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:

here:
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

Funny

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:


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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.

September 23, 2014

Early Baseball



Read delightedly of the book The Summer of Beer and Whiskey (it had me at “summer”, or maybe “beer”, certainly by "whiskey"). It's an engaging history of the very early years of baseball.

Nugget of interest: Read where Oscar Wilde spent about a year visiting America, including going to a Cincy Reds game I believe. 1882-ish.

The book explains the popularity of baseball in those days to our desire for the interplay between communal activity with brilliant individual achievement, emphasis on the latter. Which baseball does showcase pretty effectively. The football counterpoint might be the quarterback and running back, both of whom have a huge individual role to play in football. But when your team is on defense you have no individual to key off since there's no pitcher equivalent in football. The 1880s version of baseball was quick-quick-quick. Fast-paced. No endless drag-out of batters stepping out between pitches, no commercial timeouts between innings. Games lasted between 90 minutes and 2 hours. Perfect.

Mark Twain called baseball the perfect image of his America: “the drive, push and rush and struggle of the raging, tearing, booming nineteenth century!” Wow. That feels like a completely different game than what we have now, a game that feels leisurely, lazy, and relaxed. It's almost like he's describing football, not baseball. Although perhaps baseball in the 1880s was the football of its generation: very driving, pushing and rushing compared to the alternatives. (Golf?) Probably in 40 years football will seem to slow to us and we'll look back at football as boring.

Kindling

Everyone knows the beginning of the Declaration of the Constitution right?
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of ... Kindle e-readers!
Yes it's that time of year when Amazon unveils the new line of Kindles.  Always saliva-worthy.

A short history of my Kindlic propensities follows, and while Amazon has perfected the form factor with the Paperwhite 2, with each  previous iteration the incremental benefits perhaps doesn't justify the expense.
Kindle 1: ugly, clunky, but lovable because it was untied to computer and could wirelessly download books! I waited months before ordering which displayed a level of gadget restraint never heard of before or since. 
Kindle DX: upgraded to this because I wanted a bigger screen. I always felt like Kindle needed to have pages the size of those you'd see in a hardback. Two columns. The type was faint though; not great contrast of letters on background. I'd planned this to be my “lifetime Kindle”. Lol as the kids (used to?) say. 
(Girl not included)
Kindle mini/basic/baby: I bought this for my mother in 2011 because it was unearthly cheap ($79) compared to previous models, but I found I liked it so much I got one for myself! Small screen didn't bother me as much as I thought it would and I loved the elegant look and feel of it.  Portable enough to fit in my pocket.  
Kindle Paperwhite 1: Bought this because the big "problem" with the basic Kindle was reading at night, the hassle of my wife not wanting the light on and the inadequacy of the cheap reading lights I had. I liked the touchscreen idea too. At this point I was beginning to suspect I would buy every year's new model. This seemed reasonable given what I assumed the new annual pricetag would be: $119 and falling, with re-sale of my old Kindle in the $60 range. Amazon threw a monkey wrench this year with their Voyage. 
Kindle Paperwhite 2: Bought this because although the old light was certainly functional, the uneven distribution bothered me early and often. Call me OCD and irresponsible.  And this Kindle solved that perfectly, with gorgeous distribution. So at this point, theoretically, there's no real reason to upgrade. Right. 

Paulian Scripture

Riveting first reading last week or so from St. Paul. It's the beginning of 1 Cor 8, and it talks about how going against conscience - even if it's not concerning something objectively sinful - is sinful!

In other words, “if you think it's sinful, it is, even if it's not.”? Pity the poor scrupulous?!

In this particular case, Paul is saying that meat consecrated to idols is fine, but if someone thinks it isn't fine and does it because he sees you partaking in it, then you've contributed to that fellow's downfall.

