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Wednesday

New readers: Please consider sticking around around. I blog almost every day. It’s random and scattered (as the sidebar indicates) , but you might find interesting things. Once in a while.

amy_welbornWhat kind of blog is this these days? Well, I just said it – random and scattered. It functions mostly as a way for me to stretch my writing muscles a bit every day before I get into either work-work or my ongoing attempts to Be Creative. 

Back in the early days of blogging up to about ten years ago, I ran a blog that was, perhaps, like one of your more active Facebook pages today. I blogged about current events, usually posting 5-10 times a day, had a super active (and mostly great) comments section and, somehow managed to write about two books a year. While having a couple of babies after forty.

Then you, know, life changed, and my husband died (ten years ago on 2/3 – hard to believe) and it just wasn’t the kind of blogging I wanted to do anymore, really. As I’ve said before in this space, when I was doing a lot of intense current-events blogging, getting into the fray wasn’t a problem, because I had someone who was here to assure me after I shut the computer down, “No, you’re not crazy. Well, you’re sort of crazy. But not that crazy. And you mean well.”

But without that – without someone who has your back in the sanity-department, you (or at least I) are really taking some mental and emotional health risks in engaging too heavily online. IRL is much, much better. Always.

But I do continue to write and even to blog here. Most of my blogging reflects things I read. I’m very interested in history, as I say again and again, because it helps me understand the present moment. I don’t have many missions in life, but one of them is to nag whoever is in earshot about the invaluable perspective knowledge of the past brings.

And I don’t blog every thought that I have on every issue. I tend to be cautious on that score because I want to have the whole picture – or as much of it that’s available to me – before I comment. That’s why I don’t say a lot, for example, about Pope Francis. I have opinions, sure, but the whole thing is so opaque and weird to me that it’s impossible for me to pin down what’s worth me saying for public consumption. At this point.

So I’m into sharing information and occasional insights. I’m a teacher, I’m the child of teachers and the daughter of a librarian. Ask my poor kids about the experience of being homeschooled by me – someday one of them will probably write a memoir called Death by Teachable Moment. 

Oh, and the travel. I write a lot about travel, and there will be much, much more of that, God and the DJIA willing over the next few years, as Son #5 and I embark on a homeschooling/roadschooling journey when Son #4 goes off to college in a few months.

Basically: I read things, I see things, and write about some of those things, trying to figure out Big Things.

So, one of the things I do around here when nothing in particular strikes me is throw together a digest of what I’m currently reading, writing, watching, listening to and cooking. This won’t be that interesting – we are still mostly in recovery mode from the oldest attending the March for Life.  Here’s today’s.

Writing: Finished That Thing. A week early. I could have held onto it and looked at it a couple of more times, but why? It’s fine, and if they want revisions – now they have a week more to wrestle them. The sooner to invoice you, my dear.

And now…what? I have another story I need to get out of my head, and then I need to focus on something bigger. Not sure what. I want to start and finish something by June 1. Something.

Oh, and I added links to our 2016 Italy trip to the “Travel” page. 

Reading:  That’s what this will be, mostly. I’ve not watched or cooked much over the past couple of days. Mostly I’ve driven my car. Two ortho appointments, one other doctor’s appointment, school dropoff and pick up and a Metallica concert.

No, I didn’t go to the Metallica concert. My 14-year old did, accompanied by a friend. He’d been gifted with the tickets by his oldest brother, who lives in NYC and had hoped to come down for the concert, but was unable to because of his work load. So he took a friend, and they had a great time (I’ll get a fuller report this afternoon.)

On Twitter a few weeks ago, I remarked on the contrast:

Of course, to be really fair, as someone responded:

In fairness Metallica is now what Sha Na Na was to you and me

Heh.

So, okay – reading. Not much of that either. Hopefully things will calm down soon and I can focus on words on pages again. I started Sheed’s Transatlantic Blues last night – I’ll give it a bit more attention today to see if it’s a keeper. Oh, the other night I started Chekov’s Ward No. 6, but found it just too depressing.

Since today is the memorial of St. Marianne Cope, I went back and read the poem Robert Lewis Stevenson wrote about her.

Perhaps you know Robert Lewis Stevenson wrote an “open letter” in defense of Fr. Damien, against a gossipy, bigoted accusatory published piece written by a Presbyterian minister in Hawaii. Stevenson had visited Molokai – after Fr. Damien’s death – and was strongly affected by it, and was moved to defend the priest.

You can read that letter here.

During his bit more than a week on Molokai, he spent time with Sr. Marianne Cope, of course, and even purchased a piano for the colony. He also wrote a poem about the experience, the gist of which is that even though the sufferings of those with Hansen’s Disease might cause one to doubt the existence of God, that course is corrected by the loving presence of the Sisters:

To the Reverend Sister Marianne, Matron of the Bishop Home, Kalaupapa. 
To see the infinite pity of this place, 
The mangled limb, the devastated face, 
The innocent sufferers smiling at the rod, 
A fool were tempted to deny his God. 
He sees, and shrinks; but if he look again, 
Lo, beauty springing from the breasts of pain! 
He marks the sisters on the painful shores, 
And even a fool is silent and adores.

I try to read a few academic journal articles a week.  Like much else in my life, my choice of topic is random, but I tend to settle on Catholic-centered medieval through early modern themes.

Last night, I read this one: ” Each Should Tend His Own Garden”: Anna Bijns and the Catholic Polemic against the Reformation

A narrow topic, yes, (as all academic journal articles are by nature), but interesting, since I learned things I didn’t know before. Always good. What I learned:

I learned, of course, about the existence of this woman named Anna Bijns – a well-known poet of her period and  – 

She was in fact the first writer in the vernacular to achieve widespread fame through the printing press. Everything she experienced in her city was material for her sharp pen. Nothing was taboo: badly thwarted love, the vain illusions of Luther and his followers, the threat of freebooters from Gelderland at the city gates, the insufferable policy of tolerance pursued by the city council, deceit and conflict within marriage, the sad but well-deserved lot of hen-pecked husbands and the need to relax with the hilarious nonsense of the repertoire of popular festivals.

