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Archive for the ‘education’ Category

In 2011, Pope B16 had a General Audience series on prayer. I know, I know – my Irenaeus post made use of a B16 General Audience talk, too. Well, sorry. The man could teach.

So, today’s Gospel for Mass (not for the memorial, but for regular daily Mass) is from Genesis 18 – Abraham’s prayerful…negotiation with God about Sodom. Benedict used this narrative as a starting point for a meditation on prayer. Here’s most of the talk’ll save you the trouble and just post the whole thing here:

Speaking these words with great courage, Abraham confronts God with the need to avoid a perfunctory form of justice: if the city is guilty it is right to condemn its crime and to inflict punishment, but — the great Patriarch affirms — it would be unjust to punish all the inhabitants indiscriminately. If there are innocent people in the city, they must not be treated as the guilty. God, who is a just judge, cannot act in this way, Abraham says rightly to God.

However, if we read the text more attentively we realize that Abraham’s request is even more pressing and more profound because he does not stop at asking for salvation for the innocent. Abraham asks forgiveness for the whole city and does so by appealing to God’s justice; indeed, he says to the Lord: “Will you then destroy the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it?” (v. 24b).

In this way he brings a new idea of justice into play: not the one that is limited to punishing the guilty, as men do, but a different, divine justice that seeks goodness and creates it through forgiveness that transforms the sinner, converts and saves him. With his prayer, therefore, Abraham does not invoke a merely compensatory form of justice but rather an intervention of salvation which, taking into account the innocent, also frees the wicked from guilt by forgiving them.

Abraham’s thought, which seems almost paradoxical, could be summed up like this: obviously it is not possible to treat the innocent as guilty, this would be unjust; it would be necessary instead to treat the guilty as innocent, putting into practice a “superior” form of justice, offering them a possibility of salvation because, if evildoers accept God’s pardon and confess their sin, letting themselves be saved, they will no longer continue to do wicked deeds, they too will become righteous and will no longer deserve punishment.

It is this request for justice that Abraham expresses in his intercession, a request based on the certainty that the Lord is merciful. Abraham does not ask God for something contrary to his essence, he knocks at the door of God’s heart knowing what he truly desires.

Sodom, of course, is a large city, 50 upright people seem few, but are not the justice and forgiveness of God perhaps proof of the power of goodness, even if it seems smaller and weaker than evil? The destruction of Sodom must halt the evil present in the city, but Abraham knows that God has other ways and means to stem the spread of evil. It is forgiveness that interrupts the spiral of sin and Abraham, in his dialogue with God, appeals for exactly this. And when the Lord agrees to forgive the city if 50 upright people may be found in it, his prayer of intercession begins to reach the abysses of divine mercy.

Abraham — as we remember — gradually decreases the number of innocent people necessary for salvation: if 50 would not be enough, 45 might suffice, and so on down to 10, continuing his entreaty, which became almost bold in its insistence: “suppose 40… 30… 20… are found there” (cf. vv. 29, 30, 31, 32). The smaller the number becomes, the greater God’s mercy is shown to be. He patiently listens to the prayer, he hears it and repeats at each supplication: “I will spare… I will not destroy… I will not do it” (cf. vv. 26,28, 29, 30, 31, 32).

Thus, through Abraham’s intercession, Sodom can be saved if there are even only 10 innocent people in it. This is the power of prayer. For through intercession, the prayer to God for the salvation of others, the desire for salvation which God nourishes for sinful man is demonstrated and expressed. Evil, in fact, cannot be accepted, it must be identified and destroyed through punishment: The destruction of Sodom had exactly this function.

Yet the Lord does not want the wicked to die, but rather that they convert and live (cf. Ez 18:23; 33:11); his desire is always to forgive, to save, to give life, to transform evil into good. Well, it is this divine desire itself which becomes in prayer the desire of the human being and is expressed through the words of intercession.

With his entreaty, Abraham is lending his voice and also his heart, to the divine will. God’s desire is for mercy and love as well as his wish to save; and this desire of God found in Abraham and in his prayer the possibility of being revealed concretely in human history, in order to be present wherever there is a need for grace. By voicing this prayer, Abraham was giving a voice to what God wanted, which was not to destroy Sodom but to save it, to give life to the converted sinner.

This is what the Lord desires and his dialogue with Abraham is a prolonged and unequivocal demonstration of his merciful love. The need to find enough righteous people in the city decreases and in the end 10 were to be enough to save the entire population.

