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ThursdayThis is just going to be a digest day. I need a break from Big Blogging Thoughts. I have a story I really want to finish a first draft of this week because another one has started popping up in my head, fighting for time. I’ll return to gendered thinking on Friday. Maybe this afternoon is this morning is fruitful.

So:

Watching: Unfortunately, I spent a couple of hours night before last rewatching Mad Men again. I say “unfortunately” because I’ve already seen these episodes at least twice, so there’s no valid reason for me to spend some of my brief, valuable time here on earth with those people again.

But then it’s season 6 and we get Boss Peggy and the genius casting of Harry Hamlin as Cutler and Bob Benson.  And great, great lines like Roger Sterling,  trying to sort through his feelings about his mother’s death with his therapist:

“My mother loved me in some completely pointless way and it’s gone. So there it is. She gave me my last new experience. And now I know that all I’m going to be doing from here on is losing everything.” 

So, yeah, I got sucked in.

Stayed up too late. Again.

Reading: 

In recent New Yorker issues (checked out from the library) – an article on Nashville hot chicken – mostly about Prince’s, the establishment at the heart of it, but comparing it with latecomers, most notably the small chain Hattie B’s. We have an Hattie B’s near our house, and my youngest loves it. He probably would eat there every day if he could. Interesting to me was the cultural appropriation angle to the story – Prince’s being African-American owned and Hattie B’s started by white guys.  But – I have to say – going to the Hattie B’s near my house is one of the most diverse experiences in a diverse part of town in a diverse city.  Always a slight edge to African-American customers, usually an Asian group and most of the time at least one customer in a hijab.

This story by Emma Cline – evocative and depressing, which is fine, because life can be that way.

As I noted earlier in the week, I finished The Woman in White. Inspired by this post by Eve Tushnet, I started The Comedians  –  one of the few Greene novels I’d not yet read.

Oh – and you might remember that earlier in the week we were reading The Comedy of Errors in anticipation of seeing a production this Friday. Well, scratch that. Turns out the production is in a very small theater and is sold out. Sad!

amy_welborn_Writing: 

I was in Living Faith yesterday. Here’s the driver who was the subject. Bought with his own hard-earned money.

I reposted a piece  on Flannery O’Connor’s book reviews on Medium. 

Here’s another son’s take on the film The Passion of Joan of Arc. Follow him on Twitter to keep updated on his movie posts and writing progress.

Joan’s eyes are wide with innocence as she navigates her interrogators’ questions, making them seem alternatively foolish and unserious. It’s both Joan’s strength and fragility, all told through Falconetti’s performance, that sells the conflict. We are with her from the beginning to the end, and it’s quite an emotional journey.

And of course, two long-winded blog posts. Just click back to the links at the top of this post for those.

Listening:

I stopped in Chick-Fil-A last night to pick up food for Son #4 since it’s Son #5’s church-thing-night where they feed him. I noticed this gaggle of women in there, all dressed in similar outfits – a little Boho, each wearing black hats with rims. They were clearly evoking someone or something and they sure were stoked, but I had no idea about who or what.

Shrugs. Gets a #8 Meal. 

After I got him his food, I headed back downtown. My destination was this concert – a free piano concert, an annual tradition at our Birmingham Museum of Art. M and I had attended last year. It was too bad he couldn’t go this year – but, hey – it was free and in the same vicinity as his church thing, so why not use that hour in an elevated way instead of killing time on a screen?

Well, traffic was horrendous. I was reasonably certain that the 2017 Van Cliburn competition silver medalist wasn’t attracting that kind of audience, so as I stopped at a light with a river of red taillights in front of me, I tried to figure out what was going on –

Ah – 

Fleetwood Mac 

Now it all comes together, not least the Stevie Nicks fan club in Chick-Fil-A. 

Well, I finally found parking a few blocks from the museum – really, I should have just parked at the Cathedral – and hustled down there. As I walked in the front door, applause echoed through the building, much louder than it should have been – the museum as a large auditorium on the ground floor, and this was just up the stairs, right in front of me.

And sure enough, the space that usually holds the tables for the museum’s restaurant was filled instead with rows of chairs with a baby grand at the head. As they were explaining as I snuck in the back, the piano in the auditorium was broken, they were unable to fix it, so here they were.

It was a lovely concert – although being in the back row on a floor that wasn’t graded meant that of course I couldn’t see anything. Which was fine – it forced me to really listen in a closer way.

He played:

César Franck | Harold Bauer Prélude, Fugue et Variation, op. 18

Johann Sebastian Bach Toccata in C Minor, BWV 911

Ludwig van Beethoven Sonata No. 31 in A-flat Major, op. 110

I will say that listening to my son play his pieces dozens, if not hundreds of times, has taught me a great deal about music and made listening in concert settings – which I always enjoyed anyway – even more interesting.

Contemporary Catholic motherhood talk is still miles better than secular talk, but still, it tends to miss a few beats, I think. The talk is still all about me. About how motherhood makes me a better person.

Well, it does, yes.

But the most amazing thing about motherhood – about parenthood – is the gift of cooperating with God, even unintentionally and accidentally – in putting unique human beings into the world, people with interests and gifts and their own weird journeys.