The Bible commentaries have varied things to say:
the weak Christian will be undermined: he will be encouraged to act against his (erroneous) conscience, and all acts against conscience are sinful…. [Those who know the meat is okay] have overlooked Christ’s teaching about stumbling-blocks (skandala): that an act lawful in itself may become even a mortal sin if it is foreseen that it will place difficulties or temptations in the way of a weaker Christian.
Consciousness (syneidēsis, vv. 10b, 12) arises from knowledge (syn-eidenai). The term “consciousness” first appeared in the papyri as of 59 c.e. Paul probably took the term over from its use in popular philosophy. As used by Paul it retains its traditional meaning of self-awareness. There is no need to see in Paul’s use of the term the modern notion of moral conscience.
Those with a weak consciousness... Their old habits had left a residue on their self-awareness such that it was not governed by their present Christian beliefs. Their self-awareness would be defiled were they to eat food they considered to have been offered to idols.
Those who are weak would be led to idolatry because of the knowledgeable person’s indiscriminate eating in temple precincts. They would eat food offered to idols as if it were truly dedicated to one or another idol
Their salvation (cf. 8:6) is lost because they have been led to engage in what they considered to be idol worship.
It is the believer’s responsibility not to trip up weaker persons (Chrysostom) who might think that there is some spiritual power in food offered to idols, a power they might acquire if they eat (Ambrosiaster).
So I guess the problem is that some of these people who thought eating meat sacrificed to the gods was sinful, ended up doing so anyway and felt some sort of divine benefit from it. Maybe it's sort of like the guy who tells another guy that drinking a pint is not sinful, but for the other guy, call him John, it always leads to sin in the form of, say, cleptomania and he derives the "benefit" of theft.  But that's not the same as John thinking drinking itself is sinful and thus is going against his conscience which is, thereby, sinful.  Maybe the act of eating it and going against his conscience was not the sinful part so much as feeling that the fake gods were in fact real?

And also “conscience” as self-awareness is interesting given how we associate it with the modern moral conscience.  Are these concepts so different?

September 11, 2014

Fed by Feedly


I don't go to the attractive Feedly app/website to read blogs too often despite the fact that I find the treasures contained therein more energizing and enlightening than, say, Facebook. But oh what a thick symphony of inspirations and intrigue it contains! Art appreciation. Music appreciation. The fascinating Fulton Sheen controversy. The words of classic scholars from long ago. The words of monks and near-monks (Heather King).

Before dipping my toe in Feedly I listened to a couple Metropolitan Museum of Art talks, and then heard the complete Mahler 1st symphony for free via the Berlin Philharmonic offering. The wonders of the 'net don't quit.

On Fulton Sheen, my half-baked, could-be-completely-wrong impression is that Cardinal Egan didn't care about losing Sheen's body or cause to Illinois, but then Cardinal Dolan came in and he likes having Sheen's body in the cathedral and doesn't want to give that up. There also could be some feeling that Sheen belongs in Manhattan after getting shuttled out to the boondocks in his later years. From my perspective, the highlight of St. Patrick's is that Sheen is buried there and I can't be alone.

Anyway, the whole thing surprises me if only because public dirty laundry between prelates is rarely aired. And it certainly doesn't make Dolan look good given the agreement made by Egan and the Peoria bishop in good faith. I feel sorry for the people who donated money to the cause now if the cause is indefinitely suspended.

*

From yesterday's first reading it's sort of ironic, perhaps, is how Paul says basically, “this is not written in Scripture but I feel that it is best…”. But what he's saying became Scripture!:
In regard to virgins I have no commandment from the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. So this is what I think best because of the present distress: that it is a good thing for a person to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek a separation. Are you free of a wife? Then do not look for a wife.
And indeed a Catholic commentary notes the tension:
Paul had not heard of any pronouncement of Christ on this subject. It does not mean that the rule which follows is only a private opinion of Paul’s. He speaks as an apostle, authorized to decide in Christ’s name.
I suppose that means that Paul's letter is binding only specifically to the audience immediately intended.

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Much enjoyed Lino Rulli interview, of all people, the infamous Toronto mayor Rob Ford. I keep thinking Ford reminded me of John Candy, but it seems like Google tells me more people think of him as Chris Farley. Candy and Farley's comedic personas aren't too distinct, I suppose, and I think Ford does look more like Farley.

