Archive for January, 2015

Midwinter Miscellany

anne freemanBackasswards

I saw in the local paper the other day that the county housing coalition had completed a study that showed that mental illness and substance abuse were the most common causes of poverty.


Anyone who has felt poverty or known those who are poor knows that poverty is incredibly stressful. The justice system and  the economic system are stacked against you. You suffer stresses that the comfortable, apparently, cannot imagine. It is hard on marriages, hard on families, hard on mental health. Turning for solace in alcohol or painkillers is a natural reaction to hopelessness. Anxiety quickly morphs into psychological trouble.

And for this the poor are scorned and punished.

Unlike the affluent, who are hardly free of mental illness and addiction, there are no resources, no buffer, for society’s castoffs, who are blamed for their pain. I have seen too many pharipronouncements blaming the poor for their problems. If ‘they’ would just form stable marriages, work harder, stay straight, then they would join the successful.

By chance the gospel today in the Byzantine calendar is the story of the pharisee and the publican, a tale that reveals the sin of smugness, the lack of empathy and solidarity with those seen as beneath us.

To scorn the poor is to scorn Christ.

Even the Republicans

But at least there appears to be an emerging consensus that the growing gap between the modern aristocracy and the rest of us is not desirable. When  even the Republicans begin to speak of it as an evil you know there is a problem.

I doubt the proposed solutions will address the root of the evil, which is the capitalist system, based on the economics of the anti-gospel of greed, self-interest and love of money, but any move toward justice and the reexamination of the failed market economics of the neoconservatives and neoliberals is welcome.

Difficult and Spare

Writing has been difficult, as life has been difficult. I got back on the overtime list on the first of January, goaded by necessity, so my ‘spare’ time has been diminished.

And lately life has been relentless.

Words here may be sparse for a while.

Landscape by Anne Freeman

Read Full Post »


I came across something on the internet today, the fact that a disproportionate number of internet searches for pornography come from Islamic countries, including those with the strictest interpretation of Sharia Law and the most repressive sexual ethos. You may read about it here.

I have long noted the coincidence of terror and sexual frustration. Time after time, from 9/11 on we learn that violent Islamists spend their last hours looking at porn and visiting strip clubs. The Muslim psychiatrist who went on a rampage at Fort Hood,  atypical not only in being middle aged but in having achieved some worldly success, had a long history of sexual frustration, searching in vain for a virtuous Muslim woman even while spending his evenings drinking in strip clubs. This is a pattern that repeats itself time and again.

Lest Christians boast, I recently saw a poll of evangelical protestant men that showed over 60% of them, and 50% of pastors, regularly view porn. I doubt the results would differ much if the poll was answered honestly by conservative Catholics. And I recently saw a glossy Mormon magazine that had no less than three ads for programs freeing men from pornography addictions.

In other words a conservative sexual ethos not only does not immunize one from the attraction to porn, it seems on the face of it to make one more prone to it.

I am not thereby suggesting that the libertines are healthier. Sex is problematic for humans. It is hard to get it right, hard to integrate such a powerful and personal force.

But what I do say is that the way that most people who see the obligation to strive for sexual purity handle sexual temptation is not healthy either. I know that in my long bachelorhood I did it wrong, by repressing it or distracting myself. But such a strategy is like whack-a-mole. It just pops up elsewhere in a less healthy manifestation. I have seen too much in my many years living at the heart and on the margins of the ‘orthodox Catholic’ subculture to think it immune or to think that Catholics, even the ‘real Catholics’ are any more virtuous than anyone else.

The one time in my younger life when I made some progress was when I was preparing to enter the seminary, when I spent two hours a day in prayer and attended Mass daily. Sublimation works a lot better than repression, but it is hard to sustain, especially when one does not have hours a day to spend in silence.

Sex is at the heart of humanity, eros central to our being. It is the one time most humans are able to experience being and bliss, are able, even if just for a little while, to transcend earthly care. And it is the vehicle for the life-giving Trinity to enter into our lives. To co-create with God is a holy thing.

