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If for this life only we have hoped in Christ,
we are the most pitiable people of all.

I walked to Mass tonight. It’s about 2.5 miles – definitely in walking distance (for me), but not an easy jaunt, since it involves considerable hills coming and going. So this was the first time I’d done it.

It’s not my usual parish, although it might be my actual, geographical parish – I’ve never checked the boundaries. I’ve been to Mass there a bit, though, even though my parish, by membership, is the Cathedral, where I usually attend the Saturday Vigil Mass.

But tonight, I was without a car. In the past when that’s happened, I’d just go to the 7:15 am Mass on Sunday, but the problem with that this weekend is the Mercedes Marathon – a marathon, obviously, the course of which takes over a lot of space and blocks a lot of roads between my house and the Cathedral. In fact, the course runs down a cross street to my own. I’ll start hearing the cheers around 9 am tomorrow, I’d imagine.

All that is to say, I just didn’t want to bother finding a way around all of that at 7 am tomorrow.

(Which I’d have to do because the car will be gone again with the organist soon after that.)

So, walk, it was.

And a perfect day for it. One of my older kids is in Chicago this weekend, seeing a high school friend who’s in the national tour of Hairspray, and the report is…cooooold….Not here. Tomorrow the temperature will dip, but today it was in the 60’s and gorgeous. Perfect for getting back out there and getting in a few miles.

So I walked.

At Mass, the young priest focused on the lines above from the epistle:

If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all.

He took one, perfectly legitimate angle, focusing on the truth of the Resurrection, and then what it means to live that here on earth, moving into the Beatitudes.

My mind went in a different direction, but a totally predictable one, for those who read me.

Once again, I thought of the many ways that we understand our faith, even our faith in Christ, Lord of the Universe, in terms of how it helps me in this life.

It’s that prosperity Gospel, but, not just for money: for all the good feelings and achievements that make us feel at home in the world.

A temptation that’s hard to resist because, after all, who doesn’t want to feel comfortable and at ease?

But then there’s that Gospel, isn’t there?

Blessed are you who are poor….hungry….weeping…people hate you….exclude and insult you….

Blessed. Are. You.

Woe to you who are rich….filled…laugh….all speak well of you…

Woe. To. You.

If for this life only we have hoped in Christ….

I walked back and forth to church, five miles total, nurturing the low-grade frustration that’s always there these days – frustration that there’s so much to say, but I can’t figure out how or where to say it.

I thought about the many people I know and read whose faith is shattered right now for various reasons.

I got to church a little late, and left a little early as is my probably unfortunate habit these days. I was surprised because the church was more full than I’d seen it ages. The music was as mediocre as always, but the preaching was good and there were no narcissistic liturgical shenanigans. A crowd of teens sat in the front, I’m thinking at the end of a Confirmation retreat. A man in the back pew smiled and graciously made room for my latecoming self. A mentally disabled man limped past me after Communion. The deacon brought the Eucharist to an elderly woman in a wheelchair, and the mother in front of me pointed to the words of the Creed in her little boy’s Magnifikid.

It is not easy to be a person, to be a human, to be a Catholic. I don’t think it ever has been, and the institution and the people help sometimes and hurt quite a bit.

I don’t know what to make of it all, and have not yet figured out how to say what I do make of it, but I think I do know that nothing begins until you open the door, take that uphill walk, find your place with the rest of the broken, no matter when you arrive, and try to listen.

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I read this book over the last couple of days.

One hates to use the word “enjoy” for a book like this because of the topic, but somehow “appreciate” doesn’t quite get there either.

It’s an excellent deep dive into the role of female slaveholders in the South. I learned a lot. Summary:

Bridging women’s history, the history of the South, and African American history, this book makes a bold argument about the role of white women in American slavery. Historian Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers draws on a variety of sources to show that slave‑owning women were sophisticated economic actors who directly engaged in and benefited from the South’s slave market. Because women typically inherited more slaves than land, enslaved people were often their primary source of wealth. Not only did white women often refuse to cede ownership of their slaves to their husbands, they employed management techniques that were as effective and brutal as those used by slave‑owning men. White women actively participated in the slave market, profited from it, and used it for economic and social empowerment. By examining the economically entangled lives of enslaved people and slave‑owning women, Jones-Rogers presents a narrative that forces us to rethink the economics and social conventions of slaveholding America.

General backstory:

First and second-wave feminism, both popular and academic, has generally positioned women as victims and as morally superior to patriarchy, etc. More recent academic trends push back against that, mostly because of the work of people of color who look back at history and see, for example, deep racism and anti-immigrant motivations in the 19th century American women’s movement.

This is the context here: the image of southern white women as somehow fundamentally disengaged from and not responsible for the slave economy or gentle souls who smoothed out the rough edges of their men’s treatment of enslaved people.

Jones-Rogers is here to challenge that, and she does so very ably, and in the process points out the complexities of history and the past.

So, for example, we can look at the antebellum South and see “progress” in the economic position of women as we see women fighting to maintain their economic independence, even in the context of marriage, as they do their utmost, including going to court, to maintain the control of the property they’ve brought into a marriage or inherited from their own families.

Go! Ladies! Claim those rights!

But…that property was quite often, and predominantly human chattel.

Oh.

I point this out as a reminder that the ties that bind us socially, economically and politically are anything but simple and are always, always, morally nuanced and more often than not impure and compromised.

Past and present.

None of us are saints. None of our movements are pure. None of our “progress” comes without someone else, somewhere, paying a price.

I appreciated Jones-Rogers’ work here – and am interested that her next project focuses on women’s involvement in the slave trade – because I am up for anything that shakes the mythos that women are inherently kinder and more fair than men, and that “if women ran the world…..”

Yeah.

Watch Yellowjackets and contemplate its popularity to see how much people actually buy that claptrap.

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As I said before, saints’ days, most holy days and special topics (movies, books, gender, TC, synod) are and will be collected elsewhere. We’re just plugging away at the months right now.

Go out to the world”..seriously…*go out* (4/17)

Bishops started anxiously exhorting us to get back to Mass. Why?

