June 21, 2020

The Mystery of Japan

One of the mysteries in life is that Japan is not a Catholic nation. Missionaries like St. Francis Xavier came and martyrs died there... it seems a perfect set-up for a glorious story. And surely it still will be, as the story is not done. I pray that the remnant of Christians there now, less than 1% of the population, will be the leaven that gives salvation.

The human heart is convoluted and there’s no sense to it as Jeremiah wrote, but I tried nevertheless. Thirty minutes with Google is supposed to give me the answer even though I’ve never been to Japan, know no Japanese, and know nothing of its culture. But... your heart can’t not go out for them: aging population with few babies, slaves to work after once they were slaves to the emperor, stone-cold killers during WW2 but now in a pacifism profound enough to have seemingly given up the fight altogether.

The chief impediments to Christianity there now seem to be a combination of factors:
1. Christianity is perceived as an import, as a “Western religion” and Japan is nationalistic. “Japanism is essentially a magico-shamanistic ritual/belief and ancestor worship. Also the belief in the uniqueness of Japan and its people, the ethno-centrism that is all-pervading, is called ‘Japanism’.” (From book “Jesus for Japan”). 
2. General distaste for religion in general due to emperor-worship in WW2. 
3. Tepid lukewarm felt banners Catholicism. Distaste for “hard teachings” on sexuality. Little to no celebration of extraordinary form.  
4. 17th century persecutions that worked “enough”, much like persecutions in the USSR have worked “enough” to tamp down religious belief. 
5. Surreal work ethic. Oblate of Mary missionary says “People don’t have time to come to Church. Here, work gets the priority, not religion.” (I’d love to know genesis of this. A result of aftermath of WW2 and scarcity? Or perhaps an aging population must work much harder due to decreasing productivity just to stay even?) From Japanese Catholic bishops statement: “Shared meals are rare...Consequently, there are no opportunities to share conversation. Each member of the family faces difficulties, but since there is no fellowship each is lonely and has little experience of loving or being loved." 
6. Discouragement. High suicide rate. “Many Japanese suffer from a lack of healthy self-identity....Eternal life is not actually a happy idea to a Japanese. ‘Jesus will give you eternal life!’ No, thanks, thinks the Japanese, that is just what I want to avoid.” (book “Jesus for Japan”).

June 18, 2020

Meditation from Byzantine Priest

Nice meditation from our pastor at the local Byzantine Catholic church:
18 While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. 23 And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. 

I would like to ask you to recall the moment when you fell in love. The moment when, after a while you got known the person, and the desire grew and became a flaming fire: I want to be with you! It does not matter whether the relationship worked out or not; it does not matter whether later we became disappointed or the relationship fell apart. This particular moment is important. Why? In this experience you have a reflection of the excitement, marvel, and desire God has for you! As you burned with the desire to be with the beloved person, so God burns with the desire to be with you! Already the OT book of Wisdom says:

and hate nothing that you have made;
for you would not fashion what you hate.
How could a thing remain, unless you willed it;
or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you?
But you spare all things, because they are yours,
O Ruler and Lover of souls! (Wisdom 11:24-26)

God loves what he has created and specially humans. At the dawn of humanity, he saw humans and said “it was very good!” (cfr. Gen 1:31). When we look at today’s reading, we see the same passion of God for humans. Jesus walking at the Sea of Galilee saw the fishermen and called them (Mt 4:18-21).

For the first sight nothing special. Yet, looking at the historical context it is special act indeed. In the Ancient world teachers did no choose disciples. Disciples were choosing a teacher to listen to, to follow, to imitate. It was true for the Jewish as well as Greek world. Among the Jews there was even a kind of elitist thinking, for example, the school of Shammai, a well know rabbi of the time of Jesus, would accept only the well-to-do of noble birth. Jesus is quite different. He chooses his disciples. Something unknown and new at the time. Basically, he comes down to their level, socially speaking.

Moreover, Jesus did not choose the well-trained professionals to be his disciples. He did not go to the center of education and wealth, Jerusalem or Caesarea, Jericho or Tiberias. He went to the Sea of Galilee, a place despised by the elites. He called artisans, simple people, hard workers. The skills and talents they had were enough and good for the service of the kingdom of God. If God called a shepherd, Moses and David, to be leaders and king…then Jesus could call fishermen to be gatherers of people.

