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The unfortunate Mr Ruse

A few years back a good friend took a job with the then-fledgling Catholic website The Catholic Thing. He didn’t last long; he soon quit in a dispute about Catholic social teaching. I don’t remember if it was the site’s support of the Iraq War, or its favorable treatment of Fr Sirico and the Acton Institute. But while he was employed there he signed me up to be on their email list.

The other day I received one of their emails which began “I made a stupid gaffe on the radio last week.”

That was one Austin Ruse. He had been discussing a story that has been circulating in the media, the sort of thing the Distraction Machine likes to keep us preoccupied with: a young college student at a prestigious university had been starring in pornographic movies to pay for her tuition.

Oh, and she is majoring in Women’s Studies.

Mr Ruse’s “gaffe”? He suggested that the “liberal professors” who contributed to the moral situation that would engender such a manner of financing one’s education “should be taken out and shot.”

He entitled his essay about the ensuing uproar “Anatomy of a Takedown”, if that gives you any idea of the flavor of the thing. But best to let Mr Ruse speak for himself:

The reaction was swift, massive, and unforgiving – first playing itself out on Twitter but then exploding outward. At first, I tried to take them on. On Twitter, I went after them hammer and tongs. Big mistake. Blood was in the water and the chum only brought more into the swarm. They wanted to know if I intended to pull the trigger myself. They wanted to know, besides liberal professors, did I also want to shoot gays and blacks. I was accused of calling for murder. These were from self-identified university professors. I went on the radio the very next day and went into a long explanation of how it was a figure of speech. I quoted long passages from Wikipedia and gave examples of figures of speech. And I went on the attack. I called the left “dumb.” I didn’t mean that either. Of course, they knew it was a figure of speech. Of course, they knew I did not mean it literally. It did not matter. It was a gaffe and one they delighted in exploiting.

It continues in this vein; Mr Ruse considers himself the victim of well, practically a lynch mob. Just because he said that liberal professors should be executed.

I’m sorry.

There are a handful of largely unspoken rules of public discourse, ones that generally need not be spelled out. But Mr Ruse apparently lacks some basic understanding of these, so let me explain:

*Even in heated argument one does not threaten physical violence, nor suggest that anyone deserves a violent death.

*One does not threaten to rape anyone, nor suggest that anyone “needs” to be raped.

*One never attacks anyone’s mother, spouse, or children.

That’s really about it, Mr Ruse. That you don’t get this, even after your “gaffe” drew so much attention, is alarming. Not only that, but your reaction – go on the offensive, then “explain” your “figures of speech”, while calling your critics “dumb”- betrays a density that is somewhat awe-inspiring.

He does go on to say that after all this he did apologize, but his persecutors would have none of it.

No, I’m afraid not. “I’m sorry I said your daughter needs raping” is not likely to be received graciously. Nor is an apology for a threat of violence.

As for his argument that this is a common figure of speech, imagine for a moment if some agnostic blogger said that Catholic bishops should be “taken out and shot”. EWTN and the internet would explode with outrage, as well they should.

In fact, Mr Ruse, you have demonstrated your complete lack of suitability for public discourse. You were an asshole on the radio. No one wants your (eventual) apology. They want your resignation.

And if your “gaffes” were not enough to merit this, your lack of imagination surely does. Facing a situation so ripe for sarcasm and mockery – a coed paying her high tuition by, well, doing what porn stars do- the best you can do is say someone needs to be shot?

Your lack of wit, quite aside from your journalistic Asperger’s, should justify your dismissal.

You do not say which radio program you were on, or whether you were the host or the guest. But if you are still the host, or if you are ever invited again as a guest, the managers of the network or station should be taken out and….given a stern lecture about civility.

If there is one bright spot in all this, it is Mr Ruse’s last paragraph:

We live in an age of political take-downs. Sadly much of the Internet fisticuffs are deplorably ignorant, nothing more than playground mockery and bullying, and I guess I have done a bit of that myself. And so, I am chastened and will have to figure out how to avoid all such rash judgments myself in the future. I have a lot of thinking to do. Praying, too.

