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Some Annunciation-related material from my books:

The Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories

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The Loyola Kids Book of Catholic Signs and Symbols

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And…here’s the chapter from Mary and the Christian Life on the Annunciation. (pdf)

The entire book is available for free here until midnight tonight. 

There’s also, of course, a chapter on the Hail Mary in here.

Here’s the first page.

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— 1

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

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— 2 —

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— 3 —

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

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

Including:

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

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

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

And don’t forget the American Masters episode.

— 4 —

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

— 5 —

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

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

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

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

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

………

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

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

— 6 —

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

— 7 —

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mere feelings and beliefs are unverifiable; and

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

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

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

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

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

There. Take that one to the bank.

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

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In him the Old Testament finds its fitting close. He brought the noble line of patriarchs and prophets to its promised fulfillment. What the divine goodness had offered as a promise to them, he held in his arms.  – from a homily of St. Bernardine of Siena. 

Some images for you, first from the Loyola Kids Book of Signs and Symbols. Recall the structure: left side page has an image and a basic description. Right side page goes into more depth.

Secondly, the first and last page of the entry on Joseph’s dream from the Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories. First page, to give you a sense of the narrative style and the image, the last page, to help you see how each entry concludes: circling around to some aspect of Catholic practice or teaching, along with a reflection question and a prayer prompt. Also remember that the stories in this book are organized according to when they would generally be heard in Mass during the liturgical year. So this story is in the “Advent” section. Also, links go the publisher’s site, not to Amazon.

Next, a vintage holy card from the Shrine of St. Joseph in Montreal that interests me because it predates the construction of the large basilica:

From the Oratory of St. Joseph in Montreal.  

I just love the blues on the card above and the not-quite Art-Noveauishness of it.

At the shrine featured in the vintage holy cards.  Summer 2011. 

The sign says “Reserved for pilgrims climbing on their knees.”

The wonderful Catholic artist Daniel Mitsui, whose depiction of St. Joseph dreaming is above, has  a blog. It is an absolute treasure trove of wisdom, whether you are an artist or not. Please go visit, bookmark, get on his mailing list, and support his work.  Easter’s coming. Surely there’s someone out there who’d appreciate the gift of one his prints?

From 2019, a St. Joseph celebration at a local Catholic school:

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Also, here’s “Saint Joseph” as he manifested in 2010 or so on my front porch.

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Here are some images from beginning-of-Lent related material from a couple of my books.

The entry on “Ashes” from The Loyola Kids Book of Catholic Signs and Symbols. 

The beginning of the account of the Temptation in the Desert – always the Gospel for the First Sunday of Lent – from The Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories.

Remember, those stories are arranged in sections according to the liturgical season in which one would normally hear that particular Scripture narrative. So, this is in the “Lent” section.

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As promised and expected, rescinded today by executive order.

Here is a factsheet on the policy from the Population Research Institute.

Basically, every president, very early on, stakes out a position on this. It was instituted during Reagan’s administration, in 1984.

In response, the Senate voted (in the typically complicated Senatorial way) on an amendment to an amendment to a bill to table an expression of support for the policy, and Senator Joe Biden voted in support of Reagan’s Mexico City Policy.

Clinton, after running as, if not quite pro-life, but in a way that made pro-lifers think he might not be their enemy, was on record, in a 1986 letter to Arkansas Right to Life, as opposing government funding for abortion….reversed the Mexico City Policy on his first day in office, as the crowds were gathering for the March for Life. I vividly remember that because the Catholic circles I ran in at the time were all very up on Clinton and how he was really big-tent-pro-life-and-not-just-anti-abortion-because-justice. And then, his first day,  not only this, but more:

With a stroke of a pen, President Clinton marked the 20th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade Friday by dismantling a series of Ronald Reagan and George Bush Administration abortion restrictions, only hours after tens of thousands of anti-abortion demonstrators rallied across the street from the White House.

* Ended a five-year ban on fetal tissue research, which scientists believe holds the possibility of benefiting patients with Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, Huntington’s disease, spinal cord injuries and other conditions.

* Overturned the so-called gag rule that restricted abortion counseling at 4,000 federally funded family planning clinics nationwide.

* Revoked prohibitions on the importation of RU486–known as the French “abortion pill”–for personal use, if the Food and Drug Administration determines that there is no justification for the prohibitions.

* Allowed abortions at U.S. military hospitals overseas, if they are paid for privately.

* Reversed a 1984 order which prevented the United States from providing foreign aid to overseas organizations that perform or promote abortion.

Abortion rights advocates said Clinton’s actions were nothing short of historic.

