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Posts Tagged ‘Amy Welborn’

—1 —

An interesting few days.

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

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

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

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

But everyone needs a break now and then, yes?

— 2 —

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

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

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

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

— 3 —

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

— 4 —

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

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

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

— 5 –

Now, movies.

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

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

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

— 6 —

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

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

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

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

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

— 7 —

The Virgin Spring (1960) | The Criterion Collection

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

(He’s currently working his way through Hitchcock)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Communions are back, baby!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll be reading more of him.

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

Cooking: Three major recent successes:

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

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

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

Now…no cooking for a week!

 

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—1 —

One outing this week: to Noccacula Falls, which is in Gadsden, about an hour away. It’s off I-59, which is the interstate you’d take if you were going from here to Chattanooga or Knoxville.

We’d been several years ago – so long, Kid #5 had no recollection of it. (Kid #4 was working). That time, however, I think we just did a brief stop on our way somewhere else and just looked at the falls from above – we didn’t venture down on the Gorge trail, which allows you to go behind the falls.

We did this time.

A very nice day. The weather’s been really pleasant this week – lows in the actual low 60’s, which is quite unusual and surely won’t last.

For video, go to Instagram.

— 2 —

Movies this week:

Master and Commander – none of us had ever seen it before. A great movie, quite rousing, must have been spectacular on the big screen. It’s a real shame no more were ever made.

But…speaking of Russell Crowe…have you seen the trailer for his new movie? It looks ridiculously insane. 

And he looks…different.

— 3 —

Then Hobson’s ChoiceWhat a wonderful movie. I’d seen it long ago, when – perhaps a few of you remember – some PBS stations would run Janus Films on Saturday nights. Anyway, although some regular television stations ran older films late night or on weekends and the networks still broadcast made-for-theater movies (NBC Monday Night at the Movies!), what they showed was very mainstream, of course. By the time I was in high school, cable had come into our world – WTBS and WGN mostly, in those early days, and they showed movies. But never any art house or foreign films.

So….those Saturday night Janus Films on the Knoxville PBS stations …that was where I first saw Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast, The Four Hundred Blows, M,  La Strada, Metropolis and so many others.

Here’s a contemporary article about PBS purchasing the rights to broadcast these films. 

And yes, Janus Films still exists as a rightsholder and distributor.

— 4 —

And oh yes, Hobson’s Choice. The only place it was streaming was through HBOMax, so I grabbed a 7-day free trial (remind me to cancel it on Tuesday, will you?) and got it rolling.

Based on an early 20th century play, starring Charles Laughton, Brenda de Banzie and John Mills and of course directed by David Lean, it’s a marvelous, easy comedy with a strong female lead and a charming love story based, initially, not on passion or even initially much attraction – but built on mutual respect (and, okay,  a little fear) and partnership. John Mills bracing himself for his wedding night – and the transformation that comes the morning after – is very funny and illustrative of how to express true things about sex and marriage in subtle, artful – and comedic – ways.

 

— 5 –

Next movies? Not sure. We only have a couple of days before people head off for a little visit to family, so we must choose wisely. I’m leaning towards The Man in the White Suit and Wages of Fear. 

Quite a change, isn’t it, from forty years ago, when, besides those Janus Films, the best we could get was a commercial-laden, chopped up showing of His Girl Friday on a Saturday afternoon.

— 6 —

 

The cover of the edition that’s in my memory from my parents’ shelves.

Over this past week, I read Travels with My Aunt by Graham Greene for the first time. There won’t be another time. It’s definitely my least favorite Greene, although, being a Greene, it’s not an unpleasant read. I suppose I prefer my Greene with a bit more politics and a little less wacky female character. A couple of passages worth remembering:

I met my Aunt August for the first time in more than half a century at my mother’s funeral. My mother was approaching eighty-six when she died, and my aunt was some eleven or twelve years younger. I had retired from the bank two years before with an adequate pension and a silver handshake. There had been a take-over by the Westminster and my branch was considered redundant. Everyone thought me lucky, but I found it difficult to occupy my time. I have never married, I have always lived quietly, and, apart from my interest in dahlias, I have no hobby. For those reasons I found myself agreeably excited by my mother’s funeral.

