May 30, 2003

Nigerian Scammer Alert

I had begun to think the Nigerian scammers didn't like my fiction. How else to explain the lack of their spams of late? I typically answer with some fine fictional effort, a sort of tit for tat. Another has stepped up to the plate, this one exceedingly distasteful in wrapping the ruse in religious clothing, which I'm editing out:

Living Christ Mission,
16 rue de la plage,
Telephone : 00229-963140
Cotonou, Republique du Benin.

Dear beloved one,

Greetings I bring to you. I am Pastor Joseph, of the living Christ Mission Cotonou, the Republique du Benin.I am contacting you in confidence as a foreigner, to help claim the fund of Bro Gideon Brown,which is lying low in a security company in Europe. I happened to come in contact with Bro Gideon Brown who is a British national residing here in Cotonou the Republique du Benin with his wife.


After much digression and chit-chat he says,

Also, bro Gideon's wife, asked me to find out how much percentage would be given to you as one willing to help in the claim of this fund.

I had been worrying if there was anything in it for me.

Here is my tentative reply:

Pasture Joe, thank you for your missive. As a fellow fiction writer, I feel a certain solidarity.

I admit to being caught off guard in that I have nothing freshly written, and I think it would be untoward to offer something stale. But I do have this science fiction novella, co-written..

(Nah, that would be too cruel).
Bone Update

For those following the Hambone saga (KTC?), today is his last day although he has an interview Tuesday in another area within the company. The severance package, twelve week's pay, looms over him irresistibly; he has already mentally fornicated with the money, er, mentally spent the money (the spending being paying for law school and new windows). He promised his wife the new windows and now despairs at the thought of having to cut his savings rate from 20% to 16% in order to afford them. He rushes to his lump-sum payout as sailors did to Scylla's deadly embrace, "the monstrous lips, the darting neck of their love-death" as the poet Donald Davidson wrote. He admits the hand of God in this, the lesson that money doth not avail.

He says, "Let me play Percy to your Foote" and he explains that it is not his depression depressing him, it is that he has no reason to be depressed. Percy wrote about this condition often, this feeling that you can have everything - wife, family, money - without it availing. He understands, intellectually at least, that the job, if he gets it, is infinitely preferable to many other jobs, such as cleaning toilets or writing speeches for Presidential "hopeful" Dennis Kucinich.

So, the prospect of a patch of freedom, of writing screenplays, appeals to him, yet the hope of a steady job does too. He sits in the valley of despair, dreading the worst - that he gets the job but no severance. He fears that because he still has an interview outstanding, they will postpone the ceremonial "cutting of the check" until after the results of this job lead.

He asks a hard question: how will I know if I am detached from the money? "If I give the whole lump sum to charity?" "10%?"

UPDATE: Ham of Bone received his severance check, or at least the guarantee of it.
Women Are the Gatekeepers

NRO's The Corner published an email:

Dear Jonah:
Your reader, and your comment on social life in college, have hit upon the great truth that was Socrates's argument for the education of women: In general, men will do more or less whatever women want, so the key to a good society is to educate women to want the right things.
Top Ten Books On The New York City Schools Summer Reading List

10. "Horton Hears A Gunshot"

9. "The Postman Always Rings Twice...Then Breaks The Window And Steals Your Home Entertainment Center"

8. "'Promotion,' 'Bonus' And Other Words You Will Never Hear After Attending A New York City School"

7. "Encyclopedia Brown And The Mystery Of The Dead Guy On The Subway"

6. "Lord Of The Flies, And Other Street Vendor Names"

5. "A Farewell To Strip Joints Thanks To That Nose Bleed Giuliani"

4. "Moby Dick's Self-Destructive Cousin Andy Dick"

3. "A Clockwork Orange That Reads 'Rolex' But Only Costs $10"

2. "Men Are From Mars, Hillary Clinton's From Arkansas, Damn It!"

1. "Of Mice And Donuts"

- David Letterman


"Horton Hears a Gunshot" cracks me up.

May 29, 2003

Lots o' Prayer

Out of curiosity I picked up a couple of the flyers in the breezeway of church. They were pamphlets on religious orders, complete with their daily schedules:

Sister Servants of the Eternal Word pray five hours a day and work five hours a day.
Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration pray some six hours a day and work 4 hours a day.
Pondering Mark 16:17-18

The words from Mark's Gospel (Mark 16:17-18) seemed more difficult to comprehend that usual today, coming on the heels of the discouraging news concerning Dylan. It seemed there were two options with respect to the latter: either it isn't God's will at this time to heal him or the faith and sacrifice of St. Blog's was lacking. There seems a hierarchical element to prayer - Jesus' prayer was more effective than the apostles, the apostles more than saints (the apostles raised the dead) and the saints more than us. I went to my beloved commentaries.

First the verses:

"And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well."

The Ignatius Study Bible - the Gospel of Mark - shrunk from the question.

Orchard's "Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture" didn't flinch:

When sending the Apostles on a temporary mission in Palestine, Christ gave them power to cast out demons in order to strengthen the appeal of their preaching. Now he promises to believers miraculous signs to guarantee the truth and divine origin of the doctrine which they had accepted. The promise is made to the community of the faithful rather than to each individual believer. In the early days of the Church, possibly becuase of a greater need for extraordinary signs in order to move a skeptical and hostile world to which the Gospel and Church were still new, some of these manifestations of miraculous power were more frequent than in later times. But Christ's promise is not limited to a particular period. In every age miracles have given proof that Christ abides with the Church.

From the Catena Aurea:

St. Gregory: Are we then without faith because we cannot do these signs? Nay, but these things were necessary in the beginning of the Church, for the faith of believers was to be nourished by miracles, that it might increase. Thus we also, when we plant groves, pour water upon them, until we see that they have grown strong in the earth; but when once they have firmly fixed their roots, we leave off irrigating them. These signs and miracles have other things which we ought to consider more minutely. For Holy Church does every day in spirit what then the Apostles did in body.

I tend to make the mistake of assuming universal applications to everything in the Gospels, when sometimes passages are meant merely for the Apostles ears. Similar are some of the predictions that pre-figure the catastrophe (for the Jews) in 70AD.
On the Wagon...

...from silliness. It was all I could do to refrain from commenting "Limbo? Don't like it. Hurts my back." on Tom's blog. Completely inappropriate. (Speaking of his blog, it was sad to see to see it didn't get a mention in Mark Shea's article on St. Blog's parish in this month's Crisis).

The discussion on unbaptized babies is a critical thing because it very effectively exposes the "head" thinking versus "heart". I am literally surrounded by heart thinkers w/r/to religion. One PIQ (person in question) believes in all her heart that a good God would not be capable of not having animals in heaven (I'm tempted to say 'please not mosquitoes...please!'). Another close PIQ simply cannot imagine a God who would consider using artificial birth control as a sin leading unto death. She said, "I would rather go to hell than have had another kid," which immediately shut down that conversation although it begged the question, "you mean than foregoing sex?". Certainly it is a hard teaching, but easier than telling homosexuals not to engage in homosexual acts.

As far as Limbo, it is natural, and nearly overpowering, to want certainty as to the destiny of your child, if he/she died before Baptism. Perhaps the Scriptures were designed, albeit unsatisfyingly, to focus thusly:"What are the implications of the Gospel for me?," not, "What are the implications for a class of persons to which I do not belong? as Tom wrote.
Back in the U.S....

There is something Dali-like surreal in seeing a clip of Paul McCartney playing "Back in the U.S.S.R" in Red Square, Moscow to thousands of Russian youth. Having grown up in the 70s, the Soviet Union seemed so serious, and lended that sobriety to our every move. Now having a pop star play outside the Kremlin, is, well, like having Madonna sing "Like a Virgin" in Tehran.

May 28, 2003

Excerpt from Belloc's Path to Rome on the Mass

In the first village I came to I found that Mass was over, and this justly annoyed me; for what is a pilgrimage in which a man cannot hear Mass every morning? Of all the things I have read about St Louis which make me wish I had known him to speak to, nothing seems to me more delightful than his habit of getting Mass daily whenever he marched down south, but why this should be so delightful I cannot tell. Of course there is a grace and influence belonging to such a custom, but it is not of that I am speaking but of the pleasing sensation of order and accomplishment which attaches to a day one has opened by Mass; a purely temporal, and, for all I know, what the monks back at the ironworks would have called a carnal feeling, but a source of continual comfort to me. Let them go their way and let me go mine.

This comfort I ascribe to four causes (just above you will find it written that I could not tell why this should be so, but what of that?), and these causes are:

1. That for half-an-hour just at the opening of the day you are silent and recollected, and have to put off cares, interests, and passions in the repetition of a familiar action. This must certainly be a great benefit to the body and give it tone.

2. That the Mass is a careful and rapid ritual. Now it is the function of all ritual (as we see in games, social arrangements and so forth) to relieve the mind by so much of responsibility and initiative and to catch you up (as it were) into itself, leading your life for you during the time it lasts. In this way you experience a singular repose, after which fallowness I am sure one is fitter for action and judgement.

3. That the surroundings incline you to good and reasonable thoughts, and for the moment deaden the rasp and jar of that busy wickedness which both working in one's self and received from others is the true source of all human miseries. Thus the time spent at Mass is like a short repose in a deep and well-built library, into which no sounds come and where you feel yourself secure against the outer world.

