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Archive for October, 2012

The Aftermath

Well they weren’t exaggerating; Superstorm Sandy has wreaked unprecedented havoc across much of the eastern United States. Thankfully, there seems to be relatively few human casualties, and thankfully we haven’t heard of the sort of compete breakdown of the civil infrastructure that marked the wake of Katrina. And so far the federal response does not appear as incompetent as that fiasco.

The President has suspended his campaign to attend to the disaster. If he continues to appear presidential and doesn’t screw up this will no doubt be a boost to his campaign.

Mitt Romney turned two days of campaigning into a food drive to help the victims. Which is fine; any help is welcome. But he is on record as recently as 2011 as saying that disaster relief should be left to the states, rather than the federal government. Odd, Governor Christie is not telling the feds to get out of New Jersey. Nor did Governor Jindal when Katrina hit Louisiana. Nor, to my recollection, has any Republican governor turned down federal aid when facing such devastation. If Mr Romney intends his fundraisers to be a model of what he envisions he is foolish indeed.

I am a small-is-beautiful kind of guy, a decentralist and a localist. But in a disaster of this magnitude solidarity trumps subsidiarity every time. A federal response is as inevitable as it is necessary.

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Sandy, Barach, and Mitt

I am writing this early. I have been listening to NPR since I woke at 5. At this point details are sketchy and  are likely to remain so until sunrise, but evidently, from what we know, Sandy did indeed evolve into a megastorm. Lower Manhattan is dark and the subways are flooded, there are reports of widespread destruction, and there is a foot of snow in the mountains, with more to come. The sheer extent of this storm is breathtaking; it is a thousand miles wide.

Here in Ohio, yesterday was anticlimactic. We were expecting high winds and hard rain, and what we got was pretty much an ordinary rainy Autumn day. There were gusts of wind- I narrowly missed being hit by a falling tree limb- but for the most part, little of the drama we were preparing for. Today the forecast is much like yesterday’s, and schools are closed.

Although at this early point it doesn’t look like Sandy is going to rival Katrina in terms of human lives lost, she may well outdo her in terms of total devastation.

Either way, this is Obama’s Katrina.

And it is also Mr Romney’s Katrina.

He has switched campaign stops into fundraising drives for the victims of the storm. One would think that the fact that he not so long ago said that federal disaster relief was a waste of money might come back to haunt him, but that would be an underestimation of his powers of recreating himself. The man has held irreconcilable positions on any number of issues; his principles, if any, are pliant. He has, it appears, no principles, only drives: drives for money and for power.

Indeed, it has recently occurred to me that this may not be all bad. If elected he will govern not ideologically but pragmatically, which may well mitigate the damage he will do, and may even lead to some good.

Lord have mercy, on our nation and on our sorry leaders.

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In the Path of the Storm

The weather report said that today my part of Ohio is facing driving rain, high winds- up to 70 miles an hour-  and a high temperature of 45 degrees.

Fortunately for me, given my occupation as a letter carrier, I like most weather, even a lot that other people consider inclement. The exceptions are really hot and humid weather…and cold rain matched with wind. I haven’t carried mail on a day like the one I am facing for a very long time, and my memory is not pleasant.

Fortunately I have much better gear now than I had then. Letter carriers receive a uniform allowance which seems like a lot of money, until you see how expensive the uniforms are. It takes years to be able to afford things like Gortex outer wear. But I have been doing this so long that my rain gear is state of the art. I should be okay. Certainly in better shape than my fellow letter carriers on the Atlantic coast.

This cold front, as you know, is on a collision course with the thousand-mile-wide megastorm that is bearing down on the East Coast. They are speaking of a eight foot storm surge in New York City, three feet of snow in the mountains, havoc everywhere from the coast to the Great Lakes. Reporters are sounding apocalyptic, and while we may hope that this is just another overreaction, it is very possible that we are in for an unprecedented disaster.

It is hard not to see this storm as allegorical, coming as it does so close to what has turned out to be a very close election. This may be Obama’s Katrina, and how he leads, or fails to lead, may well determine who is to be president.

I’m sure I am not alone in praying for mercy on our nation.

No, we do not deserve it.

