 30,000 years ago, those early humans struggling for subsidence, could please God just as much as the devout saint today. Because they too could be humble and be a childlike towards God even in their ignorance. Child-likeness and humility perhaps aren't time dependent. But I feel guilty sometimes knowing about Christ's love and mercy while those before Christ did not. Scandal of particularity I guess.


I like how every day there's fresh Scripture as if come down from Heaven: the daily Mass readings. It's something to look forward to and feels much less forced or arbitrary than reading it when it's not singled out for attention. Plus I always feel like if a certain bit of Scripture doesn't make it anytime in the three-year cycle then it's probably not that important, though that could certainly be very mistaken. I don't think St. Jerome would approve of that statement.

My pet peeve in books of meditations on the day's Scripture is the inclusion of questions for discussion. Instead of opining themselves on some important item they just throw it out there.
In The Sunday Word this time the New Jerusalem editor asks: “Are the tenants of God's Christian vineyard any better than the previous tenants? Who are they anyway?”

Questions without answers don't interest me as much although they say that "the questions of God are more satsifying than the answers of men".


Saturday's alright for fightin' they say, but this past one was mostly just alright for sitting indoors. Cold! A real game-changer. Temps started in the 40s and never left, like how the Reds never left mediocrity this season. Definitely not used to it, especially when combined with a zephyr-ous wind. It actually hailed this morning and I trotted out the old chestnut, “What the hail?!” Turned on the heater for first time since April.

But despite the conditions we headed out at the early hour of 9:45am to do something I've always kind of wanted to, and that was to take the 'mules to St. M's for the annual blessing of pets on St. Francis's day. And indeed this time it fell exactly on his feast, which was nice. The 'mules were pretty well-beaved and it helped that Fr. Jeff didn't go on too long. I got a little nervous when I saw there was a reading from Scripture, but it was only a couple verses. Buddy had a few walloping barks, which each time drew smiles from Fr. Jeff. One thing's for sure, when Buddy makes his presence felt, he makes it felt.


Read more of the tragic story of West Virginia author Breece Pancake. On paper he was a huge suicide risk: alienated artist in the hollows of West Virginia, a man without a country, and his father committed suicide five years beforehand (a great risk factor for sons). So the odds were high. More explicable I suppose but no less sad.


Read more of Lino Rulli's book Saint. He's more self-revealing in this book than his first, perhaps coming close to oversharing but I didn't mind. I also thought it interesting how he loves to travel and yet hates to leave home. He's been to Russia, China, Peru, Rome, South Africa, Egypt… the list goes on. And on every trip he plays some of his favorite songs, which he listed. And wow, what a melancholic group of songs! They certainly tends toward nostalgia, the maudlin, self-pity, and loss. All of which fit me snug enough in my bachelor days as well. Occupational hazard. Surprised he devoted a chapter to exulting in sleeping in the nude. He's a real evangelist for the practice. Another roommate got him started and he says it's freeing and all. I've never tried it myself.


The morning commute was gleeful – Terri Gross had country music legend Marty Stuart on Fresh Air and indeed the show lived up to its name. Great stuff about how he talked with Johnny Cash four days before he died.
Marty: “I'm going to Washington this weekend. Anything you want there?”
Cash: “The Washington Monument.”
Later Cash wanted to give things away given his life was nearing its close. “Anything you want in here?” Stuart answered, “Just your love.” Cash said, “You got that.” Very Jesus-y and inspiring.