She is able to express all that excitement with a verbal dexterity almost unequalled in Dutch literature. Complex rhyme-schemes, alliterations and neologisms gave her texts an irresistible cadence, while the subtly orchestrated passion still came across as natural. She was also the first author in Dutch literature, to present herself emphatically as an individual with personal views and emotions of her own. 

She was also a devout Catholic and determined to do what she could, in her small way to fight heresy. So she wrote poems and disseminated them. The article explores this aspect of the culture – most of the poetry-making and disseminating was oral, but she, as a woman in Antwerp, did not have access to the public fora in which that occurred. (In other cities women did, but not in Antwerp.)

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Bijns was one of the very few Catholic lay people in the Low Countries who was prepared to take her fight for the Catholic cause into the public domain, and she was the only one to do this in vernacular print. The work of many rederijkers reflected the growing interest in evangelical ideas, or attempted to find a middle ground between old and new ideas, but there are very few examples of zealous defences of the Catholic faith in rederijker circles. There is only one rederijker play from before the Dutch
Revolt which takes up the gauntlet against the Reformation. In this play
entitled, Tspel van de Cristenkercke (c. 1540), a character called Dr. Genuine Scriptural Proof introduces a plot in which the virgin Honest Simple Faith holds out against the advances of Self Regard, the son of Heresy. Its author, the Flemish bookbinder Reynier Pouwelsz, may have written it to reaffirm his loyalty to the Catholic faith as he had been charged with selling forbidden books a few years earlier. Although we know of many Catholic poems that derided the Reformation, these were rarely published in print, and mostly date from after 1560. Th e first author genuinely to follow in Bijns’s footsteps was another woman, Katarina Boudewyns, whose Prieelken der gheestelyker wellusten [Bower of Spiritual Joy] appeared in Brussels in 1587. Like Bijns, Boudewyns presented both (Marian) devotional poems and spirited attacks on the heretics, especially the Calvinists who had ruled Brussels in the early 1580s. So why was work like that of Bijns such a rarity?

The article explores that last question – and concludes that up to a point, heresy had been presented as a moral problem – one was a heretic because of pride – and therefore a problem for clerics and spiritual directors. A lay person didn’t interfere in another lay person’s spiritual battle. But then, eventually, the issue came to be seen as one of principle and ideas, and could  – and should be – argued in the public square.

Note that at one point, though, Bijns complains about the way in which the clergy are not picking up the slack and doing their job:

  Decades earlier, Bijns had also expressed her frustration
at the perceived lack of leadership in a struggle for which she declared herself willing to die. One of her refreinen in Book II responded to the praise
heaped on her by a Flemish cleric:When I let my eye dwell over the various estates, I am amazed that there
are so many learned men today who do almost nothing to resist Luther’s
arrogant teachings [. . .] and however much I try, one person can’t make
a dance. Heretics may note my work, but they make fun of it, thinking
it’s just woman’s work [. . .]. So put your mind to it, priest, as a brave
champion, take up the pen, and it will easily have an impact. You have
been appointed watchman, let your trumpet sound, seeing the enemies
surrounding the people of God. I have the will, but I can’t do it.

Do you see what I mean about history helping to understand the present? Four hundred years later – has anything changed?

The Hack – 3

 

His walk took him past the Columbia buildings, which had their own kind of Sunday. Professors’ wives, interfaith groups, good taste; mild, high domed parsons drafting thoughtful sermons and mimeographing them in their rimless spectacles. It was an import-export thing. Bavarian theologians threshed out the latest subtleties, came grunting with them out of the Black Forest – they were behind the whole thing, kept it going. Then the parsons distilled it and wrapped it in cellophane and the professors’ wives took it home and gave it to the cat. Protestants were our brothers now, but you couldn’t help laughing.

 

Here we go, finally.

Is this minor novel really worth all this time and space? Sure, why not? I’m interested, it’s my blog, so here we are.

To recap: this is part three of a series of posts on Wilfrid Sheed’s 1963 novel, The Hack. It’s about a married, father-of-five writer for sentimental Catholic periodicals. It’s about the toll this work has taken on his emotional life, his writing skills and his faith. It’s about his non-Catholic wife’s faith.

Part 1 – about his wife Betty’s faith and interactions with Catholic things.

Part 2 – about Bert’s struggles with faith and creativity.

the-hack-sheedAnd what will part 3 be about? I’m not quite sure.

On Sunday, I toyed for a time with the idea of tying whatever was left to talk about with the reaction to the Covington Catholic “situation,” but after a few seconds of reflection concluded that would be way too much work.

So here we are. The easy way in, I suppose, would be with a quote from the novel. Let’s find one. Here’s Betty near the end of the novel, thinking about an incident that had happened at Midnight Mass the night before – quite simply and shockingly, Bert had not gone to Communion.

She found herself daydreaming about what had really happened last night, when his head was buried in his hands and he wouldn’t let her see it. Maybe he couldn’t get it to look right for church any more. For so long, he had been forcing his nerves to work, to curse, to pray, as if there was nothing you couldn’t ask nerves to do; and suddenly the crazy, mutilated nerves had said, That’s enough of that, but look at this, our own special dance; and God he was scared, he was sick, half mad with fear…

He suddenly knew what was wrong, she decided in her dream, he knew it right there in church. He was sick, he wanted to call it off, he wanted Betty to call it off. (It was like someone trying devil-worship for a gag and finding it actually worked.) Playing with sacred things, was what Chubb called it and – leaving aside Chubb’s list – you might say your emotions were sacred things, your tears and rages were sacred, he suddenly realized that you didn’t turn them on for kicks, or for money; your talent was a sacred thing; and your faith in God was sacred you didn’t pretend it was a whit stronger than it was, even for the sake of example; and oh, there were miles and miles of sacred things, and Bert knew he had certainly blasphemed every last one of them….

Anyway, indications were that he was back at peace: no more responsibility, no more appearances to keep up. Not being able to “feel” appropriately wouldn’t be held against him now. ..

…The funny things was, she supposed that none of this would have been necessary if he had just been a plain uncomplicated windbag like the other inspirationists: he could have gone to his grave with his round tones, his relaxed manner and the untroubled face of a child.

