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So much important stuff to talk about, so let’s chat about…a movie. Shall we?

My brain and energies are a bit fried at the moment from being at a church all morning where Son #5 had a run-through of the music for his debut accompanying Mass at this parish, when then turned into an organ-rep practice session which then turned into a piano-practice session (because they have a Steinway that he enjoys playing…).

So I need to expend some of my creative energy…

So?

What do you think?

Here are my Deep Thoughts:

  • YES
  • I’m very, very excited about this. I thought Breaking Bad ended perfectly, but neither have I been averse to seeing Jesse’s story continue. Like many others, I basically want to see Jesse find this, for real:
  • Or, as one wag on Reddit or something opined, when rumors of this project first started flying, something like “I’d be content to watch Jesse sitting on a beach with a Corona and a lady friend for two hours.”
  • Bottom line: I trust Vince Gilligan and team like I trust no other contemporary Big Creative Mind.  Gilligan, it seems to me has the self-confidence required to put his stories out there, but is also not a weird egomaniac – which means he doesn’t let his own stuff get in the way of the stories. Plus, he has a Catholic background which shows, not in angsty-ways (Scorsese, looking at you), but in healthy ways connecting his stories to deeply-felt tradition, even subtly. I’ve always said that Breaking Bad was essentially a series about Original Sin – it’s about what sin does to a person and how that impact spreads – cf. Genesis 1-11. And, per Gn. 3 – the root of that sin is  – always  – pride.
  • I’m optimistic that there’s going to be some intriguing BB – BCS crossover happening, laying groundwork for whatever’s coming with Better Call Saul in 2020.
  • So yes, I’m very glad to see this happening, and have purchased my tickets to see it in the theater in Atlanta!
  • I’m also just very, very curious about some things. I mean – the essence of great drama is conflict, and there has to be more to this story than Jesse running from the Law – if that’s what he’s going to be doing. There just has to be more. But…I keep thinking – with whom? Who’s left for him to conflict with at a deep level that has a lot of stakes?

So. Who’s still alive? Let’s see:

  • Skyler
  • Walt Jr.
  • Holly
  • Marie
  • Elliot and Gretchen
  • Skinny Pete
  • Badger
  • Saul
  • Francesca
  • Brock
  • Lydia (*maybe*)
  • Jesse’s parents/brother
  • Jane’s father (maybe – he attempted suicide, we’re never told the outcome)
  • Guy in the junkyard

And then there may be characters from the Better Call Saul universe who may be around:

  • Kim
  • Howard
  • Nacho
  • Lalo

Various other cartel people, I suppose, although the cartel had dropped out of the BB storyline by the end of the series.

All of this leaves me quite curious as to what this conflict and tension is going to be about. My partial theory, apart from any individuals who might pop up with a stake in the matter:

El Camino is a genius title. It’s a vehicle, of course – the vehicle Jesse escapes in. But it also means, of course the road. The way, the journey. We’re going to see, I’m assuming, Jesse’s road – somewhere. Where? Everything that we know about this character up to this point moves us to root for that journey being to a place of freedom and peace, for we’ve seen that Jesse has a conscience – he’s capable of seeing to the other side and reaching for another way.  But what does that mean?  Is this going to be about Jesse battling his dueling desires for revenge or reconciliation? But then, again – revenge against WHO? All the neo-Nazis are dead. Walter White is dead (and yes, I think he’s dead – and if he weren’t, he’d be in prison, so….)

I’m very intrigued about how this is going to play out. Not because I labor under the delusion that Jesse Pinkman is a real person, but more because I’m interested to see how a talented creative mind works with the themes he’s laid out so carefully – themes that are universal and true and humane – and also how it plays out creatively. I’m fascinated by the creative process, period. We see a piece of art and we think that it sprang fully-formed from the mind of the creator, but of course that’s not the way it is at all – and that’s what makes the creative process so terrifying. You set out to create something, and sure, what you create might be wonderful, but odds are the final product is quite different from your original vision.  The character of Jesse Pinkman was supposed to be killed off early on – but he lived, and as such, embodied this theme of sin and its impact in an important way – in the perversion of the teacher-student relationship that the Walt-Jesse duo became. For Walt could have actually helped this young man turn his life around. Think about it. Upon discovering what Jesse was up to, he could have done something to help – instead, he used the kid’s “skills” and position to his own advantage, feeding his own shame and pride and bringing Jesse right down with him.

I mean – it’s Walt that Jesse needs to either take revenge on or make peace with.

But Walter White is dead.

Right? 

 

Finally? My prediction? I think he’s going to turn himself in and his “I’m ready” is the answer to a question of if he was ready to go.

Fight me!

Oh, and here are the lyrics to the song accompanying the trailer. By Reuben and the Dark, it’s called “Black Water:”

Well I get high and I get low
Oh but that’s the way
These things go
I saw my face in the mirror
Though I know I’ve changed
Though I look
Much the same
I found grace in the black water bathe my soul
And tell my heart
I told you so
I like fate in the lion’s cage
And wait for my time to come
But I’m begging please
I need this so
More than you’ll ever know
Oh well, I get high and I get low
Oh, but that’s the way these things go
I saw my face in the mirror
And though I know I’ve changed
Though it looks
Much the same
I found grace in the black water bathe my soul
And tell my heart
I told you so

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I was thinking about doing a digest for this, but then thought the better of it. Too confining. So  on this Sunday night as Son #5 watches The Hobbit in the next room, I’ll just chat about the weekend.

(He wasn’t a super-early Tolkein freak, but now, at the age of 14, he’s in the midst of reading the trilogy, has immersed himself in the watching of them all on film, and tonight decided he’d take a look at the film of The Hobbit (“even though I’ll probably get disgusted after half an hour.” We’ll see. Update: 90 minutes later – not disgusted.)

The latter part of our weeks are hamstrung – although that phrase gives too negative a light on it, since all that we have is good  – by Wednesday night church activity, Thursday morning high school biology classes, Thursday afternoon jazz classes, Saturday morning volunteer work and frequent Saturday evening/Sunday morning responsibilities (serving, music). A space came free this weekend, so we took advantage of it.

Friday afternoon was Ruffner mountain. About fifteen minutes from our house and a favorite hike/walk of his, a mountain yes, but also a former mining site (as are most mountains around here) Not a favorite of  mine – it’s fairly boring with no water or other features – but that’s not the point, is it? He asked to go, he wanted to walk, explore and talk,  so off we went.

 

 

The overlook is into the former quarry. In the photo on the right, the tiny lump on the horizon is the Birmingham skyline.

After that, to a local beer/wine store – Hop City – at which an English double decker/food truck called Little London Kitchen was parked. They’ve been around for some months, but this was the first time we’d had to sample their wares, and they were excellent! What is it about English fish and chips?