And, to bring it back around to a self-centered bullseye on this Valentine’s Day – how that expands our world, doesn’t it? To help create a community in which you’re enriched and grow by engaging with all that they engage with – their sports, their movies, their music, their work experiences, their people.

Who would we be without them?

 

 

 

 

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Coming to you from the perspective of a snow day…

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Yup. It missed us completely. Just some rain. Oh well – everyone gets a break, which they appreciate. They. 

So let’s digest.

Writing: Well, spent way too much time writing that blog post yesterday, which I posted on FB as “That Rebuilt Guy v. Mr. Blue.” By the time I was finished, the school closing dominoes were starting to fall, so I was somewhat distracted waiting for our two schools to announce, which they both had by 2. Interestingly enough, my 8th grader had no idea that school had been cancelled when I picked him up an hour later – smart move on the school’s part, I suppose.

Related to writing: It’s a major award! Well, not really. But it’s an award!

I’m pleased to announce that The Loyola Kids Book of Catholic Signs and Symbols won a Gold in the “Illumination Awards.” 

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..to read more about the book on my site go here. 

I have copies for sale available here. 

Watching: With no school today, we could take in a movie last night – and since no one had any ideas, Mom takes over with her Continuing Film Education 101. Last night it was Sunset Boulevard (DVD which we own). I had to do a lot of context setting beforehand: Billy Wilder (they’ve seen Stalag 17 and Some Like it Hot) ;  Gloria Swanson was a real silent film star, the name of her character – Norma Desmond – carries a particular meaning with it – a deeply self-deluded washed-up figure –  her butler is played by Erich von Stroheim, who was a great silent film director – Cecil B. DeMille, Buster Keaton (whom they’ve seen in movies), Hedda Hopper…all references to real people. They know a bit of film history and, er, have seen Singin’ in the Rain – so they understand the basic dynamic at work.

And, of course, post-viewing debriefing in which Teachable Moment Mom: These are the iconic quotes you’re going to hear as cultural references: “I am big. It’s the pictures that got small.” “We didn’t need dialogue. We had faces!” and of course:

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Although I will say that my favorite moment is the sentence right before this one – in which Norma Desmond thanks everyone present, ending with: Just us, the cameras, and those wonderful people out there in the dark! – looking straight in the camera, a moment obviously more powerful uttered from a huge flickering screen to us, gathered, looking up at her there in the dark.

And…sobering and deeply depressing is the realization that Gloria Swanson was all of fifty years old when Sunset Boulevard was released. So, yeah, almost a decade younger than I am.

MOOD:

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..only more self-delusion at work.

Reading: I finished Love is Blind by William Boyd last night, and no I didn’t like it, although – my usual caveat – I am not in the business of “recommending” or not recommending books or other cultural products, so hey – you might love it.

I just found the prose workmanlike and not evocative at all. The saga was long and contrived, mostly, it seemed to me, to show off historical research into late 19th century Edinburgh, Paris, Russia and southern France. The basic plot is that a gifted piano tuner finds himself in Paris where he becomes involved with a pianist in a business sense and the pianist’s lover in a personal sense. There is drama and melodrama and tuberculosis. And a little dog, guns and cigarettes. All of that could be done to good effect, but I found the writing so workmanlike – it really read sometimes as a movie plot treatment, practically begging, “Buy the Rights to Me!”

I think I was put off very early on by the treatment of the main character’s father, who is a Church of Scotland minister. It’s not that the fellow is a tyrant that was off-putting. It was the treatment of the religious setting of the period that seemed very, very wrong. Even with an extreme character at its core, I don’t think – I’m sure – his eccentricities would not have been tolerated in the Church of Scotland.

So here we have a Church of Scotland minister whose church features a large, graphic, bloody crucifix at its center.

Wait, what? 

The Church of Scotland? Started by John Knox who was inspired by John Calvin? An elaborate bloody crucifix? Not bloody likely, I’d say.

And then, in a crucial scene, the father-minister preaches from the Apocryphal book of Baruch – and Boyd does admit and have the other characters recognize that well, some of you in the congregation won’t have this in your Bible

And he goes on, preaching from the text.

Which is some fabricated verses about someone named Nerias knowing that his son Sedacius was caught in the snares of harlots and indeed had lusted after his brother’s wife, Ruth, and his brother’s daughter, Esther……

Wut.

That’s…not in Baruch. That has nothing to do with the content of Baruch. Which is a reflection of post-Exilic Judaism’s remorse and hope in God. 

So, here we have:

  • A Church of Scotland minister preaching from an Apocryphal books, books which were explicitly rejected in no uncertain terms by the Westminster Confession.
  • The content of this book, perhaps selected by Boyd because it’s a Jewish-sounding title and being apocryphal, no one would look it up – being totally fabricated and having nothing to do with the actual book of Baruch.

I mean – if Boyd wanted his minister to preach from a Bible passage highlighting a fraught father-son relationship (which was the point of the scene), he had other actual choices – David and Absalom, for example.

This was barely forty pages in, and was a signal to me – this historical novel, chock full of detail – yes, it’s a novel, yes it’s fiction, but can I really trust it to tell me much that’s true when it gets this so very, very wrong?