4. And the most important cause of this feeling of satisfaction is that you are doing what the human race has done for thousands upon thousands upon thousands of years. This is a matter of such moment that I am astonished people hear of it so little. Whatever is buried right into our blood from immemorial habit that we must be certain to do if we are to be fairly happy (of course no grown man or woman can really be very happy for long—but I mean reasonably happy), and, what is more important, decent and secure of our souls.

--Hilaire Belloc
What to make of this?

My stepson left this book out on the kitchen counter, which in our household is the universal way of announcing, "look what I'm reading!". Things tend to get left there "accidentally on purpose".

Some background: Back in his materialist days I noticed him reading the above book in my library. He read it for at least twenty minutes, an eternity to be reading what he called at the time "biased" books (he said he preferred to read "objective" books - i.e. not written by believers). Thrilled by this, I gave him the book for his birthday (this was two years ago.) Now the book hath just resurfaced, which I'm not sure is a pluperfectly good thing. First, though I have the greatest respect for Fr. Most, I don't know that he is the best for my stepson at this time. Perhaps he's the most orthodox, which is a relief, and he is also very honest. Painstakingly honest. So he airs controversial subjects like "Are there errors in Scripture?". "Has the Church changed her position on Religious Freedom?". Now, these arguments are necessarily very nuanced, which means that they are not slam-dunks in the sense of "Did O.J. kill his wife?". So you (I) could wish that the book took a bit more "big picture" view of the Church. Still, beggars can't be choosers!

May 27, 2003

Some bloke who’s able, lift up the table!

I've long liked the tune "I'm Getting Married in the Morning" from My Fair Lady, partly because I could relate to the character "Doolittle" and partly because as a connoisseur of oxymorons I relish the thought of such an irresponsible blackguard singing a song about responsibility - his responsibility to get to the church on time no matter what it takes. It is everyone's song if one sees "church" as heaven and recognizes that we are all are more or less screw-ups. I like the way Doolittle depends on his friends (i.e.the saints); he recognizes he can't get there alone. He desires what we do at the Heavenly Banquet - to be "spruced up and looking in our prime". "Drug me or jail me / Stamp me and mail me" rings out with the attitude of a willingness to pay any price for the Kingdom, followed even more emphatically by, "Feather and tar me; Call out the army". In other words, don't let my will to party and carouse get in the way of the appointment of Bliss.

There’s just a few more hours.
That’s all the time you’ve got.
A few more hours
Before they tie the knot....

There are drinks and girls all over London, and I’ve
gotta track ‘em down in just a few more hours!
I’m getting married in the morning!
Ding dong! The bells are gonna chime.
Pull out the stopper!
Let’s have a whopper!
But get me to the church on time!
I gotta be there in the mornin’
Spruced up and lookin’ in me prime.
Girls, come and kiss me;
Show how you’ll miss me.
But get me to the church on time!
If I am dancin’
Roll up the floor.
If I am whistlin’
Whewt me out the door!
For I’m gettin’ married in the mornin’
Ding dong! the bells are gonna chime.
Kick up an rumpus
But don’t lost the compass;
And get me to the church,
Get me to the church,
For Gawd’s sake, get me to the church on time!

Drug me or jail me,
Stamp me and mail me.

But get me to the church on time!
I gotta be there in the morning
Spruced up and lookin’ in me prime.

Some bloke who’s able
Lift up the table,
And get me to the church on time!

If I am flying
Then shoot me down.
If I am wooin’,
Get her out of town!

All
For I’m getting married in the morning!
Ding dong! the bells are gonna chime.

Doolittle
Feather and tar me;
Call out the Army;
But get me to the church.

All
Get me to the church...

Doolittle
For Gawd’s sake, get me to the church on time!
Quotable

Humor trades in incongruity. The practical joker pulls the chair out from under the guest of honor, revealing that he, no less than the rest of us mortals, is a helpless subject of gravity. The divine joke is to pull the gravity out from under the chair. In the divine comedy, we play the part of the fool, but this turns out to be our best role. For our folly conducts us to paradise, bringing us into the arms of the beloved (as in the Shakespearean comedies of mismatched loves resolved) and lifting us to the court of the Most High, where by all logic and etiquette we most certainly do not belong. When finally we come to prostrate ourselves before the divine throne, it will very likely be because we have tripped.

-- Carol Zaleski
via Blog for Lovers
Hell's Population

Steven Riddle has an interesting post on the population of hell, suggesting that the kindler/gentler theology of the moderns might be a development of doctrine, and he may be right. I'm no expert, but it seems that while God doesn't change, our perception of Him is certainly a moving target. From least inclusive to most inclusive is the pattern of salvation history - from Adam & Eve to a family (Noah) to a tribe (Abraham) to the twelve tribes (Israel) to the Davidic kingdom to "here comes everybody" (i.e. the Gentiles). On the other hand, the last book in the New Testament certainly doesn't give me the "warm-fuzzies". There is immense spiritual warfare depicted, with high stakes.

Development is a tricky thing which is why I'm glad I don't have to decide what is and what isn't. Many non-Catholics, for example, think that the lack of disciplinary requirements in their churches (such as days of fast and abstinence and days of obligation) are "development" given that the New Testament expired many of the OT requirements and regulations. And in making sacraments mere symbols, they sacralize everything, they invoke a ubiquitnessness that denies the especial Presence. Some wrongly see that as development given the biblical trend. God was so inaccessible in the OT Holy of Holies that only the high priest could be there (extremely hierarchical), but that segued to the NT practice of all the faithful receiving Him and some project (too far) that Jesus intended a completely flat, horizontal Church. It is too easy to see the trend and follow it to (what you believe) is the logical conclusion. I've certainly been guilty of making this error in the stock market.

Part of the difficulty is that we are in a phase of Church history that is completed and yet not finished. In other words, although we are in the final days (meaning post-Pentecost) we still see through the glass darkly. The Church has recognized the glass is dark on this subject and has not weighed in on how many are saved. Reading theologians, on this subject, seems akin to reading tea leaves.

I just saw a documentary on angels on the History Channel, and they interviewed a man who had no interest in God who suffered an injury (lacerated intestine) that went untreated for 10 hours. 90% of the time it leads to death, and he had the classic near/after death experience - he looked over his dead body, etc...And he was given a choice to pray to God, which he did, and he lived and became a minister. He was utterly changed by his experience, something that a pyschologist says doesn't happen after dreams or hallucinations.

This is admittedly anecdotal, but if true here was a guy given another chance presumably after he died or at least in the second before death. That would certainly lead one to believe that hell would be less populated than one might think, given that if that man were given that chance, why wouldn't everyone? Alicia rightly says that those may still choose wrongly, but what amazes me about that is that it goes so directly against their self-interest. Who would choose death over life? You say that the drug addict does (or the sinner for that matter), but he does because he perceives a short term 'good'. There would seemingly be no short term good to choosing hell at the moment of death, would there? Perhaps only pride...which I suppose that is one reason it's the greatest sin.

Ultimately, the answer is unknowable on this side of the divide but that doesn't stop us from pure speculation.

May 26, 2003

Bruce Almighty

It's interesting the reaction the new movie "Bruce Almighty" is getting. The Baptist minister on the talk show I occasionally listen to is aghast - he says it is outrageously irreverent and that you watch - you just watch - Christian reviewers will say this movie is okay. I checked the Bishop's review, and sure enough they think it's okay for adults albeit there are some of the typical juvenile hijinks.

I might see it just because it lampoons whiners (like myself) who think they have it rough. Jim Carrey, for example, is upset with his girlfriend's looks - played by Jennifer Aniston.
Memorial Day Weekend Recap

After four years of marriage, one begins to fall into a sort of rhythm such that both partners intuit what will happen on a given holiday. For us, Memorial Day is a family day of obligation.

We went camping Friday night and Saturday (camping being a euphemism for “communal living in a park-like setting”). It exists mainly so that you appreciate your house when you get back. (Which reminds me of the classic explanation of why jogging is such a joy - so that when you stop it will feel so good).

Saturday afternoon we drive to "Grandma Faye's" general store; my brother-in-law humorously suggests Grandma is a middle-aged man. I tell him "Fat Fred's" just doesn't have the same ring to it. We pick up the essentials - beer, cigars and Milky Ways - and return for more "nature". Family groups stare unnervingly at us as we drive by at the requisite 6 mph, their mouths slack and eyes glazed. Chris notices - "why would they camp there, on display like that?".

Sleeping with three or more adults in a tent or camper improves the odds that one will snore. And one will object to your unobtrustive reading light. Routines are destroyed, which isn’t such a bad thing – author Paul Theroux says that routines make time go by too quickly. Camping exists to slow down time. To go offline. And that - seriously - isn’t a bad thing.

But you know I can't miss church. So it was either get up early on Sunday morning or drive the wee hours Saturday night. Sleepless in southeast Ohio, I chose the latter and bolted from the fold. My truck was parked more than a half-mile away and so I enjoyed a rare midnight walk amid the tiki lights, the good bretheren putting out their fires before bed, the sight of a jet-black sky and motherlode of stars. In a couple of hours I traded it all for the city and a mordantly-lit starless sky. But I sure slept well.

