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Archive for the ‘Bible’ Category

—1 —

An interesting few days.

The two fellows who still live here are gone for a bit to visit family elsewhere. They’ll be back early next week, but for the moment, I’m alone for the first time since Christmas.

I was talking to my son who lives in NYC, where they’re opening things up, slowly but surely. The past week, he’s finally had some consistent social, face-to-face interaction with friends again – for the first time in months.

Each of experiencing welcome change, for opposite, but related reasons.

I add – quickly – that it will also be a welcome change when the guys return!

But everyone needs a break now and then, yes?

— 2 —

So what am I doing? Working. I have a project due on June 20, and I’m trying to get it halfway finished by Monday. Then I can coast, working on it for probably an hour or so a day until it’s due.

For me, the part of a project like this that requires the most focus is the framing and thinking through the shape and emphasis of it. And that kind of focus is hard for me to grab in small chunks. I need to have a large expanse of time in which I know I’m not going to be interrupted by anything. It didn’t used to be that way, but you know, guys, I’ll be sixty in a few weeks, and so something like concentration is harder to come by.

Today (Thursday) was a framing/get in the groove day. That done, I can work on it for a couple of hours a day till Monday, and then put my mind to the next fiction project.

Still getting chapters of Nothing Else Occurs to Me up on Wattpad. Slowly but surely. (Backstory: here)

— 3 —

So….we have a new bishop here in Birmingham. Bishop Steven Raica, formerly of the Diocese of Gaylord, Michigan.

I’ve not met him yet, don’t know a thing about him.

If you’re interested, you can watch the Vespers and Installation Mass that were broadcast on EWTN. If you do, you’ll get to hear the voices of our Cathedral’s core schola, which has been singing Cathedral Masses even through much of the lockdown, when Masses were streaming-only, not public.

 

 

 

As I’ve said before, it’s an approach that makes sense. If you’re not going to have congregational singing, consider the liturgical history of the Church, consider what developed during the centuries when congregational singing in the West was not the norm – and use that. 

It’s far preferable than having to listen to someone gamely warbling Praise and Worship music up there all by themselves.

— 4 —

Okay, I’ve not only been working the past couple of days. I’ve tried to walk a couple of hours a day – which means listening to my BBC radio podcasts – and I’ve read quite a bit as well as (gasp) watched a few movies – films that wouldn’t interest my housemates. So let’s do a quick survey.

First, reading – I finally finished Trevor’s The Boarding-House. That was a tough slog. I was most interested in the structure of it, which switched between points of view very quickly without transitions, as well as the historical detail revealed about London in the early ’60’s. The switching was confusing at first (I read it on Kindle and thought there was something wrong with the formatting), but once I got accustomed to it, I didn’t mind. My problem with the book is that I didn’t care about any of the characters and couldn’t figure out why I should spend time with them.

Anyway, I have a couple more short novels that I checked out via Hoopla that I will try to knock off over the next couple of days, then I think I’m going to plunge back into some Wilkie Collins. I need an absorbing, crazy read like No Name (reviewed here) in my life. I’d started Poor Miss Finch a couple of weeks ago, and will probably return to that. 

— 5 –

Now, movies.

I started watching Rocketman. I did like a few Elton John songs as a teen, but am definitely not a fan, but I was curious about the structure of the film and wanted to see the sections about his early life. Ended up watching the whole thing, not because it was great, but simply because of inertia, I suppose.

I did like the structure – I mean, why not tell a sketchy biographical tale of a living musician by making it a musical of sorts? I actually liked most of the musical set-pieces quite a lot. I think they worked. But the psychological trajectory and personal motivation offered was superficial – to be expected when the piece is produced by intimates and is about a living figure – and formulaic.

Bernie Taupin emerges as the one person you wouldn’t mind spending time with, to be sure.

— 6 —

Il Posto via the Kanopy platform. I gather you’re not supposed to say this is Italian Neorealism, since it’s not immediately postwar, but, well, you could have fooled me. It’s slow and observant, and I liked it quite a bit.

It’s the story of a young man from a village outside Milan who travels to the great city to test for a job, gets the job and begins working at the job. That’s it. It offers us a fascinating look at Italian life in the period and a rather trenchant, mostly wordless critique of white-collar work in large companies.

Except he won’t, and that’s what is so crushing about Il Posto. Antonietta comes to represent the youthful dreams that stagnate in an office building and the drudgery a job enforces. Once Domenico accepts his position as a messenger, Olmi breaks away from his lead for the first time. He takes us on an evening tour of the off-the-clock activities of the accounting staff that Domenico will eventually join. Some have very common, uninspired existences, others harbor their youthful folly as if it were rare treasure. There is the older man who goes to the pub and sings a song that is intended for someone not so advanced in years, and the would-be novelist who scribbles out his book in secret, hiding his light under a towel. Domenico tells his new boss that he may still go to night school to pursue the vocation he wants, but Olmi is showing us the true likelihood of that happening. Domenico’s father told his son that a job like this one is for life, and as the boy will learn, these positions tend to only open up when somebody dies.

Much of Olmi’s framing is intentionally expressionistic. The corporate world alternates between imposing, with the workers appearing small next to the business structure, and claustrophobic, cramped into their own little spaces. On the other hand, though Ermanno Olmi and cameraman Lamberto Caimi shot Il Posto in such a way to show life as it was, hoping to render the dreary gray of an average day, the black-and-white photography has taken on a nostalgic beauty over the years. Domenico and his peers just look more stylish, with their clean haircuts and their suits and ties, than we expect our youths to look today. Looking at Il Posto is like looking at photographs in a vintage magazine back issue: by being frozen in time, the images seem simpler, more desirable, than the busy world we’re used to today. Maybe that was by design. Maybe Olmi wanted it all to look hopeful and modern if only to add to the impact of the crushing blows to come.

The subverted ending of Il Posto sneaks up on the audience. We’ve been trained to expect something more, just like Domenico. We realize that there is nothing else mere moments before he does, and we can only brace ourselves for the heartbreak that is coming.

— 7 —

The Virgin Spring (1960) | The Criterion Collection

Finally, in a move that will please Son #2, I finally watched The Virgin Spring – his pick for his #1 Bergman. Here’s his review, and here’s his list. 

(He’s currently working his way through Hitchcock)

Okay, okay. I agree. It’s a great film, and I’m glad I finally watched it. I’m not an afficiando of Bergman’s films, but I have come to understand a bit about his spiritual-wrestling throughreading my son’s reviews. 

The standouts of that violence made the contemporary New York Times critic say that the movie was a thin morality tale below Bergman’s talents, but there’s actually so much more. What is there just isn’t spoken about, but it lingers in the background of everything. The conflict between the paganism of Odin and the monotheism of the new Christianity isn’t a stand-in for a simplistic good vs. evil battle. Instead, there are interesting shades within each character that drive the ideas even further. The father, Tore, obviously clings to his old pagan ways and has been dragged into the new Christianity by his wife Mareta. Their daughter, Karin, is beautiful and eager to look her best for her mission to deliver candles to the church, but she is also haughty, entitled, and manipulates her parents with ease. Ingeri, the pregnant Odin worshiper the family has taken in as a ward, prays for Karin’s defilement but confesses to Tore after the crime and begs for the punishment Tore will mete out to the perpetrators.