The reason why Abraham stops at 10 is not given in the text. Perhaps it is a figure that indicates a minimum community nucleus (still today, 10 people are the necessary quorum for public Jewish prayer). However, this is a small number, a tiny particle of goodness with which to start in order to save the rest from a great evil.

However, not even 10 just people were to be found in Sodom and Gomorrah so the cities were destroyed; a destruction paradoxically deemed necessary by the prayer of Abraham’s intercession itself. Because that very prayer revealed the saving will of God: the Lord was prepared to forgive, he wanted to forgive but the cities were locked into a totalizing and paralyzing evil, without even a few innocents from whom to start in order to turn evil into good.

This the very path to salvation that Abraham too was asking for: being saved does not mean merely escaping punishment but being delivered from the evil that dwells within us. It is not punishment that must be eliminated but sin, the rejection of God and of love which already bears the punishment in itself.

The Prophet Jeremiah was to say to the rebellious people: “Your wickedness will chasten you, and your apostasy will reprove you. Know and see that it is evil and bitter for you to forsake the Lord your God” (Jer 2:19).

It is from this sorrow and bitterness that the Lord wishes to save man, liberating him from sin. Therefore, however, a transformation from within is necessary, some foothold of of goodness, a beginning from which to start out in order to change evil into good, hatred into love, revenge into forgiveness.

For this reason there must be righteous people in the city and Abraham continuously repeats: “suppose there are…”. “There”: it is within the sick reality that there must be that seed of goodness which can heal and restore life. It is a word that is also addressed to us: so that in our cities the seed of goodness may be found; that we may do our utmost to ensure that there are not only 10 upright people, to make our cities truly live and survive and to save ourselves from the inner bitterness which is the absence of God. And in the unhealthy situation of Sodom and Gomorrah that seed of goodness was not to be found.

Yet God’s mercy in the history of his people extends further. If in order to save Sodom 10 righteous people were necessary, the Prophet Jeremiah was to say, on behalf of the Almighty, that only one upright person was necessary to save Jerusalem: “Run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, look and take note! Search her squares to see if you can find a man, one who does justice and seeks truth; that I may pardon her” (5:1).

The number dwindled further, God’s goodness proved even greater. Nonetheless this did not yet suffice, the superabundant mercy of God did not find the response of goodness that he sought, and under the  siege of the enemy Jerusalem fell.

It was to be necessary for God himself to become that one righteous person. And this is the mystery of the Incarnation: to guarantee a just person he himself becomes man. There will always be one righteous person because it is he. However, God himself must become that just man. The infinite and surprising divine love was to be fully manifest when the Son of God was to become man, the definitive Righteous One, the perfect Innocent who would bring salvation to the whole world by dying on the Cross, forgiving and interceding for those who “know not what they do” (Lk 23:34). Therefore the prayer of each one will find its answer, therefore our every intercession will be fully heard.

Dear brothers and sisters, the prayer of intercession of Abraham, our father in the faith, teaches us to open our hearts ever wider to God’s superabundant mercy so that in daily prayer we may know how to desire the salvation of humanity and ask for it with perseverance and with trust in the Lord who is great in love. Many thanks.

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First…why?

Why highlight these saints so often when there is so much…news happening?

Simple: Because through the saints, we learn how to be disciples. We learn how rich, textured and diverse Catholic life is. Because saints lived in the past, when we make reflecting on the life, work, witness or writing of a saint part of our day, we situate our faith more properly than we do if we situate our faith only in the present moment.

In short: We grow more from a few moments of being quietly attentive to the real world around us, consciously situated in the greater cosmic context of traditionally-centered faith, than we do from one more session of racing through scads of information and opinion via a screen. I know I do, at least.

Moreover, with all the talk about “eucharist coherence,” maybe Irenaeus is a good person to drop in and check on – and check ourselves with: working from the assumption that Jesus says he’s the Way, the Truth and the Life, and those words don’t just jump from his mouth to our ears without a Spirit led process of transmission, teaching and shaping – that we just can’t ignore.

I mean, the man himself says it:

Error, indeed, is never set forth in its naked deformity, lest, being thus exposed, it should at once be detected. But it is craftily decked out in an attractive dress, so as, by its outward form, to make it appear to the inexperienced (ridiculous as the expression may seem) more true than the truth itself.