Eros is also highly problematic and troublesome. Repression always causes chaos. But there is a way to embrace sexuality, to glory in it, without inordinate desire, the ‘coveting’ which is one of only two sexual sins forbidden by the Ten Commandments, the other being adultery.

It is possible for a man to see a beautiful and sexually attractive woman as the flower of creation, to thank God for her beauty, to glory in her without sinning.

That is a discipline that is difficult, especially for young men. But if you do not learn it you can get distorted, and the next thing you know you are googling for some twisted and ugly perversion of the sexual urge instead of glorying in the beauty that God made.

For He did make it. TheDouay–Rheims translation of the Bible says that God made us to live in a paradise of pleasure. That is still His will, that humans experience ecstasy, that man and woman unite in bliss.

Problematic, given the mess we are born into, the traumas and guilt laid on us when very young. Everything human is easily distorted, the good things especially. And love and marriage are notoriously difficult.

But grace is poured out even more abundantly than darkness, if we are attuned to it.

Lord have mercy.

Read Full Post »

Me, I Am Not Charlie


I have never felt compelled to choose sides when two assholes hate each other. I wrote about it here nearly ten years ago, in an essay entitled ‘Jihad vs Pornocracy’, in which I declared my neutrality in the war between fundamentalist Islam and western decadence. I have seen no reason to change my mind since.

If you are feeling nostalgic, that essay can be read here:


It also occurs to me that Christians and post-Christian Europeans getting self-righteous about the evils of violent strains of Islam need a reality check. It was only four hundred years ago, a blink of an eye, historically, that Protestants and Catholics were killing each other. The Vatican State executed its last criminal in 1870.

Here is a list of people executed by the Vatican:


And of course it should be born in mind that if anyone printed a cartoon of the Persons of the Blessed Trinity anally sodomizing one another (one of the Charlie cartoons I saw) they would have met a bad end in most Catholic states until fairly recent times.

It is one thing to oppose violence. It is quite another to react to violence with violence and hate and self-righteousness.

Lord have mercy.

Read Full Post »

Music for the Ride Home

frank hobbs


Since early September, when my baby Sam was scalded, it has been one thing after another in this family and in this life. And the year ended with an onslaught of new woes.

No, I don’t want to talk about it.

The music on my half hour ride to and from work got narrowed to the most transcendent and comforting. For a very long time the only thing I could listen to was Russian chant and polyphony, the Sacred Treasures version, which omits all of those bass voices singing dramatically. It just has the sweet parts. Imagine the autumnal Ohio countryside, fading into grey November and white winter:



As time went on I was able to incorporate other soothing and sweet music, like Vashti Bunyan, the archetypal sixties earth angel, who traveled by horse and wagon through England and into Scotland, finally arriving in the Hebrides, where she settled and had her babies.

This is one of my favorites, and while it emotes Spring let me assure you that if you listen to this song on the greyest day of November, when you are really sad, it will palpably make everything better, at least for two minutes:



Not that she did not have a melancholy side. I listened to this song a lot, though more in December than in November, which was mild aside from a week of winter:



I also listened to my old favorite, Nick Drake, until I was sated:



Lately I have even ventured, cautiously, into jazz. I have been listening over and over to early Pharoah Sanders, one of the great musicians I got to know as an 18 year old college kid, raised in an all white town, who found himself with three black roommates from Detroit, one of whom loved music. I cannot listen to about half of this album, as it is atonal and chaotic, which hurts my head. I appreciate Mr Sanders soulful sax, but it works better for me when it is melodic:



But as transcendent as that is nothing compares to this for sheer joy:



At this rate, barring further trauma, by Spring I may be ready for rock and roll….


Painting by Ohio artist Frank Hobbs

Read Full Post »


He could be nasty, but he was never stupid.