Where this movie stands out in Bergman’s filmography most for me is the thematic thrust of the film. The Virgin Spring came out in 1960, just a few years after the existential The Seventh Seal and right before the Silence Trilogy, and yet the thematic point isn’t a form of rejection of religion. In fact, the titular spring is an embrace of the idea that man’s concept of God, as manifested by the Church, is correct. It’s a natural extension of the story he was trying to tell, but also an artifact of the fact that he didn’t actually write the movie. God is still silent in the face of the violence placed upon the innocent Karin, but the existence of the spring that shoots from where her lifeless head had laid for a day, opening up immediately after Tore had promised to build a church of mortar and stone on the spot, is God’s communication. He speaks more in that than in anything else Bergman made.

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Had a very strange, unusual experience yesterday. Encapsulated in this Instagram story:

wp-1592917356898.png

No, I’m not going anywhere, except to Atlanta to take people to the airport. But it does mean a few days of (I hope) great productivity. What it doesn’t mean is a trip to Ikea on that Atlanta journey, since the hints I’ve read online indicate that there’s a considerable wait just to get into the store, which just reopened about ten days ago. Forget that. Let’s digest:

Writing: I have something due on July 20. Haven’t started writing it yet. Hopefully over the next week I’ll get it about half done as well as get myself in a sort of groove, so that once people return, the hard part of framing and envisioning will be done and I can just write a few hundred words in between music practices and food prep and other shenanigans.

I am putting up a chapter a day to the novel I wrote about here. Two up so far, one more coming later today.

I’ll be in Living Faith on Sunday. You’ll be able to see it here. 

A lot of my book sales are seasonal, specifically– Christmas and then Easter/First Communion/Confirmation related. I don’t have access to book sales from the various publishers that publish my books, but I do have some metric that Amazon provides authors. I don’t think it’s just Amazon sales, but I’m not sure. Anyway, not surprisingly, compared to previous years, this spring’s sales have been laughably miniscule. Totally expected. Shrug. The interesting thing, though, is that over the past two weeks, there’s been a rather dramatic uptick. Not at the typical height of April/May, but about four times as high as a normal June.

First Communions are back, baby!

Listening:  As reported, we have moved on from Brahms, Haydn and Prokofiev(you can listen here to the entire playlist – it’s public now – and he got “Excellents” from all three judges in the competition) to Gershwin (the big three Preludes plus Novelette in Fourths and Debussy’s First Arabesque. That’s the summer playlist, with him beginning to tackle the entire Moonlight Sonata as his big project for next year. Plus, I think the teacher is wanting him to do some Chopin Etude.

Watching: A bit of a blip in movie watching, as work schedules, hanging out with friends The Man in the White Suit (1951) - IMDband a new video game have interfered. After Hobson’s Choice, we stayed in England and took in the Ealing comedy The Man in the White Suit

A low-key satire about human beings’ response to innovation and change. Alec Guinness portrays an unassuming yet committed young scientist who is trying to invent an indestructible fabric. He seems to succeed, but the initially-welcomed development is soon understood to have repercussions for almost everyone – from the big business tycoons to labor. It’s a movie about persistence, creativity, resistance to change and yes, my favorite theme, unintended consequences. Not as hilarious as The Lavender Hill Mob or quite as dark as Kind Hearts and Coronets,  but a gem of a film.

A Nanoscale Perspective on The Man in the White Suit - 2020 Science

We watched in on the Kanopy platform via the library, and followed it withthis Buster Keaton short,also on Kanopy.

Reading:  Wandering about the internet, searching through book blogging and reading sites, I happened upon this entry focusing on a mid-century novelist who apparently penned relatively short, sharp and dark books. I’m sold. I picked up The Girl on the Via Flaminia  – reviewed here, and read it in an evening.

(My main go-to for books like this, the Internet Archive, has been hit with legal action restricting what books it can make available for borrowing – books that you could borrow for a week or more are now only available for an hour. Hopefully they can get that straightened out soon. I discovered that this was available via Hoopla from my local library. It seems to me that Hoopla’s holdings have greatly expanded since the last time I checked, before Covid.)

I enjoyed it very much, although, you know, it wasn’t a laugh riot or anything. Set in Rome during the last stages of the Second World War, it’s about an American soldier who attempts an arrangement with a young Italian woman. A step above prostitution, in his mind, but is it really? Aside from the interesting landscape of wartime Rome, it confronts us with important questions about victory, defeat and occupation – and the impact of these Important Events on ordinary people, who simply want to live their lives.

I’ll be reading more of him.

Now I’m reading The Boarding House by William Trevor, which I also borrowed digitally from Hoopla. It’s quite a strange book. I started it last week and gave up after twenty pages, but then returned to last night. I’ll stick with it this time.

Cooking: Three major recent successes:

Madeleines. They were Son #4’s favorite bakery good from France years ago, and it just wp-1592919871186.jpgoccurred to me a couple of weeks ago that I should try to make them. Ordered a pan for the purpose, and followed this recipe – success! The recipe is correct though – these are not items that keep. They really are only good the first day.

These ribs. I ended up marinating them for almost three days (kept meaning to cook them, but life interfered). Delicious. Excellent. And yes, the Chinese cooking wine does make a difference. (Obtained, along with the ribs, from our local mega-Asian grocery store. $2.99 a bottle.)

A bone-in ribeye cooked via this method – the reverse sear.This is the second time I’ve done this, and I’m sold. Yes, I splurged on a higher cut of steak (when you’re only buying one, and you do it once a month….go ahead), so that makes a difference, but this method really does produce a wonderfully juicy steak, no resting required.

Now…no cooking for a week!

 

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—1 —

Thanks to Catholic World Report for picking up one of this week’s blog posts – reprinted here. 

Look for me in Living Faith next week. Friday, I believe.It will be here. 

Here’s a post on St. Rita for today. 

— 2 —

I thought this was just excellent:

By focusing so minutely and carefully on their ordinary holiness of life, rather than solely on his martyrdom, the film points out a further irony. We look to the martyrs as heroic precisely because of the martyrdom. But what led the martyrs to their martyrdom? We can be blinded by our need for heroes, blinded by the particular heroism of martyrdom; fascinated by it, the rest of the martyrs’ lives remain hidden to us by our own lack of interest, our narrowness of vision, like the way our desire for stunning miracles can obscure from us the ubiquitous and ordinary but just as holy ways of God’s providence.

If the Church canonizes and so proclaims a saint to us in order to provide objects of admiration and thus models of holiness for us to emulate, then it is really a kind of cheap grace for someone like me to admire Jägerstätter’s martyrdom; I cannot connect with him at all in his martyrdom, except hypothetically—well, if I am ever in that situation, I pray I will do what he did. Right, if I am ever in that situation . . . But what the film shows is that his martyrdom was the fruit of the holiness of his ordinary hidden life. And that is a portrait of the life of a man I can connect with, a life I can seek to emulate—a man at home with his wife, children, friends, a job, living a life that is hidden, “unhistorical,” but holy.

That hidden life was not a conscience hidden from the world around him. It was the life of a conscience as clear and bright as a cloudless day, alive in its impact upon the lives of those around him. For me to emulate that hidden life would not be cheap grace. And maybe, just maybe, it would not then be cheap grace for me to pray, if I am ever confronted with a situation as bad as he was, however unlikely that is, that I could emulate his martyrdom, because I have already emulated the holiness of his hidden life. “If you found out you were going to die in fifteen minutes, what would you do?” “Same thing I have been doing.” The Little Way, day by day.

— 3 —

Well, I love this. In the Milan Duomo, on the feast of the Ascension, the huge and elaborate paschal candle holder is…raised to the ceiling during the proclamaion of the Gospel. 

