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Okay, I am wondering about something.

This site has not had a comment for almost two weeks.

I understand that I have lost a lot of readers since I got excommunicated from the RCC.

No, not the Roman Catholic Church, which I expect to remain in communion with until my death. I mean the Real Catholic Club, which has decided, apparently, that I am no longer a member. The Roman Catholic Church is not, and has rarely been, in any hurry to excommunicate anybody. And I have not, to my knowledge, denied any dogmatic truth that the Church teaches. Not that that is any protection from the vigilantes.

I do have access to the statistics from this site, and I know I have a core of consistent readers. I know that maybe my new experiential apophatic musings have a limited audience.

But it also occurs to me that maybe there is some technical problem with the comments. I know that some of you are also in touch with me on Facebook. If you have tried to comment and have been unable, let me know.

But maybe my existential theologizing has a limited audience.

Enlighten me, please.

Photo by Ritva Kovalainen.

Driving Home


megan lightell

I have been driving the back roads to and from work ever since winter broke. I have done that for all the  17 years I have lived in Massillon, 25 miles from Wooster, where I work. In the winter the country roads can be treacherous and dark, so I mostly drive the freeway. But when the roads are dry and it is daylight, and I am not running late, I drive the back roads. The pastoral Ohio landscape is soothing, all rolling cropland  and fields and woods, and I find the ride more calming than the highway.

This summer I have been driving what are to me new routes, south of US 30, because my usual route is being repaved, which means a couple of months of delays, loose gravel, and reduced speed limits. I had not travelled these roads for a while and was surprised to see the growth of the number of Amish farms. I had realized that the Amish were expanding: my usual route to and from work passes by numerous conservative Mennonite farms, large, industrialized affairs, but until recently there were only a couple of Amish farms and buggy traffic was rare. Not any more; there are many Amish farmsteads and buggies are an everyday sight.

When I first moved to Ohio twenty years ago I lived in the heart of Amish country, right on the Wayne/Holmes county line. At that time the Amish always acknowledged passing traffic, raising their index finger in greeting. This, according to local lore, is pointing heavenward, and I always returned the salutation.

No more. The Amish these days do not look at you, let alone greet you as they ride by in their buggies. I raise my finger, pointing to heaven, but there is no response.

I am puzzled by this and wonder what it means. I doubt it is a concerted effort, that all the Amish bishops instructed their congregations to cease greeting the ‘English’.  It more likely is a spontaneous effect of modernity’s permeation of Amish culture, a subtle indication of a more atomized existence.

To many outsiders the Amish seem stuck in another time, and for the really conservative churches this can seem to be true. But for most congregations, especially the New Order Amish, the changes of the last couple of decades have been radical. Few New Order men, for example, make a living from farming these days. They work at construction, many of them, and those who manage to work at home are cabinet makers or basket weavers or masters of some other craft.

To cite another example of radical change, tractors were strictly forbidden a few decades ago, even for the New Order, but by the time I lived there it was common for New Order farms to have a tractor. It was used in the barn for its power train and for transportation on the roads.

These days it is common to see New Order men routinely using tractors for field work.

New Order homes often appear indistinguishable from the sprawling houses that the affluent ‘English’ build, aside from the lack of power lines. But they feature most of the conveniences of modern technology, only powered by propane and solar.

Young people in the community are particularly prone to the influence of the modern world with the advent of easily hidden devices that open a wider portal to the world – and the flesh and the devil – than ever their forebears could have dreamed.

And while what makes the news, fortunately, are the times the Amish practice the beatitudes, forgiving the killers of their children, it is also true that modern Amish are much more likely to report crime, even Amish on Amish crime, than ever before, as well as to participate in local elections.

I am thinking that the gradual inroads of modernity may have led to increased individualism, at least insofar as that can coexist with the demands of a highly communitarian religious tradition. In the case of the New Order Amish, that tradition had already been eroded by the influence of American evangelicalism and its highly individualistic emphasis on personal salvation.

Put it all together and it is not unlikely that the Amish have subtly altered their fundamental outlook, that while oddly ‘more open’ to modernity they have become less open to ordinary moderns driving down country roads.