Saturday morning, he did his volunteer work (a religious education program for developmentally disabled children and young people), came home, practiced piano, and we were off to Montgomery. The final destination of the day would be the Alabama Shakespeare-sponsored production of Hamlet at 7, so that was our parameter.

First stop was the EJI National Memorial for Peace and Justice. Otherwise known around these parts as “the lynching museum.” Sorry, but it is. So, yes – go Alabama. But actually – yes. For all of the state’s faults, this is also the state in which you can find this space in which the dreadful past is acknowledged, gathered up, and contemplated.

The Equal Justice Institute is the organization associated with Bryan Stephenson, the author of Just Mercy and of course the force behind EJI.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to go to the museum on Saturday, so we simply went to the memorial. We have several other must-sees in the Montgomery area, and we’ll add the museum to that list. (We – including he – have actually been to many of those “must-sees” – but it was at the beginning of our homeschooling years, so he doesn’t remember them. We’ll return to the Rosa Parks museum, the Alabama state archives/museum and the Fitzgerald House – Zelda was from Montgomery and they lived there for about a year.)

The memorial calls to mind the thousands of African-Americans killed by lynching in the United States. It is a sobering and thought-provoking space, and done in exactly the right spirit – of honesty and reconciliation: this is what happened  – and we must admit it, and move forward. 

 

 

Most lynching victims were male, of course, but I am always interested in finding female victims – and I found one –  Elizabeth Lawrence, right in my own present home of Jefferson County, Alabama, killed in 1933:

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Then, since it was on the way to church and he’s a musician, a quick turn up to the cemetery where Hank Williams is buried:

IMG_20190914_164545

Again – he’d been there before, but had no memory of it.

More interesting to me than Hank’s grave is the grave – right next to it – of several dozen RAF and French Air Force personnel who died while training at the nearby Maxwell Air Base during World War II. 

IMG_20190914_165024

Between June 1941 and February 1943, when the RAF terminated what became known as the Arnold Plan, 4,300 of more than 7,800 RAF cadets sent to the United States completed the three-phase AAF flight training program. Within three months, some of the same schools, including the phase 2 school at Gunter Field, began training Free French Air Force flight cadets. By November 1945, when the US government terminated the French training program, 2,100 French flight cadets out of the 4,100 who came to the United States had received their wings. 

Then to Mass, here. 

An energetically-delivered, substantive homily on the Gospel, and a cantor with a lovely voice, unaccompanied, although there was an organ nearby (and a piano and a drum kit…)

Then….a quick stop at Chick Fil A, and off to the Alabama Shakespeare Festival for Hamlet. 

It was very enjoyable and, for the most part, the perfect first live performance of this play for a 14-year old.

First off – this was not a production of the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. Their season doesn’t begin for some weeks. This was a production of New York’s Bedlam Theatre – performing this and Saint Joan in repertoire for the next month. 

The conceit? The gimmick, if you will? There are four actors – period. Four actors performing all the roles.

The theater was small – it was the “Octagon” theater of the facility, which is downstairs and perhaps about a hundred seats. In addition, there is some creative staging with this production, so for the first act, for example, there are about two dozen chairs positioned more closely about the performing space – and we grabbed a couple of those for ourselves (since I’d purchased tickets only that morning, our seats weren’t together – but this way, it worked out). Then for the second section (after acts 1-3), seats were re-arranged, and so on.

 

The actors wore ordinary clothes – pants, vests, shirts – for costumes, as well as a hat or two and some glasses. There were three men and one woman. The actor played Hamlet played only Hamlet – everyone else switched around and traded up. There were no other scenes or props other than flashlights and some drapes and chairs.

I’d say that 3/4 of it was absolutely mesmerizing and marvelous. The actors were fantastic, with smooth and impressive transitions between characters. It was the perfect introduction to a live production of Hamlet for a 14-year old boy, what with actors right in his face, even speaking right to him – the actor who played Polonius also played Laertes, which worked fine for most of it, but for the neither a borrower nor lender be speech – he went full Polonius –  and designated Michael as Laertes, directing the entire speech right to him. I’m really hoping that the words –  To thine own self be true will resonate in a particularly personal way for a very long time as a result…

But then?

Ah, that last act. It just didn’t work. I think their mistake was incorporating a bit of comedy in the wrong way. I watched the Mel Gibson version this evening (as I’ll talk about in a moment), and there is some comedy – but very slight and almost bitter – in the combat. What happened here, though,  was some business having an audience member “be” the table on which the poisoned cup sat – and it just broke the entire drama of the moment. Which, I have to say, had been sustained very well up that point, with some moving aspects and powerful speeches. But this, as I said – broke it, and it was unfortunate, as was the production’s ultimate way of interpreting the final set of deaths. It just didn’t work – everyone writhing on the floor, shouting their lines at the same time – but then, oh, the production fell back into an excellent place with the very final lines, uttered in near-darkness by the actors prone on the floor as Fortinbras and Horatio.

They just need to work, I think, on the actual Final Combat. Smooth that out, dispense with the comic business, and you’ve done it.

What was lost, I think, was the central drama of the piece, which was about Hamlet himself, of course. What was he about? And what is thread that takes us from the young man’s first hints that something is wrong and perhaps should be righted to the final irony of the one who had, for whatever reason, decided not to take revenge – almost accidentally wreaking havoc.

We hadn’t finished reading Hamlet by the time we saw it Saturday night, and I found the whole presentation of the final scenes so confusing, I thought he could use another version – and the only free version on any of the streaming services was the Gibson version.

As I said before, this is not *ideal* because Zeffirelli condenses and summarizes, and th age difference between Gibson and Glenn Close is…awkward. But that final scene? Oh, so well done, and so, so moving. 

So yes, we watched that this evening. 

(He was gone all day with a friend, to a swimming hole about 90 minutes away called Martha’s Falls.)

And then I remembered – well, thanks Netflix for reminding me – that Bill Murray had been Polonius in the Ethan Hawke version, and his “to thine own self be true” speech was very good – natural and unaffected, but somehow …effective.


 

I tried to think – what is it that binds all of this together? In fact, I had decided I would ask him to consider this for a writing project this week. Twenty-four hours spent:

  • Walking paths that hard-working miners had trod decades ago
  • Accompanying a differently-abled child, trying to help  him  understand Jesus’ love for him
  • Going to a memorial to the victims of racial injustice  – women and men who’d suffered and been terrorized, among other places, just scant miles from our house
  • Visiting the grave of a genius who’d self-destructed
  • Seeing the graves of men who’d died during a war, far from their homes, but not even in combat
  • Being witness to actors pouring out their hearts, in service to words written hundreds of years ago, meditations on the purpose of life, the specter of death, the response to injustice and the impact of the past on the present
  • Hearing a Gospel of mercy, bound in prayer, sharing the Body of Christ with other disciples all over the world

 

What is it we do when we teach, when we bear the gift of forming a child? To teach “values?” Skills? Prepare for a profession, for life?