Perhaps it would be clearer if you look at the situation, not from the perspective of the administrator anxious about the bottom line, but from the outside.

Perhaps from the perspective of the average person, not “Involved” in much in the parish, who, pre-pandemic did make it to Mass most Sundays, got their kids through at least First Communion and maybe even Confirmation.

What has she been through this past year?

And what has the Church offered her in comfort and assistance, especially if she’s not a known quantity in the parish, if she was pre-pandemic “nothing more” than a name on a registration list? What wisdom, what outreach, what presence, what hint that in her and her family’s suffering, confusion and frustration, Jesus offers, still and now more than ever, his consolation and hope?

Anything?

Has anyone even called her?

Has anyone reached out in a personal way at all?

What is to prevent me from being baptized?” (4/22)

Post-Vatican II liturgical life prioritized the role and presence of community in celebration. This has, it seems, two unintended consequences: First, to minimize the object nature of the ritual action, and secondly, to ill-equip Catholics to engage in sacramental life when that community life is disrupted.

Traditional Catholic life, as it had evolved over the centuries, balanced this, by presenting a solidly objective sense of the workings of grace through word, matter and action and then allowing culturally-varied traditions and practices to grow up around these rituals.

Educated, not destroyed (4/26)

Secondly, Edman recounts a discussion in which which some Bach was played on a phonograph in a group that included some Very Modern Musicians. Discussions ensued, of course. He concludes:

The arts are the languages of men, and a passionate conflict over a symbol may be as symptomatic as the quarrel over a religious and political creed. But in such matters quarrels become discussions, and the discussions are innocent. Our quarrel over taste divided but educated rather than destroyed us.

To want to learn. To be willing to have your worldview challenged and maybe even blown up. To disagree, as one does, but to seek to learn through that disagreement, rather than to wield power and claim victory?

What a world. What a world.

Day trip to the Fitzgerald Home in Montgomery (4/30)



Books of 2021

Movies of 2021

Traditiones Custodes

2021 Highlights: January

2021 Highlights: February

2021 Highlights: March

2021 Highlights: April

2021 Highlights: May

2021 Highlights: June

2021 Highlights: July

2021 Highlights: August

2021 Highlights: September

2021 Highlights: October

2021 Highlights: November

2021 Highlights: December

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— 1

A few posts this past week. First, today’s the feast of St. Joseph, so a bit about that here. We did a quick trip to Tennessee last weekend. Also a brief reflection on story and narrative, riffing off the French series Lupin and a novel I just read. And a few other things. Just click backwards for that.

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— 2 —

So, I watched the first three and very last two episodes of another French series, Call My Agent! In France, it was called Dix pour cent – the percentage an agent earns from his or her clients. Along with Lupin , it’s one of the current buzz-y French shows on Netflix right now.

It’s four seasons long, each season with six episodes, so it would have only been about 24 hours out of my life to watch the whole thing, and while I was certainly tempted to binge it, I forced myself not to. First of all, I didn’t like it that much. It was mildly enjoyable and well done enough to be, in screen terms, a page-turner.

But I had to make myself admit that no, I really didn’t connect with the characters that much, and I could do something much more valuable in the twenty hours or so I’d have to spare if I didn’t finish it out – I could watch several actually fine films and I could read a couple of good books.

Plus, the first three episodes gave me, I was surprised to find, a bit of a Mad Men vibe, and not in a refreshing way, but more in a “I’ve seen it all before and the production was of a higher quality there and I actually cared about a lot of the characters and got the jokes.” Because they weren’t in French.

For yes, it’s about a French talent agency, and while Mad Men was about an ad agency, the dynamic and fundamental activity was the same: getting clients, retaining clients and keeping those clients – most of whom are irrationally demanding – happy. As well as dealing with threats to the agency’s existence, including the temptation waved out in front of various employees to depart for warmer waters elsewhere.

So it was like Mad Men meets Entourage, but in Paris. Sort of.

And by episode three, I was tired of that particular plot arc and its not-very-wide-variations: Marie is going to do the movie! But Jean doesn’t want her to do the movie! And now Claudette is going behind our back to put Renan in the movie!

Let’s aggravate Amelie by showing people sitting in Paris and drink wine in the cafe again!

The gimmick of the show is that every episode features a real actor playing a heightened, and often satirical version of him or herself. I had my computer at hand watching, looking all of these people up. Also looking up “pastis.” Which looked very refreshing as people were drinking it (in Paris) , but upon review, sounds not great (anise=licorice=notmyfavorite)

This was entertaining and somewhat educationl but, no. It wasn’t that great. So I was firm with myself and said…No. You don’t like this twenty-more-hours worth. Life is short.

But…well…there’s this episode in the last season with Sigourney Weaver that everyone’s talking about. Let’s watch that.

And I did like it. Oh, and it was the second-to-the-last episode of the series. So might as well watch the last one. Which was also enjoyable, even with me not having followed these characters’ lives for most of the series. I grasped the basics. And I did appreciate the way it ended – life goes on, even if it’s not here with these people. We did what we did, it was good, now it’s time to go.

— 3 —

Next Thursday is not only the feast of the Annunciation, but it’s also Flannery O’Connor’s 96th birthday. There are some in-person and online events happening in Milledgeville:

On March 25, we will observe Flannery O’Connor’s 96th birthday. The museum, in partnership with the Andalusia Institute and the Department of Music at Georgia College has programmed a wide variety of in-person and virtual events to celebrate the day. We hope that you will engage with us on the 25th and look forward to celebrating Flannery’s birthday!

Including:

11AM-Museum Exhibition Virtual Tour. Join Andalusia Curator Meghan Anderson as she gives a virtual tour of our current exhibition, “Madam O’Connor: Commander of the House.” This tour will be presented live on this Facebook page.

2PM: Georgia College Department of Music’s Max Noah Singers performance Effervescence, By Emma Lou Diemer. Conductor: Dr. Jennifer Flory. This performance will be presented on this Facebook page.

