Archive for August, 2013

Advise, Please

I have decided to bite the bullet, mortgage the ranch, do whatever and buy a laptop. That seems the only way I can continue to blog.

Maclin marveled, when I posted that I was taking a hiatus, that I had been able to post as much as I had, what with my work schedule, family size, and iconography habit. The answer is simple: I am up earlier and to bed later than anyone else in the family.  I prefer to write in the morning, before work, but as I have lost access to the computers at the college, which enabled this, I am left with whatever time I can grab at the public libraries.

Hence, the need for a laptop.

But I am at a loss; I am woefully ignorant about technology. So: can anyone recommend a laptop, factoring in affordability, dependability, durability, and ease of use?

Thanks; your expertise is valued.

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Some Thoughts


I was driving the other day, running errands, when this song came on the radio. I had not heard it in perhaps thirty years, had pretty much forgotten about it. But what a beautiful tune it is.
While probably 90% of what they play on the classic rock stations is either stuff I always hated – Kiss, Aerosmith, AC/DC, Black Sabbath- or things I once loved but just turned stale after 30 or 40 years of hearing them -The Eagles, Led Zeppelin, Grand Funk, Lynyrd Skynyrd – I keep a couple of those stations on my radio dial for just such moments as this. For that matter, I could listen to Hendrix play “All Along the Watchtower” every day; that tune is as fresh as it was in 1969.


Most of my time and energy these days is devoted to housework, cooking, and caring for my bride and baby as they recover from their ordeal. I do, however, read the paper daily and it is pretty clear that the US is gearing up for another God-damned war. I guess when a Nobel Peace Prize winner devotes his acceptance speech to a defense of war you should be forewarned. There is emphatically no good guy in the Syrian conflict; both sides have committed atrocities and the rebels are infiltrated by militant Islamists. We should devote our resources to caring for the victims and refugees, not tossing  more death into the cauldron.


I have been reading a book about the history of American involvement in the Middle East. I never realized how much of our foreign policy was tied to American Protestant missionary activity, nor did I realize that the whole Protestant Zionist movement, which promotes the state of Israel to hasten the apocalypse, is not a recent one.


The other book I recently completed is called “Foodopoly” and all I can say is that as bad as I thought the situation was with corporate food, it is in fact far worse. I am fortunate to live in an area where there is a lot of local affordable food, but for much of America freedom from corporate food is reserved for the bourgeois…


Is there anything like watching a week old baby dream? His little face now smiles, now looks worried, his eyelids fluttering. It is of course incomprehensible to us, but one wonders what a dream without words or concepts must be like.

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The Patriarch

“We must listen to the Pope’s appeal for peace in Syria. If western countries want to create true democracy then they must build it on reconciliation, through dialogue between Christians and Muslims, not with weapons. This attacked being planned by the United States is a criminal act, which will only reap more victims, in addition to the tens of thousands of these two years of war. This will destroy the Arab world’s trust in the West.”

-Gregory III Laham, Patriarch of Antioch of the East, of Alexandria and Jerusalem of the Melkites

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With No Wind

It was hot and humid, another ten hour day. It was perfectly still. I was nearing the end of my route, with about ten minutes of walking left.

Slowly I became aware of a sound, both familiar and strange.

It was the sound of wind chimes ringing.

I looked around, and there, on a second story porch, above a garage, I could see the chimes swaying.

I looked around. Not a leave was stirring, not a blade of grass moving.

I thought there must be an explanation, an exhaust fan, maybe a dryer vent, or maybe because it was higher up there was a breeze.

So I walked over to the house and up on the porch.

Standing directly under the chimes I could feel no stir of air. But they were ringing, and the guitar pick shaped wooden windcatcher was swaying.

What I felt wasn’t quite the Fear of God; I knew that there were other explanations for supernatural events. It was something more primal; an awe and dread in the presence of the numinous, of something for which there was no natural explanation.

I should note that these chimes are large; the biggest one is around a yard long. It takes quite a breeze to move them. I have, as you can imagine, kept my eyes on the things since that strange day, and several times there has been a palpable wind: I could feel it on my cheek, and I could see the leaves moving and the grass swaying. But while the windcatcher moved, the chimes did not ring.

But one day a couple of weeks ago I stood directly under them and saw them move and heard them ring.

And there was no wind.

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Samuel James, Tentatively

Kalamkari Art Painting - Tree of Life

Kalamkari painting of the Tree of Life

Early yesterday, around 1:30 in the morning, our new baby made his entrance into the outer world.

And what an entrance it was.