All of that, but it seems to me that the most important thing I can do in teaching, raising and forming is sharing bad and good news with that young person. Or just news. It’s just the news, and the news is this: Human beings are beautiful and broken. Created in the image of God, shattered. Some of the brokenness is so deep within it seems as if it is just you, bound up, born that way. Some of the brokenness is manifest in your body, some of it in your spirit. Some of the brokenness comes through things that happened to your family yesterday or your people long ago. Some of your brokenness comes from the way you were raised, and then from your own choices.

And your task, your mission, your purpose as a human creature is to listen, watch and learn. It’s to walk as a broken creature – not deceiving yourself into thinking you are anything but –  in this broken world, listening and trusting. Trusting that despite the brokenness, despite evidence to the contrary, you and every other creature were made by a loving God in his image, who calls you even now. What does that voice sound like? How can you recognize it and not be deceived by imitators?

The walls are high and thick, the few windows in that wall are cracked and dim, the light on the other side seems far away, the music muffled and every other person you see on this side seems like a stranger and even, sometimes, like an enemy, but there is truth about this world, about all of us, about each of us that can heal these wounds, truth to be found, explored, listened to and lived – but we must learn how to recognize it, how to see and how to listen.

What a hard life this is on earth, what suffering we endure and inflict on others. To educate, it seems to me, means to be honest and real about all of this, not hiding a bit of it, to teach a young person to accept all of the brokenness within and without, past and present – but refuse to be defined or controlled by it –  and then, every day, point to the thin places in the wall, polish the glass so the light can shine brighter and crack the door a little wider so when the voice calls and invites us to that healing, nourishing feast – we’ll recognize it.

 

 

 

 

 

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Seven Quick Takes

— 1 —

A bit of a week, here. Nothing dramatic, just getting into the groove of this weird new life – of just me and one kid. Described a bit here in this post. 

You also might want to check out the essay I had published in Notre Dame’s Church Life Journal.  I’m going to come right out and say that the final line of the piece is not mine. It was added – I ended with the quote. Which I still prefer. But I’m still grateful for the publication and the wider reach it afforded me, and will be following up with More Thoughts.

While we’re at it – Son #4 on Ingmar Bergman – a retrospective and overview – and then his ranking of Bergman’s best films. 

— 2 —

 

Related to my essay. I thought this was  good – from an evangelical perspective, a reflection on a few prominent defections from faith.  It’s based on a FB post, so it has that “tossed off” effect (which you see, er, here all the time, of course) – but it’s worth a look:

 

My conclusion for the church(all of us Christians): We must STOP making worship leaders and thought leaders or influencers or cool people or “relevant” people the most influential people in Christendom. (And yes that includes people like me!) I’ve been saying for 20 years(and seemed probably quite judgmental to some of my peers) that we are in a dangerous place when the church is looking to 20 year old worship singers as our source of truth. We now have a church culture that learns who God is from singing modern praise songs rather than from the teachings of the Word. I’m not being rude to my worship leader friends (many who would agree with me) in saying that singers and musicians are good at communicating emotion and feeling. We create a moment and a vehicle for God to speak. However, singers are not always the best people to write solid bible truth and doctrine. Sometimes we are too young, too ignorant of scripture, too unaware, or too unconcerned about the purity of scripture and the holiness of the God we are singing to. Have you ever considered the disrespect of singing songs to God that are untrue of His character?

I have a few specific thoughts and rebuttals to statements made by recently disavowed church influencers…first of all, I am stunned that the seemingly most important thing for these leaders who have lost their faith is to make such a bold new stance. Basically saying, “I’ve been living and preaching boldly something for 20 years and led generations of people with my teachings and now I no longer believe it..therefore I’m going to boldly and loudly tell people it was all wrong while I boldly and loudly lead people in to my next truth.” I’m perplexed why they aren’t embarrassed? Humbled? Ashamed, fearful, confused? Why be so eager to continue leading people when you clearly don’t know where you are headed?

 

— 3 —

School is proceeding apace. This week has seen:

  • Latin – reviewing a chapter, preparing for a test that he’ll take Friday
  • Math – working through chapters 3 and 4 of Counting and Probability. Permutations and Combinations. I will throw in Khan Academy on the same subject tomorrow, to give a slightly different take.
  • Hamlet – reading aloud Acts 1 and 2, watching the Great Courses lecture by Professor Marc C. Conner – accessed through the pay-monthly Great Courses Plus. It’s a decent take – not deep, but good enough for us right now. We’ll be seeing the production of the Bedlam Theater of the play that is in residence at Alabama Shakespeare this month – I’m intrigued by the conceit – four actors playing all the roles. Watched snippets of the Yorick speech – the David Tennant, Branagh and Mel Gibson versions. I think David Tennant won.
  • Iliad  – listening to the Derek Jacobi audiobook reading. Not sure where we’re at. After listening to chunks on the trip, we’re on smaller snippets on shorter car trips to here and there. I’ll probably say, “Just read the next four books without listening” so we can get it all done by the time the Audible free trial ends.
  • Spanish – he’s doing on his own with a few resources. I’m not involved at this point.
  • Daily religion of Mass readings/saints – also started introducing the Old Testament using this book. 
  • Biology: Homeschool class taught by Ph.d. from a local college began this week.
  • He’s been grabbing the computer and writing something – short story or novel, I don’t know.
  • He’s still reading The Lord of the Rings
  • Regular piano lesson & jazz lesson. Organ will probably start back up next week.

Weekend:  High school football game; service project; serve Mass. Etc.

 — 4 —

Homeschoolers are forever talking about “spines.” Not – as in – you’ve got to have a strong spine for this line of work– but more in terms of a central organizing resource. What spine are you using for World History? That sort of thing.

Last night, M and I stopped by a local brewery to check out the Office trivia event they were having. It was rather a letdown. I told him we wouldn’t participate because I by no means thought we’d know enough to compete against people who’ve watched the whole series through ten times – as I know some people have. But, as it turned out – the questions were pretty simple (M knew all the answers, and he hasn’t watched it through ten times…I don’t think), and perhaps we should have entered. But then – the thing was so inefficiently run, during the 45 minutes we were there, all of six questions were asked. So…it’s good, in the end, we didn’t bother.

But then I thought – hey! There’s trivia almost every night somewhere in this town. How about using bar trivia nights as a homeschooling spine? 

