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— 1 —

Heading out for the long weekend, but the weather indicates that rain is going to be a feature of our location, so here’s hoping I do more than sit on a runway on Saturday. As per usual, check Instagram, especially stories, for updates.

 — 2 —

I’ve blogged almost every day this past week about one thing or another, so just click backwards for some more of this kind of thing if you like. In particular, you might be interested in yesterday’s posts on St. Francis of Assisi.

— 3 —

Today’s the feastday of St. Faustina, who’s in the Loyola Kids Book of Heroes. 

 

 

— 4 —

Every other day or so I offer a digest of what I’m reading, watching, listening to and so on. I’ve not read any books since yesterday, but I did read this article – which you should be able to access if you’re interested – on the collapse of early 19th century religious orders in Peru. 

For many years, the sudden collapse of the major religious orders in Peru shortly after independence has interested this author. For the religious orders, Lima had been what it was for the viceroy: the center of the organizational structure for most of the continent with the stately conventos and lavishly endowed churches to attest to the importance of that position. Yet, within a relatively short period, 1826-1830, the grandeur faded and the power disappeared. Why?

And even if you’re not interested…I’ll tell you what interested me. First the tone of the article – published in 1982 and written by Antonine Tibesar, a Franciscan friar and historian – deeply scholarly, but refreshing in its (not surprising) deep understanding of religious life from the inside. Secondly – well, the history – a good thing, since it’s an article about history. What Tibesar is asking is just what the title suggests: in the early 19th century, religious orders collapsed in Peru. Why? Well, the simple and obvious answer is that the Spanish government had been sporadically, but intensely determined to secularize religious orders (that is put the orders out of business and require any man or woman who sought to remain a priest or nun to prove they had a means of support and place themselves under the control of a bishop) and that drive made its way over to the newly independent Peru.

There were other shenanigans, which I can’t quite parse out, perhaps because I’m tired. But in the end, Tibesar blames other religious as much as he does the secular governments for the capitulation.

amy-welborn-1

And I only go on as long as I have about this as a reminder of the complexities of religious history: that if Catholicism is struggling in Europe and South America – well, it has been struggling, off and on, in often profound ways – for centuries.

— 5 –

A couple of local churchish notes. First, the rector of our Cathedral has made available a booklet he’s put together about baptism in the Extraordinary Form – which is happening more and more down here.  You might find it interesting and useful. 

— 6 —

Secondly, the Church in Russellville, Alabama is experience tremendous growth, people-wise, and needs a building to match. Here’s more at our rector’s blog about it, plus a video about the parish. 

The Servant of God Fulton J. Sheen made a great deal of money through his work on television and the talks and special media appearances he did besides. But one of the (surprising?) things we discover upon studying his life is that not only did he donate most of his earnings to the missions, but he also used some of his funds to build churches in poor areas — including in the South. There are churches in Alabama that were built by Archbishop Sheen! In spite of the celebrity he enjoyed, he lived rather frugally and was quite generous where it mattered the most.

I am not aware of a Fulton Sheen-like person who might help with this current project and great need, but it is similar in scope.  In the small town of Russellville, Alabama(pop. approx. 10,000), there is the parish of the Good Shepherd. Or as many of its parishioners know it — “Buen Pastor”. The town has a large population of Hispanic immigrants, many of whom work in the area chicken processing plants (maybe in the past you’ve eaten some chicken that met its fate in Russellville!). In the past, the church was built with great support from Filipino immigrants. With some exceptions, the Catholic population in Russellville has long had a large immigrant component.

The current church seats 200. Each Sunday, Fr. Vincent Bresowar, its pastor, has to put out chairs wherever he can find the space. Under his good leadership the parish has grown. But he is only one priest: he could add more Masses to accommodate the growing community, but priests are only supposed to say so many Masses per day (basically, two Monday-Saturday and three on Sunday, max). Fr. Bresowar routinely has to go over the “legal limit” to accommodate his community. He generously does so — but celebrating so many Masses wears down a priest. I know this from experience.

What they need in Russellville is a new and larger church. Fr. Bresowar has purchased an adjacent property to ensure sufficient space for the new church and a real parking lot that begins to accommodate the crowds. He has had a local architect design a building that actually looks like a church and he has employed a great consultant to help with the interior decoration. Cutting every possible corner while also recognizing that a church building is built first of all for the glory of God, Fr. Bresowar has come up with a plan that will cost in the ballpark of $2.5 million.

Bishop Robert J. Baker, in consultation with the College of Consultors of the Diocese of Birmingham, has approved a Capital Campaign so that Fr. Bresowar and parishioners may begin in earnest to raise the needed funds. Remember: this is a primarily immigrant community. They are very resourceful people and will do their part. But they are not pulling in large salaries. They are open to life and have numerous families. They are often helping their families in their home countries, who live in destitution. Some of them will be able to give “in-kind”, helping with the construction and finishing. They will host many fundraisers. But in the end, we need to go outside this community to raise the money needed.

 

— 7 —

Finally, from the Catholic Herald  – Michael Duggan on Patrick Leigh Fermor’s glimmers of religion:

Leigh Fermor was full of admiration and respect for the role that the monks of the West had played in history, for the centuries in which they were the only guardians of things he loved: literature, the classics, scholarship and the humanities. He also found that the company of the small number of living monks‎ he was permitted to speak with was like the company of any civilised, well-educated Frenchmen “with all the balance, erudition and wit that one expected, the only difference being a gentleness, a lack of haste, and a calmness which is common to the whole community”.

More profoundly, he also came to appreciate the role of monasteries in what is sometimes called the economy of salvation. It was their belief in the necessity and efficacy of prayer – “a principle so utterly remote from every tendency of modern secular thought” – that explains the sacrifices these men made. Vows embracing poverty, chastity and obedience were destined to smite “all fetters that chained them to the world, to free them for action, for the worship of God and the practice of prayer; for the pursuit, in short, of sanctity.”

Leigh Fermor smiled at the fact that the monastic habitat should prove “favourable to ambitions so glaringly opposed”: his ambition, on the one hand, to get a book finished and his publisher off his back, and, on the other hand, the ambitions of the monks. These men, he found, could still embark on those “hazardous mystical journeys of the soul” which culminate in “blinding moments of union with the Godhead”, the very inkling of which, “since Donne, Quarley, Herbert, Vaughan and Traherne wrote their poems, has drained away from life in England”.

In the Introduction to A Time to Keep Silence, Paddy grappled briefly with the question of what his experiences inside the monastery walls might ultimately signify. He wrote that he was profoundly affected by the places he described. Though unsure about what his feelings amounted to, he was convinced that they were “deeper than mere interest and curiosity, and more important than the pleasure an historian or an aesthete finds in ancient buildings and liturgy”. In monasteries, he found “a state of peace that is unthought of in the ordinary world”. Describing himself as no stranger to “recalcitrance or scepticism or plain incapacity for belief”, he implies nevertheless that he had been the beneficiary of a “supernatural windfall”.

In the end, Paddy never fully cashed in this windfall. A Time to Keep Silence was published in 1957, but there were to be no more books on an exclusively religious theme. His life (a quite extraordinary one, in ways I have barely touched on here) was filled with many different interests, pleasures and friendships, some of which would have thrown up serious obstacles to any burgeoning Catholicism.

He had an open relationship with his wife, Joan Rayner, who was also a committed atheist.  While he stayed on in Rome to witness (and “swoon” at) the coronation of Pope John XXIII in 1958, his primary reason for being in the Eternal City in the first place was to conduct an affair with a young divorcee.  Three pages of A Time to Keep Silence are devoted to the conflicts and mysteries of chastity.

I am speculating, of course, but perhaps Leigh Fermor’s temperament – that old, latent religious mania – sometimes led him back towards the threshold of belief, only for his appetites to lead him away again, down the path of least resistance, garlanded with pleasures, adored by friends and lovers, and adoring them in return.

Many of us know some version of this dilemma.  We need a strong motive to turn our backs on the worldly delights which converged on Patrick Leigh Fermor like iron filings on a magnet, in favour of the less certain rewards that emanate from spiritual dread and spiritual joy.  As Artemis Cooper has pointed out to me, Paddy (unlike, say, Evelyn Waugh or Graham Greene) “could live without answers to the big questions: what am I doing here, why is there evil in the world, what has God got to do with it.  These big themes didn’t preoccupy him much.”

To those who’ve read the books and letters, this observation has the ring of truth.  But could it be that Patrick Leigh Fermor was able to live a life seemingly unpreoccupied by God because of the knowledge that he had acquired at first-hand in places like Saint Wandrille and La Grande Trappe?