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More web collations:

André Gide, Journals (January 5, 1922; tr. Justin O'Brien):
"My good days of work are those I begin by reading an ancient author, one of those that are called “classics.” A page is enough; a half-page, if only I read it in the proper state of mind…"

Cf. Nicolás Gómez Dávila, Notas, 210 (tr. Michael Hendry):
"The reading of Homer every morning, with the serenity, the tranquillity, the deep sensation of moral and physical well-being which it instills in us, is the best provision to endure the vulgarities of the day."
Via Heather King:

You want to know why the innocent have to suffer, why the poor have to suffer, why the Just Man had to die.
I used not to know the reason for these things.
When I discovered the reason it was Christ Himself who told me.
You ask Him this evening; He will tell you
And perhaps He will add the phrase which meant so much to me when He was explaining that universal salvation depends on the vocation of some to pay for all.
'You shall not escape from love.'
If in the Kingdom we ask the innocent who suffered for sinners, the poor who paid for the rich, the tortured who shed blood for the powerful, whether it is just or mistaken to pay so dear, we shall hear them tell us:
'It was necessary so that no-one might escape from Love.' “
–Carlo Carretto, The Desert in the City

George Gaylord Simpson (1902-1984), Attending Marvels: A Patagonian Journal (1934; rpt. New York: Time Incorporated, 1965), p. 260 (brackets in original):
Our first stop was at the Tetas de Pinedo. [Preparing a lecture once in Buenos Aires a refined friend urged me to call them the "Mamelones," that being a more elegant word, but tetas they are to the local people, tetas they are on the official maps, and so tetas they shall be in my work.] These are two large rounded hills, standing near each other and rising above the coastal plain with an appearance, as the name implies, extraordinarily like two gargantuan breasts.

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From here:

I turned on the radio the other day while driving through my ramshackle post-industrial town, and I heard the adagio movement of a piece I know well, Mozart's Piano Concerto no. 27 in B-flat Major. I know it well because, when I was seven or eight years old, my mother had an LP of it that I would play over and over again. We had bought it while out grocery shopping; I had seen a display near the exit of LPs on sale for something like forty-nine cents, and this one had an image on the cover of one of Marc Chagall's designs for The Magic Flute -- Papageno, the birdcatcher -- though I didn't know this at the time. I begged my mother to get it. While driving the other day, I found that, though I hadn't heard the piece for years, I could sing every note of the piano solo and the melodic orchestral line. I noticed that the performance on the radio was actually played on the fortepiano, a forerunner of the modern piano, and that, delightfully, the soloist interpolated a fragment of Mozart's song "Komm, lieber Mai" into the cadenza in the coda of the last movement.

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From St. Joseph's Abbey:

Jesus is real flesh and blood, resurrected and still here with us; and his place is always with the downtrodden and needy, for he is small like them. And this morning once again he pronounces God’s blessing on human poverty, a promise of blessing for all who are oppressed.
Commentators remind us that the Greek word for “poor” in the Beatitudes means literally “beggar” not just a poor person with a few possessions, but a beggar.* The truly poor are those who have nothing at all; the poor are those who have no choice. As monks we want to take our place with them.
In some way our poverty is all we have to offer the Lord. There is too much- so many things exteriorly, more so interiorly; and we may feel like we are stuck with it all. In the monastery we become more and more keenly aware of the reality of our very real inner woundedness and poverty and our desperate need for Christ, a need, a longing to be mercied continually. It’s just the same old story.
But this poverty is everything to us; it is all we have to offer Christ, offer the Church - the reality of total dependence on the mercy of God from moment to moment.  Ours is certainly not the crushing poverty of the economically poor and destitute; we dare not compare it. Still it’s all we’ve got- all the stuff we’ve got no choice about. And we believe it’s the very place where blessing and mercy can intrude and take root- poverty as blest by God’s loving regard. We are truly blessed, when our poverty is blest as an emptiness to be filled to overflowing with Christ’s peace and most affectionate compassion. This is everything for us as monks. And what is more, we believe that our true blessedness depends upon our willingness to become ourselves mercy-doers, mercy-makers for all who are poor.
And so we hope, and each morning we go to the altar of God, the God in Christ who alone gives us joy and freedom and peace- his very self as food. So much needs yet to be accomplished and prayed through. Our lives lived together in this monastery help to notice and watch and pray.