Well?

Who’s in?

 

— 5 

Speaking of homeschooling – this was a link I used to post all the time when homeschooling younger fellows. A very nice monthly collection of quotes and poems related to that particular month and season. I like it – good for reading, sharing, copywork if you still do that. 

6–

More education rants. I do my share of griping about technology and education, but do you want a more succinct, knowledgeable treatment, one that you can easily pass on to your school administrators? Yeah, here you go:

But the technology pushed into schools today is a threat to child development and an unredeemable waste. In the first place, technology exacerbates the greatest problem of all in schools: confusion about their purpose. Education is the cultivation of a person, not the manufacture of a worker. But in many public school districts we have already traded our collective birthright, the promise of human flourishing, for a mess of utilitarian pottage called “job skills.” The more recent, panicked, money-lobbing fetish for STEM is a late realization that even those dim promises will go unmet.

Second, it harms students even in the narrow sense of training workers: the use of technology in schools actually lowers test scores in reading, math, and science, damages long-term memory, and induces addiction. Both advanced hardware and the latest software have proven counterproductive. The only app or device found to meaningfully improve results with any consistency is an overhead projector in the hands of a competent human teacher.

Finally, educational technology is a regressive political weapon, never just a neutral tool: it increases economic inequality, decreases school accountability, takes control away from teachers, and makes poorer students more vulnerable to threats from automation and globalization…

….

Yet, after decades of trying, it is clear that injecting more tech­nology into education turns out to be a massive waste of time and resources, even according to its proponents’ own criteria. The massively subsidized rush to convert schools into Apple stores only diminishes students’ capacity for “creativity” and “innovation.” Technology, even in the narrowest commercial sense, depends on the liberal arts—pursuits that are subject neither to the practical demands of society nor to its untrained desires—to provide the higher ends that technology serves, as well as the new thinking on which it is based. The blatant commercial wastefulness and impracticality of number theory, not to mention literature or playing the violin, offers hints that those pursuits are priceless rather than worthless.

The sciences and mathematics have a historic place in the cur­riculum, and technology does not, for the simple reason that the latter is not inherently “about” anything. Absent human contributions on specific topics, cut off from the subject matter of academic work, technology is nothing—an electron microscope without any samples, darkened VR goggles, an empty spreadsheet. Specializing in techne as such means trying to teach people to be good at “making” without having any idea of what to make, or why to make it.

How did we get here? The American public education system, a rusted-out 1976 mustard sedan whose “check engine” light is always on, is driven by a psychopath who wants, by turns, to crash it for the insurance, to insist that cars can be submarines, and to spend hilarious sums on unnecessary parts

— 7 —

Zillions of words uttered, gallons of ink spilled, all to try to explain Christianity and distinguish it from other belief systems – or even to declare that it perhaps isn’t so different after all. Shrug. 

These very few words from Scottish composer James McMillan answer both the seeker and the doubter, it seems to me.  What is the human person? Who are we and what are we about and what are we to make of this life on earth, strange, beautiful and suffering? McMillan and his family found the answer embodied in the brief life of his disabled granddaughter,

…the important things in human existence are not the money you make or the power you accrue, or the influence you bear — it is something which is embodied in a little [pause], in a little broken child, like Sara…

…And that’s the kind of revelation of sorts that comes through a knowledge of what the Catholic Church teaches. And a teaching that is made incarnate in a very damaged wee girl.

 

 

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

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Well, let’s get back to SpainBlogging. Even though that’s in Italian up there. You’ll get it in a minute.

(Other posts have finally been collated here)

This, to many, will probably be to oddest aspect of this trip report. The oddest and the most indulgent. I won’t say “self-indulgent” because it wasn’t me who was being indulged. But indulgent, nonetheless.

Of course, everything else about this trip was indulgent, anyway. Freely admitted. A few months back, someone posted a link to one of my travel posts on Facebook, and discussion ensued along the lines of  “Gee, must be nice” and so on. I didn’t get defensive, because I am past that. I’m more at the stage of “You guys post gushing posts about your best-friend- hubbies and great marriages and your wonderful parents  every single freaking day and all of my people in those particular categories are completely dead, so maybe you can handle posts about Spain and trying, in some feeble, undoubtedly misguided way, to fill in…gaps.”

So yeah. When you’re raising boys with a dead father, and all the family news around you is about people dying or being plunged into dementia, you’re like, “What the hell. You like all this Spaghetti Western Stuff? Screw it. Let’s do this.”

For some reason, a couple of years ago, Son #5 became entranced with the Sergio Leone/Clint Eastwood/Ennio Morricone opus. I really and truly do not know how it happened – if it was the movies or the music that grabbed him first. All I know is that he watched them, and then the soundtracks became a fixture in our home. They came on every time I got in the car. They were on the top of the queue of Spotify when I was cooking dinner. They were learned and played on the piano – constantly.

I’d never watched any of them. Never. But I just endured it and supported it and what have you. And then last summer, the local vintage artsy heritage downtown movie palace offered The Good, The Bad and The Ugly as part of their summer series, and so I took Son #5 –

– and was enraptured.

Okay, not with the lengthy, discursive Civil War section that culminates in the bridge explosion – that could be cut – but with almost everything else, especially the music.

I got it. 

People sometimes wonder – why should I have kids? 

Well, here’s Reason #428. Because whenever you invite other people into your life – and that’s what having kids is all about – your own world expands. It could be something essential, or it could be something trivial. You learn something, you see more, you step out, you move down the road – and it’s all just very, very interesting.

So, let’s go back to this trip. I didn’t design it around spaghetti westerns – if I had, the trip would have looked much different (for all of those movies were filmed in Spain, and there’s even an attraction in southern Spain centered on it).  I settled on Seville as a base and then, for that last week, a possible jaunt up north, ending in Bilbao.

Which is when it dawned on me – Sad Hill Cemetery. 

And I figured – well, yes, this could happen. We’d watched the rather moving (although overlong) documentary about the site’s restoration, and once I studied the map, it was clear , yes, this was possible. We could work in a stop at that iconic site.

So there was that.

And then a few weeks before we left, I was doing some research – unrelated to this trip. I was thinking about M’s and mine future roadschooling future, and poking around, trying to see if there were any interesting concerts coming up to which we could travel. I was thinking, first, of the Michael Giacchino “We Have to Go Back”  Lost concerts, and then I idly thought (maybe because of similar-sounding Italian names)…hmmmm…what about Morricone? 

Oh.

What I stumbled upon was the fact that the 90-year old maestro was embarking upon his “last tour,” conducting concerts in Spain and Italy during the spring and summer. Unfortunately, the Spain concerts would be in May, but – well, look at this – one of them – in fact – THE LAST  – (as advertised) concert would be in Lucca, Italy – on a date during which we’d be in Europe.