They are becoming ‘normal’ Americans.

This cannot be good.


Painting by Coshocton Ohio artist Megan Lightell


Perfect Pop

oleta adams

No, I am not big on pop music. But I always liked what I had heard of the 80s band Tears for Fears, even if I always got them mixed up with Crowded House. They did sing the very great song “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”.

So when I saw one of their CDs at a garage sale recently I scooped it up. It is all pretty nice, but this song really stands out. It is everything that a great pop song should be: intricate, tight, with great vocals. Indeed, I looked up the woman who sings with the band on this album, Oleta Adams,  as my daughter is an aspiring vocalist and is always looking for inspiration. But alas, in everything else I found she was, as they say, singing every note like it is her last.

People with powerful voices need to learn restraint. That is where the power is. But in this song she is perfect:

As Summer Fades

a painting0001001

After the Vortex

It has been such a beautiful summer. After That Horrid Winter I had sort of feared a hard and hot summer, but it has only a few times approached 90. Mostly it has been fair, in the 70s, clear, with regular showers. Skies are often blue, and white fluffy clouds are frequent, like a Michigan summer.

Sweetest summer of the twenty I have experienced in Ohio.

Ideal, especially for someone who works outside and was traumatized by the Winter of the Vortex. Granted, Spring was fleeting and summer appears to be fading early. And people are talking: rumors are afoot that the experts are predicting the Return of the Vortex.

I just say ‘La la la what a beautiful summer day’ and hope they are wrong.

Two Questions

Having grasped the General Principle of Fuckupedness (‘Fallenness’ in polite circles) and having understood the Total Futility of human endeavor, it occurs to me that no human project should proceed without first asking the question ‘What Could Possibly Go Wrong?’

The answer, of course, in most cases, is ‘Just About Everything.’

Then one should ask the question ‘Who Could It Hurt?’

After pondering these two questions one can then decide if it is worth the risk.

It just may prevent the usual afterword: ‘But We Meant Well’.

But probably not.

Worlds and Dimensions

It has lately occurred to me that there is not perfect interface with the various dimensions of being. Call them orders or vibrations or wavelengths or worlds or dimensions, they do not fit so perfectly as has been imagined in the past.

In the Divine Liturgy of the Eastern churches there is a prayer for forgiveness for ‘sins committed intentionally and unintentionally’. I have often heard people ask how this can be, how one can sin without intent. The answer, of course, is that they cannot, in the sense of having guilt imputed for some evil they did not in the least intend. I have never had a hard time understanding though, in light of the beauty of God’s perfection, that we daily and innocently violate the pure ontological order.

For example, in the Book of Genesis we get hints that in perfect Edenic harmony there would be no killing. Humans were given fruit and seedbearing plants for nourishment. In this order, no living thing was killed.We cannot imagine a world that is not beholden to death, and even that world appears to be perfect, for what it is.

Later, when that perfect order was disrupted humans were allowed to kill and eat animals for food. This is ontologically imperfect, but no moral guilt is associated with eating meat, even, in the New Covenant, meat that was considered unclean in the Mosaic Law.

Similarly, any killing of another human disrupts the ontological order, even if it does not violate the moral order. Pacifists grasp the former part of this equation, and offer a very healthy dose of purity to the discussion. But there are few – though I know and love some – who would not use force, even deadly force, to defend a helpless child against an aggressor.

And much as I love my pure pacifist friends, I would not leave my children in their care.

But I have been speculating about whether this distinction between the moral order and the ontological order may not be a key for resolving a number of internal problems that have plagued the Church in recent decades.

And no, I am not going into detail here.

Maybe on my secret blog.

Stupid Me

Which some of my friends have expressed a good deal of curiosity about.

But no one has found it. I have had one visitor in the month or so it has been up. And that was my bride, who was invited.

But yesterday I googled the title of the hidden blog, just to check it out. And guess what? The web address included the part of my email address with my first initial and my surname.

I told you I was technologically stupid.

Sneaky, sneaky me.

Fortunately the only things I have published there are some poems and memoirs, nothing too embarrassing, unless it is the poems.

