Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Who Would Want To Live In a Ghetto?

I originally wrote a version of this post for the Pilgrim Center of Hope.

Alley. Jacek Yerka (2004)
As the media assistant for the Pilgrim Center of Hope I do a number of things, including screening telephone calls for our weekly show Catholicism Live!. (That means if you called and weren’t given time to talk about your question or comment, you can blame me. Please send all hate mail to
Last week, we had a show about porn. Not my favorite talk show topic, but my job was thankfully behind the scenes for this one. Though if I were the interviewer I'd say, "Other people's sex is boring. Porn is stupid. Let's talk about real intimacy, and why it's funny."
The promo for this episode got thirteen shares on Facebook. Thirteen! But you know who didn’t share the promo?
The one lady who called in.
I know this because I talked with her for a few minutes, and she vented her spleen about just how terrible it was that we were talking about porn.
Couldn’t we talk about something else?, she wanted to know.
There’s so much beauty in the faith and rich history of the Church, it would be better to tell others about those things, she asserted.
Do we really think someone who views pornography would listen anyway?, she asked.
 What if a child was listening and, you know, getting ideas!
It was clear from the conversation that she just thought the subject was disgusting and didn’t want to be made uncomfortable. Never mind mercy, forget hope – she just didn’t want to deal with the ‘ew’ factor.
Well, let me tell you: all sin is ugly. All sin. There will always be particular kinds of sins which bother us more than others, for good reasons. There is wisdom in being disturbed. But sheesh, lady. 
There was one other comment she made that was particularly curious: she complained that the program had replaced the EWTN one on the Crusades. That, she asserted, is the kind of thing people should be learning about. We need to be able to defend our faith, after all, and misinformation about the Crusades is always being used against the Church. In other words, Why worry about sinners who are already lost? We need to defend ourselves!
No, people. This is exactly the wrong attitude, and its ironic to worry about being misunderstood while advocating ignorance toward others. I’m reminded of this episode as I read some of the feedback on the bishops’ recent document, Relatio post disceptationem, the result of a week of discussion at the ongoing Synod on the Family in Rome.
Much ink has been spilt over the emphasis on what’s called the “law of gradualness” – a long established, common sense rule of pastoral theology which encourages spiritual advisors to keep in mind that people grow gradually rather than all at once.
The bishops have voiced a desire to ponder whether the Church has failed to create a welcoming atmosphere for people in “irregular unions” (homosexuals, divorced and civilly remarried Catholics, cohabitating couples). They would like to consider how keeping the “law of gradualness” in mind could allow Church leaders to seek out, walk beside, and offer love to people even when they are not living in full communion with the Church.
Here is one beautiful section of the document:
23. Imitating Jesus’ merciful gaze, the Church must accompany her most fragile sons and daughters, marked by wounded and lost love, with attention and care, restoring trust and hope to them like the light of a beacon in a port, or a torch carried among the people to light the way for those who are lost or find themselves in the midst of the storm.
25. …The Church has to carry this out with the tenderness of a mother and the clarity of a teacher (cf. Eph 4,15), in fidelity to the merciful kenosi of Christ. The truth is incarnated in human fragility not to condemn it, but to cure it.
Many Catholics in the public sphere have praised this tonal shift from the bishops. While there are challenges and open questions to be carefully contemplated (as always), it clearly addresses issues with due consideration that have needed this kind of attention for a long time.
Refreshment at the city’s fountain of Taorimina. Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller (1846)
But not all are happy with the document. Some Catholics are downright panicky. Consider these comments gleaned from Facebook:
“The truth is that if it’s approval people want, there are many other better places to find it. The Church’s role should simply be to proclaim the truth. Those who have ears will hear and God will build His Church.”
“Having just attended a retreat on the family, and restoring family life, I got a very clear perspective on the family, and how broken the family is in our society, and how fundamental the family is to our society. This synod, if it persists in the homosexual context, will completely break what the family is.”
“Jesus called a spade a spade way more than anybody else in the Bible. The results of the questionnaire sent out last year should have the Fathers of the Church scared for their eternal lives having allowed so many people to not only fall into but also to embrace grave sin. Their response: to focus on the positive aspects of the sinful choices Catholics have embraced.”
Do you see the same defensive irony in these comments as the lady who called into last week’s show? On the one hand, the Kingdom of God deserves to flourish, to have its truth understood and its rich splendor enjoyed. On the other hand, the Kingdom of God is a ghetto, so if the doors were opened, the roof would likely come tumbling down.
One of these views is correct, and here’s a hint: Who would want to live in a ghetto? Besides Leticia Adams.
Rainbow, New York City. John French Sloan (1912)