In the Roman Rite, there is a rubric that simply says the Paschal candle is extinguished after the Gospel on the feast of the Ascension, and therefore lit again only for the blessing of the baptismal font on the vigil of Pentecost. In the Duomo, the rite is something a little more impressive, as you can see in this video of Pontifical Mass held last year on the feast of the Ascension (starting at 21:38, with the beginning of the Gospel. 

More, including the video, at the link.

Catholic traditions are the best – unfortunately, our local version of Pentecost petals from the ceiling is not happening this year, for reasons we can all guess…

— 4 —

Continuing the tradition of the Church Mothers and Fathers – in the Arctic.

But another type of desert, which also features extreme weather and hardship, is the site of a new monastic community: the white desert of ice, snow, and cold in the northern hemisphere, specifically in the tiny village of Lannavaara, in Swedish Lapland. Home to only about one hundred inhabitants, it is located 250 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle. It is here, amid silence, prayer, and very low temperatures, that two religious sisters are laying the foundations for a new order at Sankt Josefs Kloster (the Monastery of St. Joseph): the Marias Lamm (Mary’s Lambs) community.

The community’s story begins in 2011, when Swedish Sister Amada Mobergh received permission from the bishop of Stockholm, now-Cardinal Anders Arborelius, to undertake contemplative religious life in Sweden. Sister Amada, who converted to Catholicism in her 20s while living in London, had spent 30 years as a member of the Missionaries of Charity, serving in India, then-Yugoslavia, Kosovo, Italy, Albania, Iceland, and the United Kingdom. In a 2015 interview with the Italian Catholic news agency SIR, Sister Amada recounted that after discerning that a more contemplative life was God’s will for her, she and another sister, Sister Karla, visited several monasteries in southern Sweden. While Bishop Arborelius expressed his happiness over their decision, he had made it clear that he would not be able to support them financially, since the Catholic Church in Sweden is very small. Following a series of what the sisters considered miracles, they were able to find temporary free accommodations far to the north. “We arrived December 24th, 2011, the temperature was -30 C. I immediately understood that this is where I had to be,” Sister Amada recalled in the SIR interview.

After a year and a half, the sisters had to move, in part because their residence was too small to accommodate all the people who had begun to come to visit and to pray with them.

— 5 –

From McSweeney’s: “What Your Favorite Requiem Mass says about you.”  

As someone on FB said, “I suspect the infamous Onion Trad is now writing for McSweeney’s.”

(I never was a part of any conversations about the “infamous Onion Trad” but it was very clear to me for a time that there was someone who wrote for the Onion who was very familiar with Catholic life and lingo. )

Anyway:

Victoria: You, an American, went to “university,” where you discovered you held very strong opinions about Requiem masses. None of your “friends” cared…

….Fauré: Someone very close to you has given you a “live, laugh, love” print, and you don’t have the heart to tell them how you felt about it…

…Duruflé: You taught yourself Latin, and now phrases like “vita incerta, mors certissima” are staples of everyday conversation. You pay too much for your glasses.

 

— 6 —

This week, I read Greene’s Ministry of Fear. It’s one of his self-described “entertainments” but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t contain extraordinary writing and engagement with important themes. 

It’s got one of the more compelling opening chapters I’ve ever read in a novel. We meet a man, Arthur Rowe, in London during the Blitz. He happens upon a church carnival of sorts, which brings forth all sorts of memories of childhood – a completely other time, distant in more ways than one. A strange thing happens to him there. He wins a cake – made with real eggs – because the fortune-teller, for some reason, told him the exact weight – someone tries to get him to give up the cake…and we’re off in a story of espionage, intrigue, mistaken identity and memory loss.

There are loads of near-perfect passages and descriptions, which I’ll highlight below, but what I want to focus on is the theme of pity.  Greene wrote this novel during World War II – the only book he wrote during the war –  while on post in Sierre Leone – the setting of The Heart of the Matter, the theme of which was also the contrast pity pity and real, authentic love. 

Which, incidentally, is also a theme of both Walker Percy and Flannery O’Connor, who uses the term “tenderness” in this famous quote, but I think pity is an apt synonym:

“In the absence of this faith now, we govern by tenderness. It is a tenderness which, long cut off from the person of Christ, is wrapped in theory. When tenderness is detached from the source of tenderness, its logical outcome is terror. It ends in forced-labor camps and in the fumes of the gas chamber.”

Essentially – and this is the case in the book – pity is essentially dehumanizing. Or, as Green puts it in the novel, Pity is cruel. Pity destroys.

And of course, loss of innocence factors large here, as Greene’s protagonist is always recalling a more innocent past  – both his personal past and his country’s – in the context of bombed-out, continually threatened London. A dream he has while sheltering:

“This isn’t real life any more,” he said. “Tea on the lawn, evensong, croquet, the old ladies calling, the gentle unmalicious gossip, the gardener trundling the wheelbarrow full of leaves and grass. People write about it as if it still went on; lady novelists describe it over and over again in books of the month, but it’s not there any more.”

His mother smiled at him in a scared way but let him talk; he was the master of the dream now. He said, “I’m wanted for a murder I didn’t do. People want to kill me because I know too much. I’m hiding underground, and up above the Germans are methodically smashing London to bits all around me. You remember St. Clement’s – the bells of St. Clement’s. They’ve smashed that – St. James’s, Piccadilly, the Burlington Arcade, Garland’s Hotel, where we stayed for the pantomime, Maples and John Lewis. It sounds like a thriller, doesn’t it, but the thrillers are like life – more like life than you are, this lawn, your sandwiches, that pine. You used to laugh at the books Miss Savage read – about spies, and murders, and violence, and wild motor-car chases, but, dear, that’s real life; it’s what we’ve all made of the world since you died. I’m your little Arthur who wouldn’t hurt a beetle and I’m a murderer too. The world has been remade by William Le Queux.”

I enjoyed Ministry of Fear – even as I was, not surprisingly, confused by it. Some more quotes:

He had in those days imagined himself capable of extraordinary heroisms and endurances which would make the girl he loved forget the awkward hands and the spotty chin of adolescence. Everything had seemed possible. One could laugh at daydreams, but so long as you had the capacity to daydream there was a chance that you might develop some of the qualities of which you dreamed. It was like the religious discipline: words however emptily repeated can in time form a habit, a kind of unnoticed sediment at the bottom of the mind, until one day to your own surprise you find yourself acting on the belief you thought you didn’t believe in.

 

His heart beat and the band played, and inside the lean experienced skull lay childhood.

 

 

— 7 —

"amy welborn"Here’s a short story for you that’s about a hundred and seventy-five levels below the writing of Graham Greene. 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)

 

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Thoughts, of course, are leaning towards the fall and a new school year. As families drive by and drop off books, tablets and laptops at school, you can’t avoid the question, what next?

Some systems and schools in some areas probably won’t change much of what they were doing. Others will institute new policies directed at greater cleanliness and distancing – which, I’m going to say, for a school, is not a bad thing. Schools – as is the case with all public places – are probably going to be a lot safer, health-wise, now that we’re plunged into this sanitizing craze. More thoroughly clean those spaces inhabited by six-year olds all day? I’m for that. Make sure they keep their grimy hands off each other? Spacing in buses, giving less proximity to the bullies? Good idea.

There are various graphics circulating which purport to summarize CDC recommendations on this score. I don’t know how accurate those are, but this is the CDC’s actual page on recommendations for schools – and it’s updated regularly, it seems. 