Perhaps I should have stopped reading there and saved myself three hours, but eh. I learned some things about writing – always good. Always good to learn…

 

 

 

 

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— 1 —

Well, hey there. If you only visit on Fridays, check out the rest of my posts from this week – just click back. I commented on the Covington matter on Monday, and had some other posts as well. We heard a great performance of Carmina Burana, the 14-year old went to see Metallica, we went to an excellent new restaurant in town,  I finally finished writing about The Hack…etc.

— 2 —

Today’s the feast of the Conversion of Paul.

From B16:

As can be seen, in all these passages Paul never once interprets this moment as an event of conversion. Why? There are many hypotheses, but for me the reason is very clear. This turning point in his life, this transformation of his whole being was not the fruit of a psychological process, of a maturation or intellectual and moral development. Rather it came from the outside: it was not the fruit of his thought but of his encounter with Jesus Christ. In this sense it was not simply a conversion, a development of his “ego”, but rather a death and a resurrection for Paul himself. One existence died and another, new one was born with the Risen Christ. There is no other way in which to explain this renewal of Paul. None of the psychological analyses can clarify or solve the problem. This event alone, this powerful encounter with Christ, is the key to understanding what had happened: death and resurrection, renewal on the part of the One who had shown himself and had spoken to him. In this deeper sense we can and we must speak of conversion. This encounter is a real renewal that changed all his parameters. Now he could say that what had been essential and fundamental for him earlier had become “refuse” for him; it was no longer “gain” but loss, because henceforth the only thing that counted for him was life in Christ.

—3–

The event is included in The Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories and The Loyola Kids’ Book of Heroes. 

–4–

Of all the verbiage produced concerning the Covington Catholic story – such a ridiculous, insane moment – one of the best was in the Atlantic by Caitlin Flanagan. It’s excellent. 

The full video reveals that these kids had wandered into a Tom Wolfe novel and had no idea how to get out of it.

–5 —

For another perspective on the March for Life in general, I point you to this First Things piece by John Waters. I had linked to another piece by Waters about a month ago – one about Ireland. He’s Irish, and so he has a different perspective on the March. I don’t think I entirely agree with him, but it’s a point worth discussing, especially if you take groups to the March (which I don’t, but my Son #4 has gone the past two years, and I expect he’ll continue once he gets to college.)

But as the march edged its way toward Constitution Avenue, and the gaiety continued, I began to think that maybe this was not the best way to mark the gravity of this Holocaust of our time. I could see that the celebratory mood—celebratory of undoubted achievements of the American pro-life movement—was in a sense justified and essential to the continuing success of the event. But I also realized that the march has become more a celebration of pro-life energies than a commemoration of abortion victims. The unbroken atmosphere of joyousness begins to wear thin after a while.

I have a proposal to make that I believe could alter the tone and mood of the march—in a way that might arrest a media and public mindset that simply glazes over as the march goes by. It may be time the march was transformed into a more somber confrontation of America’s doublethink in the face of the abortion apocalypse. 

–6–

This article from New York magazine about a young man who went through very, very early onset of puberty is at times difficult to read, and no, I don’t think the kind of fertility treatments mentioned are ethical, but that doesn’t mean I still can’t be inspired and encouraged by this story. Encouraged to see evidence that the truth about life and suffering, and accepting both still courses through our culture and in consciences – read to the end to see what I mean. It’s ultimately a story about being dealt a hand by nature and family (it’s a hereditary condition – the author’s father, grandfather and great-grandfather suffered from it), acknowledging it, understanding it as much as you’re able, accepting it – but not allowing it – whatever it is – to determine, dominate or control you.

–7–

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!

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— 1 —

Well! Happy Birthday, Jesus!

— 2 —

I’m in Living Faith today. 

Remember: if you would like more of the same – every day of 2019! –  check out:

—3–

Thanks to Steve McEvoy for including my short story “The Absence of War” and two of my son’s short story collections in his best reads of the last quarter of 2018. 

–4–

Everyone has their favorite Christmas music, and in These Times, even their curated Christmas lists on Spotify and such – hey, I do! – and here are three of my favorites.

It’s still Christmas, people!

Celebremos el Nino – Christmas Delights from the Mexican BaroqueI love the music of the Latin American Baroque, and this is a wonderful introduction.

A Renaissance Christmas from the Boston Camereta. This gets the heaviest rotation, hands down.

Carols from the Old and New Worlds. 

And of course, the best Christmas song of all time: Merry Christmas from the Family by the master, Robert Earl Keen. 

Little sister brought her new boyfriend/He was a Mexican/We didn’t know what to think about him til he sang Feliz Navidad..Feliz Navidad

Of course he brought his new wife Kay/who talks all about AA/chain smoking while the stereo plays Noel, Noel….the First Noel.

–5 —

The only John Waters I knew of was the filmmaker, so I was confused to run across this article about the current state of Irish society and culture by one John Waters – who, I discovered is quite a different person. Judging from this article, I’ll be searching out more by him: Ireland, keep your opinions to yourself. 

What he says here is not just about Ireland, though:

Most people out there nowadays tend to speak in code, to avoid pursuit by the guardians of the new orthodoxies. Others just play along, reserving their energy for battles about immediate things.