 

“Are you really a Roman Catholic?’ I asked my aunt with interest.

She replied promptly and seriously, ‘Yes, my dear, only I just don’t believe in all the things they believe in.’ ”

 

“But surely you must have despised the man after all he had done to you?“
We were crossing the long aqueduct through the lagoons which leads to Venice-Mestre, but there were no signs of the beautiful city, only tall chimneys with pale gas flames hardly visible in the late-afternoon sunlight. I was not expecting my aunt’s outburst.
She turned on me with real fury as though I were a child who had carelessly broken some vase she had cherished over the years for its beauty and the memories it contained. “I despise no one,” she said, “no one. Regret your own actions, if you like that kind of wallowing self-pity, but never, never despise. Never presume yours is a better morality.”

 

In the act of creation there is always, it seems, an awful selfishness. So Dickens’s wife and mistress had to suffer so that dickens could make his novels and his fortune. At least a bank manager’s money is not so tainted by egotism. Mine was not a destructive profession. A bank manager doesn’t leave a trail of the martyred behind him.

And then, what sums up the entire book, beginning with a childhood memory:

I was afraid of burglars and Indian thugs and snakes and fires and Jack the Ripper, when I should have been afraid of thirty years in a bank and a take-over bid and a premature retirement and the Deuil du Roy Albert.

(The last is a reference to a dahlia that had not flourished under his care, and had therefore been a source of disappointment to him.)

— 7 —

Today is the solemnity of  the Sacred Heart of Jesus

In a time and culture in which hardly any of us understand what love actually is, in which dehumanizing hate and contempt dominate public discourse, a daily prayer (you can find some here) focused simply on love might just have surprising power.

In a church culture which often reflects contemporary values that emphasize achievement and self-actualization and fulfillment by doing the Next Big Amazing Thing in Your Very Big Amazing Life, a daily prayer centered on opening ourselves to sharing the love pouring forth from the heart of Jesus in just ordinary ways might provide a welcome refocus as we get our bearings for summer.

Here are the pages on the Sacred Heart from The Loyola Kids Book of Catholic Signs and Symbols. 

Click on each image for a larger version.

More about the book – and the others in the series – here. 

Tomorrow (June 20) is the memorial of the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin:

From The Loyola Kids Book of Catholic Signs and Symbols. 

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

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—1 —

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

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

Here’s a post on St. Rita for today. 

— 2 —

I thought this was just excellent:

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

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

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

— 3 —

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

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

More, including the video, at the link.

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

— 4 —

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

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

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

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

— 5 –

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

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

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

Anyway:

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

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

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

 

— 6 —

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

— 7 —

"amy welborn"Here’s a short story for you that’s about a hundred and seventy-five levels below the writing of Graham Greene. It was a finalist for the Dappled Things J. F. Powers competition, but not the winner. So here it is – I wanted to put it on a platform that was not my blog, and Wattpad was the quickest way to go. It undoubtedly does not quite fit the site, but it was easy and let me keep my italics, so it won.

It may not be there forever, as I’ll still keep looking.

And here’s a novel  –     from Son #2! (Check out his other writings here)

 

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

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

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

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

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

Never mind. 

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

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

Hah.

Of course, they’re not six feet apart.

But. 

This is for parents.

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

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

You don’t have to be a part of it.

You just don’t.

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

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

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

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

….Get. Out. 

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

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

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

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

But….

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

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

It’s not. 

***

Kerry McDonald writes:

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

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

****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And who wants that?

1967, SCHOOL LAST DAY SCENES | Historic Images

 

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—1 —

Well, that was interesting. Somehow, this post went viral, as we say, yesterday, with thousands more hits than I usually get around here. Very odd. I still don’t know why or how.

This also got a big bump, mostly because Ross Douthat retweeted a reference to it. Just glad to get the message out there!

Click back for other posts – on how 9th grade homeschooling ended up and on season 2 of Fargo. 

The other “extended reach” story of the week involved musician son-in-law, who had a song featured at the end of Tony Kornheiser’s podcast. 

— 2 —

The Real Lord of the Flies. A fascinating piece.