This was the knowledge that, all the while, in those monasteries scattered across the West, which he called “silent factories of prayer”, there were other civilized, well-educated gentlemen just like him who had succeeded in abandoning everything.  And that they had done so in order to help their fellow-men, and themselves, to meet something he had intuited himself during those brief pockets of time spent in monastic cells, woods and cloisters, something which he and most of us push to the back of our minds for most of the time, and to which he gave a name: “the terrifying problem of eternity”.

There is a strange thread of connection between all of these items. I’m not sure what it is, exactly….

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

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— 1 —

 

Here’s a public service announcement for you.

I was sitting here at my computer, with my phone on the desk. A new phone (not an Iphone. I don’t do Apple. Just don’t like the ecosystem.) . It kept….pinging. No notifications came up. I cleared it. Made sure Google Assistant was disabled. I put it back down.

Ping. 

Pick it up, look.

Again, no notifications. Put it back down.

Ping. 

So I’m thinking…is it just the action of moving it around that’s doing this? 

What to do? A search, of course. “Pixel won’t stop notifications.”

Ah-ha. 

Now. Look at this photo and see if you can figure out what was happening. This is where I was setting it.

IMG_20180823_214742.jpg

 — 2 —

On top of that stack of books.

Which – because we are very cutting-edge here in Alabama – are equipped with RFID tags for checkout. The phone has the technology that enables it to be used to tap for payments, etc – and so every time I set the phone down on the books, it sensed the presence of the tag and tried to communicate with it.

(The more you know….)

 

— 3 —

This is going to be quick today. I had a busy day today and am going to San Antonio on Saturday, so my brain is full of that business.

 

— 4 —

I had read a bit about this before we went to Japan – how the country has consciously tried to increase tourism over the past few years – but this article sets it all in context and reaffirms my sense that I won’t be going over there for cherry blossom season…

Ninety-eight point five per cent of the population identify as ethnically Japanese and there are 127m of them. Respect, protocol, correct form – these are the absolute fundamentals of Japanese life. And a devotion to cleanliness, which is revered as a moral virtue. When my wife was a child she, like every other Japanese primary school student, cleaned the floors and windows of her school. There was no hired help, because the students did the cleaning. There was no shame in this act – just the opposite. For what could be more of a source of pride than in keeping your place of education spotlessly clean? It is a uniquely Japanese attitude not shared or even understood by the rest of this slovenly planet, which doesn’t even take its dirt-smeared shoes off before entering the home. Mass immigration was never going to fly in Japan. But Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hit on a brilliant ruse – let the foreigners in for a couple of weeks at a time and then send them back home. Not mass immigration as a saviour to Japan’s coffers, but mass tourism. So for the first time in its history, Japan was transformed into one of the world’s great tourist destinations. And it has worked. Spending around $1.3 billion, 600,000 tourists from the People’s Republic Of China came to Japan this spring for hanami – the ritual viewing of the sakura cherry blossoms, which bloom and die in a matter of days. Nothing is more essentially Japanese than hanami, a celebration of nature’s temporal beauty, and now the world is taking a selfie in front of those falling pink leaves. Abe was hoping for the number of international tourists to reach 20m by the time of the Tokyo Olympics, which start on 24 July 2020. But Japan shot past the 20m mark five years ahead of schedule. By 2017 the number of visitors had already reached almost 27m a year and Abe’s revised ambition is to attract 40m visitors a year by 2020 and 60m visitors a year by 2030 – which would make Japan a tourist destination almost twice as popular as Thailand.

 

— 5 –

A couple of localish links:

I am a sucker for “Abandoned ___________” photo spreads and features. Ruins of any sort are my thing. Hitting close to home is the Abandoned Southeast website which in its most current post features a crazy house not too far from where I live. It’s interesting that since putting up the post earlier in the week, the blogger has been able to update it with the news that the house has indeed been purchased and the new owner is planning to clean it up and renovate it. More photos at the What’s Left in Birmingham site.  I feel like driving over there just to see if I can spot the feral pigs he mentions.

Best news of the week has been that one of my favorite blogs – Deep Fried Kudzu is back. Ginger blogs about travel and food, mostly, with particular interests in WPA public art, primitive found art and grave shelters. I can’t tell you how valuable her blog has been to me in the years I’ve lived down here – whenever we’ve got an adventure on the horizon, I search her blog for information on quirky things to see and good places to eat.

So, for example, it was through Deep Fried Kudzu that I learned about the Amish community up in Tennessee, which we visited a few weeks ago. 

So…she took a well-deserved break, but I’m glad she’s back – see – there’s still a place for blogs in this crazy world!

— 6 —

It’s St. Bartholomew’s Day!

In art, the apostles are often portrayed in art with the means of their death, so you do see Bartholomew holding his flayed skin.  The most well-known is the depiction in the Michelangelo’s Last Judgment.

"amy welborn"

Also impressive is the huge statue in St. John Lateran. It stands in the central nave, along with representations of all the apostles. 

"amy welborn"

And take a look at this post from the Clerk of Oxford blog on some medieval traditions, with this lovely and true reflection:

This story suggests all kinds of interesting things about memory and oral transmission in eleventh-century England, and the way traditions were perpetuated within communities; it’s unusual to have such specific details of the means by which knowledge was transmitted from one generation to another. Young Eadmer, listening to Edwin and the others tell their story, was not very different from the children at St Bartholomew’s who ran the other day to receive their currant buns, watched over by their elders; one purpose of such ceremonies is to imprint their memory on the younger generation, specifically in this case the principle of St Bartholomew’s ancient tradition of charity. The elders were once children themselves, and one day the running children may be the watching hospitallians in their wheelchairs. With stories, current buns and biscuits, we ensure that our children know about the past so that one day they will remember and acknowledge it as we do.

 

— 7 —

 

Don’t forget – The Loyola Kids Book of Signs and Symbols.

 

NOTE: If you really want a copy soon – I have them for sale at my online bookstore (price includes shipping)  Email me at amywelborn60 AT gmail if you have a question or want to work out a deal of some sort. I have many copies of this, the Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories, the Prove It Bible and the Catholic Woman’s Book of Days on hand at the moment.

Also – my son has been releasing collections of short stories over the summer. He’s currently prepping his first (published) novel, The Battle of Lake Erie: One Young American’s Adventure in the War of 1812.  Check it out!

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

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Eh, it works. Let’s try to knock this out in the time between the first rising noises and the appearance outside the door, bookbag in hand.

Update: He beat me. Next goal: get it done in less than fifteen minutes and move on.

Reading: Because of some watching (see below), I didn’t make much progress on I was Dancing, but will probably finish it today. I also remembered that last week I’d started Edith Wharton’s The Custom of the CountrySo that will be next, after the O’Connor.

Writing: Well, all I got done yesterday was blog posts because I remembered that we were serving dinner at one of the women’s shelters in town, and I hadn’t picked up our designated item, so I had to leave earlier than planned for the school pickup and make a Tuesdaytrip to Sam’s Club for that.

Listening: To people complaining about school. Does that count?

Watching: Yes, yesterday was Better Call Saul, and it was good, but not worth an entire post this week. It’s not where my mind is at the moment anyway, because I made the mistake (or not) of watching the new AMC series that they’ve position after BCS – Lodge 49. 

I’d heard a bit about it, but I usually don’t watch shows right when they premiere – it took me a year to get to Breaking Bad – my heart has been broken too many times! Mostly by HBO shows that I got all excited about and intrigued by, settled down to watch the minute they aired, but which then turned out to be overstuffed, pretentious duds – I’m looking at you, Carnivale and, come to think of it, John of Cincinnati, which immediately came to mind when I heard of the premise of this show:

Lodge 49 is a light-hearted, endearing modern fable set in Long Beach, California about a disarmingly optimistic local ex-surfer, Dud (Wyatt Russell), who’s drifting after the death of his father and collapse of the family business. Dud finds himself on the doorstep of a rundown fraternal lodge where a middle-aged plumbing salesman and “Luminous Knight” of the order, Ernie (Brent Jennings), welcomes him into a world of cheap beer, easy camaraderie and the promise of Alchemical mysteries that may — or may not — put Dud on the path to recover the idyllic life he’s lost.

I also thought: trying way too hard. 

But, um..guess what.

really liked it.

Not loved. Not thought was the Best Show Ever. But I’ll keep watching it, for sure. Here’s what I liked – and guess what – depending on the direction of the show over the next couple of weeks, yes, a full post on it will be coming. Because guess what – there’s a definite Catholic sensibility about the piece, something I can smell a mile – or a continent  – away, and sure enough, from an interview with the creator of the show, short-story writer Jim Gavin:

The first image in the book is of martyrdom! You can’t escape a Catholic childhood. My parents made a lot of sacrifices to put us through Catholic school. I’m a typical lapsed Catholic and have problems with the church for all the reasons you might imagine, but in my adult life I’ve discovered some of the theology and find a lot of beauty in it. There’s so much beauty in something like Dante.

Isn’t Dante best known for writing about the nine circles of hell?

