Friday, November 28, 2003

"It's beginning to look a lot like..."

...and wasting no time either. This is the day that retail workers know as "Black Friday." They are committed to a work schedule of twelve hours or more for today, and an increased number of hours from now until the end of the calendar year. One tells me that, after three years of working in a major department store, workers qualify for two weeks paid vacation. In return for their loyal service, their managers make life just a little more difficult for them. Eventually, those in charge would settle for an underpaid, underqualified, underinformed workforce.

What a bunch of pigs!!! Makes me glad I get most of my clothing at thrift stores. (Yes, even my suits.)

There are other views of this day as well, as found in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer...

"For the past decade, a group of countercultural 'burned-out lefties' have been trying to change that to 'Buy Nothing Day.' ...On a day known for holiday sales and shoppers jostling each other for the best bargains, the folks at Adbusters Media Foundation hope you'll tuck your wallet away and abstain..."

Gotta love those burned-out lefties, dontcha, Mark?

Giving Thanks

It has been relatively quiet on the streets of Washington since the end of the evening rush on Wednesday. If ever there was a day to get the hell outa Dodge, it is this one. But I stayed, and so my day was relatively quiet as well. I had coffee and a "nosh" with a friend this morning, spent the afternoon at home doing housework and fixing a modest holiday dinner (turkey slices with gravy over rice and vegetables, prepared in the microwave, and joined by a glass of zinfendel), and spent the evening with another friend watching a favorite movie on video. Fortunately, the festivities have yet to end, and the weekend will call for more dancing. Deo gratias...

"The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies...

"No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

"It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow-citizens to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving. And I recommend to them... that they fervently implore the imposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the divine purpose, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.

"Done at the City of Washington, this 3d day of October, in the year of our Lord 1863, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty-eighth."


-- Abraham Lincoln

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope,
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing;
Wait without love, for love would be love of the wrong thing;
There is yet faith;
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.

T S Eliot, from Four Quarters

Saturday, November 22, 2003

Between Heaven and Hell

Also on this day, two other men passed from this life, all within a few hours of the late President; Audous Huxley, the author of Brave New World, and C S Lewis, author of The Chronicles of Narnia, Mere Christianity, and numerous other books, many about his Christian faith.

Peter Kreeft, professor of philosophy at Boston College, wrote a play about the three of them, imagining them meeting on the road to heaven. He called it Between Heaven & Hell.

The page at Amazon devoted to this book allows the viewer to see a few sample pages of the work. Concerning it, Rob Taylor of Matthews NC writes:

"Much of the fictional discussion between these three characters revolves around their own writings although Kreeft employs a bit of literary license for the sake of argument. The fact that Kreeft is a Catholic doesn't affect the content of this book since the argument is essentially Lewis' straight, or 'mere' Christianity. The position of JFK is that of a humanistic Christian in the sense of emphasizing 'horizontal' social activity rather than 'vertical' religious experience...religion without revelation. Kennedy portrays his view of Christ as that of a man become god. Huxley doesn't get the air time that Lewis and JFK get, but his contribution is significant. He represents the eastern pantheist position and reinterprets Christianity as a form of the universal philosophy of pantheism. In this view, Jesus was one of the great sages of history along with Buddha, Socrates, Confucius, Mohammed and the rest. Employing the Socratic method of question and answer, Kreeft slowly but surely uses Lewis' arguments to refute the views of Jesus being a lunatic, liar or just a great moral teacher. Once this is done, He argues that Jesus was God in the flesh, just as He claimed to be. Approximately the last third of the book focuses on the reliability of the gospel accounts which record the claims of Christ."

I always said that playing Jack Lewis in a theatric production is the only reason I would ever shave my beard. So here I sit, waiting for my curtain call. Stay tuned...

Forty years ago...