It was eye-opening, to say the least.

And then, of course, Bush reinstated the Mexico City Policy on his first day, and then Obama reversed it on his.

And then Trump:

The executive order was signed January 23, one day after the anniversary of the far-reaching Roe v. Wade decision that mandated legal abortion throughout the U.S.

Originally instituted by President Ronald Reagan in 1984, the Mexico City Policy states that foreign non-governmental organizations may not receive federal funding if they perform or promote abortions as a method of family planning.

From USCCB testimony back in 2001:

The argument has been made by abortion proponents that the Mexico City Policy is nothing more than “powerful” U.S. politicians forcing their policies on poor nations. But, frankly, the opposite is true. First, the policy forces nothing: Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) may choose to apply for U.S. tax funds, and to be eligible, they must refrain from abortion activity. On the other hand, NGOs may choose to do abortions or to lobby foreign nations to change their laws which restrict abortion, and if they choose that path they render themselves ineligible for U.S. money. As we saw last time the policy was in place, only two out of hundreds of organizations elected to forfeit the U.S. money for which they were otherwise eligible. (1) But it was and will be entirely their choice.

Far from forcing a policy on poor nations, the Mexico City Policy ensures that NGOs will not themselves force their abortion ideology on countries without permissive abortion laws in the name of the United States as U.S. grantees.

And as we have learned from our experience in international conferences on population, it is not the Mexico City Policy but the United States’ promotion of permissive abortion attitudes through funding of such programs that is likely to cause resentment.(2) This is especially true when it is perceived as a means by which the West is attempting to impose population control policies on developing nations as conditions for development assistance.

The Mexico City Policy is needed because the agenda of many organizations receiving U.S. population aid has been to promote abortion as an integral part of family planning – even in developing nations where abortion is against the law.(3) So, far from being perceived as an imposition on developing nations, the Mexico City Policy against funding abortion programs has been greeted by those nations as a welcome reform. The vast majority of these countries have legal policies against abortion, and virtually all forbid the use of abortion as merely another method of birth control.(4)

Two other pieces on the policy from the PRI. Here, on the Trump administration’s extension of it, and then here, on the impact of the policy.

And now, like clockwork, the pendulum swings back. Almost 40 years ago, Joe Biden expressed support of the Mexico City Policy (consistent with his views for many years opposing government funding of abortion – he didn’t flip on Hyde until 2019), and today, as promised and expected, he signed an executive order rescinding the Mexico City Policy.

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Well, that’s strange. In my rush to publish this on Thursday night/Friday morning, I guess I published it for last Friday (the 8th). Huh. Those of you who subscribe to direct links saw it, but those who just show up to look at the front page…probably didn’t. So here it is again….

— 1 —

Yes, yes, I have more to say about social media and the internet and such, but I got a bit tired of saying it, so we can all wait a bit more. God knows, the landscape will probably undergo another avalanche and earthquake before we’re even close, so there’s no hurry. Ever.

If you want to check out what I’ve been gabbing about, just click backward.

The rest of this will be ridiculously random. Apologies in advance. I’m in a strange mood tonight.

— 2 —

With Ordinary Time, we’re in year B – which means the focus of the Sunday Gospels is Mark.

Consider this book – The Memoirs of St. Peter as an apt accompaniment to this year. I am! I’ve had the book for a while, read chunks of it, but will be keeping it at hand as a reference and spiritual companion to the Mass readings.

— 3 —

I have been reading about St. Margaret of Scotland the past couple of days. If you’d like to read the biography of her written by Turgot, her spiritual advisor and confessor, you can access it through the Internet Archive here.

St. Margaret of Scotland

I do have a work purpose in studying up on her, which means I am reading about her, searching for lessons and finding teachable moments.

What have I found? What I often find: Sanctity begins when we find ourselves in a certain moment and pray, not that God will help us “be happy” or “find our true selves” – but when we pray, instead, for God to work through us to serve the people he’s put in our lives, especially the poor.

— 4 —

To go from saints to sinners, but really, who has the right to proclaim the difference except for God, from the Public Domain Review – quickly becoming a favorite site – pages from the first published collection of mug shots.

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Not a bad looking crew for horse thieves, barn burners and pickpockets….

Quite thought-provoking.

— 5 —

Really, really interesting piece on a 1939 attempt to present a jazz, mostly Black version of A Midsummer’s Night Dream.