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From "Everything That Rises" blog:
Our society’s model for the museum visit is All You Can Eat: you pay some portion of the exorbitant suggestion admission fee – now $25 at the Metropolitan Museum, I think – and then blast through the rooms, gorging on masterpieces, and wind up in the gift shop feeling stuffed, even sick.
It doesn’t have to happen that way.  With a free hour in Washington the other day, I popped into the Phillips Collection, near Dupont Circle, where admission to the current exhibit is $5 with a university ID and the permanent collection is pay-what-you-wish.
The current exhibit was of American work from the collection.  In an hour, I saw everything – well, everything except the Rothkos, which are hung (displayed is the wrong word, and so is exhibited) in a room where only three people are allowed at one time.  I saw everything – but I looked, really looked, at something like a dozen paintings, and no more. That way, I could hope to see them, really see them.
And I gave full attention to just one painting: Ben Shahn’s Still Music, from 1948.  There’s so much to see in it: the counterpoint between the soft washes of color and the firm line of the drawing; the several lines of horizontal movement (stand shelves, chair seats, chair hinges, stand bases) running over and along the intermittent vertical lines of the stands, like notation running across the bar lines of a piece of music; the tremendous energy of the painting working against the plain truth that the chairs and stands are empty. Here the music, made in this place for a certain passage of time, has gone wherever it is that live music goes.
The philosopher of art Richard Wollheim liked to spend an entire day at the National Gallery in London considering a single painting.  I could have spent a full day with Still Music.
Failing that, I now come up from the Metro at Dupont Circle relishing the knowledge that although the exhibit is over, the Shahn painting is part of the permanent collection — so is still in permanent residence nearby.   

September 10, 2014

Sighted Near Campsite. #iconic

48 Hour Camping Triplog


Creek. Tree. Stone. Primal.

Rustic camp, set up right next door to this living, breathing stereoscope of nature. Four hour drive with stop at Walmart for lantern, then much deliberation over picking a campsite, them tent, canopy, air mattress set-up…

Wild rhododendron give the place a Smoky mountains vibe. In fact this feels like Zoder's Inn, $220 cheaper and 3 hours closer. Now to relax!

(But wait! What yonder ponc lies in front? It is my exercise routine, alas and drat! I must walk a bit…)

So I walked a mile, just to absorb the gorgeous scenery. It's Brad Paisley country. I walk the creek and look up the side of a mountain hushed with the magnificence of God. The forest is dense and mysterious. Godlike. I think: “I could use more silence in my life.” More time standing dumbfounded in front of trees. Here is nature - and water - without the needling distractions of crowds as are found omnipresent in Hilton Head (even on the bike trails!)

There's a reason monasteries are founded in remote locations. There is quiet. Here is quiet. Here are mountains that have produced many a godly Baptist man, like Billy Graham. I hear Thoreau singing!

*

Murakami:
“As if pulled in by a magnet, people gather on the banks of the river. Seeing a lot of water like that every day is probably an important thing for human beings. For human beings might be a bit of a generalization—but I do know it’s important for one person: me. If I go for a time without seeing water, I feel like something’s slowly draining out of me. It’s probably like the feeling a music lover has when, for whatever reason, he’s separated from music for a long time.”

Author Edmund Morris laments the “screen-ization” of life, how so many prefer virtual experiences to real world ones. But I find this hypocritical coming from a writer. What are words but simulacrums? Can't reading be seen as a substitute for “real life”? Describing a forest is a completely different thing than experiencing one. In fact, you could say pictures are closer to the real world than words describing pictures.