(Laughs). Yeah — the beauty of hell! I’m a weird Catholic nerd. I like theology and the idea of mercy really runs through the book. A lot of the characters secretly wish for the world to take mercy on them for just one second. It’s very un-American to ask for help — we almost have to be taken by the collar.

So what’s the Catholic sensibility? I won’t commit fully yet, but right now, two episodes in, it’s about seeking wholeness and a place in the world despite loss, disappointment and a continual sense of indebtedness that seems to define the life of every character: everyone owes someone, everyone’s scrambling to meet that debt, everyone’s life is defined by the debt. Is there hope for restoration? Is there a way to lift the debt? Is there mercy – anywhere?

The answer seems to be maybe. And maybe it’s in this place, a place that Dudley, the ex-surfer at the center, happens upon. He finds a lodge ring in the sand on the beach, unsuccessfully tries to pawn it, and then runs out of gas in front of the lodge, a place he’s lived near his whole life, but never recognized for what it is until now because he’d just happened upon a sign.

So yearning, brokenness, an intuition that there’s something more and then finding it – perhaps even being led to it –  in a place rich with signifiers, a place where people gather in community, a place where mystery – perhaps even a merciful mystery –  is encountered: Catholic.

Ernie: Once we can see that you are dedicated, there's a whole secret 
ceremony.
Dud: Cool, a secret.  What happens at the ceremony? 
Ernie: Well, I can't tell you that.But basically, there's a solemn oath, 
and then, we will begin to entrust you with the mysteries.
Dud: Entrusted with the mysteries.That's so cool. That's all I ever wanted.

I’m prepared for disappointment, but yeah – for the moment, I’m in.

What else did I like about it: The cast and the look is refreshingly diverse – the Lodge’s membership is male and female, of varied backgrounds.  It’s got some familiar faces in it – David Pasquesi, who plays Selina Myers’ ex-husband in Veep is a delightfully loopy “apothecary” here and Adam  Godley – Elliot in Breaking Bad – is the British liason from Lynx HQ to Lodge 49, apparently.

Eating/Cooking: We ate the Ropa Vieja last night, and it was excellent.

 

 

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— 1 —

First, take a look at this. It might have appeared on your social media feed as it did mine. It’s singer Alfina Fresta, who has spastic dystonic tetraparesis. She is supported here by Stefania Licciardello, president of the Neon Cultural Association, which offers performers with and without disabilities the opportunity to perform together. 

It’s lovely. It’s what the world should look like: no one invisible, mutuality and support simply a way of life.

— 2 —

Last week, I linked to Emily Stimpson Chapman’s moving post on the adoption process. Well, earlier this week, Emily and Chris’ son Toby was born. As Emily says in her post: We have been snuggling non-stop ever since and are completely in love. Continued prayers are greatly appreciated, though, both for his birth parents and for this little guy, who is going to have a rough few days as some bad stuff works its way out of his system.

— 3 —

I read a most unusual book this week. It’s called Raising the Dad. As you can tell from the listing, the reader reviews don’t average out very well, but I liked it. It was nothing like I expected. The premise is that a father long believed dead is revealed to be alive. Consequences ensue. Going into it, I’d assumed that the dad had been, I don’t know – off in Italy or in Tahiti for thirty years and reappears, but that’s not it at all. This particular plot point might stretch credulity, medically speaking, but I went with it, and found it quite thought-provoking.

Without spoiling much, I’ll just say that the novel challenges, in an unusual and unexpected way, the contemporary assumption that only lives that embody certain qualities are worth living, and that the only meaningful relationships we can have are with fully conscious individuals.

Worth a look.

— 4 —

Speaking of books – I finished writing one this week. Actually, just today (Thursday). I’m ecstatic and relieved. Can you feel it? See, it’s not due until January, but I was determined to get it done before my 8th grader started back to school.  This might be my last “free” year for  few years, since we are probably going to home/roadschool high school with this one. I didn’t want to spend the first part of the (school) year working on a project that is more of an assigned thing rather than one that’s more dependent on my creativity, when I’ll actually have time and space to Think.  Yes, the words I bring to this project are my own and are far from formulaic (I hope), but still – there’s a template, and my job was to fill it in.

Not that I turned it in. It could be published right now (with some editing…I guess…), but it will be better if I let it sit and come back to it with, as we say, fresh eyes. So I’ll do that – let it sit until December, open it back up, hopefully not weep from despair, do some edits and tightening, add any new good stories that have popped up, and ship it off in January.

And in the meantime, I sent a file of the manuscript 1) to myself – since my main file cabinet these days is my email and 2) to my daughter, just in case. 

— 5 –

Morbid? Maybe. I prefer to think of it as “prepared.”

With, I admit, a dose of superstition.

For you see – and may remember from previous posts – before I go on big trips, I always send my adult kids very detailed itineraries, along with my attorney’s information, health and travel insurance information, passport copies and so on. We now call it “The Itinerary of Death.” As in “Mom’s going to Japan – she should be sending the Itinerary of Death soon.”

The motivation is twofold. Yes, I want as little trouble as possible in case something happens. Mike didn’t have a will, and that was a mess. My dad had a will, but was unprepared in other ways when he died, and as the only child and executor, I was left to straighten it out. I want things to go easily for those I’m leaving behind – especially if it happens suddenly.

Secondly, yeah, I’m superstitious. As in: If I overprepare, nothing’s going to happen. 

Obviously, that’s not going to work forever. But I’ll keep trying.

— 6 —

Speaking of books – look!

I finally got my copies!

You can find it at the Loyola site here and Amazon here, and hopefully at your local Catholic bookseller soon, along with all the rest of the Loyola Kids books – a great matched set to gift your local Catholic school and parish – every classroom needs a set, don’t you think?

 

I’ll write more about the book next week. 

NOTE: If you really want a copy soon – I have them for sale at my online bookstore (price includes shipping)  Email me at amywelborn60 AT gmail if you have a question or want to work out a deal of some sort.

— 7 —

No family travel or movie-watching this week. One kid did a youth group paintball excursion, while the other went with a friend to a water park, so at least some people got out while Mom was feverishly, obsessively finishing a project that isn’t due for five IMG_20180726_222819.jpgmonths. (Oh, did I already mention that?) The older one worked several evenings, and the younger one did watch a couple of movies on his own, but again – I was in here, writing, checking off a box, writing some more, checking off  another box.

(I am a fairly disorganized, reactive, INFP, come-what-may person in general, but when it comes to this kind of project, I am very, very organized – I make a schedule, I write that schedule out, and stick to it. Simply put: I want to keep projects like this in their proper place in my life, freeing myself up to be all drifting and meditative for the rest of the day. Boxing this type of work in a strict schedule is the way to make that happen.)

I did watch, late one night, a bit of Lost in Translation. I’d seen it in theaters when it came out, and recall liking it – and had intended to rewatch it before we went to Japan – I’m glad I didn’t waste my time. I do like Bill Murray in almost anything, but wow, this film struck me as so simplistically racist and willing to exploit stereotypes. Yes, the scene in the beginning  where the commercial director goes on and on for a while, a speech which then the translator says to Murray comes down to “look to the right” – was funny because it echoes my experience in convenience stores, where the cashiers just talk and talk in a way that seems almost ritualistic, and really, all they’re saying is, “Thank you, and here’s your change.”

But I ended up only watching half of it. I was so deeply annoyed at the Scarlett Johansson character for being so helpless and unadventurous, I couldn’t stand watching her any more.  There’s also a way to capture that fish-out-of-water experience without resorting to stereotypes, and Coppola didn’t do it here.

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

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— 1 —

I’m still working on a couple of Japan wrap-up posts. I’d thought I would use one of them here, but nah. I’ll just toss up some recent news and links, instead.

First, saints:

Lots of interesting saints coming up this week (well…there are always interesting saints coming up in our calendar, aren’t there?), among them Camillus de Lellis – former gambler, soldier of fortune –  on July 14.

I wrote about him in The Loyola Kids’ Book of SaintsLoyola didn’t choose to excerpt from my book for the entry for their “Saints Stories for Kids” webpage, but you can read most of it at Google Books, here:

camillus de lellis

(Kateri Tekakwitha, whom we also remember on July 14, is also in the Loyola Kids Book of Saints, but the available excerpt on Google Books is pretty minimal, so…..)

— 2 —

Summer time for us usually means a lot more movie-watching in the evenings – a time for Mom to say…you get to play your video games and watch your stupid YouTube videos about video games, so now it’s my turn to pick. 

It’s not always easy. They get it. They understand that what we watch might be a little challenging for them to access at first, but that I try my best to share movies that are substantive and still engaging for them. By this point, they mostly trust me. I think what turned it was (speaking of Japan) The Seven Samurai. At first, they were deeply skeptical – a 60+ year-old dubbed, black-and-white movie? Even if it is about samurai?

