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Archives for April 2006

St. Catherine of Siena…

…whose feast is today, is one of those people who tempt you to think, “Either she was mad, or there really is a God.” The bizarre austerities combined with the earthly wisdom combined with the mystical visions combined with the incredible social fluidity…amazing.

The Coat


A postmodern young man, 29, in a trendy West coast city (let’s call it Seattle, Washington). He orders an espresso at an exotic style café, attempts with limited success to flirt with an anorexic barista, then sits at a sidewalk table. He pretends to read an edgy paperback and fails to attract the attention of either passers-by or couples on each side.

Disappointed, he picks up his coffee and goes for a stroll.

He meanders down a block of shabby chic boutiques and becomes so unsettled about his chosen path that he has a notion it might be better to do a very uncool thing and turn around (repent, you might say, a word filed in his brain under the category “humor” ). But, let’s stipulate that he is physically and psychically (is that a word?… what the heck, I like it!) tired and the street ahead is the easier direction. It might be downhill or it might look prettier or shadier, who knows. Okay then, let’s say it’s shadier…and prettier too, as well as being slightly downhill and smelling like gyros. Was there something laborious behind him? There was! A coworker, a boring acquaintance who hadn’t seen the young man see him, even though five minutes previously the young man was pining for any human recognition.

He stops in front of a second-hand shop and looks at the window display and his eyes fall on a singular item. It is a black trench coat. He doesn’t pay attention to anything else in the display. If he did he would notice that none of the other items are recognizable on this earth, but never is there a speck of doubt that the place before him is anything but a second-hand shop. He is fixated on the trench coat (By trench coat I mean that it is a long garment too undefined to be called a trench coat, defined enough to be called a coat, not the color black, but absent any color it can only be called black [as in an abyss]).

He knows that the coat will solve all his problems.

He enters the shop. Were he a person who really read, really watched, who had clear thoughts, who made clear statements which could be proved or disproved, he would observe that the lettering on the shop door had no home on this earth. And that it was more ancient than the earth. Deep inside the dusty shop he finds the proprieter sitting at the counter. He is an orientalist and appears to be from the Orient (Turkey, or maybe the Ottoman Empire) and he is playing a yellowed board game with inscribed with lettering similar to that on the door.

“Do you play?” the man asks.
“I’m interested in the coat in the window, may I try it on?” says the young man.
“Be my guest.”

The proprieter leads the way to the front of the store, removes the coat from the display and places it around the young man’s shoulders.

“A perfect fit,” The proprieter says. “this will splendidly insulate you from the cold.”
“Will I get the girl?” the young man asks.
“You will get the girl, but know that every day you wear the coat you will become more inhuman.”
“I’m tired…I mean…I’m tired of everything. I’m not a young man anymore”
“I understand completely,” said the proprieter. “$35.00 please.”

Tullamore Dew or Powers?

The Dan Brown Dystopia

“I have talked to a number of people that were greatly taken with the book, and my impression is that most of them know it’s a big pile of crap. They may not admit it in conversation, and they might not even admit it to themselves, but they know it. A huge, steaming pile of crap.” –Quotidian Quintilian

Today in Porn, Sheepish Edition

Commentor Mamagiglio wishes I would post less about porn – hence, the “sheepish” in the title. I won’t say I can’t help myself, but I do find myself thinking, “This needs to be noted.”

Allan MacDonell has written a book about his career in the Larry Flynt publishing empire – by the end, he was executive editor of Hustler. In the inevitable NYT profile, we are naturally reassured that, despite his occupation, he has a “very conventional marriage” with his second wife. The story then gives us this perfect gem:

They met roughly 12 years ago on a blind date, and when she heard where he worked, she was a little hesitant, he said, but quickly got over it because “she’s incredibly secure with herself.” Mr. Flynt attended the wedding, he added, and after meeting that notorious pornographer, Mr. MacDonell’s mother-in-law, a devout Roman Catholic, said he was so charming he reminded her of Ted Kennedy.

That last sentence is almost too perfect to spoil with any kind of comment.

Help Wanted

Apparently, I was mistaken. (Apparently, there is nothing new under the sun.) The Catholic Educator’s Resource Center is not out of the financial woods. Please consider donating if you find what they’re doing at all valuable. Yeah, that’s my dad’s stuff on the website. But that’s not why I’m asking.

Kierkegaard Blog Watch

Up From Atheism – Conclusion
“I had taken up a strong interest in the writings of Kierkegaard and St. Augustine during these times, along with making valuable use of Laura’s own intellectual resources on the history of Christianity and Christian thought.”

21st Century Kierkegaard
“I’ll leave you today with this brilliant nugget by the 19th century thinker Kierkegaard: If you label me, you negate me.”

“Kierkegaard” on May Day
“Walking into the toilet, I saw my MD peeing and was inspired to pen this down after Kierkegaard …”

Inside Iraq
“If you profess to be Christian, then read your own Bible, especially the Sermon on the Mount. If you’re not particularly religous, that’s ok — read Sartre, Kierkegaard, Frankl, Kafka, Brecht.”