6PM: Virtual panel discussion on “Flannery O’Connor and Motherhood.” Participants: Dr. Bruce Gentry, Moderator. Dr. Claire Kahane, Dr. Jordan Cofer, and Dr. Monica Miller, panelists. To register, please sign up at the following link:https://app.smartsheet.com/…/c3ae437494c247d4bd1e3aa6cd…

And don’t forget the American Masters episode.

— 4 —

Interested in sacred art? This might be a good page for you:

— 5 —

This was a notable article from the New Yorker. Notable mostly for the respectful, fair treatment of a seriously Catholic activist. Perhaps because climate change is one of her primary issues, but nonetheless – Molly Burhams, this young cartographer, has created an organization dedicated to analyzing land use and maximizing good land use. GoodLands is the organization and here’s the article.

In September of 2015—four months after the publication of “Laudato Si’,” and a few weeks after she received her master’s degree—she founded GoodLands, an organization whose mission, according to its Web site, is “mobilizing the Catholic Church to use her land for good.” Burhans’s immediate goal was to use technology that she had become proficient at in graduate school—the powerful cartographic and data-management tools known as geographic information systems (G.I.S.)—to create a land-classification plan that could be used in evaluating and then managing the Church’s global property holdings. “You should put your environmental programs where they mean the most, and if you don’t understand the geographic context you can’t do that,” she said.

The first step was to document the Church’s actual possessions. She began by making telephone calls to individual parishes in Connecticut, where she lived. “And what I found out was that none of them knew what they owned,” she told me. “Some of them didn’t even have paper records.” She enlisted volunteers, including several graduate students at the Yale School of the Environment, and, by harvesting data from public land records and other sources, they began to assemble a map of the modern Catholic realm. By June of 2016, the most detailed reference they’d found was a version of “Atlas Hierarchicus,” published at the behest of the Vatican. The maps in it had last been updated in 1901. “The diocesan boundaries in the atlas were hand-drawn, without a standardized geographic projection,” Burhans told me, and the information was so outdated that most of it was unusable. When she travelled to Rome that summer, her main goal was to find someone in the Vatican who could give her access to the Holy See’s records and digital databases, enabling her to fill in the many gaps.

In the Office of the Secretariat of State that day, Burhans met with two priests. She showed them the prototype map that she had been working on, and explained what she was looking for. “I asked them where their maps were kept,” she said. The priests pointed to the frescoes on the walls. “Then I asked if I could speak to someone in their cartography department.” The priests said they didn’t have one.

Centuries ago, monks were among the world’s most assiduous geographers—hence the frescoes. But, at some point after the publication of “Atlas Hierarchicus,” the Church began to lose track of its own possessions. “Until a few years ago, the Vatican’s Central Office of Church Statistics didn’t even have Wi-Fi,” Burhans said. “They were keeping records in a text file, in Microsoft Word.” 

………

On a laptop, she showed me a high-resolution “green infrastructure” map of the United States that Esri engineers had created. The map incorporates vast quantities of data: topography, wetlands, forests, agriculture, human development—all of which can be explored, in detail, by zooming and clicking. Burhans had added her own data, about Catholic landholdings, and, by bringing those boundaries to the foreground and narrowing the focus, she was able to show me specific Church-owned parcels not far from where we were sitting which would be particularly valuable in any effort to preserve watersheds, habitats, migratory corridors, or other environmental assets. If Church leaders understood what they controlled, she said, they could collaborate with municipalities, government agencies, environmental N.G.O.s, and others, in addition to any efforts they might undertake on their own. “The role of the cartographer isn’t just data analytics,” she said. “It’s also storytelling.”

Burhans has used G.I.S. in Catholic projects unrelated to the environment, as well. GoodLands’ first paid job was a “school-suitability analysis” for the Foundation for Catholic Education. That project, Burhans said, “had nothing to do with ecology, but the mission is a good one, and they were willing to pay us.” The fee enabled her to hire contractors, who helped her use Esri software to map and analyze income levels, public-school quality, changing demographics, and other factors affecting the viability of independent Catholic schools in particular locations. “We were able to show them things like, If you close this Catholic school, you’re going to abandon a lot of kids in an area that has a totally dysfunctional public-school system, and if you start a school here you’re going to serve a lot of new families that don’t have other options.”

— 6 —

If you’re a pasta fan, check out Serious Eats’ “Starch Madness.” You will find plenty to get you going. I sure did.

— 7 —

The Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony on the Equality Act on Wednesday. You can find links to the prepared statements here.

Kara Dansky of the Women’s Human Rights Campaign USA did not present in-person testimony, but her written testimony was admitted to the record and is a helpful primer to share with those who don’t understand the issues with this legislation.

As written, the Equality Act defines so-called “gender identity” as “the gender-related identity, appearance, mannerisms, or other gender-related characteristics of an individual, regardless of the individual’s designated sex at birth.”

This definition is incapable of being applied in a meaningful or equitable way, because it has these four problems:

First. The definition is circular – simply put, “gender identity” is defined as “gender identity.” It uses the scientifically nonsensical phrase “designated sex at birth,” whereas sex is actually determined at conception and observed at or before birth.

Second. It conflates “sex”, which is a biological reality, with so-called “gender identity”, which is, at best, an entirely subjective feeling or belief, thereby making both “sex” and “gender identity” incoherent and incapable of being applied rationally or equitably.

Third. In stating that so-called “gender identity” is to be protected “regardless of the individual’s designated sex at birth”, the bill prioritizes so-called “gender identity” over “sex,” with the result that when a man claims that he is a woman, which happens routinely in the U.S. and across the globe, he will be entitled to all the rights and protections of women, despite his male sex.

Fourth. The only way that so-called “gender identity” differs from “nonconformity with sex-role stereotypes” is that “gender identity” includes feelings or beliefs that are entirely subjective.

Legislation has no business protecting mere feelings or beliefs, because:

Mere feelings and beliefs are unverifiable; and

Mere feelings and beliefs are not discriminated against; so legislation cannot protect them, need not protect them, and should not protect them.

Abigail Shrier did testify in person. She’s the author of the excellent book, Irreversible Damage.