Well, of course, it was fantastic. We split the viewing over two nights (this was last summer) and they were totally absorbed and engaged.

So, yeah, they trust me. Mostly.

— 3 —

This summer has been different. My older son works, and most of his shifts are in the evening, and much of the time he’s not working, he’s off doing other things. That’s how it goes! And it’s good – because you want them to be shaping their own lives.

So we’ve not watched a lot of movies this summer so far. Two recent viewings, though, one before Japan and one after:

On the Waterfront.  This was a film I used to show my morality classes in Catholic high schools. It is, of course, a great discussion-starter about the cost of doing the right thing, but it also offers a great opening to talk about evangelization and what it means to take the Gospel into the world – embodied, of course, in Karl Malden’s character, Father Barry:

Some people think the Crucifixion only took place on Calvary. They better wise up! Taking Joey Doyle’s life to stop him from testifying is a crucifixion. And dropping a sling on Kayo Dugan because he was ready to spill his guts tomorrow, that’s a crucifixion. And every time the Mob puts the pressure on a good man, tries to stop him from doing his duty as a citizen, it’s a crucifixion. And anybody who sits around and lets it happen, keeps silent about something he knows that happened, shares the guilt of it just as much as the Roman soldier who pierced the flesh of our Lord to see if he was dead… Boys, this is my church! And if you don’t think Christ is down here on the waterfront, you’ve got another guess coming!

Verdict: They though it was “a little slow” in parts, but liked it, especially as it built towards the end.

— 4 —

Earlier this week, we took on The Great Escape another long one, and another success. It’s based, of course, on a real escape from a German POW camp, and I’d say is about 60.2% faithful to history – with characters and time conflated of course, and well, you know there was no Steve McQueen racing a motorcycle to the Swiss border, right? That didn’t happen. Sorry.

Verdict: Very positive.

This, from the Telegraph, is a great graphic and verbal summary of the history behind the escape.  

On the night of March 24, 1944 a total of 220 British and Commonwealth officers were poised to escape by tunnelfrom North Compound, Stalag Luft III, the main camp for allied aircrew prisoners of war at Sagan in Nazi-occupied Poland.

The subsequent events, thanks to numerous books and the 1963 Hollywood epic The Great Escape, have become the stuff of legend. However the real story had nothing to do with Steve McQueen on a motorbike and over the top derring-do by a few men – in reality some 600 were involved.

Despite being meticulously planned by the committee known as the X Organisation, the escape was a far messier affair than we have previously been led to believe. Events unfolded in chaos with numerous hold-ups and tunnel collapses. Some pushed their way in line; others fled their post altogether.

Now, after corresponding with and interviewing survivors, and seven painstaking years of trawling through historical records in archives across Europe, prisoner-of-war historian Charles Rollings throws new light on the night of the ‘Great Escape’.

SPOILER ALERT: (Seriously, don’t read if you haven’t seen it, know nothing about it, and want to see it) – Be warned that if you’re thinking about showing this to younger or sensitive children: one of the things the movie is accurate about is the fact that most of the escapees were caught and killed. The jaunty theme and occasionally comedic aspects might lead you to think this is  a hijinks-and-fun-caper flick, but don’t think that. It’s very fast moving, enjoyable, has quirky characters and a couple of amusing set-pieces and has good lessons about resilience and standing up to injustice, but just know…most of them don’t make it.

— 5 –

Ah, okay, I said “links.” Here’s a link – a wonderful one:

How this classical Catholic school welcomes children with Down Syndrome:

Students with Down syndrome study Latin and logic alongside their classmates at Immaculata Classical Academy, a Catholic school in Louisville, Ky., that integrates students with special needs into each of their pre-K through 12 classrooms.

The school emphasizes “education of the heart,” along with an educational philosophy tailored to the abilities of each student. About 15 percent of students at Immaculata have special needs.

“When you look at these students with Down syndrome in a classical setting, it is truly what a classical education is all about — what it truly means to be human,” the school’s founder, Michael Michalak, told CNA.

— 6 —

Last week under this very take (#6), I shared a link about a former Catholic church in Boston being, er, transformed into a Dollar Tree store. 

Well, here’s some good news – another perspective from Baltimore:

Baltimore City is hurting. It is bleeding. It is in need of hope and healing. It needs Jesus Christ in the Eucharist—the source of all hope.

And yet, because of the danger in the City I have to close the Basilica at 4 PM every day. It can’t be open without a security guard. And we only have enough money to have a guard until 4PM.

THIS MUST CHANGE!

In my prayer, I know God is calling me to open the Basilica. He is calling me to make Him available to the people of Baltimore every single day in Eucharistic Adoration. He is asking me to offer his forgiveness in confession at all hours of the day. He is asking me to walk the streets and invite the people who live in my neighborhood to get to know Him. He is asking me to provide a sanctuary for those who are ill, lost, homeless, and hopeless. He wants young adults in our neighborhood to have a refuge to flee to after work and school.

I must provide that refuge here in the City. I honestly KNOW that God is demanding this of me.

I agree. I’m ready to help!

But in order to provide this refuge, I need your help. I will explain exactly what kind of help I need in a moment. But first I want to lay out what God is asking me to do at the Basilica.

— 7 —

While you’re waiting for those last Japan posts (should be over the weekend), in case you haven’t seen them – here’s what I have so far:

Also check out Instagram for photos. 

Some previous trip entries:

Mexico – spring 2018

London – spring 2017

Belize and Guatemala  – summer 2017

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

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— 1 —

Yes, we have returned. The trip back was completely uneventful, thank goodness. So much easier than the trip over, even discounting the problems, mostly because of the difference in time: the trip west is about 14 hours and the return back east was around 11 (that’s from Dallas to Tokyo and back). Thanks jet stream!

— 2 —

I didn’t watch any movies on the flight over, being determined to get my money’s worth out of that full-reclining business class seat. On the way back, however, I watched two:

Borg/McEnroe

This was not a great movie by any means, but I enjoyed it nonetheless (it’s not long, which makes even an okay movie more endurable.)

Starring Shia LaBoeuf as John McEnroe and Swedish actor Sverrir Gudnason as Bjorn Borg, the film recreates the circumstances leading up the 1980 Wimbeldon singles final, in which the 24-year old Borg would play for a fifth title against the brash American McEnroe.

My late father was a huge tennis fan, played quite a bit, and taught me to play. We watched a lot of tennis in our house. One summer in Maine, my dad took me to a

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1975, defined.

tournament in North Conway,  New Hampshire where I saw Connor and Ilie Nastase play, and yes, Nastase did play up his nickname of “Nasty Nastase” for the crowd.  Those of you who are younger might not realize how big tennis was back in the 70’s and 80’s – the era of superstars like Borg, McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Chris Evert and Martina Navarilova and so many others. It was a time (she said, rocking in her chair on the front porch, eying those kids on her lawn) when huge audiences watched the Wimbledon and US Open finals and there were some very dramatic matches played out.

So, I was drawn to this movie, partly from nostalgia, and yes, those first images of late 70’s/early 80’s tennis gear and garb did make me a little verklempt. And I found the movie pretty absorbing, even though I also don’t hesitate to say it doesn’t work.

The point is that Borg was, of course, a superb player and maintained that level through extreme personal control, while McEnroe, in contrast, was out of control on the court and off. The “twist,” as it were, is that we see that Borg had his own struggles with temper as a young man (played by Borg’s real life son Leo at one point) and had to channel that in order to succeed. So, there’s your situational irony, I guess.

— 3 —

The movie goes back and forth in time for both players, highlighting Borg’s growth and giving a glancing view to McEnroe’s domineering father, which is not enough to even come close to fleshing out McEnroe’s story.

In fact, there’s not a lot of depth on either side: it’s an atmospheric collection flashbacks that superficially dramatize one corner of a couple of tennis players’ motivations and psychological makeup.

The most amusing thing to me was the script’s offhanded self-critique. At one point, McEnroe leaves a talk show interview (I think it’s supposed to be the Tomorrow show with Tom Snyder) in a rage saying something like, Why is it always about how I act? Why isn’t it about the tennis? Which, as it happens, one could ask about the movie, too. Yes, the personalities were dominant at the time, but there were also changes occurring within the game of tennis at the time, changes that found expression in what was happening between Borg and McEnroe – not just different personalities, but different games. None of which comes through in the movie, of course.

So, yeah. Not a great movie, but I don’t regret the 90 or so minutes I spent watching it, either.

— 4 —

And then, finally, Lady Bird, which definitely did not live up to the hype.

At all!

Greta Gerwig’s semi-autobiographical movie is about a high school senior in Sacramento who wants, more than anything else, to not be in or perhaps even from Sacramento. Her family is struggling middle class – her mother (the always fabulous Laurie Metcalf) is a psychiatric nurse, her father unemployed, but they manage nonetheless to send Lady Bird to a Catholic high school (because her brother – it’s mentioned twice – had someone be knifed right in front of him in public school) where, it seems, she’s surrounded by mostly wealthy girls.