 

The kids agreed to work in teams of two, drawing up a strict roster for garden, kitchen and guard duty. Sometimes they quarrelled, but whenever that happened they solved it by imposing a time-out. Their days began and ended with song and prayer. Kolo fashioned a makeshift guitar from a piece of driftwood, half a coconut shell and six steel wires salvaged from their wrecked boat – an instrument Peter has kept all these years – and played it to help lift their spirits. And their spirits needed lifting. All summer long it hardly rained, driving the boys frantic with thirst. They tried constructing a raft in order to leave the island, but it fell apart in the crashing surf.

Worst of all, Stephen slipped one day, fell off a cliff and broke his leg. The other boys picked their way down after him and then helped him back up to the top. They set his leg using sticks and leaves. “Don’t worry,” Sione joked. “We’ll do your work, while you lie there like King Taufa‘ahau Tupou himself!”

They survived initially on fish, coconuts, tame birds (they drank the blood as well as eating the meat); seabird eggs were sucked dry. Later, when they got to the top of the island, they found an ancient volcanic crater, where people had lived a century before. There the boys discovered wild taro, bananas and chickens (which had been reproducing for the 100 years since the last Tongans had left).

Much more hopeful turn of events than in the novel.

— 3 —

America ran a very nice piece on Wyoming Catholic College:

The first class every student takes is an introduction to the Experiential Leadership Program, ELP 101. In the summer before the start of the new school year, freshmen take a wilderness first aid course, then embark on a 21-day backpacking trip in the Wyoming backcountry. Like most everything at W.C.C., the course is grounded in Western philosophy. “The term ‘gymnastic,’” the Philosophical Vision Statement of the college reads, “comes from the Greek gymnos, meaning ‘naked.’ Gymnastics, broadly speaking, refers to the naked or direct experience of reality.” Through their direct encounter with the grandeur of nature, the founders believed, students would grow in virtue.

Students continue their outdoor education all four years at W.C.C.: a week of winter camping after the first Christmas break; week-long hiking, rafting or rock-climbing excursions once a semester; and a required course in horsemanship. But it is the 21-day trip that forms the foundation of what will follow in and out of the classroom.

“There’s nothing more empowering than when those students can go backpacking in wolf country and grizzly bear country by themselves without an instructor,” Mr. Zimmer says. “And that allows them to know that [when they take] the final they’re going to have in humanities or Euclid or Latin, they’re going to be fine. Just like their 21-day trip, they have to put effort and energy and time into their training.”

Ms. Stypa agrees. “There are so many nights out there where you’re freezing or it’s raining, and your sleeping bag got wet and someone has a blister that needs to get taken care of. And it’s 11 p.m. and you’re supposed to get up at 6 a.m., and it’s just hard,” she says. “That toughness that it gives you sticks with you when you come back into the semester when you’re slammed by paper after paper.”

She also described a more subtle connection to the classroom. “You’re just thrust into the wilderness, into the mountains and these mountain lakes, snow and wildlife and lightning storms. It’s terrifying, and it’s beautiful,” she says. “And then we come back, and we study poetry, and we talk about ancient Greece and ancient Rome. And I think you really draw on your experience and fill your imagination as you’re reading the Great Books.”
Jason Baxter, an associate professor of fine arts and humanities, also finds a deep resonance between the freshmen expedition and the Great Books curriculum. “There’s something severely beautiful about ancient texts, which are not trying to accommodate us in any way,” he tells me over tea at Crux, the corner coffee shop staffed by students and frequented by faculty and local residents alike. “And there’s something fascinatingly analogous to the Wyoming landscape, which is severely beautiful but does not exist in order to accommodate human beings. Without railroads or now interstates, we would not be here.”

 

— 4 —

You know the tune Tuxedo Junction? 

Well….Tuxedo Junction is actually here in Birmingham, Alabama. I did not know that until this week.

The second floor of the Belcher-Nixon building located in Ensley was the dance hall and center of all The Junction happenings. Many talented performers hailing from Birmingham got their beginnings by entertaining there.

