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Constrictions Of My Own Design

I have written of my realization that I have, for the last twelve years, constricted my horizons, based upon the entirely reasonable assumption, in light of a series of serious health problems, that I was not going to live long.

I have been freed from that delusion. I could die typing this or I could live until I am 100. No one knows, and it is foolish to assume anything, still more to worry about it.

I have shed that crippling idea, but it still affects how I think. For example, last week I noted that raspberry bushes were growing in a spot where I cut between two yards on my mail route. Raspberry brambles bear fruit the second year. ‘Hmm’, I thought, ‘If I live until next summer I can eat raspberries here.’

Not that that is not more reasonable than assuming that I would live, but I doubt that is a normal reaction to new brambles.

And I long assumed that I would never live to see my grandchildren.

Now, that seems a distinct possibility.

But I have realized something else: my horizons have been self-limited for a long time in a wider area as well. That is, I have assumed, for a very long time, that the world would end, or at least civilization may collapse, sooner rather than later.

Don’t get me wrong. Aside from my very brief sojourn as a charismatic evangelical this has never been a huge part of my faith. Indeed I shied away from obsessive interest in prophecy. But it was the backdrop to life.

This has affected me in many ways, all of them bad, yet another way that the Calvinist construct of a sadistic kick ass sort of god had infected my view of the world.

But if one grants the scientific evidence that the world is billions of years old, and animate life a relatively very recent event, and humanity a blip of a few hundred thousand years?

We do not know the future, any of us. The apocalyptic passages from scripture are the hardest to understand.

But what we do know of time indicates that humanity is very young, in its childhood, adolescence at most.

So maybe the attempt to build ‘Christendom’ instead of living the Way of Christ, which assumes the Kingdom is within, not of this world, was the product of a bunch of two year olds. And the religious wars that followed in the wake of the Protestant revolution were the acts of ten year olds. Or three year olds.

The world wars were the work of fourteen year olds, the Asshole Year, judging not only from my own experience but from watching my own fourteen year olds.

Maybe we will grow up, learn from our mistakes like most of us have done.

Hey, it is possible.

A Young Church?

Which would mean that the Church too is very young.

I mean if you were to gather a person from each century since Christ appeared, each of which lived to 100 years, they would fit comfortably in your living room.

A couple of thousand years is nothing against the backdrop of what we know about the age of the universe, or even the age of humanity.

In this scenario, the scriptures certainly are revealed truth, but one must factor in the reality that revelation is always mediated and twisted by the limitations of the one to whom truth is revealed.

Why would we expect the early Church to get everything right? Did not the Jews, the ones chosen to receive divine revelation, pretty much make a mess of it, and portray the I AM in their own image, a warlike aggressive being, quick to anger?

And did not St Peter strike down Ananias and Sapphira, proving that he still thought like a Son of Thunder?

What if we are just now beginning to understand Christ? What if Vatican II marked the Church entering something like adolescence? Or maybe something like the age of reason? Or even the end of infancy?

As with most things bigger than our little corner of the cosmos, we really do not know very much, even about the most fundamental facts about our situation in the universe or in history.

Pope Francis’ continued urgency in calling us to an encounter, not with ideas or doctrines about Christ, but with Christ Himself, takes on new meaning in this apophatic light.

Sectarian Catholicism and True Faith, Again

One of the first things I learned when I began studying systematic theology way back in the early 80s is that God is inconceivable, and that human language cannot grasp the truth of God’s essence, that God is always more unknown than known.

That is standard teaching in the conservative Catholic seminaries in which I was formed, among the first things one learns when studying Dogmatic Theology.

But once that is taken care of, the next four or more years are spent trying to tie down the Mystery, define and categorize It.

So we were taught apophaticism, but then went on to the dissection of the ineffable and the affirmation of the certainties of our religion.

But the seed was planted, so that when I was stripped bare, deconstructed, and knocked around by the dissonance I encountered when realizing that my ‘religion’ was mostly humanly constructed, I was able to cling to the core, the encounter of a being within Being.

And to my relief Christ indeed proved to be the rock, the solid foundation.

Apparently way back in the mid-70s, I did not just react emotionally to information about Christ. I encountered Him.

Or He found me.

I know, that sounds like the construct of my Calvinist ancestors.

But it is not, because the most dominant thing in the human universe is Mercy.

And the font of being is Love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

novak

I did not know that Michael Novak had an Official Portrait, but apparently he does. It hangs on a wall of the library of Ave Maria University in Florida.