When Swingin’ the Dream opened on Broadway on 29 November 1939, the creators of this jazz version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream had every expectation of a smash hit. The music alone seemed worth the price of admission. Among the hits were Ain’t Misbehavin’, I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Jeepers Creepers, and

If you go down to the woods … Butterfly McQueen as Puck, Maxine Sullivan as Titania and Louis Armstrong as Bottom/Pyramus.

Darn That Dream. All this was intermingled with swing renditions of Mendelssohn’s Wedding March, from his 1842 Midsummer Night’s Dream. The music was performed by some of the biggest names around: Bud Freeman’s band played on one side of the stage, Benny Goodman’s inter-racial group on the other, and in the centre Donald Voorhees conducted an orchestra of 50.

The Shakespeare musical had a 150-strong cast, featuring many of America’s most popular black artists, including Maxine Sullivan as Titania, Juano Hernandez as Oberon and none other than Louis Armstrong as Bottom. The trumpeter reportedly turned down a part in another Broadway-bound jazz show, Young Man With a Horn, to star in it. Butterfly McQueen (AKA Prissy in Gone With the Wind) played Puck. Agnes de Mille, who a year later would break new ground in her Black Ritual for the newly formed Negro Unit of Ballet Theatre, oversaw the choreography.

The dancers included the great tap star Bill Bailey, the three Dandridge sisters (who played Titania’s pixie attendants), as well as 13 tireless jitterbugging couples. With set designs based on Walt Disney cartoons, it looked great, too. Sullivan’s Titania entered enthroned in a “World of Tomorrow” electric wheelchair, microphones appeared in the shape of snakes and caterpillars, while a pull-down bed hung from a tree.


It seemed destined to a be a hit, and a startlingly original one. But Swingin’ the Dream closed after only 13 performances – and lost its investors a staggering $100,000, the equivalent to about $2m today. Critics continue to debate what went wrong, hampered by the fact that no script for the show, other than a few pages from the Pyramus and Thisbe scene, has ever been found, despite extensive searches.

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— 6 —

As I mentioned a few days ago, I’ve been reading Hemingway stories. I must say that “An Alpine Idyll” is one of the strangest stories I’ve ever read. Not in a necessarily bad way – just…..strange.

I wonder if it’s based on something he heard about that really happened?

— 7 —

Anyway. Speaking of Gospels, today’s Gospel from the Mass readings is the healing of the paralytic from (of course) Mark. Here’s the first page of my retelling from the Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories.

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

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Over the past half-decade or so, blogs – which along with discussion boards of various types, had long provided the main venues for conversation and expression on the Internet – have been thoroughly usurped by social media: Snapchat, TikTok, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, primarily. And probably others my aged self isn’t aware of.

I use three of those, but minimally. I’ve had TikTok on my phone a couple of times, but deleted it. I know that my younger two sons (19 and 16) and their crowd pretty much only use Snapchat to communicate – rather than texting, even.

I generally don’t engage in “discussion” on any of them, unless it’s on a post by someone I actually, really know in some sense. And I don’t stay long. And I haven’t accepted new Facebook friends in years.

From the beginning of their rise – among my middle-age set, that is – I’ve maintained a distance, in terms of time and energy, from these platforms. I had an intuition from the beginning that there was something about them that didn’t serve my purpose in being online, and really, in the end, primarily served the owners of the platforms themselves.

And here’s what I eventually concluded. It’s rather challenging for me to put into words. Let’s see how I do. I’m going to focus on Instagram and Facebook because as problematic as Twitter is, it doesn’t share quite the same issues, and I think most of the “self-expression” energy these days is on those platforms, as well as TikTok, which I am not as familiar with. And guess what, Instagram is now owned by Facebook, so surprise – they have the same limitations.

First off, I want to acknowledge the given – that all of these platforms exploit the human desire to argue, score points and have the last word. These platforms, especially Facebook and Twitter have made themselves essential in spreading news and information. I mean – how did you arrive here anyway? Yeah.

They exploit our aspirations and our desires and our need for community and our attention-seeking instincts. They are deliberately addictive. Those are problems, but they are not the problems I’m going to explore here. This isn’t about sharing family photos. It’s about producing content that you hope will impact people and that you believe is meaningful beyond the present moment.

Let’s be concrete. Say I want to write a microblog on Instagram, a couple hundred heartfelt words attached to a pretty picture. Great. People will read it…

If they follow me…

If it happens to come on their feed by way of the platform’s current algorithm.

Sure, people can read it, but what if it strikes them as something worth keeping and sharing? They can easily share it with folks within the platform, who might take two seconds to read it and then…scroll on. Share with someone not on Instagram or Facebook? A little more challenging. Save it? less easily with those outside. They can archive it – within the app. Or I guess they can send themselves a link to share. Do you want to find a post on a certain topic? No luck unless the poster has hashtagged it with the specific hashtag you’re looking for.