Looking through it, I’m struck by some of the same thoughts that I’ve had in considering back-to-Mass regulations. As in: all those innovations we’ve been pushing on you for decades?

Never mind. 

In this case, for example: “Turn desks to face in the same direction (rather than facing each other)”

File:Queensland State Archives 1640 Kelvin Grove State School ...

Hah.

Of course, they’re not six feet apart.

But. 

This is for parents.

If your school – private or public – or system starts instituting procedures and rules that strike you as over-the-top, guess what….you can check out. Leave. Walk away. Don’t have to send the kid there.

It will be hard. It’s hard. You will have to rethink so much about your life.

You don’t have to be a part of it.

You just don’t.

Yes, your child needs an education. He’s a human being with a mind and soul that naturally wants to learn and figure things out. School is not the only place that can happen.

And guess what – a school environment filled with rules and regulations and loads of invisible lines is not, to say the least, one friendly to learning.

School  – while it can be great – can also be very hard  for children and families. It can be stressful and harmful to a child’s sense of self. Peers can be brutal. A highly competitive atmosphere can skew a child’s understanding of what it means to be human. A  chaotic atmosphere can lead to days and days of nothing but frustration and wasted time. From a parent’s perspective, the hassle of understanding school procedures, keeping up with pedagogical fads and demands, and just signing all those damn forms can be exhausting and alienating.

Very simply: if it looks to you as if school this fall is going to be a stressful, ridiculous mess in which your child will be spending eight hours a day being told don’t get so close – don’t touch that – don’t talk, just listen – no you can’t play catch because you’ll be touching the same ball – no you can’t sing because that spreads the virus – 

….Get. Out. 

Getting out can mean any number of things. Depending on the situation in your particular area, it definitely doesn’t have to mean what it’s meant for so many over the past months:  an “education” based on isolation, with your kid’s work reflecting someone else’s educational priorities and philosophies, with little contact with friends or activity outside the home.

It can mean anything. I’m not going to do a rehash of what it means to homeschool. You can go here in case you’re interested in my perspective and (limited) experience.

But what I hope is that if, indeed a school or a system embraces extreme, stress-inducing procedures for this fall, parents and families will, yes, #resist and engage, creatively with each other and find the will and strength to create alternatives – which can be all over the map, ranging from online classes to individual tutoring to small-scale co-ops or tutoring groups.

As I say over and over again – this is hard. People have to work. Hopefully, they’ll be able to work in greater numbers by the fall, which makes taking a kid out of school daunting and perhaps near-impossible. Supervising a child’s education responsibly takes far more effort that switching on a laptop at the beginning of the day. I’ve written over and over about this – I’m not anti-school in general.greatly appreciate what a quality school and dedicated teachers give my children.

But….

am anti-schools that restrict, restrain and limit a child’s experience and horizons. I’m anti-schools that present a child with a single vision of “success,” “achievement” and “accomplishment” based on the current pedagogical fads and social expectations. I’m anti-schools that don’t respect family time and a child’s need for unstructured time.

My fear is that this pandemic will only lead to more of what’s most damaging about the school experience and will just encourage the worst, control-freak instincts of educational administrators and that parents, stressed-out, fearful and seeing only very limited options, will just say yes, convinced that this is the only way.

It’s not. 

***

Kerry McDonald writes:

We should care deeply about children’s health and safety, but like much about this pandemic, it’s important to make sure that the response isn’t more damaging than the virus itself. Many parents and educators are rightfully concerned about children’s mental health during these lockdowns, but when lockdowns end and schools reopen, children’s mental health could be worsened with extreme social distancing measures that remove any of the potentially enjoyable pieces of schooling, such as playground time, extracurriculars, and gathering with friends.

Stripped of these accessories that can often compensate for the more oppressive parts of conventional schooling, it’s not surprising that some parents and students would choose to continue with homeschooling or virtual learning until the pandemic ends.

****

Now, as I was writing this, something else occurred to me.  We could actually go either way on this, right?

This situation could encourage megalomaniac school administrators to, indeed, go even deeper into their authoritarian fantasies, making everyone’s life hell – or….

…just as the work-from-home situation has alerted employers to the efficiencies and cost-saving aspects of increased working from home, so might those engaged in education, from families to churches to schools, be forced, by circumstance, to a different way.

That is: maybe we can best protect everyone by getting students in and out of this place as quickly as possible. 

Minimizing social aspects of the day. Moving away from the ideal of school-as-community and simply focusing on what needs to get done. No meals served on campus, no extraneous group activities.

Get ’em in. Sit ’em down (all facing the same way!). Teach them some stuff. Everyone’s on the clock, since we’re in smaller groups, perhaps one half of the school here in the morning, the other half in the afternoon. No time to waste. And then, after three or four hours of focused work – off you go, back home.

The only glitch being, of course, that no one would trust that this 3-4 hours (the actual instruction time in a typical school day these days anyway)  would actually be “enough.” The kids would be followed home by all sorts of assignments and websites to check in with at home. And it would be endless. 

Or maybe not. Maybe the challenges and of these past few weeks will have soured the taste for that sort of thing, too, as teachers and families reflect on the fact that one of the meanings of online school is that….school’s never out. 

And who wants that?

1967, SCHOOL LAST DAY SCENES | Historic Images

 

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Today’s the memorial of St. Bernardine (Bernardino) of Siena:

At 22, he entered the Franciscan Order and was ordained two years later. For almost a dozen years he lived in solitude and prayer, but his gifts ultimately caused him to be sent to preach. He always traveled on foot, sometimes speaking for hours in one place, then doing the same in another town.

Especially known for his devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus, Bernardine devised a symbol—IHS, the first three letters of the name of Jesus in Greek—in Gothic letters on a blazing sun. This was to displace the superstitious symbols of the day, as well as the insignia of factions: for example, Guelphs and Ghibellines. The devotion spread, and the symbol began to appear in churches, homes and public buildings. Opposition arose from those who thought it a dangerous innovation. Three attempts were made to have the pope take action against him, but Bernardine’s holiness, orthodoxy, and intelligence were evidence of his faithfulness.

General of the Friars of the Strict Observance, a branch of the Franciscan Order, Bernardine strongly emphasized scholarship and further study of theology and canon law. When he started there were 300 friars in the community; when he died there were 4,000. He returned to preaching the last two years of his life, dying while traveling.

I’m sure there are other collections out there, perhaps some with more contemporary translations, but this is one I grabbed from archive.or. It’s worth your time. If you’re interested in that sort of thing. They give you an intriguing snapshot of the time, for these sermons were, of course, not being given during Mass, but outside of it, probably outdoors, to the entire community, wealthy and poor. The uses examples from all walks of life, from bakers to shoemakers to farmers, and has great concern for local political squabbles.

Beccafumi, Domenico, 1484/1485-1551; San Bernardino Preaching in the Campo, Siena

Source

So, for example, his sermons on vanity.

(I’ve embedded the book below. You can also go here – remember you can download these books as pdfs. The table of contents is at the back of the book.)

Sermon 28 is on vanity. It’s applicable to the present moment, perhaps not in every particular, since social morays and cultural expectations do change over time, but in the basic spiritual orientation, largely neglected today, even in the self-consciously Christian world. What’s deemed necessary and credible in “evangelization” is framed differently in an affluent, image-oriented culture.

This lengthy sermon goes all over the place and reflects, of course, his time – a time in which social and economic class and position were reflected in dress, sometimes by local law (called sumptuary laws). So there is a touch of that in this sermon – attempting to punch above your weight with your clothing is a manifestation of vanity – but just a bit. More important to Bernardine is the message that attempting to draw attention to oneself and using clothing as an indicator of wealth and privilege is vanity, and therefore sinful.

