March 31, 2009

Let's Play...

.....Why Is My Bookbag or eReader-Equivalent so Heavy or Virtually Heavy? (the title that grows and grows...)

From David Sedaris's When Engulfed in Flames:
An apartment of my own was unthinkable at that time of my life, and even if I’d found an affordable one it wouldn’t have satisfied my fundamental need to live in a communal past, or what I imagined the past to be like: a world full of antiques. What I could never fathom, and still can’t, really, is that at one point all those things were new. The wheezing Victrola, the hulking davenport — how were they any different from the eight-track tape player or my parents’ Scandinavian dining room set? Given enough time, I guess anything can look good. All it has to do is survive...

It was hard to live in a college town and not go to college. The students I saw out my window were a constant reminder that I was just spinning my wheels, and I was beginning to imagine how I would feel in another ten years, when they started looking like kids to me.

....

What changed my mind was a television show, a weekly drama about a close-knit family in Depression-era Virginia. This family didn’t have a blender or a country club membership, but they did have one another — that and a really great house, an old one, built in the twenties or something. All of their bedrooms had slanted clapboard walls and oil lamps that bathed everything in fragile golden light. I wouldn’t have used the word “romantic,” but that’s how I thought of it.
I know! (Hand gesticulates wildly in the air.) The Walton's! Sorry, I'll keep quiet now.

From John Updike's Widows of Eastwick:
...whose own playing had once formed the fiery center, the furious inner resort, of her emotive life, listened with a seething impatience as the figures on the stage insistently sawed and swayed through Vivaldi with his sugary whine, Beethoven’s surly tangle of near-dissonance, and a bit of Ravel like a wispy handkerchief disappearing up a wide-cuffed sleeve. Then, after a brief intermission during which the narrow lobby loudly overflowed with all the exciting things that small-town people manage to find to say to one another, day after day, get-together after get-together, while only a sneaky remnant of former addicted multitudes ventured outdoors to pollute with cigarette smoke the night air above the drastically diminished green, one of Bach’s great cat’s cradles was essayed, an arrangement for strings from Die Kunst der Fuge, its themes crisscrossing and lifting a third and then a fifth between his giant ghostly fingers...brought to the last and highest paroxysm of the Baroque...
Baroque indeed. More:

Sukie had imagined before turning old that quirks—bad traits and mannerisms—would fall away, once the need to make a sexual impression was removed; without the distraction of sex, a realer, more honest self would be revealed. But it is sex, it turned out, that engages us in society, and keeps us on our toes, and persuades us to retract our rough edges, so we can mix in. Without the sexual need to negotiate, there is little to curb neurotic crankiness. Jane was succumbing to hers. “I remember Eastwick as a fun hick place,” Jane complained, “but it’s gotten homogenized, all ssmoothed..."
...
"Eastwick’s lost its messy charm.” “Hasn’t the whole world?” Sukie asked idly, unpacking milk and orange juice and yogurt and ground coffee and cranberry juice and Jewish rye into the refrigerator...."People adjust, is the frightening thing. They forget, generation by generation, what it ever was to be free.” “Free,” Jane mused. “What does that mean? You have to be born, you have to die. You’re never in control.”

Blogger at "Anecdotal Evidence":
My father, like Chekhov, was a doctor. He also tended to reserve judgement, I think because so many of his patients were drug addicts or violent criminals that judgement would quickly have overwhelmed the clarity he needed for his work. It wasn't that he was oblivious to a patient's character as that he witheld condemnation because it was irrelevant. He wasn't what I would call compassionate; he was businesslike in his work, without any theory of doing good or helping humanity: it was what he was good at, what he enjoyed, and I think his patients appreciated the sense that he was a good businessman, his business being Medicine. So when he gets on a bus, passengers often recognise him from 15 or more years ago, and offer him their seats. And yet, he was simply doing his job.
Sounds a bit like Dr. House, although of course not as misanthropic.

From NY Times piece on Newt Gingrich:
“Most Republicans are not entrepreneurial,” he lamented to me. “They’re corporatists. They like the security and the comfort of a well-thought-out, highly boring boardroom meeting in which they do a PowerPoint once. And it worries them to have ideas, because ideas have edges, and they’re not totally formed, and you’ve got to prove them, and they sound strange because they’re new, and if it’s new how do you know it’s any good, because, after all, it’s new and you’ve never heard it before.” At our first meeting in November, Gingrich laid out for me his latest preoccupation, which, surprisingly, had nothing to do with stimulus or banking. “One of the projects I’m going to launch — we don’t have a name for it yet — is an air-traffic modernization project,” Gingrich told me excitedly. “You can do a space-based air-traffic-control system with half the current number...
From The Scarlet Letter:

The witnesses of Hester Prynne's disgrace had not yet passed beyond their simplicity. They were stern enough to look upon her death, had that been the sentence, without a murmur at its severity, but had none of the heartlessness of another social state, which would find only a theme for jest in an exhibition like the present. Even had there been a disposition to turn the matter into ridicule, it must have been repressed and overpowered...

Spanning the Globe to Bring You the Constant Variety of Posts

All biblical interpretations share in the hypothetical, relative, "iffiness" of historical study and the word of God still comes through the relativity of finite historical judgments. The relative and inconclusive nature of historical biblical study, in which there is never absolute certainty, is no liability. To long for the Absolute, uncontaminated by the finitude of historical existence, is to disregard the incarnation and to make the Bible into something it is not. This 'scandal of particularity' of a God who acts in history is part of the scandal of the cross itself (1 Cor. 1:23; Gal. 5:11) and is inherent in the Christian faith. Bible interpretation must be historically oriented, because the Bible is oriented to the might acts of God in history. - M. Eugene Boring in book "Revelation"

The God of the Bible is both a God of justice and mercy, of righteousness and compassion, of love and lordship, of order and creativity, of hierarchy and equality. Unless you can hold these antinomies in tension, you cannot paint a full picture of the Biblical God. - from Ben Witherington's review of "The Shack"

Much of the scandal in the Church has come not from the weakness of the few clergy who have fallen so much as the inability of their superiors to acknowledge this weakness publicly. - Michael Dubruiel

I think that giving wealthy and powerful individuals Church honorifics of any kind - whether we call the knights or canons or whatever - is one of the worst, and least necessary remnants of a previous era.) Oh, and by the way - I think Bishop D'Arcy should go to the commencement and do the teaching he asked Mary Ann Glendon to do himself. - Amy Welborn

It looks like the Federal Government is going to be passing out money by the truckload to try to prevent another Great Depression, and a fair chunk of that money is most likely going to end up in Ohio's education system, just because of the political power of the school employee unions. If we're not careful, this (hopefully) one-time influx of money will permanently raise the cost of running our public schools through the creation of all kinds of good and not-so-good initiatives that morph into 'must-have' components of our education system – just like air-conditioned buildings and football stadiums. - Paul Lambert

Ennui is the trouble of those who have no other troubles. - The Old Farmer's Almanac, 1901

When Democrats took over BOTH chambers of Congress after [the 2006 election], the economy was stable and growing, and the projected budget deficit was around 200 billion. Since January 2007, Democratic policies have authored the mess that we "inherit" today. All of the increase in deficits since then have come from the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives where Federal spending originates. President Bush and the GOP prior to 2006 bear some responsibility for increasing Federal spending beyond acceptable limits, for "spending like Democrats" as it were. But today the first sixty days of one party rule under President Obama and the Democratic Party have proven Republicans don't know anything about off-the-charts deficit spending. - Ham of "Social Engineer"

[I'm] contemplating outsourcing my Twittering like other big name celebrities, since I can't take time out of my busy schedule to compose a thought in 140 characters or less. - Christopher Blosser

Be open to the healing of Christ. Never presume that what Jesus has to offer is only for someone else. - Michael Dubruiel in "The Power of the Cross"

March 30, 2009

And now for something completely different...

Via The Inn at the End of the Pool World

Reveries

They say - "they" being John Updike in particular - that all writing is if not a return to the womb then at least a return to earliest youth. Those early experiences are what the writer mines. I recall those summer nights in the early '70s during which the '70s weren't yet interesting because kitsch wasn't yet in vogue. I recall ordering 7-ups in those absurdly small bar glasses they served soft drinks in back then. The Elbow Room was one such bar which my Dad frequented and thus I visited as a tag-along. Other than the 7-ups and tasty beer nuts I can recall nothing. If I could revisit that rare ground now I would pay attention, for my grandfather was still alive then and sitting a barstool from my dad. I would look around at the other drinkers and listen to the dialogue. Work? Sex? Politics? What did they talk about in a small Germanically-flavored town in Ohio in the '70s?

Of course the fact that I was a child was part of why I was brought along in the first place. It's the same reason you allow your dog to be around when you're making love or going to the bathroom. I was essentially deaf, dumb and blind. I wouldn't understand most of what they were saying.