I reaped a traffic-less drive while listening to classical music interspersed with WLW’s “Trucking Bozo” show. The classical music was mercifully free of the daytime pledge drive and when I tired of a selection I listened to the trucker’s beefs, a rare glimpse into another life. “I used to love doing this, now it’s just a job,” they said. "Drivers don't take care of each other anymore. They only look out for numero uno." The DJ takes calls; the truckers are articulate in a country sort of way. They have good ears for conversation, know how to deliver a punch line, presumably from years of practice. Truckers are the last cowboys, out there on the open range called interstates.

May 25, 2003

Of Hairshirts & the Like

Amy's having a fascinating discussion on mortification. I like what she's saying - because I'm of the Chestertonian variety of Christian - but I'm skeptical for that very reason. I think Therese is right when she sees it as "behavior modification". If one punishes oneself after a repeated transgression, knowing what we know of human psychology that is surely an effective means of making that transgression less palatable.

Via Amy's blog...a quote from a letter of St. Jane de Chantal to a priest to whom she was giving spiritual direction:

Take my word for it, our Lord is more pleased with our accepting the relief our body and spirit require, than by all these apprehensions of not doing enough and wanting to do more. All God wants is our heart. And He is more pleased when we value our uselessness and weakness out of love and reverence for His holy will, than we do violence to ourselves and perform great works of penance. .....What God, in His goodness, asks of you is not this excessive zeal that has reduced you to your present condition, but a calm, peaceful unselessness, a resting near Him with no special attention or action of the understanding or will except a few words of love or of faithful, simple surrender, spoken softly, effortlessly, without the least desire to find consolation or satisfaction....
Still seems it strange, that thou shouldst live forever?
Is it less strange, that thou shouldst live at all?
This is a miracle; and that no more.


-Edward Young

May 23, 2003

Great Posts of Late

You say, "But I've already read these!" I say, "hey, I want them archived on my blog so that I can do a find on them in a quick minute".

Minute Particulars discusses faith:

What this all boils down to is not a wager or bet, but knowledge of the credibility of witnesses and assent to the content of their testimony.

Thus, Aquinas writes:

"Now, whoever believes, assents to someone's words; so that, in every form of belief, the person to whose words assent is given seems to hold the chief place and to be the end as it were; while the things by holding which one assents to that person hold a secondary place. Consequently he that holds the Christian faith aright assents, by his will, to Christ, in those things which truly belong to His doctrine."


Tom of Disputations discusses bible-readin':

Obviously, a parish priest inventing a rule to make life easier for himself is not quite the same as the Pope promulgating a universal and categorical injunction, but the difference isn't always appreciated from the perspective of the pew.

Outside the Church, of course, it's all grist for the mill. Various regions of the Church, at various times, in response to specific circumstances, did forbid the reading of Scripture by the laity. That's enough truth for the club carvers. Used with the pre-conciliar memories of Father Stentorian and Sister Mary Sternhand saying only wicked little children read the Bible, it's a pretty effective charge.

The overarching fact, though, is that in the Roman Catholic Church the general encouragement of the reading of Scripture by the laity is relatively new, even if forbidding it never much happened. Reading Scripture is good, of course, but not reading it isn't quite as wicked as Bible-only Protestants would have us believe -- particularly for those living within Christendom. I'm not sure what a generalized felicity for quoting Romans 8 would have brought to the medieval party.


KTC on confession:
First, the stereotype of hypocrites running back out to sin again: unlike many Evangelical protestant churches, which are congregational in nature, the Catholic Church is parochial; that is, it is accessible to all baptized believers in a given geographical area. Most evangelical churches have little patience with what they call "carnal Christians"; instead of making allowance for them to come along at their own pace, evangelicals tend to throw down the gauntlet from the pulpit. "Be transformed by the renewing of your mind." "Clothe yourselves with Christ."

Groups of believers who hear Biblical exhortation publicly in this way tend to want to conform. Even Catholics in Bible studies or third order groups respond similarly. Whereas each Catholic homily is designed to accompany the reading of that particular day in the Liturgical calendar, protestant sermons are often topical--at the discretion of the preacher. Furthermore, congregational-type churches tend to attract like-minded groups; people who cannot or will not conform (like the Christmas-and-Easter "Carnal Christians") are soon winnowed out.

The parochial Catholic Church, however, follows the Biblical model of the wheat and the tares. Knowing that the Holy Spirit chooses a different timetable for each individual, the Church offers The Mass and the Sacraments for all the baptized.

When a congregational protestant protests against the hypocrisy of Catholics who sin after they leave the confessional, ask him if he'd prevent a hypocrite from hearing a good sermon. Certainly not: even if the Word didn't bear fruit immediately, it is certain that a seed was planted in his hypocritical soul--perhaps the next sermon will spur his conversion! So it is with the Sacrament of Confession.
It's All Blogger's fault...

Blogger has been so sluggish of late that my reading of blogs has been cut down. Nature abhors a vacuum, so this gives me the time to further mediocritize my own blog. My friend and pal is packing his things as his 60-day pass wanes and found our infamous "Steinberg novella", co-written in 1993.

But first, some research. I found the definition of "self-indulgent post":

S.I.P. -n - loosely, a post even your mother would say, "are you sure you want to post that?". The theoretical archetypal self-indulgent post would be excerpting from your co-written amateur sci-fi novel. This is to self-indulgent posting what Fred Astaire is to dancing.

As one ever ready to test boundaries, I will now excerpt portions. Reading it, I get the sense that it will stand the test of time, if time is narrowly defined as a 30-second interval. To give you an idea of just how bad it is, one of the character's names is "Bite MyAss".

We entered it in the Toast Point Bad Fiction Contest since they published everything, but I noticed after awhile they removed it from their website. We weren't good enough to be called "bad fiction" - now that's gotta hurt.

Without further ado! Plot: Gina and Johnathon are being taken hostage by thugs. Gina has special powers by virtue of being half-alien.

I tried not to feel overdramatic, as they half-carried us up the big hill, in my mind the hill of Calvary. The symbolism of the day ending as my life was ending brought tears to my eyes and I realized anew how difficult it was to get tears off your cheeks when your hands are tied. I had to rub my face against Gina's hair, which was not an unpleasant endeavor.

"Gina," I whispered, "we need to break loose don't you think?"

"Na baby na, don't cry-"

"I'm not," I protested a bit much, "it's my contacts!"

***

But then I remembered the rolling hills and vales of their farm and the music "Suddenly...last summer" came to mind. "Will summer never end, will summer never begin?..it takes me standing still...it takes all my will... when suddenly....last summer."

***

"Bite my ass, Bite Myass!", Herr said, uttering a line that cut Bite to the core. Buttahfinga had spoken the unspeakable, the one line that brought to mind a million childhood rages. Like a severed Achillies heel, Bite reacted with red-hot fury.

***
"Where are we?" Jonathan asked, groggy and weak from lack of blood.
"I carried you here to Aunt Mame's barbeque. Figured the smell of ribs would waken you."

***
[Gina says] "I am serious. I am half-Cabootan, which means I'm a little sharper in most of my senses than humans...Don't look at me like that! Don't hate me because I'm Cabootan, hate me because I'm beautiful!"

I gave an exasperated sigh while we cleaned up the wound. I wanted her to put alcohol on it, like they do in westerns, but neither of us drink much and so we didn't have any. She put nail polish remover on it instead, and it hurt like hell.

"I think we ought to go to a hospital, though I'm loathe to admit it," I said.

"Gina, tell me the truth - why is somebody trying to kill us and why do the words of MacArthur Park elude me? I've spent a lifetime trying to forget them, and now that I have, it scares me."

"Ok, you're entitled. You have a war wound to prove it. The fumes from the nail polish I used cause you to slowly lose all memory. Don't fuss, it's just till we're safely ensconced on earth or North Caboot & can check for bugs. If we're captured, I think you may be a teller."

"A teller?"

"Yes, one who tells. Like I said, your memory will be returned and amplified when we're safe."

"Gina?"

"Yes?"

"What's a teller?"

Promises

Soft cold rain falls
on forlorn tomato plants;
they look misplaced, aggrieved
expecting a Mexican climate.

I rub their tender leaves
for the scent of summer
it lingers but does not avail,
summer is nontransferable.

The inside beckons still,
the loft of book ease
cushioned and distractionless;
the weather accords good study
slack limbed deep sleep.
Baseball players for life. Now there's a real hall of fame!

May 22, 2003

A Pope By Any Other Name....is still a pope!

What bothers is not that Protestant denominations reject the teachings of the RCC; rather it is the disingenuous argument many use for rejecting the papacy and authority.

All Protestant denominations have had popes whether they call them that or whether they even realize it or not. For if the main Christian branches have different bibles, how can the bible be the sole rule of faith? Either the RCC, the Orthodox or the Protestants are the "most correct" in determining which books should be in the bible.

I read somewhere that Revelation is not the bible, Revelation stands behind the bible and shines through it. And men such as Luther and Calvin and others determined the canonicity of certain books, determined the interpretation and translation of the bible as surely and powerfully as any pope. The ideas evangelical Protestants currently hold were typically not arrived at by themselves in a moment of inspiration from the Holy Spirit and after years of study - no, those ideas (such as the role of Mary and which sacraments are effective and how they work) were passed down to them by prior protestant popes. And the dearness with which many hold them suggests a belief in the charism of infallibility.