Sunday, July 13, 2014

"Faith" "Hope" "Love" by Czeslaw Milosz


Faith is whenever you look 
At a dewdrop or floating leaf
And know that they are there because they have to be.
Even if you close your eyes and dream up things
The world will remain as it has always been
And the leaf will be carried by the waters of the river.

You have faith also when you hurt your foot
Against a sharp rock and you know
That rocks are meant to hurt feet.
See the long shadow that is cast by the tree?
We and the flowers throw shadows on the earth.
What has no shadow has no strength to live.


Hope is with you when you believe
The earth is not a dream but living flesh,
That sight, touch, and hearing do not lie, 
That all things you have ever seen here
Are like a garden looked at from a gate.

You cannot enter. But you're sure it's there.
Could we but look more clearly and wisely
We might discover somewhere in the garden
A strange new flower and an unnamed star.

Some people say we should not trust our eyes,
That there is nothing, just a seeming,
These are the ones who have no hope.
They think that the moment we turn away,
The world, behind our backs, ceases to exist,
As if snatched up by the hands of thieves.


Love means to learn to look at yourself
The way one looks at distant things
For you are only one among many.
And whoever sees that way heals his heart,
Without knowing it, from various ills-- 
A bird and a tree say to him: Friend.

Then he wants to use himself and things
So that they stand in the glow of ripeness.
It doesn't matter whether he knows what he serves:

Thursday, July 10, 2014

My heart is restless until I check Facebook

I used to tell my 8th grade catechism class that "the Gospel is the fullness of reality," repeating it frequently in hopes that, if nothing else, that would stick.

Here we have Louis CK advocating, in his usual princely way . . . something along the same lines of experiencing that fullness.

One takeaway: if you're gonna stab yourself with catharsis, choose something interesting and dewy rather than sterile and insulating. 

Sunday, May 4, 2014

The May Magnificat - Gerard Manley Hopkins

May is Mary’s month, and I
Muse at that and wonder why:
    Her feasts follow reason,
    Dated due to season—
Candlemas, Lady Day;        
But the Lady Month, May,
    Why fasten that upon her,
    With a feasting in her honour?
Is it only its being brighter
Than the most are must delight her?        
    Is it opportunest
    And flowers finds soonest?
Ask of her, the mighty mother:
Her reply puts this other
    Question: What is Spring?—        
    Growth in every thing—
Flesh and fleece, fur and feather,
Grass and greenworld all together;
    Star-eyed strawberry-breasted
    Throstle above her nested        
Cluster of bugle blue eggs thin
Forms and warms the life within;
    And bird and blossom swell
    In sod or sheath or shell.
All things rising, all things sizing        
Mary sees, sympathising
    With that world of good,
    Nature’s motherhood.
Their magnifying of each its kind
With delight calls to mind        
    How she did in her stored
    Magnify the Lord.
Well but there was more than this:
Spring’s universal bliss
    Much, had much to say        
    To offering Mary May.
When drop-of-blood-and-foam-dapple
Bloom lights the orchard-apple
    And thicket and thorp are merry
    With silver-surfèd cherry      
And azuring-over greybell makes
Wood banks and brakes wash wet like lakes
    And magic cuckoocall
    Caps, clears, and clinches all—
This ecstasy all through mothering earth        
Tells Mary her mirth till Christ’s birth
    To remember and exultation
    In God who was her salvation.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Fart Jokes, Vol. 1

Artur Rosman, literature/theory/theology/philosophy scholar/professor and blogger at Cosmos the in Lost ("Wherein a Catholic backwardness reigns") shared this on Facebook earlier today:

Note the number of comments in the thread.