*

So what is it about being in the forest like this that so enchants? Such a simple thing, setting up a campsite in the woods yet I ran ecstatically a couple miles, transfixed by the passing woods and mountains. Idyllic spot: of the eleven rustic campsites we're the only campers. Yes, we have the whole Bluejay campground to ourselves! That will likely change tomorrow but I'll let tomorrow take care of itself.

This morning spent a few minutes reading “Jesus” by Fr. James Martin.  Am wanting to read the collection of essays Edmund Morris has out now. When I heard there was one on the Library of Congress, the poetry of his rapture carried me away. I also wouldn't mind reading his wife's book on Claire Luce. She lived a rather colorful life. Certainly I'd like to read about her conversion story to Catholicism and about her close association with the great Fulton Sheen. (Alas! I read his cause for sainthood has been suspended. Sadness.)

DAY 2

Sleep is not why you go camping, given the “rigors” of an air mattress and uncontrolled heating/cooling, but I did appreciate last night's white noise in the form of the rushing creek bed outside our tent encampment. Steph thought it sounded like it was raining, which is also a comforting backdrop for sleep.

It gets cold in the mountains at night, or so we found out. Not having heavy blankets wasn't ideal, so I woke up a couple times and put on a t-shirt and later additional thin blankets. Also had to pee, which isn't totally convenient other than being able to go pretty much anywhere outside that I wished.

Woke up and lit out for some electricity so we could make our Keurig. Nothing at the first couple restrooms/party shelters we stopped; not even the bath house on the main campground. So we had to “borrow” an empty campsite's electric.

Then we did a short road tour of the area outside the park. Nothing prettier than a house situated on a broad plain, witnessed from a surrounding height.

At the camp store's entrance, four men of varying ages - a early 30-something cop and three older gentlemen with wrinkled visages like those of old time farmers, stood talking like you might see in Mayberry. Just shootin' the breeze. Would've loved to have listened and eavesdrop. I heard them one say “twenty years in the mine ain't long,” or words to that effect.

The big break was we didn't get any rain yesterday or last night. Rain is to camping what a flat tire is to bike-riding. Supposed to be another fair chance of the dreaded event today and tonight.

Lazed around until about 1, at which point we took a walk down to the amazing waterfall. We walked around there and sat there for awhile, even entering just above the falls via dry rocks. Then down the road, past the horse campgrounds, to where it forked off into two different trails. So maybe a mile and a half walk, enough for Buddy. Saw a black snake, presumably a Northern black racer, climbing the slick wall of rock along the path.

Wondered if this creek empties into West Virginia's New River, the place we went whitewater rafting. Thought about the oddness of a river, coming seemingly out of nowhere, built from rainwater. Or rather built from creeks, which are built from run-off rainwater. The great Mississippi seems almost created ex nihilo, starting from a tiny sprig of water. Maybe from a spring? Either way it seems amazing that the earth's water has arranged itself into these creeks that feed rivers that eventually feed oceans.

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Ahhhh….yes…another wonder-restoring hike. Two miles, same as what I ran last night, but it felt like Hocking Hills of old with those grand vistas, the far tops of the mountains having some sort of magical pull for me, that distant inaccessibility somehow charismatic purely on account of being distant and inaccessible. The free, wildness of those tree-clad peaks. The succor of sun on those lucky tops. And all of this contrasted with the foreboding glade, the dark tangle of firs and birch and oak.

The cool thing about this trip is we stayed the same amount of time we would've at a Hocking Hills cabin but without the amenities of hottub and television and comfortable bed. But so far so great! The highlight and inspiration of Hocking, like Camp Creek, are the hikes down the long lanes past lawns and forest and mountains.

Felt strange to be completely disconnected. No cellphone service, no wi/fi. But probably good for the soul. Am now reading some of Shelby Foote's Civil War trilogy because it fits the scene: old-fashioned, epic, 19th century living (but for this ipad…).