The image is a remarkable thing. There, in the background, are the steel mills of Johnstown Pennsylvania, where Mr Novak’s father worked. To Novak, the fact that Slovak immigrants could work hard and send him on his way to college and fame and fortune is proof positive the America is great. Never mind that those mills are long silent and young Johnstownians today do not have the option of a high paying low skill job.

They’re flipping burgers with the rest of America.

Rising from the steel mills instead of smoke is a wraithlike John Paul, balanced, visually, by the phallic Washington Monument. Mr Novak wears a flag pin, proving that he loves America. In his hands he  holds a white book with a gold ribbon in his hands. What is this book? I believe it must a copy of Centesimus Annus, the papal encyclical that Novak believes he inspired, which has been distorted by neoconservatives since the moment it saw the light of day.

I don’t know how much input Michael Novak put into the iconography of his portrait, but the thing cries out for revision. Instead of the mills there should be an image of an Iraqi city, burning. Replace the ghost of the pope with Dick Cheney. Maybe there should be images of Johnstown’s homeless and unemployed.

The Washington Monument can remain.

I only became aware of this remarkable portrait because Artur Rosman used it in an article for his blog, Cosmos the in Lost, which asks the timely question “To What Degree is First Things Responsible for Iraq?”

The question is long overdue; to my knowledge none of the neocons has taken any responsibility for that debacle and its aftermath, clearly foreseen by Novak’s beloved John Paul.

For some reason my laptop will not let me cut and paste, but Cosmos is in my blogroll; give it a look.>

 

 

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I dreaded turning sixty, and when that birthday was looming a year ago I got even more melancholic than usual.

Understand that when I was a boy sixty was old. 

And not just because I was young: people died younger. My paternal grandfather died in his early fifties. My mom’s mom died in her early 60s. Her dad around 70. My eldest grandparent was my father’s mother, who was in her mid 70s.

But I am aware that before that generation my ancestors, at least those who survived childhood, lived for the most part long lives, into their 80s and 90s.

I cannot help but speculate that moving from farm to city, as my grandparents and parents did, and beginning to eat store bought, processed food and drink homogenized milk and work in more stressful and unnatural environments – I have worked in factories- shortened their lives.

And I have written here about realizing that I had spun a very narrow narrative, that I assumed, after my Bad Year of health crises and subsequent ills, that I was soon to be gone from this world. I did not make long term plans. I was resigned to living in pain the rest of my short life, and about the only optimistic part was that my life insurance would help my bride and the kids climb out of debt.

It is not like I did not experience joy, or find pleasure in my family or in beauty. If you read what I write you know that. But the underlying reality was doom.

I wrote on Facebook that when I turned sixty that I would wear black clothes and dark John Lennon glasses. It wasn’t a joke. I bought black t shirts and shades. But black is too hot for a fiery man like me, even in winter months, and I found I do not like looking at a dark world.

But that was my mood.

Meanwhile, everything was falling apart, or so it felt. I began a long deconstruction, a stripping down, accompanied by an epic winter. I became disillusioned with a lot of what I had thought was religion, and critical of the subculture of a certain type of American ‘orthodox Catholicism’, even though I had never been anywhere but on the margins of the Real Catholic Club, a sort of pet Catholic bohemian radical.

But it fell apart.

Human construct after human construct crumbled, until I was just being beholding Being.

And I awoke.

Some friends may think I have lost my faith, but in fact I lost everything but my faith.

And I felt a surge of creativity, both artistically and intellectually. Everything seemed to come together, even the parts that were falling apart.

I realized that the source of much of my back and neck pain was anxiety, added to by the constant clenching that extreme cold inspires as a natural reaction, and I realized that there are exercises I can do to help strengthen my muscles.

Concurrent with this came clarity about a lot of personal things. I realized that I have books brewing in me: memoirs, things theological, erotic, philosophical, poetic.

But I do not have time for major projects. I came to understand that for all sorts of practical reasons it makes sense for me to retire later rather than sooner. Put these two realizations together and it is clear that while I do not have time to write a book or paint large paintings I can write sketches and chapters and jot down ideas, and I can do small paintings and drawings.

I do not know where this will go. It may all be worked into a novel, or there may be several books brewing.

Or maybe I will sum it all up in a poem.

Or silence.

But to that end I have begun writing elsewhere, anonymously. I will still write here, the sort of ‘Catholic stuff” that has appeared here since 2005. And I will continue writing here on social and political issues. Another presidential race is brewing and it will be hard not to offer my satirical take on it. Heck, the Republicans oddly chose Cleveland, one of the blackest and poorest cities in the US, for their convention. It’s just an hour away and I may pay a visit.