Some of my favorites:

- The Sound of Music
- As Tears Go By
- Black Snake Moan
- Birth of a Nation
- James and the Giant Peach
- Life Aquatic
- True Grit
- While You Were Sleeping
- The Fast and the Furious
- Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
- 48 Hours
- Some Like It Hot
- Bridget Jones' Diarrhea (cheating, but ha!)
- That Thing You Do
- An Inconvenient Truth
- Honey, I Blew Up the Kids
- Firewalk With Me

And my contribution:


...but even Mongo thought that was low hanging fruit.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Annunciation - Thomas Merton

The Annunciation

Ashes of paper, ashes of a world
Wandering, when fire is done:
We argue with the drops of rain!

Until one comes Who walks unseen
Even in elements we have destroyed.
Deeper than any nerve
He enters flesh and bone.
Planting His truth, He puts our substance on.
Air, earth, and rain
Rework the frame that fire has ruined.
What was dead is waiting for His Flame.
Sparks of His Spirit spend their seeds, and hide
To grow like irises, born before summertime.
These blue thinas bud in Israel.

The girl prays by the bare wall
Between the lamp and the chair.
(Framed with an angel in our galleries
She has a richer painted room, sometimes a crown.
Yet seven pillars of obscurity
Build her to Wisdom's house, and Ark, and Tower.
She is the Secret of another Testament
She owns their manna in her jar.(

Fifteen years old -
The flowers printed on her dress
Cease moving in the middle of her prayer
When God, Who sends the messenger,
Meets His messenger in her Heart.
Her answer, between breath and breath,
Wrings from her innocence our Sacrament!
In her white body God becomes our Bread.

It is her tenderness
Heats the dead world like David on his bed.
Times that were too soon criminal
And never wanted to be normal
Evade the beast that has pursued
You, me and Adam out of Eden's wood.
Suddenly we find ourselves assembled
Cured and recollected under several green trees.

Her prudence wrestled with the Dove
To hide us in His Cloud of steel and silver:
These are the mysteries of her Son.
And here my heart, a purchased outlaw,
Prayers in her possession
Until her Jesus makes my heart
Smile like a flower in her blameless hand.

Cud'n 'Chop's Uncle Al's Favorite Pangalactic Gargleblaster Gin Fizz Recipe

Take the juice from one bottle of Ol' Janx Spirit
Pour into a chilled highball with one measure of water from the seas of Santraginus V
Melt two ounces of Arcturan Mega-gin in a cocktail shaker filled with ice
Add a dash of lemon or lime juice, 1/2 teaspoon of superfine sugar and egg white
Shake vigorously by setting on a chesterfield sofa in a space-time eddy
Strain into the highball
Allow four liters of Fallian marsh gas to bubble through
Over the back of a silver spoon float a measure of Qualactin Hypermint extract
Drop in the tooth of an Algolian Suntiger
Stir until the Suntiger tooth dissolves
Top off with soda water

Garnish with olives, a maraschino cherry, slice of citrus fruit, cucumber (whole), and mint. Equally good for the treatment of morning terror and early morning yells of horror.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

"Cry a little and convert."

Pope Francis gives a paternal warning to oft-neglected "absent but central figures":
"And I feel that I cannot conclude without saying a word to the absent ones today, to those absent but central figures: the men and women of the mafia. Please, change your life, convert, stop, cease to do evil! We are praying for you. Convert, I ask it on my knees; it is for your own good. This life you are living now, it won't bring you pleasure, it won't give you joy, it won't bring you happiness. The power, the money, that you possess now from so many dirty jobs, from so many mafia crimes, is blood money, it is power soaked in blood, and you cannot take it with you to the next life. Convert, there is still time, so that you don't end up in hell. That is what awaits you if you continue on this path. You had a father and a mother: think of them. Cry a little and convert."