I have not written poetry for twenty years and have no idea if it is any good or not. If past experience is any indication, I probably will look at it in ten years and find most of it pretty bad.

While I am glad that I did not post anything too horribly personal, even though only Michelle has read it, it occurs to me that if I ever get into the intensely introspective stuff, the humiliating things, I will just leave it as an unpublished draft for future reference.

Why I Love Francis

He loves Jesus and hates capitalism.


Painting, ‘Landscape, Burkhart Road’, by moi.



It is liberating to grasp that every human endeavor is doomed. I may not believe in Calvin’s Total Depravity but I have come to believe in Total Futility, a very different concept, in which humans are capable of great good and love as well as a great deal of bullshit and nastiness. But whatever good they intend is doomed to be mixed with human cupidity and lust and stupidity.

Which does not mean one does not try.

Good Intentions

For in spite of the proverb, the road to hell is not paved with good intentions. It is paved with everything but. Which does not mean that our best intentions do not often make little hells all around us.

The World, etc.

I did not realize that the term ‘the World, the Flesh and the Devil’, which in Western spiritual tradition summarizes the enemies of the soul, did not come from Scripture, but from the Book of Common Prayer. But whatever the source that about sums it up.

Me, I think that they are listed in order of the danger, which is just about the opposite of the way most Christians view it.

And by ‘the World’ I mean every human endeavor, every concept, every construct, good, beautiful, ugly and in between. Church people may think themselves apart from ‘the World’ because they abstain from certain parts of it, but they are not. ‘The World’ is just as present in a monastic community or a strict Mennonite assembly as it is in a strip club or a corporate boardroom.


You know how in high school history you read the formative documents of American history? And that one of them was the sermon by Calvinist divine Jonathan Edwards entitled “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God?”

Can you imagine how different American history would be if that sermon was called “Sinners in the Arms of a Loving God”?

Or if it was called “Children in the Arms of a Loving Father”?


One of the few good things to emerge from the recent deplorable news cycle is the widespread outrage over the militarization of the police. I have written about this for years, of cops in camouflage on small town streets, of arbitrary traffic stops, of breaking down doors in the middle of the night for minor offenses, of the killing of unarmed (most often black) Americans, of the neighboring town of Orrville, Ohio, population 9,000, home of Smucker’s, whose police department owns an armored personnel carrier.

America, apparently, has had it. When The National Review agrees with the left and the libertarians and the ACLU? Well maybe the days of the police state are numbered. Granted, true to form, NR framed this as overpaid government union employees, with, egad, pensions,  misbehaving.

Guess we have to take what we can get from that corner.

But it is important to remember that issues of cowboy cops are local issues, where democracy can still work. County sheriffs and city commissioners and other bureaucratic functionaries are directly elected.

None of this is hard to remedy.

Painting by Georgia O’Keefe


“… is Truth.”

I thought of that old saying last weekend, when the internet was aflame with horrified accusations that the Sunni militants of ISIS were decapitating children.

Now I do not doubt that the enraged Islamists are capable of the usual horrors that traumatized and angry men commit in times of war. They have, apparently, murdered prisoners of war, they have persecuted the ‘infidels’, they espouse the most inhuman attitudes toward women.

But beheading children? Really? Few humans are capable of such an act. Indeed, studies have shown that most humans, before the advent of desensitizing video war games (developed, ahem, by the military for that very purpose) are reluctant to kill even enemy combatants in battle, firing over their heads.

I know that Fr Dwight Longanecker, who for some reason has an audience, has speculated that the warriors of ISIS are possessed by ancient Assyrian Demons.

Yes, he actually said that.

That is classic wartime rhetoric, dehumanizing and demonizing one’s enemies. That has always led to atrocities, and the war fever of those who claim to follow Jesus has been in some ways more appalling than the crimes of war.

But my bullshitometer started squawking when I read these reports. I searched the internet in vain for someone who would investigate these claims, but only found pages and pages of fear mongering and unsubstantiated rumor.

But the inimitable Owen White found this, from a, to me, obscure Protestant missionary organization, which sought the sources for the story:

More Calvin

Remember that these are only sketches for a future project. Like so many things I have little time now to devote to finishing anything…

bob i1003






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