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Archive for May, 2014

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May

I take back everything I said last winter: I love Ohio.

Maybe 100

I realized last week with a start that I had, for over 12 years, assumed that I was not long for this world: in 2002 I had a stroke and nearly died. Then a few months later I had heart surgery. I assumed ever since that my time was not long. I agonized about leaving my young wife a widow, with a bunch of small kids. But a lot of time has passed, and people generally tell me that I look and act much younger than my years, despite all that has befallen me. It came to me, walking the route, musing, that it is entirely possible, given the advances of medical science, especially cardiology, and my natural vitality, that I could live to be 100. That I might have 40 years of life and new experiences had not occurred to me before. Of course, I could die writing this post, but the futility of wasting energy worrying about an imagined future, or lack thereof, really hit me.

Indeed I have been thinking much about how much time I have wasted worrying about things that never came to pass, or fretting about things quite ephemeral in the great scheme of things. It occurs to me that we have only a finite amount of consciousness in this lifetime, and it grieves me that I have wasted so much of it on foolishness and stress.

My (Future) Magnum Opus

My job, carrying mail, is a sort of walking meditation. After doing this work as long as I have it takes very little attention to do it well. For the most part my mind is free to wander, to ponder, to take in the beauty of the parade of seasons. Being a hick philosopher, I have written a lot in my head, only a little of which ever makes it onto the blog. I have decided that if I ever retire, and especially if I have many years, that I want to write a number of treatises. The tentative titles:

The Primacy of Being

Being and Construct: A Phenomenology of Religious Experience and Praxis

Being and Revolution: Toward Ontological Justice

If God is Good and Loves Humanity: The Implications

Holiness and Assholiness: A Moral Theology

Toward a Hermeneutic of Beauty

I also want to write a transparently autobiographical novel and a few volumes of poetry…

Aging and Illusion

All last winter my back, neck and shoulders ached constantly. I intended to go to the chiropractor, but put it off, as previous visits had offered only moderate relief. I resigned myself to the inevitable: life from here on out would be accompanied by physical pain. I handle pain pretty well, so this was not devastating. It was more matter-of-fact, and I accepted it.

But somewhere along the line, after The Awful Winter had finally passed, I noticed that the pain was now insignificant. Analyzing it, I realized that all that long cold winter I had been hunching my shoulders and tensing my neck in a purely physical reaction to the freezing temperatures. Of course my muscles were tense. As the seasons changed and I stopped hunkering against the cold my muscles relaxed and my pain all but disappeared.

Again I had viewed something as an inevitable and unshakable burden which turned out to be a passing trial.

The Problem with Aging

Besides accepting as inevitable what is not, like dying soon or living in constant pain, one thing that tends to happen as we age is that we become jaded to the good and the beautiful around us to the point that they are barely visible. Meanwhile, we get worn down by the evil and the ugly, which appear huge and overwhelming. I don’t mean that I never noticed beauty or goodness; if you read this site regularly you know that is not true. But it is too easy to be consumed with care, oppressed by life’s disappointments, with the Beautiful an occasional welcome respite, instead of the constant reality that permeates our lives. The Creation is in fact saturated in goodness and beauty, an occasionally hidden reality made manifest to this aging mailman by this glorious Spring.

Art by Vincent Van Gogh

 

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Mid May

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Man oh man, green is such a beautiful color.

May is like a baptism of beauty. The natural world is exuberant, the very air scented, flowers coming into bloom and then fading too quickly. I get attached to a particular stand of tulips or jonquils or  cluster of cherry blossoms and then they are gone, as suddenly as they appeared, like those poetic passages in the Old Testament, the existentialist ones. But everything is happening too fast, here in mid-May, unlike early Spring, so slow and hesitant. And it seems unfair, after the long unchanging winter, tedious and cold, for spring to rush by. While I am exulted by May’s bright life and color, I realized this year that my very favorite time is very early spring, in April, just as winter fades. It is the moment before anything at all begins dying, before the blossoms start falling, before the dandelions have scattered their seed and stand like goofy-looking sentinals, before anything fades into brown and rot. That first sight of new shoots poking up, rising with the green awakening, of young leaves on the trees, translucent and tender but tougher than death, when Life is surging up from the dark, when winter meets its defeat, that moment when greenness finally triumphs.