And Facebook? Same. With the complication that my experience in Facebook is that posts – even your own posts that you want to revisit – are incredibly difficult to find. The search features on both apps are almost useless and are subject to change.

And of course, this is no accident.

There is a reason these platforms make it difficult to search and share posts beyond their system. They want to keep you inside, in that loop.

They make it super easy to create. You don’t have to know any code, you don’t have to think about design. You just type in the blank that’s provided for you, and the platform handles the rest.

And – I might add – it’s free. There is no financial cost to use it. It’s free.

What a deal!

But of course your space on these platforms is not actually your space, in any sense. Your posts can be removed for any reason. The rules governing your presence and content are not made by you – they’re made by the platform, and change all the time. Your ability to share what you create is directed in ways the platform determines, and to me, this has always been the feature of these platforms that’s given me pause, even more than the possibility of removal.

We’ve all seen it. For example, on my Facebook feed, no matter how I fiddle with the settings, I always see posts from the same people, few of whom I’ve ever interacted with, and hardly ever see posts coming through from people I actually know. Plus ads. Lots and lots of ads. I’m guessing Instagram is the same way, but I’ve long stepped away from any general perusal of Instagram – there are a few people – family and real-life friends – whose posts I see because I purposely seek them out – and that’s it.

What’s the most frequent complaint about these platforms from users? Besides trying to find ways to do paragraphs in Instagram, of course? It’s all about the feed – They’re not letting me see what I’m really interested in.

Oh.

Then maybe, go find what you’re interested in….somewhere else.

And further, the platforms – all of them – are designed to exploit your ego and desire for attention. They make it seemingly easy to get attention because of the ease of posting. Then the closed nature of the systems – which are presented as if they are for the sake of your safety and privacy –  move the user to prioritize churning out posts that get more attention from other users, always, always fighting that algorithm.

In short: these platforms get us in by making creating and sharing within the platform easy and free. But what you post speeds by the reader, is difficult to hold on to, is designed to be most easily shared within the platform, therefore bringing in new users.

 They’re for brand establishing, attention gathering and impression making. They’re really not for thoughtfulness, for nuance, for exploring. You don’t sit with these posts and save them and come back to them. You note them, maybe comment, nod and scroll on.

The content is, moreover, going to be shaped by the platform. Not in the sense of outright censorship or shadowbanning or restrictions, but, well, simply because as the Man said, the medium is the message.

If Facebook is the place you want to see and be seen, you’ll shape your content to what Facebook privileges and with what the Facebook audience values. Same with any of the platforms, just as with all media.

I wrote 800-word faith-n-life columns for years, and the shape and rhythm of those columns became second nature: incident – tension – hopeful and inspiring, perhaps self-deprecating resolution.  I thought in 800-word chunks and in daily life, was keenly aware, always on the lookout for the inspirational moment.

These platforms are no different from any other medium in that regard – columns, traditional news stories, essays – the medium is the message.

Which is fine. But given the transitory nature of these platforms – the ease of posting, but then the difficulties of finding and keeping, not to speak of the privacy and data issues – is it worth my time?  

Maybe it’s worth yours. Maybe you’re trying to do what I suggested above – establish a brand, get attention and make an impression. Go for it. Spend your time on it. I’m questioning the means, and yes, I’m questioning the message, too.

All digital media is ephemeral, including this space. No doubt about that. It can all be gone tomorrow. The systems could go down, the servers melt, or whatever they might do. Censorship and deplatforming exists everywhere from WordPress to Blogger to Reddit. No illusions there.

But the unique thing about social media platforms that has discouraged me from engaging to much on them is the clear sense that those spaces are not mine and that I’m a servant of the platform. We, as we’ve been told over and over again, are the product. My Instagram account exists the way it exists not to benefit me or even those who might read me there, but to benefit Instagram. The space doesn’t encourage staying, keeping or maintaining or searching. It privileges the present moment and then scrolling on. It also privileges making connections and placing information in them – that make it very hard to let go. All my memories are on Facebook! I can’t quit!

I know that some people have what they see as meaningful presences on these platforms. I’m always glad to see a wry Dorian Speed post or Ann Engelhart teaching me about watercolor. It’s become, annoyingly, the way I keep up with local businesses – is  Paramount or Rougaroux open today? Just check the Gram. When I’m about to go on a trip and want to double check the weather conditions, I often do a search for recent posts from that location to see what it looks like over there and what folks are wearing. So no, I’m not immune.