*Checks RyanAir fares from Madrid to Pisa. Cheap. Struggles with guilt. Thinks – well, we’d be paying for housing *somewhere* – why not in Italy, instead of Spain for a couple of nights?*

Thinks – as per usual – about death and mortality – and pushes – BUY.

So there’s your backstory, people. Your backstory as to how we went to Ennio Morricone’s supposed last concert on Saturday, June 29 in Lucca, Italy – and then a couple of days later, were wandering around the Sad Hill Cemetery – the famed round cemetery from the final scene The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. 

A word about the journey to the cemetery – if you go (and you might well have arrived at this post because that’s where you’re headed) – do not go through Santo Domingo de Silos.  It’s what we did, and it was a mistake – I mean, the car survived, but it was dicey – a super steep hilly, incredibly rocky path. The other way – that comes from the north ( the way we exited) – is much safer for your vehicle.

 

The concert was great. Thousands of people, enraptured with the music, the fantastic, theatrical sopranos giving their super-dramatic all on pieces like The Ecstasy of Gold  – just Italians loving other Italians doing music. The best.

I will say that the bright spot about the rather frightening drive up a very steep hill on rocky paths in a rental car was…this view. Which we would have missed coming the other way. So – there’s that. And no damage to the car anyway, so it’s all good!

 

 

Yes, there was much re-creation of the scene. Running, seeking, fake digging, falling into graves and such. I might post some of that on Instagram in a bit. We weren’t alone. When we arrived there were three middle-aged British guys who’d arrived on motorcycles. They left, and we were alone for a good bit, and as we were living, two other small groups came. Plus, you know….

…cows.

Which is not something I expected! The ground was covered with cow patties, and as we ventured further in, we saw the reason, just up the hill, behind the trees, we heard them – the cowbells, gently sounding. As the minutes wore on, the cows moved closer, past the trees, until they had started, apparently, their late-day claim among the “graves.”

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I have one more strange aspect to this whole tale. I purchased the concert tickets via a resale outfit. The way it works is that you still see the original purchaser’s names on the receipt.

I did a double take at the name. The address was given as well. It sort of checked out. This person is originally from Edmonton, Alberta, although his present professional position is elsewhere in Canada.

So. Do you think it’s possible that my weird tickets to go, on a whim, see an elderly, legendary composer in Lucca, Italy, were purchased from the  Jordan Peterson?

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— 1 —

Blogging this past week – lots of saints, including Mary Magdalene (Monday), and a bit of travel – we went to central Georgia, to the Monastery of the Holy Spirit and Andalusia, Flannery O’Connor’s farm in Milledgeville. Go here and here for that. 

And while in Spain, we found the answer to a Very Important Question. 

No travelling for a while. Not even a day trip right now. Lots and lots of stuff going on. Lots. 

Oh yes – these came. I guess they are available online  – definitely from Loyola – but also I have them here. Obviously. If you would like to order one or two – or other titles – please check out my bookstore!

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 — 2 —

When I was in college, there was a certain type of person – usually male – whose idea of a fun Saturday night was to gather with friends and do a group reading of the screenplay of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. 

Well, I seem to ….have produced one of those types of persons. Huh.

Except now with effortlessly-available recordings, the reading-aloud has fallen by the wayside. Sadly, I think. Consider  – the late 70’s was right before VCRs became easily available – I distinctly remember seeing my first VCR at a classmate’s house (dad was an MD)  during a high school graduation party – that would have been June 1978. So, yeah – if you wanted to relive a movie on demand in your apartment – you’d have to relive it.

So, yeah. I don’t have to play a Knight Why Says Nie. I just have to…listen to it every time I get in the car.

Actually, this part of the script strikes me as a brilliant and spot-on parody of convoluted Scripture Speak:

And the Lord spake, saying, ‘First shalt thou take out the Holy Pin. Then, shalt thou count to three, no more, no less. Three shall be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shall be three. Four shalt thou not count, nor either count thou two, excepting that thou then proceed to three. Five is right out! Once the number three, being the third number, be reached, then lobbest thou thy Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch towards thou foe, who being naughty in my sight, shall snuff it.'”

Image result for holy hand grenade monty python

— 3 —

Oh, let’s stay medieval. It’s been a while since I’ve driven you away with academic journal article summaries. Let’s correct that!

Here’s one about midwives. Very interesting – as midwives in many European countries were officially sanctioned, usually by the church. In some areas they were appointed by church authorities, and in others, they were elected by the women of an area. Their appointments meant that their work and livelihood was guaranteed by authority (aka – they would be paid) and that they had spiritual responsibilities, primarily to be be prepared to baptize if necessary.

The court’s specific expectations are not indicated, but scholars have done much to bring to light the services midwives provided for the church. For instance, Taglia describes midwives’ important role in ensuring the baptism of moribund infants, and Green notes that Thomas of Cantimpré believed curates must instruct midwives in the baptismal formula as a part of their general vocation to care for their parishioners’ souls. Broomhall presents evidence from sixteenth-century France of midwives acting as expert witnesses in ecclesiastical and secular cases of  infanticide, contested virginity, abortion, and sterility and assisting the church in lessening illegitimacy and child abandonment.40 Similarly, in Germany, midwives were expected to perform emergency baptisms and employed to verify pregnancy in prisoners and as expert witnesses in cases of alleged abortion, infanticide, and illegitimacy. In the Low Countries in the sixteenth century, midwives were likewise expected to aid the church in minimizing illegitimacy, abortions, and infanticide and were useful to the church in ensuring infant baptism, especially against Anabaptist resistance to the practice. Midwives were important defenders of orthodoxy in seventeenth-century England where they were involved in witchcraft trials more often as expert witnesses than as defendants.

-4–

By the same author, exploring the same sources on a slightly different subject. This is how one area of historical research works – you find a trove of evidence – in this case ecclesiastical court records from the Archdiocese of Paris from a certain era – and you simply examine the records in light of various topics. So, in the first article, it was regulations related to midwives. Here, she looks at what court records reveal about priests and sacramental stipends. 

One can easily cry “sophistry,” but really, this is just what life is really about. The cleric has to live – how is he to be paid for his work? In the middle ages, many clerics lived off benefices – moneys earned by church properties – but not all. And during this period, there seemed to have been a bit of a surfeit. One Archbishop of Paris attempted to strike a balance in his legislation:

In rituals surrounding birth and death, therefore, Poncher made a tripartite distinction among the types of money that should or should not change hands in relation to a sacrament. Firstly, priests could not receive money for the act of administering the sacrament itself. Secondly, priests could receive variable amounts of money as gifts of appreciation after the sacrament had been given. Thirdly, priests were entitled to receive predetermined payments for labor associated with the administration of sacraments, such as writing and sealing documents. By setting specific prices for priests’ labor, Poncher at-tempted to realize his dual goal of safeguarding a fair income for priests while protecting parishioners from chicanery in the form of being charged forbidden fees or inflated licit fees.