But Bert wasn’t an uncomplicated windbag. He wasn’t even a natural hack. He was conned into it by public request. He wanted to do first-rate work, but he had trouble with it, and he did so much good the other way…The worst of it was you couldn’t even blame the Church. The Church hadn’t asked him to write anything, wouldn’t care if he stopped. Every institution kept up a froth of chatter these days; it didn’t much matter who did the actual frothing. A million tons of stupid words had to be manufactured by somebody; but getting mad at those was like getting mad at New Jersey, as Bert used to say.

As Eve Tushnet said in her post discussing this novel, it’s not just about religion writing or being paid for church work. It’s about any lost passion, any aspect of life that you plunged into thinking, I love this, I’m good at it – and hey, they are paying me! So great! –  and here you are ten, twenty years later – trapped, bored or worse.

You got into this with the best of intentions, but what has happened is that you and The Thing are no longer aligned – one or both of you have moved on, out or just beyond, things don’t fit,and the worst of it is that your service to The Thing has shaped you in a way that renders this part of you useless away from it.

As I said, it’s not just about the religion biz. It’s a sad – but maybe a little hopeful – sketch of people moving in and out of relationships with emotional truth, not really understanding or expressing what’s deepest within, all out of fear.

But of course, being that I spend a lot of time observing pop culture spirituality, and have for decades now, I can’t help but relate the landscape of pious publishing fifty years ago to the present scene. In a way, it’s uncanny – a million tons of stupid words had to be manufactured by somebody.

Only now it’s not so much print of course – I’m sure almost every Catholic print publication could disappear tomorrow and hardly anyone would care – but what we are all spewing out online.

I suppose what I am left with is the suggestion that The Hack be read as a caution. A caution to all of us engaged in spiritual writing as any kind of a job for any kind of pay including simply exposure, and a caution to all of those who pay to read spiritually-themed writing, even if the payment you’re offering is simply your time and attention.

And the caution offered by The Hack is this: that kind of writing and the demands of its audience has the power to shape your faith, and perhaps not in a positive way. Bert and his audience are caught in a circuitous pattern of generating and being comforted by pious platitudes. Bert’s loss of faith isn’t due to him grappling with and then being bested by existential questions and profound theological mysteries – it’s due to him avoiding them, allowing the platitudes and sentiment to dominate his spirit because that’s where his energy has gone – and then when that dissipates and disappears, he has nothing left.

In a way, it’s analogous to another corner of contemporary religion, which is emotion-dominated youth and young adult ministry, on “faith” built on feelings of high-intensity community and singing breathy songs to Boyfriend Jesus.

But then, back to the writing, it’s a trap, isn’t it? Bert thinks he could write deeper – but can he? Have his writing reflexes been so bent that this sentiment is all he can produce now? And what about the audience? It seems to be moving on, but you know, you’re always going to have that cohort – the kind that, in the novel, invites Bert to come speak and nods chummily at his words about Communism – that will rise up if anything different is offered them.

Betty goes through Bert’s mail and tells him he has an invitation to speak to the Catholic women of Paramus. It makes him shudder.

“They’ll come and pick you up.”

A horrible thought in itself. He shut his eyes. And then, there was the pile of half-witted mail in front of his wife. You could tell it was half-witted by the way they put on the stamps.

Perhaps all the (a few years ago) bloggers and (now) Instagram Christian writers aren’t quite there yet. Perhaps they’re still feeling what they communicate: the dependable pattern of their mini-essays: 1) Description of some family or personal situation  2) Lightbulb moment 3) Resolution  centering around acceptance of the messiness of life and myself as I am.

All under a carefully framed and filtered photograph.

Followed by scores of comments complimenting the Christian influencer on her (and it is usually a her) authenticity. And perhaps complimenting her appearance.

You’re beautiful!

Links to whatever I’ve packaged from my life for you to buy in profile.

About a year ago, I had the odd experience of speaking to two Catholic writers within a period of a few weeks, and both said the same thing to me: If I could write what I really  want to write – it would be this. 

And what held them back? Some financial pressures – as with Bert – and some hesitancy of reader reaction. No one was wishing they could write a Catholic Portnoy’s but they were wondering what their audience would think, and in the case of one, anticipating slightly different objections – the type of resentful, misunderstanding reactions that seemed to emerge whenever she wrote on this topic, near and dear to her. Was it worth the potential hassle? Could she shape what she wanted to say in a way that was authentic but averted the objections, as much as possible, of the nagging, easily offended readers?

***

What we produce – what we write – can shape us in a myriad of ways, can’t it? Bert’s faith was diluted and shrunk because his writing demanded that he see it, interpret it, and communicate it in shallow, sentimental framework.

But spiritual writing – and ministry, period – can impact the shape of our faith in other ways, too.

One of the greatest pitfalls is the construction and maintenance of the persona. This might be built on personality, it might be built on specialization. The Friendly Priest. The Quirky Catholic. The Funky Homeschooler. The Charmingly Frazzled Mom. The Apologist.

Persona, platform, what have you. What happens is that the platform becomes a pedestal and the persona becomes a prison. The cute kids grow older and really, really don’t want to be in the center of your online hustle any more. Apologetics goes out of fashion. Your marriage starts to suck a little, and you aren’t sure if you should feature it any more. You, yourself, like Bert, just get – tired.

He was so tired of all that, didn’t want to argue. If you could just give it up for a year, you might get excited again. But you weren’t allowed to give it up for so much as a week. It got in your teeth and hair. And meanwhile, the whole thing was getting to be more and more like New Jersey.

And then there’s pride. Always, pride.  As a person evolves into some kind of spiritual guru, or good example – this is not Bert’s problem, because he does not put himself in the center of his writing, but the refrain “he’s doing so much good” still echoes, functioning, as a barrier to the truth.

He was so hell-bent on edification that truth had no claims on him anymore.

But it can do that – any kind of ministry, including spiritual writing. Constantly focusing on yourself, on packaging yourself as a spiritual model, even if you continually brush that off and say all for Jesus or something – putting yourself out there, making your carefully composed faux-messiness a daily destination for those seeking insight and comfort, making yourself a thought-leader whose opinions on everything must be posted as quickly as possible – it all has the power to form one’s own faith in ways that are subtly prideful and do indeed, put the focus on us.

As I’ve tried to say, this is nothing new. Read Acts 14:

When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they cried out in Lycaonian, “The gods have come down to us in human form.”