Communication. We have to do it. We want to do it. We’re called to do it.

Information is to be shared, discussed and acted upon.

But on whose terms? Who is really shaping the content and reach of the message I think I want to send?

The whole thing is ephemeral. All of it. Not just on our screens, either.

I’ve written dozens, if not hundreds of columns. I didn’t keep them. I doubt anyone did. They were written, read, made their impact, such as it was, and are gone. I’ve written books, some of which still sell decently, some of which are out of print. I hate to think of how many blog posts I’ve written. Again – typed out, published, and probably forgotten, even by me. None of it was written in total freedom, either. There were editors and audiences and publishing needs that determined what I wrote and was finally published under my name. And no question that publishers have, from time immemorial, profited from writers’ work in a skewed, unjust way. So in a sense, this is more of the same. But is it? That’s what I’m trying to work out here.

The world is fleeting. Our words, our thoughts are as dust. But ironically, that doesn’t make them pointless. What is the best use of these fleeting limited signs and symbols that we use to express our deepest yearnings and truest selves? How shall we use them in a way that actually does communicate our value and their significance, even as we acknowledge that they – and we – are like straw?

For the ephemeral nature of social media, and its use of us and our experiences as the product, enthusiastically offered just so we can be seen and heard, seems different to me. It seems to put into question the time spent on it, both creating and scrolling.

In that world, we only matter to the extent that we fill in the blanks, and what we put in those blanks is only seen if we work hard to learn the rules the Powers have established (today), shape our content to satisfy, not only their rules, but their intentions and priorities that they’ve figured out will get us coming back again and again…for now.

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I’m going to be writing a little bit about the Internet and social media every day this week.

“A little bit” and “every day” are nothing more than a probably pointless attempt at self-discipline. This is the kind of knotty issue I do contemplate every day and that might lead me sit for hours in front of the computer hashing out ridiculously long walls of text. So I’m going to limit myself. And sitting here, it’s 9:15 am – I am committing to publish this by 10. AM. Let’s see how I do.

Strange times, what with social media bannings and excommunications and attempts to even deny upstarts and dissidents a framework for their businesses. There’s a lot to unpack here, a challenging task because of the almost frantic narrative shaping that’s happening. We really don’t know – as usual. I have my suspicions. I think the core of what’s happening, both in Congress and in Big Tech, is an effort to strip Trump of his power immediately,  before 1/20, not because they seriously think he will have a second term, but because of what he can still do in the next couple of weeks: namely declassify, pardon and issue executive orders (as Pompeo did regarding Taiwan in the last couple of days.)

We’ll see.

That’s not my subject today, anyway.

And yes, what is “actually happening” in the United States government is more important the Internet/social media treatment of it, but they are also intimately connected.

I also want to be very clear on something else: there are serious issues here, related to repression of information and news, and the greater power that has concentrated in a few hands as other news sources have disappeared. That’s not my subject today.

Over the past couple of days, the calls to Follow Me on [Alternative Platform] have heightened. I don’t spend a lot of time on Facebook (and hardly any at all commenting or “discussing”), but every other post, it seems, over the past few days has been invitations to migrate, declarations of cancellation and so on.

Valerie Cherish Take 3 GIF by The Comeback HBO - Find & Share on GIPHY

I won’t be following anyone on to any new platforms. Not a one. In fact, this is a clarifying moment for me. It’s time to take a few more steps away. I’m in the process of stripping down my FB presence – they don’t make it easy, that’s for sure. It might take a few weeks, but in the end, I’ll still have a FB page, but it will only have a week’s worth of posts on it at a time – and none of those personal, just links from here.

(My only concern – and the reason I’m taking time – is to catch personal photos or anecdotes I might have posted there, but not saved elsewhere.)


Before this (yes) wall o’ text, let me just give you an abstract. Maybe save you some time:

If you’re frustrated by the limitations of social media, discern why. Maybe it’s not time to find another, more acceptable form of social media. Maybe it’s time to turn away.

Pay attention, come to me;

listen, and your soul will live.

-Today’s first reading. Isaiah 55

Let me offer a little spiritual perspective. Limited, as usual. Perhaps even wrong – not unusual. But perhaps it might help one or two of you.

When we live, shaped by a framework of Catholic spirituality, we live in tension – an acknowledged tension between radical acceptance of God’s will and acceptance of God’s call to courageously plunge into the world and, with his help, affect radical change.

I think following the latter path correctly is totally dependent on embracing the former.