Mike Aquilina:

St. Irenaeus is an important link in tradition’s golden chain. He probably composed his works when he was very old, in the late 100s in the land we now know as France. When he was a young man, though, he lived in Asia Minor, where he studied under the holy bishop Polycarp, who had himself converted to Christianity under St. John the Apostle. Irenaeus treasured the stories of John that he had learned from his master. His few, small anecdotes are a precious witness to the life of the apostle.

And all of Irenaeus’s life gave witness to the teaching of the apostles. The man was steeped in Scripture, steeped in liturgy, in love with the Church and all of its glorious structures of authority. In Irenaeus’s voluminous writings we find it all: the Mass, the papacy, the office of bishop, the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, the condemnation of heresy. One of my favorite lines from his work is this, quoted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Our way of thinking is attuned to the Eucharist, and the Eucharist in turn confirms our way of thinking.” This is the most primitive form of the axiom that later Fathers would state as “Lex orandi, lex credendi.” The law of prayer is the law of belief. The liturgy is the place where living tradition truly lives.

Then Bishop Barron:

Now this regula veritatis, Irenaeus insists, was not so much his work but that of the apostle John, the mentor to Polycarp who in turn taught Irenaeus himself. “For John, the disciple of the Lord … wishing to put an end to all such ideas (Gnosticism) … and to establish the Church in the rule of truth” handed on this formula. Time and again, Irenaeus characterizes his work as the handing on of the apostolic teaching; in fact, his short summary of the Adversus Haereses bears the straightforward title Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching. In a word, the regula does not represent a philosophical consensus or an externally imposed matrix of interpretation, but rather the apostolically ratified distillation of the essential biblical worldview, the fundamental metaphysics that St. John and his companions insisted must undergird the biblical story. This is why, for Irenaeus, these “doctrinal” claims are not the least bit distorting but clarifying. Indeed, apart from them, the biblical witness would remain opaque and the essential story murky and open to misinterpretation. To suggest that the regula fidei should be set aside in order to allow the authentic intention of the biblical authors to emerge would have struck Irenaeus as so much nonsense.

Then, B16:

As can be seen, Irenaeus did not stop at defining the concept of Tradition. His tradition, uninterrupted Tradition, is not traditionalism, because this Tradition is always enlivened from within by the Holy Spirit, who makes it live anew, causes it to be interpreted and understood in the vitality of the Church. Adhering to her teaching, the Church should transmit the faith in such a way that it must be what it appears, that is, “public”, “one”, “pneumatic”, “spiritual”. Starting with each one of these characteristics, a fruitful discernment can be made of the authentic transmission of the faith in the today of the Church. More generally, in Irenaeus’ teaching, the dignity of man, body and soul, is firmly anchored in divine creation, in the image of Christ and in the Spirit’s permanent work of sanctification. This doctrine is like a “high road” in order to discern together with all people of good will the object and boundaries of the dialogue of values, and to give an ever new impetus to the Church’s missionary action, to the force of the truth which is the source of all true values in the world.

Repeating what I said yesterday about Cyril, if you have a mind to study the Church Fathers via these talks either as an individual or as a parish study group, feel free to use the free pdf of the study guide I wrote for OSV.  For example the reflection questions for the section on Clement, Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus of Lyons, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen are:

1. These thinkers of early Christianity did not shy from engaging with non-Christian thinking. How would you describe their relationships to it? What seems to you to be their standard for what elements of non-Christian thinking to accept or reject?

2. Apologetics is still an important part of Christian expression. What issues have you experienced as being areas in which you or others you know are called upon to offer an “apologia”? Are there any resources you have found particularly helpful?

3. All of these thinkers — and most in this book — emerged from the East, the birthplace of Christianity. What do you know about the Eastern Catholic churches today? Have you ever attended an Eastern Catholic liturgy?

4. Irenaeus battled Gnostic heresies in which only an elite had access to the ultimate saving spiritual knowledge. Can you see any currents of this element of Gnostic thinking in the world today? Do you ever catch yourself thinking along these lines?

5. These thinkers were engaged in very creative work, but work that was very faithful to the tradition they had been handed by the apostles. What kind of creative, faithful ways of teaching and expressing faith are you aware of today? If you were in charge of evangelization  for the Church in your area, what kinds of approaches would you encourage?

6. Justin Martyr felt that certain elements of his pagan life had actually worked to prepare him for his Christian life. Are their any elements of your life before your fuller coming to faith that you feel have prepared you for deepening your faith today?