But that is the nature of mercy.

Lord Have Mercy. Kyrie Eleison. Hospodi Pomilui.

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Mosaic of Christ enthroned surrounded by angels in Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna, c.500 AD.

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I think it a waste of time to fight the institutionalization of homosexual unions. That is the clear direction that this society is moving in, and while in many ways that is tragic, and a mark of how far our culture has strayed from its Christian heritage, in other ways it is not all bad. Surely it is better for both the individuals involved and for the common good for same-sex couples to live in some sort of recognized, faithful and loving relationship than for them to live their lives in secrecy, furtively pursuing promiscuous encounters. And I don’t have a problem with legal rights attending these unions, even ones similar or identical to spousal rights. One need not admit the morality of their acts to recognize that certain rights adhere in humans, merely as humans. Nor to recognize, as the Church does, that even in an objectively disordered relationship there can exist human goods: affection, mutual support, fidelity.

Just don’t call it marriage.

Marriage is by nature a life-giving sacramental union between one man and one woman. There can never be such a thing as “gay marriage”.

But that is what civil society is going to call it, no matter how we protest. That can be traced to the Protestant roots of the United States: Protestantism views marriage not as a sacrament, a spiritual mystery, but as a contract. If it is a merely human construct, why limit it to heterosexuals?

So what to do?

It is time for the Christian Churches and other faith communities to disengage from civil society. The Churches should cease requiring civil marriage licenses for Church weddings. This would emphatically communicate that the State has no authority concerning marriage with the Churches. Marriage would be clearly seen as an ecclesial reality, not a civil one. There would clearly exist two kinds of “marriage”, civil and religious, and never the twain shall meet.

And really, isn’t it time for the Churches to disengage in other ways from civil society? I think of that photo recently of Cardinal Dolan, yukking it up with Obama and Romney at the Alfred Smith Dinner, and it just seemed so…wrong.

It is really time to disengage.

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Click image for greater clarity…

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Almost Over

Click to embiggen…

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Welfare Bums

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Richy Rich’s Record

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Two Moments

I’m a letter carrier and I love my job, I really do.

Not that there have not been long stretches when I woke up every day and hated going into work. Those were times when I had a hostile supervisor, which can make all the difference in the world. The worst year of my working life combined the Boss From Hell with a very difficult and  overburdened route.

But the job itself is sweet.

I have only worked indoors for six months of my life, a miserable time laboring in factories. Other than that I have spent my working life out of doors, in orchards, ski slopes, and in construction.

Of all of these orchard work is the finest: days spent in the treetops, eating as many apples or peaches or plums as one likes. And believe me, if you are picking fruit the only ones you are going to eat are those which are stunning in their perfection.

But picking fruit is low-paying, without benefits, and seasonal. Not a good way to support oneself, let alone a family.

Carrying mail is a close second. Unlike construction or agriculture it is quiet, clean, and you work even when it rains.

And it is contemplative, at least when you don’t have a boss making your life miserable.

At this point I have the nicest supervisor I have ever had, and I am on a route that is not stressful: 560 deliveries, compared to 840 on my last route.

As all but two hours of my day is spent outside, beauty is inevitable. Especially as the neighborhoods on my route are lovely. I have a two hour stretch of walking early in the day which is like walking in a park, only with houses. It is an older part of town, and the trees are huge;  mostly oaks, but also a lot of maples, beeches, and various conifers. And while much of the beauty is random, watching the seasons unfold and the weather change, there are two moments every day when I can expect beauty.

The first of these is early in the day, delivering the Gallaghers’ mail. They have wind chimes just above their mailbox, really nice ones tuned to a pentatonic scale. Every day I pull the string and listen to the sweet sound.

The other is later in the day. I take a shortcut, turning around a garage, then down a slight hill and then suddenly am under the spreading limbs of a huge beech tree. In the spring the leaves are translucent yellow-green and the light that is filtered through them is transfigured. Later, in the summer, the leaves are deeper green and more opaque. Now, in the autumn, they are russet, with lingering traces of green underneath. The effect is magical, a brief interlude of a better world.

Beauty, by its nature, tends to be random.

But in my life there are two moments every day that are reliable brushes with God.

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