There is this odd situation whereby a majority, or at least a sizeable minority, of the population is appalled and scundered at the way things seem to be going, but dare not give any indication that they are dismayed. This generalised sense of confusion and disgust is a great secret, even between people who hold to the same view. At the level of the central conversation, the facts are denied or distorted to uphold the official line that only a tiny minority of recalcitrant throwbacks have any difficulty with anything that is happening.

Most people daren’t even enumerate these current absurdities, but are dimly aware of the patterns: in the obsession with personal freedom expressed sexually, and the unrelenting emphasis on the ‘rights’ of nominated categories of person in the matter of doing whatever they please.

They observe these agendas being driven in the media by what are termed ‘human stories’ – carefully selected sociological narratives, chosen and tweaked to indict the past and the way things used to be seen and done. There are the women who have been denied abortions and the women who have had abortions and seem to be proud of this. Both are deemed heroines, or is that heroes?

There are the men who are really women and the women who are really men, and the men or women who are men one day and women the next. What was a short time ago unheard of is now, it seems, ubiquitous.

At the core of all this is what appears to be an attempt to insinuate sex and sexuality as the centre of human existence, human happiness, human being. It is not possible to dissent from it, even to ask that you be spared the details. In the alleged new era of truth-letting, no one is entitled to claim an amnesty or immunity.

Because the lie has been sold that everyone was involved in suppressing and oppressing those who have now ‘bravely risen up’, everyone must show up to salute their bravery and applaud their freedom. ‘No thanks’ is not an acceptable response, being likely to qualify as hostility, which invariably qualifies for a designation with an ‘ism’ or an ‘obia’ at the end of it.

This new culture has crept up on us, so that for a long time many people thought it was just a few isolated groups of soreheads demanding this and that entitlement they say had been denied them. Now, people are beginning to twig that there is a pattern here and that it is growing more insistent and pronounced.

The escalation of this new culture has taken on an exponential character, to the extent that it often seems to be dictating the nature and significance of everything the media suggests as important. Chat shows are dominated with the stories of people who would once have been considered to have a bit of a want on them.

These individual stories seem, moreover, to be connected, and plugged into the central grid of agenda-setting, which in turn appears to emanate from a lobby sector that commands the ear of government and instant access to the media. One story is crazier than the last, and tame compared to the next. But the weird thing is that nobody ever says – or at least not publicly – that the stories are crazy; instead, the subjects of them are congratulated for their ‘courage’ in speaking so personally about things that most people think should remain private.

Anyone who dissents from this analysis is likely to be eviscerated – first on social media, and then in the mainstream, which is essentially the same people acting in, respectively, their anonymous and bylined manifestations.

Most people are simply perplexed by all this and confounded as to where it is coming from and going to. The idea that it is simply a series of isolated stories is starting to wear thin, and people are becoming more open to the idea that something fundamental has shifted in our culture, though they cannot even begin to say what.

–6–

Two more links, related – really. Can you catch the connection?

A thread in Waters’ piece is trans-authoritarianism, which Twitter watchers saw on display this past week as tennis great Martina Navratliova committed wrongthink and heresy by opining that maybe it’s not right for men to compete in women’s sports. Geez.

Many of us have been waiting a very long time for ‘peak trans’ to be reached, and for liberals, faint-hearted feminists, journalists and politicians to break out of their cowardly complacency and face the reality – that extreme trans activism is misogyny. Perhaps peak trans may well have arrived, thanks to the latest valiant efforts of the transbullies.

The latest target in the vicious and often violent war being raged by extreme trans activists is one of my all-time heroes – the world tennis champion and LGBT rights campaigner, Martina Navratilova.

Navratilova has been accused of being ‘transphobic’ as a result of a tweet responding to a question from a follower about transgender women in sport.

From another angle, Julian Vigo in Forbes on an issue centered in a particular British context with British organizations, but her point is applicable in a wider context:

The reality is that there is a burgeoning medical industry and social apparatus which seek to label gender non-conforming children as “transgender” and which then undertakes to medicalize these children. And this trend is hardly limited to the United Kingdom. In the US,  Diane Ehrensaft, Director of Mental Health at San Francisco’s Child and Adolescent Gender Center, gives the some rather unscientific examples of transgender identification in small children—from a toddler ripping out her barrettes, a one-year-old girl enunciating “I boy,” and a one-year-old unsnapping his onesies. One need not read beyond these examples to see some very dangerous reductions made between what is a child’s natural behavior in experimenting with the world around and adults ready to fixate on every action to lend a reading of gender. Rather than focus on “gender” as the “problem,” it is far more likely that toddlers find barrettes and onesies uncomfortable, just for starters.

With organizations like Mermaids attempting to “educate” those within the public health services, teachers, and parents, we must be wary of the hokum being pawned off as “science.” It’s no more scientific than talking clownfish. And the downside of this story is that such balderdash is affecting our culture and ability to speak frankly with each other about the reality of sex and social expectations placed upon each sex. The true revolution around gender will come when we stop attempting to match or alter sexed bodies to a presumed “correct gender.”

–7–

All right, let’s get back to good news:

Our parish has been all in for Christmas, celebrating and praising through liturgy and sacred music and seeking to bring grace into ordinary life through the means that the Church has developed over time – no need for a committee to dream up a paraliturgy and make slides.

The music for Christmastide at the Cathedral of St. Paul.