However, behind this attitude of choosing disciple and choosing the simple, without requirements, going down to their level, stands this passion of God for humans! He comes close, he comes down there where they are. Where you are. Matthew does not say it explicitly, but Mark does. When he speaks about choosing the Twelve, he says “so they would be with him” (Mk 3:14).  ‘TO BE WITH HIM’ is the key term in gathering disciples. Put it simply: I want to be with you; I want you to be with me. And this is true not only about the disciple, but it is true of you and me as well. Jesus chose the disciple to go and make disciples (Mt 28:19) and promises to be with them (Mt 28:20). There is no other reason of the incarnation, of the God becoming human, just this: to be with us; to be with him.

Last Sunday we recognized that holiness is our vocation and the Holy Spirit makes it possible. Today we meditate the essential steps of this transformation: God comes to me because he wants to be with me! Yes, he wants to make me his disciple and then send me out. But the first step is to be with me!!!!

It is important to stop and ponder on this word, on this reality. To repeat it and repeat it, letting the Word penetrate my heart and my being. In silent pondering we let the Lord touch us. And the discipleship becomes an easy yoke. Jeremiah has a beautiful confession. Let us use it, pray and meditate it together with Ps 139.

4 Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying,
5 Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you,
and before you were born, I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.
6 Then I said, Ah, Lord God!
Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth. 
7 But the Lord said to me,
Do not say, I am only a youth;
for to all to whom I send you, you shall go,
and whatever I command you, you shall speak.
 Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,
declares the Lord
. (Jer 1:4-8)

In the experience of falling in love we have the reflection of the desire, excitement, and burning desire of Jesus to be with you!

June 16, 2020

Special Blog Notice Regarding the Recent Disturbances

Special notice

Read a very important virtue-signaling message below from our CEO TSO about Video Meliora yada yada's response to rioting and racial injustice within our communities:
Our website has prided itself in building a culture based on diversity and inclusion. Our readers are not identified by race or ethnicity or discriminated against when counting hits or page views.  We also have a policy of not discriminating against commenters except those requesting monetary funds to free a Liberian prince.

While I freely admit I’ll never fully understand what it is like to be a white person other than myself, I know right from wrong and will not discriminate against another person just because they are not, literally, me.

And I know that if any part of my VMPDS team is impacted, it impacts us all, because there is only one person working on this blog. At its heart, that’s what this blog's slogan means.

In the coming days, I encourage each of us to step away from the nonsense, ignore the division sought by the enema, and engage in productive conversations about the weather.  Our goal must be to stamp out "national conversations".  Instead, converse with your family and immediate neighbors only please.

Let us close with everybody's favorite, John Lennon's Imagine:

Imagine there's a heaven
It's easy if you try
A hell dividing us
Above us shared sky
Imagine everyone living eschatologically

Imagine countries under God
It isn't hard to do
Willing to kill or die for
Out of every soul’s due
Imagine all the people living eternally, you
You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope some day you'll join us
And the world will be as one

June 13, 2020

Fr. Boniface’s Message

A local church, St. Patrick’s, printed in their bulletin a homily by an “alumni” priest, Fr. Boniface Endorf, who is now serving as pastor of a church in Manhattan.  Excerpts are good reminders:
Human dignity must be respected always. Its recognition is the only antidote to racism, and we must respect everyone’s human dignity even when fighting racism. Otherwise, we undermine the very reason why racism itself is evil.Human dignity must form the foundation of our life together, in the field of law enforcement and politics and everywhere else.

At this moment two great dangers threaten our hearts: anger and despair. Anger in itself is good – anger is a natural human passion whose purpose is to provide us the strength to overcome injustice. Anger can be the spur pushing us to work for justice. However, when anger works against justice it becomes corrupted and a vice. Anger that leads one to act unjustly has contradicted its very purpose. In our fallen state anger easily exceeds its warrant to seek what is just and we must be careful not to use anger to justify injustice.

Anger that leaves us trapped within ourselves, narrowly focused on an event, becomes a form of inner slavery. We become bound to the injustice that caused our anger. We do not act for justice but become obsessed with anger itself. Our minds become consumed with what happened, and our passions lead us to act in ways we otherwise would find unacceptable. Anger then becomes toxic and controls our minds and hearts. The only antidote is forgiveness. To forgive is to regain our own inner freedom and to heal. When we forgive, we step out of a cycle of injustice and regain our freedom to love. In our thirst for justice we should never forget love and mercy.