Though it doesn’t take a prophet to predict that this round of Americana is going to be uglier and dumber than ever.

So Caelum et Terra, which has been losing readers since I veered from the Real Catholic Club’s weird religion, will continue.

For the more personal and speculative, though, I have another venue.

And a plan.

Sixty, which I had dreaded, turned out to be a watershed, a hill from which there is a broad and hopeful view.

And tomorrow I turn 61.

michael hoza

Our Red Pope

Pope Francis recently warmed my heart again when he responded to a criticism that his socio-economic analysis smacked of Marxism. He did not back away from this but said instead that communism had stolen it from the Church. While I am thankful that he did not back down, it is also unfair to the Marxists. They did not so much ‘steal’ it as find it by the side of the road, where the bishops had tossed it while they dined with emperors and presidents and bankers.

But every movement for justice and equality, for the people and for the universal destination of the earth’s fullness, is part of the long bright shadow cast by Christ.

Sectarian Catholicism vs True Faith

So much of what is called ‘Catholicism’ is mostly humanly constructed and ephemeral. The various sectarian Catholicisms may be rooted in a love of beauty and attachment to some historic form of the Faith that moved the soul. But whenever anything relative is held as absolute you have wandered into idolatry territory.

Again, Francis calls us to the primal encounter with Christ, not the embrace of ideas about him.

That Said

I have recently become aware of how grateful I am for my background in scholastic philosophy and Roman Catholic moral theology. If that is all you have you have a pretty crappy religion, but they are sure good to have in one’s repertoire .

Same Shit, New Flies

I saw a new right wing magazine the other day, The Whistle Blower, from NewsMax. The cover blared “The Truth About America’, but it was no expose of our historic sins, but rather a triumphalist apologia for American exceptionalism.

One article was called ‘The Land of the Self-Made Man’.

I thought about that expression, and it is clear that what is meant is the ‘self-made rich man’. I mean imagine how ridiculous the term ‘self-made beggar’ or ‘self-made slave’ is.

But of course any such phrase is delusional, in denial of our fundamental interdependence, not only biologically but spiritually and economically.

Individualism is an illusion spun by hubris, the original sin of America, watered and manured with the cursed spirit of Calvin.

And Finally

dilbert

Dilbert would be so much better if the underlings wore postal uniforms. The pointy headed boss would be a dead ringer for the worst boss I ever had if he had a goatee and was twice the size of everyone else.

Painting by Ohio artist Michael Hoza

 

jamie

The other day I noticed a woman on my route stacking things on a table in the garage.

I have been carrying this route for two and a half years and this was only the second time I had seen her.

I asked if she was having a sale. She said yes. I asked if she was selling any CDs, as I am always on the lookout for new music for my commute.

She went into the house and came back with a plastic bin full of various discs.

“It is a big mess, a little bit of everything, even some of what I did when I was making music. You can have whatever you want.”

I asked her about what kind of music she did, and she said that she played guitar, wrote songs, and sang in a hardcore rock band, a long time ago.

I thanked her, and when I got home I rummaged through the discs, probably a couple of hundred or so, few in cases. They were mostly unlabeled, but there was metal, rap, pop, oldies, and a little country. I only found a few things I liked – Cream, Doors, Beach Boys- and left the rest.

When I returned them the next day she was outside and I thanked her. I said that I had not found anything by her band, and she said she did not even know which discs that music was on.

She began talking, and had quite a tale to tell.

She is beautiful, in a worn 40ish sort of way. Life, you can tell, has been hard, but she is tough. Her eyes are bright green, and they were alive with anger and determination.

In the 90s she was something of a pioneer, a member of an all girl “hard hard hard” (as she put it) rock band.

Her husband had been arrested for dealing cocaine. The cops, instead of apprehending him peacefully on the street and then searching the house, had instead beaten down the door in the middle of the night.  They had dogs and guns and her children, the youngest of whom was four, were terrified.

Afterwards, she filed for divorce.

Then she caught a break.

The Coors Beer corporation offered her $60,000 a year, $60,000 for equipment, and $30,000 for child care to appear around the country in some sort of promotional tour. While hardly the salary of a stadium rock big hair band, that would have been quite a boon to a suddenly divorced mom. She already had expanded her band’s appearances to as far away as Chicago and Pittsburgh. With this extra boost she had a very real chance at stardom.

But it was not to be. There was some sort of custody hearing – maybe she was accused of complicity in her husband’s crime, I don’t know – but the judge said that playing rock music in bars was not a respectable way to raise children and that if she took the gig she lost her kids.