It’s also unjust:

The fifth sin and sign of the displeasure of God is injustice: and here we will pause a little, for if thou look well into this sin thou wilt see that of ten which thou dost commit, nine are comprised in this one. Thou wilt give thy daughter to a man as his wife; and neither he who taketh her in marriage, nor her father, nor her mother , doth consider whence come her possessions ; whereas if they were wise, they would have considered it their duty to think of this before all else : whence come these possessions, whence come these garments, of what is her dowry made up ?

For many times, and most times, it is made up of robbery, of usury, and of the sweat of the brow of peasants,, and of the blood of widows, and of the marrow of wards and orphans. “Who would take one ‘ of those petticoats and squeeze it and wring it, would see issue therefrom the blood of human beings. Woe is me ! Do you never think how great cruelty is this, that thou shouldst dress thyself in garments that this man hath gained for thee, who perisheth with cold? And thou sayest : my father stands well and is rich; he hath given me a very great dowry. And doth it not seem clear to thee that he stands well ? Yea, with his head down ! If the husband of a woman of this kind were to do that which he should do, things would go far better than they go now. Thou hast it that Christ was dressed in a purple garment, so that he should be held in derision, for they wished to mock him; and yet it was suited to him, since that such a garment is the most precious one that can be found in this life; so that he deserved it well, since that there was never a creature more precious than Christ. And therefore, by the example of Christ, woman, this morning learn this. Every time that thou dost wear violet, which hath in it the colour of vermilion, if thou dost wear it when it hath been ill-gained, thou dost wear it in mockery of Christ. And you have five of them, now take the other five.

The first of the other five is called superfluity: The first of the whereas you must reflect that when God gave the garment of skin to Adam, he gave it to him out of decency, and to protect him from the heat and the cold, so that it might be fitted to his needs, and in this all the holy Doctors agree; and he had one only and no more. thou who hast so many of them, and keepest them in a chest, see to it, forsooth, that they be not moth-eaten; see to it that thou dost put them out in the morning sun to air, and shake them well, and look to them often. And now weary thyself in such work as much as thou wilt, yet shalt thou not be able to hinder but that moths shall consume them, since that the garment which is not worn, is always spoiled; and that which is spoiled is a loss. Go, then, and give an account of this in the other life. And because of this said Saint James in the fifth chapter of his Canonical Epistle : Vestimenta tua a tineis contesta sunt –  Your garments are moth-eaten; and if they are not consumed by material moths, yet they will be consumed by spiritual ones.

Knowest thou what are spiritual moths ? They are cursed avarice. Tell me, whence cometh it, that thou dost weary thyself with so much work all the year for these, * and dost never wear them? Thou dost weary thyself all the year, shaking them and hanging them up on poles; and a poor woman standeth yonder and doth freeze with cold, because that she hath not even so much clothing as she hath need of. What thinkest thou that her shivering doth cry out to God in respect of thee ? ….And thou lookest on at the poor man who doth perish with cold, and thou takest no heed thereof. Thou dost not hear any sound of cries, forsooth. Knowest thou why ? Because thou sufferest not from the cold; thou dost fill thy belly with good food, thou dost drink thy fill, and thou hast many garments upon thy back, and ofttimes dost thou sit by a fire. Thou takest thought for naught else: with a full belly thou art comforted in thy soul. And how many shirts, women, have you sent down here to those unfortunate prisoners, eh ?

It’s an interesting alternative to a world in which evangelists and spiritual thought leaders get (and seek, even indirectly) flattery and are emulated for their makeup tips, hair, skin and clothing choices, in which spiritual encouragers and inspirers are really just influencers with Bible quotes on their feed.

And then this sermon on accumulating stuff and alms.

Now consider for a little that which God doth command us. A very little thing doth he command us. He doth not command that thou should give  more than thou canst give. He doth not wish that thou shouldst leave thyself with naught. He saith: Wouldst thou give an alms ? Then give it. Canst thou not give a loaf? No ? Then give a part of one. Canst thou not give wine ? Then give some water which hath -been poured over the lees. If thou canst not give even such wine, then give some vinegar mixed with water. Canst thou not clothe a poor man? No. Give him at the least, as perchance thou canst, a pair of drawers, or a shirt. Canst thou not aid the sick man ? See that thou hast at least pity upon him : have compassion on him, comfort him with words. Canst thou not deliver him from prison? No. Visit him, send him some- times a little soup, and have compassion for him. If thou dost take thought for this, it will be well for thee ! Aad therefore do I say that God will judge with perfect justice.

In a time in which, in one way or another, the prosperity Gospel reigns, Bernardine – as well as other spiritual writers from the breadth and depth of Christian tradition – serve as a corrective. He preached to mixed groups, to wealthy and to poor, and his words to the wealthy are always about the folly of putting faith in these worldly things and God’s judgment that awaits those who hoard and ignore the cries of the poor.

Following Christ, it seems, is not about mimicking and attempting to baptize contemporary values of achievement and self-fulfillment, but of something more simple and basic: loving as Christ did and treating the gift of life on earth as one to keep giving, poured out as He did.

You might also like his sermon on the tongue – that is, on speech, in which he riffs off his understanding of the anatomy of the tongue to offer his listeners advice on the wise and charitable use of the gift of speech.

God put the tongue ‘in man’s head.

Knowest  thou why he put it in the head rather than in any other place ? Because in the head are all the senses. And these senses surround the tongue placed among them, showing that whatsoever thou speakest, thou shouldst speak with caution, since thou canst do naught which the senses do not perceive, and according as thou speakest, so shalt thou be esteemed.

11.God placed the tongue lower than the ears, and he placed one ear on this side, and the other on that side,  and they keep the tongue in the middle between them, and keep guard over it one on each side. And therefore when thou speakest thou shouldst consider : from which side do I speak ? I shall be overheard if I speak here, for here is the right ear. If I speak there, there is the left ear, which doth hear what I say.

12. The tongue is placed under the two eyes, signifying the two kinds of knowledge that a man ought to have; the namely, to know how to distinguish the true and the false, and when a thing is not true, never to say it. And the true thing if thou knowest it, thou mayest say it most times without sinning, but not always.

13. The tongue is placed below the nostrils of the nose, it is also below so that when thou sayest aught about thy neighbour, first thou touchest thyself, to see whether thou hast the same fault. I know not whether thou hast given heed to this, that when one man wisheth to speak of another, first he toucheth his nose, and then commenceth to speak, proving first in regard to himself that he is full of the very fault of which he doth accuse his neighbour. And therefore do ” not point out that thou art good and thy neighbour bad ; look first to thyself, and afterwards to thy neighbour. And of such as these speaks Saint Matthew, in the seventh chapter: Hypocrita, eilce primum trabem de oculo tuo. Thou hypocrite, who wishest to show that thou art esteemed a good man, cast out first the beam out of thy own eye, and then re- prove others. Thou, on the other hand, who art reproved by some one for that which thou hast not done, but which he himself hath done, say to him : Wipe thy nose !

 

 

 

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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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There’s a lot of scolding going on.

So much scolding. All the scolding! Just… a lot. 

Scolding, along with posturing, virtue signaling, and presumption of motives.

I really don’t know a way out. I am resisting the temptation to, you know, scold.

But every day, I wonder,

What happened to #Resist? 

And moving back the referential point a few decades:

What happened to “Question authority?”