The movie’s been highly praised both as a coming-of-age movie and as a “love letter” to Catholic schools – since most of what Lady Bird experiences at school is presented in a positive – albeit realistic – light. It is, I will say, one of the few movies that gets all the Catholic Stuff right, in terms of gesture, lingo and what little ritual we see. The one false note – and not just from a Catholic perspective but filmmaking – is the priest character who’s brought in to replace another priest who was the theater sponsor. This new fellow has been a sports coach and treats the play production that way and it’s just too sit-comish and doesn’t match the more naturalistic tone of the rest of the film.

The basic idea is that Lady Bird is struggling – as we all do – to figure out who she is, which she is pretty sure has little to do with where she happens to be from. She’s rejected her given name – Christine – and she just wants to get the heck out Sacramento. Her parents are loving and supportive, but her mother is somewhat brittle and a pragmatist, and for some reason, she and her daughter area just not clicking right now.

There are loads of quality secondary characters – so much quality, in fact, that you really would like to spend more with them than with the fairly insufferable Lady Bird. I’d rather know more about  Janelle, the friend Lady Bird rejects for a time and also more about the priest who, the kids say, used to be married and had a child who died – and we get a tiny glimpse of this reality in another 30-second scene, but it calls out for more.

Lady Bird follows a familiar arc. As I watched it, I thought…here’s the part where she rejects her old friends….here’s the part where she pretends to be someone she’s not….here’s the part where she gives herself too hastily to a guy and here’s the part where she realizes what she did and regrets it…here’s the part where she realizes who her true friends are…here’s the part where she thinks she has gotten what she wants and then stumbles into a situation in which she realizes the value of what she had…here’s the part where she casts aside her youthful pretension, answers the question of what her name is with her actual name…and GROWS as a result. Or, well…comes of age.

I suppose my problem was that it was slight. A coming-of-age film is admittedly going to be a slice of life, but this slice was way too thin. I would have liked to have a little bit more family dynamic stuff so I could understand more of why the mom was the way she was and why Lady Bird was, and was the dad really such a saint?

— 5 —

I’m almost done blogging about the Japan trip. I think I’ve posted on each day – I just have  couple more thematic posts I want to get up. Here’s a list of posts

. You can take the easy way, and just go through all posts with a “Japan 2018” tag. Click here for that. 

Or:

Also check out Instagram for photos. 

Some previous trip entries:

Mexico – spring 2018

London – spring 2017

Belize and Guatemala  – summer 2017

— 6 —

Depressing? Symbolic? Obviously, the answer is: both. 

For more than a century, St. Catherine of Siena Church was a cornerstone of the Image result for dollar tree catholic churchCharlestown neighborhood, a close-knit parish that seemed impervious to the change that swirled around it.

When the Catholic church closed a decade ago, it took a piece of the old Charlestown with it, residents said.

 It had stood vacant ever since. But now, the church has taken on new life — if a decidedly secular one — as a haven for bargain shoppers known as Dollar Tree.

— 7 —

Coming in July:

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Signs and symbols…Bible stories…saints, heroes and history. 

More book reminders (for those who only come here on Fridays) – I’ve made How to Get the Most Out of the Eucharist available as a free pdf here. 

Mary Magdalene: Truth, Legends and Lies is .99 this month in honor of her feast (7/22). 

(One of several free ebooks I have available)

And don’t forget Son #2’s Amazon author page and personal author page.  

He’s released his third set of stories, called Mutiny!

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

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Last full day, that is. I began writing this in the airport hotel before waking the boys to head over to the airport for our 11 AM Monday flight and I’m finishing it up in Dallas at 9:45 AM Monday. Amazing – it makes up for the whole two days we lost at the beginning, I guess….

Those of you who have followed this trip know that the plans changed over the month before we left. My original original thought was to split the time between Tokyo and Kyoto, and therefore fly into Tokyo and out of either Kyoto or Osaka. I then decided it would be better to stay in one place, so booked the AirBnB for Tokyo for the entire duration. Then AirBnB and Japan had their problems, so the trip was split again. For which I am now, at the end of it, very grateful. I’m so glad we spent time in Kyoto – more thoughts on that score later. When all of that came down, I looked into changing flights to leave out of Osaka or Kyoto, but the cost for changing was ridiculous (which I will never, ever understand – except I do understand – profit – but really.) so I stuck with a departure from Tokyo, knowing that we’d have to spend at least half a day getting back up here. I had hope that it wouldn’t be wasted because the town of Narita – near the airport – apparently had Things to See. Hopefully, we’d see them.

And we did – not as much as I would have liked, but we did see a few things, and, as I always say – it’s all new to me, and whatever we saw – were things that we saw, worth seeing and thinking about and learning from.

In order to see anything at the end of the day, we’d have to start early. Mass was the big challenge of the day. I’d been researching it for two days. First idea was a church less than a mile from the apartment that we could walk/train to – but as I discovered when I walked there on Saturday morning for research, Mass was at 10:30, which was too late. Next idea was a church about halfway up the train route from our place to Kyoto Station. Mass there was at 9. I thought we could just take our stuff, go to Mass, then get back on the train to the station. I got a bit of pushback on the whole “march into Mass with backpacks and suitcases” idea. Then I looked one more time and found a church with Mass at 7 am. Okay, I said, if you don’t want to do the 9 am, we’ll do 7 – but that means, well, getting up at 6 (20 minute train ride, 6 minute walk). They agreed, and my compromise was that when we got back and finished packing and cleaning, we’d grab a taxi to the station – although I felt fully confident by this point in getting us there with luggage on the train, especially since it was Sunday morning – but they, again, were not enthused.

And it worked. We got up, walked to our train station, rode the train with a few other people, found the right neighborhood, which, it seems, must have it share of bars and clubs, considering the number of tired looking groups of young women in micro-minis (never seen in Japan during the day, in my experience) and trendy-looking guys either walking towards the train station or hanging out on the sidewalks. They’d obviously been up all night and were just wrapping it up.

I discovered later that we’d actually attended Mass at the Cathedral. It was a nice modern structure, with a roof sweeping upward and stained glass on one side. The church was maybe a third full – pretty good for 7am! – and was a little more demographically diverse than we’d seen in the Tokyo church – a lot of older women, yes (many wearing veils, as is normal here for older women), but a few families, more westerners and a greater sprinkling of young adults.

Music was minimal – opening and closing song and the Responsorial Psalm sung. Communion in the hand is the norm here, in case you are interested (which it isn’t, for example, in some areas of Europe, particularly Italy, where I’ve attended Mass), and the Sign of Peace is awesome: quick bows all around and we’re done.

Then across the lovely river,  back on the train (which was a bit more crowded by this point) pack up, clean up the apartment, take photos of the apartment (which I always mean to do right when we arrive, but never do, and then we immediately trash the place, so it’s not presentable), then walk up the street to the train station, get a taxi, then a 15-minute ride to the Kyoto Station to catch the bullet train. That journey was uneventful (I think it always is – there’s never been an accident with these trains) and quick and moderately scenic – more rice paddies and batting cages, everywhere.

I’d done some research and discovered what I thought was the best solution to get from the Tokyo station to our hotel near the airport: a shuttle bus that runs directly from the station to the airport hotels. We’d catch it – because I thought it ran more or less constantly – check in, or at least store our luggage – and then head into the town of Narita to get one last taste of Japan.

Well, as per usual, things didn’t turn out as hoped or planned. Everything ran later than I thought. We got to Narita airport and two out of the three of us were hungry enough to merit a meal (and granted – it was two o’clock by this time and no one had eaten anything all day except for some sweet rolls after Mass), and since we’d be at the airport anyway I decided we a) turn in our Pasmo transportation cards to get the refunds due on those and b) complete the check-in process for our flight. I couldn’t finish (b) online because I suppose passport confirmation was needed. So we did all those things, and by the time we got down to the place where the shuttle stopped, we discovered that it did not, indeed, run around the clock, but only once an hour – so we’d have thirty minutes to wait until the next journey.

Fine. Pay a cab to take us five minutes to the hotel. No problem. Because we’d get to the hotel and soon enough be able to hop on the shuttle to town, which, I thought I’d understood, ran around the clock. Well, no. It doesn’t run around the clock or even around the hour. We got into our room a little after 2:30 and discovered that the next shuttle to town wouldn’t be until 4:15. Drat. Especially since what I read online indicated that the big Zen temple I wanted to visit in Narita closed at 4 on Sundays, plus most of the restaurants seemed to close at five.

This was not going as I’d hoped. Because particularly after the debacle that marked the beginning of our trip, I didn’t particularly want to lose one more day of this rather expensive jaunt on a travel day. I admit that I let my irritation spill over – something I usually try very hard not to let happen, especially since I grew up in a household marked by very high flood markings on the wall made by years of irritation spilling over.