The other threat to our hearts is despair. What can we do when faced with centuries of injustice – indeed, injustice stretching all the way back to Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel? First, do not look too long into the Palantir. The Palantir is an object from the Lord of the Rings used to see what is happening far away. One of the characters in that story, a leader of a nation, looks into it and sees the evil surrounding and besieging his nation. He sees only the evil, not the good, and amidst that darkness, he falls into despair. His despair cripples him spiritually and prevents him from fighting for the good. The same can happen to us. Through the Internet, we can see what’s happening all over the world at any moment, and the sheer volume of evil and darkness can spiritually cripple us too. Despair is stalking us and we must make sure that we grasp for hope instead. Do not focus solely on the darkness! Do not let it fill your mind and sow despair within you. Stay focused on Christ and His victory over sin and death. He is our hope.

We must be a people conformed to Jesus – people who seek love through truth rather than power through hate. To change a culture of hate, a culture that fetishizes power and death, we must change our hearts to love in truth. There is no short cut or simple political solution. Sin and death were not overcome through raw power and violence, nor through political skill, but through Jesus Christ giving His life for us out of love. We are called to follow in Christ’s footsteps – giving ourselves in love as He did. That is how evil is defeated.

You Can’t Serve the Republic and the Media

Given the huge thumb the media has on the scales it seems that most non-liberals to take public office outside of Congress have been fighters: certainly Clarence Thomas, Brett Kavanaugh and Donald Trump immediately come to mind.

Clarence Thomas wouldn’t be on the Court now if he hadn’t subtly played the race card - which must’ve been hard for him. In a fiery speech he said the hearing was like a “lynching”, drawing the image in our heads of other black men strung up for offenses they were not guilty of.

Similarly, Justice Kavanaugh singlehandedly changed his nomination fortunes by a fighting speech defending himself. In fact, the media painted it as too over-the-top hysteric and thus disqualifying himself on the grounds of temperament.

And there’s Trump, of course.

It’s likely there was some democratic (small ‘d’) wisdom in 2016 Republican primary voters in intuiting that a major problem with the GOP was a tendency to court public opinion rather than to really, really want the job. You can’t have media respectability and the presidency, like you can’t love God and mammon, at least not in the age of complete journalistic failure and our cultural milieu.

Kavanaugh and Thomas REALLY wanted to be on the Court. Trump REALLY wanted to win the White House (not for the presidency itself but for the adulation, which is why the lack of a press honeymoon surprised and enraged him).

Did McCain REALLY want to be president? No, not more than he wanted the respect of the reporters he loved to dish with. Reputation mattered too much to him, which is understandable in that he was rich in reputation and it’s very hard to give up what you are rich in.

Did Romney REALLY want to be president? Yes but Romney is the quintessential “both/and” kind of guy, as in “I want to be both president and admired by the media”. He couldn’t choose, much like he couldn’t choose between being pro-abortion and pro-life, a Rockefeller republican and a “severe conservative”. So he tried to skate just below the threshold of media disfavor, a threshold that becomes increasingly tighter over time.

Trump is certainly a fighter but unfortunately not one to choose his battles wisely, or to limit himself to using the truth, or to spice his fights with more humor rather than rancor.

All of which is to say that an ambitious, happy, truthful warrior is hard to come by -- understandably given the fierce demands that makes on character.

June 12, 2020

Sixteen Hours in Scenic Canal Winchester

There’s nothing quite like the excitement of checking into a hotel you’ve never been before. I still recall a Howard Johnson’s, decades ago, and how exciting it was. I’m not sure why it stood out to my then ten year old mind. Probably for the slimmest of reasons, like it had a nice pool or a decent continental breakfast. My memory says we were on our way back home from a trip and were looking for a place to stay and finally found one and so were relieved to be done (for the day) traveling.

So today we drove a half-hour to Canal Winchester, perhaps the most unremarkable looking suburb of the many unremarkable suburbs that surround Columbus. Still, even a town of 7,000 souls has history and mystery:
Canal Winchester was founded in 1828 by Reuben Dove and John Colman. When construction of the Ohio & Erie Canal came through Dove's wheat field, he wanted to sue the state. The canal workmen instead convinced him that he would be better off laying out a town, because the area was midway between Columbus and Lancaster. On November 4, 1828, Reuben Dove recorded the first plat for Winchester, Ohio, named after Dove’s father's hometown of Winchester, Virginia.
Winchester flourished because of agriculture and transportation. The Ohio and Erie Canal brought passengers, freight and a means to transport grain to market. The first canal boat floated through Winchester in 1831. The village was named Canal Winchester when the post office was established in 1841, because there were five other locations in the state named Winchester.
The reason for the destination was Brewdog brewery and the hotel Doghouse.  (Dog-friendly, naturally).