The blessing of wine on the feast of St. John. (I missed it because I was on the road, doing the Birmingham-Gainesville-Birmingham journey.)

The blessing and distribution of Epiphany chalk.

(Add that to the Rorate Mass earlier in Advent.)

And nearby, the Fraternity Poor of Jesus Christ, invited to take up residence in the city by the Cathedral and diocese, were present:

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

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I’ll start with the easy stuff and work my way up (or down)

Watching: I ended up watching most of Mission Impossible: Fallout with Son #2 on MondaySunday evening. Yes, he has school on Monday, but he did some good work (more below on that) this afternoon, so he merited a treat. He and brother had seen it this past summer, but he spied it at Redbox and decided he’d like to watch it again.

I hadn’t seen it with them, but I walked into the room when the Paris part started, and since it was, well, Paris, I was interested, and ended up watching the rest of the whole gripping, silly thing. Very well done with entertaining supporting characters and (it should go without saying) fantastic action.

And now someone who’s exempt from most of his exams and only has to go into school on Wednesday for Calculus is in there watching The Princess Bride. 

(Exam exemption? Best incentive ever.)

Listening: My youngest, playing the postlude at Vespers at the Cathedral Sunday evening. His teacher asked him to turn pages for him at the pre-Vespers organ concert and then do the postlude. If you to my Instagram page, you can hear an excerpt – it’s the last image in this post. 

I’ll stick this in here, because it also involved listening: it was a busy weekend at the Cathedral of St. Paul here in Birmingham. It began very early Saturday morning with a Rorate Mass

The Rorate Caeli Mass is a traditional Advent devotion wherein the Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary for Advent is offered just before dawn. In many instances families and individuals travel an hour or more, rising and arriving very early for this stunningly beautiful Mass. The interplay of light and darkness speak to the meaning of Advent and the coming of the Light of the world.

The Mass takes its title, Rorate Caeli, from the first words of the Introit, which are from Isaiah 45:8:

“Rorate, caeli, desuper, et nubes pluant justum, aperiatur terra, et germinet Salvatorem.”

“Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the just: let the earth be opened and bud forth a Saviour.”

The Rorate Mass is lit only by candlelight. Because it is a votive Mass in Mary’s honor, white vestments are worn instead of Advent violet. In the dimly lit setting, priests and faithful prepare to honor the Light of the world, Who is soon to be born, and offer praise to God for the gift of Our Lady. As the Mass proceeds and sunrise approaches, the church becomes progressively brighter, illumined by the sun as our Faith is illumined by Christ.

As was indicated on the Cathedral’s Facebook page, they planned for 100 attendees. There were at least 200 present. I took some photos, but far better are those taken by Mary Dillard of the diocesan One Voice and Ryan Penny from the choir loft (more on the Cathedral’s Facebook page.)

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What a lovely, deeply meaningful tradition. One more profound way to enter into the spirit of waiting and expectation, of journeying from darkness to light: by joining the God-created natural rhythm of a day in the life to the spirituality reality at hand and making space for one to inform the other.

You begin in the dark..

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…and walk out into the light.

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More on our rector’s blog here. 

Then, Sunday morning, some Bambinelli Sunday coming your way:

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The Pope’s not the only one with a balcony!

And then, Vespers:

 

 

Wonderful listening in that pre-Vespers concert there. We’re very grateful for the music here at the Cathedral. Read more about it here. 

Reading: I had written quite a bit on this earlier today, but it somehow did not get saved during a computer restart. That’ll show me. I am going to try to recreate this in fifteen minutes, no more, and then move on with life.

Late last week I read Andre Dubus III’s Gone So LongDubus is a widely admired writer in his own right, but is also known as the son of Andre Dubus, fiction writer (mostly short stories) and essayist and Catholic. Dubus died in 1999, and I wrote a piece on him for, I believe, OSV. You can read it here. I often refer to Dubus’ story “A Father’s Story” and his essays in Broken Vessels and Meditations from a Moveable Chair are fine pieces of spiritual reflection.

Not that Dubus was a saint. Nor would he ever claim to be. He left Dubus III’s mother when his son was ten, and the son examined the subsequent struggles in his memoir Townie. Father and son came to a reconciliation of sorts before the father’s death. This past fall, America ran an interview with Dubus which offers insight.

FF: Your father was a devout Catholic. How did he live his faith day to day? Did he read the Bible, religious books, say the rosary?

AD: Because I did not live with my father after the age of 10, I can only answer this question from that kind of distance. I do believe, however, that for years my father kept a copy of the New Testament beside his bed that he read from, though I’m pretty certain he read far more of the fiction stacked there. As I said above, until my father was run over and then spent the last 12 and a half years of his life in a wheelchair, he tried to attend Mass seven mornings a week. After he was crippled, he would have various lay people come by his house to administer Communion. I know, too, that my father said the rosary daily, something I don’t know how to do and know little about…

 …I’m no authority on forgiveness, but I do believe that my father, who was very young when he became a husband and a father, in his early 20s, did the best that he knew how to do at the time, which, of course, is not the same as doing the best he could do. This is true for all of us, though, isn’t it? And that’s where the potential for growth comes in. None of us are exempt from screwing up. I believe strongly, and I have a hunch my father would agree with me on this, that in his 62 years on the planet, my father put the very best part of himself into his writing. Everything else, including his wife and children, came after that. A close second I would add. But after that.