Among these was the acclaimed musician and performer Erskine Hawkins. In 1939, Hawkins released the Birmingham favorite “Tuxedo Junction” in honor of his hometown. He writes about the magical place that he can count on to raise his spirits, where he can lose himself by dancing the jive all night to his favorite jazz.

 

— 5 –

A really, really good piece on fear and faith, taking off from Cyprian or Carthage’s work On Mortality – written in a time of plague. 

The paradoxical nature of a Christian view of life and death shows up remarkably in Cyprian of Carthage’s treatise On Mortality. Written only a few years after he became bishop in 248, in the midst of a ravenous plague that nearly destroyed the Roman Empire, Cyprian reflects on what it means for Christians to be alive to God, and so not to fear death.

The plague broke out in Egypt around 249 (the “exotic” East for a Roman) and had reached Carthage by 250 or 251. Historian Kyle Harper suggests either pandemic influenza (like the Spanish Flu) or a viral hemorrhagic fever (like Ebola). Ancient sources say that it could have carried away 5,000 persons a day, decimating the population by as much as 60% in some cities. Another source says that it seemed to spread through contact with clothing or even simply by eyesight. It is often called “The Plague of Cyprian” because it is the Carthaginian bishop who provides one of the most graphic accounts of its effects: severe diarrhea (“As the strength of the body is dissolved, the bowels dissipate in a flow”), fever (“a fire that begins in the inmost depths, in the marrow, burns up into wounds in the throat”), and incessant, “intestine-rattling” vomiting (§14). In some cases, a person’s hands or feet were putrefied to the point of falling off, resulting in disfigurement or a loss of hearing and sight.

It was not a physical loss of sight, however, that worried Cyprian most. It was rather a loss of spiritual sight. 

 

— 6 —

Cyprian invites his hearers to see the plague as revelatory for how we view our life in reference to God. As an occasion for Christian sanctification, a time of plague reveals what we really care about, what we really love. The plague, in other words, makes visible what normally remains hidden in our ordinary lives of comfort and distraction. 

What a significance, beloved brethren, all this has! How suitable, how necessary it is that this plague and pestilence, which seems horrible and deadly, searches out the justice of each and every one and examines the minds of the human race—whether those who are well care for the sick, whether relatives dutifully love their kinsmen as they should, whether masters show compassion to their ailing slaves, whether physicians do not desert the afflicted begging their help, whether the violent repress their violence, whether the greedy, even through the fear of death, quench the ever insatiable fire of their raging avarice, whether the proud bend their necks, whether the shameless soften their affrontery, whether the rich, even when their dear ones are perishing and they are about to die without heirs, bestow and give something!

Although this mortality has contributed nothing else, it has especially accomplished this for Christians and servants of God: that we have begun gladly to seek martyrdom while we are learning not to fear death. These are trying exercises for us, not deaths; they give to the mind the glory of fortitude; by contempt of death they prepare for the crown. (§16)

The plague is a test, a spiritual exercise, not a death. 

 

— 7 —

"amy welborn"Here’s a short story for you. It was a finalist for the Dappled Things J. F. Powers competition, but not the winner. So here it is – I wanted to put it on a platform that was not my blog, and Wattpad was the quickest way to go. It undoubtedly does not quite fit the site, but it was easy and let me keep my italics, so it won.

It may not be there forever, as I’ll still keep looking.

And here’s a novel  –     from Son #2! (Check out his other writings here)

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

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Noreen: Camus says knowin’ we’re gonna die makes life absurd.

Betsy : Well, I don’t know who that is. But I’m guessing he doesn’t have a 6-year-old girl.

Noreen : He’s French

Betsy : Ugh, I don’t care if he’s from Mars. Nobody with any sense would say something that foolish. We’re put on this earth to do a job. And each of us gets the time we get to do it. And when this life is over and you stand in front of the Lord… Well, you try tellin’ Him it was all some Frenchman’s joke.

We just finished watching season 2 of Fargo. 

I’d watched seasons 1 and 3 a while back by myself. But they’re both old enough to appreciate it now, so when Better Call Saul ended and the lockdown continued, I thought it might be a good choice to fill some time. It’s rough, and Coenesque and violent, so perhaps it’s not your cup of tea. Lots of exploding heads. Sorry. Know that going forward. I don’t “recommend.”  People are just too different, with varying tastes. I mean. Don’t watch it. You’ll hate it. There.