 Nice pope, huh?

Tuesday, March 18, 2014


Hey guys. Just wanted to share a few things with you.

First, thanks. I've been doing good. You may remember that when I left you things weren't exactly looking up.

Flan dumped me. Then she didn't want to get back together (she stopped answering my texts), my blog was shut down, I had to move in with my sponsor, tried to quit smoking, was depressed, gained weight, my face broke out, I was nauseous, constipated, my feet swelled, gums bled, sinuses clogged, I got heartburn, was cranky, and gassy. And just as I was poised to write about ghosts, this shows up on my Facebook feed:


Well Bunky, let me tell you: I snapped. The last thing I remember  is how suddenly the viscosity of my blood reached Three Stooges proportions, and then blacking out.

When I woke, I was in Montana, caked in Doritos crumbs and IHOP receipts like papier-mâché. That's gotta mean something.

Don't ask me how. Neither I, nor the locals (who have taken to calling me "the grokel yokel") have been able to figure out how I turned up here. Someone said they heard unusual howling the night before I was found half-naked and equally lucid on the steps of the Lutheran church. My hunch is it had something to do with booze and ghosts. I've been roughing it out here ever since.

As in, I'm homeless. Which, while not all it's cracked up to be, has actually stirred a kind of haggard self-confidence in me. I feel like a man, all swaggerly and adventurous and inappropriately certain about stuff. 

So there's that. And I like it.

My head's not right. I can't stand the loneliness. 

I mean I'm doing great.


Speaking of male pattern badassery: Damien Fisher, husband of Simcha Fisher, whose blog sometimes hosts a mysterious movie reviewer with an officious nom de plume, is posting his weekly column on a personal blog, Over the Edge. 

The Jerk? . . . nope. My cousin.
Check it:
Just the other day I saw the end of the world. It was on the Drudge Report, so you know it’s true. Scientists have devised a way to give rats a sixth sense. 
Are you scared yet? You should be. These scientists implanted some kind of … thing into the rats that allowed them to feel infrared light. They say it will some day help people, but we know that will not happen. People have five senses; sight, hearing, touch, taste, and purple. Now rats have one more than us. This is a disaster. Do you think the rats will stop at six? They’re rats. They’re like Nietzschean supermen with fur. They’re probably halfway to seven sense right now with plans for eight and nine. They won’t stop. Ever. Until we’re all dead. This is just like the time they built Skynet. 
It gets worse. The infrared sensor picker-uppers they put in the rats also gives them a form of telepathy. Yeah, mind reading rats. Basically, we’ve just handed rats the biggest evolutionary advantage since opposable thumbs. Why not finish the job and give them the ray guns the Pentagon is hiding in that warehouse along with the Ark of the Covenant? 
We’re doomed. 
Lookit, I know for a fact rats hold people in contempt. They are clever, devious creatures with ambition. Just last year, my son brought home his classroom pets over the Christmas break. Guess what? They were rats. Every time you walked into the room they would jump up onto the sides of the cage and just hang there, watching you until you gave them a peanut. I don’t know if they were using some kind of mind control on me or not, but I gave those rats a lot of peanuts. 
And that was without any implanted sensors, imagine if those classroom rats had the telepathy and such, I probably would have been making them sandwiches and handing them beer. Actually, I may have done that too. I don’t really remembered. There was a lot of beer in the house around Christmas.
I like to think of this as Good News, in the same way that drug addicts are the Good News.

Speaking of, have you heard of The Growlers? They're moody fun.

Speaking of less ramshackle, but still moody fun, The Black Lips released their new album today.

