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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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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:


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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.

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Learning to See



‘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



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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woman11The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” 13Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”

16Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 17The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” 19The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. While what you say is true, I still thirst for this living water.” 20Jesus answered her “Well here is some paperwork. Fill this out and take it, with 100 shekels, to the Sanhedrin. But this may take a while. Your case is complex.”


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Gen. Michael Hayden

General Michael Hayden

Tonight on the drive home, between CDs, I caught the tail end of an Al Kresta segment. He was making the case that because other nations dismembered or decapitated or poured acid into the open wounds of their enemies that the Senate report on CIA torture is not the damning thing that it is, that America is not as bad as the bad guys.

I flipped around the dial, where I heard arguments that it all, the cruelty and evil, the hanging from the wrists, the cold dark and nakedness, the anal abuse, the horror, was justified because it produced evidence that averted a terrorist attack. Or that it was all understandable, all this getting carried away, because dammit, it was in the wake of 9/11, the most traumatic thing that had happened to civilian America since what? The War of 1812? Or that hey, it was such a long time ago. Don’t we as a nation (‘United We Stand’) need to just let it go, forget it ever happened?

After all, we all meant well and we were scared.

The release of this document has meant a return to the spectacle of otherwise intelligent men in suits calmly defending the indefensible. Catholics for whom America is the true god explain again for us how the atrocities revealed therein somehow do not constitute torture.

Prominent among these is General Michael Hayden, director of the National Security Agency (NSA) from 1999 to 2005, and then head of the CIA until he retired in 2009. General Hayden has publicly defended torture in the past and he is once again making the rounds as an apologist for cruelty in the name of nationalism.

General Hayden is also a Catholic. One would think that a Church which is  very publicly considering which sinners to allow to receive communion would have no difficulty stating that someone who has  overseen the torture of prisoners and who defends this publicly would be ineligible to receive the Eucharist.

But far from it. General Hayden in 2012 was awarded an honorary doctorate by the self-proclaimed ‘passionately Catholic’ Franciscan University of Steubenville.

And he delivered the commencement address.

I tried to raise a ruckus about this when it occurred but was met by widespread indifference. This is the piece I wrote when I realize that there was little outrage over Hayden’s honors:


But now, two and a half years later, with General Hayden again in the news and the depressing debate about torture reignited, there is a petition circulating for the University to rescind his honorary doctorate.

And you can sign it here:


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