Anyway, as I said, I’d watched the bookend seasons, but never season 2, for some reason. So this was my first-go through, and I’ll say that I enjoyed it very much. I’m torn about ranking the seasons , though. Perhaps a rewatch will change my mind, but I still think I like season 3 the most, although what season 2 has going for it is a far, far bigger heart than either of the other two. All of the characteristic Noah Hawley/CoenesqueVision aspects are there – extreme violence, weirdness, randomness, chance – but this one has a greater number of sympathetic characters that provide more of an anchor in goodness than the usual almost solitary-figure in the others.

Hanzee Dent - Wikipedia

The cast is amazing – from Patrick Wilson to Jean Smart to Ted Danson to Zahn McLarnon (above) to Bokeem Woodbine (below).

Bokeem Woodbine as Mike Milligan in Fargo's Season 2 | Mike ...

I wrote at length about season 3 here, but was surprised to see that I seem to have never written about season 1. Well, I won’t begin now. Let’s just move on to two.

As per usual, what we have here is a battle between good and evil in the upper Midwest. Here, with the added attraction of evil v. evil driving a great deal of the action as well.

It’s 1979. The big picture here is that the Kansas City mafia – modern, business-oriented and efficient – wants to take over the Gerhardt family mob that runs the northern territories, rooted in their German heritage, out of the rambling family farmhouse.

Jean Smart on 'Fargo': Performance in Season 1 | TVLine

Getting things in motion, as usual, is an accident. The most hapless Gerhardt son, in order to prove himself, puts out a hit on a judge in a waffle restaurant, but on his escape, distracted by (yes) a UFO, he pauses, and in that moment, is struck by a car driven by local beautician Peggy Blumquist, played by Kirsten Dunst. Who’s married to local butcher Ed, played by Jess Plemons, which means that for most of the series, I called him “Todd.” 

The resultant mess and attempt to clean up the mess and avoid trouble gets the Blumquists deeper and deeper into trouble and, without their knowledge, also brings the Kansas City and Fargo sides closer and closer to outright war.

There are lots of fantastic lines in this season of Fargo, but the best probably go to the Blumquists who say things like:

Hon, you got to stop stabbing him.

and

It’s just a flyin’ saucer, Ed. We gotta go.

Well, I guess you had to be there, huh?

Trying to figure all of this out and somehow stay the bloodshed and dig out justice are local law enforcement, some of whom are fools, but two of whom – Lou Solverson and his father-in-law Hank (played by Ted Danson) – are rocks of integrity, humanity and courage. Lou’s wife and Hank’s daughter – Betsy, featured in the scene at the top of this post – is suffering from cancer. During most of the course of the show, she’s part of a clinical trial, taking pills which may or may not be the real thing – or may just be a placebo.

Everyone, it seems, is fighting a battle.

The primary link between seasons 1 and 2 here is, of course that Lou Solverson is the father of Molly – the good cop with sharp intelligence and sound instincts at the center of season 1.

As one expects, the Fargo world is sharply drawn, hilarious, bloody, tragic and ultimately, even in its crazy absurdity and outlandishness, about an important reality: the reality of goodness and the reality of evil.

In season 1, evil was personified in Lorne Malvo, played by Billy Bob Thornton, who may not be the devil himself, but could also be a close relation. He wreaks havoc and destruction on his own, certainly, but his diabolical nature is expressed most powerfully in his role as Tempter. He tempts every single person he encounters, and that temptation takes a particular form: the temptation to see other people as less than human – as no more than animals. Prey, if that’s what you’re into and that’s what you need them to be. Why not?

Evil here is not so individuated. It’s widespread, although it’s just as senseless. The only check against this evil is the goodness and courage of people like Lou, Betsy and Hank, who refuse to objectify human beings, who are content with the beauty and simplicity of human life on earth, instead of lusting for more just because.

Lots of folks have written about this season, but I just want to take a quick look at the setting. I think it’s very important.

The show is set in 1979, and this is about more than simply situating our season 1 characters properly. For the social, political and economic setting is mentioned constantly and is a vital part of the mix.