I keep saying – while there’s attention rightly given to the religious freedom and conscience implications of this bill, equal attention should be paid to the simple, fundamental matter of essentially elimination “sex” as a protected category. As Shrier puts it:

By enshrining “gender identity” as a protected category, this bill would make it impossible ever to legally distinguish between a woman and a biological male who claims a female identity for whatever the amount of time and for whatever reason or purpose.

And “gender identity” can be very ephemeral. Even prominent gender therapists attest, that people can be on a “gender journey” and identify as one thing one day and another the next. They have that freedom in America. Should we undermine women’s sports and protective spaces to allow gender-fluid males a gender journey?

There. Take that one to the bank.

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

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— 1 —

Happy New Year to you. Just a note on how life changes, and how time goes on in case you are wondering if you will ever be out of this or that stage of life…

Our New Year’s Eve? Well, besides the far-flung in NYC, Charleston and Louisville, all celebrating in their own ways, the three of us here spent the evening, first at Mass – two of us downtown at the Cathedral, and then the youngest playing at his parish job, driving himself now. After our Mass, College Guy drove off to meet up with friends, youngest drove from church to a friend’s house, then drove back here and walked down to a neighborhood friend’s house for the rest of the night.

And I sat and read Gogol and Don Quixote and listened to Mary Lou Williams.

How about that.

Just as no time is tricky to navigate, so, when it surprises you is so much…time.

— 2 —

Not much writing in this space this week. Te Deum is here. I was in Living Faith on Tuesday – and will return there in a couple of weeks. A new set of those is due Monday (for the July-August issue), so I’ll be working on those over the weekend, as well as planning out at least the first part of American Literature for the high schooler.

Although we might start with The Overcoat for some general work in symbolism and such. I spent so much time thinking about it…why let it just rest in my head? Might was well share the bounty…

I will say that I’ve been gratified and humbled over the past few days as I’ve received several notes regarding my 2020: A Book of Grace-Filled Days that wrapped up yesterday. Folks said they were actually sorry it had come to an end, and they appreciated what I had to share. So kind! It was not a super-fun book to write (just imagine writing almost 400 individual devotional entries…..) and I don’t plan on doing it again any time soon. Maybe in another ten years when more life has happened.

But it is so nice when people take time to write and let you know that your work was helpful to them in some way. Thank you!

(And I’ll just mention that it’s not out of print – still for sale, as are all past editions by other writers – including 2021, of course. No, the dates won’t match, but you can still buy it and match the feast days yourself. And no, I don’t profit from your purchase in any way – it’s the kind of work for which you’re paid a flat fee – no royalties. Just making the suggestion!)

— 3 —

Are you making resolutions? Well, here’s a Twitter thread featuring some of Dorothy Day’s New Year’s resolutions over the years.

Here’s 1960:

Image

More.

— 4 —

I recently discovered the Public Domain Review, which is such a treasure chest of fascinating, beautiful, interesting images and information.

Here’s a link to their top ten posts of the year. Including this post on 19th century Japanese firemen’s coats. Gorgeous.

— 5 —

What a lovely video this is, on Etsuro Sotoo, the Japanese stonemason who is now the Chief Sculptor at Sagrada Familia.

“Sotoo was motivated mainly by the opportunity to be exposed to stone,” says director David Cerqueiro, “and later by the admiration of the genius of Antoni Gaudí—back then a still-to-be-recognized figure of outstanding universal value.”

Known as quite a guarded and private character, Sotoo only granted Cerqueiro the opportunity to profile his life’s work after the director made several attempts to meet with him in person and over email. “Some of those attempts included having to attend mass at the basilica several times,” says the director. “The film briefly explores, tactfully but sincerely, the emotional inner workings behind a forty-year career devoted to one project.” 

Gaudí’s unfinished masterpiece continues to exercise its charms over Sotoo who converted to Catholicism so he could gain a deeper understanding of Gaudí’s genius and his relationship with God through architecture. “I discovered an artist profoundly driven by faith. Although encased by organized religion, his faith is more closely related to the transcendental aspirations of genuine art,” says the director. “That’s how I ended up with a subtle portrayal of an ontological inquiry, personified by a surprisingly little-known major artist who seems to be more preoccupied with the intrinsic moral legacy of his work than by its formal expression or its public recognition.”

Gaudi talked with God about something very big and profound. To this day, no one really knows what it was about.

-Etsuro Sotoo, Chief Sculptor, Sagrada Familia

— 6 —

Those of you who’ve followed me for a while know about the Sister Servants of Casa Maria here in Birmingham. A small order dedicated to prayer (of course) and retreat ministry – the also do catechesis of various kinds in parishes in the area.

They provided music for one of our Cathedral’s Sunday Vespers during Advent. You can listen here.

Both of my younger sons spent a few years serving Mass and Benediction at the convent, and we have another connection, as well – my college roommate from UT (the real one, in Knoxville) is a sister there.

They haven’t been able to have public Mass or retreats since March, of course, but I thought you’d enjoy reading their latest newsletter and taking a look at a couple of their videos – you might remember I posted a link to their offering of “I’ll Fly Away” a few months ago. This is simply of their Christmas preparation, with more at the linked Vimeo page.

— 7 —

Therefore, we can ask ourselves: what is the reason why some men see and find, while others do not? What opens the eyes and the heart? What is lacking in those who remain indifferent, in those who point out the road but do not move? We can answer: too much self-assurance, the claim to knowing reality, the presumption of having formulated a definitive judgment on everything closes them and makes their hearts insensitive to the newness of God. They are certain of the idea that they have formed of the world and no longer let themselves be involved in the intimacy of an adventure with a God who wants to meet them. They place their confidence in themselves rather than in him, and they do not think it possible that God could be so great as to make himself small so as to come really close to us.