I feel quasi-nostalgical already on this trip. The campfires. The smell - so fresh, so leaf pungent. The walks. The thrill of being outside at twilight turning into night. The flushless, walkless bathrooms (at least for number 1). The creek, the trees, the rocks. The sight of trees seemingly growing out of rock. The lichened stones. Maybe even the black snakes. Seems like we're just hitting our rhythm and it's time to go home. But better to leave wanting more than leave wishing for less.

But as Steph said, “this is medicinal.”

*

Took me a West Virginny bath! Just headed on down to the clear, rushing stream, soaped up my face, hair and underarms and rinsed in the refreshingly cool water. While lot quicker than bath house trip.

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I wonder if anybody just walks gold courses, to admire their beauty?

*

Too cool: I hear what sounds like coyotes or wolves howling in the distaff distance.

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I randomly came across this from this year's Old Farmer's Almanac and it pretty accurately describes what we're unwittingly doing:
Without a doubt, a walk in the woods lifts our spirits and makes us feel good. In Japan, this has developed into a new form of therapy and preventative medicine known as shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing,” which involves taking a stroll among the trees, breathing it all in.

A woodland walk affects all of our senses…and our health. Even a short walk in the forest will lower blood pressure and pulse rate, decrease fatigue and tension, increase the number of anticancer proteins, and encourage the growth of disease-fighting white blood cells. Some of these effects occur after we inhale chemical compounds from plants, fungi, and bacteria. These include phytoncides, which trees and other plants emit to protect themselves against insect attacks and rotting.
So, like drinking, I'm camping for medicinal purposes. Ha.

Sleep this second night was plentiful if compromised by the deep chill and inadequate blankets. I put on a T-shirt and a sweatshirt both, but the air was so cold I developed a cough and wondered if I was getting a cold. But then I thought to pull part of the blanket over my face and thus breathing warm air was able to get back to sleep and not feel like coughing.

I sipped precious java in front of a campfire until eating a by-then-cold but still good sausage/egg/cheese biscuit. Sudden upon us it was 10am, and I knew Steph wanted to pack up and head home but I asked for a 10 minute hike. Turned out to be closer to twenty because the scenery was so life-giving. A mere shaft of light could transport me, offer a moment of transcendence. The song “Wolverton Mountain” came to mind, as did the writings of John Muir.

But like all mountaintop experiences, this time literally a mountain top experience, I had to come back to earth. And so we toiled from to pack up everything with Steph-ian meticulousness. Then the drive back, begun at 11:30 and ended just before 4.  A fine way to end the summer!

August 29, 2014

Various Thoughts Conjoined by Helpful Asterisks


So A.L.S. has raised $100 million dollars due to the ice bucket challenge, showing the power of a virility, or viral-ality. The Catholic diocese of Cincy banned it from Catholic schools since ALS group involves in /advocates embryonic cell stem research. Steven Riddle had a good graphic on FB that pointed out how the amount of money we raise for illnesses is different from what actually kills us. For example, breast cancer raises by far the most despite being relatively low on the kill list.

There may be a certain illogic to over-funding causes that kill fewer people but we're not Spocks, not reducible to numbers, and it's understandable. Breast cancer disproportionately affects women and it's a honorable thing to respect women, to put them first. Disease also differs not just in mortality rate but in the fear associated around it. Alzheimer's, for example, may not kill as many as other diseases but its horrific nature makes it more fearsome than almost any. Similarly A.L.S., which is the opposite of Alzheimer's in that it takes the body and leaves the mind intact.

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I often get enthused over trivia. Take this morning. I was uplifted by the utterly inconsequential event of selling my OSU laptop sleeve for $15. Since I haven't used the sleeve in years, this was roughly equivalent to finding $15 in the street. With the added benefit of removing clutter from the house. One man's junk is another man's treasure, as they say. My immediate reaction was to think of spending the found money on a book instead of giving it to the poor like Pope Francis would! Alas and alas.