I Imagine That Yes is the Only Living Thing
“The task is not to find the lovable object, but to find the object before you lovable. – Soren Kierkegaard, Works of Love”

“Fear and Trembling” has three problems
“Was it ethically defensible of Abraham to conceal his purpose from Sarah, from Eleazar and from Isaac? Kierkegaard’s discourse on these problems astounds me, what a mind!”

Søren Tender from Fearen Trembling
“Both knights, as different as they are, have take the step out into the open space where they stand in the presence of God alone with no mediating structures, no ethical codes, no systems of practical reason, no proofs or demonstrations or crutches or guarantees, and they obey God.”

my sweet Aviator of the Sky Christ first pilot_ of written

I believe because it is absurd.
Something like that , if memory serves.
Kierkegaard built nearly all his thinking around
the notion, that the belief, in this thing, is absurd.
[the phrase originates in the latin
Credo quia Absurdum of
Tertullian, the old growling church
father of the ancient days…]
there’s no evidence, for it, and everything around us,
and it, and the world, argues against it,
there’s no evidence of Any kind.

Faith and Reason and Writers

The intrepid Maud attended this year’s PEN Faith & Reason event, and did us all the favor of posting a lengthy report on the goings on. Her closing statement:

By the end of the night, Russell, a science guy, shared Michael Orthofer’s opinion that the focus of the event was too heavily tilted toward faith, “with reason as the afterthought or occasional counterweight.” They’re right: the discussion was largely religion-centered.

Overall (from my agonistic but faith-sympathetic perspective) this focus followed from the idea that religious extremism of various kinds is one of the greatest obstacles to harmony in our increasingly globalized world. Some authors worked toward the notion that faith isn’t inherently bad — that reason, too, can be problematic. Others charged that religious faith is backward or insidious. A few seemed to believe it may be the death of us all.

***

From Maud’s report, it doesn’t sound like anybody suggested that faith might actually be salvific. From my extremely humble perspective, this may possibly indicate a flaw in PEN’s invitation decisions. Would it have killed them to invite one serious believer, one person who saw faith as not only human, not only compatible with reason, but as a real (if still msyterious) and transcendent good? They could’ve invited Ron Hansen – he’s got cred. Or Alice McDermott. Just somebody.

Obedience

If you link only to those who link to you, what is extraordinary about that? Even the pagan bloggers do as much…

Fair enough. But Mine Iron Heart went and linked to me a while back, so, like a good pagan, I paid him a visit, and found this. Very interesting. Essentially, it sounds like the Episcopal bishop of San Diego is forbidding schism and demanding obedience. I wonder if Rome ever issued similar letters to the Episcopalians – and I don’t mean that in a smarmy way.

Good paragraphs from the letter, with a couple of can’t-help-myself comments:

Let me be clear about the import of this direction. If you and your congregation pursue an effort at secession, you will at that moment be in violation of your ordination vows. By this Pastoral Direction, you will be, by that very act or by your participation, an inhibited priest and deprived of standing or canonical or legal authority to do the very action you purport to effect. In issuing this Pastoral Direction, it is my hope that the issue of congregational secession can be conclusively addressed, and that we can concentrate on what is our common work together.

[But isn’t the nature of your “common work” precisely the question that is causing this division? Don’t some people think that the Episcopal Church in America is departing from the “common work” in crucial ways?]

Too much time and energy has been spent on this question. Individual clergy and people may choose to leave the church. This is a right that each of us has. But it is not permissible to participate in actions which attempt to remove a constituent part of the Diocese and Episcopal Church from the whole.

[Isn’t each member, clergy or otherwise, a constituent part? If they each have the right to leave individually, then why can’t a congregation simply say, “Each of us is exercising our right to leave individually”? Or perhaps I’m misunderstanding here.]

At this time in the life of our church, it is imperative that we understand clearly the difference between conscience and the obligations of vows and office. I will always respect individual conscience. But as clergy, we hold vows, and as rectors you hold an office, which includes your bond of trust to me as your bishop….

This Pastoral Direction correctly frames the issue as one of ecclesiastical authority, which is essential to the good order of the Church, and thus calls us back to remain together so that we can serve and care for the people whom God has entrusted to us.

[What is the nature and cause of that authority? And what if the authority is wrong, and is acting in such a way that is not in fact truly caring for “the people whom God has entrusted to us”? Again, not being smarmy – it’s a serious question.]

Unspin

Over at About Last Night, Terry has a lovely little rant against spin, one which gets at one of the great crimes against language – the transformation of its purpose from communicating to manipulating (and by “manipulating,” I fear we very often mean “selling”). He also includes this:

…the greatest piece of unspin ever uttered by a public figure, General Joe Stilwell’s statement to the press after Japanese troops forced his men to retreat from Burma to India: “I claim we took a hell of a beating. We got run out of Burma and it is as humiliating as hell. I think we ought to find out what caused it, and go back and retake it.”

Just imagine if people talked like this. It’s part of the reason I loved Thank You For Smoking. For all the smoke being blown in that film, there was a certain, raw, honesty. Same goes for The Squid and the Whale. It’s gotten so that I’m grateful to hear the truth, no matter how ugly.