She chose her children. She got a low wage job in a factory and lived the hard life of an Ohio working class mom. She has a house full of teenagers coming and going. The police are called to her home from time to time and I once witnessed a street fight involving maybe ten people in front of her house. A few years ago an auto accident left her arm injured and she can no longer play guitar.

She is having a garage sale because her modest home has been foreclosed. As she told me her story her green eyes flashed with indignation.

That wicked judge had denied a woman a chance at life, sentenced her to a life of struggle, for the stupid “reason” that a mom playing music in a bar violated some idiotic cultural construct of what a wholesome livelihood is.

The irony is that the judge so concerned about the tender souls of the children works for the same county that broke down the door of a house full of kids in the middle of the night and then proceeded to terrorize them with guns and dogs.

I don’t want to go all Old Testament and anthropomorphic. I know that the universe is breathed into existence and sustained by a mysterious Being who is described by his sweetest friends as “Love”.

But I am glad that there is also justice, that the mighty will be cast down from their thrones, that all will be made well in the end. The whole socio-economic system, as Francis says, is unjust, stacked against the poor and workers. The Injustice System is a particularly evil tool of oppression, with its soft touch for the rich and harshness to the poor, with its uniform fines and fees that are nothing to the rich but crushing to the poor, with the difference an expensive lawyer can make.

In this heartless world the lives of the poor and of workers are in the hands of unjust judges and brutish cops and heartless corporations. The State, which exists to nurture the common good and protect the vulnerable from the predator, is instead infected with insane millionaires.

Wooster is still a small town. It is public knowledge that around the same time the Judge, Robert J Brown, was assuring, in the name of bourgeois respectability, that the woman and her children would not rise out of the wreckage that remains of the working class he left his own wife and children for a younger woman.

God damn.

kalif

Okay, black clothes, full beard, Iraq in the summer. No wonder you don’t look happy.

So the Sunni militants that have taken much of Syria and Iraq have declared a worldwide caliphate.  Their leader has taken the name ‘Kalif Ibrahim’.

The expected chatter has emerged from the usual suspects, the war criminals and profiteers who sold most of the country the invasion of Iraq in 2003, assuring us that the war would be over in months, not years. That the US of A would be welcomed with flowers and kisses. That a Middle East finally free of despotism would jump at the chance for democracy and free markets.

Especially ‘free’ markets: Iraqi oil would pay for the whole liberating adventure.

Mission most definitely unaccomplished.

And why these men are not in prison, but walking around, giving interviews, writing editorials, sitting on their patios after another soft day, I will never understand. They should be driven off the public stage in disgust. And then thrown into a prison cell for the rest of their lives.

I do not believe in capital punishment, but if I did they would deserve it.

And instead there they are, on the talk shows and in the newspapers and websites, spreading their usual spiel, driven either by fear, or more likely, by the desire to inflame fear in the masses.

The worldwide caliphate has been declared, they say. ‘The Muslims’, they say, as if there were such a single entity, are coming, ready to spill our blood. Soon, the criminals intone, there will be Sharia in Topeka, and the lopping off of heads on Times Square.

Actually none of this poses any threat to the West, though it does indeed pose a grave threat to the people of Iraq and Syria, already traumatized.

If you haven’t noticed, there has been no rush of Muslims to join the ‘caliphate’.

In fact this declaration not only repels the Shi’a but is an existential threat to every Muslim nation. Even ISIS’ Sunni allies are backing away from them. Almost certainly Muslim infighting will assure that the ‘caliphate’ will exist only in the fevered brains of the Sunni fanatics.

American air strikes?

Dear God. Every time the US has done that it has made more enemies. Air war is by nature inaccurate, even if you try to be precise. When the ‘collateral damage’ is someone’s grandma or baby you just made a whole village of new enemies.

But as the US is responsible for the chaos that is Iraq what should we do to try to repay that nation?

We could take any refugees who want to come here. We can settle them in Detroit or Flint or Youngstown: give them whatever tools they need to settle, plant crops or begin small enterprises. If they can survive in the desert they will flourish in our ruined cities, under which there is rich and fertile soil.

It would cost no more than a bombing campaign, and we can send the bill to Halliburton.

The Path Taken

9642402-circles-of-water-in-nature

Jackson Township is just north of Massillon, where I live. Where Massillon is solidly working class, Jackson is suburban and affluent.

It is not that Massillon has no rich, but they are clustered here and there, not least on the ‘historic’ 4th St NE, a block and a half from our house, in the elegant homes where the steel barons once lived, made rich by the work of the men who labored in their mills. Three of these were shot and killed by the local and state police in a labor dispute in 1937.

