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rose

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.

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Me, I Am Not Charlie

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:

https://caelumetterra.wordpress.com/2005/02/10/jihad-vs-pornocracy/

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:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_people_executed_in_the_Papal_States).

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.

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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

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Father_Neuhaus_4

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:

http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/mullarkey/2015/01/francis-political-illusion

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Enter 2015

Dark-CloudsB

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.

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Learning to See

amblyopia-cover-eye

 

‘If thine eye be single thy body will be filled with light.’  

 

I have always felt out of place in this world. Besides an atypical temperament and looks I felt like I just saw the world differently from other people.

And so I did, quite literally.

I was diagnosed at an early age with amblyopia, commonly called ‘lazy eye’. There are various forms of this, but in my case it meant that my left eye was so much stronger than my right that my eyes did not work together. While the mind can compensate for a lot, including the resultant shattered vision, it also ‘wants’ to see singly, so I developed a habit, especially in bright light, of closing my right eye so I would see a single image, not a double or a fragmented one. Most of the time I used both eyes, though, and the dominant left would predominate, while the right eye offered a sort of shadow image, if I thought about what I was seeing.

The condition results in perceiving a very different world than normal people, sort of like being color blind, only it affects depth perception. The visual world is less rich, less integrated, more fragmented.

Indeed it occurred to me only recently that this disturbance in spatial perception explains my inability as a young baseball player to catch a fly ball in the outfield. When the ball was in the air I would look up at it and have no idea where it was going to land. I would run up on it and it would fall behind me, or I would back up and it would land in front of me. I don’t think I ever caught a fly ball playing outfield, which combined with my lousy throwing arm meant a humiliating career as an outfielder.

But I was one fine shortstop, a position where speed and instinct are more important than spatial reasoning or a good arm.

And I could never see 3D. I would stare at those patterns that are supposed to transform into vivid images, but only saw the abstract image, never the 3D one.

When I was small they tried an eyepatch over my strong eye, but it never took.

Living with amblyopia, of course, one does not think much about it, or about how much visually richer the world appears to others. One sees the way one sees, the mind compensates, and all appears  ‘normal’, if you don’t know better, which of course you don’t.

I did once, a few years ago, come across a firsthand account by a woman who had done some sort of eye exercise and overcame the syndrome and the way she spoke about the revelatory nature of seeing with both eyes in union made me curious and envious. I tried to find information about this online but all I could find was some dead end links in Malaysia.

Mostly, human nature being resilient, I did not think about it and about the only reminder of my oddness occurred when people commented that my right eye would ‘wander’, gaze off into the distance just beyond them when I was talking to them, which is disconcerting to whoever I am talking to. This happened especially when I was tired, as in my mild case it was not often noticeable (some people’s eyes appear permanently crossed or walleyed).

But then a funny thing happened. I developed cataracts, though I was unaware of what was happening. I at first only knew that something was wrong because I increasingly found trying to paint icons frustrating. My hand-eye coordination was so skewed that I found the act of painting stressful, while it had always been very calming. Eventually I figured out that my right eye did not see clearly and I went to the eye doctor. He diagnosed a cataract on my right eye, and a nascent one on the left, and he prescribed surgery to replace the lenses with some high tech super plastic version of a lens.

After the surgery my right eye, dilated, was blurry. My bride drove me home, left eye shut, When the dilation wore off things gradually came into focus.

And I was amazed. I had thought that with the glasses I had worn since my early 40s that my vision was fine, but my new eye saw details and clarity that amazed me. Colors were brighter, lines more distinct. Everything was vivid.

Certainly nothing compared to my sister, who got glasses when she was ten or so and realized for the first time that when you looked a tree you were supposed to see many leaves,  not a green blur.

But it was still impressive. I had asked my wife to drop me off at the library after the surgery, where the dilation wore off. I walked home with my left eye closed, savoring the delight of all the fine details in the world. It was like being high, everything enhanced.

Since my right eye was now the clear one, I began closing my left eye, which was fuzzy by comparison. It was a few months before I had surgery on the other eye, and in that time my right eye grew strong for the first time. By the time I had my left eye done my eyes were, for the first time in my life, more or less equivalent in strength.

Which means that it gradually dawned on me that I was seeing differently. It is analogous to hearing only in mono and then hearing stereo. There was a depth and dimension that I had never seen before.

And for the first time I could perceive what other people did when they looked at 3D.

But as I have had so many years of habit, I often find myself, if I am not paying attention, reverting to my old way of seeing, even closing my right eye on bright days. It takes some effort to see rightly, with both eyes focused. And in fact my left eye is again the stronger. It takes time to correct lifelong habits at any age, let alone in one’s seventh decade. Only the other day I realized, after work, that my eyes had been reverting to fragmented vision all day.

It takes will and memory to see right.

It is sort of like the spiritual life in that: we know how to see, but without vigilance it is easy to revert to old habits.

But the reward for attentiveness in both realms is a rich one.

And next summer I will see if I can catch a long fly ball in center field.

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Christmas Break

 

bradibbb

Okay, I haven’t written anything here for a week. That is not because I have become so apophatic that I have chosen to just shut up, though I may come to that point.

Nor is it for lack of ideas. All I can do these days is sketch. Someday I may be able to flesh it all out, but not now.

Of course the simplest explanation for my recent silence is the most obvious: I am a mailman and this is the Christmas season, which means a lot of overtime work, just as time becomes most needed. I mean Christmas is four days away and we have done not a bit of gift shopping. I have Tuesday off, and I must get it all done then. I don’t like to wait until the last minute like this but did not have the money to shop until this last pay check, with all the overtime on it.

There are other explanations, but I will not go into them. Maybe not for a few years, when I have some perspective on this very strange, trying and beautiful time.

So for now I am taking a break.

May your celebration of the Nativity be blessed, in spite of all that militates against celebrating God’s birth.

Painting by Bradi Barth

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