This way of being led to a masterful body of work, led to the kind of art that can change lives, art that will continue to live on for years and years. But there were costs to this. To him. To us, his six children (and ex-wives). On some level, I think my father knew he wouldn’t have a very long life, and he needed to get to that desk. Well, I’m grateful that he did just that.

Gone So Long is a novel about a shattered family: what happened, why, the life-long consequences and the possibility and question of reconciliation and forgiveness.

It’s told from three perspectives: Daniel, the father, 60-ish in the present day, Susan, the now adult daughter, and Lois, Susan’s grandmother who raised her after the loss of her daughter, Susan’s mother and Daniel’s wife Linda when Susan was three years old.

It is not really a secret what happened to Linda and that Daniel was responsible, but because the details are doled out only gradually over the course of the novel, to just lay it all out here would be spoilerish – and part of the building tension in the novel lies in the shadows around that foundational incident in the past, as well as the contemporary question of how this damage is playing out in the present and whether or not healing is possible.

It’s a serious, painful read so is it proper to say that I “enjoyed” reading it? Doesn’t seem right. But it was an interesting, engaging world to be involved in for a few hours over a few days: the shabby beach amusement park setting of the character’s early lives, the Florida of the present and more recent past, including – and this was surprising – those days in 1990 when the University of Florida campus was terrorized by serial killer Danny Rolling – interesting because I was living in Gainesville at the time.

Dubus is known for his deeply empathetic excavation of character, and that’s in evidence here. You get to know almost every character well, which means seeing their choices from their perspective and, if not agreeing with them, understanding them. This happens, though, because Dubus takes a great deal of time and space to explore these characters – and perhaps it’s just a bit too much. I felt the book was a little longer than it needed to be, with points being made several times in several different ways.

I have a couple of other critiques.

First, there’s an exception to the nuanced characterization: it’s Bobby, Susan’s jazz musicologist husband. If we had a photograph, he just might have a halo hovering over his head. In reflection, it seems to me that Bobby functions as an authorial substitute: he clearly seems to be that compassionate, all-understanding creator and manager of this little universe we’re living in. Even the quote he has painted on his wall from his favorite jazz musician about his fellow musicians expresses this:

I don’t want them to follow me. I want them to follow themself, but to be with me. 

While I found some of the other characters irritating in their bad choices, Bobby was irritating in his magnanimous perfection.

And then, this. Two points as introduction:

  1. Look, a character is a character created by a writer. That writer has the right to do whatever they want and create whatever they would like – what these people do in their fictional universe is up to the author, and that’s that.
  2. It’s absolutely true that the way we live out our sexuality and relationships are linked, in mysterious ways, to family dynamics and history. That’s not news. It’s absolutely true, and as we grow and come to understand ourselves, we see this. It can be a key to unpacking and unlearning destructive behaviors.

But I think it’s also true that explaining the impact of damaging family histories by drawing a line from that to sexual behavior is…kind of the easiest choice a creator can make to explain that history. I thought about this a lot (to pivot rather wildly) during Mad Men, which was a show I really liked a lot, but which also got tiresome in the way that the only way characters expressed tension in interpersonal dynamics was through falling into bed (or more often..on to a desk or office couch..). Okay, I would think – it’s quick and easy, and shorthand in a way, but honestly, there’s a lot more that happens in human life when people are uneasy or torn or broken – beyond sex.

What I’m getting at here is that Susan, deeply traumatized and torn from her parents for terrible reasons and raised in a less than optimal home, always yearning and wondering, acts out that pain through sexual promiscuity. Which would not be unheard of, of course – as one searches, vainly, for warmth and connection and love, to do so in a string of short-term relationships – it’s the story of modern life, isn’t it?

But something about this storyline irritated me, and I think it’s because of St. Bobby. If Susan had been dealing with all of this without a Perfect Older Man managing things, if she’d found inner strength and a way to deal with the unimaginable strangeness of her situation more on her own terms, I probably wouldn’t have reacted as negatively as I did.

In the end, I experienced Susan’s story as an expression – to use a popular critical term – of the male gaze at work – not, as it’s usually understood, in an objectifying sense, but in a paternalistic one.

Which perhaps makes sense in this world, since a father’s massive failure and sin is at the core  of her pain. But in the end, I suppose I was dissatisfied and irritated because I wanted Susan to find what she needed without being rescued, in part, by a saintly middle-aged man.

Writing: Still working on the manuscript due in January.

I’m in the Catholic World Report “Best Books I Read in 2018.” 

 

 

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— 1 —

Happy feast of St. Andrew – more on him here. 

Advent is almost here – I draw your attention to a pre-preparation preparation post from yesterday, and a post on my own Advent resources here. 

In particular, there are several resources available for instant download – one family devotional and one individual devotional. Please check them out!

(And don’t forget the short story, she said very much like a broken record)

— 2 —

There is so much – justifiably – written about Church corruption, but one piece that does more than till the same familiar ground is this one in Dappled Things, reflecting on the novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame in this context. 