Be assured of our prayers, Mr Ruse. And good luck in your new job.

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The Apophatic Blues


When I was young I did not much like the blues. I thought that they just sounded depressing, and looking back on it I was a pretty sanguine kid, idealistic, naive, sentimental, and upbeat. I did not have room for downer music.

Melancholy had not yet set in.

In spite of my relative indifference toward the blues, I actually have heard a lot of the greats, because one bored weekend in 1973 I ventured south to the Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival:

Concert - Ad, Ann Arbor, Ray Charles, Ann Arbor Sun, July 12 - 19730907

The cost to hear this stunning lineup: $20.

I appreciated all the music I heard at the Festival, and especially remember Ray Charles and John Lee Hooker, but I left the festival vaguely depressed. The blues gave me the blues.

But as decades passed and time brought its inevitable disappointments and heartbreaks the music began to sound more like a healing balm than the dead weight I once thought it to be. I got the blues, somewhere along the line.

Similarly, when I was a young Catholic returnee I had little use for apophatic theology, which teaches the unknowability and deep mystery of God. I preferred the sunny afternoon of the heart to the dark night of the soul, and gravitated quite naturally toward the cataphatic theology that celebrates the beauty of God, especially as manifested in creation. I was a natural Franciscan.

And I was drawn to medieval English spirituality, which was deeply affective; warm and sweet, with an emphasis on love.

I know, the English are widely characterized as emotionally cold and repressed, but this is a stereotype based more on the Victorian British aristocracy than in any true archetype in the English soul. Just think of English poetry, or the music of Ralph Vaughn Williams (one of my favorites) or Benjamin Britten or Frederick Delius: all soulful strings and swelling melodies.

Indeed, one of the most revealing things about modern DNA research is that the thesis that most British people are primarily Germanic in their heritage has been disproved. The average Englishman, modern genetic science now knows, is mostly of Celtic descent. This is a relief to me: though my father’s family is descended from an Irish Presbyterian, who emigrated to the fledgling US in 1813, nearly every other surname in that line is English. And my mother’s family is, aside from a Huguenot here and there, pure New England Calvinist, turned Wesleyan in the 19th century for sanity’s sake .

But I always felt Celtic, and assumed that something from my dad’s past had been distilled in me. But now it makes sense.

Not that all English spirituality was cataphatic; it is true that writers like Walter Hilton and Julian of Norwich wrote of divine love and the beauty of God, but then there was The Cloud of Unknowing, which speaks of the darkness and obscurity of the Way. Which left me cold. And when it came to the even starker teachings of Meister Eckhart and Henry Suso? All I can say is leave it to the Germans to really obfuscate the obscure.

And sometimes the same Englishman will express both approaches. Here is poet Henry Vaughn, for example, waxing cataphatic:

I saw Eternity the other night,
Like a great ring of pure and endless light,
       All calm, as it was bright;
And round beneath it, Time in hours, days, years,
       Driv’n by the spheres
Like a vast shadow mov’d; in which the world
       And all her train were hurl’d.
And here is Vaughan, in an apophatic mood:
There is in God, some say,
A deep but dazzling darkness, as men here
Say it is late and dusky, because they
See not all clear.
O for that night! where I in Him
Might live invisible and dim!

I’m not sure, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Vaughan wrote that latter poem later in his life. For just as time has made the blues sound sweet, so a lifetime of knocking my head against Reality, spiritually speaking, has made me warm to the unknowability of God, to the utter Mystery at the heart of all things.

To the point that I am concluding that there really is no such thing as “atheism”.

After all, if one is rejecting  a notion of “god” one is in effect rejecting a concept that falls short of something one perceives as greater and more perfect than the “god” one is rejecting. Thus, the rejected  idea of “god” cannot be God, as it is a less perfect thing, but can only be an idol, a false image of God.