...I was in the third grade. We had just come in from recess. Our teacher, Mrs Gilligan, was late getting back to us. Suddenly she comes rushing in to tell us that President Kennedy had just been shot while he was in Dallas. The teachers were all watching the news on the television in the faculty room, and she didn't know much more than that. She told us she was going back to find out more.

We were left, astonished, to deal with it on our own. But let's back up a bit...

It helps to appreciate the fact that, whatever you thought of Jack Kennedy, his being a Catholic was a really big thing. In those days, depending on where you lived, you knew you were different. I lived in a town founded by the Methodist, inundated by Baptists, among others, and knew what it was to be called a "Catlicker," although most of the kids left it alone. Still, when Mom sat us kids down in those days to warn us about not talking to strangers, she tagged on another warning about discussing religion with our non-Catholic playmates.

Of course, that Kennedy was Catholic did not impress my parents much. Seeing them coming through the hall from the gym, at the public school where I attended kindergarten, I asked them who they voted for. Nixon, they told me. You didn't vote for Kennedy? But, he's... Catholic, and Nixon's not!

And yet, in our house, I would learn the low-down soon enough. To be a "Taft Republican" (as opposed to the Ivy League variety) was to believe that it was the War, not Roosevelt, who got us out of the Depression, and that Hoover would have enacted many of the ideas that became part of the "New Deal," were it not for a Democratic-controlled Congress blocking his way.

Not only that, as I was to learn later, Jack Kennedy was already known for leading a life that was less than exemplary. Even as a married man, he still had a way with the ladies. Like father, like son, they would say. He had also been quick to disavow his Catholicism as an overriding influence in policymaking. So the precedent was set, where character values could be put aside if you were Catholic, if it meant getting elected. Go figure...

In the weeks that followed his death, we mourned with the rest of the Nation. We saw the funeral, and our Protestant neighbors got to see an authentic Catholic ritual -- the one we called "the Mass" -- right on television. Jack Kennedy was hailed as a "President and Marytr," and a brother Knight of Columbus.

Years later, when I lived in Georgetown in the early 1990s, people still talked of how Senator Jack would walk from his home at 3308 N Street, down to Martin's Tavern at the corner of N and Wisconson, and meet a different blond every night. Seems he had a thing for blondes. (Duh!) Amidst the conspiracy theories and the tumult that followed in the 1960s, one wonders what the world would have been like had he lived.

In all likelihood, the war in Vietnam would have been escalated just the same, and with Jack's reelection assured, the forces in society and popular culture would have tainted him no less than they did the less dashing and charismatic Lyndon Johnson. History has not always been kind to the memory of President Kennedy, but had he lived, it is my opinion that the decisions that made Johnson so unpopular would have had a similar effect on him.

Still, Jack Kennedy changed the face of American politics. His campaign was one more step toward style at the expense of substance, as anyone comparing the effects of the televised debates with those on the radio would have discerned. His brother Bobby would be assassinated as well, only adding to the legacy of tragedy that plauged this family. His other brother Edward would change the way indiscretions of public figures were reported, or not. People in other countries are astonished at the significance we place upon occasional misbehavior by our Nation's leaders, whether it be in matters of sex, or blind ambition. But before Edward, there were no dead bodies to cover up. And so, Vince Foster notwithstanding, no American politician today is safe from the glare of the media spotlight. (Well, almost none.)

We may never see another Kennedy in the White House. But those of us who are old enough to remember where we were on this day in 1963, will continue to look at the world in terms of before -- and after.

Friday, November 21, 2003

"I read the news today, oh boy..."

From the wires of the Associated Press, and other unmentionable sources:

• Next time, keep the change! In East St Louis, IL, a man and his pay phone were rushed to the hospital when his finger got stuck in the coin return slot. In the ER, Emanuel Fleming was administered painkillers while they successfully pried his middle finger loose using a wooden device and a lubricant. Seems Fleming tried to call his wife and the line was busy. The entire episode took three hours. All this... over fifty cents.