I found it while going through my desk looking for documentation concerning a genealogy question. I showed it to my wife, who said, “no one will want that. Throw it away.” Instead I took it to work, published a description on the classified website and within 20 minutes had two people saying, “I want it!”. Obviously $15 was too cheap, ha. As I told Steph, if you put an OSU logo on manure, people would want it. It was originally $39, so for $15 used I suppose it was a deal. One thing's for sure, folks watch that classified site like a hawk. Second thing I've sold there of three I've tried. (Only a Civil War history book didn't sell, alas. Didn't have OSU logo on it.)

*

I had this sudden desire to bring a Bible to work, to put in my cubical. I want the words of comfort and correction near me. Just knowing they're there, even if I never pick it up (which I likely won't). I 'spect I have enough Bibles to spare one towards this purpose. In fact, I've pre-ordered another one, a $57 list price Ignatius press offering called The Didache Bible. Comes out in October. Was pleased to get it for $35 on amazon a month ago since it's now $41.

*


So I'm also mesmerized by another ridiculously banal earthly good, that of growlers at the new grocery store. It just opened today and so I called and found they sell fresh draught craft (pardon the rhyme) beer in the growler size. So tomorrow I'm going to have some giddyup and get over there and explore the world of growlers for the first time. They say growlers only stay fresh for about 7-10 days though. Not sure how it compares expense-wise versus bottles either.

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I'm underwhelmed by the summer forecast from the Old Farmer's Almanac. Said our region would receive above average summer temps when, of course, we ended with below average temps. Weather forecasting is no more accurate than astrological predictions.

August 25, 2014

Interesting Comment on LOGOS Software

Perceptive comment from M.J. Smith on the differences between Catholic & Protestant Bible study on Logos Bible Software (where Logos = Protestant branding and Verbum = Catholic branding):
Simplifying greatly, the Verbum prespective is more a collective exegesis where there is an emphasis on how the passage has been interpreted and used over time. The Logos perspective is more a delve into the original language in detail - whether you really know the language or not - so that you are not trusting the translators (or anyone else .... except all the commentaries) to give you the REAL meaning of the text. Mind you, Verbum anticipates that you will delved into scripture in as many languages as you can to the limits of your competency and Logos expects you to read Commentaries galore ... so it isn't a stark contrast.

Found Around the Web

My bad memories don’t bother me much. They’re tucked away back there somewhere, but mostly out of mind. It’s my good memories I’ve spent half my lifetime trying to overcome.
Oh so true. For me personally, there's a part of me that relishes the sins of youth. There's also part of me that wants to write it off as pagan.

Of the opposite tendency, to write off the past Fr. James Martin wrote in his book on Jesus:
Denigrating the “before” is common in the spiritual life. After a conversion experience, one is tempted to set aside, downplay, or reject one’s past. In Thomas Merton’s biography The Seven Storey Mountain, the former dissolute student turned Trappist monk largely characterizes his former life as bad, and his life in the monastery as good. Of the “old” Thomas Merton, he said ruefully, “I can’t get rid of him.” In time Merton would realize how misguided a quest that is: there is no post-conversion person and pre-conversion person. There is one person in a variety of times, the past informing and forming the present. God is at work at all times.
It took me years to realize how limiting this approach can be, because it closes us off from seeing grace in our past....After entering the Jesuit novitiate, I slowly began to believe that all that had gone before was not as valuable as what had come after. I had undergone, to use an overused word, a “conversion” and so had put on the “new man,” as St. Paul says. This was indeed true. But I felt no need for the past, and sought to find God only in the present and in the future. In doing so I was negating all the good that God had done for me in the past. Sometimes we close the door to our past, thinking that since we have “progressed,” the past has little to offer. But we need to keep the door to our past open.
Those smiles reminded me that God was with me all along, forming me. As God is doing in every moment of our lives.
I've come to a similar understanding, that even in those periods of feeling bereft of God, He was there. I can't, therefore, devalue that time. And, in one of those Godincidences that make me smile, the opening hymn at Mass yesterday had something like, “you are my past, present and future”. One should be kind to one's younger self, after all, since today's current self is tomorrow's younger self.