I think the right question is not, "which is the most exciting, spirit-led church in 21st century Columbus, Ohio", but "which is the most exciting, Spirit-led church since Pentecost?". And how can I build up the latter?
Japanese author Haruki Murakami quote in the Guardian

"If it's art or literature you're looking for," he wrote, in the voice of his narrator, in Hear the Wind Sing, "you'd do well to read the Greeks. In order for there to be true art, there necessarily has to be slavery. That's how it was with the ancient Greeks: while the slaves worked the fields, prepared the meals and rowed the ships, the citizens would bask beneath the Mediterranean sun, rapt in poetical composition or engaged in their mathematics. That's how it is with art. Mere humans who root through their refrigerators at three o'clock in the morning can only produce writing that matches what they do. And that includes me."

--Haruki Murakami
Geoffrey Chaucer Chimes In

... if gold ruste, what shal iren doo?
For if a preest be foul, on whom we truste,
No wonder is a lewed man to ruste;
And shame it is, if a prest take keep,
A shiten shepherde and a clene sheep.

--- Chaucer (The Canterbury Tales: General Prologue, 502-506)
Steven Riddle shares some charming anecdotes involving his son. Reminds me of a story close to home. After months of misdiagnosis, my mother learned she had tore her rotator cuff. My seven-year old niece said, 'Grandma, I knew you broke your arm because I was praying for you and if it wasn't broken I know God would have made it better!'. Sweet kid.
Torturing Self So You Don't Have To

The parents of my stepson's near-fiancee gifted him with a Quest Study Bible for his birthday. And I succumbed today to reading what it has to say about some of "Catholic distinctives" in Scripture. I wondered if it was in the same league as the egregious Halley's anti-Catholic commentary. And it wasn't, not even close. It passed the whore of Babylon test.

Interestingly, it was reasonably fair on Matt 16:18, although 'binding' & 'loosing' is applied to what is already binded and loosed already in Scripture. But it gives Peter the possibility of being the rock. Authority isn't apparently as controversial as the sacraments, for you could really see bias on anything relating to the Eucharist. "Is it the real body and blood of Christ? No, Christians aren't cannibals," a sidebar explains, with Magisterium-like authority. Oy vey. (Cannibals eat their own - God is not us, via KTC).

Why in John 6 do disciples leave immediately after Jesus saying that you unless you eat my flesh you do not have life within you? Simply because they wanted him to fight the Romans. Nothing whatsoever to do with what was just said.

May 21, 2003

Alright Already ... or give the bishops a break

It wasn't just the hierarchy guilty of the Reformation. It was the people in the pews. The bishops are a reflection of the holiness (or non-holiness) of the people and if Bill Clinton was the President we deserved in the 90s, then these are the bishops we deserve.

It's been said that they aren't democratically elected so that analogy doesn't hold. And if the Church is a purely political institution then they may be right. But if she isn't, then her course will be determined not just by those in power but influenced by the prayers and sacrifices of her members. We either believe in the power of prayer, or we don't. If we do, then reform in the Church can and will happen.

My uncle never told us why he left the priesthood after just five years, now some twenty-five years ago. But we heard he didn't get along with his superiors and I suspect it was because the reality didn’t live up to the ritual, that he saw the bishops had feet of clay and it was obscenely off-putting. It's an understandable reaction – he’d signed up when he was absurdly young, something like 14 years old, still idealistic as the wind.

But that is why they call it faith – it’s not readily apparent. In fact, it can look downright contradictory. "How can I see the action of the Holy Spirit in these uninspiring men?" he probably wondered.

It seems something of a catch-22: if you are aware of your own depravity and how close betrayal lay within you, then you will be a lot less disappointed in your bishops. But the young and idealistic – whom we most have need of - rarely have that awareness.

Faith is difficult. I have a hard time imagining that the Holy Trinity resides in this bit of clay. But I do anyway. Similar with the Church. So if you say we should sympathize with and pity those who leave the Church over this scandal, I would concur, just as we should sympathize with and pity anyone with weak faith.
Country Song Wednesday

I've been liking this new song by newcomer Craig Morton, called "Almost Home". It's even better with the tune and if you ignore certain meteorological impossibilities:

He had plastic bags wrapped ‘round his shoes
he was covered with the evening news
had a pair of old wool socks on his hands.

The bank sign was flashin’ five below
it was freezin’ rain and spittin’ snow
he was curled up beside some garbage cans.

I was afraid that he was dead,
I gave him a gentle shake,
When he opened up his eyes
I said, “oh man, are you okay?”
he said...

Ref:
I just climbed out of a cottonwood tree
I was runnin’ from some honeybees
Drip-dryin’ in the summer breeze
After jumping into Calico Creek.

I was walking down an old dirt road
Past a field of hay that had just been mowed
Man I wish you'd just left me alone
I was almost home.

--"Almost Home" by Craig Morton
Remember What You Paid for These...

It's fun to slightly change words to a song such that a phrase is hilariously off-key.

For example, changing the guttural, instinctive "want" to the more refined "wish to" in pop songs might be considered humorous:

Example: Eddie Murphy's one hit:

"My girl wishes to party all the time, party all the time, party all the time..."

Or:

"Macho, macho man....I wish to be a macho man..."

Ellyn vonHuben has a great example - she says the Stones' Satisfaction still grates like nails on a chalkboard after 40 years. "But I can't imagine any impact in Mick singing, 'I cannot attain any satisfaction'.

******

St's Francis & Claire

Is it any wonder that there would be an attraction there? They loved the unloveable....how much more would they love the loveable!

Quoteable: "One of my former Carmelite teachers quoted an old Spanish proverb: 'Between a male saint and a female saint, brick and mortar!' ...a profound spiritual bond....Nothing is more deceptive than a lonely human heart!" - Kathy the Carmelite
Habsburg Quote

It is characteristic of a generation that has lost its sense of historical perspective and become so self-centered that it no longer sees the continuity of which it is part. In rejecting its past, it has renounced its future, and sometimes its erratic and futile measures in the present convince one that these are the desperate activities of those who truly anticipate annihilation. The perspective of history has been lost because history gives up its meaning only in the perspective of eternity.

--Russell Kirk's friend Otto von Habsburg
Ahhhhh....

My stepson is being pluperfectly pleasant and on the constant lookout for opportunities to convert me to his view of church. I like this side of the fence better, the courted instead of the court-er. When he was in his materialist phase, I was the one ever eager for opportunities to present another side. I still want to present Catholicism in the best light, but some of the pressure is off given his new-found Christian faith. (Interesting note: his hard science reading material - involving biology, chemistry, physics - has dropped off to nothing. I wonder how integrated his faith and reason is; perhaps he considers it an impediment to his faith).

I do think we have to ruthlessly examine our motives for evangelization - it has to be truly about wanting the other person's highest welfare. If I am inconsistent in wanting that other person's best welfare in ways other than spiritual, then I must suspect my motives evangelistically.

And I do feel a bit guilty that his mom & me pay only for his tuition/ food. He has said (somewhat belatedly) that he feels he missed out on college in the traditional sense (i.e. the dorms, the off-campus apt., etc). And I'm sympathetic to that because I do believe the "full college experience" should include living at school. But we told him that if it were important to him, he could get a student loan. I felt that college should be a financial partnership since that ensures both sides will be eager to conclude it in 4 or 5 years instead of six...seven...eight!

May 20, 2003

David Mills opines...

"If you are interested in church architecture, you may find of interest "A Machine for Believing", an article from today's New York Times Magazine on a new church in Munich, the Herz Jesu Kirche (roughly, Church of the Sacred Heart).

It is a very modern church but apparently simple and orderly. It looks — the article includes three pictures — infinitely better than most modern Catholic churches I have seen, which were designed by people with no taste and apparently no sense of what their religion requires. However, I must admit that such simplicity makes me nervous, because it is offered so often in the service of iconoclasm, by people (including Catholic liturgists and architects) who want so to "spiritualize" the Faith that it becomes a great and blowsy abstraction. Simple church buildings began blank convases upon which they can paint whatever picture they want.

But on the other hand I have been in some very old Catholic churches that seemed puritan in their simplicity, and were as emotionally affecting in their own way as the greatest Romanesque and Gothic churches are in theirs. I suppose one's response depends on the context and what one thinks is actually going on there, a meeting of the faithful with the Holy Trinity or a meeting of the (temporarily) gathered community to celebrate each other.

In better times, simplicity will be a good thing, but such simplicity as the Herz Jesu Kirche offers may be a problem in an age in which the culture strips out all signs and signals of the transcendent. Most of us need as many visual reminders as we can get."—David Mills
Newman Article

Interesting article on Cardinal Newman by Edward Oakes in First Things. I feel sheepish writing this, what with the august Cardinal's picture on my blog, but what bothers me is this occasional tendency to proffer beneficial side-effects from certain doctrines as if it were part of its proof:

One of the reasons Newman defended the doctrine of Purgatory was because it would in the long run prove more suitable as a goad to moral rigorism than would constant preaching of the doctrine of the Atonement in Evangelical circles.