Painting by Heidi Mallot

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glass_michael

*    Am I the only one who thinks many of the controversies today- and I mean the ones associated with the so-called ‘culture wars’- are really examples of scrupulosity? I understand: you think homosexual behavior is sinful, and you are uncomfortable taking photos of or making a cake for the sinners. But how is this endorsing their behavior, let alone participating in their sin? You are offering a service. That is all you are doing: taking pictures or baking a cake. I think of my own means of making a living. I am a courier. I offer a service, the delivery of whatever message you want me to pass on. I would say that most of what I deliver does not serve the common good at all. I deliver pornography, of course, but also noxious political ads, enticements to debt, crappy celebrity magazines, and a host of other odious things. But I am not responsible for how someone uses the service I offer. It is what the Church calls ‘a remote participation in evil”. That is a handy distinction in an age when the fundamental solidarity of humanity is strained by the existence of a pluralistic and fractious society, which has no consensus about first principles, or much of anything else. But do we not have an obligation to live in peace with others, as long as that is possible? And are we ready for a world where everyone decides who they will serve or accept as a customer based on their religion or orientation or race? If the courts order churches to perform marriages it considers invalid and immoral: that is when you can call it persecution. I think that unlikely, but if it occurs that is when resistance can begin.

*    And that goes the same for the issue of the HHS mandate. Leave aside for a moment that fact that most large Catholic institutions have historically supplied birth control coverage to their employees in their health plans. If health care is seen as a fundamental right, as the Church teaches it is, and thus, in the capitalist system, a responsibility of the employer, how does supplying this type of compensation differ from paying a wage? I don’t hear anyone saying that an employer should have veto power over how a worker spends his check. He may be a drunkard or a gambler or in any number of ways a wastrel. How is that the moral responsibility of the boss who writes the check? It isn’t, any more than how a worker uses his or her health care. Again, this is a remote participation in evil. And we live in a world, and probably always have, where participation in evil is part of the warp and woof of human existence.

*    I saw in the paper the other day two stories. They may have been on the same page. The first reported that the Antarctic Ice Shield is melting at an alarming, and apparently, irreversible rate. Seas, according to the scientists, will rise anywhere from four to twenty feet in the next century. The second story said that researchers somewhere had experimented with mice and found that when older mice injest the blood of young mice it reversed the aging process. Yes, you read that right. Of course there are all sorts of caveats, and the research is in its infancy. But boy, does that suggest a dystopian future- as if it weren’t dystopian enough already- where the rich ‘vampires’ pay the poor for their blood, pay them what is a pittance to the recipients but wealth to the blood ‘donors’: “Dude; I got paid a whole day’s [minimum wage] pay for twenty minutes of watching TV with a tube in my arm.” There’s the free market for you. Everyone is happy. Right? And why can’t I shake the feeling that these two stories, about the big melt and the rejuvenating power of young blood, are somehow mysteriously related?

‘Scrupes’ was a slang term in the seminary for overly scrupulous and hyperpious guys…

Icon by Ina Hecker

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Zita’s Return

 

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Our friend Ben Hatke’s book The Return of Zita the Spacegirl, the third of his graphic novel trilogy, has been released and is now available. Here is the trailer for the book:

And here is one place you can get it:http://www.amazon.com/The-Return-Zita-Spacegirl-Hatke/dp/1596438762

Ben’s art, and storytelling, are winsome and colorful. My kids all love his work, and we look forward to his next project. And I can’t be the only reader who thinks that space gypsy lady looks suspiciously like Ben’s wife Anna…

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In Fair May….

9May Flowers on gold foil

Francis Strikes Again

Well, he did it again. Pope Francis has once again publicly dissented from the Creed of market capitalism. Also from the creeds of libertarian Catholicism and Americanism.

In an address to UN bureaucrats the other day Francis, among other things, said “A contribution to this imagesequitable development will also be made both by international activity aimed at the integral human development of all the world’s peoples and by the legitimate redistribution of economic benefits by the State, as well as indispensable cooperation between the private sector and civil society.” (The line that has been getting the most attention in the secular press has been highlighted). Most news stories began with something like “Pope calls for redistribution of wealth.” But the Catholic News Agency’s headline says “Pope urges UN leadership to resist ‘culture of death’ ” The Register had the same headline, all framed in terms that are comforting to politically conservative Catholics. I am sure the response to this latest from the pope will echo the other uproars over the pope’s pronouncements, with some in the Real Catholic Corner openly criticizing, others explaining it away, others searching for the ‘gems’ hidden in the obvious.

Nothing Francis has said is outside the Catholic social tradition, though he has a way of distilling the inherent radicalism of that tradition in a way that few popes have.

But the idea that the State is inherently evil, even if it is a necessary evil, has no basis or support in Catholic teaching. “The State” is just the term we use for the human community at a certain level of population and development. It is a natural institution, like the family. Like the family, it is often dysfunctional, but the alternative is worse.