It’s funny, sad and weird. But not so weird, because this is just human nature and human behavior: to follow crowds, to get caught up in mass hysteria and to be so, so selective in our outrage and judgment.

What seems to be at the heart of so much of the fraughtness of public discussion on the response to Covid-19 is, no matter what “side” you are on, is an insistence on the absolute veracity of the evidence supporting your side, invariably accompanied by an insistence on the condemnation-worthy motives of those you see as your opponent. 

gif-apprehensive-doubtful-emma-watson-skeptical-thinking-gif

I’m sure students of rhetoric and argument have categories for all of that.

I find the first point – the insistence of the absolute veracity of your “evidence” – as amusing and incomprehensible, for the most part. More on that in a bit.

And I find the second point – the judgment and condemnation of your opponents’ motives – as predictable, since the internet seems to have exacerbated that very common tic.

But you put those together, and you get massive toxicity, which is deeply unhelpful in maintaining any civil society, making wise public policy decisions or helping anyone grow in wisdom or charity.

And you see it in the Catholic world, too. Proclamation of infallibles, invariably accompanied by hurling of excommunications.

You call yourself pro-life.

You say you care about the common good. 

I’m not offering a simple formula. How to Discuss a Pandemic Without Losing Your Mind or Your Soul. 

I wish.

But I’m just saying  – skepticism is…fine. 

What do I mean by “skepticism?” I mean simply an attitude that accepts how little we know about anything: about cause and effect, about what helps and hurts, about institutional and individual motives.

And above all, it’s an attitude that understands the existence of a specific reality that we know for sure exists, even if we can’t be certain about anything else:

Unintended Consequences. 

They. Will. Come. And they bite. 

It’s not an invitation to paralysis or agnosticism. It’s an invitation to realism and charity and most of all, humility.

So:

  • “Science” is wrong all the time, and always has been. “Science,” in fact, learns and grows from its mistakes and misapprehensions and limitations. There is no particular virtue in waving the flag of “the science says.” “The Science” has said a lot of bonkers things over the years.
  • With a moving target, a newly-emerged illness like this, of course the “science” is going to change and develop – we do what we can with the knowledge we have, adjust and change as new knowledge comes forth, and knowing this, it’s okay to have healthy skepticism about any current status. That’s not the same as dismissing – it’s simply humility.
  • Skepticism about science as it converges with government and/or with profit-making is absolutely called for. This kind of skepticism doesn’t make you a “conspiracy-monger” (remember what I said about presuming motives?) It might just mean you know about things like the Tuskegee Study, the Guatemala Syphilis Study, the American military Mustard Gas study….and countless others. As well as the ways in which the results of scientific studies are massaged and controlled in order to promote products or desired results by research labs, corporations and other entities.
  • Skepticism about social and civil response to crisis. We can get things very wrong. We can go down wrong paths. It’s happened. We can enslave, oppress, put people in internment camps, experiment on vulnerable populations, engage in unjust wars and commit atrocities. To put the brakes on and question is a good thing. 
  • Skepticism about social and civil response to crisis because of incomplete information and because of the motives of those with vested interests in certain outcomes. Who’s profiting from this – is not an unreasonable question.

And see..here’s the thing. We know this.  We look back on history and we’re amazed at how gullible people were, how unquestioning their trust was, how their fears moved them to support injustice. But somehow, when we get in the midst of a crisis like this, it becomes a thoughtcrime to apply the questions we willingly ask of the past to the present.

…you’d think we’d know better.

Short Version of all of this:  To gripe about the inefficiencies, dishonesty, graft and corruption of government in the past, to note mistaken, misleading, outright deceptive and self-aggrandizing postures from science, tech and other entities, especially in crisis, in the past, to be explore serious issues of economic inequality and exploitation and the balance between economic and human cost of our actions in the past –  but then to treat similar concerns about the present as simply beyond the pale  – makes no sense.

And I could go on. Okay, I will.

  • Skepticism about lockdowns. To want everything shut down for safety? Sure. Tell me about it. Talk about it. What’s your experience? To want things opened up to various degrees? To be concerned about the cost, about jobs lost, about schooling interrupted, about lives interrupted, about domestic abuse, about loneliness? Sure. Tell me about it. Talk about it. What’s your experience? Neither perspective makes you a monster. Let’s talk about why you think what you do, why you propose your particular solution.
  • Skepticism about the long-term consequences of government action in a moment of crisis. Patriot Act, etc.
  • Skepticism about various individuals and entities stake in a lockdown situation. Sure, why not? Dig through it. Question why Amazon and the Walton family should enjoy amazing profits right now. Question the stimulus bills and who’s getting what and why.
  • Skepticism about the response of health care institutions and the more general impact on public health. Asking questions about the impact of current restrictions on treatment of non-Covid-related conditions – on the availability of services, on reduction of services, particularly in already underserved areas, on the unwillingness of those suffering to seek help, either out of fear of contracting Covid or – just as powerfully – the fear that if something is found wrong and they must be treated – they will be going at it alone, with No Visitors Allowed. Asking questions about that, wondering what the right course is to balance the risk of infection with treatment of non-Covid ailments and the mental health of patients – does not mean you want to kill grandma or HONESTLY HOW CAN YOU CALL YOURSELF PROLIFE. MONSTER. 
  • Skepticism about information and information sources. Agendas, biases, motives. All there, all worth exploring, nothing taken for granted.

And now…the Church.

Lots and lots of scolding out there, sniffing for the travails of our poor bishops. Well, maybe. I know a few, and sure, this is not easy. There are so many factors to consider and balance, and many, many clergy and others in pastoral ministry find this truly agonizing and difficult.

But again. Given history? It’s okay to be skeptical and to ask questions. From the perspective of humility and respect, but sure. Given history – that no, it is not true that Church officials always make decisions with the common good in mind and are never craven, lazy, protective of turf, fearful or indifferent to their most profound responsibilities to God and to the faithful –

….yeah…

Remember what I said about not judging motives? Yup, that applies here, too. Not assuming anything, not judging decisions we know nothing about.

But …asking questions and posing them and exploring different options? In a spirit of humility and co-operation? And being willing to answer and discuss, rather than dismiss with platitudes?

Absolutely necessary. 

Robust discussion of facts and figures and policies is so important in a crisis, but it’s just as important that this discussion happen in a spirit of humility – about the information we have and the motivations of those who might disagree with our perspective.

I do not, for the life of me, understand why it’s seen as acceptable, especially among those who call themselves Christian, to respond to disagreement with, “Well, you obviously just…” instead of “Okay. I’m interested in your perspective. Why do you think that? Let’s talk about it some more.”

 

 

 

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In a week to few weeks, most Catholic parishes will be reopening for regular Sunday Mass. It’s already begun in some places. There will be much reflection about What This Has All Meant and How We Have Been Changed.

I’m going to do something I generally try very hard not to do – which is to make suggestions about what other people should do. Sharing information and trying to make connections is more what I’m about. Hell, I don’t even see myself in the business of encouraging and inspiring you.  But I am feeling, as we say, a burden on my heart, so here goes – from someone who just sits in the pews and listens. And is sort of dreading it.

Speaking of burdens, it will be a heavy burden and responsibility to get up in front of a congregation – deacons, priests, bishops – and preach for the first time after months of empty churches. There is a great deal to unpack. But here’s my simple suggestion as a way to begin thinking about an approach:

Don’t assume that everyone has had the same experience of this time. 

Just start there.

And for sure..

Don’t assume that everyone shares your experiences and opinions of this time. 