I really do not think there is a human capable of denying the existence of the real  God, if God could be truly perceived as God Is (though, alas, I am pretty sure that humans can indeed reject the Path to God, freedom and disordered passions being what they are).

When I was thirty I “knew” a great deal about “God”; my religion consisted of propositional truths plus emotional responses.

I am not rejecting all propositions about God, but now I see how limited such things are, how incapable humans are of communicating anything that takes more than a baby step toward the ineffable Reality of that-which-we-call-”God”.

At sixty, I am singing the apophatic blues, holding my head above water and swimming in the dark.

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Not Negotiable

“I have never understood the expression non-negotiable values. Values are values, and that is it. I can’t say that, of the fingers of a hand, there is one less useful than the rest. Whereby I do not understand in what sense there may be negotiable values.”  -Pope Francis

Does that mean that groups like Catholic Vote and Catholic Answers will a) go out of business or b) apologize and start over?


I think I am officially a lapsed iconographer. It has been that long since I sat down with a brush. On the other hand, I have been drawing a lot in the evenings, spontaneous and fanciful ink drawings. I always have loved drawing in ink; there is a Zen quality to the finality of the thing. And it doesn’t require the material and spiritual preparation of iconography; it is something I can do when I am tired, at the end of the day. Maybe I will post some of these drawings, if I can figure out which ones, if any, are good enough.


Someone, an unbelieving commentator in the comboxes, remarked some time ago that the Catholicism professed here is really a different religion than that of certain other Catholics. Well, yes and no. I have always been struck by the variety of responses to Christ that all wear the Catholic mantle. The religion of my pre-Vatican II childhood, for example, while hardly devoid of mystery, was very big on gaining indulgences, calculated numerically, to offset time in the inevitable purgatorial destination of our souls. The religion of my post-Vatican II adolescence was another thing altogether: guitars at Mass and concern about racial equality reigned, while purgatory was all but forgotten.  They were, in effect, different religions, imposed on my confused soul in quick order.

Or take the modern controversy among traditionalists. The Remnant, a magazine that broke away from The Wanderer because the latter was too liberal (!), has been running a series of videos criticizing Pope Francis. The tattered Remnant is apparently of the opinion that Francis’ religion is not their religion and that theirs is the true one.

Uh, yeah.

I knew the pope was going to have trouble very early in his pontificate, when he washed the feet of young prisoners, some of them women, some of them Muslims, and traditionalists, in a stunning moment of moral blindness, criticized him for breaking the liturgical rules. Such a mentality looks like a different religion than the one that emphasizes love over regulation.

Of course all this variety exists under the mantle of ‘Catholicism’, even though they are essentially very different ways of well, being, because all profess one Creed. But though the Creed is the same, the code is very different.

Which actually gives me hope for the future of the Church.

If Catholicism can embrace what are in effect different religions without fracturing, surely it has a future as a peacemaker among humanity.


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Picture of MInuteman founder Jim Gilchrist, from the outside of the envelope.

This is from the outside of a form letter mailed by the Minuteman Project, an anti-immigration outfit that projects a militant image:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has a dangerous and immoral plan to cement the power of his liberal Democrat Party- now and for all time.

If this doesn’t strike you as bizarre, imagine if it had read “…now and for the next ten thousand years.” Sounds ridiculous, right?

But ten thousand years is nothing next to the eternity those nefarious Democrats are plotting to impose on us.

Better send money, quick, to the Minuteman Project! Our eternal destiny depends on it…

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A Prayer of St Patrick

May the Strength of God guide us.
May the Power of God preserve us.
May the Wisdom of God instruct us.
May the Hand of God protect us.
May the Way of God direct us.
May the Shield of God defend us.
May the Angels of God guard us.
- Against the snares of the evil one.