Change seems most recognizable only in retrospect and even then it must often be aided by artificial time dividers like hit songs. Is it only via music that I can remember now that 1982 differed radically from 1985 which differed radically from 1987? I can listen now to Alan Parsons Project's Eye in the Sky, released in 1982, and see how foreign it is to the time of Men at Work's It's a Mistake in '83, which is so different than, say, Simple Minds' Don't You (Forget About Me) or Katrina and the Waves' Walking on Sunshine just a couple years later.

March 29, 2009

Hillary: "Who Painted Our Lady of Guadalupe?"

Fascinating query from Hillary, especially seeing as she'd already been to the shrine before.

The proverbial hat tip goes to Ignatius Insight where I read the first chapter of the new novel (redundant?) by Lucy Beckett and am thinking of buying. Must. control. book. spending.

March 27, 2009

Writers and Naturalists

So I caught the last bit of an interview with writer Elizabeth Gilbert on the radio and thought, "hmmm...I wonder what she's been up to?"

Of course I'd seen her book Eat, Pray, Love with its crayola cover on the shelves of every bookstore since time began but it never occured to me to look at the author's name, so I didn't know she'd wrote it. The book screamed "chic flick!" or literary equivalent. Maybe I thought it was a cookbook and I avoid them like the plague. My impression now is that it's a combination diet, self-help, "seeker" memoir - all of which I'm pretty much allergic to.

So I had no idea it was my Elizabeth Gilbert, meaning the one who wrote the excellent biography of the amazing Eustace Conway. I wondered how Conway and Gilbert were both doing. A quick check of amazon.com and I find that Gilbert has become famous in her own right with the aforementioned book.

I searched Catlick blogs & Mama T came up:

I'm finding a lot that's interesting in Eat, Pray, Love. More than I thought I would when I picked up the book. Do I agree with her spiritual path? Oh, no. She's one of those "we all believe the same, deep down" folks. And I think that is manifestly untrue. BUT, her questions, her seeking, her drive for a relationship with God? THAT I can empathize with and see myself in. I don't think it's always necessary for us to agree with an author to get something out of the book.
I'm not necessarily recommending the book. But I am saying it's not being a bad read....
___

While I was interested in the first two sections (Eat (of course) and Pray), the book fell apart in the final third for me. The author goes off to Bali to find "balance" in her life (oh, would that we could all jet off to foreign destinations when we're "out of balance"). But in the end it turns out that she falls in love with a Brazilian ex-pat and the story devolves into a paean about the glories of sex with this guy. Um. OK.
With Mama T, it'd be easier for her to list the books she hasn't read. Meanwhile Meredith Gould has more on her blog:
Why would I want to read Liz Gilbert's best selling book, Eat, Pray, Love? I mean, really. Having people say, "she sounds like you" and "her story is like yours" is not exactly compelling. If I want to recall the dark years of my soul, I can take a handful of busprione and reread my journals. I need to read someone else's spiritual memoir?

But because a friend gave me a copy as a birthday gift, I recently read Eat, Pray, Love. Could not put it down thanks to my endless fascination with navel-gazing even when said navel is embedded in someone else's body.

Are Gilbert and I that much alike? I guess. The spiritual journey does, after all, follow a predictable trajectory that starts with a brutal wake-up call.

Differences: My so-called successful life imploded when I was in my late thirties. I did not take the language-food cure in Italy. The ashram where I spent my soul sabbatical was in the United States. (Her description of shakti kundalini is nicely done, especially since the experience is impossible to convey without sounding psychotic.) The healer who rocked my reality was from the Philippines, not Bali.

I've also yet to meet the much older lover who adores all my quirks, most which are floridly apparent either before, during, or after writing a book. And excuse me for whining about being a "mid-list" author, but no one has given me a whomping huge book advance to chronicle my journey from darkness to light. Not yet, anyway.
Finally, if you haven't ready enough on Gilbert there's more here.

Scripts Past

I think it behooves to adorn this self-indulgent post with a picture of Olivia Hussey because the right picture can really add to the blog reader's experience. The perfect picture can lend gravitas to a post in which that is otherwise lacking. I'm not sure Hussey's is the right picture but it's the right one right now. I'm sure all of my male readers will agree.

Reveries of the earliest extant poem extrudes, the ur poem, the poem that launched a thousand bad poems, many of which now live in the deep recesses of my computer and are double-triple password-protected in order to prevent posthumous viewings since many were of a lascivious nature such that I thought I could write the lust out of me, wring out the heavy burden of semen much as the anger-besotted man thinks he can beat the anger out by wailing on his dog.

But it all started off in primeval innocence, cursive script on a Rainbow writing pad:
I want to write
a beautiful sight
I love my month
called June!
Being born in June I apparently felt a proprietary interest.

Later I kept a diary for three months. Like many relationships it ended for ill; the last page was full of recriminations and blame and accusations because it seemed to be all duty and I grew to hate the burden, an irrationality that seems incredibly puzzling now. What did it matter whether I kept one or not? I mean to go back to that three month 5-yr diary and try to piece together what frustration a kid could've felt towards something as benign as a diary. Perhaps it was merely that the cover felt like a binding contract: 5 Year Diary. Perhaps if it was called A One Month Diary I could've felt more at peace, knowing the goal was manageable.

Or maybe it was because it soon became like brushing my teeth. (Fortunately, I've never quit brushing my teeth.)

Ironic too given that now, without any personal stricture, vow or sacrifice, I've written a quadzillion blogposts over the past seven years, though admittedly most of an essay heuristic rather than diaristic one. So too does my home-grown journal grow, although perhaps the secret is updating it weekly rather than daily.

Journals and diaries seem important if only because it's the only time you ignore the censor, perhaps not the best thing to do since the Id is such a thoughtless bloke, but sometimes art can spring only when the superego's sleeping due to fatigue incurred from his tiresome mission.

I normally write on Friday nights but by Thursdays the words begin to burst their houses and the rain falls on just thoughts and unjust thoughts and I feel the duty to express them, to air them, in part just because I like words, I like the cut of their jib, I like the fact that they have long histories, I like that they are like rivers and always have a mouth, a beginning, even if we don't know when exactly or who first uttered it.

March 26, 2009

Fiction for a Thursday

...because it's been far too long since our last fictional installment:

Ben pictured the perfect modern Dickens novel as trolling the grim precincts of the fish fry and bingo hall, noting the abject labor conditions of the volunteers. He could see that, contra Einstein, Catholic guilt was a more powerful force than the compounding of money, evidenced most recently by the fact that volunteer Kim was hiding her proud hair under black netting, and, what's more, frying fish despite being allergic to fish. Her arms later broke out in Old Testament boils.

He'd entered the fry as a civilian this week, braving massive crowds for which parking was available only to the creative or impressively patient. Eight years ago they were serving 300 dinners a Lenten Friday and now over 1,000. "How unfortunate," he thought, "that St. Al’s makes really good fish and draws such huge crowds requiring a huge volunteer base with the penultimate result that Kim has to cover up her hair. How tragic that Catholics just can't tithe.”

Last week Ben had entered the Stygian chaos himself, spraying out vast vats and his face in the process, while behind him stood a stoic, moon-faced man in his early 40s. Ben imagined, or hoped, he was a frustrated chef and this was his outlet.

A blonde kitchen gadfly had just got back from a trip from Key West. Sincerely appreciative of the help, she attempted to befriend him as enthusiastically as that hooker on Times Square back in '86.... (to be continued)
UPDATE: It would be saintly if readers might offer a Hail Mary for Kim, a real-life bingo co-worker who inspired the above and whose grandmother is sick and entered a nursing home yesterday. They are an extremely close family for whom this is an extremely trying time.

One Way to Quit Smoking....

Tuesday, a friend of my wife's relayed the story of a soldier in Iraq she knows who was smoking a cigarette. He took a puff, then held it in his hand, letting it rest at thigh level.

In the next instant he was shot in the leg. It seems snipers are taught to aim for the glow of the cigarette, assuming that's the head of the target.

The soldier vowed to quit smoking.

May God protect our soldiers in Iraq enduring these sorts of horrors.

The High Drama of the Liturgy of the Hours

There's a fine juxtaposition of hope and despair in today's LotH, which, come to think of it, is also present in the Bible (i.e. we are doomed because we are sinners but have hope in Christ for whom the impossible is possible). The Office of Readings today begins with an excerpt from Numbers chapter 12:
The Lord spoke to Moses and said, ‘Send out men, one from each tribe, to make a reconnaissance of this land of Canaan which I am giving to the sons of Israel. Send the leader of each tribe.’

At the Lord’s bidding, Moses sent them from the wilderness of Paran to reconnoitre the land of Canaan, ‘Go up into the Negeb; then go up into the highlands. See what sort of country it is, and what sort of people the inhabitants are, whether they are strong or weak, few or many, what sort of country they live in, whether it is good or poor; what sort of towns they have, whether they are open or fortified; what sort of land it is, fertile or barren, wooded or open. Be bold, and bring back some of the produce of the country.’..

At the end of forty days, they came back from their reconnaissance of the land. They sought out Moses, Aaron and the whole community of Israel, in the wilderness of Paran, at Kadesh. They made their report to them, and to the whole community, and showed them the produce of the country.