I would rather, like Tom of Disputations, know if it is true, rather than to prove doctrine by its fruit. It reminds me of the proscription against artificial birth control. Pope VI predicted in parts of Humane Vitae, correctly as it turned out, the negative impact readily available birth control would have on society at large. But I'm not sure how that shows birth control is morally wrong anymore than drinking alcohol is morally wrong because of its negative influence on society. Fortunately the encyclical and later teachings of John Paul II have provided a more adequate grounding...although not persuasive to the Garry Wills' of the world.
Sobering piece on the NY Times monomaniacal dreams.
Bitte, Danke

I visited an old German church in town and on the ceiling were fresco-type paintings of saints underneath each of which was the word Bitte followed by the saint's name. This momentarily puzzled me - my rudimentary German informed me that "bitte" was not the word for "pray for us" which is what I expected. No, "bitte" meant please. And that pleased me. Because it sounded more informal, more mendicantory, more in the spirit of what prayer is - "begging". Please, St. Anthony.

I recall in another church seeing the shrine of Blessed Margaret of Costello, who was born blind and lame and deformed. I recall feeling pity for her until we shared a chuckle - for she was feeling the same for me, her spiritual obverse!

May 19, 2003

Peter Kreeft on spiritual dynamite.
Bon Mots from a NY Times article on "God & Bush":

"I suspect Bush takes the view (which may prove right) that the ultimate argument will be between people who believe in something larger than themselves, and people who believe that it's all an accident of chemistry," Mr. Easterbrook said.

I think that is the ultimate argument and don't have a problem with it. I suspect that if the Christian community isn't robust and charitable enough to make Christianity attractive and compelling then perhaps we aren't the salt we need to be.

The interesting story, then, is not that Mr. Bush is a captive of the religious right, but that his people are striving to make the religious right a captive of the Republican Party. 

Funny thing is that the Democratic Party is also striving to make the religious right captive of the Republican Party!
The Life You Save

Paul Elie's new book is proving to be a riveting read. From last night's verwelie doch:

"The parochial school system applied the pattern of imitation on a vast scale. By schooling them together, the system gave Catholic children of many nations a common store of knowledge...And by keeping them separate from Protestants the school made separateness a source of unity and pride, instilling in young Catholics the belief that their way of life was separate from, and superior to, the Protestant one.

The system became so pervasive that it is taken for granted. But its stress on separateness actually was a departure from the usual theological notions of Catholicism and Protestantism. In Europe, where the Catholic Church was present as early as the fourth century, the impulse to separate oneself, to stand apart, was associated with Protestants, and since the time of the Reformation the Catholic Church has seen separatism as the egregious sin of Protestantism, condemning the Protestant churches as wayward children who had spitefully broken off relations.

Now, in North America, it was the Catholics who stood apart...Catholics achieved a degree of unity that would have been inconceivable in Europe. It was a unity grounded in a biblical sense of themselves as a chosen people, a people set apart. As it happened, however, the sense of apartness, the conviction of chosenness, was the defining trait of all the religious peoples who went their way outside the American Protestant mainstream: of black Christians, of Jewish immigrants, of Shakers and Quakers, and, after the Scopestrial of 1925, of the Protestant fundamentalists of the Deep South."


Elie then examines how Flannery O'Connor understood this separateness. Most of O'Connor's writing was not autobiographical, but her short story "A Temple of the Holy Ghost", though not overtly so, deals with a Catholic child coming to terms with the Eucharist:

During the drive home the child becomes 'lost in thought.' As she watches night fall outside the car window she sees the sun - a 'huge red ball like an elevated Host drenched in blood' - streaking the sky red like a road in a hillbilly song. It is an image of God, and of the way to God, and an image of Protestantism and Catholicism reconciled on the horizon - but the image of the sun eucharistically looming over all, above and apart, suggests the pride the Catholic child is prone to, the deadliest sin of all.
Accountability

My stepson has gone from agnostic to committed evangelical Christian, praise God. And so I necessarily have much less to dispute with him. His perspective is that his church is a "Pauline one with fellowship and accountability", in other words, by including some cult-like features such as the time-honored precepts of peer pressure, constant comparisons to another's "walk", shunning in extreme cases and constant gatherings to read the Word, he feels he is much more likely to make progress in the spiritual life. And I can't really disagree with him there. Most of us are to some extent or another lazy, and that accountability factor may be necessary. Now I could answer that the RCC has accountability - it's called Confession. Kathy the Carmelite, by the way, was brilliant in anticipating, almost in a psychic sort of way, what his position would be.

I'm not sure how convincing Confession as accountability would be to him - certainly it wasn't convincing to a fellow Protestant friend who said that when he was growing up in the 60s the Catlickers were seen as going to Confession and promptly sinning egregiously immediately. In his eyes, Confession seemed to have no impact. Such is the power of example - our behavior is the acid test of faith.

I guess I could say if you really want fellowship, community and accountability, there's always a monastery! (Just stay away from the hermitage).

UPDATE: See Kathy's response.

May 18, 2003

Great art.....not! Saddam Hussein's collection. A billion dollars in oil revenue and this is the best he could come up with?
Haven't read it yet, but this NY Times article entitled "Dating a Blogger and Reading All About It" looks interesting. Also Amy Welborn has a link to the NY Times review of The Life You Save Might Be Your Own.

May 16, 2003

Irish Song Friday

Rambles Of Spring

    --Tommy Makem 

There's a cold & wintry breeze blowing through the buddin' trees
and I've buttoned up my coat to keep me warm
But the days are on the mend and I'm on the road again
With me fiddle snuggled close beneath my arm

REF:
I've a fine felt hat and a strong pair of brouges
I have rosin in me pocket for me bow
and my fiddle strings are new and I've learned a tune or two
So I'm well prepared to ramble, I must go

I'm as happy as a king, when I catch a breath of Spring
and the grass is turning green as winter ends
and the Geese are on the wing, as the Thrushes start to sing
and I'm headed down the road to see my friends

REFRAIN
A Partial List of Beautiful Things
- Nature
- 20th century papal encyclicals
- Seamus Heaney poetry
- TC Boyle’s words on the big brow of a page...would that I could write like him

****



Of Boyle

He of the affectatious “TC”
-it takes one to know one
Ploughs the widening page
Deep-furrowed furloughs
For readers all;
Planting morphemes sundry
To be recovered by uncoverers
And de-cryptologists.

Books like easy chairs
Scent of the ink, the big-margined
fatted calf-covered volumes of leisure
Bays of words abut the crevice
Falling, falling off the cliff into absorption
Characters too keenly felt.
Olde Times

Moonlit horse sky-Blue
once poached the Colorado,
nibbled canyon grasses
pushin’ daisies now.



We pitched camp near the Columbia
took fire-coffee in battered tins
hiccup’d through the ol’ cowboy lines
blue-granite mountain backdrop
nip of whiskey to keep warm
telling folk tales at the cacklin’ fire...
Ruffled by the want of a journal entry….*

Backed. Up. A backed-up septic tank. That’s what I feel like. Not that I’m full of it, although that is probable, but I haven't journalized in two weeks. Haven’t written a poem yet in May. Hmmm….how about ”May showers bring June flowers?” So many issues…so little time. The mind whirls like the Unresolved Problems segment on O’Reilly (I always wonder: what couldn’t be classified as unresolved? Unresolves fly off the assembly line like chocolates in that I Love Lucy episode).

The Problematic Case of Bone
Prone to conspiracy theories, Bone collapses into the final stretch, sans job. Unemployment compensation maxes out at $22K a year, which, even given his heroic savings rate, would pinch. Pinch hard. So it looks much less palatable. But at the same time the evil geniuses at HR simply cannot find their way out of a paper bag. And so Bone is left holding the bag. One must “jif” for job openings, which is another way of saying, “fill out some paperwork, touch your head with your left head, count backwards and stick out your tongue”. So he jiffed for eight, ten, twelve open positions and then a couple weeks later HR says that they are in the process of reorganizing the Jiffing process and that his JIFs now are consigned to the the equivalent of limbo. Choosy mothers don’t choose this JIF. It becomes ever more difficult to maintain the fiction that he will remain employed, even after lo these twelve years. “What ifs” litter the landscape and I sweep them away.

Bacchus
Gleaves Whitney recently quoted Fritz Wilhelmsen of the University of Dallas: "Everyone must give Bacchus his due." Given that St. Paul warns against making provisions for the flesh (subject to your interpretation of what ‘flesh’ means – sex? drugs? rock’n’roll?) it is a dubious thought. Bacchus would seem to have a streak of “relative to what?” about him. For if I’m a teetotaler and I have two beers, Bacchus goes home and retires easily. If I’m used to the constant stimulation of rock and roll at nightclubs till 2am, becoming a monk and listening to the Gregorian Chant will feel much different than someone elderly and housebound, who would thrill to spend his days in that church choir.

But there is possibly a built-in component too. Crisis magazine recently reported that suicide rates among the young Mormons of Salt Lake City are very high. The author was careful not to draw a crude conclusion, but there was a hint of “they have no fun!”. Suicide rates are much higher in the West, especially the more forlorn areas of the west such as the Plains states. Could it be too quiet there?