So we waited and hung out in the hotel room for an hour or so. We headed down to the lobby for the shuttle where a fluent English-speaking employee (finally!) told me that while the doors of the temple might close at 4, the grounds were certainly open – which made me feel better.

Fast forward: shuttle to town – Narita which is a very busy, suburb-like city, just like your American suburb except for the sign lettering. We were dropped at the train station in the middle of town, and made our way down the tourist-oriented street, lined with shops and restaurants, most of which were, indeed, either closed or in the process of closing.

But all was not lost!

Narita is known for unagi– eel. It’s the local delicacy, and many restaurants feature the …er…processing…of the eel right in the front of the house. As in: one guy grabs a live eel from a buck of water, chops its neck, takes its still wriggling body, skins and de-spines it, and hands it to the next guy, who cuts it up into pieces which are then put on skewers. The spines are fried and sold as bar food, essentially.

Before we went, I was all up for trying it, but once we got there, the only place still open and selling was rather expensive – about twenty-five bucks for four pieces with rice, and I just wasn’t willing to invest the time and money on something I wasn’t even sure I’d like. If it had been one skewer of part of an eel for like five bucks, sure – but this was just too much for the moment and my mood. At least I got to see the process, which is what I was really after.

Then we proceeded down the hill to the Shingon Buddhist temple, which is part of a large park. It was gorgeous. These temples and shrines are naturally not as interesting to me as churches are, but I find them fascinating, nonetheless.

We walked around a bit, saw temples, pagodas, statues and turtles. The time down by the water was deeply peaceful and something I needed at that moment, the last night of a long trip, the night before leaving to return home.

As we rounded our way back out of the park, a small group of girls – most probably between 8-12 appeared, each carrying a pole with rings on the end. They were led by adult women, and it became pretty clear to me that they were rehearsing for something – perhaps a  procession of some sort. They’d walk around, rhythmically banging the poles on the ground, stopping at various points, including right in front of the main temple, at which point, two young men with them would go part way up the steps, stop, and them lead them all in a bow.

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A small group of women was gathered nearby watching, and I’m assuming they were the girls’ mothers. It was like Dance Moms: Buddhist Edition.

A short walk back up the hill, where the few shops that had been open when arrived had closed. There was an activity happening in front of the tourist office, thought: a group with fans, doing some sort of chanting and waving. It seemed to me it was a cultural activity directed at tourists – sort of like if you were in Spain and there was an invitation to try to do flamenco.

Dinner was very good – a fitting last meal for Japan. Granted, the place was not people by locals – it seemed to be mostly tourists or airline employees (the decorations were all airline-related), but it was tasty nonetheless: fried rice for one, a ginger pork dish for another, a great chili-based soup with pork for me, and dumplings for all.

Everything, it seemed, turned out all right in the end.

 

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Super fast blog post. It’s late and we’re up early tomorrow. If you want to see some videos related to the post below, head to Instagram Stories.

The day began with me heading out to find the closest Catholic church, so I could figure Sunday out. Maps told me there was one less than a mile away, and it had a website, but either the Mass times weren’t listed or I just couldn’t figure it out. So out I went on a walk to see if the actual building had anything to tell me.

It was a lovely walk (albeit very hot) along the canals in this area – Fushimi – which I will write about later. I eventually did find the church, and was pointed to a sign by a very nice lady, and the sign told me that Sunday Mass would be at 10:30 – too late for us, so Plan B it will be. Upon reflection later in the day, I transitioned to Plan C, which is going to require very early rising and great suffering but I’ve already prepared us for that by pointing out that there were, according to what I’ve ready, Christian martyrs in this very area of Kyoto. So stop your whining. (Including myself in the order, to be sure.)

It was so hot by then…I took the train back. Speaking of avoiding suffering…

Anyway, it was then off to Osaka. The train was – very unusual for Japan – rather late. It seems there had been an accident of some sort on some tracks, which caused us to wait on the platform for about twenty minutes. As I said, this is very unusual. Japanese trains are known for their timeliness.

A side note on a day trip to Osaka – we might or might not have done this, but the weather told me that there was going to be heavy rain in Kyoto all afternoon and nothing worse than intermittent showers in Osaka. Now, I don’t know if it ever did actually rain here, but just in case, I didn’t want to be stuck. So off we went, on a not very deep, but nonetheless educational afternoon.

We had every intention of starting out in a serious way with Osaka Castle, but when the time came to transfer, we got on the train going the wrong way, so we shrugged and said, “Eh. We’ll just go see other things instead.”  So we ended up, first at Osaka Station and the very, very big Pokemon Center (the largest in the world) and, adjacent to it, a large Uniqlo store – Uniqlo does have some stores in the US, I believe (I went into one in New York City last year), but I don’t know how many. It’s a good, basic clothing brand – simple styles, affordable prices.

So we did that, and then went right over to Dotonbori Street, widely known (and photographed) as a crazy busy food street with monstrous signage. I’m sure the place is even more fantastic at night, but because of the early day we have on Sunday, it just wasn’t a good idea to hang out to see it, unfortunately.

But what we did see was fun. The street is all restaurants, food stalls and, it seems, drug stores. We are not sure why every store that doesn’t do food seems to be a drug store, but there it is. Also – Osaka is just like Tokyo and Kyoto – especially Tokyo – with extensive – extensive underground shopping – that’s where the variety is, it seems.

You can get a sense of it from the photos (but if you want a deeper look, just search for img_20180630_142728videos on Dotonbori – easy to find). It wasn’t as packed as I expected – it wasn’t, for example, as thronged as Shibayu in Tokyo was. The food is almost all one of just a few types: ramen, sushi (although not tons), IMG_20180630_135903.jpgokonomiyaki (characteristic Osaka pancake type thing), kushiage (skewers of mostly breaded fried things), crabs, beef, and most of all, takoyaki, sauteed balls of batter with octopus inside, either chopped or whole baby octopus. We had street okonomiyaki, some very good fried chicken bits from a street booth, an ice cream sandwich made with what they call melon bread – you find something similar in Sicily using brioche and gelato, and then sat down – shoes off, on cushions, finally – for kushiage. In the restaurant, in fact, with the angry-looking fellow in the photo above.

 

The guys spent some time in an absolutely insane 6-story gaming/entertainment/indoor sports complex called Round 1, and then it was time to go. Not the most cultured day, and there’s a lot more to see in Osaka, but we did what we could and experienced something new – always something new.

From Osaka, we went straight to downtown Kyoto, parked our purchases in a coin locker at the Gion station, then plunged into the Saturday evening crowds to finish up some souvenir shopping and grab some fuel for those who need refueling. The quick choice, rationalized by a full day of eating Japanese, was “Wendy’s First Kitchen” – the Japanese Wendy’s that has a bit broader menu – including 4-patty burgers and pasta and actual fried chicken – and serves beer. The customer who got the chicken nuggets and chicken pieces (came in a combo) reported that they were of far higher quality than you’d find in the US – and I had a couple of bites of the chicken, and was duly impressed. Good job, Wendy’s First Kitchen.

Followed by some matcha ice cream – which I felt a responsibility to try since it’s everywhere here. I still don’t like it.

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— 1 —

Not from Tokyo…as of this writing…no. Ahem.

Check Instagram for more current updates….

— 2 —

 

 

Random links first:

I’m in Living Faith today. Go here for that. It’s unplanned, but very fitting for what’s I’m doing at the moment. For more like it, check out the Catholic Woman’s Book of Days. 

Related: Scripture Passages that Changed My Life –  a collection of essays by Living Faith authors – is now available. I’m in there. And yes, they are essays – not the 150-word Living Faith entries in the quarterly devotional. Full-length reflective essays. For you!

Also – last week I noted that the robins were trying again. Well…it seems as if someone else was watching. Report here. Sigh. 

 

— 3 —

Here’s some fantastic news: Perhaps you know about Horrible Histories – the great British kids’ show based on some off-kilter British kids’ history books. I’ve written about them a lot, and we love the series around here. The same crew produced another show called Yonderland  – of which we’ve only seen the first season, and enjoyed – and a fun take on young Shakespeare called Bill. 

This is a great post with a list – and video links – to some of the best musical numbers from Horrible Histories. Including, of course…

(Did I ever tell you about the time my daughter ran into Mat Baynton on the very last day of the Edinborough Festival Fringe, where she’d been working for a month? Well – that happened – this young American woman breathlessly saying, “My little brother can sing the whole Pachacuti song!”)

They’re back! With, it seems a fun-sounding variation on The Canterville Ghost. 

Ghosts is a multi-character sitcom created by the lead cast of writer-performers from the award winning Horrible Histories and Yonderland, and the feature film Bill.