They told them this story, ‘We went into the land to which you sent us. It does indeed flow with milk and honey; this is its produce. At the same time, its inhabitants are a powerful people; the towns are fortified and very big; yes, and we saw the descendants of Anak there. The Amalekite holds the Negeb area, the Hittite, Amorite and Jebusite the highlands, and the Canaanite the sea coast and the banks of the Jordan.’

Caleb harangued the people gathered about Moses: ‘We must march in,’ he said ‘and conquer this land: we are well able to do it.’ But the men who had gone up with him answered, ‘We are not able to march against this people; they are stronger than we are.’ And they began to disparage the country they had reconnoitred to the sons of Israel, ‘The country we went to reconnoitre is a country that devours its inhabitants. Every man we saw there was of enormous size. Yes, and we saw giants there (the sons of Anak, descendants of the Giants). We felt like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.’

To read this in the spiritual sense, we feel like those Israelites. We are trying to get to the Promised Land, Heaven, and when we see glimpses we see how impossible it is. We see the saints and angels and say, "We are not able to march against this people; they are stronger than we are." How well the imagery holds - "we feel like grasshoppers compared to them"! "The Amalekite holds the Negeb area, the Hittite, Amorite and Jebusite the highlands, and the Canaanite the sea coast and the banks of the Jordan." The angels hold the Negeb area, the Hittite, Amorite and Jebusite the highlands, St. Francis the sea coast and the martyrs the banks of the Jordan. We know we have not the strength to march on Heaven, for only "the violent bear it away". And yet God wants us there, just as he wanted the Israelites in the promised land. That helps!

The next reading inspires hope, offered from one of those already on the other side, one of those saints assisting St. Francis on the sea coast -- St. Leo the Great:
The earth – our earthly nature – should tremble at the suffering of its Redeemer. The rocks – the hearts of unbelievers – should burst asunder. The dead, imprisoned in the tombs of their mortality, should come forth, the massive stones now ripped apart. Foreshadowings of the future resurrection should appear in the holy city, the Church of God: what is to happen to our bodies should now take place in our hearts.

No one, however weak, is denied a share in the victory of the cross. No one is beyond the help of the prayer of Christ. His prayer brought benefit to the multitude that raged against him. How much more does it bring to those who turn to him in repentance.

Ignorance has been destroyed, obstinacy has been overcome. The sacred blood of Christ has quenched the flaming sword that barred access to the tree of life. The age-old night of sin has given place to the true light.

The Christian people are invited to share the riches of paradise. All who have been reborn have the way open before them to return to their native land, from which they had been exiled. Unless indeed they close off for themselves the path that could be opened before the faith of a thief.

The business of this life should not preoccupy us with its anxiety and pride, so that we no longer strive with all the love of our heart to be like our Redeemer, and to follow his example. Everything that he did or suffered was for our salvation: he wanted his body to share the goodness of its head.

First of all, in taking our human nature while remaining God, so that the Word became man, he left no member of the human race, the unbeliever excepted, without a share in his mercy. Who does not share a common nature with Christ if he has welcomed Christ, who took our nature, and is reborn in the Spirit through whom Christ was conceived?

Again, who cannot recognise in Christ his own infirmities? Who would not recognise that Christ’s eating and sleeping, his sadness and his shedding of tears of love are marks of the nature of a slave?

It was this nature of a slave that had to be healed of its ancient wounds and cleansed of the defilement of sin. For that reason the only-begotten Son of God became also the son of man. He was to have both the reality of a human nature and the fullness of the godhead.

The body that lay lifeless in the tomb is ours. The body that rose again on the third day is ours. The body that ascended above all the heights of heaven to the right hand of the Father’s glory is ours. If then we walk in the way of his commandments, and are not ashamed to acknowledge the price he paid for our salvation in a lowly body, we too are to rise to share his glory. The promise he made will be fulfilled in the sight of all: Whoever acknowledges me before men, I too will acknowledge him before my Father who is in heaven.

March 25, 2009

Obama at ND Redux

In the Obama at ND debate, there are lots of ludicrousities thrown about; at the very least anyone who protested George Bush coming to ND in '01 has no right to support Obama coming now. That much is clear and easy. As Amy Welborn has pointed out, Bush in '01 was still clean as a hound's tooth then while Obama is still fresh from signing an executive order supporting abortion overseas.

Initially I thought Thomas Reese S.J., made an excellent point:
If Cardinal Egan can invite Obama to speak at the Al Smith dinner in October of 2008 when he was only a presidential candidate, then there is certainly nothing wrong with Notre Dame having the President speak at a commencement.
Although on second thought it occurred to me that the insular beltway Al Smith charity dinner, which all of five Americans/political junkies watch on C-Span, is much different than honoring Obama with an honorary degree at the largest Catholic university in America.

Really good Catholics are saying "a pox on both houses", and "both parties suck" though I wonder if such an indifference to truth really gains you much. Surely the parties aren't equally bad. Doesn't that represent a faux peace? It reminds me of how Obama handled the race issue: he used a black racist (Jeremiah Wright) and compared him to his white grandmother who was once afraid of a black man or something. And he implied there was some sort of equivalence between the two. Peace via moral equivalency.

As I've blogged before, conservative policies tend to be morally neutral at worst (with the exception regarding the use of torture, or coercive interrogations, which was never part of the Republican platform and I think was a Cheney anamoly), while many Democratic platform policies are intrinsically evil. So I don't understand exactly why conservative Catholics are supposed to be somehow ashamed of their politics vis-a-vis their faith. Since Notre Dame has shown it can't make distinctions, politicians in general probably shouldn't be honored.

Groan...

The reliably condescending Jon Meachem, on MSNBC's Morning Joe this morning, mentioned how the AIG bonuses have become a symbol of Wall Street arrogance but that symbols are important to many. He then relayed the famous anecdote about Flannery O'Connor saying of the Eucharist, "If it's just a symbol, then to hell with it!" Meachem said that this shows that symbols are important to people, when Flannery O'Connor was arguably exactly the opposite!

March 24, 2009

Spanning the Globe to Bring You the Constant Variety of Posts

References in the Psalms to "enemies" may be understood as references to the designers of Microsoft Windows: smite them on the cheek bone, break their teeth… - Bill of Summa Minutiae

Dear Saint Blog, I can't quite find you in the calendar. I know this has been mentioned before, and not much of a satisfactory answer was found, although several approximations were: something to do with Bologna, and perhaps even a principality known as Blognia, somewhere. I suppose this isn't evidence against the existence of a saint named "Blog". - "some guy on the street" at Null Epistolary

I almost wept as I finished reading Brad Gooch’s Flannery: A Life of Flannery O’Connor. I knew the rough outlines of her life and have loved her fiction since a high-school teacher in 1968 loaned me a college anthology of stories, including “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.” That reading, late on a school night in my bedroom, is among the most memorable of my life. I know it was a school night because I couldn’t get to sleep afterwards and was groggier than usual the next morning. O’Connor lived with lupus for the final third of her life, until it killed her at age 39. The horror of premature death looms throughout Gooch’s book. Since finishing the biography I’ve been rereading O’Connor’s stories which seem the best written by an American. Children, I’ve noticed, show up often in her stories, as innocents and monsters (more often the latter), especially in light of my own recent return to the classroom. Gooch quotes a letter O’Connor wrote her friend Betty Hester in 1960, reacting to a suggestion she write about a Georgia girl with a cancerous tumor on her face, who died at age 12: “What interests me in it is simply the mystery, the agony that is given in strange ways to children.” - blogger at "Evidence Anecdotal"

I don’t mean to run down modernism toute court. Its appeal was and remains understandable. There is a kind of excitement in the nakedness of modern buildings. They are unashamed of their structural elements and basic materials...Unfortunately, however, modernism was an unsustainable, ideologically driven project that brutalized far more than it beautified. Most of the time most people don’t look very good with their clothes off, which is why a nude beach can be so depressing. We need the decent drapery of life. The traditional decorative impulse humanizes life, because it covers our nakedness. The modernist fantasy of life taken raw and unadorned is just that—a fantasy. It toggles back and forth between two sides of the some self-invented, post-traditional ego: meglomania and banality. - R. Reno on "First Things"

Back then, people spent half their lives with a toothache. - overheard concerning the omnipresence of pain in generations past

It turns out that at my parish one is a Pharisee if one believes that the rubrics of the liturgy are more important than the rubrics of after-Mass donuts, see The call to holeyness. If, as Bishop Richard Sklba has written, there is a ‘heresy’ of rubricism, then, alas, St. Al's is in the grip of the Donutist Heresy. - Terrence of "The Provincial Emails"