May Christ be with us!
May Christ be before us!
May Christ be in us,
Christ be over all!

May Thy Grace, Lord,
Always be ours,
This day, O Lord, and forevermore. Amen.

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Discussing the weather is not small talk to a mailman.

Though it is mid-March, I was startled to see the small, barely-there sprouts poking up out of the earth on Friday. The early perennials finally began to rise out of the ground, after two warm days.

Not, mind you, consecutive days. Not this winter: they were each followed by very cold days, the temperature once dropping forty degrees overnight.

But it was enough, enough to make the crocuses and hyacinths and jonquils  stretch their green fingers skyward.

By Saturday I had seen my first blooming crocuses, purple beneath a south-facing brick wall.

The fact that crocuses generally bloom weeks earlier does not at all dull the joy at their appearance.

I have always loved watching the seasons unfold; it is one the best things about working outside. And I have especially loved watching spring come.

But never have I been so eager to see green shoots peeking out of the cold earth as this year. It has been, I hope, the Winter of a lifetime.

I am hungry for green, starving for Spring.

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I joined an Occupy Wall Street group on Facebook; yes, they are still around, and we all owe them a debt of gratitude for sowing greater knowledge and clarity about economic disparity and the evils of the capitalist system.

One of the first things I read on the Occupy site contained the following passage:

Anarchist politics are usually defined by their opposition to state, capitalism, patriarchy, and other hierarchies. My aim in this essay is to queer that notion of anarchism in a number of ways. To queer is to make strange, unfamiliar, weird; it comes from an old German word meaning to cross. What new possibilities arise when we learn to cross, to blur, to undermine, or overflow the hierarchical and binary oppositions we have been taught to believe in?

Hierarchy relies on separation. Or rather, the belief in hierarchy relies on the belief in separation. Neither is fundamentally true. Human beings are extrusions of the ecosystem—we are not separate, independent beings. We are interdependent bodies, embedded in a natural world itself embedded in a vast universe. Likewise, all the various social patterns we create and come to believe in are imaginary (albeit with real effects on our bodyminds). Their existence depends entirely on our belief, our obedience, our behavior. These in turn are shaped by imagined divisions. To realize that the intertwined hierarchical oppositions of hetero/homo, man/woman, whiteness/color, mind/body, rational/emotional, civilized/savage, social/natural, and more are all imaginary is perhaps a crucial step in letting go of them. How might we learn to cross the divide that does not really exist except in our embodied minds?

This, for me, is the point of queer: to learn to see the world through new eyes, to see not only what might be possible but also what already exists (despite the illusions of hierarchy). I write this essay as an invitation to perceive anarchism, to perceive life, differently. I’m neither interested in recruiting you, nor turning you queer. My anarchism is not better than your anarchism. Who am I to judge? Nor is my anarchism already queer. It is always becoming queer. How? By learning to keep queering, again and again, so that my perspective, my politics, and my presence can be fresh, alive.

Well, now.

There is so much wrong with this that I hardly know where to begin. My response:

Seriously, if Occupy intends to be more than a niche movement, if you want to appeal to real workers and the poor, knock off this talk about “queer theory” and bourgeois identity politics and address the ills of capitalism in terms that mean something to someone other than the highly educated privileged few. You are doing what the Left did in 1972, a misstep from which it is still recovering.

 Reaction to this was varied; for the most part people defended the writer, whom I was surprised to see was nearing forty, but a few people saw my point, and the importance of not offending one’s natural constituency (duh).

In fact, social movements attract smart people who are trying to figure everything out, “theorizers”, if you will. That is inevitable, but it must be reined in. One of the glories of the Occupy movement was in that moment when blue collar union members joined the Occupy folks in the streets. Revolutions are usually waged when there is a union of workers and students. If the students and post-student intellectuals offend or bewilder the workers the movement implodes.

May I suggest that although working class people are perceptively more tolerant of homosexuals than in even the recent past, few of them, including gay workers, are going to be other than either puzzled or dismissive of “queer theory” or “queering”?