The cops even shot at the women and children fleeing the scene, wounding several. I would like to say that the local police have matured into servants of the people but everything I have seen since coming here makes that impossible.

Massillon also has poorer areas, with the usual evils that occur when economic hopelessness meets the moral hopelessness of late modernity.

But most of Massillon is working class, or rather what remains of what once was the working class, the children and grandchildren of steel workers who had good union jobs, pensions, security.

Not their offspring. With two low wage incomes they get by, and if they don’t have too many kids even semi-prosper, sort of.

But they are far from Jackson, though it is but a five mile drive to the north.

Jackson: I think the best way to explain it is to describe a Little League game when my son Patric was 12 or so. He was a good ball player and always made the All Star team, when the better players face off against their peers from around the area.

Massillon and Jackson are always rivals, a rivalry not untouched by class resentment. The fans, and the coaches, were a study in contrast. Massillon’s coaches and fans were more overweight, and the men sported shaved heads, facial hair, and tattoos, the modern equivalent of the blue jeans and t shirts that working guys wore in my youth.

Jackson’s look was more svelte, the guys in khaki shorts and polo shirts, the women looking smart and tan.

I don’t remember who won the game, which was one of the most dramatic I have seen, but it went into extra innings. I seem to recall a Jackson victory, marred by bad calls from the umps.

When we moved here  16 years ago Jackson Township still had a lot of countryside, and there are still traces of this, even a few working farms. But most of it has been lost to suburban development, and the mini-castles of the bourgeoisie , shoddily constructed, marr the rolling landscape.

But there is one place in Jackson that preserves something wilder and more primeval.

That is the Jackson Bog State Nature Preserve.

The bog in question is more technically a fen, an alkaline bog, the result of the ancient glaciers, which piled up the sand hills -the ‘kames’ – that overlook the fen. The fen itself is an oddity for this latitude; a lot of plants that are native to more northern climes hanging on in the microclimate that is the bog.

The Nature Preserve is adjacent both to the Jackson Township Park and to Jackson High School, whose athletic fields border the wooded preserve. The preserve itself is 58 acres, and the bordering parkland is probably as large. The preserve dates from 1980, so there are a lot of mid-size forest trees, growing straight and tall, leaves at the top, reaching for the light. But there are also a lot of old trees, and their forms, all round and full, say that they grew up in the open. I haven’t been able to find anything on the internet about how the land was used before it was declared a preserve, but there are so many of these old trees, their lower limbs long dead from lack of light, that I would assume that this was not pasture, where occasional trees are allowed to live and spread out in the light, but maybe a park, or part of an estate. (Probably a trip to a county library would solve the mystery; although the internet has usurped books in many ways, for arcane knowledge like local history the place to look is in the musty stacks, amid things that may never make it online.)

We have been hiking there since we moved here, in 1998. It is the nearest bit of forest around, and it has miles of lovely trails, now high on the ridge, now low, near the various waterscapes of the bog: there are ponds and streams and springs, all with birds and fauna that are exotic for Ohio.

The other day my bride and I and our younger children went for what was intended to be a short hike in the bog. I intended to show them a lovely way to traverse the park that I had discovered on a solo hike. The path I took stuck to the higher elevations and one could see the bog only through the trees. The advantage to this, aesthetically, is that one’s senses are not assaulted by the phony castles of the barely rich which line the low hill on the far side of the fen. These are not only an eyesore, they often fill the air with the noise of their lawnmowers and radios.

So we entered the woods on the east side of the preserve, instead of our habitual western route. The path descends at first, but soon faces a steep climb through a lovely wood, ending at a fork. I have always taken the path to the right, assuming that the other way just led to the high school athletic fields.

But I was wrong. On this day I chose the path never travelled. That path led us instead to a new landscape, one with a new pond and sweet wooded hills on the other side, and groves of young elm trees all lacey in the light.

We were astonished. We had no idea such a place existed. The effect was intensified by the sky. It was what I have come to call a Michigan sky, filled with puffy cumulous clouds, but not grey, with a deep blue behind them, and a cool breeze blowing.

I have had, since adolescence, a recurring dream. I know I wrote about it once, but I cannot remember if it was for this blog or for the old print magazine I once edited.

In the dream I am walking in a familiar wood when I notice a side path I had never seen before. Curious, I turn down it, only to be amazed by a landscape that I never knew existed. Dreaming, that meant snow-capped mountains, huge waterfalls, and frolicking wild horses.

There was none of that the other day, but still, such a discovery of unexpected beauty seemed familiar, the echo of a dream.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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