[Evelyn] Waugh implicitly represents the Catholic faith as the "pearl of great price" for the acquisition or preservation of which every necessary earthly sacrifice should be made. While this uncompromising outlook, even more provocative today than it was for Waugh's contemporaries, does guide some of the film characters' later actions, for most of the movie, the family's religious heritage looms as an oppressive, destructive force. This shift in values -- which renders the faith's enduring fascination for the initially skeptical Charles largely inexplicable -- is reinforced by the film's final scene where his spiritual fate, subtly but definitely conveyed in the novel, is left unresolved. - USCCB review of recent film "Brideshead Revisited"

If 65 million American Catholics really understood their faith, we wouldn’t need to waste each other’s time arguing about whether the legalized killing of an unborn child is somehow ‘balanced out’ or excused by three other good social policies. - Archbishop Chaput via Kevin Jones

I think it would be easier on everyone, frankly, if Catholic universities cut the cord with politicians completely. I don’t care how prestigious you aim to be, how much you want your graduates to contribute to the fabric of American civic life, even a sitting president cannot help but associate you with a political ideology. I’m not arguing for the ghetto, at all, but we’re not talking noble statesmen here. We’re talking politicians who are divisive figures and who, Obama’s case, are pursuing policies that directly threaten Catholic institutions. - Amy Welborn on word that Pres. Obama is going to speak at Notre Dame

By inviting Barack Obama to be the 2009 commencement speaker, Notre Dame has forfeited its right to call itself a Catholic university. It invites an official rebuke. - longtime ND professor Ralph McInerny at "The Catholic Thing"

prayer is not, as some think, a way to escape reality. It is the place to encounter reality in its fullest sense, in which you consciously place yourself in Reality, which is God, and Alternative Histories lose their power. And maybe even their appeal. - Amy Welborn of "Via Media"

Ignore the acedia and work through one's daily routine -- the quotidian mysteries -- hoping and trusting that it'll go away. - Dylan's summary of the lesson of Kathleen Norris's book on the subject

Thoughts on a Tuesday

A now, a flight of fancy to cleanse the palate from a surfeit of journalism...

Through the glade of the windshield I see a big banshee of a sky looming overhead, constipated with clouds but not unlovely for it. The strife between sun and clouds for dominance has its own poetic beauty and - I sigh to myself - the life of striving is the life I lead. And ought embrace, if only so that the homecoming will be better. To quote Mr. Banks in Mary Poppins:
I feel a surge of deep satisfaction
Much as a king astride his noble steed
When I return from daily strife to heart and wife
How pleasant is the life I lead!
Strife is always easier on a full night's sleep but then it seems something less than strife, as if the true meaning of conflict is primarily the fighting of fatigue rather than some foreign entity, and thus rest merely obstructs the issue. Then I banish my inner stoic and remind myself that love is the issue.

The radio is playing a magisterial rendition of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake and I dream about how cool, if cramped, an office in the car would be.

I park the car, or "pock the cah" as the Bostonians say, and make the familiar walk into the sweeping grandeur that is our cafeteria and where I struggle against my natural tendency to just get a donut and coffee. I think it was Kostrubala's The Joy of Running that so vividly described the bodily wreckage caused merely by the daily consumption of a donut and coffee for breakfast. Apparently the caffeine and the refined sugars of the donut make your blood sugar level dance jigs and reels for the hours until you get the calming influence of protein in your system. So I choose a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich on toasted muffin, mostly because I'd eaten a light meal the night before and there was a residual hunger.

I walk past a vague acquaintance. He's an ambitious sort, having recently completed his MBA, and he's wearing a tweed jacket over an open-collared shirt sort of like a cross between a college professor and a Hollywood actor, and it strikes me how different that get-up is around our workplace. Some wear suits and ties, some business casual dockers & such, but here's a guy wearing an ensemble that suggests he actually likes clothes. For me to wear clothes like that it would feel like I'm dressing up for Halloween. Normally the only time I notice clothes is on an immodestly dressed female, although occasionally I'll notice clothes on a modestly dressed female. Rare indeed are the times I notice the clothes a guy is wearing.

The elevator doors are closing and I reflexively thrust my forearm in, the doors closing briefly before opening. There's only one soul on board and I apologetically push "door close". I'm surprised he says nothing about the late entry; normally such elevator heroics provoke comments. He must be so jaded. :-)

It is nice to work on a remodeled floor, a clean, well-lighted floor indeed. The cube walls are short though, like those of Safety Town. One young lady has pinned a monopoly "Get Out of Jail Free" card on her wall. I walk by the familiar offices and read again, for the hundredth time, the sayings on the markerboards. One says, "Jason Rogers - when can we quote suck?" Another has a bumper sticker that says "I like me", illustrating the truth that you can't love God or others if you don't love yourself. The far floor walls have single words placed at regular intervals: "Sustain", "Protect", "Trust". Typically I never notice them since I'm always distracted by the words scrawled on the markerboards.

March 23, 2009

Is Obama Worth a Mass?

Some, like Tom of Disputations, are pretty cool-headed when dealing with these largely symbolic gestures of Catholic colleges honoring the secular culture, but I have to admit to being something of a rabid fundamentalist on the subject. And Notre Dame seems to be more interested in speaking power to truth instead of truth to power. Isn't honoring a man who supports the constitutional right to end a million lives a year a way of speaking our earthly "power" to Truth by saying non serviam?

What particularly bothers me is that it's so little to ask not to invite him. It's so little to ask to suggest a Catholic school not incur the scandal of it. It's a "burden" as light as a gossamer's wings! Does Fr. Jenkins really think he's going to convince Obama to mend his ways on the life issue? Because, you know, that's worked so well in the past. Especially on our Catholic politicians. (Not!)

The singular threat to Notre Dame is NOT that the students will fail to engage modern culture or that Notre Dame will fail to live up to what Yale or Standford can offer, but that the students will totally and reliably capitulate before that culture. And bringing Obama to campus will only aid and abet that process.

Obviously it's a symptom of a much bigger and more serious problem: the adoption of a "cross-less" Christianity that wants to pay absolutely no price for being Christian. A Catholic university is honored to have the President speak and to give up that honor would cost something.

It apparently would cost so much that the Fr. Jenkins is willing to endure the anger of so many Catholics who are offended by the message sent to the already morally confused by honoring President Obama.

Personally, I can more easily sympathize when universities and nations fall due to fatigue ("as fatigue falls on a community, the citizens are less inclined for that eternal vigilance which has truly been called the price of liberty") rather than the sacrilegious donning by a Catholic school of fashionable opinions and people for the paltry purpose of something as perishable as earthy status. Perhaps I am a hypocrite, loving the good opinions of others too, and perhaps I would do the same as Notre Dame if I were in a leadership position. But all I can say is God have mercy on us both whenever we attempt to ensure our own self-engineered subsistence rather than relying on God's sustenance.

Which appears to be the case with the invite of Obama. Notre Dame seems to be happily building its own Tower of Babel, seeking its own power and prestige rather than promoting God's power and prestige.

Charting My Disengagement from Pop Culture

The chart below was derived using this link, pulling off the top ten song hits from each year. If I recognized the title & artist I counted it as familiar.
It shows the impact of working full-time, the switching over to favoring country music, and likely the function of aging. The carryover of hits of yesteryear seems to be about fifteen years (eight before I was born and seven more to reach the age of reason).

Using this list of the top 100 films of all-time (in terms of box office receipts adjusted for inflation), I separated them by decade and then charted the results. Predictably the familiarity declines less with age than had music. Pop songs are more accessible to the young than movies, at least back in my day, and movies tend to have a longer shelf-life:
However, the films & songs are somewhat apples-to-orange since I'm using the most popular movies of all time and ranking them by decade while with the songs I'm measuring the most popular within a given year. Nevertheless, if we cheat and superimpose charts it would look something like this:
In light blue, the popular music line skews towards my younger demographic. I think my engagement in movies is overrated since I generally see only eight to ten a year and obviously if a movie is doing gangbusters at the box office I'll be more likely to see it.

But there's no question that I was heavily, incredibly involved with pop culture during the '80s. Almost 100% of the top movies and music commanded my attention. It seems impossible to argue that this is other than an entirely age-related phenomenon although I would argue that the '80s music and culture is more accessible. In the '90s came the rise of hip-hop and rap, which is arguably far less ear-friendly than the melodius pop of Michael Jackson or Madonna. (But then that's what every generation says, don't they? :-)

And during the '80s/Reagan era, at least based on the big hit movies, Hollywood was more likely to provide morally unambiguous (though often shallow) offerings like Ghostbusters & Back to the Future instead of the 1970s Rocky Horror Picture Show, Animal House, etc...Cultural products accessible to a large audience are more likely to be indulged in, although I still think it would be going too far to say I didn't leave popular culture, popular culture left me.

It would be interesting to graph the amount of time I spend reading and see to what extent my disengagement in popular culture has resulted in more time spent with books. But I don't have the stats on that...

Another View of the Flannery O'Connor Biography...

At Stereotypist, in cartoon form, found via En Compostela.

March 22, 2009

His Strength is also his Weakness

Took a walk in the park with our dog Obi and received many "what a beautiful dog!" comments. But what I've decided is that what makes him that way is his fine coat, and his coat is what he's constantly leaving all over the house (he's a year-round shedder).