Lastly, what they lack is authentic humility, which is able to submit to what is greater, but also authentic courage, which leads to belief in what is truly great even if it is manifested in a helpless Baby. They lack the evangelical capacity to be children at heart, to feel wonder, and to emerge from themselves in order to follow the path indicated by the star, the path of God. God has the power to open our eyes and to save us. Let us therefore ask him to give us a heart that is wise and innocent, that allows us to see the Star of his mercy, to proceed along his way, in order to find him and be flooded with the great light and true joy that he brought to this world. Amen.  Source

"amy welborn"

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So my oldest landed in his former town of Atlanta this morning and tried to go to Mass.

Good luck with that.

No entrance without a ticket, and even then you had to be there forty-five minutes early.

Garbage. Complete and utter garbage.

The Church’s response to the pandemic has been about 80% terrible – the 20% being the ministers, ordained and lay, who have heroically visited the sick in hospital, care facilities, and homes, and the parishes that have remained open – in some way – continuing to communicate the truth that yes, we all need Jesus and Jesus is Here, in this place, in this world.

But that 80%?

Are you even ready?

Do you even remember that it’s Christmas, and even in normal years, your numbers multiply to the point at which you’ve got to double up Masses and hold them all over the property? That this is the time of year in which the lost, the disaffected, the questioning, the broken, turn up?

Because they’ve heard this rumor that there is actually an answer to their questions, a reason for their being, a meaning to their suffering and One Who Loves? And maybe that One who lay in a manger in Bethlehem dwells among us still and the place to meet him again is in this place with a cross on top, light streaming from windows, doors….open?

And that this year, a year of confusion, displacement, suffering, fear and death…that pull might be even…stronger?

Are folks involved with these matters aware that even in a normal year, practicing Protestants regularly show up to Christmas Mass, especially Midnight Mass, because their own churches don’t do much for Christmas, especially if it’s not on a Sunday? And this year, far more Protestant churches have gone completely virtual and remain so, and so those hungering for flesh and blood religion, for fellowship, to be fed…might hear that the Catholic church down the road still seems to be in business and might be a place to try to experience that?

And so what are you going to do about it?

What are the ticket-taking, pew-roping, reservation-demanding Catholics powers-that-be that be going to do about it?

Are you going to find a way to actually be welcoming and get these folks through the doors at which they’ve gathered so they can be touched and moved by the Lord they are sincerely seeking?

Or are you going to position your sour-faced ushers Ministers of Hospitality at the door, arms crossed, offering not much more than “Sorry. Tickets required. Had to get here early. Merry Christmas. Stay safe.” Clubby, insular, satisfied and yes, using the word of the year…safe.

If the rules are strict and the will to work around them is weak, are you at least going to have true ministers of hospitality at the door, recognizing the lost and the seeker, ready with prayer and more information and an invitation to please, please come back to this place – even tomorrow, when the people are mostly gone, we’ll be open, Jesus will be here and we will be here to pray with you at the end of this horrible, frightening year, to be in the quiet where, almost unbelievably, peace and more unexpectedly, joy can be found?

What will we do?

Where will we be?

Who will we be?

Thank you for the comments so far. Hopefully, this will turn up information of creative ways parishes and dioceses are dealing with this challenge. And to be clear, the question I pose here is not…”Why don’t you open up?” But rather…”What are you going to do when people show up?” Or, call or inquire. “Sorry. No ticket? No, you can’t come in. Merry Christmas and stay safe out there!”

For more of what I’ve written about creative responses to pandemic, epidemic and plague, start with these two posts:

1918, Sisters and Church Closings

Birmingham priest Fr. Coyle and the 1918 Spanish Flu

“The Orations did not stop…” St. Charles Borromeo, Milan and the Plague:

….the clergy are told to prepare each household for the devotional activities devised for the extraordinary circumstances by teaching them a variety of prayers, litanies, and Psalms ahead of the quarantine. During the quarantine, bells across the parish were to be rung seven times a day, approximately every two hours, to call the households to prayer. Once begun, the bell would be rung again every quarter hour, until the fourth bell signals an end to the hour of prayer. While the bell rings,

litanies or supplications will be chanted or recited at the direction of the Bishop. This will be performed in such a way that one group sings from the windows or the doors of their homes, and then another group sings and responds in turn.

To ensure that these prayers are carried out properly, the decree continues, a member of the clergy or someone trained in these prayers (possibly the head of the household) should also come to a window or door at the appointed times to direct the prayers and stir up enthusiasm for this devotion. To further facilitate these devotional activities, Borromeo instructed the parish clergy to be supplied with books ‘that contain certain prayers, litanies, and oration, which will be made freely available, in order that he may go and distribute them to his own or other parishes’.

… Borromeo’s directive to sing at doors and windows was evidently put into practice and impressed a number of chroniclers. In his Relatione verissima, Paolo Bisciola reports:

[W]hen the plague began to grow, this practice [of singing the litanies in public] was interrupted, so as not to allow the congregations to provide it more fuel. The orations did not stop, however, because each person stood in his house at the window or door and made them from there […] Just think, in walking around Milan, one heard nothing but song, veneration of God, and supplication to the saints, such that one almost wished for these tribulations to last longer.

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—1 —

Well, here we are. Just a few days until the Return. The Return to College. For a few months, we hope, and not just for a few weeks, as College Guy pessimistically predicts. As I keep saying, I’m optimistic.

We’ll see.

School for the other one is slowly picking up speed – to be interrupted by travel next week, to be sure, but getting a little more organized nonetheless. This week has seen meetings with Algebra 2 and Latin tutors as well as a piano lesson. We talked over plans for literature and history study. Looked at photos posted by the private high school most of his friends attend, saw all the images of people in single file in masks looking at each other from behind plexiglass in the lunchroom, and if there were any lingering questions, they were answered. “We’re good. Thanks.”

— 2 —

There’s been a bit of blogging this past week. Here’s a review of a novel called Followers and another of a novel, which I liked quite a bit, called Nothing to See Here. 