Please note that I do not single out gay anarchists or even anarchists for this criticism; there are theorists all over the place: socialists and Marxists, libertarians and Catholic radicals. That is inevitable.

But to build a popular movement instead of a boutique one it is urgent to appeal to, well, the people, to their concerns and the concrete injustices they experience.

Leave the theorizing, whether queer or Catholic or anarchist, to the dorm room or coffee shop or bar. Don’t be preoccupied with your niche grad school philosophizing.

Meet the people, the workers and the poor, where they are, in terms that they understand.

It will not only be good for the movement, it will be good for your soul.

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A Rediscovered Tune

Found this going through old CDs; The Chills, from 1990′s Submarine Bells,which I had not heard in very many years:

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It’s Inevitable

It’s official. The West Virginia legislature has made this song the official state song:

I can’t be the first to say this, but it is only a matter of time until another John Denver song is the state anthem of Colorado:

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St Ephraim the Syrian

The One Thing Necessary

I really think that if you did nothing else for Lent – no fasting, no penances, no abstaining- and merely prayed the Prayer of St Ephraim with an attentive and reflective heart that you would have a very fruitful Lent.

I am off to another half-fast Lent, but I pray this prayer:


There are a lot of versions of this prayer; my favorite reads “Take from me the spirit of indifference, despondency, lust for power and idle chatter.”

Solidarity Without Sympathy

I heard Rick Santorum on the radio the other day, going on about how much he really cares about the working class and the poor. He then sort of scolded them for their bad behavior, for their fornicating and divorcing and having kids out of wedlock. He did not suggest that these social pathologies  have anything to do with lack of economic opportunity, though anyone who knows any intact families, even highly religious ones, trying to make ends meet on a low wage job understands just how hard that is on family life. Conservatives, of course, are big on blaming the poor for their dysfunction, very short on seeing any connection to the breakdown of an economy where even unskilled workers once could easily find jobs that paid well enough to support a comfortable life for their wives and kids.

Minimum Wage, Maximum Slash

Mr Santorum also lambasted social programs, which allegedly sap incentive and make people dependent on the government.

rick_santorumRick Santorum, of course, like most on the right, opposes raising the minimum wage and favors cutting social programs. The conventional right’s only prescription for the collapse of the working class is more of the same free market medicine that has led to the very economic disparity that plagues us: tax cuts, deregulation, policies which favor the rich, the gutting of the labor movement.

The incoherence of the thing that calls itself conservatism is laid bare in this juxtaposition of making low wage work the norm and slashing any assistance from the State. And what are they supposed to do, the working poor? “Stop being poor”, as one Fox commentator suggested recently?

Reminds me of the young man I talked to twenty five years ago in Northern Virginia, when the whole process of the looting of the working class was fairly young. He was among the first hatchlings of the Catholic libertarian flock, who, when I told him of the sort of hopeless poverty I had encountered in the South Bronx, quipped “They should just start businesses.”

I said at the time that this was sort of like yelling to the man half way over Niagara Falls to swim faster against the current.

A New Ethos

But then the American ethos is man-eat-man, every dog for himself. They call it “rugged individualism”, the insistence that everyone can haul himself up by his bootstraps.

Even when he doesn’t have any boots.

What we need is a new ethos, a rugged solidarism.

A Good Guy With A Nuke, Ha Ha

294859_320And speaking of utter cluelessness, it is not apparent where the line between politician and standup comic lies these days. I must say that as bad as Obama has been I am relieved that I have never had to utter the words “President McCain” and admit that I would rather have even Joe Biden a breath away from the presidency than this woman, seen here at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference:

Bad video quality, but you get the idea. This last comment, by the way, was followed by sustained applause.

Which does not bode well at all.

Lord have mercy.

And hasten, Spring…


Fedor Vasilev, The Thaw

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