Which is to say that, ideally, we'd vacuum hourly.

Those prone to wasting time on the 'net can pursue their hobby by viewing pictures of our dog here.

Topical Spam

I'd be the first to admit I don't work hard enough to deserve the chair in the ad at right and below, but you have to love the irony of a chair company saying "we don't care about chairs" while my own beloved non-chair company saying (at least until recently) "we care a lot about chairs". Some dream of chairs that never were, I dream of holding onto the chair I still have.

Witty Wisconsin attorney Terrence Berres spotted this bit of appropriate spam:

On Watching Brideshead Revisted

I'm impressed by the tungsten-like tough skin of the USCCB website movie reviewer, for whom it seems no horrific portrayal of Catholicism cannot be tolerated. The analogy is flawed but it reminds me of how some Americans think we had 9/11 coming.

Even more surprising is how I could have the resources of the web world at my finger tips and yet waste two+ hours on a movie that had I simply surfed to Catholic Media Review I could've spared myself. Barbara Nicolosi warned us and though I usually find her unreliable in her movie picks/pans, in this case her very lively and persuasive review would've surely done the job.

Or perhaps I might have even read the full USCCB review a bit more carefully, which warned of a film "substantially re-imagined in its essentials". Now there's a red flag, if expressed with a marvelous understatedness, one which the reviewer continues to quietly wave with the reflection that "the faith's enduring fascination for the initially skeptical Charles was largely inexplicable," a truth akin to saying that the weather can be cool in Antarctica. Indeed there is more evidence that the faith is repulsive to Charles than fascinating, or perhaps is fascinating precisely for his repulsion. Upon reading the review, I assumed that I would supply the motive for Charles when really the whole movie was the problem. Still, it was beautifully photographed. Turn down the sound and you have the mother of all European vacation slide show experiences.

Finally, I'm impressed and even edified by the fact that the aforementioned movie reviewer could apparently find the characters sympathetic. If you can care about these characters, then you must really love your real, live, flesh and bone neighbors.

March 21, 2009

Excerptable...

Interesting to see what Auden calls achievement (humility and a lack of utilitarianism?) in this quote from the prefatory material by Arthur Kirsch in The Sea and the Mirror:
Auden especially praised Shakespeare for his consciousness of these [limitations of art]: "There's something a little irritating in the determination of the very greatest artists, like Dante, Joyce, Milton, to create masterpieces and to think themselves important. To be able to devote one's life to art without forgetting that art is frivolous is a tremendous achievement of personal character. Shakespeare never takes himself too seriously." Neither did Auden, and "The Sea and the Mirror," which he wrote in the shadow of war, is a testament to his own artistic humility.

The central limit of art that Shakespeare deals with in The Tempest..is that art is doubly illusory, because it holds the mirror up to nature rather than to the truth that passes human understanding. In The Tempest...Prospero renounces his art, and in the Epilogue his renunciation is associated with the spiritual reality represented in the Lord's Prayer:
Now I want
Spirits to enforce, art to enchant;
And my ending is despair
Unless I be reliev'd by prayer,
Which pierces so that it assaults
Mercy itself and frees all faults.
As you from crimes would pardon'd be,
Let your indulgence set me free.

March 20, 2009

Egyptian Art Exhibit

I recently checked out the Columbus Museum of Art's current exhibition Egyptian Treasures from the Brooklyn Museum.

I was disappointed although I'm not sure what I was expecting. You go to an Egyptian exhibition and you should expect mummies and artifacts.

Chesterton has a very interesting line in Everlasting Man concerning the Egyptians: "One of the strange marks of the strength of Christianity is that, since it came, no pagan in our civilization has been able to be really human."

He also writes:

Among the more ignorant of the enlightened there was indeed a convention of saying that priests had obstructed progress in all ages; and a politician once told me in a debate that I was resisting modern reforms exactly as some ancient priest probably resisted the discovery of wheels. I pointed out, in reply, that it was far more likely that the ancient priest made the discovery of the wheels. It is overwhelmingly probable that the ancient priest had a great deal to do with the discovery of the art of writing. It is obvious enough in the fact that the very word hieroglyphic is akin to the word hierarchy. The religion of these priests was apparently a more or less tangled polytheism of a type that is more particularly described elsewhere. It passed through a period when it cooperated with the king, another period when it was temporarily destroyed by the king, who happened to be a prince with a private theism of his own, and a third period when it practically destroyed the king and ruled in his stead. But the world has to thank it for many things which it considers common and necessary; and the creators of those common things ought really to have a place among the heroes of humanity. If we were at rest in a real paganism, instead of being restless in a rather irrational reaction from Christianity, we might pay some sort of pagan honor to these nameless makers of mankind. We might have veiled statues of the man who first found fire or the man who first made a boat or the man who first tamed a horse. And if we brought them garlands or sacrifices, there would be more sense in it than in disfiguring our cities with cockney statues of stale politicians and philanthropists. But one of the strange marks of the strength of Christianity is that, since it came, no pagan in our civilization has been able to be really human.

NRO! NRO!

NRO television features the indomintable Justice Scalia, who received a 98-0 vote in his Senate confirmation.

In the latest Uncommon Knowledge, I was surprised to learn Scalia had never heard of the Chesterton quote, "The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of Conservatives is to prevent mistakes from being corrected."

Here he is reacting to the quote, after which he added, "that sounds like Chesterton":

March 19, 2009

Chairgate '09 Resolved!

A poem on Chairgate '09:

Day 48 and all through the work-house
Not a bete noir was stirring, not even her blouse.
My chair it was tucked from her sight with much care
It hopes that it wouldn't be taken from my lair.

Interior designers nestled all snug in their Keds,
While visions of other floors danced in their heads.
Our nurse casually dressed like my chair in its cube,
Was using her stethescope assessing chairs far less rude.

Then out on the aisleway there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my chair to see what was the matter.
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the ceiling
The music of Ireland, jigging and reeling.

As I drew up my head, and was turning around,
From the tiles nearby me came a Leprechaun sound.
He fell from a height and on my desk - splat!
While saying, "I heard you've had quite a spat!"

He spoke native buzzword, a corporate faerie it seemed,
And he promised to empower my chair as he beamed.
He sprang right away, as he drew out of sight,
"Happy St. Patrick's Day to all, and to all a good night!"

Noonan Snippets

Peggy Noonan, in her latest column:
Five weeks ago, when I asked a Wall Street titan what one should do to be safe in the future, he took me aback with the concreteness of his advice, and its bottom-line nature. Everyone should try to own a house, he said, no matter how big or small, but it has to have some land, on which you should learn how to grow things. He also recommended gold coins, such as American Eagles. I went to the U.S. Mint Web site the next day, but there was a six-week wait due to high demand. (I just went on the Web site again: Production of gold Eagle coins "has been temporarily suspended because of unprecedented demand" for bullion.)
"Wall Street titan", in terms of credibility, doesn't carry quite the same panache as it used to does it? Although I did put a little money in a gold mutual fund a while back and I'm big in the gardening thing, so I'm with him there. Noonan continues with the sort of fascinating thesis I hadn't heard anywhere else:
The sale of antidepressants and antianxiety drugs is widespread. In New York their use became common after 9/11. It continued through and, I hypothesize, may have contributed to, the high-flying, wildly imprudent Wall Street of the '00s. We look for reasons for the crash and there are many, but I wonder if Xanax, Zoloft and Klonopin, when taken by investment bankers, lessened what might have been normal, prudent anxiety, or helped confuse prudent anxiety with baseless, free-floating fear. Maybe Wall Street was high as a kite and didn't notice. Maybe that would explain Bear Stearns, and Merrill, and Citi.
I think the underlying assumption with the banks was that housing prices would never go down as a group. Maybe Michigan's housing would, and California's, but not the whole country's. I don't think there's a pill responsible for that but I could be wrong.

Public Outrage Has Its Uses

Outbreaks of schadenfruede occur now and then, for I have to admit to greatly enjoying the latest spectacle, that which involved Sen. Chris Dodd inserting a line in the original legislation involving the bank bailout requiring that AIG bonuses be paid.

On Tuesday he denied he did it.

On Wednesday he admitted it, but said Treasury made him do it.

The only way this expose happened is via populist outrage. Be nice if it happened more often on the social cultural front.

This particular outrage might've been helpfully directed at Fannie & Freddie, although that's likely too complicated. This, however, is an understandable story: we bail out a large corporation while Dodd makes sure they provide themselves bonuses. It's tailor made for a soundbyte age though admittedly my summary of it sounds suspiciously soundbyte-y. Normally Dodd would easily get away with sticking that bonus clause in there. But maybe now the public is beginning to perceive a big part of the problem in this mess - politicians like Chris "Countrywide" Dodd and our sorry ass'd SEC. While the investment banks have rightfully been crucified in public opinion, politicians like Barney Frank appear to pay no cost whatsoever. (Although Frank only has to please his tiny district in Leftzombia, MA and Dodd has used mass-hypnosis on CT.)