Check-in wasn’t easy as canine Max was going nuts, barking so hard I couldn’t hear the lady at the counter. I said “act like you’ve been to a hotel before” without effect. No manners.  In fairness, they don’t get out much.

The dogs and I walked in high summer weather along the pond outside our patio with Maris sniffing things like me inhaling the scent of old books and Nordic Max mainly looking for other dogs and trying not to overheat. I carried and drank from my “free” beer (free for the price of a share of Brewdog stock). My wife begged off the hike saying it was far too hot (which it was).

Now I’m sitting in an Adirondack chair on our private patio overlooking the pond. Ahhhh... and drinking from essentially limitless beer tap, an 11-pint in-room number featuring the dependably delicious Brewdog Hazy Jane. (Surprisingly my wife likes it but she’s got two freebies as it is, a Clockwork Tangerine and a Lost Lager. )

We ordered room service and while waiting I picked up a flight of four beers from the bar including a fine Jet Expresso Nitro Stout (9), an Ace Mandarin (7), an Indolence (1; a sour beer and undrinkable), and an East Coast Crush (9). This is the adult equivalent of a kid in a candy shop.

They have a small refrigerator in the main room and another in the bathroom called “shower beer”, complete with a huggie mounted above the sink to keep your beer cold while brushing your teeth or going to the bathroom.  Not that you could drink a beer while going to the bathroom or brushing your teeth although the latter might be hard.

The hotel lobby was empty when I went out to order my flight so I let Max run wild and free they said dogs had to be on a leash. Surprisingly he responded to my whistles like I was a trainer at the Westminster dog show.

This is my kind of vacation: sitting around drinking beer. It’s funny how factories seem so boring except for the factory that makes something you really, really like - be it beer or books or church cardinals. Then you might actually want to tour that factory even at the risk of taking the mystery out of it.

It’s neat they also offer to deliver to you room any of a dozen books on beer and brewing. I assume it’s only to borrow, not keep.... Unless you have to pay for them.

Unfortunately it’s going to storm any minute so the three short dog walks I did in the 90-degree weather since getting here will swiftly come to an end, as will my sitting on this patio. But we had full sun for almost two hours. According to my rain app, I have just five minutes, and severe weather sirens just went off so, on paper at least, I should go in. No time for a cigar.

(The sirens were tornado warnings; a Doghouse employee came to our door not with our room service order but to ask us to shelter in the bathroom away from the windows - my wife thought it was funny that I asked her if she got our food order while a tornado was happening. Priorities...).

Day 2

At first light Max felt it was time to get up (around 6am).  In part probably because the door shade wouldn’t close (there was a remote for it but it didn’t work, alas) so we had a flood of light coming in at dawn.

The other less-than-ideal thing about the place is that the door to the patio automatically locks and you can’t get in even with your room key.  So that led to a lot of awkward propping of door, often with dogs in tow.  Pirouettes worthy of Bill Luse’s daughter, one-footed movements of carpet desperately pulled towards the crack of the door to save lock-out disaster. If I’d been smarter I'd have just found something to prop it an inch and left it open full-time.

I took the dogs on a tiny 6:30am walk.  Enjoyed coffees delivered to our room out on patio; slightly cool for this time of year at 63 degrees!  Max went nuts went someone walked by and a full cup of coffee spilled.  Right on time, at 9:30, our complimentary breakfast arrived and it was awesome: bacon, eggs, toast and fruit cup. And another coffee.

I’m surprised this turned out to be as “pastoral” a vacation as it was.  Helped by going mid-week no doubt, which cut down on the crowds. But I didn’t realize there’d be a pond with frogs, an egret, ducks, geese and and a tannin colored ground hog.

Felt a bit lethargic after all that beer the night before and still our tap runneth over.  Ended up filling a jug, and about 8 additional cups worth this morning. Poured them into cups with lids and then placed them carefully in a Tupperware-type case.  So I should drink for “free” tonight as well, assuming the beer isn’t terribly flat.