But still, there were problems that popped up and had to be dealt with:

This case shows that ecclesiastical licensing procedures might create a dilemma for priests. Priests were obligated to provide the sacraments to parishioners who needed them but were forbidden from administering the sacraments outside their parishes without permission, on pain of excommunication.  Should a priest lack either the time or the money to obtain a license, he could opt to perform the sacraments against church law and face the legal consequences. Should he, however, conform to church law and refuse to administer the sacraments without a license, he fell short of his spiritual duties and likewise could find himself cited by the archidiaconal court. While ecclesiastical regulations were intended to ensure the quality of sacerdotal work, they also had the potential to impede its availability.

A remarkable case heard on 16 April 1496 demonstrates what could happen when a priest attempted to resolve this dilemma. The defendant was Robert de Villenor, who was a clericus fabricus at the church of Saint-Nicolas-des-Champs, meaning that he monitored the churchwarden’s storeroom there. He stood ac-cused of administering extreme unction to several sick parishioners even though he was not ordained a priest. Villenor admitted to having administered extreme unction to one parishioner because on the night of 9 April the curate, Pierre Picard, was summoned to the bedside of two parishioners at the same time. Both were dying of the plague, which, Villenor emphasized, was particularly virulent in Paris that year. Unable to attend to both parishioners, Picard instructed Villenor to administer extreme unction to one of the dying, named Pierre Noneau. Picard assured Villenor that there would be “no danger” in performing this rite because Picard would supply him with unconsecrated bread rather than the true Host. The priest told the court that he “did not believe he had done evil, but that he had done good, and if he had believed he was doing evil, he would not have gone” to the other parishioner, who is not named in the records. 69 The cleric Villenor complied with Picard’s orders and performed extreme unction for Noneau with an unconsecrated Host. Providentially, Noneau survived the night and Picard was able to administer true last rites the following day. Two days later, Noneau died in the appropriate spiritual state.

Villenor’s case demonstrates the difficulty of attending to a sudden need for supplemental sacerdotal labor. Picard was unable to attend both deathbeds and did not have access to an additional licensed practitioner. As much as he could, Picard attempted to fulfill his spiritual obligations. He delegated the task of ad-ministering extreme unction to the next most appropriate person to himself: a cleric who worked for the church but who was not a priest. Picard gave Villenor a proxy Host, enabling him to avoid profaning the sacrament. The register does not explain what motivated Picard to do this, but perhaps he hoped that perform-ing an ersatz rite of extreme unction would comfort the dying man and his family while exonerating him from the charge of failing to provide the rite at all. Know-ing, however, that this rite was salvifically insufficient, Picard would have un-avoidably revealed the ruse when he returned the next day to administer extreme unction with a genuine Host. Although the strategy was less than ideal, Picard and Villenor’s actions demonstrate their willingness to contravene ecclesiastical regulations concerning sacerdotal quality and ritual standardization to attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable spiritual needs of parishioners. Picard’s scheme did not enable him to escape the restrictions of ecclesiastical statutes, however, and Villenor took the fall. He was given a large fine of four gold ecus for having acted like a priest, having administered false sacraments, and having created a scandal.

–5 —

Are you bored yet? Well, sorry – go to Academia.edu or Jstor and find your own articles!

The point is – as I say repeatedly and all the time – history helps illumine the present – not only helping us see how we got here, but more importantly, to help us see that the present way is not the only way. Simply looking at these two articles about obscure matters in medieval French ecclesiastical records might shake up a reader’s sense of what Church organization looks like, what clerics do, how women have related to the Church through history and how clergy misconduct has been handled.

— 6 —

I was reading New York magazine – this profile of Lulu Wang, the director of a film called Farewell. These were the final paragraphs:

Wang isn’t religious either, but she is spiritual in the way that she believes the universe can converge in strange, magical ways if you’re paying attention. When she was little, her mother used to tell her a story about what kind of person she would be. While she was pregnant with her, shehad gone to see a blind psychic in a remote Chinese village. “He said, ‘You’ll have four children, and your first will be a daughter,’ ” Wang recalls. “And he said, ‘You are water, but you’re like a river. You have a lot of talent and you have a lot of gifts, but you can’t hold on to any of it. It flows. But your first child is your daughter. She’s also water, but she is the great ocean, and all of your gifts will flow into her.’

“My mother always told me that as I was growing up, so it gave me this certain expectation: On top of being an immigrant, what if I can’t be an ocean? That’s too much! But my mother is very matter-of-fact. She’s like, ‘This is what was said, and so this is your fate. This is your destiny.’ I said, ‘But what does he know? You never had four children.’ And she’s like, ‘Yes I did, because I had you and I have Anthony, and there were two in the middle while I was in China that I wasn’t allowed to keep.’ She was pregnant four times, and she had forced abortions because of the one-child policy.”

We’re in the back of a car driving along the water in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, and the light scatters on the East River where it empties into the neck of the bay. “Who knows what we believe?” she says. “Is it a self-fulfilling prophecy, or is it a prophecy? We don’t know.”

Oh. So maybe….?

— 7 —

Since Ordinary Time started back up, we’ve been hearing some salvation history from Genesis, and these days, Exodus, in our daily Mass readings. Today’s the giving of the Decalogue to Moses. Here’s a relevant entry from the Loyola Kids Book of Catholic Signs and Symbols. Get one! For your local Catholic parish or school! 

Coming next week…Ignatius Loyola, Alphonsus Liguori, and me in Living Faith. 

Also – check out my son’s novel!

And his film writing – posted almost daily – here.

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

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— 1 —

Yes, we are still here, but not for long. Long days and lots of people around have meant no time for regular posting – just here, about our Monday trip to Cordoba. Hence, what follows are mostly photos of our major activities of the week.

 — 2 —

Oh, I was in Living Faith this week. Go here for that.

And speaking of writing, don’t forget to order a copy of my 2020 daily devotional, which will be available in July That will give you time, if you’re an administrator of a school or parish or diocesan entity, to naturally choose to order it in bulk for your people! (Reminder: no royalties are made by me from this project. It’s written for a stipend. But I did work hard on it and would love to see it in the wild!)

Speaking of writing, check out the first chapter of Son #2’s next self-published novel here and pre-order here.