And in traditional Catholic spirituality, acceptance of God’s will in my life means approaching a particular event or circumstance, not with a reflexive reaction of rejection or outrage or determination to do what I did before, but rather of calm watching and listening.

What’s happening here? What is God teaching me through this? How can I grow through this? What does this invite me to embrace that’s good and from God? What elements of my life or the world is it revealing to me I should turn from or change?

So, in the wake of great loss – say, a death – you can rage and grieve – and there is a place for that – but then there is a point at which such emotions become an exhausting treadmill, not to speak of a rejection of God’s will, and it’s time to take a look at life, not as you want it to be, but as it is.

How can I grow closer to God now, not despite this, but through this?

For that – lest we forget – is why we’re here. Not to make our voices heard, not to right earthly injustices, but to grow in holiness. We may do that through those other efforts, but our first reason for existence stems from the fact that God created us, God loves us, and wants us to love him and dwell with him forever.

So when something happens – good, bad, indifferent – our call is to stop, look and listen, set our egos aside, and say….what does this reveal? About my sins? About my temptations? About my love of God and neighbor?

So much for no wall of text.

Anyway. All that is to say – in a moment like this, I find it really ironic that as we have spent years fretting and clucking over the mostly negative impact of particularly social media on our individual and social lives – the minute the true face of these powers is revealed, so many of us respond by….trying to find another way to remain in their caves.

What about this? What about seeing this as a clarifying moment and girding your loins and actually leaving the cave?

Maybe begin with the following. First recognize that this internet/social media loop is not random. It didn’t just happen. Like marketing, it’s designed.

It’s designed to elevate and harness various aspects of human personality and behavior, not for the benefit of society, not for your personal benefit, but for their profit.

There’s no nobility here. There’s no idealism. It’s about money and power, period.

It’s about using particular types of energy that make you tick, like you’re a cog in a machine.

  • First, and most obviously, you’ve given up your data. All of it. It’s there, from your Social Security number to what you searched for on Ebay just now. It’s all there.

But of more interest to me is how this ecosystem engages and exploits:

  • Our curiosity
  • Our nosiness
  • Our anxiety
  • Our loneliness
  • Our aspirations
  • Our desires
  • Our tribalism
  • Our anger
  • Our ego
  • Our creativity
  • Our drive for change
  • Our desire for freedom

Yes, the Internet can help us direct our good qualities in positive ways. But I think it’s clear, particularly in the context of the authoritarian ecosystem this is turning out to be, it’s mostly a negative and it’s time to leave it behind, as much as we can.

For it is good and natural to:

  • Want to know and understand
  • Feel as if I belong
  • Know that I’m not alone in my views, interests and loyalties
  • Express myself
  • Connect
  • Play
  • Share what I know
  • Share my gifts

How does social media exploit these good, even holy aspirations and desires and turn them into destructive, demeaning dross?

Double Indemnity

So as with anything else – we look to this digital empire and we must discern. It’s true of any moment, of any situation – there is a neutral aspect to it, there is the potential for positive outcomes, and there is always, no matter what, temptation. Temptation to let our qualities, both good and bad, be used for the sake of another’s profit and power.

As you can see, this isn’t so much a comment of the events over the past week, but more a nudge offered about how to approach the moment. To stand apart from the events, whether they be in Washington or on the screen in your hand, and to consider how truth is being served by the events and how they are used, and to consider what how this digital ecosystem is tempting us, what it’s delivering and who is ultimately benefiting.

To consider how they are all exploiting you, your anger, your idealism, your anxiety, and even your desire for change.

And how do we get out? What do we do?

We look at the good aspects of life that we hoped were served by this ecosystem – and perhaps were and are – and we consider two points in relation to that:

  • What is the cost of finding community, self-expression and so on in the context of this digital/social media world?
  • What temptations does this digital world touch and exploit in me?

All that  – yes – wall of text – is to say – here’s this moment. It’s clarifying even as it’s very confusing. Perhaps it makes sense to respond by finding another outlet that won’t exploit both your worst and best instincts and censor you when you violate the chosen narrative.

Or perhaps….it doesn’t make any sense at all.

9:56. Made it!

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I tell you, it’s coming.

I’ve been telling you for years, when it comes to social media, put not your trust in princes.

This has nothing to do with political preferences, but with other issues I’ve been contemplating, in my usual haphazard way, for years, and which I’ll set down later today.

Here.

Not in an Instagram or Facebook post. Not on Twitter. Not on a podcast or a YouTube video.

Here.