It happens all the time. It’s a constant temptation. The challenge is to be honest about what we’re doing and look out for those temptations, and if necessary, take the hard, brutal step back.

Religion must sometimes mean just keeping quiet, not trying to coin phrases, or drum up “thoughts”’ Bert once wrote a thing about keeping quiet, about the silence of Christ, and it chimed with something she felt herself. She had said, “yes, yes, that’s it. He understands.” But even that was just talk. He had no intention of imitating Christ’s silence himself. All he had left was the words, and he was calling on them now for a final assault on the Christmas bills.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monday

Monday

Well, here we are – a previous post is up about the weekend’s internet-fueled outrage. Let’s do a digest.

Listen: On Friday, son #5 and I went to the Alabama Symphony performance of The Rite IMG_20190118_200143of Spring and Carmina Burana, which was just excellent – can’t go wrong with the symphony and combined five choirs. So listening for the last few days has continued in that vein, with special attention to (not surprisingly) the O Fortuna section and (a little more surprisingly) The Swan. The latter is a humorous moment between a countertenor singing the travails of a swan on the spit, getting roasted and then served – and the chorus.

It was very impressive all around – our Alabama Symphony is really very good.

Watch: Watched the Bloody Coyote Moon or whatever it was last night – wow, it really was red!

Right before that, we had watched Cool Hand Luke. Afterwards, I took a deep breathe and said the the 14-year old, “Now, some people talk about religious imagery in this movie – that Luke is a sort of a Christ figure – do you see that at all?” I was sort of expecting a reaction of “He was a criminal…how?” but instead what I got was an immediate, “Oh sure!” with a pretty comprehensive list of images and themes: “Well, he’s spread out on the table at that one point like Jesus on the cross. He gives the other prisoners hope – that night in the church – it was sort of like Jesus in Gethsemane – and then after he dies, it ends with the prisoners sharing stories about Luke and still finding hope in him….”

Okay. I guess this homeschooling high school thing might work after all. Maybe we’ll make it a film-centered curriculum?

Hmmmm. 

IMG_20190118_094511

Writing: Am almost finished with the Thing due next week. Got hit with some revision requests for the book coming out, I believe, this summer. Was so mad at myself for those errors (and they were errors), I got the corrections done right away – so that was Friday morning, before and after the school Mass at which my son played piano. Wrote this post on the Covington stuff. Probably guilty of the same time-wasting I take on in the piece, so that’s just great. 

Reading: Not a thing on real pages. Internet, I hate you, and I hate myself for not hating you enough!

Cooking: Made meatballs for future use. (FYI, I bake them – do not fry meatballs. Either cook them in the sauce or bake them.) And, as predicted, that was it. Son #5 and I did try a new restaurant in town Saturday night after Mass – it’s called Mile End Deli – there’s one in Brooklyn, one in Nashville, and so naturally, Birmingham was next. It’s a Montreal-style Jewish deli (Mile End is a Montreal neighborhood) – and it was very good. (Montreal – hence, the Labbatt Blue.) Son had a prime rib sandwich, I had matzoh ball soup & a spicy tuna sandwich, and we shared an order of poutine. It was all really good, and I’m looking forward to returning. Need to try the bagels, most of all.

 

It’s, of course the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. Birmingham has an important connection to Dr. King – read the Letter from a Birmingham Jail – written to religious leaders who preached hesitation and moderation and “not yet.”

If you are ever near Birmingham, do visit our Civil Rights Institute museum. I’ve been to many of the Civil Rights museums in the southeast, and I do think this is the best. Included, of course, is Dr. King’s jail cell.

Bessemer is a nearby town where Dr. King was held for a night before he was transferred to Birmingham. There’s a small, quirky, but fun museum in Bessemer which features the door from Dr. King’s jail cell there. We visited last homeschooling round.

 

 

What is truth?

Welcome new readers. Check out my books (some linked on the right) and pages with permanent links to themed posts (above.)

Well, that was quite the weekend on the Internets, wasn’t it?

When the Covington Catholic photo flashed across one of my feeds, I freely admit that my first reaction was, “Expel him!” accompanied by several tweets/posts that mercifully existed only in my head.

And then…as it does…a fuller picture started emerging. As it does.

I won’t rehash the whole thing. I wasn’t really intending to add to the verbiage, either, but here I am. If you want to know where I stand on the sequence of events, check out Robby Soave’s piece at Reason. He captures most of my sense of it. I’ve watched other videos out there of the moment, which make one thing very clear to me: that initial narrative of “Boys in MAGA hats surround and taunt Native American protester” is false.

And you might want to stop and pause there. For despite all the other “lessons” and penumbras of meaning being spun, that is where this thing took off: from an image of a kid looking at a protester, which, we were told captured a moment in which these students surrounded a protester, mocked him and one boy, in particular, stood and stared him down, smirking.

But is that what happened? I don’t think so – and this is from watching several videos a couple of times.

What seems to have happened is that group was assembled on the steps, waiting for their bus. There had been this Black Hebrew Israelite group nearby for a while, demonstrating, taunting and filming, and then Nathan Phillips approaches with his group, drumming, chanting and filming, and he heads right into this group of boys who were, it seems doing school chants to both pass the time and distract from the first other group. Phillips walks right into the group – for whatever reason. There’s a video out there of the moments right before the encounter captured in the photos, as well as the encounter itself, and it is nothing like those initial headlines indicated. The student at the center of the controversy is just sort of standing around with the dozens of others, laughing and waiting – and then Phillips stands in front of him, drumming. The student clearly doesn’t really know what to do.  In the most widely-disseminated images, his resting face seems to some like a smirk – but when you look at videos from the other side – there’s one in which he turns and tells one of his classmates arguing with an activist to cool it – he just looks sort of uncomfortable.

So the bottom line is: the initial narrative was inaccurate.

No matter what you make of the students wearing MAGA hats at any time, but particularly representing a Catholic school at the March for Life, their whooping, a few of them tomahawk-chopping – some might have been mocking, some might have been mindless, some might have been unrelated to anything specific, the nature of private education, particularly single-sex private education, masculinity, Smirks Through History, Georgetown Prep, whatever  – none of that matters. It could be that the culture at this school is problematic – the culture at most secondary schools is problematic for one reason or another, and wealthy private schools are usually the worst.