That's all for now, folks. I'll be back soon-ish maybe.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Caryll Houselander On Lenten Resolutions

A mass of good resolutions, I think, are apt to end up in disappointment and to make one depressed. Also direct fault-uprooting: it makes one concentrate too much on self and that can be so depressing. The only resolution I have ever found works is: "Whenever I want to think of myself, I will think of God."
Now, this does not mean, "I will make a long meditation on God," but just some short sharp answer, so to speak, to my thought of self, in God.  For example: 
"I am lonely, misunderstood, etc." The loneliness of Christ at his trial; the misunderstanding even of his closest friends.
"I have made a fool of myself." 
Christ mocked — he felt it;  he put the mocking first in foretelling his Passion — 'The Son of Man shall be mocked, etc.' — made a fool of, before all whom he loved.
"I can't go on, unhelped." 
Christ couldn't. He couldn't carry the cross without help; he was grateful for human sympathy — Mary Magdalene — his words on that occasion — other examples as they suggest themselves — just pictures that flash through the mind. This practice becomes a habit and it is the habit which has saved me from despair! ... 
Different people have different approaches to Christ. He has become all things — infant, child, man — so that we all can approach him in the way easiest for us. The best is to use that way to our heart's content, and not to trouble about any other.

From The Letters Of Caryll Houselander: Her Spiritual Legacy.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

What I Like About Surfing With Mel

is what David Foster Wallace liked about Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. Replace Laura Palmer with Mel Gibson, Lynch with Lickona, "roadhouse drunks" with "Russian model" and so on, you get the picture.
"And then Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, Lynch's theatrical 'prequel' to the TV series, and his biggest box-office bomb since Dune, committed a much worse offense. It sought to transform Laura Palmer from dramatic object to dramatic subject. As a dead person, Laura's existence on the television show had been entirely verbal, and it was fairly easy to conceive her as a schizoid black/white construct - Good by Day, Naughty by Night, etc. But the movie, in which Ms. Sheryl Lee as Laura is on-screen more or less constantly, attempts to present this multivalent system of objectified personas - plaid-skirted coed/bare-breasted roadhouse slut/tormented exorcism-candidate/molested daughter - as an integrated and living whole: these different identities were all, the movie tried to claim, the same person. In Fire Walk with Me, Laura was no longer 'an enigma' or 'the password to an inner sanctum of horror.' She now embodied, in full view, all the Dark Secrets that on the series had been the stuff of significant glances and delicious whispers. 
This transformation of Laura from object/occasion to subject/person was actually the most morally ambitious thing a Lynch movie has ever tried to do - maybe an impossible thing, given the psychological context of the series and the fact that you had to be familiar with the series to make even marginal sense of the movie - and it required complex and contradictory and probably impossible things from Ms. Lee, who in my opinion deserved an Oscar nomination just for showing up and trying. 
The novelist Steve Erickson, in a 1992 review of Fire Walk with Me, is one of the few critics who gave any indication of even trying to understand what the movie was trying to do: 'We always knew Laura was a wild girl, the homecoming femme fatale who was crazy for cocaine and fucked roadhouse drunks less for the money than the sheer depravity of it, but the movie is finally not so much interested in the titillation of that depravity as [in] her torment, depicted in a performance by Sheryl Lee so vixenish and demonic it's hard to know whether it's terrible or a tour de force. [But not trying too terribly hard, because now watch:] Her fit of the giggles over the body of a man whose head has just been blown off might be an act of innocence or damnation [get ready]: or both." Or both? Of course both. This is what Lynch is about in this movie: both innocence and damnation; both sinned-against and sinning. Laura Palmer in Fire Walk with Me is both "good" and "bad," and yet also neither: she's complex, contradictory, real. And we hate this possibility in movies; we hate this "both" shit. "Both" comes off as sloppy characterization, muddy filmmaking, lack of focus. At any rate, that's what we criticized and disliked Lynch's Laura's muddy bothness is that it required of us an empathetic confrontation with the exact same muddy bothness in ourselves..." 