Yes, this space is prone to censorship and deplatforming as well. We’ve seen it. One of the best “Gender Critical” (i.e. anti-trans movement) blogs was completely removed from WordPress a couple of years ago. Including the archives, I believe. Google owns Blogger. You know what that means.

But for the moment, this is what it’s always been. Mostly mine.

For the moment, at least.

Update: How strange, but appropriate to see news, right after posting this, that Kathy Shaidle, pioneering blogger, both in general and in the Catholic arena, has died:

Following a tedious rendezvous with ovarian cancer, Kathy Shaidle has died, wishing she’d spent more time at the office.

Her tombstone reads: GET OFF MY LAWN! 

She is relieved she won’t have to update her LinkedIn profile, shave her legs, or hear “Creep” by Radiohead ever again. Some may even be jealous that she’s getting out of enduring a Biden presidency. 

Kathy was a writer, author, columnist and blogging pioneer, as proud of her first book’s Governor General’s Award nomination as of her stint as “Ed Anger” for the Weekly World News. A target for “cancel” culture before the term was coined, she was denounced by all the best people, sometimes for contradictory reasons

 


We’ll start easy.

So this happened.

Amy Welborn

(Ladder next to piano is part of our very professional setup for the remote piano lessons. Guitar is his own purchase with his organ-playing money.)

Someone was giving it away. Saw it on (okay….I know…shut up) FB Marketplace. As it happens, the family lives just a few houses down from our house before this one – just a couple of miles away. No way we could transport it ourselves, so I figured paying someone to move it + free fully operational organ (- one key, as you can see below) still = pretty good deal.

And for the record, these small organs from the 60’s and 70’s are items which, these days, you can really only give away. They have zero resale value. In fact, one organist discussion board I read said that the benches have more resale value than the instrument themselves – and yes, it’s a nice looking bench.

Organ Guy is delighted. It only has one octave of pedals, which makes it less than optimal for home practice for church pieces, but at least he can work with the manuals. And he’s having fun doing it. I had wondered before getting it, if it was really worth it, considering that he has a pretty nice digital keyboard already, but I can already see that yes, it’s different, with other, good reasons to decide to spend time with it, rather than the new shiny keyboard.

He remains noncommittal on a music career, but he does enjoy it, spends a lot of time practicing and then fooling around with various instruments, so as far as I’m concerned it’s money well spent.

Actually, my goal is for him to fill our house with sounds like this.

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— 1 —

Incoming: Screed.

Ah, well.

What’s up? Well, working on an audio element to support a textbook series, recorded a short video in support of a new family Lenten devotional from Creative Communications for the Parish, worked on some other stuff. I guess. Getting ready for Christmas, but of course that takes on a different tone and energy when it’s a stir-crazy you, a 16-year old, a 19-year old, with a 38-year old coming to visit than it did when everyone was small. I am a very last-minute person when it comes to Christmas, so yes, I guess we’ll get a tree up this weekend.

Once probably 25 years ago, or so, I was aghast when my (late) mother announced that she might not even want to put up a tree at Christmas that year. What? How can you? What are you saying???

Let’s just say…I get it. Time to pass the torch, and I’m pleased to say that the next generation (son/daughter-in-law – mostly the latter of course – and daughter/son-in-law) seem to have taken up that torch with firm hands and run with it. They are welcome to it!

Not much viewing – been watching Mad Men with College Guy for his first time. Almost done with season 1. We also watched My Favorite Wife – a favorite of mine which I’d watched with Kid #5 back in the Olden Days of early March right before College Guy came home for “Spring Break” …..hahahahahaha. So now it was his turn. Love the movie and find it fascinating for reasons I explain here.

Image result for my favorite wife tcm randolph gif

Movie Son continues his path of watching, watching, watching and then writing, writing, writing. He’s currently on a Fellini jag.

Now, these two characters (Gelsomina and Zampano) are at the center of the film, but it’s really Zampano’s story in the end. He’s left alone on a beach (the same beach that Gelsomina was found in the town and a similar beach to where the movie began) with nothing but the bitter feeling in his stomach that his loneliness and isolation at that time is entirely his own fault. He hasn’t changed, but he has come to a realization (I’ve read it as “ripened”, which I think is a good way to describe it). I’m not sure I would go so far as to call it a redemption, but it’s certainly redemptive. He doesn’t do anything to make up for his failings as a man responsible for a simple woman, but he does begin to understand his failings that led to his empty life. Gelsomina provided joy and happiness wherever she went, but she was never accepted, especially by Zampano who could have learned the most from her.