Lunar Eclipsing
Spied thru a gimlet eye the lunar eclipse. There was the anticipation of it, the craning the neck and then ahhhhh-- there it is! Yep, that’s a lunar eclipse. Sun’s in back of us, and despite her great size because she’s so much farther away it appears the moon, earth and sun are relatively the same size. For the occlusion is neat, neither too much nor too little. Just right.
       _____

* - recalling Charles Dicken's line, "I'm ruffled by the want of a cigar"
Avoiding the Natural

"The Bible never asks us to do the easy and the natural. In fact, its very greatness is how it introduces us to the revolutionary idea that makes Western civilization possible. Namely that it is not only possible, but vital that we overcome nature, particularly our own. Toilet training a young child is the first time this lesson is administered. Don't relieve yourself when it would be natural to do so, just as animals do. Be unnatural. Hold it in until an appropriate time and until you're in an appropriate place. Behaving naturally is not the goal, dominating our nature is.

Although many in America consider it uncivilized to eat without first saying a blessing of gratitude for the food, it would be hard to find instructions about grace before meals in the Bible. However in the eighth chapter of Deuteronomy we are clearly instructed to give thanks after eating, "And you shall eat, be satisfied, and bless the Lord your God."

Ancient Jewish wisdom assures us that most of us feel considerably more spiritual and holy when hungry. (This dictum must be related closely to the one about no atheists in foxholes!) Fasting is necessary to observe the Day of Atonement because it puts us in the mood to atone. Since hunger induces piety, it is completely natural for all sensitive humans to say grace prior to satisfying their hunger. Thus, we can be counted on to do so without instruction. What is unnatural is for the satiated diner with bulging belly, to pause prior to staggering away from the table in order to express profound gratitude to the Creator. That is an amazingly unnatural feat and it is precisely what is demanded of us."
— Rabbi Daniel Lapin is president of Toward Tradition.

May 15, 2003

Another Muggeridge article.
Whoda Thunk It

I always thought that in Romeo & Juliet when the nurse tells the infant Juliet, "thou wilt fall backward when thou has more wit!" it was an eerie foreshadowing that Juliet would die, falling backwards. Instead, according to the series of tapes I listen to, it was merely the randy nurse's way of saying that Juliet would lie on her back for copulation purposes. Boy do I feel naive.
Softies

Blogs abhore a vacuum, so instead of mining the ol' journal I'll post some excerpts from the Catholic World Report piece. They recently took a distinctly unsoft-hearted look at the "strained optimism" of the Second Vatican Council. I have conflicting emotions about it; think about how many converts would not have made the leap without a more open Church? And yet one can hardly ignore the disastrous weakening in the Church since the Council. The Pope, when asked about the post-conciliar crisis, made the distinction between "qualitiative" and "quantitiative" renewal, indicating that the Church's loss of members is not as significant as genuine spiritual renewal which has taken place (writes Hitchcock).

One sure benefit personally is that when I was young there seemed to be very few "whys", just "this is how it is". You just don't do this (fill in a sin) because we say so. Ideally, this should have been enough. James Hitchcock writes: Pope John Paul's approach to human sexuality is perhaps the best index to the guiding spirit of his pontificate. He unambiguously affirms Church teaching, while at the same time endeavoring to take it to a higher level by synthesizing it with the best of modern thought and presenting it in a highly positive , even inspirational, way...

Right on.

Another interesting excerpt:
The Council identified atheism as one of the most fundamental problems of the modern world. But the irenic spirit was manifest in the fact that the Council did not condemn atheism outright but offered sympathetic guidance to the atheist, acknowledging that at times atheism has been fostered by the failings of Christians themselves. Here and elsewhere, the implication of Gaudium et Spes was that modern errors are mostly the result of misplaced goodwill and can be overcome by patient effort.

I suppose it comes down to our view of sin - how much comes from ignorance and how much from deliberate malice. And since I can barely figure out what combination of ignorance and deliberateness led to the errors of my past & present, it is certainly appears difficult in applying a formula for the world. To state the obvious, the pope has a tough job.

May 14, 2003

Bloggin' what's on my mind...

This may infinitely approach minutiae for you all, but it's been weighing heavy on my mind.

My friend "Hambone" is down to something like fifteen business days before the once-seemingly infinite conveyor belt of paychecks comes to an end. (Actually he will get twelve weeks severance, so only his presence at work will end immediately).

His acting skills perhaps haven't been up to snuff - he's about as excited about another IT job as getting a cavity filled. He proffers this sublime example, calling it about as enticing as Dante's 7th circle:

Sys Project Lead
Duties:
- lead projects
- take minutes at meetings
- NIKU time reporting - make sure everyone reports their time accurately
....


He says he'd rather stock grocery shelves. And that it is difficult in an interview to fake enthusiasm. Creating more mixed emotion is the fact that there is a big carrot at the end of the stick, a healthy 12-week severance and ensuing six months of unemployment checks. Followed by the possibility of living off savings, which is where we ran into difficulty. He said that he would be able to earn his living expenses by making 4% a month in the stock market, via risky stock options. Oy vey.

The way he's being treated by HR suggests a name change should be in order - to HE for "human expenses". He thinks maybe it is God's plan that he escape the corporate Leviathon awhile, and maybe it is. I will be cheering from the sidelines. I will pray that God's will be done, not that he get a job - since they may not be identical.

By the way, Ham of Bone always got excellent reviews and raises, rarely missed a day of work, has a very strong work ethic, etc...
Scandalized...

Amy's having a riveting discussion on Christian art (lately having an oxymoronic quality). I've had various reactions, which, as a blogger, are my duty to post regardless of coherence.

I think it was Chesterton who said that your metaphysics comes through with every word you say. In other words, one must say nothing in order not to extrude a world view. And so Hollywood purveys a world view, no surprise there. Let he imbibe who can handle it.

And yet others say that art exists outside of politics - I've heard of those who became atheists after reading Dostoyevski (finding his depiction of Ivan extremely persuasive) and others who claim it second only to the bible in spiritual inspiration. I suppose that is a mark of great art, its ability to be all things to all people.

I haven't seen Six Feet Under, but I personally wouldn't be offended by its portrayal of sins I don't have - only by sins that I do. In other words, violence, homosexuality and swearing wouldn't bother me. (I understand it's a different issue for those with young children). But since I am susceptible to lust, the nudity would.
The Death of Leisure

Gleaves Whitney in NRO says that Bill Bennet's real problem is all of ours - how to properly use leisure:

As Bennett, Eustachy, and Price could tell you, Bacchus especially wants his due after the day's work is done. During the night. In dimly lit spaces. Beyond the reach of our neighbors' eyes. That is to say, disordered appetites are usually indulged when we have leisure time.

Now we are hitting upon something truly interesting, for leisure rightly considered should be a nursery not of vice, but of virtue.

Aristotelians see human time divided into three major spheres: (1) working for a living, (2) recovering from working for a living, and (3) leisure time. Leisure is the highest use of time. It is the antithesis of "wasting time" or "killing time" with diversions and amusements.

May 13, 2003

Powerful Post from Tom at Disputations:
"I think part of what fuels this -- drawing Catholics to apparition sites, drawing Protestants to blessing sites where charismatic gifts are passed out like sugared candies -- is laziness. Anyone with any knowledge of the Church's history or of her spiritual traditions knows being a Christian is hard work, and that God intends it to be that way for almost everyone. But if Mary tells you exactly what to do, you don't have to spend all that time in discerning prayer. If the pastor zaps you with the gift of tongues because you shoved your way to the front row, you don't have to defeat the flesh, the devil, and the world day by day in private.

A better sense of history, a deeper knowledge of the experiences and traditions of the holy people who have gone before us, will teach us that these short cuts don't work. They don't work because the effort and pains put into working out our salvation aren't just inconveniences along the road, they are the road."


I constantly have to relearn this, this idea of the spiritual life being one of constant effort while keeping it married to the knowledge that it is God who supplies. St. Paul is inspirational here in receiving the most remarkable grace on the road to Damascus, a breath-taking, awe-inspiring grace. He, almost alone of the Pharisees....oh how highly favored. And yet! And yet afterwards he labored, labored and labored. He traveled and preached and was imprisoned. And sure there were miracles, but I get the sense it was a crucible for him. "I've fought the good fight" is the attitude, hardly a laid-back approach.

On the other hand, there is an admittedly small risk of "refusing the good", of seeing the only hard things as of spiritual value. "No pain, no gain" becomes not pain for the sake of gain but pain for pain's sake. And so we reject not just the sufferings but the gifts. Okay, so this is extremely unlikely, but it has happened in the past (see "Enthusiasm" by Ronald Knox, the Puritans, etc.)

Of Apparitions
The subject of apparitions hits close to home because a certain loved one craves them. And I think she craves them to be true not necessarily to avoid effort, but for blessed certainty of it, as a prop to her faith and to feel God's love and to know it is still extant, here in less miraculous times. Perhaps I'll ask her why these visions be so desirable to her. It seems as though the greater one's faith, the greater one's ability is to withstand/embrace redemptive suffering. We read stories of women lifting cars to free a trapped child. Those women might never lift that weight in normal circumstances but the reward of lifting that weight is so great and so palpable that they can do the seeming impossible. Perhaps an apparition provides this in that making the reward palpable and present.