(DFW, A Supposedly Fun Thing That I'll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments)
Successfully subjectifying a man that everybody loves to hate (or did when it was relevant), is morally ambitious, and Lickona pulls it off wonderfully in his fictional story-in-script-form about the real life soured relationship between Joe Ezterhaus and Gibson during an attempt to make a movie about the Maccabean Revolt.
NAOMI is in bed, reading on her iPad: Peter Boyer's "The Jesus war," a 2003 profile of Gibson published in The New Yorker shortly before the release of The Passion of the Christ. JOE comes out of the bathroom and climbs wearily in bed beside her. 
NAOMI: Have you read this? It's amazing. Boyer got Mel to just lay it out there for everyone to see. Listen to this quote: "Imagine: There's a huge war raging, and it's over us! This is the weird thing. I don't understand it. We're a bunch of dickheads and idiots and failures and creeps. But we're called to be divine, we're called to be more than our nature would have us be. And those big realms that are warring and battling are going to manifest themselves very clearly, seemingly without reason, here - a realm that we can see. And you stick your head up and you get knocked." 
JOE: Maybe that's what happened - he got knocked in the head. 
NAOMI: Oh, shut up. I think it's amazing. It may be the first time "dickhead" has appeared in The New Yorker, and it's certainly the first time I've seen them print such a straightforward statement of faith. 
JOE: Don't tell me you're getting sweet on him. After what he pulled tonight? I'm half-ready to leave right now, except Nick thinks the house is cool and wants to go surfing. 
NAOMI: I don't know. He's sort of awful, but then, he's sort of humble about it. You haven't worked with people who were like that. 
JOE: I don't know. He really believes; I'll give him that. But I think I liked that dirty pagan Paul Verhoeven better. He thought he was so God-damned clever, but I could see him coming a mile away. This guy - it's hard to tell. 
NAOMI: I thought I was the one who was supposed to just have faith. 
The room is dark except for the votive candles burning beneath the statue of Mary that we saw destroyed in the opening scene. It takes us a moment to realize that a figure is lying face-down on the floor in the aisle between the pews, his arms outstretched, his head pointing toward the gold tabernacle on the altar. We can hear the figure murmuring. Camera cuts to a close-up of his face in profile, forehead and nose pressed into the stone floor. It is MEL; he is praying in Latin. 
MEL: ...Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc, et in hora mortis nostrae. Amen (SWITCHES TO ENGLISH) Please don't let me fuck this up. And please give Joe whatever it is he needs. Keep his vision clear; keep his arm strong and his hand steady. Help him to work for your glory, and shield him from the maelstrom. St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle, be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil... 
Gibson is portrayed as the man we know, a choleric type easily provoked to display his Babelasian strength and neuroses, but with the darker shades of a Rabelasian faith fleshed out via wrestling match with God. 

In short, Surfing With Mel is about what it means to have adult faith, highlighting, as Flannery O'Connor says, that, What people don't realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross." Gibson is a man on the cross: in one sense screwed through his relationship with religion... 
FR. FUCHS: Do you know what he said his father told him? That Pope John Paul I died because a cardinal sat on his face until he suffocated. And that cardinal, naturally, was part of a liberal Jewish conspiracy to bring down the Church from within.
...and yet still trying to make it work, with his deep seated wounds and explosive habits of being. In Gibson we recognize ourselves: the numbers that have been done on us; the power and demands and difficult rewards of faith, even yet under-developed, perhaps deformed; and the grace that accompanies any proximity to God whatsoever, even a closeness mixed with violence.

Available for cheap as an Amazon Kindle Single, and in hardback for slightly more, well worth it, at Labora Editions.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Strange Blogfellows: FOC & Los Saicos

Tell me this wouldn't be perfect soundtrack closer for a modern re-telling of Good Country People:

Wild teen punks from Peru

Nihil(istic) keen hunks from Mizzou maybe
“I’ve gotten a lot of interesting things . . . One time I got a woman’s glass eye this way. And you needn’t to think you’ll catch me because Pointer ain’t really my name."