So nice mini-vocational. We didn’t even take time to do the brewery tour but I figure I can do that next time.

June 04, 2020

Protest Rioting, aka High School

I remember the business lunches at the high school cafeteria.

We were little workers clocking in at 7:30 and out promptly at 3. Sophisticates we thought, worldly wise and jaded, gathering at the lunch room. There was sloe Mr. Ed, Erik, John D. and me. Rags and Sued joined us too most days when they weren’t in some kind of trouble.

Like Flintstone characters we’d gather at our table next to the north window, our rep ties pulled rakishly aside, imagining ourselves a bunch of Earl Flynns only here for the money only there wasn’t any.

We’d sit down to brown-bag and cafeteria lunches and smash each other’s food if someone let down their guard. Had anything been as satisfying to that point as smashing John D's cupcakes?

To set food flying required, of course, the sacrifice of the food.  But a worthy one. Oft I’d ponder the merits of eating a Ding-Dong or throwing it, and as often as not it would be wing’d freely in the spritz’d high schoolian air! Aloft it went ! - towards places unknown, for as soon as it left my hand I’d be engrossed in a speck on the cafe table top. My comrades would relay its splendiferous effects on the target I’d chosen.

We were all rioters then with the same spirit of bourgeois decadence that inflames the cool crowd now.  With deadlier consequence now but no less asinine.

June 03, 2020

Let Us Now Praise Donald Trump

Trump has done a good job as president thus far, far better than I ever expected - if one chooses to avoid obsessing over his tweets, coarseness, insecurities, and narcissism.

He's not led us into wars, he's not tanked the economy, he did a mediocre job on the virus but likely little different than Bush or Obama would've done. He probably he hasn't improved race relations (though he'll probably get more black votes than any other recent GOP presidential candidate), but neither did Obama or Bush.

Personally, I'll take Trump's boorish qualities any day over the elitists who allowed China into the WTO and take over our manufacturing, got us into multiple wars, were of questionable judgement on justices to the Supreme Court (Harriet Miers?), or ended up dividing the country nearly as much as Trump (Bush, Obama).

So I don’t understand all the attention to Trump’s words and tweets. He's not a person to take seriously in that regard.  His faults have long been on full display - how are they still “news”? His transparency is an inadvertent service to the country, a cautionary tale. Every transgression is duly punished, every tweet mocked and criticized by media elites. Even some non-transgressions got punished, such as impeachment for the Russia hoax.

Nor do I understand why George W. Bush got so much credit for stating the obvious in his famous bullhorn speech at the site of the World Trade Centers after 9/11.

Is their any hard data that the bully pulpit can do anything dramatic? Even the great leader Lincoln could not avoid the bloodiest war in American history.

Actions matter, words not so much. But reporters revere words, so maybe they jack everything up based on that. Bush’s subsequent actions in Iraq and Afghanistan were infinitely more impactful than his words. But I guess if politics is your religion then speeches are liturgical. Or it could be that people just want to be inspired and expect their president to inspire them because they look to him as a father figure.

I just feels like it’s magical thinking to think any president’s words have any long or medium term effect on rioting, race relations, the economy, etc... you name it. Trump spoke at the March for Life rally in January and it appears to have had little effect in banishing abortion.


The Athletic magazine has an interesting candid discussion with a group of ex-MLB players and a revealing comment was made by former all-star Torri Hunter:
"Let me tell you something about baseball players. People from the Dominican, Venezuela, Asia, white, black they come together and you know why they play together? Because they've got a common goal: We've got to win the World Series. And guess what: everyone says, 'Let's go..'...

America has no goal. We have nothing we're trying to reach. That's why we're all over the place."
This is pretty genius description of America today. We have no goal. Neither the micro goal of better policing towards minorities, nor the macro goal of a Christian nation trying to get to Heaven. No Eschatology, no goal.


From the Wall Street Journal:
"Unions like the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis fight to shield their members from punishment, both through contract negotiations and disciplinary hearings, saying that neither top police officials nor the public understands how dangerous their jobs are."

It's funny how the polarization on the Floyd killing isn't where it should be, that of police unions protecting bad cops. That's because GOP is anti-union but pro-cop and Dems anti-cop but pro-union. So we miss why even the Floyd killer had the opportunity to kill.