But does that matter in this really very specific moment? Sorry, it just doesn’t. Because the reason these students were condemned, threatened and doxxed was because, it was said – they swarmed and victimized Nathan Phillips. At that moment. And that didn’t happen. Watch the videos. You may not like their behavior.  I get it. I personally still get triggered being around more than, say, three high schoolers at any one time.

You know, we live in times in which we’re not supposed to be all binary and stuff, so, sure,  let’s not be binary. It is just not the case that the only two possible scenarios here are: 1) Privileged White Boys Re-Victimized the Marginalized or 2) Precious Angels are Rowdy but, you know, Angelic. 

It could be just a weird situation that happened one day in one small corner of the world.

You start there. You try to get that right. 

Here’s another video that picks up after Philips picked this particular MAGA-hatted teen to drum in front of. I actually think this is one of the more illustrative videos out there (we’ll see if it’s still there by the time you read this – it might well have been memory-holed by YouTube). And it reinforces my position of “weird situation that happened for a few minutes, people drifted away, so why are we all talking about it?” 

Basically, Philips is in the kid’s face for several minutes, drumming and chanting – who knows why – and everyone around them is either watching, slightly confused, or filming, except for one activist with Philips (his grandson, I think) who is loudly and profanely arguing with a student. At some point the bulk of the kids start chanting something, but it’s clearly their school chant, and they’re not even looking at the drummer. And then, most of them drift away, to the bus, I’m assuming.

We could say a lot about this – about the impact of the crazy fast news cycle, ideology and perception and the sewer that is social media, but I’ll let others carry that load.

I want to highlight two reactions.

First, Fr. James Martin. Who, very early on, went to Instagram, Twitter and Facebook with his hot take:

I am as disgusted by the contemptuous laughter of the mass of students as I am moved by the quiet dignity of the solitary man who continues to chant. Those students could learn much from this elder, if they had chosen to. Or if they choose to.

 

24 hours later, Fr. Martin published some more thoughts, beginning:

Regarding the controversy over Covington High School: I will be happy to apologize for condemning the actions of the students if it turns out that they were acting as good and moral Christians. The last thing I want is to see Catholic schools and Catholic students held in disrepute.

And I’ve certainly been wrong before.

..and ending with a call to attend to this teachable moment:

 

Another essential lesson, which transcends whatever happened in Washington this weekend: an understanding of the appalling treatment that Native Americans have endured in our country. That lesson needs to be learned regardless of what you think of Covington High School.

This Teachable Moment can offer us, if we are open, lessons about dialogue, encounter and reconciliation during this coming week, which is, believe it or not, Catholic Schools Week.

Of course, Catholic Schools week is not this coming week. But I digress.

There’s no sense in any of this that Fr. Martin has watched the videos of this encounter. One is under no obligation to engage with this issue at all, much less spend time with the videos or the testimonies, unless, of course, one has decided to issue opinions. Then you should probably try to be informed. And when you’re trying to be informed, you don’t have to depend on, as Fr. Martin, does, musing about different “narratives” that have “emerged.” You just sort of go to the tape, watch it, and take a stand. And maybe watching all of that still leads you to think that the kids behaved disrespectfully. Sure. But base it what’s actually out there, rather than sighing about the Mysteries of All Those Darn Narratives.

Gosh!

Image result for gif shrug

 

My point is that Fr. Martin entered the fray right away, characterized the encounter in a way that is now widely disputed and says, well, he’ll apologize if  the boys were acting as “good and moral Christians.”  – not – if my characterization of the incident was incorrect. 

Ah.

And of course, one might wonder if part of the dialoguing Teachable Moment he wants to facilitate might touch on journalistic ethics, social media ethics and critical thinking skills.

Anyway, let’s move to Catholic apologist Mark Shea, who began his Facebook post (now deleted) on the matter with:

The MAGA goons were threatening confrontation with a small clutch of black protestors. (sic) As is done in his tradition, Phillips intervened with a drum and a chant to draw fire to himself. It was an act of peacemaking. The goons then mobbed and mocked him and he did not respond in kind. This was classic non-violence. The attempt to paint this as “elderly man with drum terrorizes 70 innocent athletic douchebags” is a narrative only the Right Wing Lie Machine would have the gall to promote

So, to repeat, Catholic apologist Mark Shea characterized the students from Covington Catholic High School as “MAGA goons” and “athletic douchebags.”

Image result for what gif mad men

 

Sunday evening, Mark has published a piece at Patheos apologizing a bit – although his Facebook and Twitter posts calling these teenagers “MAGA goons” are still up.  He has now embraced the narrative that Phillips was a peacemaker, so there’s that. (I repeat – look at this video and see if it would strike you, if you were there as “Oh, this fellow is trying to bring peace into this situation as he drums in my face and his grandson yells at my classmate.”   He also says,

I disliked the “Crucify Them!” response because I think punishment should be ordered toward redemption, not destruction.

But….MAGA goons…athletic douchebags.

New Evangelization, I guess. *Shrugs.*

Shea also talks alot about the incident without being terribly specific about his takeaway from what he saw on the matter on which he’s opining, using another writer’s sequence of events.

Which, of course, is a defining characteristic of contemporary online rhetoric: to vaguely describe a situation, group people into categories, declare their motivations – but without many specific citations because 1) you don’t have time because you know something else is going to come down the pike for commentary in the next hour or so and 2) you know that your readers are going to be satisfied with the non-specific narrative you offer because they don’t have time to source it either, and are also busy waiting for the next thing.

****

Bottom line takeaways:

  • If you are going to comment on this moment, comment on the moment. Watch the evidence that’s out there closely, then link the words and ideas in your commentary to pieces of evidence.
  • Don’t bother with commenters who can’t be bothered to do that and who prefer to build narratives out of ideology, straw men and caricature.
  • Maybe think about the impact instant communication and social media has on our perception of events and their importance. Consider this:

What happened in your neighborhood over the weekend? Do you even know your neighbors? Your community?

It’s like that joke you see during election year:

Me yesterday: Has no idea who my city council representative is

Me today: Tweets three times on the shifts from red to blue in California’s 33rd electoral district.

Or, in church terms – being an expert on the scandals in the Archdiocese of Whatever, while never engaging with one’s own local church.