You can read the whole speech here:

http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2014/may/documents/papa-frances

A Punch in the Gut

The other day, which felt like summer, I was talking with a patron about what a relief the warmth and the green are after that epic winter. As I turned to leave she said “Have a great day!” I answered “Oh, I certainly will.” And immediately realized that I should never say that. I thought of the many times in life when everything is altered by some sudden event – a phone call in the night, sudden affliction, someone running a red light. Heck, I thought about my knee suddenly buckling a few weeks ago. Then I thought that thanks be to God, such events are rare. And immediately realized that there are people in the world for whom such sudden disaster is the norm, for whom every day comes with a punch in the gut. Isn’t that why we are not to judge others? Because we have no idea of what anyone else is going through at any moment, what dramas or burdens they carry? Every life, however humble, is epic, a cosmic struggle, literally. That is why I hope for the salvation of the world; for God sees every struggling heart -and every heart is struggling- and He sees with the eyes of Love.

Jackson’s Folly

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I picked up Peter Jackson’s movie The Hobbit: the Desolation of Smaug for the kids the other night. I made it through about 30 minutes before I could take it no more. All I can say is that I immediately thought of Mystery Science Theater 3000: I hope Joel and the ‘bots come out of retirement just to riff on this movie. Everything was overblown; every hairdo, every action scene, every detail. And I add Jackson’s portrayal of Beorn to my list of his unforgivable sins.

 

Painting by Kathy Fleming….

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nicholas

Fr Dwight Longanecker did it again the other day. In an article looking back fondly to a more muscular Christianity he mentioned the time that St Nicholas smacked Arius at the first Council of Nicea. This, along with some choice quotes from Scripture and various saints, ‘proves’ that while we are not going to attack anyone – though it seems from the article that this is more from fear of the Law than anything else-  in fact harsh and violent attacks on error are the marks of the really zealous Christian, while kindness and nonviolence are the signs of a ‘milquetoast’.

But can St Nicholas’ angry act really be taken as some sort of vindication of violence? I think not.

But first, one must understand just who St Nicholas is to Orthodox and other eastern Christians. Although devotion to St Nicholas was as prominent, historically, in the western church as the eastern, his identity and presence have eroded over the centuries, and to modern western Catholics, reduced to The Santa Guy. But to eastern Christians the saint is beloved, familiar, a kindly grandfatherly figure. The only thing like it in the west is devotion to St Joseph (and I know from many conversations that understanding of St Joseph is undeveloped among the Orthodox. There are few if any Orthodox churches named after him, for example).

The spirit of St Nicholas is a benign one; he was noted in his life for his kindness and charity to the poor, and his presence in the lives of the faithful is a comforting one.

So what about punching Arius?

He did indeed either punch or slap – the stories differ- Arius at the Council, as Arius was expounding his doctrine that Christ was a created being, albeit the first created being, and one instrumental in the creation of all things. But instead of the rational soul, Christ had in its place the Logos. Thus, in one formula both His divinity and humanity disappear. Nicholas fumed, then could take it no longer: he assaulted Arius. The Council was shocked, and stripped Nicholas of his bishopric and expelled him from the Council. There are various stories of what happened next, ranging from a dream that Nicholas had, in which Christ and the Virgin appeared, presenting him with the symbols of his bishopric, to a shared dream of the same by all the Council Fathers, to a couple of concerned friends finding him in his room, wrapped in the Virgin’s arms, her mantle enveloping him.

Whatever happened, Nicholas was restored, Arius condemned. And those prone to defend violence have never stopped invoking his example:

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And so on.

But is this justified? The story is that Nicholas was ashamed. As noted, he was known for his gentleness, and his act must have been quite a shock, not least to himself. Anyone who has lost his temper and behaved badly can understand Nicholas’ grief and shame.

If indeed the Virgin wrapped him in her cloak isn’t it obvious that this was not in approval of violence, but to comfort him in his sorrow for what he had done?

Why is it so difficult for those who profess Christ to understand that violence is not an option in resisting error? That the Church’s use of violence has been a blemish on her reputation to this day?

And that by joking about it you look like you belong in the Neanderthal Rite?

The words of Christ to his apostles when they wanted to call down fire from heaven on their enemies applies, unfortunately, to His Church throughout history: ‘You do not know of what manner of spirit you are.’

 

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Woe

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I have recently been writing here about humans and their freedom and their fate. I concluded that in the End the incomprehensible Being we call ‘God’ gives everyone exactly what they want, that what we call ‘hell’ is really just the cosmic Asshole Corner, where God just gives up and leaves the assholes of the universe alone.

The problem with this: how can one say one is a near-universalist, expecting all but a very few to make it, when to all appearances there are lots of assholes in the world? Doesn’t that mean that many will perish? And if many perish how can God be considered good, or even competent as a redeemer?

Simple: most assholes are not malevolent. They are scared. Or scarred. Or angry.

Even as a small child I learned that sins of weakness are not as bad as sins of malice. It is pretty clear to me that those who act badly out of woundedness will embrace mercy when that-which-we-call-God reveals himself/herself/itself/themselves as pure Love.

Basically, all the poor who are assholes will find God.

As for the rich assholes: well, Jesus did say “Woe to you rich.”

 

Art: “The Rich Man and Lazarus”, by John Everett Millais

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