— 2 —

Here’s a diversion that looks intriguing, although I really can’t figure out how to do it. I’m waiting for one of the sons to come back home to figure it out for me.

Blob Opera.

Google's Blob Opera is a weird and wonderful experiment - CNET

— 3 —

Notes on this week’s American lit reading. First, some Walt Whitman. What did we emphasize? His self-understanding of himself as an American poet, what he was trying to express about America and then, more broadly, about the human experience. Also his engagement with Eastern thought.

I many not be on his wavelength on every point, but I found great simpatico in his vision of the communion of human beings and their experiences over space and time, as well as the cumulative impact of an individual’s experiences on her life.

So:

Crossing Brooklyn Ferry:

The similitudes of the past and those of the future,
The glories strung like beads on my smallest sights and hearings, on the walk in the street and the passage over the river,
The current rushing so swiftly and swimming with me far away,
The others that are to follow me, the ties between me and them,
The certainty of others, the life, love, sight, hearing of others.

Others will enter the gates of the ferry and cross from shore to shore,
Others will watch the run of the flood-tide,
Others will see the shipping of Manhattan north and west, and the heights of Brooklyn to the south and east,
Others will see the islands large and small;
Fifty years hence, others will see them as they cross, the sun half an hour high,
A hundred years hence, or ever so many hundred years hence, others will see them,
Will enjoy the sunset, the pouring-in of the flood-tide, the falling-back to the sea of the ebb-tide.

— 4 —

And on the second point, There Was a Child Went Forth Every Day:

THERE was a child went forth every day,
And the first object he look’d upon, that object he became,

And that object became part of him for the day or a certain part
of the day,
Or for many years or stretching cycles of years.

The early lilacs became part of this child,
And grass and white and red morning-glories, and white and red
clover, and the song of the phoebe-bird,
And the Third-month lambs and the sow’s pink-faint litter, and
the mare’s foal and the cow’s calf,
And the noisy brood of the barnyard or by the mire of the pond-
side,

And the fish suspending themselves so curiously below there, and
the beautiful curious liquid,
And the water-plants with their graceful flat heads, all became part
of him.

— 5 —

And, to finish up the “semester,” such as it is around here, we decided to leave chronology behind and go seasonal instead, reading Truman Capote’s “A Christmas Memory,” which – in case you’ve never read it – you can read here.

A lovely, moving piece, rich with imagery and suggestion as well as rock-solid details that put you right in the presence of these two outcasts, the seven-year old child and his only friend, his elderly cousin.

An interesting note. I have the most recent edition of the Norton Anthology of American Literature, 1865 to the present – three fat volumes purchased for College Guy’s class in the spring, but retained and not resold because I knew we’d be using it in the homeschool. Capote’s not in it – at all. I mean, I get it, I suppose. He’s not a “serious” writer, but how does one define that? His writing certainly had an impact. I don’t like In Cold Blood for a lot of reasons, but no matter what I think of the book, it did have an enormous influence on American writing, and I think it’s an impact that should be discussed. I mean, there’s an excerpt from Nathanael West’s The Day of the Locust in the anthology, for pete’s sake – a seminal work in some ways, but indifferently, awkwardly written – not even close to the quality of what Capote was capable of in his best work.

Odd.

— 6 —

My own current read, separate from school? The Complete Henry Bech by John Updike. Why? In the library, desperate for an actual book-on-paper to read, with an armful of non-fiction, I came upon the U’s in fiction and decided to give Updike a go again. I read Rabbit, Run and at least one other Rabbit book in high school (not for high school, but in high school, plucked from my parents’ bookshelves), and then his very good In the Beauty of the Lilies , about America’s loss of (Protestant) faith, when it was published. I do remember Bech is Back from those same parental bookshelves, but never had a real interest in the books, believing that thinly disguised autobiography of a privileged, randy male writer was not my cup of tea.

Well, I don’t know what my final verdict will be, but I’m enjoying it far more than I expected. Updike’s prose overcomes much of my prejudices.

His mother. He had taken her death as a bump in his road, an inconvenience in his busy postwar reconstruction of himself. He had seen death in war and had learned to sneer at its perennial melodrama. He had denied his mother’s death the reality it must have had to her, this chasm that numbed as it swallowed; and now it was swallowing him. He had scarcely mourned. No one sat shivah. No Kaddish had been said. Six thousand years of observance had been overturned in Bech.

— 7 —

Here’s the Fourth Sunday of Advent approaching, with the Gospel narrative of the Annunciation.

From the Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories

EPSON MFP image

From the Loyola Kids Book of Catholic Signs and Symbols

EPSON MFP image

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

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