Social Media and the internet puts us in touch with the world and tempts us to believe that we can impact the world with just a click – and that if we can know about it and if we can influence it, we must. 

And yes, yes, good comes out of it.

But is it really that much good? Is it worth it? Is it really better?

Remember that the foundation of all sin is pride. Right there. Pride. So, maybe before I post a Hot Take, I should think – why am I doing this? If the reasons come down to nothing more than virtue signalling or a sense that *I* have “followers” who are super interested in my life or my opinion and I owe them a hot take – or I have to keep my profile nice and high by entering into this fray – pride. 

It might be worth it to consider, in moments like this, the “power” of all this as a temptation. A temptation to put our energies into conflicts and issues that are none of our concern and that we really can’t do anything about – so we’ll ignore the people right around us whom we might actually be able to be in deeper communion with and help. 

The time one spends on a screen evaluating the look on the face of a kid I don’t even know, will never meet, doing something I’d never have heard about if not for people following other people with cameras – what could I have been doing with that time that involved people on my street, in my neighborhood, or in my own community? Heck – my family? 

Could it be that there’s a force that is seeking to discourage us from deep communion with others by deluding us with a promise of false power and false connection  – and mostly false power – so that we’ll spend all of our time and energy chasing that with nothing left for real-life encounters – the kind that really change the world?

 

 

 

Cana

From The Loyola Kids Book of Bibles Stories. 

Remember, the stories are arranged in this book according to when a child would most like to hear them during the liturgical year.

So…here we are in Ordinary Time!

 

Carl Olson:

The Church sees the miracle at Cana as a “confirmation of the goodness of marriage” (CCC 1613). But there is also a connection to baptism, for the jars used in the miracle were for ceremonial washings, for ritual purification from defilement. In the waters of baptism, we are cleansed by God’s grace and transformed by his power. Through baptism we become members of the Church, the bride of Christ, and are invited to partake of the blood of the bridegroom (CCC 1335).

“Now we all partake at the banquet in the church,” wrote the sixth-century saint, Romanus Melodus, “For Christ’s blood is changed into wine/And we drink it with holy joy/Praising the great bridegroom.”

First water, then wine; first baptism, then Eucharist. By these sacraments, perceptible signs, we are changed, cleansed, fed—and wed.

7 Quick Takes

— 1 —

Hey, guys, I think you’re going to spare obscure academic articles this week.

But you will not be spared…..

— 2 —

Brochure 2019

PUY DU FOU!

Long, long time readers will know that in the fall of 2012, I took my two youngest to Europe. It was, as I have written here, a way of forcing myself to homeschool them. I reasoned – if I actually left the country – I couldn’t go racing back to the school principal a week in,  begging her to take us back.

Anyway, one of the highlights and grand surprises of the trip was Puy du Fou. I will bet money you’ve never heard of it.   When I first started researching the trip, I happened upon information about Puy du Fou, and was immediately intrigued. What is this??  It’s the most popular attraction of its type in France – more so than EuroDisney – and I’d never even heard of it.  Then I went to the website, watched the over-the-top amazing videos about knights and vikings and such, and I was determined.

 

We had to go. 

So we did – as far as I could tell, one of the few non-French speakers in the park that day, which also happened to be the last day of the season they perform the massive, (literally) cast of thousands evening show.

It’s an “amusement park” but there are no rides.  The main attractions are recreations of medieval and renaissance villages with artisans and shops, a small collection of animals, a few animantronic features – de la Fontaine’s fairy tales, for example, and then these spectacular – I mean spectacular shows featuring French history, starting with the Romans – in a full-blown Roman coliseum with chariots and so on.

So, quickly – when we went, the shows were:

  1. The Romans
  2. A recreation of a Viking raid story with a variation of a saint/miracle story
  3. A Joan of Arc type story (although not quite)
  4. Richilieu’s Musketeer, which I didn’t understand at all – involving musketeers, Spanish type dancers and horses prancing on a water-flooded stage.
  5. Birds of Prey show
  6. The evening show, Cinescine 

You have to watch the videos to understand why, once I saw them, there was no way I was going to France and not going to Puy du Fou.

I see that for 2019, they’re promoting a new show – it looks to be about Clovis and….hmmm…

That said, I didn’t know anything about the place beyond the fact that it was popular and looked kind of trippy and totally French.

As we moved through the day, I started to notice a couple of things:

  1. The explicit religious content of every show (except the musketeer one, but it may have been there, and I just didn’t grasp it.)   The Roman show began with two Christian men running onto the sandy floor of the coliseum and drawing an ichthys, and being arrested for that.  The Viking show featured a miracle (based, I think on a particular miracle story but I don’t remember which at the time) about a saint raising a child from the dead.
  2. At some point it dawned on me…there’s nothing about the French Revolution here.  Nothing. Not a word, not an image. Wait. Aren’t all the French all about the French Revolution?

I knew that the evening show was about the Vendee resistance to the Revolution, but before I went, I didn’t know anything about the founder of the park, his politics and how the park expresses that vision.

As I keep saying, it was simply fascinating and really helped broaden my understanding of French history and the French people and the complexity of contemporary France.

Cinescine is really unlike anything you have ever seen. You’re seated on this huge grandstand, and the show happens around this lake – lights, hundreds and hundreds of people in costume tracing the history of the area, including the resistance to the Revolution, animals, music….wow.

Loved it, and would absolutely go back if I had the chance.

(If you read TripAdvisor reviews, you will see almost 100% agreement with that sentiment. “Wow” “Amazing” “Hidden Gem” – etc. )

ANYWAY.

The reason I’m bringing this up is that the news came that the empire is expanding – Puy du Fou Espana will begin a soft open late this summer, to be completed in 2021.

I’m absolutely intrigued by this, considering how the French Puy du Fou is expressive of, if not anti-Revolutionary ideals, a more traditional nationalistic view of France that includes, you know, faith. I am wondering what the thinking behind this is – I did see mentioned that one of the historical areas in the park will be a “Muslim camp” and there’s a couple of Arab-looking/dressed fellows in the imagery. Fascinating.

This is the video advertising the “Grand Spectacle” -“El Sueño de Toledo”  – “The Dream of Toledo.”