7. Ignatius and Origen both longed for martyrdom. What do you think about that?

8. Several of these thinkers indicate the importance of the bishop of Rome. How do you see the importance of the papacy expressed in the Church and the world today?

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First off, new book this week – the Great Adventure Kids Catholic Bible Chronicle. More on it here.

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Today? A funeral. No, not for anyone I know – Musician Son is playing organ at a funeral in a parish across town. Blessed Sacrament, which is, in my mind, the most beautiful church in this diocese. It’s the home of the main Latin Mass community.

(Forgive the Instagram captions – from Thursday’s practice.)

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Here’s a page with the parish’s history. Construction was finished in 1930, but the interior decor dates to the mid-1950’s.

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Last night we headed to our local independent film venue, Sidewalk Film, to see The Killing of Two Lovers produced by and starring Clayne Crawford, who was a featured role in one of the best television series of the decade, Rectify. He also had an ill-fated stint on the television reboot of Lethal Weapon, co-starring Daman Wayans from which he was, er, fired.

Crawford is from Alabama – Clay, which is east of here. And he was there at the screening and did a Q & A afterwards – which is why I wanted to go and take, especially, one of the two still living here, who has a strong interest in film and filmmaking. And it was worth it – this was an extremely low-budget production (30K) filmed over 12 days in a tiny town in Utah – and most valuable was Crawford’s exploration of the limits – but also the benefits – of working on a shoestring.

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I’m going to have some Catholic-related Juneteenth content coming up later today, I hope. But until then, here’s a link from 2019 featuring interviews conducted by the Federal Writer’s Project/ WPA in the 1930’s, with formerly enslaved people – the article ran in the Montgomery paper on Jefferson Davis’ birthday that year, a day which, absurdly, is still celebrated as a state holiday in Alabama.

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Here’s more about the project from the Atlantic.

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Okay, let’s end with this. As much hate as I direct towards social media, yeah, yeah, I know good can come of it. Lots of good. Of course!

Here’s an example – a local (Birmingham area) young woman who fosters teens. Her TikTok is a treasure trove of advocacy and information – her philosophy about fostering teens, what she does, how she provides for them, why she fosters and lots of encouragement to others. Really worth checking out – the world is full of folks doing really good things for other humans. To the extent that social media can share their good news – okay, okay, it can be a good thing. I guess.

For more Quick Takes, Visit This Ain’t the Lyceum

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A bit of blogging this week. Perhaps of the most interest will be this post on the movie The Sound of Metal.

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Pentecost is coming, of course.

Pages above are (left) from the Loyola Kids Book of Catholic Signs and Symbols  and (right) from the Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories.  Click on images for larger versions. Remember that for the Signs and Symbols entry, there’s another page –  a full page of more detailed text.

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Pentecost is one of the events in The Loyola Kids Book of Heroes. 

(The book is structured around the virtues. Each section begins with an event from Scripture that illustrates one of those virtues, followed by stories of people and events from church history that do so as well)

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This hasn’t been published in a book – yet – but it’s a painting byAnn Engelhart, illustrator of several books, including four with my writing attached – all listed here. It’s a painting of the tradition of dropping rose petals through the oculus in the Pantheon in Rome.

pentecost

(Our Cathedral here in Birmingham has also done this regularly over the past few years – it’s happening this coming Saturday for the Vigil of Pentecost, which will be livestreamed here.

For more on the Cathedral’s livestreaming, go here.

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By the way, please follow Ann on Instagram. She features her beautiful art and regularly posts live painting sessions on Instagram Stories. 

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Hopefully this weekend,  you’ll be hearing/singing/praying Veni Creator Spiritus.  I have a chapter on it in The Words We Pray. A sample:

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Speaking of art, from Daniel Mitsui:

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Daniel has designs available as wallpaper and fabric here. Gorgeous.

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And finally, here’s an excerpt from a lecture he delivered earlier this year. Food for thought for artists of all kinds – and any of us, really.

So how does an artist who wants to make religious art, who wants to make it both beautiful and traditional, to glorify God and edify men through it, answer the challenge of doing that in a changing world?

He should choose his influences – both visual and intellectual – out of love. He should love them for what they are, rather than for what they are not.

No matter how devoted he is to a certain kind of art or school of thought, he should remember that it is incomplete and imperfect. He can and should try to make it better. This is an altogether traditional thing to do.