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Really loving The Sunday Word commentary book of the editor of The New Jerusalem Bible, Henry Wansborough. Of this Sunday's gospel he says:
That is the importance of the naming of a child at baptism: Jesus takes us to himself and we become his. The early Christians called themselves ‘Those over whom the name of Jesus has been called’. We may have been named Mary or John, but the name of Jesus has been called over us and we have become his.
Another meditation seen elsewhere (Daughters of St. Paul):
God is an outlandish giver of gifts. The Master of the Universe entrusted himself, body and soul, into human hands at the annunciation. Mary alone, of us all, honored the gift of incarnation with an unsullied fiat throughout her life. God gives himself, body and soul, into our hands in the Eucharist, and the response has been mixed. Sacrilege upon sacrilege have been committed, and saints have been forged and fortified beyond all expectation. Jesus entrusts his authority to bind and loosen into the hands of Peter and by extension, to the other apostles and their successors. In human terms, Jesus is simply too trusting for his own good. During Lent 2000, Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan gave the spiritual exercises to the papal household. In one of his sermons, he preached on the defects of Jesus: Jesus has a horrible memory (of our sins); his math is not accurate and his logic off-balance (the one lost sheep is as valuable as the ninety-nine!); he takes far too many risks; and he clearly doesn’t make wise financial calculations. These “defects” come from his great love—that gives all, trusts all, and empowers all. 
It feels very wrong, but often enough I like the commentary on the gospel better than the gospel reading itself! This is true for me recently with the parable of the workers in the vineyard, where the latecomers ended up with the same as the early toilers.

It's not that I think it's unfair for God to give the latecomers the same pay, but because it makes the Kingdom sound like very contractual, a wage-earning type deal. The question of course becomes “how much work is enough? Have I done enough?”

The Daughters of St. Paul commentary pretty much turns it all on its head, saying flat out that God doesn't have or need money and that thus "the parable must be about something else":
Regardless of how good or bad we feel ourselves or others to be, we are all laborers, “useless servants.” If we were wise, we would take on the attitude of the truly evangelical image of the tax collector in the temple: “Forgive me, Lord, I am a sinner.” At some moment in our lives God will convict us of our sin, and in the same moment, he will wrap us in an unexpected, incredibly powerful embrace of love. At that moment we will realize that grace is “his own money.” He gives it as a gift to everyone, even to me. I will discover then that I am the last laborer hired, and I am still paid for a full day, because there are no wages. There is only the gift of God’s love and the merits of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, which belong to all the sinners he came to save.
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Another tidbit found on the web today comes from Therese Brochard,who daily struggles with untreatable depression:
In 1959, when Victor Frankl published his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, he discussed the research of his one his colleagues, Edith Weisskopf-Joelson, professor of psychology at the University of Georgia. She wrote:
Our current mental-hygiene philosophy stresses the idea that people ought to be happy, that unhappiness is a symptom of maladjustment. Such a value system might be responsible for the fact that the burden of unavoidable unhappiness is increased by unhappiness about being unhappy.
She believed that Victor Frankl’s logotherapy—a mental health strategy based on finding one’s life meaning—“may help counteract certain unhealthy trends in the present-day culture of the United States, where the incurable sufferer is given very little opportunity to be proud of his suffering and to consider it ennobling rather than degrading.” 
Now mind you, that was BEFORE the positive psychology movement. BEFORE the happiness craze—the media’s obsession with smiley faces and thousands of publications promising the way to joy. BEFORE mindfulness efforts and Buddhist monks showing us we can meditate our way to bliss. BEFORE all the tomes on the neuroplasticity of the brain and how we can think our way to contentment, one happy thought at a time. BEFORE Facebook and the documentation of happy lives!
That's pretty interesting commentary because it reminds me how we think there's something intrinsically wrong about having a cross. The gay person thinks it's a queer thing, no pun intended, to have to deal with unhappiness in the form of not being morally allowed to act out on it. The person in an unhappy marriage thinks it odd not to get a divorce in order to secure happiness. There's a whole lot of that going around. It's a short step from the Declaration's “pursuit of happiness” to “the right not to have a cross”.