The crumbling country pile of Button Hall is home to numerous restless spirits who have died there over the centuries – each ghost very much a product of their time, resigned to squabbling with each other for eternity over the most inane of daily gripes. But their lives – or, rather, afterlives – are thrown into turmoil when a young urban couple – Alison and Mike – surprisingly inherit the peaceful derelict house and make plans to turn it into a bustling family hotel. As the ghosts attempt to oust the newcomers from their home, and Mike and Alison discover the true scale of the project they’ve taken on, fate conspires to trap both sides in an impossible house share, where every day is, literally, a matter of life and death.

— 4 —

More serious random links:

Why is Rome sidelining Ukrainian Catholics?

First, there was the consistory for new cardinals announced on Pentecost Sunday. Leading the list of 11 new cardinal electors was Louis Raphaël I Sako, Patriarch of Babylon and head of the Chaldean Church, Iraq’s principal eastern Catholic Church. Creating the patriarch a cardinal was widely seen as sign of solidarity with the suffering Iraqi Catholics.

In 2016, Pope Francis did a similar thing for Syria, though that time he did not choose an actual Syrian bishop for cardinal, but rather the Italian serving as nuncio in Damascus.

Yet in five consistories for the creation of new cardinals, Pope Francis has passed over Sviatoslav Shevchuk, head of the UGCC and major archbishop of Kiev. Shevchuk’s predecessors have all been cardinals dating back to time when the UGCC – liquidated by Stalin – was the largest underground Church in the world.

Pope Francis is charting a new course in the selection of cardinals, but even given the idiosyncratic nature of his choices, it is evident that suffering Churches and suffering peoples are favoured with cardinals. That Ukraine has been overlooked now five times in five years suggests that Ukrainian suffering resonates less in Rome than the objections of the Russian Orthodox, who regard the very existence of the UGCC as an affront.

Secondly, a good look at Matthew Kelly’s Dynamic Catholic Catholic school teacher formation program. Popular, but evidently lightweight – no surprise there. 

The advice is banal, the language clunky: “The people you surround yourself with, and how you let their positivity or negativity influence you, impacts the kind of teacher you are.”

At times it is saccharine: “There is no national monument for teachers. I have never seen a statue of a teacher. But we all build monuments for teachers in our hearts.”

It can be pedantic: “Education is a wildfire. And a single educator is but a flickering of this timeless flare, hoping to shed some light where there is darkness.”

Or condescending: “Let me throw a little theology at you.”

Some of it reads like motivational business-speak: “We respect forever the leaders in our lives who were tough but fair.”

And every so often it calls on a weird source to make a point: “As Friedrich Nietzsche observed, ‘He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.’”

You get the idea. Matthew Kelly manages to evade the hard questions mostly by ignoring them. How should I include “Jesus in [my] lesson plans?” Keep “an empty chair” for him, to “remind students that Jesus is always at their side.” What is evil and how should I respond to it? Make “holy moments”! How do I deal with the exhaustion, fatigue, frustration, and pain of teaching? “There is no limit to the number of holy moments you can create.” The prose is as limp as the cloying optimism it promotes. It often circles back to his usual refrain: Be the “best-version-of-yourself.” That was more or less what Eve was told in the garden.

 

— 5 —

 

 

All right! So our great Japan 2018 Voyage got off to a rocky start. An aggravating, puzzling and somewhat infuriating start.

The plan was: fly out of BHM to DFW – land in DFW around 10:30, flight to NRT (Narita airport in Tokyo) departs at 1:30. Perfect, right?

Well, you would be wrong. You would not have taken into account the long wait on the Birmingham tarmac brought on by: weight issues, which led to a delay as people were asked to volunteer to disembark, people thought about it for a while, and a couple of people finally decided to accept the $700 offer. (These offers are never made when I’m able to accept them). Secondly, weather between BHM and Dallas, which required a changed flight plan which took about 30 minutes to work out and which would be a longer flight.

So we didn’t land in Dallas until about…1:30. We taxied right by gate D33. I saw our plane pulling away. Waves. 

Oh well – surely there’s another flight to Tokyo today? Surely they can at least maybe get us to Los Angeles or somewhere further west and we can go from there and still get there almost on time? Surely? 

Again – You’re wrong!

But there’s another aspect to this story that takes it to another level, to the level beyond, eh, things happen – it’s air travel. You expect it. 

It was hard not to miss the dozen or so Japanese young adults on our small plane from Birmingham. We wondered if they were also headed to Tokyo on the same flight.

As we disembarked and lined up in front of the rebooking agent in Dallas, they gathered behind me. I turned and asked if they were on flight 61 – they didn’t speak much English, didn’t understand me at first, so I showed my ticket, pointed to the number, they got theirs out – and yes, that was their flight too. They were…surprised that they missed it.

So here’s my question. There were, at my count, between 12-15 of us on a single flight ticketed for another specific flight.

Why did they not hold the plane? 

We’re not talking hours here. The planes passed each other in the gate area. There was no mystery about where a large percentage of the missing passengers were – Hmm….15 people haven’t showed up for this flight? Where could they be? Such a mystery! Shrug. No – they know exactly where everyone is and exactly when they’ll be coming in.

I’ve been on planes that have been held for one or two passengers before. This was crazy, and although I got scolded a bit on Twitter for this, told that I just “didn’t undertand” how these things work – I stand firm. As I said, I’ve witnessed planes being held. The AA supervisor who eventually helped us was aghast, as was her co-worker.

So – a bit about customer service. For some reason, I’m fascinated by stories of good and bad customer service – I slavishly read the Elliot site all the time. So it’s also instructive to be in the middle of something like this, observe the dynamic and see what works – and what doesn’t.

The first guy I went to for help was doing his job, but doing it without any energy or compassion. I wasn’t panicked or angry – I was amazed that the plane hadn’t been held, but was ready to move on. Fine. But the options he was giving me were terrible and he was using the same tone with me as if he were asking paper or plastic – and who cares.

So, you could fly out of Chicago tomorrow morning, I guess. 

When would we go to Chicago?

Tonight. 

Where would we stay – in the airport?

I guess. Yeah. 

I wasn’t biting on any of these options, convinced that there had to be a better way, so he offered to call a supervisor – obviously eyeing the 12 Japanese students behind me, as well. So he radioed for a supervisor, I stepped aside and waited.

And waited. And waited. Minutes went by, no one showed up. I stepped closer to the original guy and caught his eye. He waved to an open door across the hall and mouthed – go there. 

Okay.

So I went to this open door, where a man in a tie stood – he listened to me very politely,if clearly a little puzzled about why I was telling him about this. He poked his head back in the door, said something to a woman inside. She came out, they had a puzzled conversation, she agreed that she’d help me, but first, we had business with Guy #1.

Well, she had business. She was pretty ticked at him. Why didn’t you call a supervisor? I did. They didn’t come. They’re right over there – why couldn’t you just wave someone down? I’m busy – I tried. 

I sensed that her anger at this other guy just might work to my advantage, so I was just super nice. Not pathetic – because you know, this is a First World Problem in the extreme, and no pathos allowed, in my view.

As it turned out – there were no great options. Nothing was leaving from DFW later, and anything else she was able to work out would involve many stops and wouldn’t get us into Tokyo much earlier.

So – we got booked on the same flight, 24 hours later.

But she did give us a hotel voucher. I don’t think she was supposed to, since the reason for the mess was “weather”  – one of the many, many reasons airlines use to excuse them leaving you on your own (and I get it – they’d go broke if they compensated everyone for everything we feel we should be compensated for).

But she did anyway, saying, “It’s going to be a long day for you all.”

Quick version of the rest of the saga: I had hoped to get our luggage (just two suitcases – we travel light)  which I had CHECKED EVEN THOUGH I NEVER CHECK LUGGAGE…..GRRR – but was told by two different people that while it might take 30 minutes to retrieve the bags, it might also take three hours and there was no way to predict. We had most of our toiletries with us (aka the most important for me – my contacct lens stuff) and J had a pair of gym shorts in his backpack, so we just decided to grin and bear it.

I did rent a car instead of doing a shuttle to the hotel. I managed to get one through Hotwire at about half the cost they were quoting me at the rental counter. I wanted a car because it was still fairly early, and this would enable to us run and get a couple of t-shirts and anything else we needed and – if we had time – to see a bit of Dallas.

Which we did…

(And please know –  In my communications to AA about this – both via Twitter DM and through their system – I praised the helpful AA employee by name, several times. Do try to do that – when someone gives you good service, note their name and communicate their good work to the powers that be. It helps them. I did the same with the woman at the rental car counter – we had no problems, but she was just very nice and engaged, striking the perfect balance – helpful but not annoying – I noted her name and commended her to her company, too. It matters.)