I have mixed emotions about the government freely dispensing with private contracts. Government, it is said, is the only entity big enough to "create justice". But I see it as the only entity big enough to enforce massive injustice as well.

March 18, 2009

Celebration of Life Statue

I was running down Broad Street yesterday and came across one of my favorite city sculptures: the "Celebration of Life" by Alfred Tibor.
It's depicts Arthur Boke, the first black resident of Franklinton, and Sarah Sullivant, the white woman who raised him. Via Google:
Murphy said she fell in love with a prototype of "Celebration of Life" when she visited Tibor's studio in Whitehall. As an adult student in the music program at Capital University in Bexley, she'd seen Tibor's sculpture "Promise for Life" on the front lawn of Trinity Lutheran Seminary and contacted Tibor to see if he'd be willing to donate a piece to honor Arthur Boke and his adoptive family. Tibor agreed to donate his work, so all funds raised will go toward casting the full-sized statue at a foundry in Athens, Ohio.

The sculptor, 82, lost nearly all of his family members in the Holocaust, was drafted into a German labor battalion at age 20, was captured by the Russians, and survived five years in a Siberian war prisoners' camp. In 1956, Tibor and his wife and brother escaped their native Hungary; Tibor carried their son on his back, and his infant daughter was drugged to keep her from crying and alerting guards as they fled across the border at 2 a.m.

He and Murphy agree that the Sullivants' adoption of Arthur Boke is a love story that needs to be told.

"Alfred said it touched his heart, the story, because he said it was so human," Murphy says. "Sarah [Sullivant] could see, here was a helpless baby, and she nursed him, Arthur, right along with William. It was a great act of love."

Today's Word Among Us Prayer

Yesterday's Word Among Us
Father, I come before you to acknowledge that I have received from you gifts that I can never repay.

First, I received life itself. You didn’t have to bring me into existence, and you don’t have to keep me here, but you do. How can I possibly repay such love? Next, you have given me talents and abilities. I confess that I often use them for myself, for my own pleasure. Forgive me. I repent for not using them to glorify you. I’m sorry for keeping them for myself for my own purposes.

Father, you created me to know you and love you and serve you. You created me for a relationship of love flowing back and forth between us. Forgive me, Lord, for living independently from you. Forgive me for being so busy and self-absorbed that I don’t take enough time to sit with you and enjoy your company. So often, I haven’t listened for your voice or sought your leading as I go through my days. I move through them not really knowing or concerning myself with how you want me to serve and love others, either.

Have mercy on me, Father! I can be so proud and selfish, withholding from others what I take for granted from you: mercy, unconditional love, and the overlooking of my faults. Judgment, blame, and criticism are too familiar occupants of my thoughts. Father, show me how to put them aside for good. Teach me how to love you and others with your own love. Help me to know that love deeply myself, and to be so filled with it that it overflows to everyone I meet. I want to give you glory. I want to know you more. I want to love others as you have loved me.

Father, you are so patient! You never stop loving me. When I ignore you or defy your authority, when I gossip or slander or envy others, when I overindulge my senses—still you love me. Forgive me for those things. I lay my sins and offenses before you. I trust you to deliver and heal and change me.

“Yes, Lord, come and change me! I seek mercy, so make me merciful. I can never pay you back, Father, so let me instead pay the people around me with the gifts you have given to me.”

March 17, 2009

Onward Christian Novelists

Interesting addendum to an interesting post:
"Your posting got me thinking about another Christian novelist. D. Keith Mano, in Reflections of a Christian Pornographer (Christianity and Literature, Spring 1979, v28 n3, pages 5-11) tried to explain why `[f]or any serious Christian writer the obscene, the grotesque, the violent seem almost prerequisite.'

"He quoted from an essay in Flannery O'Connor's Mystery and Manners, in which she explains what Mano calls the Christian novelist's `special alienation' in an age so unlike Dante's, i.e. in an age where, according to Mano, there is not for the Christian writer a "prodigious consensus of emotion and shared symbolism':

"`When I write a novel in which the central action is a baptism, I am very well aware that for a majority of my readers, baptism is a meaningless rite, and so in my novel I have to see that this baptism carries enough awe and mystery to jar the reader into some kind of emotional recognition of its significance. To this end I have to bend the whole novel-- its language, its structure, its action. I have to make the reader feel, in his bones if nowhere else, that something is going on here that counts. Distortion in this case is an instrument; exaggeration has a purpose, and the whole structure of the story or novel has been made what it is because of belief. This is not the kind of distortion that destroys; it is the kind that reveals, or should reveal.'

"`Our salvation is a drama played out with the devil, a devil who is not simply generalized evil, but an evil intelligence determined on its own supremacy. I think that if writers with a religious view of the world excel these days in the depiction of evil, it is because they have to make its nature unmistakable to their particular audience.'

"`The novelist and the believer, when they are not the same man, yet have many traits in common-- a distrust of the abstract, respect for boundaries, a desire to penetrate the surface of reality and to find in each thing the spirit which makes it itself and holds the world together. But I don't believe that we shall have great religious fiction until we have again that happy combination of believing artist and believing society. Until that time, the novelist will have to do the best he can in travail with the world he has. He may find in the end that instead of reflecting the image at the heart of things, he has only reflected our broken condition and, through it, the face of the devil we are possessed by. This is a modest achievement, but perhaps a necessary one.' (pages 7-8)

In particular, Mano tries to explain his artistic need to use `obscenity'...

"`. . . if there is anyone with whom I feel a blood brotherhood, whose purposes and tactics are mine, it is-- not a fiction writer-- but the poet John Donne.' [He quotes "Batter my heart, three person'd God" (http://www.bartleby.com/105/74.html).] `In that holy sonnet I could rest my case. For only the sexual act can approach-- in its wild animal consummation-- the working of God's love in the human soul. Match that with St. John of the Cross: you know who is the greater poet. And who the greater mystic. Though their language and imagery are similar, Donne and St. John begin from different starting blocks, different premises. John has attained and needs to express. Donne needs to express so that he-- and his readers-- might hope to attain.' (page 10)

"`In a profane age, the profane must be taken unawares and in their own tongue.' (page 10)

"`You might say that the end, doubtful as it is, cannot justify the means. But the Flood was a means. Saint Paul's blindness. And the crucifixion. God does not go gently into our self-imposed night.' (page 11)"

Spanning the Globe to Bring You the Constant Variety of Posts

There is only one way to separate politics from science, and that is to separate politicians from scientists. What connects them is money. If you're not for government defunding all its scientific programs, then you aren't for separating politics from science. - Tom of Disputations

The test of "a real democracy" is its defense of the most defenseless. - - Vatican commenter quoted in Reuters article regarding stem cell research

There's a juxtaposition issue, which has in some way, often been an issue for me and blogging, since my kind of blogging is a mix of issue-oriented, personal and cultural, I have often worried about the effect of blogging, say, a stinging post on a cover-up of clerical sexual abuse, followed by a cute photo of the kids? Or an amusing story? I worry about the effect of Grieving Post then Followed by Wry Amusing Post. But the thing is - that is life right now... It's juxtaposition. It's inconsistent. I guess we are all going to have to live with it. - Amy Welborn at Blognet's Via Media"

Have you ever looked -- I mean, really looked -- at what a priest is holding in his hands as he says the words, "This is My Body," during Mass?... you don't see the bread become the Body of Christ. You don't see anything happen. There's no instantaneous flash, there's no moment where the bread seems to go a little out of focus, no visual indication of the fabric of time and space opening ever so slightly to let in the Eternal. You've seen the central act of the source and summit of the Christian life... and you've seen nothing happen. It's said that the phrase "hocus pocus" comes from the Latin "hoc est Corpus Meum," but no stage magician will be invited back if nothing at all is ever seen to happen when he cries, "Hocus pocus!" Yet so eager are we for priests to say, "Hoc est Corpus Meum," when nothing at all is ever seen to happen that we pray for even more priests. It's why they call it "faith," of course. But it's also very wise. We don't come to Mass for the spectacle...And then the question is for you to answer: What do you believe is happening? - Tom of Disputations

S o Lent is just about at the halfway mark, and I was sitting back and congratulating myself. "I'm not doing too badly," I thought. "It actually hasn't been that hard to get up early and say morning prayer." And upon further reflection I realized: it's not been that hard because I haven't been doing it. - Mrs. Darwin here (Note to Bill Luse: there's a breastfeeding reference.)