But the image of the triumphant outcasts wrapped in the consoling mantle of the church is not to last. The church is still Claude Frollo’s domain. He is the first to assault Esmeralda’s sanctuary, and Quasimodo cannot bring himself to kill his father in her defense; Esmeralda must wave a blade at Frollo herself. Her gypsy friends come next in an attempt to save her, which Quasimodo mistakenly foils because he cannot hear them speak their intentions. Then the King orders the sanctuary violated for the sake of ridding his kingdom of the supposed “sorceress.” The church’s ability to protect the powerless proves to be fleeting. As the king’s army closes in, Frollo alone has the power to save the girl, and he offers her a choice: life as his lover, or the gallows. Esmeralda replies, “I feel less horror of that than of you.” She goes to her death rather than submit to his lust.

I can only imagine how many real victims might see themselves reflected in Esmeralda. How many came to the Church looking for refuge, only to have their pastors, bishops, or archbishops issue fresh attacks by ignoring or disbelieving their accusations? How many faithful Catholics have felt like Quasimodo, carrying our wounded brothers and sisters into the bosom of the church for protection, only to be scolded and threatened by the very men we looked upon as fathers? How many predatory priests have used their power to issue ultimatums as appalling as the one given by Frollo to Esmeralda?

—3–

From the Catholic Herald: The Jesuit who photographed the First World War:

Alongside courage were modesty and devotion. 2,300 Irish Guards died in the war and the chaplain had to write many letters of condolence. Never merely a ritual expression of sympathy Browne always gave them a personal touch, writing to one mother that her son was “a dear good lad” with whom, a few days before his death, he had “had a chat about Galway…He still preserved the little bit of shamrock that came to him with your letter of 14th…” while to another, written shortly after the first, he wrote regretting that he could not give her any definite details of her son’s death: “From the nature of the fighting you will understand that that no matter how hard I tried, I could not reach all those who fell in time to administer the Last Sacraments.”

A close friend of the revered WWI chaplain, Fr Willie Doyle SJ, Browne wrote after his death on 16 August 1917 that in recent months “he was my greatest help and to his saintly advice and still more to his saintly example, I owe everything that I felt and did…May he rest in peace – it seems superfluous to pray for him.”

All this puts the photographs themselves into context. Already famous for taking the last photos of the Titanic on her maiden voyage in 1912 (Browne was ordered off the ship at Cork by the Jesuit Provincial, an order that saved his life), he showed a rare gift for composition, atmosphere and for seizing on the most resonant aspect of a scene, demonstrated in his “Interior of fortified hut, Flanders 1917”, the hut he and Fr Doyle used for Mass. Generally his photos were uncaptioned; they speak for themselves, such as one of the Front Line near Bethune (1916) showing a solitary soldier marching through a ruined landscape; soldiers attending to a dying comrade in the trenches; or the devastation of the beautiful medieval Cloth Hall in Ypres (1917).

It was also Fr Browne who took the photograph of Rudyard Kipling at the Irish Guards’ barracks in 1919, gazing straight at the camera, immobile in grief. His only son John was killed while fighting with the Irish Guards and his father was painfully aware that if he had not used his influence on John’s behalf, his son’s poor eyesight would have barred him from fighting. In Kipling’s History of the Irish Guards, written in memory of John, there are more than 20 references to Father Browne.

One image can convey more than innumerable words; with his eye, hand and heart in careful and sympathetic alignment, Browne’s memorable photos remain a permanent part of a sorrowful record.

–4–

Now for some local church-y news. There’s a lot going on down here.

First of all, this afternoon, Fr. Lambert Greenan, O.P. passed away at his home at the Casa Maria Convent and Retreat House.

Long-time readers know of our connection to Casa Maria. My high school friend and college roommate (from Knoxville) is a sister there, and ever since we moved here, we’ve attended Mass there at least once a month. For the past few years, the boys have served there.

If you’ve been to Mass there over the past few years, you couldn’t help but notice the concelebrant. Oh, when we first moved here, he was still able to preside. But time, as it does, moved on, and his physical capacities weakened, even as his mind was clearly still very sharp. He had most of the liturgy memorized – including Eucharist Prayer II – but by the time we arrived on the scene, the sisters were having to print out large-print versions of the Gospels and Ordinary for him – and even with that he eventually required a magnifying glass.

A few years ago, he was not able to preside any longer both because of his sight, I’m assuming, and also because he could not stand unassisted.

But when his health permitted – which was most of the time – he concelebrated either with that weekend’s retreat master or one of the friars. Over the past year, they brought in a health worker to work with the sisters. This young woman would help Father come into the chapel – with the Sisters helping him with his walker when that was possible, but over the past months, pushing him in a wheelchair. I was also so touched by the fact that this health worker coordinated the color of her scrubs with the liturgical season – at first I thought it was just a coincidence, but as the year wore on, I could see that it clearly was intentional – even, sometimes, extending to the color of her hairband.

img_20170312_111553So, Father Lambert would come in, assisted by the Sisters and by the healthcare worker, and be helped into place next to the celebrant’s chair, with  – when we were there – my sons on either side of him. Once in a while, the son on his left would have to help him reach his glass of water or box of tissues. No matter what, if Father Lambert was concelebrating, Eucharistic Prayer II had to be used because, as I said, it was the one he had memorized – at least once when we were there, the celebrant forgot or didn’t know this and started in on one of the others – to be stopped by Father Lambert from the side and reminded.