Let’s survey the range you might find in a typical congregation:

  • Those who have suffered from Covid-19 personally. Those who have been ill. Those who have known individuals who have been ill and cared for them. Those who have known individuals who have died from Covid-19.
  • Those who have seen their businesses skate to the edge because of shutdowns, those who have lost their businesses.
  • Those who have lost their jobs.
  • Those who have have been sent home from school, who have missed milestones like graduation.
  • Those who have been negatively impacted by the shutdowns and are sanguine about it.
  • Those who have been negatively impacted by the shutdowns and are confused, angry and resentful.
  • Those who haven’t known anyone personally impacted.
  • Those who have kept working during this time, who’ve not lost time or money.
  • Those worried about the stock market, not because they are fat cats, but because there goes their retirement income.
  • Those who have welcomed this as an opportunity for change and growth.
  • Those who have resented the experience and are angry. Outraged, even.
  • Those who are impacted in a negative way by the constant flow of news and speculation.
  • Those who are at peace with it all.
  • Those who are totally on board with restrictions.
  • Those who are restriction-skeptics.
  • Those who are afraid of being infected.
  • Those who aren’t afraid – those who don’t think that they are at risk, or those who are accepting of whatever comes.
  • Those who started wearing a mask on March 1.
  • Those who pull their shirt collar up over their nose for a mask and resent that. 
  • Those whose family lives have been deepened and enhanced by the time in quarantine
  • Those for whom the quarantine and extended time with family has exacerbated tensions and made problems more obvious
  • Those who think this is a Very Big Deal
  • Those who think this is Not Such a Big Deal
  • Those who have experienced this as a call to change.
  • Those who just want things to go back to the way they were.
  • Those who have, for the first time in their lives, thought seriously about questions of life and death. And are maybe coming back to the church for the first time, or for the first time in a long time because of it.
  • Those who are rethinking their priorities and choices as a consequence of the shutdown and the mystery and possibility of serious illness

You may not find every permutations of this variety in your pews, but I think you’ll find a lot of it. Don’t be fooled by the echo chamber of news, reporting and discussion that most of us fall into that confirms our own biases. Some of those perspectives might drive you crazy and strike you as so very wrong, but well…there are as many different experiences and opinions of this time as there are human beings. That’s just the way it is.

My point?

I am dreading a slew of homilies that do little more than echo the endless drumbeating of We’re All In This Together PSAs with a particular modern Catholic flourish of We’re an Easter People, everything will be all right!  Nice to see you again!

So how can a preacher, teacher or speaker communicated in this moment without assuming too much, but then, as a consequence, simply falling into platitudes and pious generalizations?

I don’t know. There! That solves it!

Well, perhaps part of the answer might come from Bishop Robert Barron, whose homily we watched yesterday.

(We have, as I mentioned, been attending Mass at the parish where my son is employed as an organist. But a week ago, he had a bike accident, lacerated his elbow, and is still on the mend, so we stayed home this weekend. He’ll be back on the bench this coming weekend.)

 

 

Here’s the recording.The point Bishop Barron makes, in his words mostly addressed to other preachers, but applicable to all of us, since all of us are called to give witness, is to look to Peter’s approach, as described in the first reading from Acts:

Focus on Jesus, not yourself, your own doubts, your own experience, your own ideas. And pray, not that your words give superficial comfort, but that they cut to the heart. 

I’ve always felt that the great strength of Catholic liturgy – of any high liturgical tradition – is to give space. It all seems, from the outside, very full  – but all of the proscribed words, gestures and symbols function, in the end, as a space of freedom. Your worship is not about an individual standing up in front of you telling you how to feel in a certain moment or how to respond to God right now.

Within the space of a highly structured, rich liturgy, there’s room for everyone to feel whatever they are bringing with them – joy, sorrow, confusion, doubt – and to sit with it, pray with it, present it to God, and respond to him freely. And it does so in whatever context it’s happening, in a place of privilege or poverty, comfort or insecurity.

It’s a space in which, when we are open, no matter who we are, or where we’re coming from, there is the chance that we might be cut to the heart. 

Powerful preaching, it seems to me, should fit that paradigm. Proposing the Gospel, presenting it in all its fullness, pointing to Jesus, clearly and joyfully – but without manipulation, respecting the wild variety of hearers, respecting God’s power to redeem and save, offering the Gospel that the Church has always preached, forcefully, clearly and humbly – and then stepping back. Letting the Spirit do its work.

So where do we start? Where we always do.

With the liturgical season, with the liturgy, the Scriptures that we’ve been given. It’s Easter Season. Maybe your parish will be gathering for the first time on Pentecost, or Trinity Sunday or Corpus Christi. That’s where we begin.

And I do think, no matter how different the experiences of each of us have been, it’s possible to draw connections without platitudes or incorrect generalizations.

For what have we all experienced?

The cold hard fact that the “control” each of us have over our lives is limited.

My life on earth is transitory. Ephemeral.

I don’t walk on earth as an isolated individual. I’m impacted by things I can identify, and many which I can’t, and are unpredictable and mysterious. It may not have felt like it over the past weeks, but I am in deep communion with every other person on earth. I affect them, they affect me.

Suffering and death are real. Unintended consequences are real.

Human beings stumble as they attempt to solve problems.

Life surprises us. Maybe I don’t know as much as I thought I did – about my own life, my family, about how the world works and why.

Maybe I need to change.

A yearning for permanence, health, security, normality, life – but a realization that none of that can be promised to me on earth. But still I yearn for it. Why? Is it perhaps because I’m created to yearn for this Good, and it is, indeed promised? Promised to me in an eternal way, to feed my eternal yearning?

 

Traditionally, Catholic spirituality is intensely centered on the Incarnate presence of Jesus in this broken world, in our broken hearts. It’s about reassuring us that yes, indeed, he’s present, that he loves us and that his Risen Life can be ours as well.

And it’s about helping each of us – no matter where we are or who we are – recognize that Presence and that Voice.

Essentially:

Where is God present in this weird, unpredictable life we lead?

and

What is God teaching me right now? 

Posing the question isn’t the same as answering it. The crucial thing is to propose that ancient truth that every moment of life on earth, no matter who we are,  provides an opportunity to do the most important thing: to know Him. To hear these words that we’ll hear in next Sunday’s Gospel and understand that they are true – right now. 

Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life.
No one comes to the Father except through me.

And no matter who we are, and where we’ve been over the past weeks, no matter what our opinions or experiences are – that’s what we all have in common. We need Him. Every experience we have can, if we are open, alert us more deeply to that reality – that right here, right now, we need Him – our only Way, our only Truth, our only Life.

 

 

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Who are you?

How did you become that person?

Did you have a choice?

Better Call Saul JMM Review – /Film

 

****

Well, now, Better Call Saul. That was a neat hat trick.

We were all fixated on the the moment and…that’s when Jimmy became Saul… 

…when all along we should have been looking for…that’s when Kim became…

well, not Saul, because she’s her own person. But…someone. 

SPOILERS. Don’t read if you don’t want to be spoiled. Although it was almost two weeks ago, and if you wanted to watch it, you’d have done so by now.

It wasn’t a shock though. Whether or not the creators had an end game in mind since the beginning, to their credit,  the seeds have been there: Kim might have been an ethical rock in Jimmy’s life, but face it – she was also Giselle, and she was very, very turned on by that particular game.