She's also extremely interested to know if we are in the End Times. If it is true that we could know that there would only be one Pope after the present one, would not the pontificate of JPII's successor keep us on the edge of our seats? As Flannery O'Connor wrote, we could all be good with a gun at our heads each and every moment of every day. In that sense, it does display a lack of willingness to work, a hunger to only work when the owner of the vineyard is due to arrive.
Friday Five via Alicia
1. Who are your favorite cartoon characters?
Dilbert
2. Have you yet reached the point where you feel like you are from a different generation than today's youth?
Yes.
3. What was the first Music Video that really impressed you? What made it so amazing?
Am still waiting for this to happen.
4. Name a song and an era that comes to mind when you hear the word "Retro."
I have to go with Alicia's - "Rock around the Clock" and the 1950s.
5. How has your life been affected by HIV or AIDS?
Still remember where I was, and the shock, when I heard Magic Johnson had it.
6. Yesterday in the USA, we celebrated "Mothers Day," a day where we honor the mothers in our lives. If you were on a "special day" nominating committee, who or what would you recommend that we create a day in honor of?
"Lightning Bug Day". The little critters are due in three weeks.
7. Last week, we have several Tornadoes tore through many neighborhoods, destroying homes and devastating the lives of the residents. How would you feel if you lost every possession you owned? Or would it matter? How would you go on with your life?
It's easy for me to say from this vantage point, but if no one were hurt it would hardly be a tragedy, given this age of insurance. Books can be replaced. Walker Percy said he felt best, most alive, in times of peril. The inconvenience of it would suck.
Russell Kirk on Donald Davidson

Donald Davidson was a poet/professor and a Southern Agrarian - a Christian humanist who criticized industrialized mass society, detested communism and other forms of collectivism and was attached to the ways of the Old South.

Kirk writes in The Sword of the Imagination:

In his poem "Old Sailor's Choice" he describes a twentieth-century Ulysses of the Long Street on his voyage to Hell and beyond. Contrary to the counsels of a modern Circe, he chooses Charybdis over Scylla, though modern men lust for Scylla's deadly embrace, "the monstrous lips, the darting neck of their love-death."

      And I saw the stretching neck and the grinning teeth
      In the soundproof room where artificial daylight
      Blacks out the scudding clouds and the churning storm-wrack,
      And the secretary with half-naked breasts
      Extends the telephone on a crimson claw
      And murmers Washington is calling!

May 12, 2003

Time Travelin'

On my recent sojourn to a used book shop in Tampa, I exited with only one book (which could be considered a moral victory). I've heard it said more than a few times that the end of "innocence" and the start of a more aggressive, malignant modernity could be dated around the time of the First World War. (The automobile might've had an impact, as Jonah Goldberg wrote). So I was interested in a book by someone who straddled the time period and might have a different perspective. I could time-travel without Jack Finney.

This book is "The Age of Confidence: LIfe in the Nineties" (that's 1890s) by Henry Seidel Canby. Henry wrote it in 1937, and it is interesting just from a politically incorrect perspective; he spends a third of the book unduly class conscious. (The references to the Irish are natch especially cringe-worthy. He was a Quaker boy and describes how as children they would gang up to fight the 'micks', or get beaten up by them for he gives the micks their due.) But much more interesting is his prediction of the future and the contrast with the past, which I plan to blog about later...
Next week, the BBC reveals the results of a poll to find the nation's top 100 novels. But one man's masterpiece can be another's claptrap.

...the worst great books (according to some).
NY Times Mea Culpa

If you're like me, then you're greatly relieved that the NY Times is still against making stuff up. Would love to see a page one story exposing their advocacy of socially liberal causes...(fade to dream sequence):

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Correcting the Record                     May 12, 2003

We Deceived You

For the past two decades it has been the operating policy of this newspaper to advance causes such as gay marriage, abortion, cloning and other socially liberal goods. This is not simply an editorial page policy but extends to all sections of the paper (including the obituaries*). We apologize for slanting the news but the reader is better for it.

It has long been the aim of the New York Times to correctly spell the name of the assistant to the assistant to the Assistant of the Secretary of the Treasury. Our daily Corrections column has been a particularly effective way to show our obsession with accuracy at the expense of truth. We have, at least, been accurate in our bias.


* - Charles "Chuck" Boudvier, 73, Long Island, leaves a wife and three children. Mr. Boudvier was popular in right-wing circles for his vehement disapproval of Roe v Wade. He was particularly active in attempting to ban a procedure known as "partial-birth abortion" and authored tracts towards the goal of rolling back women's rights, specifically a woman's right to an abortion. Mr. Boudvier appeared unrepentant to the last.

May 11, 2003

Catholic World Report Excerpts

Unfortunately it isn't online, but Catholic World Report has a particularly interesting article entitled, provocatively, The End of Guadium et Spes?. James Hitchcock is the author. Really one has to read the whole thing to get the jist but here are some excerpts:

..the Council implied that even error springs from good intentions and can be corrected by deeper understanding. It took little notice of human reality often proclaimed in Scripture: hatred of turth and goodness, love of evil for its own sake.

The Church in the 1950s was a cohesive institution whose members showed a high degree of commitment. But there was a certain fragility about the cohesiveness, a sometimes excessive reliance on rules and safeguards, a pervasive suspicion of the world, an apparent apprehension (which turned out to be accurate) that letting down the guard in small ways might lead to large disasters.

The pervasive good will expressed in Guadium et Spes unintentionally helped to erode the crucial distinction between hope and optimism, which in Christian terms are often polar opposites....Conflating hope with optimism actually denies hope by minimizing the power of evil and insisting that good is triumphing despite all evidence to the contrary.

May 09, 2003

For Those Experiencing Trying Times

St. Ignatius: How to survive Desolation...
Catherine of Siena on Sensuality:

Neither does any sin, abominable as it may be, take away the light of the intellect from man, so much as does this one. This the philosophers knew, not by the light of grace, because they had it not, but because nature gave them the light to know that this sin obscured the intellect, and for that reason they preserved themselves in continence the better to study. Thus also they flung away their riches in order that the thought of them should not occupy their heart.


Seeking to fly by the light of reason while indulging one's passions is a recipe for disaster.
Hamish Hamilton in the Spectactor reviews John Updike's latest:

Few respectable writers satisfy our readerly greed for particularities (and, indeed, for closely observed types of tissue) quite so generously as John Updike. The sensuous incidental pleasures offered by his writing will always keep me reading: a used tea-bag sitting in the sink ‘like a tiny-black-brown handbag’; a suckling baby ‘clutching and unclutching one of her mother’s fingers in a wrinkled palm that gripped as softly as a snapdragon’. I am, I must confess, a complete sucker for Updike’s scatter-gun lyricism, headily mingling tea-bags and babies, sentimentality and repulsion.

But in this novel, as so often in Updike’s best fiction, one is made aware that the grains of sand are inexorably trickling away. This goes beyond even the usual Updike trick of combining revulsion and attraction in particularities, and dwelling with especial perverse tenderness upon the freckles, saggings and other age-related imperfections...
Links
Fascinating Touchstone article on Malcolm Muggeridge Meets Francis Schaeffer.

I wished I could have, at some level, dismissed the differences between the two men as those of two radically different personalities based on some Myers-Briggs personality ratings. But it was much more than that.

For Muggeridge, the story of Christianity, with its implicit rejection of worldliness, materialism, and concupiscence, and its truth realized in the otherworldly figure of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, summarized for him what Christianity was all about—a rejection of all that this world had to offer in money, sex, or power, the raised fist or the raised phallus.

For Francis Schaeffer, the system of Christianity, with its doctrinal formulations rooted in Scripture, had to be defended at all costs. To relinquish truth at any level was to descend down the slippery slope to liberalism and modernity into a world without the safety net of God’s clear propositional word to man found solely in Holy Scripture.


I remember reading some of Muggeridge's a few years back and being underwhelmed by his "artistic truths" view, especially in regards to the Virgin birth. A couple of EWTN'rs weighed in on it:

I do not think in the same category of thought as presented by Malcolm Muggeridge and so prefer not to comment upon his text as such, except to say that the Church formally teaches the historicity of the Gospels, which certainly includes historical truths contained therein regarding the Virgin Mary.
--Fr. John Echert

Dr. Geraghty wrote: I am wary of making too big a distinction between literal truth and artistic truth. The teaching is that Mary remained a virgin. This is part of the teaching of the Incarnation but it would also be a literal truth. Again, the teaching is that Christ rose from the dead. Literally, then, his body really did arise. Therefore, there could be no bones left. If, for the sake of argument, one discovered the body of Christ, that discovery would deny the teaching of the Resurrection.

*
Recently saw "About Schmidt" - for those who also have Crisis review is here.

May 08, 2003

Wrapping up ye Travelogue
Tuesday trips included the Tampa Art Museum and the Florida Aquarium. Much of the art museum was unfortunately closed but the Aquarium was an unexpected pleasure and a nice respite from the heat. The huge atrium makes you believe you’re outside, and the fresh water animals are in tanks that come up to your belly. The smell of the fresh water and mass of greenery was intoxicating. The turtles eschewed the bulk of the large tank and like fervent metaphysicians constantly strained at the glassy limits.

    a three-hour tour...

Enjoyed a dinner cruise Tuesday night with my wife's customer service group. Filet Mignon, a live band and open bar helped ensure a good time. Customer service managers in the chemical industry apparently know how to party, the dance floor was packed.

Apropos of Nothing - random thoughts on vacation
There is a repetitive task syndrome for those who do the same manual task everyday – is there a corresponding repetitive task syndrome for the brain?

Aquinas makes it easier to forgive – he says that all sin is a seeking of the “good” even if it be misguided or short-sighted.