Labor was not overly long; around three hours, but the end was dramatic. Michelle had been pushing hard when his head finally emerged. My first thought was “Whoa; that is a big baby.”

So big, in fact, that he was stuck; his shoulders could not get past my bride’s small pelvis.

Now, when I am present at delivery I am the picture of calm, the stoic anchor for my beloved’s ordeal.

Inside, of course, it is a different matter. I feel totally helpless and overwhelmed. However, when those who really know what they are doing begin to freak out it is beyond scary: the nurses and doctor were clearly fearful. One of them yelled into a cellphone “Code Pink in Room 204! Get a neonatal unit here!”

Michelle was working harder than I’d ever seen her. Nurses were yelling “Push! Push!” The doctor was trying to manipulate the baby, and one of the nurses was pushing on my bride’s belly.

And the baby was turning an ever darker purple color.

Finally, he broke through, and emerged. He was immediately grabbed and taken to a small table, where several nurses began doing mysterious things with suction hoses and I don’t know what.

And he wasn’t moving.

It seemed forever, but was probably only a moment, but he began to cry and I finally breathed.

And he is fine; his oxygen was good throughout the ordeal and he passed all his tests.

He weighed 10 pounds and 4 ounces, our biggest baby by over 2 pounds, a result, no doubt, of Michelle’s diabetes.

For the first time Michelle did not look radiant immediately after a child’s birth; she looked like she had been beaten up. She is going to need a long rest, and I have delivered serious lectures to the children on the need for them to be more helpful around the house. I am off work for two weeks, and if need be, can take more paid leave, thanks be to God and my union job.

He is cute as can be, this Big Baby, with lots of curly hair atop his round face.

His name, tentatively, is Samuel James.

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Dear Friends,


Icon of Holy Silence

It has become apparent that trying to maintain this blog in my current circumstances is not only foolish but irresponsible.

No, the baby has not arrived, to everyone’s surprise but his, but I have a very pregnant wife, kids who are taking turns being sick, with one of the older ones, the most helpful and the one who complains the least, recovering from surgery and not able to help much. And I have been ill, too; one of those persistent summer colds. That, while working overtime six days a week. And what’s more, I have lost access to one of the two places that I can get online, and that the one with more flexible hours. That means I am at the mercy of the limited hours at the public library. Working late, that means that there are a lot of days that I am not able to use a computer. A laptop would solve that, but that is just not affordable for the near future.

I am spread thin, “like butter over too much bread”.

There is a lot I want to write about and discuss here, but until things calm down posting will be sporadic at best, though I will let you know when baby Gonzo makes his entrance.

In the meantime, if you miss me come here, contemplate this icon and pray for my family and me. While there are good arguments against “speculative icons” like this one; ie, icons of preincarnate realities like this one, Holy Wisdom, the Ancient of Days, and my mind is not made up on the question.

But if the sole argument was beauty, this icon would end the debate.



Icon by Vladislav Andrejev

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Organic, Inc.

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The Pope of Mercy

St Francis and the leper.

Here is a translation of the pope’s words, taken from the famous interview on the flight back from Brazil:

Mercy is a larger theme than the question you raise [divorced and remarried Catholics]. I believe this is the time of mercy. This change of epoch, also because of many problems of the church — such as the example of some priests who aren’t good, also the problems of corruption in the church — and also the problem of clericalism, for example, has left many wounds, many wounds. The church is a mother: It must reach out to heal the wounds, yes? With mercy. If the Lord never tires of forgiving, we don’t have any other path than this one: before anything else, curing the wounds, yes? It’s a mother, the church, and it must go down this path of mercy. It must find mercy for everyone, no? I think about how when the Prodigal Son returned home, his father didn’t say: ‘But you, listen, sit down. What did you do with the money?’ No, he held a party. Then, maybe, when the son wanted to talk, he talked. The church must do the same. When there’s someone … but, it’s not enough to wait for them: We must go and seek them. This is mercy. And I believe that is a kairos: This time is a kairos of mercy. John Paul II had this intuition first, when he began with Faustina Kowalska, the Divine Mercy … he had something, he intuited that it was a necessity of this time.

Read John Allen’s firsthand account of the interview, along with his (as usual) sharp observations: http://ncronline.org/blogs/all-things-catholic/one-word-describe-pope-francis-papacy-date

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Art by Caelum et Terra artist Michelle Dick

“In the early 1980s there was a growing reaction in the Church against the heterodoxy that was rampant in the ’70s. The NFP movement was part of that. Wouldn’t it be great, we thought, if whole communities sprang up where people dissented from the dissent, broke with contemporary sexual ethics, took up home-schooling, etc. etc. It is really disheartening to hear in people who apparently came of age in just such communities the same tone of resentment and bitterness that I heard from older Catholics ca. 1980 about their upbringing in the ’40s and ’50s. I’m not saying I blame you for feeling that way. Quite possibly I would, too, if I’d been in similar circumstances. But it’s really sad.”