There’s no reason for me to do a complete run-down and analysis here. You can get that elsewhere –like here. I also won’t spend much time weighing in on the is it better than Breaking Bad question. At this point, I’d say no. They are very different shows, and BCS is fantastic, but I still think there is a thrill-ride edginess to Breaking Bad that makes it all the more delectable. BCS is more of a slow burn and careful character study, and it’s great, but I think, at this point, BB still wins in my book. We’ll see, though. One more season to go. Sadly.

This has been an interesting season because, at least on the surface, Jimmy’s major foil is no longer a part of the picture – Chuck, his brother. Even last season, when Chuck was dead, his presence loomed large. I think for that reason, the dynamic is a little looser, less tightly focused this season, and therefore, Kim’s change edges onto center stage.

I love this show for what it is, but I’m also fascinated by it from a creative perspective. The creators of this had a “problem” – not in a bad sense, just in terms of a situation. We know Saul Goodman (we think) from Breaking Bad. We know what he’s like in that world, we know what happens to him by the end of that timeline. The question BCS explored was – how did he get that way? Where did Saul Goodman come from? They could have approached it from a million different directions, but they went with this particular storyline of character origin and transformation, and it’s just been fascinating to watch. And no, we’re not there yet. The Jimmy/Saul we now know at the end of season 5 of BCS is still not the Saul Goodman who casually suggests to Walt and Jesse…why not just kill Badger? And, furthermore, hits on…Francesca. I confess, of all the distinctions in the character between shows…that is the one that strikes me as the knottiest. Will they just ignore it? Or will they come up with some ingenious explanation? I’m betting on the latter.

Which brings me back to Kim. All along – really, from the beginning, up until the second-to-the last episode of this season, I’ve been one with most of the rest of you viewers, dreading Kim’s fate. Something terrible must happen to her we said – it’s the only explanation for how Jimmy became Saul. 

Er…well…maybe not?

A completely different scenario flashed through my head during that confrontation with Lalo in the penultimate episode. What if…I wondered…during the Breaking Bad timeline…Kim’s not dead or in witness protection…or left Jimmy in disgust…what if she’s actually become some super-successful attorney working for some part of the cartel? And what Jimmy/Saul is doing is…related to her work, a cover for it or even in reaction to it? 

The possibilities are endless, and intriguing, and, from the perspective of creativity and art, quite suggestive.

And note a theme – the theme that dominates both shows. Both Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul focus us on broken, hurting human beings who might, indeed, have reason to blame their troubles on external factors – sickness, other people, family dynamics, threats – and who make a choice, ultimately, to go with that blame and let it control their decisions. Pride drives Walter White, and to some extent, Jimmy McGill. Jimmy’s trajectory is all the more painful because he really does mean well, and he really does try – while Walter White is pretty terrible from the beginning (something viewers tend to forget). But Jimmy is ultimately driven just as much by pride as Walt is.

Further, both shows are also about how that original sin, as it were, spreads. It’s like Genesis 1-11 brought to life in New Mexico, but with lawyers, drugs and money instead of forbidden fruit, grain sacrifices and ziggurats.

It was the great, overarching theme of Breaking Bad and while less dominant here in Better Call Saul, it still plays a part, especially, we now see, in the dynamic between Kim (magnificently played by Rhea Seehorn, perhaps one of the best female characters on any television show, ever) and Jimmy/Saul.

Who is Kim? We don’t know all about her, but we do know that she has worked very, very hard – to a fault. She is driven and meticulous with a ethical core – that is, however, sorely tempted and tried by the satisfaction of being Giselle, and all that means.  She can also justify the scams and deceit up to a point, since sometimes what she gets into is for the sake of a greater good. Ends justifies the means, and all that.

It’s about the difficulty of doing the right thing and the pull of doing the wrong thing.

So how do we become who we are? And who are we, anyway? Internal, external forces, innate factors, genetics, circumstances, emotions, reactions. Whoever we are at any given moment emerges from all of that muck – just as these characters and who they are emerge from the the muck of their fictional lives and the muck of the creative process.

It’s messy. But here’s the thing:  in the end, someone has to make a choice.

(From season 3)

Kim: I could have killed someone, Jimmy.

Jimmy: Yeah, yourself.

Kim: I worked most of last week on maybe six hours of sleep and then I crossed three lanes of traffic and I don’t remember any of it.

Jimmy: Look, you were just doing what you thought you had to do because of me.

Kim: You didn’t make me get in that car. It was all me. I’m an adult. I made a choice.

 

Yes, Jimmy McGill had an overbearing jerk of a brother.  Yes, he’s got a skill for manipulation and an attraction to showmanship. Yes, Kim Wexler (apparently) had an insecure childhood and is attracted to the power of dramatic exaggeration herself. Yes, Mike and his son, Nacho and his dad.  Yes, Walter White got lung cancer and was ripped off by his former friends and partners.

But I think what’s clear from both Better Call Saul is the persistent power of the reality and value of free will. We really do believe in it. And we believe that there are right and wrong uses of that free will. It’s why we watch shows and read books like this with such engagement and, at times, anxiety. That engagement shows that no, we really don’t believe everything is relative or all choices are equally valid and your truth is as good as my truth. We can be amused at the highjinks and gasp in dread and admiration and at the audacious moves, but most of us, despite the entertainment value of all that, stick with it because we really do want these pretend people to figure out how to use their pretend powers for good and stop, you know, helping the other pretend people get away with murder.

And we’re into it because we’re in it. Rising from muck ourselves every day, we’re pushed and pulled too. We’ve got our skills and our gifts and tragedies, our opportunities, our curses and we’ve got something else that the pretend people have, but ours are too real because this is real life:

Choices. 

 

Better Call Saul Season 5 Finale: Peter Gould Interview

Am I bad for you?

 

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When the officials had brought the apostles in to face the Sanhedrin, the high priest demanded an explanation. ‘We gave you a formal warning’ he said ‘not to preach in this name, and what have you done?

today’s first reading from Mass. 

Not, we hope, one of the boring parts. 

****

Both this first reading from Mass today and the feast of St. George jostle our consciences with reminders of the role of courage in the Christian life – its source and why it is always needed. In other words, there’s always resistance to the Good News, from within and without.

******

Today is the commemoration of St. George.

St. George is in the Loyola Kids Book of Saints.  In the first part of the chapter I try to strike the balance between what we think we know about George and the legendary material. But I also always try to respect the legendary material as an expression of a truth – here, the courage required to follow Christ. He’s in the section, “Saints are people who are brave.”

"amy Welborn"

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"amy Welborn"

 

Here’s a bit more on context of this feast from The New Liturgical Movement:

The Byzantine Rite has no such reservations about St George, as is often the case with some of the best loved legends and traditions about the Saints. He is honored with the titles “Great Martyr”, meaning one who suffered many and various torments during his martyrdom, and “Bearer of the Standard of Victory”; in the preparation rite of the Divine Liturgy, he is named in the company of martyrs second only to St Stephen. His feast always occurs in Eastertide, unless it be impeded by Holy Week or Easter week; one of the texts for Vespers of his feast refers to this in a very clever way.

Thou didst suffer along with the Savior, and having willingly imitated His death by death (thanato ton thanaton … mimesamenos), o glorious one, thou reignest with Him, clothed in bright splendor, adorned with thy blood, decorated with the scepter of thy prizes, outstanding with the crown of victory, for endless ages, o Great-Martyr George.

The phrase “having willingly imitated His death by death” makes an obvious reference to words of the well-known Paschal troparion, “Christ is risen from the dead, by death he conquered death (thanato ton thanaton … patesas), and gave life to those in the tomb.”

 

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