— 3 —

A ripped St. Jerome, possibly a naked mole rat served up at the Last Supper and St. Ramon Nonato, who had his lips locked by his Moorish (I think) captors. All from the small, but very good Museo de Bellas Artes. There were several more interesting pieces, so I’ll be writing a longer post on that later.

-4–

Wednesday-Thursday were focused on Corpus Christi, but with several other activities. Everywhere we went in the center, we were met with signs of preparation for the feast, and then the actual procession on Thursday morning.

 

The procession begins in the Cathedral, goes to the Plaza de San Francisco marked by these arches in the photo on the right, and then goes through streets, where groups and businesses erect altars (on the left) and decorated windows and balconies. I was under the impression that they did something with the streets as well (making designs with flower petals and such), but I didn’t see any of that.

 

–5 —

There are several convents around town which sell baked goods and sweets. Some of them are more open to the public but with others, the sisters remain hidden. Here, at San Leandro, where we purchased some lovely “Magdalenas” (like French Madeleines, but in muffin shape) via this turnstile arrangement. You greet the sister – you’re supposed to say Ave Maria Purisima. She asks what you would like (they have what’s available posted), she tells you how much, you put your money in the turnstile, she turns it and returns it with your purchase.

— 6 —

Wednesday night, the town was out in full force. There had been band parades and a concert earlier in the evening, and then everyone surged through the streets, viewing the altars and other decorations:

— 7 —

 

Then Thursday morning – the procession:

 

It was suggested that we purchase seats rather than stand, and that was a good decision to do so. We happened to be write at the main altar in the Plaza, so we were in front of the choir and there for some prayers when the Eucharist processed by (last photo). A very interesting experience, about which I will write more later.

There have been other events: Flamenco, a bullfight (yes, sorry. Not saying I thought it was beautiful, but it was something I wanted to see and attempt to understand.) food, various other wanderings, including the The Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo – housed in a former monastery, then ceramics factory.

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Wrapping up today, and then…onward….

As I’ve said, take a look at Instagram for more (I have been lax in posting there as well, also, though) and come back for more detailed posts over the next couple of weeks. Half of us are returning to ‘Murica soon, so there might be a bit more time for me to think and write. There’s better be, actually, since I have something due on Monday and then something pretty soon after we get home….

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

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Well, it’s been a few days since we digested, so let’s go for it:

amy_welbornWriting:  I was in Living Faith last Sunday. Next appearance won’t be until the beginning of May.

Several blog posts – just scroll back for those. Lots of travel blathering to assuage my guilt about privilege and such. Dug up an old piece I wrote on St. Benedict the Black (Moor), posted that and discovered that I’ve been annoyed by the same things for a long time.

Lots of sitting around, staring and jotting notes.

Oh! The Loyola Kids Book of Signs and Symbols is a finalist for an “Excellence in Publishing Award” from the Association of Catholic Publishers. 

Listening:   Much Liszt and Ginastera still, but not as much Beethoven – we may be almost done with this particular piece for the year after last Saturday. Hopefully not img_20190409_200229completely done – that would mean he didn’t do well enough to advance to the state level – but we’ll see. Waiting for those results.

As that area of piano winds down, the jazz and organ levels up. Lots of listening to this this week – and for the next few weeks. 

Reading: All right, here we go. First, let’s do what’s in progress.

Rare for me, I purchased a brand new book, simply on the basis on a recommendation. I don’t remember where I saw this mentioned, but since it involved the Gospel of Mark – along with John, one of my two favorites – and seemed to take on some of my concerns, I was in: The Memoirs of St. Peter: A New Translation of the Gospel of Mark. 

Simply reading the introduction was a revelation and prompted me to regret, once again, the thrust of Biblical studies in the era in which I came of age – the 80’s and 90’s – rooted in the historical-critical method, aka – as it panned out for most of us –  skepticism. I suppose what we are seeing now needed that stage to exist. Perhaps this moment couldn’t have come to life without both the shaking of old pietistic assumptions as well as the hard contextual work of the historical-critical scholars, but still. What time wasted, what distance created between the reader and Christ by fixating us – even the lay reader via Bible studies and homiletics – on what Matthew is saying to his Jewish readers here and how it differs from what Luke is saying to his Gentile readers there. 

More as I go along.

I’ve read two novels since last we spoke on these matters:

Case Histories by Kate Atkinson

Why this and how? The typical rabbit-trail route. Browsing the “new releases” I came upon her TranscriptionIt looked mildly interesting, which led me to go to the “A’s” in the fiction section and see what else she’d written – a lot, as it turned out – so I plucked out a couple to try. I ended up starting with this one rather than the newest. It was..okay.

She writes well, and that’s why it wasn’t time wasted for me. I learned some things from reading her. But the novel wasn’t ultimately satisfying for me and led me to decide to just return the others I’d checked out and move on.

There are three mysteries introduced in the story, which end up being…sort of connected. I think what put me off was, first, I figured things out pretty early, and I never figure mysteries out. Maybe I’m just getting smarter, but I doubt that.

Secondly, there is a theme of abuse within a family which is treated rather lightly by surviving family members when it comes to light. The abuse was terrible, and I found the reaction of characters both unbelievable and – hate to use the word, but this is it – offensive.

My only other comment on the book is that once again  – Catholic themes and imagery pop up, and I wasn’t even looking for them – again. A family member ends up in a convent and while the treatment of this tumbles a little bit into caricature, and I honestly don’t think this person would have actually been accepted into religious life considering her issues and weirdness, still – there was a theme of contrition and doing penance for one’s sins that required a working out, and where do you go when you need to make that happen? Catholic Land, of course!

Now, for a much better, more serious book – The Blood of the Lamb by Peter de Vries. 

(The link goes to an archive.org version that you can “borrow.” The book is still in print, though and easy to find. )

As I mentioned the other day, de Vries was a favorite of my father’s and was quite popular in the 60’s. I’d never read anything by him, and this novel is a departure from his usual humorous work – although it has its moments as well.

I rarely, if ever suggest to you “You should read this book” –  simply because life is short, people’s tastes vary, and who am I?

But I’m going to make an exception here. I think you should read this book – if you’re interested in faith, period, but particularly faith and art.

Here’s an excellent essay from Image introducing de Vries, and particularly this book:

IT WAS AN ORDINARY autumn night in suburban Chicago when I received the most disturbing book I have ever read. I was seventeen, slouching in my bedroom making a half-hearted attempt at homework, my sweaty cross-country clothes festering on the floor. My father appeared at the doorway and handed me a yellowed paperback that looked at least a few decades old.

“You might like this,” he said.