That is a comment by my old friend Maclin Horton from the comboxes on the zombie NFP thread, the one that started over two years ago and is still alive. It is a comment that is made more poignant by the fact that Maclin was the assistant editor of Caelum et Terra, a print magazine I edited that was published from 1991 to 1996. It was the remote predecessor to this blog.

And it is poignant because of my personal history.

Maclin speaks of the early 80s, which is when we met. He had written a long autobiographical piece detailing his journey to the Catholic faith for The National Catholic Register, long before it was owned by EWTN, or before that the Legionnaires. It may be hard to believe now, but at that time The Register  was a lively paper, full of fine journalism.

When I read Maclin’s tale, I was struck by how much our journeys had in common, and I wrote him, care of the paper. He wrote back, we corresponded for a while, eventually met, became good friends and then in time embarked on our too-brief publishing adventure.

It is hard to express what it was like in those heady days; we were young, newly converted or, in my case, returned to the Church, inspired by the charismatic Pope John Paul II, engaged in what we saw as a great endeavor. The Church was a mess, in a very different way than it is today, and we – we thought – had the recipe for a renewed orthodoxy. We were, we thought, building a vibrant and countercultural alternative.

And in time many grew disillusioned.

People naively had large families, learning too late how difficult this is on one working class income.  NFP proved not only a strain on relationships but unreliable to most. Marriages broke up, often shocking friends of the couples. Homeschooling was a bust for many, or typically, resulted in brilliant first and second children reading Tolkien at 5, with the sixth or seventh semi-literate at 12.  By 13 or 14 such children often rejected the Faith, as well as the ethos of their parents.

And of course, most of what we thought was going to be countercultural ended up subcultural, uncritical of the American thing except on matters of sexual morality. Republicanism became dominant in so-called “orthodox Catholic” circles and those of us who were more radical were shunned, or at least viewed with suspicion.

And then, at the time of our disillusionment, appeared Pope Francis.

To those who are satisfied, thank you, with the state of the American Catholic Right, he is increasingly seen as problematic. He ignores liturgical rules, he de-emphasizes things that are central concerns to “orthodox Catholics”, instead emphasizing justice and concern for the poor. He is clearly no friend of libertarian economics.

And while all this is fine with me, and his surprise election seems providential, the other day he gave even me pause when he spoke of not judging homosexuals.

Not that I think we should judge anyone; Lord knows that gay people present a real pastoral challenge to the Church, one requiring much mercy and patience. But he was speaking in this context of a gay priest, and his tone seemed very different than the longtime, and long ignored, prohibition on deeply rooted homosexuals seeking ordination.

This oft-breeched ban makes sense to me, both ontologically and practically. If the priest stands in the place of Christ, and the relationship of Christ and the Church is a spousal one, and if grace builds on nature, then the man who is ordained ought to be oriented toward women; a lack of this natural orientation would seem a deficit in the candidate.

And it makes sense practically and pastorally as well: gay priests, at least those with obviously feminine mannerisms, invite derision in young men. We saw this a few years ago, when we attended a liturgy at a Ukrainian Catholic church near us. During the homily the young priest’s mannerisms were so flamboyant that the kids stole glances at each other and snickered. We shushed them, but all the way home they mocked him. To the younger ones he was just goofy, but to the older ones his assumed homosexuality invited ridicule. They still, occasionally, will bring him up.

No, they are not being raised homophobically, but just as they ignore my entreaties to nonviolence, kids have their own agenda and after a certain age parental influence wanes.

This priest later was videotaped in a police station after a drunk driving arrest, and the humiliating video went viral. I stumbled upon it once, and it was so painful to watch I could only view it for a few moments. That so many treated the video, in which a man is destroying his life and reputation, with glee  just confirms the fact that humans can be cruel. Fortunately, my kids are unaware of the young priest’s fate.

But of course, as in every Franciscan enigma, the pope is not changing any doctrine, or at this point, even any discipline.

He did not say a word about the immorality of homosexual acts or the presence, among the clergy, of homosexual priests.

He talked about forgiveness.

He talked about Love.

Francis seems intent on recalling us to the heart of the Gospel, of waving away anything that distracts us from the Mercy we have been given.

To many of us, burnt out on American Catholicism and humbled by the way our smug convictions have been mugged by reality, this pope, and his call to love, are a gift.

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