All done on a new laptop. I have a desktop, which is my preference for working, but I needed a new laptop – for a couple of years I’d been depending on a Chromebook we’d had to buy for Son #4’s high school career – and I hate Chromebooks. I mean, just hate. I love small laptops – that’s not the issue. The issue is the dependence on the cloud and the Internet and Google and all of that. And the fact that if you forget your passwords, it just might wipe the device of all local data on it – which happened to me last summer in Spain after I’d written a short piece for the Catholic Herald, but before I’d sent it in.  Cue new scene with me sitting on the floor in a hotel room in Caceres, Spain at 6 am, fuming (and worse) attempting to reconstruct and rewrite.

Plus, we needed a better, more dependable machine for Kid #5’s academics, such as they are. We don’t do a lot of screen stuff, and no remote classes of any sort, but you never know. Might as well have something decent, just in case.

Anyway, new computers are sweet.

— 3 —

I mentioned before that my book sales, like everyone else’s, have been impacted by this virus and responses to it – namely, no big gift-giving binges around Easter and the Spring Sacramental Season. But, as I noted, since mid-May, sales have been slowly but steadily edging back up. It’s really interesting. I’m still behind last year, but every week since mid-May, sales this year have topped the equivalent week last year, sometimes more than doubling the number of units sold.  The Loyola Kids Book of Heroes is now even with total sales from the same period last year (by the measure I have access to through Amazon Author portal – which doesn’t record all sales.). I think parishes that didn’t have big First Communion or Confirmation celebrations when they normally do have been having them in smaller batches through the summer, and people have purchased gifts for that – and then you throw in the increase in people doing homeschooling, and there you go.

So, yeah, if you know anyone who’s interested or in need of good titles for homeschooling catechism for children or young people, do consider pointing them my way –here’s a link to the Loyola Kids Books and here’s a link to the Prove It titles for teens. 

Today: St. Maximilian Kolbe. In the Loyola Kids Book of Saints.

"amy welborn"

 

— 4 —

From William Newton:

One of the most famous works of art rescued from the Nazis by the Monuments Men is, of course, “The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb”, more commonly known as “The Ghent Altarpiece”, a 15th-century masterpiece by the Van Eyck brothers that resides in St. Bravo’s Cathedral in the Belgian city of Ghent. Readers will recall that recently, a number of ill-informed commentators and meme-makers criticized the recent cleaning and restoration of the piece, because the face of the Lamb came out looking more humanoid and less lamb-like. After an exhaustive review, experts from the University of Antwerp and the National Gallery of Art have concluded that the Van Eycks did, in fact, intend to have the Lamb – who symbolizes Christ Himself – display the (to modern eyes) slightly disturbing face that we see gazing out at us now. It may be a late Medieval convention with respect to how to portray animals, since similar faces appear among the horses in one of the other panels of the altarpiece, or it may be that one or both of the Van Eycks intentionally wanted to have the viewer thrown a bit off-balance when praying or meditating before the image.

— 5 –

I meant, but forgot to mention last week, that the Cathedral parish held a celebration on August 2, bringing the traditional way of celebrating Our Lady of the Snows from St. Mary Major in Rome down here to Birmingham. That is – letting white rose petals fall from the ceiling.

More here.

 

(And yes, the Cathedral has been having Mass with full ceremony since April/May – no congregational singing, every other pew roped off, etc., but a full music program – you can see the orders of worship here.)

This next Sunday’s Mass, for example– Viadana’s Missa l’Hora Passa. 

— 6 —

From the New Yorker, on two new biographies of Poulenc:

Both accounts undermine the popular image of Poulenc—carefully cultivated by the man himself—as the epitome of Parisian suavity and ebullience. He was, in fact, a turbulent, even tortured character: sometimes arrogant, sometimes self-castigating, sometimes lovable, sometimes impossible. That complexity only adds to the interest of the music. The critic Claude Rostand famously commented that Poulenc was a combination of “moine et voyou”—monk and rogue. Many of the composer’s works fall cleanly into one category or the other, but some of the strongest fuse the two personalities in one. The Organ Concerto (1938) interlaces brimstone dissonances with rollicking fairground strains. The Gloria (1959-60) exudes an almost scandalous joy, as if a crowd of drunken angels were dancing down the boulevards.

— 7 —

My son watched all of Alfred Hitchcock’s films. All of them. Here’s his ranking. 

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

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—1 —

Well, that was interesting. Somehow, this post went viral, as we say, yesterday, with thousands more hits than I usually get around here. Very odd. I still don’t know why or how.

This also got a big bump, mostly because Ross Douthat retweeted a reference to it. Just glad to get the message out there!

Click back for other posts – on how 9th grade homeschooling ended up and on season 2 of Fargo. 

The other “extended reach” story of the week involved musician son-in-law, who had a song featured at the end of Tony Kornheiser’s podcast. 

— 2 —

The Real Lord of the Flies. A fascinating piece.

 

The kids agreed to work in teams of two, drawing up a strict roster for garden, kitchen and guard duty. Sometimes they quarrelled, but whenever that happened they solved it by imposing a time-out. Their days began and ended with song and prayer. Kolo fashioned a makeshift guitar from a piece of driftwood, half a coconut shell and six steel wires salvaged from their wrecked boat – an instrument Peter has kept all these years – and played it to help lift their spirits. And their spirits needed lifting. All summer long it hardly rained, driving the boys frantic with thirst. They tried constructing a raft in order to leave the island, but it fell apart in the crashing surf.

Worst of all, Stephen slipped one day, fell off a cliff and broke his leg. The other boys picked their way down after him and then helped him back up to the top. They set his leg using sticks and leaves. “Don’t worry,” Sione joked. “We’ll do your work, while you lie there like King Taufa‘ahau Tupou himself!”

They survived initially on fish, coconuts, tame birds (they drank the blood as well as eating the meat); seabird eggs were sucked dry. Later, when they got to the top of the island, they found an ancient volcanic crater, where people had lived a century before. There the boys discovered wild taro, bananas and chickens (which had been reproducing for the 100 years since the last Tongans had left).

Much more hopeful turn of events than in the novel.