—3–

Speaking of travel, one of the things I noticed in Japan last summer was the mannered, constant patter from the convenience store clerks. It was weird and awkward – was I supposed to respond in some way or just let it flow over me as I bought my Coca-Cola Light? I thought at the time that it struck me as mannered simply because I don’t speak Japanese. No – it is mannered and practiced and rote – although there are moves afoot to de-emphasize its importance in customer service, mostly because of the greater numbers of non-native Japanese speakers working in that sector. 

Within the framework of Japanese speech exists the somewhat controversial practice of employing formulaic honorific speech by those in the service industry. Manual keigo—so named for the training manuals of phrases that clerks and employees are expected to memorize and use in interactions with the public—creates artificial, repetitious, or otherwise grammatically questionable honorific expressions as companies strive to outdo themselves in terms of reverentially addressing their customers.

Customers can expect to hear generous use of the honorific prefixes “o-” and “go-”, which are appended to words as a sign of respect. “Tsugi no o-kyaku-sama,” or “the next honorable customer,” for instance, becomes “O-tsugi no o-kyaku-sama”—“the honorable next honorable customer.” Similarly redundant compound greetings—irasshaimase konnichiwa, or “Welcome hello”—are also common.

 

–4–

Good stuff from Tom Hoopes on how his family is dealing with tech issues. 

–5 —

Some years ago, I edited an edition of Myles Connelly’s novel Mr. Blue for Loyola Classics. That edition is out of print, but Cluny Media picked it up – and you should to. It’s a powerful parable, much better than the execrable Joshua (which seems to have diminished in popularity, thank goodness) and in a way, an interesting response – not retort, but response – to The Great Gatsby. 

If I were teaching high school religion or literature in a Catholic high school – it just might be my summer reading pick.

Well, here’s an interesting review article about new editions of two other Connelly novels, these new editions edited (as was their Mr. Blue)  by Steve Mirarchi of Benedictine College – who happens to married to one of my former students!

Dan England and the Noonday Devil is somewhat darker. Similar to Blue, Dan England employs a narrator who, conventional in the ways of the world, is initially skeptical of the eccentric ways of the protagonist and yet comes to admire him. Having tried a newspaper career, and having been in his own telling converted in an improbable manner from a conformist lifestyle, Dan England now ekes out a living as a hack writer of detective stories. His real talent and great joy, however, is gathering his motley group of friends and acquaintances nightly at his ample dinner table where he holds court. His home “was a veritable hotel” for his friends, and those friends “were parasites of the most genuine and enduring sort,” including artists, ex-fighters, derelicts, “refugees from Communism and White Supremacy,”—“all having in common a love of Dan’s hospitality and generosity and a few having a love of Dan himself.”

A romantic, an eclectic reader, a storyteller, and an ardent Catholic, Dan indulges in wide-ranging talk that includes paeans to the beauty of the Church and the heroics of the saints and the martyrs. He maintains the “belief that Scripture and the saints should be a natural part of the common small talk and banter of each and every day.” The narrator, a newspaper man, is drawn into Dan’s circle after witnessing Dan’s humanizing effect on a colleague. Betrayed by one of his hangers-on, Dan exhibits a Christ-like forgiveness despite the personal cost: “What mattered to him was not serenity or success but what he so often called ‘the plain but nonetheless terrible necessity’ of saving his soul,” the narrator muses.

True to his cinematic training, Connolly’s novels often consist of a series of brief set pieces or vignettes. His characteristic theme is that of the man who eschews a conventional, conformist way of life in pursuit of human freedom. One is reminded of Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener,” which similarly tells a parable-like tale of the ultimate “drop-out” from mercenary society and that also employs an initially skeptical narrator. The great difference is, of course, that Connolly’s fools are holy fools. While O’Connor’s original Catholic readers would no doubt enthuse over these novels as decidedly positive expositions of the Catholic faith, Connolly acknowledges the suffering and sacrifice that comes with such belief.

–6–

You probably know about Doctors Without Borders. Well, how about The Mission Doctors Association? This month marks an important anniversary for them:

2019 marks a special anniversary for Mission Doctors Association; our 60th Anniversary.  We have many things planned to celebrate this year as we also look to the future.  Yet, we also know that without the vision of our founder, Msgr. Anthony Brouwers, none of the lifesaving work of the past 60 years would have been possible.

January 14th marks the anniversary of our founder’s passing at only 51 years old, in 1964. This story is a familiar one for anyone who is close to MDA, or who has ever heard me speak!  As the Director of the Propagation of the Faith in Los Angeles, Msgr. Brouwers traveled to Legos Nigeria to attend the Marian Congress. Once it was over he traveled all over Africa – he said later that he wanted to find ways to help the people of Los Angeles know more about the needs so they could be help.  While he expected to hear requests for money, overwhelming he heard “We need help” He met with priests doing construction, sisters (with no training) pulling teeth and bishops who were so involved in the administration and secular tasks that they had little time to be shepherds.

So, Msgr. returned with a very focused vision.  He wanted to make it possible for Catholic professionals, (not the priests, sisters or brothers, just lay people – single, married, families) to find a way to share their gifts as they lived their faith.   In the 10 years that followed, Msgr. founded the Lay Mission-Helpers Association to send teachers, nurses, accountants and others, and then working with the Catholic Physicians Guild, Mission Doctors Association to send physicians and dentists and their families.

 

–7–

 As I noted the other day, I’ve put up Michael’s How to Get the Most Out of the amy-welbornEucharist on Kindle. 

I’ve created a Lent page here.

The page of the articles I’ve published on Medium here. 

And don’t forget my story!

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

The Hack – 2

 

He was so hell-bent on edification that truth had no claims on him anymore.

This might take three posts. We’ll see.

Yesterday,  I shared some of the passages from the novel related to the faith experience of The Hack’s wife, Betty. Today, we’ll move on to the Hack himself, the Catholic writer with issues.

Bert Flax got his start in writing Catholic things as a teenager.

It had started way back in high school (poets mature early) when religiosity came as easily as breathing. They told you to think of Our Lady whenever you had an impure thought, and this led him into some rather tense poetry. Sister Melody, the visiting the-hack-sheedLaureate from Iowa, got excited and said that he had a genuine lyric gift…He had struck just the right note for the magazines when he was sixteen, and the magazines were not about to change as he got older…He was just getting out of college by then, with a lot of very vague plans, none of which included the role of spiritual hack. Little did he know. 