It was The Blood of the Lamb by Peter De Vries. I had heard De Vries’s name for the first time only a few days earlier. It came up at the family dinner table, and as I learned about him, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard of him sooner. He was once a well-known satirist who published twenty-six novels, most of them commercially successful. He spent forty-three years as an editor at TheNew Yorker, his short stories appearing regularly in its pages. He enjoyed a privileged perch in the cultural landscape, friends with J.D. Salinger and James Thurber.

And he came from our people—the Dutch Calvinists of Chicago. He attended my religious high school and college. He grew up in the same South Side neighborhood as my grandmother, worshipping at the same church, Second Christian Reformed on Seventy-Second Street. According to a family story, he had dated her, or tried to date her. Or they shared a hymnal at a Sunday evening church service. By Dutch Calvinist standards, that’s practically second base.

A short synopsis:

Don Wanderhope is , as the essay above says, from Dutch Calvinist stock, living in Chicago, when we first meet him, in the late 1920’s. His father runs a refuse company (common among Dutch Calvinists, according to this essay), and he grows to adulthood listening in on theological arguments, helping his father, going to school, discovering girls, and yearning for a different, more refined life.

Image result for blood of the lam de vriesHe gets into a bit of trouble with one girl (a hilarious scene – I mean, who can blame them for not anticipating the model home being shown on a Sunday evening?) but is spared from marrying her by a TB diagnosis. He goes to Colorado sanatorium (I always enjoy fictional sanatorium scenes because my mother had TB and spent time in one in New Hampshire in her youth – and remembered the time, in a way, as the best time of her life.) where he meets another girl, falls in love, but that ends and he heads back to Chicago, mostly healed (if he was ever really that ill at all) discovers his father in the beginning stages of dementia, goes to college, marries, moves to New York, works in advertising, has a daughter who eventually dies of leukemia.

I won’t say spoiler alert because everyone knows that the illness, suffering and death of the character’s daughter is the center of the novel – because it’s autobiographical. The novel was published a year after de Vries’ own 10-year old daughter died of leukemia, and oh, it is raw and painful and sorrowful.

So, no – if subject matter like that would be difficult for you to handle, you shouldn’t read it.

But if you can handle it, and you want to be immersed in a very honest, challenging exploration of faith and theodicy – pick it up.

Before I read it, I was under the impression that the book was the cry of an atheist soul, but it’s really not. It’s the cry of a suffering, loving soul who just doesn’t understand. It’s a dramatization of the question: You, a human parent, would do everything you could to alleviate your child’s suffering – why doesn’t God do the same for his own suffering children? This. Makes. No. Sense.

Jeffrey Frank, writing in The New Yorker in 2004 about De Vries’s legacy, calls the following hospital scenes “as unbearable as anything in modern literature.” I can’t say that he’s exaggerating. Don and Carol make a series of visits to a New York hospital, each time receiving assurances from her oncologist, Dr. Scoville, about his progress researching cures. De Vries charts the development of her leukemia in excruciating detail, tracking the cycles of remission and broken hopes, with each medication more desperate than the last.

Don joins the other parents in trying to preserve a sense of normalcy. They throw birthday parties and speak of returning to school in the fall. He watches a dying infant crawl the hallway “wearing a turban of surgical gauze, whom a passing nurse snatched up and returned to its crib.”

He describes these incidents as if laying out evidence against a heartless God. Here the book’s title becomes clear. It refers not to the blood of Jesus, the lamb of scripture, but to the young girl. Don’s innocent lamb is poisoned by her own blood.

When I read the book at seventeen, it was De Vries’s intensity that rattled me so deeply. The Blood of the Lamb attacked my community’s faith, furiously, from within. That’s something that Hitchens and the so-called New Atheists couldn’t do. We were taught to expect “the world” to mock our faith. But here was one of our own doing the same, and he struck me as funny, sophisticated, and intelligent in doing so. I felt an uncomfortable shiver of recognition, because I knew, even if it went unspoken, that our faith clashed with modern science, that our scriptures carried contradictions, and that religion often fueled as much bigotry as good in the world. I couldn’t defend the reasons for my faith against De Vries.

Returning to the book as an adult, I realize I misremembered two things. First, De Vries reserves as much rage for medical authorities as religious ones. When Dr. Scoville glibly tells him about the “exciting chase” of developing chemotherapy drugs, Wanderhope responds, “Do you believe in God as well as play at him?”

Second, I remembered Wanderhope as a settled unbeliever from his university days onward. Yet it’s clear that he keeps searching for divine guidance until the very end of his daughter’s life, even carrying a crucifix and medal of Saint Christopher. His retort to Dr. Scoville is a bitter joke, yet it’s also the question he can’t stop asking.

I’m going to close with a few quotes from the novel, but I want to point out something alluded to in what the essayist says here, something that is so interesting to me. De Vries’ background was solid Dutch Calvinist, and the theological discussions at the beginning take on faith in that context – predestination, and so on. But as the novel moves to New York, the religious context and imagery become very, very Catholic. The practical reason is that there’s a Catholic church on the way to the hospital. Wanderhope is always passing it and even stopping in. The crucifix outside the church becomes the focus of a final, enraged gesture.

Partly, I suppose because this reflects de Vries’ own actual experience, partly because well, Calvinists don’t have a lot of imagery that lends itself to dramatization of inner faith turmoil.

Once again. 

He resented such questions as people do who have thought a great deal about them. The superficial and slipshod have ready answers, but those looking this complex life straight in the eye acquire a wealth of perception so composed of delicately balanced contradictions that they dread, or resent, the call to couch any part of it in a bland generalization. The vanity (if not outrage) of trying to cage this dance of atoms in a single definition may give the weariness of age with the cry of youth for answers the appearance of boredom.

 

I made a tentative conclusion. It seemed from all of this that uppermost among human joys is the negative one of restoration: not going to the stars, but learning that one may stay where one is.

 

The greatest experience open to man then is the recovery of the commonplace. Coffee in the morning and whiskeys in the evening again without fear. Books to read without that shadow falling across the page.

Dead drunk and cold-sober, he wandered out into the garden in the cool of the evening, awaiting the coming of the Lord.

There is a point when life, having showered us with jewels for nothing, begins to exact our life’s blood for paste.

And then, on a light note, this – reflecting the mid-1930’s. The content is more explicit now, but really, has anything changed? The pride in putting something stupid out there and selling it as a manifestation of some sort of artistic progress?

One summer when Carol was attending day camp, Greta had an affair with a man named Mel Carter. He was an Eastern publicity representative for a film studio, and often instructed dinner parties to which we went in those days with accounts of the movies’ coming of age. ‘We have a picture coming up,’ he said once, ‘in which a character says “son of a bitch.” Lots of exciting things are happening. Still, it’s only a beginning. Much remains to be done.’

 

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