Archive for March, 2014

What Would Be Lost

I was criticized over the last few days for using the term “journalistic Asperger’s” in a post and was advised by several sensitive readers that one should never use terms from medical or psychological pathology as metaphors for anything, lest someone with the affliction be insulted. So no more moral blindness or spiritual deafness or insane ideas.

And I would certainly never get to use the term “theological sociopath” to describe a convinced Calvinist, which I am dying to use when the occasion arises.

Oops. I was just insensitive to the recently deceased and bereaved.

By chance, this was in Sunday’s paper:


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From Market Watch‘s Paul B Farrell: Pope Francis’ top 10 ‘strategies’ in his war against capitalism. I would call them ‘principles’ rather than strategies, and I would be hesitant to call the president an ally, but this is a nice gathering of quotes:

1. Inequality: root cause of all problems in world

“Inequality is the root of social ills. Help the poor, reject markets and speculation, attack the structural causes of inequality, or you’ll never solve any of the world’s problems.”

2. Trickle-down: total economic disaster

“Free-market trickle-down economics causes injustice. A naïve trust in the culture of prosperity and those wielding economic power deadens society.”

3. Invisible Hand: the hand of the superrich

“Never trust in the so-called ‘invisible hand’ of the markets and economic remedies like cutting workers to increase profits. The world needs a better distribution of income.”

4. New tyranny: capitalism killing democracy

“Ideologies increase the wealth of a minority exponentially, increasing the inequality gap, separating most humans from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. A new tyranny is thus born, unilaterally and relentlessly imposing its own laws and rules.”

5. Capitalists: new biblical money worshipers

“Money must serve, not rule, yet we calmly accept its control over us. It originated in a profound human crisis: the denial of the primacy of the human person. The worship of the ancient golden calf has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money.”

6. Capitalism: excess consumption killing our values

“Today’s economics promotes inordinate consumption, increases inequality, damages the social fabric, increases violence and serious conflicts. Blaming the poor and poorer countries for their troubles is misplaced, solve the corruption spreading at the top.”

7. Competition: undermining the public interest

“The laws of capitalist competition, the survival of the fittest rule. The powerful feed upon the powerless, the vast majority are marginalized: No work, No opportunities. No escape. News is a two-point loss in stocks, but not the death of elderly homeless?”

8. Capitalists: humans as economic commodities

“Yes, we are now consumer goods, used, then discarded in a spreading throw-away culture. It is no longer about exploitation, oppression. Today’s excluded are no longer society’s underside, no longer even a part of it, but outcasts, leftovers.”

9. Conservatism: undermining the common good

“In a world where everyone has their own subjective truth, citizens cannot develop common solutions that transcend personal ambitions. We need a new way of living and thinking that’s more humane and noble, that brings dignity to all human on this earth.”

10. Capitalism: no moral compass in world economies

“Behind capitalist economics lurks a rejection of ethics and God, debasing humans. This lack of morality and ethics leads us to a God who calls for solutions outside marketplace economics, to make it possible for a balance and more humane social order.”

Read the whole thing here:


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I have always loved Emmylou Harris, who has one of the most beautiful voices (and faces) in all of American music. I picked up my old Wrecking Ball CD the other day, an album she created with Daniel Lanois as the producer, a match made in music heaven. I hadn’t heard it in many years, and was stunned by the beauty. I couldn’t find the studio version of this tune on YouTube, but found this live performance. It does not have the aural complexity that the Lanois album version does, but Emmylou does her usual magic, distilling something ancient and deep in the American soul:

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A few days ago I committed a faux pas.

Or maybe not.

I said that Austin Ruse, who had written an uncomprehending essay on his “takedown” after committing the “gaffe” of saying that liberal professors “should be taken out and shot”, suffered from journalistic Asperger’s.

I also insinuated that he was witless, an asshole, and awe-inspiringly dense.

No assholes objected. Nor did any of the vast cloud of the witless, nor the dense.

But two regular readers who have been diagnosed with Asperger’s said that they were insulted and hurt by my analogy.

This inspired some self-examination.

And I concluded that maybe my reader friends were being overly sensitive. That is understandable, especially in the recently diagnosed, but I do not think I said anything wrong.

I have in the past called people morally blind and tone deaf. I could conceivably write about people who suffered from journalistic ADHD, or who are morally bipolar, or suffering from spiritual PTSD.

I think those are good and valuable analogies.

This was reinforced when the two “Aspies” (their term, not an insult) began discussing tactics of imitating social convention to make up for their temperamental inability to empathize.

Which really makes my point.

If we cannot use contemporary diagnoses as analogies we are impoverished as writers. I hope that my use of “journalistic Asperger’s” is no more insensitive to the plight of those so afflicted than my use of “morally blind” betrays a callousness to those who are actually, not figuratively, blind.

Nor was it a moral judgement. Neither were my comments on the witless or the dense, and I certainly do not equate Asperger’s with witlessness or density; all they have in common is a lack of volition regarding their state.

Assholes are another case. I sort of think them more responsible for their assholiness.

Though it is true that Asperger’s, ADHD, and the rest are medical diagnoses, not simply states of mind.

I realize that a lot of people discover much about themselves from such diagnoses; one only need to read the comments from the “Aspies” in the comboxes to see this.

Me, I have never tried that road of self-discovery. I probably would end up diagnosed as mild Asperger’s, suffering from multiple PTS disorders, with some ADHD and bipolarism thrown in. But I don’t think I am the type to benefit from such a diagnosis. I would probably be one of those for whom it was a suffocating and constricting knowledge, not a liberating one.

All such labels and diagnoses are, after all,human constructs, attempts to fathom and navigate the mysteries of the soul, of human consciousness: sloops in the vast sea, kites in the sky.

If such a diagnosis is helpful to you, God bless you. If it is not, God bless you.

But as a writer, I hope you will bear with me when I use what tools are at hand, psychological and physical diagnoses included.


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The Mohican Castle

Monday night my bride and I slept in Rivendell. Well, not exactly. We spent the night at the Mohican Castle resort, about sixty miles southwest of here, where the hills are larger and mostly wooded, which sort of resembles Rivendell.

Just Michelle and me.

And a baby. And a three year old.

Only someone who has eight kids and has been married almost eighteen years would think this romantic, but there you are.


Big Lyons Falls, as they will appear if spring ever comes.

We had never spent the night away without the whole tribe but we have reached the place in life where our older children can be left with all but the youngest.

In the morning we hiked in the Mohican State Forest, to a waterfall, still mostly frozen except for a trickle. The path was beautiful, following the Mohican River most of the way, then diverting up a long hollow to the falls.

It was a sort of test drive, one night away, and we were a little nervous about what we would find upon our return.  But when we walked in the door the house was clean, there were no reports of fights or bad behavior, and all seemed well.

I turned to Michelle: “Come on, let’s leave. I think they are better off without us.”

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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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