I would sometimes have very well-intentioned and good-hearted people say "you can make your [A.A.] Higher Power anything you want, anything at all! Like a tree, or a rock..." That approach never, ever, ever worked with me, as I would have to point out that as a literalist, I have operated chainsaws and jackhammers and I know what they do to trees and rocks, and I need something a little bigger (i.e. more powerful) than that. What I ultimately settled on was that indefinable feeling of hope I got from rooms full of people who had been where I had been, and were heading to where I wanted to go...and that the whole was much, much greater than the sum of the parts. I could look for and find reasons not to identify and relate to any individual's experience, but if I am in a room with dozens or even hundreds of people who are sorting through and overcoming the same kind of dis/ease I am dealing with, and I consistently leave feeling much better than when I got there, their stories and experiences and advice have collectively given me something much bigger and far more powerful than my problems...I did spend a lot of time during those years going to halfway houses and prisons, trying to carry that message of hope to others farther down the slope from me. As the slogan goes, "you have to give it away to keep it"... And ironically, I could recognize the fact on some level, even during depressive, going-through-the-motions phases when I was not buying what I was selling ... You can act your way into "right" thinking a lot easier than thinking yourself into "right" behavior. - co-worker named "Dute"

“I hate to read new books. There are twenty or thirty volumes that I have read over and over again, and these are the only ones that I have any desire ever to read at all.” Let’s make allowances for provocation – Hazlitt recognized a good lead when he saw one – but there’s truth here. I’ve never counted but I move with regularity, like Kant in K√∂nigsberg, within a small radius -- though surely more than 30 titles. And the books I most look forward to reading are ones I’ve already read, sometimes more than once – A Dance to the Music of Time, for instance. I’m not philosophically opposed to new books. Rather, I’m jealous of my reading time and don’t want to squander it on books whose only likely virtue is a recent copyright. - Blogger at "Anecdotal Evidence"

At first, the incidents of early February seemed like a dream, rudely intruding, disrupting, shattering a perfectly good reality. And then the ground shifted, and what was before is starting to seem like a dream, a dream in which I drifted along in ignorance, in which I knew nothing, in which I was operating out of a set of delusions - that everything would be fine until we were old, just because...it would. On paper I would say, well, of course we are not immune from anything life has to offer - but in my heart, I believed exactly that. Which was a dream. I suppose (and hope) the next stage is accepting it all as reality, and trying to live in it now, accepting all the mysterious layers through which we humans must slog - past, present, future, inner and outer life and memories. - Amy Welborn at "Via Media"

[Jim Cramer] refused to get the fundamental point, and you can't blame him for that: To do so would have invited an existential crisis. [John] Stewart, expressing chagrin that Cramer had become the single face of a multiheaded monster, made a persuasive argument that the financial-news networks behaved (especially during the yearslong run-up to the mortgage crisis) less like watchdogs than jackals. The notion was that the networks, being aware of a gap between image and reality that they had steadfastly refused to address in their coverage, had abdicated their journalistic responsibilities. - Slate piece on the latest ruckus

One of Boring's key theses, without which (in his judgment) you cannot unlock [the Book of] Revelation, is that it is a pastoral letter. It was written to a particular audience to address a particular pastoral situation.This means, among other things, that its apocalyptic imagery was not intended to be opaque or hermetic. The audience (and Boring emphasizes that the letter was intended to be read during worship, so there was a literal audience) would be familiar with the sort of symbolism John used, and would understand his meaning without resort to obscure codes or implausible logical inferences...Still, Boring gives several reasons why it's worth taking the effort to understand the book, the last but not least of which is that in our own time Christians are confronted with various critical religiopolitical situations, just as those to whom John wrote his letter were. As Boring puts it in the last paragraph of the introduction, "Revelation does not speak about our time, [but] it does speak to it." - Tom of Disputations

St. Faustina Kowalska simply awes me. Her love for Jesus is so pure. There is no other word to describe what shines out of every page. When I read the thoughts and feelings she has recorded, I see how deep is the truth that love of God is inseparable from love of neighbour--how it is in the very style of the cosmos that there have to be two greatest commandments and not one. Hers is a pure passion, not just for adoring God as only a mystic can, but also for drawing as many souls as possible to His mercy as only an apostle does. If every Christian in the world could reproduce even a grain of her luminous whirlwind response to God, then the rest of the world would become Christian in an instant. - Sancta Sanctis

St. Patrick's Day

Amy has an interesting St. Patrick's Day post up. She talks about feeling the outsider for having gone to an Irish Catholic high school and having only a smidgeon of Irish blood.

Ironically I felt the same in the early years of my discovery of the local Irish community. My features are not especially Irish. I wondered if being half-Irish was enough to confer acceptance amid the Ancient Order of Hibernian circles with people who looked as Irish as leprechauns. I didn't know the saint we celebrate today wasn't Irish. Of course, next to my English, non-Catholic friend Ham, who accompanied me to events, I felt positively teeming with ambassadorship and Oirish bonhomie!

In our old downtown parish, there's a large painting of St. Patrick on the wall that somehow made it from Ireland from among those fleeing the famine.

St. Patrick arguably penned the greatest prayer ever written, short of the Lord's Prayer. It speaks of the only consolation for we exiles: Christ's presence -
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.

Fiction for a Tuesday

I was traveling in the heart of Central America, accompanied by a man who lived there. He was carrying a shiny white automatic coffee maker under his arm, making himself rather conspicuous I thought, and was going to poor shut-ins who couldn't afford an automatic coffee maker but who apparently had the money to pay a man to bring a coffee maker & make them coffee. I questioned not the arrangement nor how the coffee maker worked in areas lacking electricity since this was a dream. Although I didn't know it was a dream at the time, had I known I would've told the man that I was appreciative since this one was better than average.

He was subject constantly to la mordida, "the bite", and with increasing frequency we would encounter policemen demanding a bribe. One gleefully ran up to us pantomining a proboscis going into an arm, shamelessly playing his part of a mosquito wanting a share of blood. I asked him if the policemen bothered him and he shrugged helplessly. One ran by us, too busy to collect money it seemed, and I pointed that out. "There must be an emergency," I said, and he said there must be a more tempting target elsewhere.

March 16, 2009

The Definition of Idiosyncratic

Part of the specialness of C-Span is its delightful eccentricities, which mostly reflect those of its founder, Brian Lamb. It's like walking into a mom & pop store. You never know what you'll find.

The Q&A program is devoting not one, not a two, but three consecutive Sundays to the trial of shamed Alaskan senator Ted Stevens. There's such a wonderful gratuitousness in this, an absurdly romantic lack of concern over ratings. It's well known that only five people in the lower 48 care about Ted Stevens. It's appropriate that yesterday's program, a full hour, featured only an "Alaskan blogger". (Full disclosure: I missed last night's program. Save your emails and snarks as I'm sure it was interesting and edifying.)

I take a preverse interest in trying to discover what Brian Lamb is thinking, mostly because he's so reticent about his thoughts. Back in the Cold War days there were Kremlinologists; I'm an amateur Lambologist. Besides being obsessed with Lincoln, my latest thought concerning his thoughts is that he's really, really, really interested/concerned/surprised by political corruption. His recent out-of-retirement hour with a Weekly Standard writer who wrote about corruption is my only proof outside of this three part series.

Not having seen the Q&A program I can't comment on it other than to say the principle behind it is sound: examine in depth - I mean seriously in depth - how it was that a beloved (in his own state) Republican senator could fall from grace. Just as some Christians study Judas, Julian the Apostate, and others for clues to the human condition, it probably is wise to study Ted Stevens to see what can be gained from Alaska's experience. (Full disclosure: I know nothing about Ted Stevens or the charges against him. This post, amazingly, was written without either seeing the program in question or having any knowledge of subject of the program - that's not easy! My mom would be so proud.)

More Testing Thoughts

Testing is often used as an exclusionary process but the great thing about God is that he is resolutely non-exclusionary Being, as shown by today's readings. The homilist mentioned that in every Mass Christ uses the word "all" three times:
“Take this all of you and eat. This is my body which will be given up for you” / “Take this all of you and drink, this is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant, this cup will be shed for you and for all."
Now of course Heaven is exclusionary since we can't hold a belief in universal salvation. But it is still who humans who long for exclusion and caste; when Jesus ate with sinners He was greatly criticized. In "The Power of the Cross", Michael Dubruiel mentions the parable of the Prodigal Son:
Jesus tells this parable when he is in the process of being judged as someone who consorts with sinners. The "punch line" of the parable hits home for all of us prodigals: Those who are most likely to come to their senses are those who have experienced the emptiness of a life apart from God. The elder sons really don't see any readon to party; they haven't come to their senses yet.

Who is the greatest sinner in the parable of the Prodigal Son? Could it be the older brother, who is angry that his ungrateful little brother had come home? Often we resent this; we identify more with the elder brother than with the younger. In fact, when I've spoken on this parable it has often angered someone: Someone in their family, like the Prodigal Son, has taken the family's money, only to come back penniless and in search of more.

Ironcally, some Scripture scholars think that in the parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus is the son who takes the inheritance of the Father - his divine mercy and love - and squanders it on sinners! In the end, the Father is pleased. Once you've heard this way of looking at the parable, it's hard to see it any other way.

Yes, God's mercy is great; however, to experience it fully always involves a bit of crucifixion on our part. Our natural human way of looking at things is invariably fallible and has to die.

Ratzinger's Faith

Through the miracle of the local public library, I borrowed Ratzinger's Faith yesterday. It was full of tasty morsels, such as the distinctions within Thomism and Augustinianism. Before I'd thought of everyone as either a Thomist or an Augustinian but Balthasar and Garrigou-Lagrange are both Thomists so that alone should've given me pause.