— 3 —

America ran a very nice piece on Wyoming Catholic College:

The first class every student takes is an introduction to the Experiential Leadership Program, ELP 101. In the summer before the start of the new school year, freshmen take a wilderness first aid course, then embark on a 21-day backpacking trip in the Wyoming backcountry. Like most everything at W.C.C., the course is grounded in Western philosophy. “The term ‘gymnastic,’” the Philosophical Vision Statement of the college reads, “comes from the Greek gymnos, meaning ‘naked.’ Gymnastics, broadly speaking, refers to the naked or direct experience of reality.” Through their direct encounter with the grandeur of nature, the founders believed, students would grow in virtue.

Students continue their outdoor education all four years at W.C.C.: a week of winter camping after the first Christmas break; week-long hiking, rafting or rock-climbing excursions once a semester; and a required course in horsemanship. But it is the 21-day trip that forms the foundation of what will follow in and out of the classroom.

“There’s nothing more empowering than when those students can go backpacking in wolf country and grizzly bear country by themselves without an instructor,” Mr. Zimmer says. “And that allows them to know that [when they take] the final they’re going to have in humanities or Euclid or Latin, they’re going to be fine. Just like their 21-day trip, they have to put effort and energy and time into their training.”

Ms. Stypa agrees. “There are so many nights out there where you’re freezing or it’s raining, and your sleeping bag got wet and someone has a blister that needs to get taken care of. And it’s 11 p.m. and you’re supposed to get up at 6 a.m., and it’s just hard,” she says. “That toughness that it gives you sticks with you when you come back into the semester when you’re slammed by paper after paper.”

She also described a more subtle connection to the classroom. “You’re just thrust into the wilderness, into the mountains and these mountain lakes, snow and wildlife and lightning storms. It’s terrifying, and it’s beautiful,” she says. “And then we come back, and we study poetry, and we talk about ancient Greece and ancient Rome. And I think you really draw on your experience and fill your imagination as you’re reading the Great Books.”
Jason Baxter, an associate professor of fine arts and humanities, also finds a deep resonance between the freshmen expedition and the Great Books curriculum. “There’s something severely beautiful about ancient texts, which are not trying to accommodate us in any way,” he tells me over tea at Crux, the corner coffee shop staffed by students and frequented by faculty and local residents alike. “And there’s something fascinatingly analogous to the Wyoming landscape, which is severely beautiful but does not exist in order to accommodate human beings. Without railroads or now interstates, we would not be here.”

 

— 4 —

You know the tune Tuxedo Junction? 

Well….Tuxedo Junction is actually here in Birmingham, Alabama. I did not know that until this week.

The second floor of the Belcher-Nixon building located in Ensley was the dance hall and center of all The Junction happenings. Many talented performers hailing from Birmingham got their beginnings by entertaining there.

Among these was the acclaimed musician and performer Erskine Hawkins. In 1939, Hawkins released the Birmingham favorite “Tuxedo Junction” in honor of his hometown. He writes about the magical place that he can count on to raise his spirits, where he can lose himself by dancing the jive all night to his favorite jazz.

 

— 5 –

A really, really good piece on fear and faith, taking off from Cyprian or Carthage’s work On Mortality – written in a time of plague. 

The paradoxical nature of a Christian view of life and death shows up remarkably in Cyprian of Carthage’s treatise On Mortality. Written only a few years after he became bishop in 248, in the midst of a ravenous plague that nearly destroyed the Roman Empire, Cyprian reflects on what it means for Christians to be alive to God, and so not to fear death.

The plague broke out in Egypt around 249 (the “exotic” East for a Roman) and had reached Carthage by 250 or 251. Historian Kyle Harper suggests either pandemic influenza (like the Spanish Flu) or a viral hemorrhagic fever (like Ebola). Ancient sources say that it could have carried away 5,000 persons a day, decimating the population by as much as 60% in some cities. Another source says that it seemed to spread through contact with clothing or even simply by eyesight. It is often called “The Plague of Cyprian” because it is the Carthaginian bishop who provides one of the most graphic accounts of its effects: severe diarrhea (“As the strength of the body is dissolved, the bowels dissipate in a flow”), fever (“a fire that begins in the inmost depths, in the marrow, burns up into wounds in the throat”), and incessant, “intestine-rattling” vomiting (§14). In some cases, a person’s hands or feet were putrefied to the point of falling off, resulting in disfigurement or a loss of hearing and sight.

It was not a physical loss of sight, however, that worried Cyprian most. It was rather a loss of spiritual sight. 

 

— 6 —

Cyprian invites his hearers to see the plague as revelatory for how we view our life in reference to God. As an occasion for Christian sanctification, a time of plague reveals what we really care about, what we really love. The plague, in other words, makes visible what normally remains hidden in our ordinary lives of comfort and distraction. 

What a significance, beloved brethren, all this has! How suitable, how necessary it is that this plague and pestilence, which seems horrible and deadly, searches out the justice of each and every one and examines the minds of the human race—whether those who are well care for the sick, whether relatives dutifully love their kinsmen as they should, whether masters show compassion to their ailing slaves, whether physicians do not desert the afflicted begging their help, whether the violent repress their violence, whether the greedy, even through the fear of death, quench the ever insatiable fire of their raging avarice, whether the proud bend their necks, whether the shameless soften their affrontery, whether the rich, even when their dear ones are perishing and they are about to die without heirs, bestow and give something!

Although this mortality has contributed nothing else, it has especially accomplished this for Christians and servants of God: that we have begun gladly to seek martyrdom while we are learning not to fear death. These are trying exercises for us, not deaths; they give to the mind the glory of fortitude; by contempt of death they prepare for the crown. (§16)

The plague is a test, a spiritual exercise, not a death. 

 

— 7 —

"amy welborn"Here’s a short story for you. It was a finalist for the Dappled Things J. F. Powers competition, but not the winner. So here it is – I wanted to put it on a platform that was not my blog, and Wattpad was the quickest way to go. It undoubtedly does not quite fit the site, but it was easy and let me keep my italics, so it won.

It may not be there forever, as I’ll still keep looking.