(I do have travel insurance – both through the credit card I used to book the tickets, and a separate policy which I always get for these trips. I’ve never, ever filed a claim – and even though it’s not much, I think I’ll give it a shot, just to see what happens.)’

And may I reiterate? First World Problems. I’m annoyed that we lost a day of our time in Tokyo, but for heaven’s sake – we’re going to be in Japan.  I have nothing to complain about.

 

— 6 —

So…Dallas. 

When we started out, I thought we’ll get barbecue – but then they noted that In n’ Out is in Texas now, and they opted for that. It’s okay – I wasn’t hungry. We then made our way downtown – I’d probably been in the Dallas environs (outside the airport) once as a child, and probably only to a mall (that’s my vague recollection, anyway).

So we just shot downtown, parked, and walked around for about thirty minutes. It was hot, there weren’t a ton of people in the area – done and done.

 

 

 

— 7 —

 Coming in July:amy_welborn9

amy-welborn3

Signs and symbols…Bible stories…saints, heroes and history. 

More book reminders (for those who only come here on Fridays) – I’ve made How to Get the Most Out of the Eucharist available as a free pdf here. 

(One of several free ebooks I have available)

And don’t forget Son #2’s Amazon author page and personal author page.  

He’s released his second set of stories, which are science fiction-y in nature. 

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

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— 1 —

Coming to you from Alabama, yes, but not Birmingham. It’s Auburn for us tonight, with an early morning obligation/opportunity tomorrow and then on to somewhere else for the afternoon and perhaps the next day as well. No more details until we see how it all works out – I’m sadly superstitious in that way – but if you want some sense of what’s happening, check out Instagram, particularly Instagram Stories. I tend to post things there.

— 2 —

The big news of late has been the tragic Ireland abortion referendum – which, in the end, is a referendum on the state of Catholicism as well. As disturbing as the referendum itself was, just as disturbing to me was the reaction of the supporters. Cheering and celebrating? Not unexpected, but certainly disgusting. There is a lot of insightful reading out there about the referendum, but two I’ll point out here are:

Breda O’Brien in the Irish Times:

Ireland has become a different place, not a more tolerant, open and respectful place, but a place with a heart closed to the ones who will die because they are not deemed human enough to be protected.

And a heart closed to the thousands of women who wish they lived in a society that cared enough to tackle the profound injustices such as poverty that force women to choose abortion, rather than proposing the ending of a life instead.

I knew we were in trouble months ago when a prominent journalist said she absolutely accepted the unborn was a baby, but that she felt a woman’s right to choose trumped that fact.

I waited for the outcry. Someone had just said that a baby must die to facilitate an adult’s choice. There was none. I felt an indescribable chill.

The next generation is our hope, not some kind of choice.  

Any movement that urges breaking the bond of intergenerational solidarity for ideological reasons, all while abandoning women to the coldness of individual choice, undermines all that is central to our humanity.

Nor did two-thirds of voters seem to understand the concept of equality, instead making ableist arguments. “How could a foetus be the equal of a fully grown woman?” ran the banal, unimaginative and clichéd argument.

They are not equal in cognitive ability, in power or in strength. Neither is a newborn baby or a three-year-old. The helplessness and defencelessness of new humans are designed to instil in us a passion to protect them from harm because they are equal to adults only in their common possession of humanity and their right to life.

— 3 —

And Darwin Catholic reminds us:

In the wake of the Irish referendum abolishing their constitutional protection of unborn children, some of have attempted to roll out the old: “Oh, don’t worry. Banning abortion doesn’t reduce abortions, it just makes people go elsewhere to get them.”

This “banning something doesn’t reduce it” argument is deployed by various people for various causes: Banning abortion doesn’t reduce abortion. Banning drugs doesn’t reduce drug use. Banning guns doesn’t reduce the number of guns available. Banning gambling doesn’t reduce gambling.

All of these are false. Making something illegal of course makes that thing less common. Honestly, if we believed that making something illegal had no effect on whether or not people did it, why would we make anything illegal? Why would we ban things like homicide and burglary if we thought that illegality had no effect on whether people do something.

— 4 —

I have such a long list of articles and links about matters digital and technological. Such a long list. Some related to the impact of all of this on our brains, many taking on assumptions about tech and education, and a growing number about Big Tech and information control. I keep going back to mid-century dystopian fiction, from Farenheit 451 to 1984 and then I ponder McCluhan, and I try to sort it out.

One of the minor points I ponder is the relationship of information tech to churches and evangelization. I have never been one to suggest that a Really True Evangelizing Disciple-Making Parish/Diocese must be All In with the Tech – is your parish on Facebook/Instagram/Twitter/MySpace ? 

The far more important question, to me is – have you reached out to every single parish in your parish boundaries? Does everyone know about everything you offer? Is your parish aware of every homebound person living in its boundaries, is every household aware that the corporal and spiritual works of mercy and worship of God are happening in your parish? 

Sure, I guess you can let them know about it through Facebook, right? But why not, you know, go knock on their doors instead? Be an actual living – IRL – presence in the life of the neighborhood?

Yeah, do both. Great! For sure have a decent parish webpage with MASS TIMES FRONT AND CENTER WITHOUT HAVING TO DOWNLOAD A PDF TO FIND THEM FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE. But person-to-person comes first.

And do you know what? these tech entities are not your friend. 

The owner of the Babylon Bee sold it and has Words about Facebook and Google:

I fully realize that a major reason the Bee (and my webcomic, for that matter) was able to blow up like it did was because of social media — Facebook in particular. This is just how it goes when you make things for the internet: you create, you post to social media, you hope people like it and it spreads. But the power that Facebook held over me as a content creator began to make me very uneasy.

True crime fascinates me, and this is a comparison that often comes to mind: to become a successful content creator you have to use Facebook, and using Facebook, especially if you’re a Christian and/or a conservative, is sort of like going to a mafia loan shark for $10,000. They’re happy to give it to you, just like Facebook will gladly give you the opportunity for your content to go viral on their massive platform. But then, if it does, they own you. You have to conform to their rules and their worldview, and jump through every hoop they put in front of you, if you want to remain a successful content creator. It’s just like a loan from a local mob guy: sure, now you’ve got $10,000 in your hand, but you’re going to pay a high price in return. You’re going to have to alter whatever needs to be altered — even your worldview — to accommodate Facebook. If you miss a payment or step out of line, you’re going to get a beating. And if they ever decide you’re too much trouble, they’ll just shoot you. Facebook has the power to kill publishers, and they do, not only based on publishing techniques, but based on worldview. Just think about that.

This takes us into the bigger and scarier picture, which is that Facebook and Google have a practical duopoly on information. The web is where everyone gets information about everything, and they literally control what information the world sees. I could write a million words on this topic, but I won’t. I cover it regularly on CDR, and the CDR Manifesto speaks on it. Suffice it to say, my worldview combined with my job description gives me a unique vantage point from which to view the current state of things. As a follower of Christ, I am primarily concerned with glorifying God, loving my neighbor, and spreading the gospel. I’ve thought about this deeply and carefully, and I think the centralization of the internet is one of the greatest threats to the spread of the gospel, and the well-being of mankind, that we face today. Maybe the single biggest threat. It is tyranny over information. It’s a handful of people who are hostile to the Christian message and the plight of the individual deciding what’s good and bad, true and false. It’s never been seen before on this scale. I am no conspiracy theorist; never have been. From where I sit, this danger is as clear as day.

All of this is to say nothing about the long-term ramifications of the massive collection of personal data, or the incalculable intrapersonal effects social media is having on us.

— 5 —

If you only come here on Fridays, please check out my post from earlier in the week on the letters of St. Marie de l’Incarnation to her son, whom she left with relatives at the age of eleven, so she could join the Ursulines. The Cruelest of all Mothers. 

— 6 —

Several years ago (six), when we were still in the bungalow, some robins built a nest on the ledge right outside my window. It was glorious to be able to watch the babies hatch and then grow – and then hop and fly away. The blog posts about that – Robin Watch – are all under this category. 

Something similar has happened this year. It’s a different house, but robins have managed to find a space to build a nest – squeezed in between a rain spout and roof eaves. Fortunately (for us) it’s on a side of the house close enough to the ground that I can set up a step ladder and we can peak. My older son is tall enough to be able to see without assistance, but I can only spy with my phone camera – I can just hold it up there while the parents are away hunting worms, and take a quick snap. I think the photo on the left must have been just a day or so after they hatched and the second just three days later. We’ll see if they’re even still around when we get back.

— 7 —

 Coming in July:amy_welborn9

amy-welborn3

Signs and symbols…Bible stories…saints, heroes and history. 

More book reminders (for those who only come here on Fridays) – I’ve made How to Get the Most Out of the Eucharist available as a free pdf here. 

(One of several free ebooks I have available)

And don’t forget Son #2’s Amazon author page and personal author page.  

He’s releasing his second collection of stories Friday- June 1.

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

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