And so here he his, a few years later, married with five children, eking out a living writing little inspirational stories and poems for a variety of pious Catholic periodicals. This year, right as he’s being called upon to produce his Christmas material as per usual:

It was the season to rub his hands and be genial for the Passenger; moisten his eyeballs and be tender for the Catholic Woman; roll up his trousers and be childish for the Tiny Messenger.

…but he’s coming up dry. Very dry.

He can’t hold on to anything solid to believe in – it just seems to him to all be so many words, the same words, over and over  – and he basically wants a break from it. He’s worn out. But how can you take a break when your work is about faith?

“The Catholic mother” – he was so damned tired. He couldn’t keep this going much longer. With five wonderful kids you needed so much money. If he could just drop the whole thing, tiptoe away. Stop trying to sustain this mood. But there were the bills, and there was pride.

He was so tired of all that, didn’t want to argue. If you could just give it up for a year, you might get excited again. But you weren’t allowed to give it up for so much as a week. It got in your teeth and hair. And meanwhile, the whole thing was getting to be more and more like New Jersey.

Betty senses something is wrong:

She had a hunch he wanted to change his style, develop a little more depth; but with the cost of living and all, he kept putting it off from issue to issue. She was naturally optimistic and sure he would work it out; meanwhile, he was doing so much good….

That’s a phrase that recurs again and again…his hack writing is of the lowest common denominator, and everyone around him knows it…but he was doing so much good. He believes that he’s somewhat of a fraud…but he was doing so much good…his writing might even be doing him spiritual harm…but he was doing so much good. 

He’s trapped.

He wonders what to do about it. He thinks confronting doubters and skeptics  in the person of an old high school friend – might light the fire again, so he goes looking for fights in that regard. He remembers the nuns’ admonitions about purity and grace, so he keeps trying to go to Confession, and either doesn’t go, or makes a garbled, confusing confession to a puzzled priest.

He remembers that it used to flow, and it seemed natural. What he wrote at first expressed something real:

If only he hadn’t dragged it around for so long, like a dead cat…

…One thing was sure, if he didn’t get the feeling back soon, he was out of work.

The truth was, he needed that feeling. Funny, if you wanted a funny side, that the good feeling he had known that day should have become his bread and butter. It would never have occurred to him at the time. The pleasant ease of the church, the seat turning cool on his face – that that in turn should become a kind of agony, was funny. God, to feel the ease again. And to be able to pay his bills with it. 

As Eve Tushnet points out in her post on this novel, this doesn’t have to be only about how working in the religion biz can put your faith at risk in a zillion different ways. It’s about any of us, in any area of life, initially excited and buzzed, fully engaged – losing it. Feeling lost. Wondering where it went – and if it was real at all.

But there’s a lot in The Hack for non-Christians as well. It’s about how we accept shoddy work and emotional dishonesty, both from ourselves and from others: because we think it’s good-enough, or it’s all that we’re capable of, or it’s what other people really want. Bert is forced to perform his trinkety faith in order to feed his family, but then, all of us end up faking the best parts of ourselves sometimes, in order to set a good example or maintain familial harmony or because we don’t know what else to do. And none of us are adequate to our ideals; even our ideals aren’t adequate to the love, hope, truth, or justice of which the ideals are merely chintzy mental effigies.

Whose fault is it though? How did Bert get to this point?

His wife and a priest-editor have it out on this score. Father Chubb has been sending back Bert’s work for the first time ever, which isn’t helping the current crisis. Out of Bert’s hearing, Betty and Father Chubb argue:

For heavensake, Father, don’t you understand anything? Who can Bert write for now? Who is going to buy his late Victorian junk now? You people bring a boy up on James Whitcomb Riley and Joyce Kilmer –”

“I doubt it anyone did that.”

“And then you praise him by your own nutty standards until he doesn’t know good from bad, up from down. And then, and then¸ you have to go an change your magazine, so that he hasn’t got any  place to write for. How dare you change your magazine like that?…”

****

Father Chubb begins here:

“But then I don’t think that Bert ever had the faintest idea what the Church was really about, do you?”

“How would I know?” She said sharply. “He was the only Catholic I ever had to go on.”

“True – but even you must have felt that the things that exercised him were pretty trivial for a grown man. Seat money and dirty movies, you say, and where angels go in the winter, such childish concerns – he seemed to have had no sense of the sacramental, of sacred places and things, of liturgy and initiation into mystery.”

“I never saw anything like that in the Passenger, either,” was what Betty felt like saying to this…The things he had described as trivial sounded like the table of contents of his magazine. 

*****

Now. Let’s extrapolate. Let’s apply.

There are a lot of directions this can take us in, aren’t there?

Well, I’m definitely returning to this tomorrow. I’ve given myself until noon to work on this post, and it’s 11:53 – after which I’m going to hit the short story again and then it’s off for an afternoon of doctor’s appointment, jazz lesson and basketball practice.

(The older one is off at the March for Life.)

You may be reading this and wondering…hmmmm…are you personally identifying with this, Amy?

In a way yes, but not, perhaps in the way you think. This book resonated very strongly with me partly because any book that seriously grapples with faith is going to do that. You throw in the Professional Religionist, explored from a knowing perspective, even more so.

But no, I’m not coming up dry like Bert Flax, not suffering that block. But I have grappled, over the years, with the way in which certain styles of writing in which I’ve specialized, if you will, has impacted my writing capability, such as it is, in various ways – and it’s been frustrating.

So for years, I wrote columns. For years, most of my regular writing was 700-800 word columns in the Catholic press. And then 150-200 word devotionals. As I moved into books, I struggled – I was only able to think in 800-word chunks. That is: Present the idea, usually in an anecdote, rise to a certain pitch, perhaps involving ambiguity and conflict – and then resolve the ambiguities. Wistfully, perhaps.

(Basically every inspirational Instagram mini-blog you find right now.)

The good part was that it became easy and natural. The bad part is that my brain had been wired to write in those chunks, and learning to write with a longer end-game in sight was hard. And still is, sometimes.

Ah, it’s 12:01. More tomorrow. Much more.

 

 

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