What’s at hand are first, the repercussions of war – mostly Vietnam, but World War II as well. Most of the male characters served in one capacity or another, and suffered because of it – although one describes a moment of grace he experienced as well. But mostly, this is a time, and these are people who are in a way shellshocked. Some have been desensitized to brutality and violence by what they experienced, others made more determined than ever to right wrongs when they encounter them.

Secondly, there’s the tail end of that Carter-era malaise and the glimmers of Reaganism – Reagan as an actor and as a candidate plays a part in the show, offering, it seems hope (
The first episode is called “Waiting for Dutch.”) – but, as it turns out – false hope.

Third – you have the bumping up of the new, late 20th century all-business ethos up against family and small town.

Fourth- and you won’t be surprised to know that this is my favorite aspect of the show’s 1979 setting – there’s the drive for self-actualization and personal growth that’s in the air, personified here in Peggy Blumquist’s quest to be someone. She lives in a sea of beauty and travel magazines. She’s committed to going to a self-help seminar with her boss. She endlessly jabbers on about being “actualized” and “realized” all the while being absolutely clueless to the reality of the situation around her. Dunst is fantastic in the role – aggravating and heartbreaking all at once.

Why Kirsten Dunst Could Be TV's New Style Icon (With images ...

I had that sweater. I HAD THAT SWEATER. 

The world, it seems, is a brutal place. Life is short and hard and random and even kind of weird (hence the UFOS). Evil is actually real. How do we respond to that? Do we give into the temptation to just try to get more of what doesn’t last anyway? Do we try to make ourselves feel more alive by dehumanizing and objectifying others? Do we deny our own suffering? How do we face the randomness and the chance? Do we pay attention, own up and try to grow – or do we deny, close our eyes and shut our ears?  Do we try to fabricate an alternative reality for ourselves, ignoring the ground under our feet at the moment?

Do we look at this strange mess and just declare it meaningless?

Or, as sick as we are, do we accept why we’ve been put on earth, hold the six-year old all the more tightly, and keep carrying her?

 

 

 

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There’s a lot of scolding going on.

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

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

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

But every day, I wonder,

What happened to #Resist? 

And moving back the referential point a few decades:

What happened to “Question authority?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You call yourself pro-life.

You say you care about the common good. 

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

I wish.

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

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

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

Unintended Consequences. 

They. Will. Come. And they bite. 

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

So:

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

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

…you’d think we’d know better.

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

And I could go on. Okay, I will.

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

And now…the Church.

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

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

….yeah…

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

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

Absolutely necessary. 

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

Just start there.

And for sure..

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

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

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

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

My point?

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

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

I don’t know. There! That solves it!

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

So where do we start? Where we always do.

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

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

For what have we all experienced?

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

My life on earth is transitory. Ephemeral.

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

Suffering and death are real. Unintended consequences are real.

Human beings stumble as they attempt to solve problems.

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

Maybe I need to change.

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

 

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

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

Essentially:

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

and

What is God teaching me right now? 

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

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

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

 

 

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It is invariably, unfailingly true, that if I wait long enough, my inchoate thoughts on a topic find expression in someone else’s knowledgeable, rational words. I’ll link to those more knowledgeable words in a second.

First, let me just run this by you. This is the kind of post that back in the day, I used to be able to toss out,  and some would feel strongly one way or the other, sure, but for the most part, the conversation would be genial and people would be able to laugh and see the oddities, inconsistencies and questions, not only in the opposing point of view, but in their own.

But that really doesn’t happen much any more. I have loads of ideas about why that is and who or what to blame, but none of that really matters. What matters is the pronounced lack of chill in the world these days. Geez, people. Relax. It’s a joke. Everything’s a mess. Cry, then laugh.

(But, as Ann Althouse frequently points out, we’re in the Era of That’s Not Funny, so what can you do?)

So. I’ve been following the news, as I do, and particularly following the Catholic news related to the pandemic. Over the past few days, hints have come from various bishops and dioceses that we, the laity, might be permitted to attend public Masses again.

Thanks!