And here’s a novel  –     from Son #2! (Check out his other writings here)

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

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—1 —

Happy Christmastide and feast of St. John –if you’re around the Cathedral of St. Paul in Birmingham, Alabama at noon, you can come have some wine blessed:

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— 2 —

And then….there’s this:

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— 3 —

As a young person, and then youngish church geek, both employed and volunteer, I was formed in the late 60’s, 70’s and 80’s – an era in which people were forever making stuff up in the name of helping people bring faith into daily life, making it more relatable in modern times and such. When all along, what they should have been doing was rejecting the adolescent urge to reject what their parents (aka the Church) was giving them, listen, dig deeper, and see how almost two thousand years of Tradition and traditions means something. Maybe it just means that there are practices that, by their antiquity, have been experienced as powerful and, yes, pertinent to the daily joys and struggles of human beings, no matter where or when they lived.

— 4 —

Did you know that Hallmark worked with Salvador Dali to create Christmas cards? Not many were sold in the US, but here are a few articles and images.

From the Hallmark site.

From Artsy:

“It was the founder of Hallmark’s idea. Santas were always a hit,” explains historian for the Hallmark Archives Samantha Bradbeer of the anomalous, albeit wonderful Dalí painting. “Dalí’s first series of cards had just been pulled from the shelves, so he really wanted to design a popular card. He thought this might be it.” Hallmark, the biggest greeting card company in the world, had commissioned Dalí, and other up-and-coming artists of the decade, to design holiday cards earlier that year. But Dalí’s initial attempts—which depicted a headless angel, a glowing but featureless baby Jesus, and three wise men atop snarling camels—proved too avant-garde for the everyday buyer.

“Unfortunately, they just didn’t sell,” continues Bradbeer. “So that’s when Dalí asked for our founder J.C.’s advice.” Dalí’s second go, however, didn’t work out either. When the artist presented his unique Santa to Hallmark founder Joyce Clyde Hall, affectionately known as J.C., he wasn’t a fan. While Hall graciously purchased the painting for Hallmark’s permanent art collection, it was promptly stashed in a closet where it hid for many years. Only recently has it seen the light of day, on the walls of the company’s sprawling Kansas City headquarters.

From an expert on Spanish culture, more on these and the cards Dali created for Spanish markets:

This early 1948 rendition of a “Christmas” landscape, however, is but one of Dalí’s efforts to illustrate the holiday season. In 1958 he created the first of his eventual 19 greeting cards for Hoeschts, and the publishing company would annually send these artsy holiday cards to doctors and pharmacists throughout Spain. Importantly, Dalí’s renditions did not incorporate traditional Mediterranean, Catholic Christmas imagery such as the Nativity scene or the Reyes magos (Wise men), but rather they appropriated more American and Central European elements, such as the Christmas Tree. The “árbol santo” is in fact a constant element in these 19 illustrations, and Dalí occasionally converted the Christmas Tree into an allegorical depiction of the years events or infused it with distinctive elements of Spanish culture.

 

 

— 5 –

And here you go:

More images at all the links up there.

— 6 —

We have been awash in music, of course. Son #5, employed as the organist at a local parish. There’s a snippet of a postlude up on Instagram here.

— 7 —

Be sure to check out:

Christmas-related material for kids in some of my books!


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

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amywelborn_ (1)

 

Cullman, Alabama, about fifty miles north of here, was founded by Germans. A brief history: 

Cullman was founded by Col. Johann Gottfried Cullmann, a German refugee from Frankweiler (which was then Bavaria) who came to America in 1866. While working at a bookstore in Cincinnati, Ohio, he began formulating ideas of a special colony of working people – specifically a place for immigrants from countries such as his native Germany. He read about the vast unsettled lands in the South, and bought passage on a boat to Florence, Alabama. There he met with Governor Patton and presented his idea. The Governor furnished men and horses for him to explore available lands in North Alabama.

He finally met with Lewis Fink, the land agent for the great South-North Railroad (later the L&N), which had just built a line through the wilderness from Decatur to Montgomery, After a careful survey, he contracted with the railroad for 349,000 acres with the stipulation that Col. Cullmann would pay for all advertising of the land and other expenses incurred in bringing the desired immigrants to the area. Col. Cullmann found the area to be perfect for his dream colony.

Cullmann then went back north and began to advertise for colonists. In April of 1873, the first five families came by train to the spot where Cullman now stands. Each was allotted a plot of ground. The colony quickly grew, with American citizens and German immigrants moving to the area.

Not long after, German Benedictines came and founded an abbey – St. Bernard’s. I’ve mentioned the famed “Ave Maria Grotto”several times – if you’ve traveled on I-65, you’ve seen the billboards. Trust me – it’s not a cheesy roadside attraction – it’s well worth your time!

The history of Saint Bernard Abbey is a rich one. In the 1840s monks from Metten Abbey in Germany, a monastery founded c. 700 A.D., came to America to plant the Benedictine monastic life in the United States and to minister to the growing German-speaking immigrant population. St. Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, became the first foundation, and in the 1870s monks from St. Vincent were sent to Alabama to serve the needs of German Catholics here. In 1891 those monks gathered to establish St. Bernard Abbey in Cullman, Alabama. One year later, 1892, a school was opened at the new abbey.

The town continues to celebrate its German heritage, although for most of its history, the county was bone-dry. I think the county still is, but a few years ago, the city of Cullman voted to allow alcohol sales, which meant for the first time in its history, the town’s Oktoberfest could serve…beer. 

There are other dry counties in Alabama (some with “wet” towns in them, making them “moist”), but I always wondered if the persistence of Cullman county’s anti-alcohol laws was rooted in anti-German/immigrant/Catholic/Lutheran sentiments….

Anyway.

As part of the town’s Christmas celebration this year, they brought in some Germans from Germany to construct an enormous Christmas pyramid! We dashed up there to see it on Saturday, and here are some images – note, if you can, the different themes for each level. It’s lovely! More (in German) on the construction here. 

Here’s the website of the company that constructed it – and makes them on a smaller scale!

And if you head to my Instagram page, you can see video. 

(Our humble not-really-a-pyramid from Germany presented for contrast)

 

 

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