He should be open to whatever medium, whatever materials, whatever methods work best to express his artistry. A willingness to be bold, technically, is another altogether traditional thing to do.

He should not consider religious art to be a political tool, or encourage its use as such.

He should look to every kind of art – whether it comes from within the Church or without it – asking the questions: what works? and what can this teach me to make my art better? God is the author of all beauty; as Augustine says, the mines of his providence are everywhere scattered abroad.

He should ask the same question even of art that he considers generally bad: What works? What can this teach me? The answer may be: very little. But if it is anything at all, he should accept the lesson.

More.

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

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…for kids. 

(FYI – link does not go to Amazon, but to the Loyola website)

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From the Loyola Kids Book of Saints. 

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It’s her day today.

You can find any number of vintage treatments of St. Angela Merici at the Internet Archive, including this mod repackaging, if you like.


Gee, if only she’d used a vision board or a dream life journal, she could have actually accomplished something with her life!

My point? Saints are made not, at base through planning and endlessly thinking about what they want or what they want their life to look like, but by living deeply in the moment and in that same moment listening to God and being led by him. St. Francis of Assisi didn’t set out to found a religious order with a certain charism. He heard Rebuild my church and so he literally….started to rebuild a church. And his brothers came, and a mission slowly developed in tension, in response.

So with St. Angela. She didn’t set out, envisioning a teaching order. She simply listened to God, saw the great needs in the world around her – poverty, corruption, confusion – and set out to help in a way both completely ordinary but also quite new.

The age in which Angela lived and worked (the 16th Century), was a time which saw great suffering on the part of the poor in society. Injustices were carried on in the name of the government and the Church, which left many people both spiritually and materially powerless and hungry. The corruption of moral values left families split and hurting. Wars among nations and the Italian city-states left towns in ruins.

In 1516, Angela came to live in the town of Brescia, Italy. Here she became a friend of the wealthy nobles of the day and a servant of the poor and suffering. Angela spent her days in prayer and fasting and service. Her reputation spread and her advice was sought by both young and old, rich and poor, religious and secular, male and female. But still, Angela had not yet brought her vision to fruition.

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After visiting the Holy Land, where she reportedly lost her sight, Angela returned to Brescia, which had become a haven for refugees from the many wars then wracking Italy. There she gathered around her a group of women who looked toward Angela as an inspirational leader and as a model of apostolic charity. It was these women, many of them daughters of the wealthy, some orphans themselves, who formed the nucleus of Angela’s Company of St. Ursula. Angela named her company after St. Ursula because she regarded her as a model of consecrated virginity.

Angela and her original company worked out details of the rule of prayer, and promises, and practices by which they were to live. The Ursulines opened orphanages and schools. In 1535, the Institute of St. Ursula was formally recognized by the Pope and Angela was accorded the title of foundress.

During the five remaining years of her life, Angela devoted herself to composing a number of Counsels by which her daughters could happily live. She encouraged them to “live in harmony, united together in one heart and one will. Be bound to one another by the bond of charity, treating each other with respect, helping one another, bearing with one another in Christ Jesus; if you really try to live like this, there is no doubt that the Lord our God will be in your midst.”

In 1580, Charles Borromeo, Bishop of Milan, inspired by the work of the Ursulines in Brescia, encouraged the foundation of Ursuline houses in all the dioceses of Northern Italy. Charles also encouraged the Ursulines to live together in community rather than in their own homes. He also exhorted them to publicly profess vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. These actions formalized Angela’s original “company” into a religious order of women.

You can find St. Angela Merici’s writings all over the place – there aren’t that many, only three: the Counsels, the Rule and the Testament.

Here’s an excerpt from the Counsels, good advice for all of us, whether we are Ursulines or not:

Love your dear daughters equally; and do not prefer one more than another, because they are all creatures of God. And you do not know what he wants to make of them.

For how do you know, you, that those who seem to you to be the least and lowest are not to become the most generous and most pleasing to his Majesty? And then, who can judge the heart and the innermost secret thoughts of any creature?

And so, hold them all in your love and bear with them all equally, for it is not up to you to judge the handmaids of God; he well knows what he wants to make of them, Who (as Scripture says) can turn stones into children of heaven.

As for you, do your duty, correcting them with love and charity if you see ~ them fall into some fault through human frailty, and thus you will not cease to prune this vine which has been entrusted to you.

And after that, leave it to God; he will do marvellous things in his own time, and when it pleases him.

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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….

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

More

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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?

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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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— 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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