You can search for the various policies that are being proposed and promulgated, but the conditions that seem to be most common involve:

  • Asking the vulnerable to stay home. Which I generally have no problem with because, of course, the vulnerable are never obligated to attend Mass. My only issues are two: First I trust – I trust that all of these vulnerable, sick and elderly people who are being told to stay away from the parish grounds are also being told that pastoral ministry will certainly be coming to them because FieldHospitalAccompanimentLoveYa.  Secondly, these dioceses are…suggesting a cutoff age to define these vulnerable populations.Fort Worth, for example, has put it at…60. SIXTY. SIX-TY.

wp-1588452797902.jpg

Ahem.

  • Also, social distancing.
  • Masks, sometimes.
  • No touching. No hand-holding at the Lord’s Prayer, no Sign of Peace.
  • No singing.
  • People should super cautious about receiving Communion. No Communion from the shared chalice for the congregation. Congregants maybe don’t take for granted that they will receive, or no Communion distributed during Mass, or only in the hand.

So, I’m reading through all of these, and I’m getting the picture: a Mass where’s there’s more silence, where social aspects are minimized, people sort of keep to themselves, where they’re not touching, there’s no Sign of Peace in the congregation, and people aren’t looking at each other and constantly talking or singing and aspirating material all over each other, and it’s not taken for granted that you’ll receive Communion…

Hmmm. I’m thinking..

…thinking..

…something’s coming….

…I think I can conjure that up…

 

 

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Hahahaha. Come on. Laugh. You can do it. 

It sort of reminds me of a few months back, when a parish in these parts started advertising regular sensory-friendly Masses. I read about what that would be like, and I thought, “So, a traditional low Mass, right?”

The point about the Mass pictured above is made even more sharply when you understand that it was quite common for Communion to be distributed outside of Mass, during this time. I wrote about that here, in this post on the sociological study, St. Denis – a small Quebec community in which the laity would go to Confession and receive Communion before Mass, and then attend the Mass itself.

Look. Here’s what this is about. It’s about what I point out over and over and over AND OVER.

There is wisdom in tradition. 

Traditional practices grew out of human experience – human experiences of joy, sorrow, difficulty and challenge. Human experiences of trying to obey Christ, bring his presence into the world as it is –  in peace, war, plenty, famine, health and disease.  I wrote a bit about this earlier this week., Yes, tradition and traditional practices are always subject to reform and development. But it helps if, as we reform, we keep the wisdom of the tradition in mind and are realistic about life in this world as well.

Short version: Maybe they knew what they were doing, after all.

 

As promised, here’s the smarter take from a slightly different angle, from  Joseph Shaw of the UK Latin Mass society on “Epidemic and Liturgical Reform.”

Clearly, a carefully controlled approach to distributing Holy Communion outside Mass will place a limit on the numbers able to receive, and even on the most optimistic view Catholics will have to get used to another aspect of standard past practice: infrequent Communion. Today, not only is Communion outside Mass hard to imagine, but for many Catholics so is attendance at Mass without the reception of Communion. This implies a casual attitude towards the reception of Holy Communion which perfectly accords with the placing of the meal-symbolism ahead of other considerations, but is not a positive development from other points of view.

It certainly would not have been the way I would have chosen to do it — I have previously argued for the restoration of a longer Eucharistic fast — but the enforced infrequency of Holy Communion will do much to restore the fame eucharistica, “eucharistic hunger,” the lack of which Pope John II so lamented. It is to be hoped that priests will encourage the Faithful who are able to receive less frequently to make the most of it when it is possible, by careful preparation, ideally including fasting, an act of perfect contrition (or, if possible, sacramental Confession), and prayer, and to follow it with a serious thanksgiving.

It is dangerous to speculate too early about the long-term consequences of the current epidemic, but it will certainly have some. It seems likely that among them will be a shedding of the naivety about hygiene which characterizes modern liturgical practice. It is to be hoped that this will be accompanied by a restoration of a more acute awareness of spiritual realities, and of the practices which have historically served to nurture that awareness.

Update:  An example – the guidelines issued by the Diocese of Wichita. All of what I spoke of above, including specific directives about not greeting each other before or after Mass in the church, and no congregational singing.

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