Imagine the indentations on the Host are the wounds of Christ so that we, like Thomas, can put our fingers in His side.

*

Death of the Vacation
An air of perishability hangs over the final day, but the noon check-out doesn’t deter me from a 9-to-12 poolside vigil, complete with three Busch’s to make it a bloody fine wake. Beer before noon is a forbidden pleasure and made the sun’s swift move tolerable. 80s music dominates the radio; given that and the beer the lengthening bridge from college seems much shorter, almost transparent in fact.

The pool is mostly empty this early but the sun is nice and warm. I like the peace; the peace in not having to constantly joust thoughts of an unchaste variety. A fellow dinner cruise joins me, I offer a beer but he laments that he can’t drink or jog anymore. Slim, grey-haired, 50-something and in need of a heart transplant, says he went for a routine checkup and found that his arteries were clear as could be but it’s just his heart that is the problem. Nice, likeable guy. He did have a beer during the dinner cruise but quoted a friend: “Drinking one or two beers is like looking at cleavage!” He runs a hair salon and I’m thankful I didn’t blurt the obvious: “You’re a straight hair-dresser?!?”.
From the latest issue of Crisis:

Skye

The deepest seas embrace the Isle of Skye
And give it height and place and form.
Who sees its cliff walls blown with storm,
And hears its rock-sown shores resound
With squalls, knows all that pleases ear and eye;
He sees the cloud-white sky above each bay
And cove, and loves what he has found.

And I believe with all my mortal heart
That insofar as any man
Can cure his soul, on Skye he can.
For rage is banned from all its sites,
And grief’s been made an exile kept apart
From this small isle. Peace practices its art
Where quiet respite fears no spite.

I know that this is so, and yet…I know
As well that hiding in the caves
Of Skye, or counting starving waves
From crags that carve the sky like prows,
Or climbing hills where nothing ever grows,
And lonely humankind will never go,
Is not enough. I know that now,

And tell you this: that man cannot provide
Himself. He cannot make his own
Heart’s peace from everything he owns
Inside it. Even in a place
Like Skye, his power has no force; his pride
Will not suffice. The school of Stoics lied
To teach he was his own true grace.

No, God the King—our greatest king—commands
In everything that stirs the heart
Of man with storm. No human art
Alone can rule those seas; the will
Of God shall have them surge when He demands.
And as He calms them by His loving hand,
The tempest of the soul lies still.

— Samuel Johnson

May 07, 2003

Melting in Margaritaville

Back from the five day Tampa trip. I'm always a little stunned to find after a vacation that I hadn't any great insights or sudden epiphanies*. This travelogue will attempt to prove it.

It was hot
It was hot. Mogadishu hot. So running in this sun I wasn’t sure if I was a mad dog or an Englishmen, both unpalatable options to those with a drop of Irish blood. The lushness of the the waxy green leaves belie this desert sun. How do they stand it? But the heat is a good thing - it relaxes the muscles to such an extent that jogging feels almost effortless. And the warmth on the body at the pool is like a massage.

At Clearwater beach the poor, the rich, the good bodies, the bad bodies, walked by ceaseless as the tide. One old man twitched and danced to the music in his walkman, seeking the eye of we, his constituents. A 9-month pregnant woman walked by in a bikini, her bulbous protrubence worthy of “Ripley’s Believe it or Not!”.

The Brazilianization of the American beaches continues apace; there were plenty of thongs obviating the need for the imagination. It feels unnatural to be exposed to so much non-familial flesh. But then again so much of our world is unnatural. From an evolutionary standpoint we are radically disconnected/alienated from the nature, living in concrete houses cut off from the seasons, from the forest....all extremely recent from an evolutionary perspective.

Living in one's head for 40x40 (40 hours a week for 40 yrs) seems unnatural too – hunter/gatherers worked an average of fifteen hours a week, albeit they lacked a VCR. And yes the living conditions were hellish. And of course the natural world is also unnatural, at least as far as man goes, given the Fall. So we are doubly alienated.

Meanwhile, Back at the Pool...

Axle-grease for the lips

First, the pool looked nothing like the above picture, this was from the hotel website. When I was there, it was hot, sunny and crowded. Tis difficult to concentrate; Percy’s “The Last Gentleman” is lyrical but apparently requires too much attention. Non-fiction feels too heavy/tedious. The poolside scene ebbs with the sun. The coolness invigorates. The late hours at the pool are sweet; self-consciousness has abated either via alcohol or attrition.

Like Manahattan parkers who move their cars at ritualistic intervals, so do the women contort and retort to avoid the nightmare of the visible tan line. By the pool they flock with so much to say! The water line must loosen their tongues like alcohol. I’m slightly envious, free entertainment, light as a gossamer’s wings. They are verbal bloggers without using storage space. I see anew the wisdom of Thomas a Kempis and the rule of the Trappists.

A snippet of conversation caught my ear:
“….Deborah Norville, the pitcher who lost his arm to cancer-“
“Gotta go! Gotta go! It’s 4:30 already-“
“Barbara Bush, “
“My grandmother’s idol!”
“Everyone of them talked about their relationship with God...”


***
Dreams of an unwritten novel predominate; my wife laughs as if I were a little boy with his train set. I read part of "The Life You Save May Be Your Own", a biography of Day, Merton, O'Connor & Percy, and the author describes how Tolstoy started out writing classics and ended writing religious tracts – what he thought worth a reader's time must've changed.

I found an old used bookshop and examined ye olde books. Hime’s “Morality”, circa 1880, cautions against “sowing your wild oats when young” as a viable moral strategy. It caught my eye not because I’m young enough to be eligible but because Hambone has four boys and wonders if such a strategy might work. As the son of a Fundamentalist minister in upstate Maine, he lived an adolescence of such moral austerity that dancing was verboten. (And I thought Footloose was pure fiction). Since he had trouble in that area of morality, he wonders if he should discretely get them a prostitute when they reach 17. I argued that that wouldn’t satiate them, but he seemed to think that to de-mystify sex may inoculate them. Mr. Hime convincingly suggests reasons not to, starting most obviously (duh) – it’s a sin. Even if it worked you can't have an bad means to a good end.
To Be Continued

* - I did have one (appropriately and not surprisingly at Mass) but it is a little too personal for the blog.

May 02, 2003

Mini-Vacational

A little Hilaire Belloc:

The air was full of midsummer, and its mixture of exaltation and fear cut me off from ordinary living. I now understood why our religion has made sacred this season of the year; why we have, a little later, the night of St John, the fires in the villages, and the old perception of fairies dancing in the rings of the summer grass. A general communion of all things conspires at this crisis of summer against us reasoning men that should live in the daylight, and something fantastic possesses those who are foolish enough to watch upon such nights. So I, watching, was cut off.... The woods before and behind me made a square frame of silence, and I was enchased here in the clearing, thinking of all things.
The Patience of God

I'm currently reading the book of Leviticus for the first time and am struck, as many have been, by the complexity of the laws and instructions that are so famously contained therein. Impressions include: the holiness of God, the foreshadowing and power of Christ's sacrifice, the admonition "'Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy."

But one also notes the great patience of God. The Israelites believed they could fall out of favor with God over things that are incomprehensible to our way of thinking. Like menustration. And the reason is that they believed blood (and other bodily fluids) were a life force, a sign of mystery since God is the author of life, and therefore the loss of blood (life) meant you had to have your life restored by God, by a sin-offering.

Their belief that sickness was caused by their personal sin (or their fathers) was also something that was eventually corrected by Christ, after many generations of false belief. This is a long, evolutionary process of working with His children where they are, with infinite patience, in pointing them to the direction they should go. And so the modern mind, with its desire for speed and efficiency, is at odds with God's. No surprise there. One thinks, "why not correct their vision sooner?".

God is, of course, outside of time which is difficult to contemplate, but one is even tempted to ask in relation to this: "is hurry evil?". There was recently a "Good Samaritan" study that measured responses to a person lying hurt on a sidewalk. Who would stop to help and who would not? It turned out that it wasn't the most religious. Much more banal than that. The ones most likely to stop were simply those not in a hurry. Those who weren't late to somewhere.
Excellent Meditation from the Greatest Saint of Modern Times

Look at little children: they never stop breaking things, tearing things, falling down, and they do this even while loving their parents very, very much. When I fall in this way, it makes me realize my nothingness more, and I say to myself: "What would I do, and what would I become, if I were to rely upon my own strength?"

I understand very well why St. Peter fell. Poor Peter, he was relying upon himself instead of relying only on God’s strength. I conclude from this experience that if I said to myself: “O my God, You know very well I love You too much to dwell upon one single thought against the faith,” my temptations would become more violent and I would certainly succumb to them.

I’m very sure that if St. Peter had said humbly to Jesus: “Give me the grace, I beg You, to follow You even to death,” he would have received it immediately.

I’m very certain that our Lord didn’t say any more to His Apostles through His instructions and His physical presence than He says to us through His good inspirations and His grace. He could have said to St. Peter: “Ask Me for the strength to accomplish what you want.” But no, He didn’t because He wanted to show him his weakness and because, before ruling the Church that is filled with sinners, he had to experience for himself what man is able to do without God’s help.

Before Peter fell, our Lord had said to him; “And once you are converted, strengthen your brethren” (Luke22:32). This means; Convince them of the weakness of human strength through your own experience.

-St. Therese of Lisieux