I knew things were getting bad with Catholics of various stripes on the ‘right’, when they started attacking Francis in the very early days of his papacy. The Latin Mass and neo-traditionalists began pretty much immediately, criticizing him for ignoring liturgical rubrics, though washing the feet of young prisoners, which provoked the first round, was so obviously an act of love. Francis puts people before ritual propriety, sort of like his Lord.

Then when he began speaking plainly of the evils of capitalism and the economic inequality that marks the Age of the Market those on the economic right began to respond, some dissembling and hemming and hawing, and spinning their own ‘hermeneutic of continuity’, others launching an offensive against the ‘communist’ pope.

The latest is a barrage of writing criticizing an encyclical that has not even been released, which is apparently about climate change and Christian ecology.

But I must say I am shocked to see First Things stoop to the level that it has, publishing one Maureen Mullarkey’s broadside against the pope. It reads like something one would find on a Fox News blog or a rabid traditionalist journal, full of invective and venom. I mean she begins, dating herself:

In the cap and bells of Flip Wilson’s Church of What’s Happening Now, Pope Francis is readying an encyclical on climate change. He will address the world’s latest mutation of the grail quest: human ecology. Abandoning nuance for apocalyptic alarmism (“If we destroy Creation, Creation will destroy us.”), Francis has signaled the tenor of his utterance.

She goes on to say that Francis is

… an ideologue and a meddlesome egoist. His clumsy intrusion into the Middle East and covert collusion with Obama over Cuba makes that clear. Megalomania sends him galloping into geopolitical—and now meteorological—thickets, sacralizing politics and bending theology to premature, intemperate policy endorsements.

This is the stuff of talk radio, not a respectable journal. First Things, for which I harbor little affection, always prided itself on its ‘moderation’ and intellectual tone. As an old foe of the neoconservatives and other friends of capitalism, I must say I am happy to see that Francis has provoked this sort of response, which I anyway always sensed was just below the surface, and which came to light in personal correspondence with Novak, Weigel and the Rev Neuhaus.

I have been heartened to see the Catholic apologists for capitalism confounded by this unexpected pope. I mean, they had all the money and connections, and were so close to victory.

But then God gave us Francis.

Here is the Mallarkey article:


Read Full Post »

Enter 2015


Beginning Now

I generally do not make a big deal over New Year’s Eve. The change of the year is an arbitrary human construct to me most of the time, and I can’t remember the last time I stayed up until midnight with the kids.

But last night I stayed up until 4 am.

I have never been so glad to see a year end. It was an amazing, traumatic, crazy spin around the sun, both in the wide world and my own little circle, catastrophe followed by calamity followed by strife.

At the same time it was the year when I got stripped down to bare bones and first principles, a time of great realization and clarity, even if it was the clarity of unknowing. And shot through with glory and beauty and wonder.

And it ended with a very strange Christmas.

But I will accept the artificial construct of the ‘New’ Year for a chance to begin again here and now.

Happy New Year.

The First

While his apologists are right and other popes have said things very much like what Francis says about capitalism and injustice and inequality, those other popes generally spoke diplomatically. Francis is the first pope to speak like a Catholic radical. Even if his enemies triumph and Cardinal Burke is the next pope they cannot undo the miracle of Francis.

Trickling Up

It was only a few years ago that it was laid off factory and mill workers who were suffering from the class war initiated by the ruling class.

Then the phenomenon appeared of people who worked hard at low wage jobs needing food stamps and Medicaid to make ends meet, if the ends did meet.

More recently people in traditionally decent jobs have found themselves in need, as wages stagnate and prices rise (gas will soar again when ISIS and Russia and Venezuela have crashed). I know of blue collar union workers, college professors and others who now receive assistance.

But it gets worse. An old friend whose husband once brought home six figures, who lives on acreage in a nice outer suburb, has, because of changed circumstances, joined the ‘takers’, as that evil woman Ayn Rand called the needy.

If we do not wake up it will not stop until all that is left is the billionaires and their millionaire servants, lording over the rest of us.

Read Full Post »