It never failed to move me, seeing this ancient priest praying the Mass to the best of the ability in whatever time God was giving him. To see him  up there – a century old – yes – with young people more than eighty years younger at his side, praying together in the presence of the Crucified One – is a bracing sight. A sight deep in mystery.

Father Lambert was 101 years old.

From our Cathedral rector’s blog:

Fr. Lambert, né Lawrence, was born on January 11, 1917 in Northern Ireland. He came from a devout family and both he and one of his brothers entered the Dominicans and were ordained priests. (His brother, Fr. Clement, died a few years ago, if memory serves.) He had other siblings but I don’t remember much about them. Fr. Lambert excelled in his studies and was ordained at age 23 — they would have had to obtain a dispensation to ordain him so young at that time, though it was not an uncommon occurrence.

Fr. Lambert was a canon lawyer and taught canon law at the Angelicum University in Rome for many years. He was also the founder of the English language edition of L’Osservatore Romano — the daily newspaper of the Holy See. In fact, he told many impressive stories from that chapter of his personal history, and how he, as editor, had the task of upholding Church teaching during the turbulent 1960s, when some were trying insidiously to air erroneous teachings through media. Fr. Lambert was a stalwart priest, a real legend. He was what the Italians call a “uomo di Chiesa” — a churchman in the fullest sense.

–5 —

Other local doings:

The incorrupt heart of St. John Vianney will be here next week.

Sunday Advent Vespers begin this weekend at the Cathedral, with a visit from the monks of St. Bernard’s Abbey.

The Fraternity Poor of Jesus Christ have settled in and are out on the streets, ministering – including a “Thanksgiving under the Bridge” – serving a meal under one of the interstate overpasses, a place where transients and others gather.

–6–

Huh. Someone caught someone practicing organ in the Cathedral the other night. 

–7–

And I’ll be in Living Faith tomorrow. 

Insanely busy week next week.

 

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

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— 1 —

I don’t know why Blessed Miguel Pro is more known, studied and celebrated among North American Catholics.  But I did my part in the Loyola Kids Book of Saints under, “Saints are people who create.”

saints

— 2 —

A few months ago, when we were in Mexico City, we briefly visited the parish of the Holy Family, the location of Blessed Miguel Pro’s remains.

We made it to the church, and prayed in front of Miguel Pro’s relics, which are contained in a small casket on the right side of the church. What was really unfortunate, but not surprising, was that the museum was closed – the museum that holds, for example, the vest he was wearing when he was killed and of course other interesting items and information. I didn’t think that through when “planning” this – that of course it would be closed on Holy Thursday. I am very glad we got to the church, but really regret not being able to see the museum with the boys. I find Miguel Pro’s story so inspiring and humbling (I wrote about him in the Book of Saints under “Saints are People who are Creative)  that even without the museum, visiting him gave me a boost, and I hope did so for my sons as well, not to mention those for whom I prayed there.

—3–

I’m in Living Faith today. Go here for the entry.

–4–

Thanksgiving has come and gone. We had a very low-key day. In the late morning, we joined with a couple hundred other folks, delivering meals to the homebound on behalf of the Jimmie Hale Mission. The mission generally serves men and women (in separate facilities) recovering from addiction and other issues – we’ve helped serve lunches and dinners in their residences – but on Thanksgiving and Christmas, they work with Meals on Wheels to provide holiday meals for MoW clients – since MoW doesn’t serve on those days.

The way it works is that those delivering gather in the mission chapel, say a prayer, hear a Scripture and a few words of encouragement and some Iron Bowl jokes, and then you’re given a set of meals with a route for deliveries – it’s very carefully planned and meticulously laid out. This year, our meals were to be delivered to subsidized housing complex for the elderly. It went very smoothly after the beginning. There was no doorway attendant on duty, and calling the “office” on the intercom got me to an answering service. I finally just used the intercom and resident list to call one of the ladies to whom we were delivering, and luckily she was ambulatory, so she came down and let us in.

–5 —

After that, people requested Cracker Barrel. It was a crazy scene, and the wait was very long, but it was educational as we observed how customer service dealt with frustrated customers and a reservation/seating system imposed on them from on high and which obviously doesn’t work. Education. Everything’s an education if you let it be.

Later, people got hungry again, so I tossed together some Pasta Carbonara.

No, no Instagram displays of pies and place settings here.

–6–

Here’s a sobering article from the UK Guardian about the pressure on America’s national parks. Featured is Estes Park, Colorado, where we just were last weekend and is apparently insane during the summer. I’m glad we experienced it during a relatively low season.

Horseshoe Bend is what happens when a patch of public land becomes #instagramfamous. Over the past decade photos have spread like wildfire on social media, catching the 7,000 residents of Page and local land managers off guard.

According to Diak, visitation grew from a few thousand annual visitors historically to 100,000 in 2010 – the year Instagram was launched. By 2015, an estimated 750,000 people made the pilgrimage. This year visitation is expected to reach 2 million.

–7–

Advent is coming – look for a post next week about resources. In the meantime, don’t forget my short story (and in case you wonder about paying a buck for a short story – it’s a little over 7k words, so….maybe you’ll get your money’s worth?)

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

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