As I've blogged before, I find testing (i.e. the necessity of dying literally & figuratively before reward) fascinating because it seemingly contradicts the unearned nature of grace. Of course in our present flawed condition, marked by original sin, our presence on this flawed earth is fitting*. It's less comprehensible with Adam & Eve before the Fall, living in a world with Satan already present. If their test was easier than ours it was still a test. But reading Ratzinger's Faith it seems my question is a very bourgeois one, one far from the mindset of God who is "aristocratic and erotic". The mentality of the aristocratic and erotic is sacrifice regardless of cost or test and focuses on the goal rather than the obstacles to that goal. For the erotically-inclined, obstacles to a love relationship are interesting only in how they can be surmounted. Questions like why are irrelevant, betraying a lack of trust.

I struggle with testing because I associate it with a pointless machoism that uses it to confer status and feed a sense of pride. In the City of Man, testing is completely understandable and manifests itself in primitive societies by rites of passage. It is a necessary hardening process in order that one might provide for oneself and one's family in a world that requires a decent amount of self-sufficiency in order to function. (See Communism as the alternative.) And yet it's obivous we don't need to be hardened in order to be in Heaven, or rather we do need to be hardened but hardened against ourselves. We don't have to be toughened up to see Mary and the saints, but we do have to be changed. Changed, it seems, into the aristocratic.

For the aristocratic, noblesse oblige applies and it's not surprising that John F. Kennedy, raised in boarding schools and in the American aristocracy, would say "we will bear any burden, pay any price" (i.e. not counting the price) in fighting our foes and supporting our allies. Tracey Rowland writes in Ratzinger's Faith:
[Ratzinger] speaks of the twin pathologies of bourgeois pelagianism and the pelagianism of the pious. He describes the mentality of the bourgeois pelagian as follows: 'If God really does exist and if He does in fact bother about people He cannot be so fearfully demanding as He is described by the faith of the Church. Moreover, I am no worse than others; I do my duty, and the minor human weaknesses cannot really be as dangerous as all that.' This attitude is a modern version of 'acedia' - a kind of anxious vertigo that overcomes people when they consider the heights to which their divine pedigree has called them. In Nietzchean terms it is the mentality of the herd, the attitude of someone who just cannot be bothered to be great. It is the bourgeois because it is calculating and pragmatic and comfortable with what is common and ordinary, rather than aristocratic and erotic...:

'They [pious pelagians] want security, not hope. By means of a tough and rigorous system of religious practices, by means of prayers and actions, they want to create for themselves a right to blessedness. What they lack is the humility essential to any love - the humility to be able to receive what we are given over and above what we have deserved and achieved. The denial of hope in favor of security that we are faced with here rests on the inability to bear the tension of waiting for what is to come and to abandon onself to God's goodness.'
_____________


* - Richard J. Neuhaus writes in American Babylon: "This world, for all its well-earned dissatisfactions, is worthy of our love and allegiance. It is a self-flattering conceit to think we deserve a better world. What's wrong with this one begins with us."

March 14, 2009

O'Reilly's Badge of Journalistic Honor

Bill O'Reilly is persona non grata among those who exercise power; his show is almost always limited to B-list political personages such as Dick Morris and Newt Gingrich. Rarely does he score the big interview, though he did land Obama before the election by personally going to a campaign event and repeatedly showing the resulting footage of Obama promising to appear on the show. You got to admire that he's not above begging.

The latest is that Speaker Pelosi won't even deign respond to a Fox News inquiry as to how many plane trips she's taken on the taxpayer's dime. It angers O'Reilly to be constantly snubbed but it's part of what makes his show valuable. He's perhaps the last journalist with an outsider's mentality. While that is not all there is to journalism (after all, O'Reilly missed the banking crisis too and the Iraq post-war difficutlies), it's a precondition for success and in that O'Reilly is ahead of most journalists. From the NY Times Opinionator:
Cramer’s pathetic performance emphasizes an important weakness of celebrity journalism. It is not a coincidence that CNBC reporters do crappy journalism and worship access to the top names. If Jim Cramer did his job as a journalist then celebrixecutivess like Vikram Pandit would stop talking to him. Believe it or not this explains a shocking range of journalism’s symptoms. Why do reporters grant anonymity to the most inane and innocuous statements? Why does lying to reporters never seem to have a consequence?...

The answer is that reporters want important people to keep taking their calls. For a reason that escapes me, people who are paid to understand politics all seem to think that “access” to people with a PR staff will get them some special insight when the only difference between speaking to them anonymously and asking their spokesperson is that the person can lie and most people will never know. Naturally the public would know if you called him on it, but then he wouldn’t take your calls anymore. Catch 22!
O'Reilly should wear it as a badge of honor that they don't take his calls.

Steele Not Exactly Uber Competent

I hope Republican chairman Michael Steele's latest gaffe, is a gaffe, meaning that he really isn't trying to take the party a different direction on issue of life. Certainly so far his comments have been cringe-worthy and only serve to make the Republicans continue to look like the old Washington Senators (or Washington Generals, pick your sport).

The lack of competence on the part of Republicans mirrors an even greater lack found on the Democratic side of the aisle of course. It's dangerous when you have both parties not knowing what the hell they're doing. Whereas we used to long for JFK's mythical Camelot, now we'll all take Competence and rejoice if we get even close to it (to the tune from the musical):
Competence! Competence!
I know it sounds a bit bizarre,
But in Competence, Competence
That's how conditions are...

Competence! Competence!
I know it gives a person pause,
But in Competence, Competence
Those are the legal laws.

March 13, 2009

A Chair By Any Other Name...

Events have ratcheted beyond my control. Chairgate '09 has assumed a gnarled, twisting course I'd not anticipated.

For one thing, my bete noir turned out to be a composite character! My initial foe who confronted me that fateful morning in late January, the one labeled "a very strong woman" by our secretary in a fine example of understatement, is said to have been outside-the-loop for quite some time. All the emails that have been sent to bosses and secretaries and nurses - which I hadn't been cc'd on - apparently involved a different lady, but one no less determined. My reaction is akin to learning that the real Shakespeare might've been Edward de Vere. My mouth stands ajar.

My co-workers have not been disinterested in the outcome and so for their sake I must no longer feign indifference. My chair has become their chair too, my plight their plight! It would be the very height of selfishness for me to try to protect my reputation and discard my chair and allow their morale to suffer for it. So though I regret I have but one chair to give to my company it seems I must keep my chair for the sake of my unit, er, my fellow countrymen.

Longtime followers of As the Chair Swivels know that we left on cliffhanger: our sweet nurse had made an appointment to "assess" my chair. Ideally I would've cleaned and polished the chair, spruced him up a bit for the big date. But work intervened. Queries to be run, a new study to be done, and so I was distracted by the very purpose that the chair serves. Or so goes my convenient excuse.

Nurse Nightingale arrived at the appointed time, looking like no nurse I'd ever seen. She'd left her white coat purposely behind for this mission of mercy, of which I was glad because my boss is petrified of white coats and I'd planned to bring her over for a quick meeting with him.

She mentioned at the outset how she'd gotten off the elevators on our floor and assumed "the Chair" would guide her to my cube as a sort of reverse star of Bethlehem. Warned she was by this "eyesore", she'd assumed there were bright lights shining on it and that the ugliness was plainly visible to passersby. She was amazed to find it so far off the beaten track, and to see with her own eyes how un-eyesore-like the chair was. "We have many chairs like this," she said, adding only that it could use some cleaning. She also made mention that never to her knowledge have any floor moves engendered this sort of chair dispute.

We left it that the nurse would say that she'd now seen the chair and that my boss is supporting the keeping of said chair and that even though the purchase of a new chair would not come out of his budget it would come out of the company's budget but that since we work for the company perhaps that ought to enter into the equation.

My boss said he'd wanted to fight it from the beginning and said he was only holding off as long as he did because of my reluctance to have it rise as an issue above his level. That's sadly too late, as everybody and their brother on the org chart short of CEO have been notified by the hysterics of my composite bete noir. So fight on, I say! Fetch the mede and mount the horses and announce to the troops: "Forward, the Light Brigade!":
Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volley'd and thunder'd;
Storm'd at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred.

Flash'd all their sabres bare,
Flash'd as they turn'd in air,
Sabring the gunners there,
Charging an army, while
All the world wonder'd:
Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right thro' the line they broke;
Cossack and Russian
Reel'd from the sabre stroke
Shatter'd and sunder'd.
Then they rode back, but not
Not the six hundred.
Thanks go out to Tennyson, who really understands.

UPDATE: A fellow colleague also understands, offering:
'Tis but thy style of design that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not an approved office chair.
What's an approved office chair? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a chair. O, be some other style of office chair!
What's in a name? that which we call a chair
By any other name would fit my butt just as well;
So the old chair would, were he not the old chair call'd,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Old chair, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.