• He knows when you've been bad or good -- and he's got your number. At a mall in Kalamazoo MI, Santa's helpers will hand out pagers that alert parents and their kiddies when it's their turn to sit on Santa's knee. No waiting in line for up to two hours for these little runts, as had been done in the past. Now let's see if they can wait at least until the day after Thanksgiving.

• What this world really needs is.. another cult film. The other night, on the Lifetime cable channel, they showed a made-for-TV movie about the life of Mary Kay, the cosmetic queen. The role of the makeup maven was played by Shirley MacLaine.

• They're putting the Easy into the Big Easy. As if it were not already, New Orleans is on its way to becoming the Las Vegas of the South. A new law will allow visitors from out of state to get married there without the required three-day waiting period. What's more, is that the city's marriage licensing office is now also open on weekends. Lovebirds can fly in Friday night, get a license on Saturday, spend a honeymoon in New Orleans, and return to civilization -- as a married couple.

• Finally, a camera with its own flash. Police in Columbus OH may have caught a man who is accused of sneaking up on women wearing nothing but a baseball cap and photographing their expressions.

• You like me, you really like me -- right??? Monica Lewinsky was quoted about how, when she goes on a date, wants the complete attention of her companion: "I want to shake them and say, 'C'mon, just like me. Do what I say.'"

It was Louie Armstong who said it best: "Some people don't know, and you just can't tell 'em."

You know people are desparate when...

...they make major headlines out of an over-indulged pop star being brought in for being a dirty old man. Eric Johnson of Catholic Light said it best:

"Greedy retirees are poised to extort $40 billion a year from working American families, using the government as the muscle man. That's a story. Radical Islamist terrorists are murdering innocent people in Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Iraq. That's a story. Yet what do the watchdogs in the press think is the most important story right now? A freakish pop star is going to be arrested for being a pervert."

Our official position here at MWBH is this: who gives a rat's @$$??? The rest of you couch potatoes who hang on every word spewed by Oprah and Jerry and every Tom Dick and Harry -- get a @#$%ing life!!!

Now... back to some real news. Stay tuned...

Thursday, November 20, 2003

A Marine Writes Home

USMC Recruit Depot
San Diego CA
1 April 2003

Dear Ma and Pa:

I am well. Hope you are. Tell Brother Walt and Brother Elmer the Marine Corps beats working for old man Minchby a mile. Tell them to join up quick before maybe all of the places are filled. I was restless at first because you got to stay in bed till nearly 6 a.m., but am getting so I like to sleep late.

Tell Walt and Elmer all you do before breakfast is smooth your cot and shine some things. No hogs to slop, feed to pitch, mash to mix, wood to split, fire to lay. Practically nothing. Men got to shave but it is not so bad, there's warm water.

Breakfast is strong on trimmings like fruit juice, cereal, eggs, bacon, etc., but kind of weak on chops, potatoes, ham, steak, fried eggplant, pie and other regular food. But tell Walt and Elmer you can always sit by the two city boys that live on coffee. Their food plus yours holds you till noon, when you get fed again. It's no wonder these city boys can't walk much. We go on "route" marches, which the Platoon Sergeant says are long walks to harden us. If he thinks so, it is not my place to tell him different. A "route march" is about as far as to our mailbox at home. Then the city guys get sore feet and we all ride back in trucks. The country is nice, but awful flat.

The Sergeant is like a schoolteacher. He nags some. The Captain is like the school board. Majors and Colonels just ride around and frown. They don't bother you none.

This next will kill Walt and Elmer with laughing. I keep getting medals for shooting. I don't know why. The bulls-eye is near as big as a chipmunk head and don't move. And it ain't shooting at you, like the Higgett boys at home. All you got to do is lie there all comfortable and hit it. You don't even load your own cartridges. They come in boxes.

Then we have what they call hand-to-hand combat training. You get to wrestle with them city boys. I have to be real careful though, they break real easy. It ain't like fighting with that ole bull at home. I'm about the best they got in this except for that Tug Jordan from over in Silver Lake. He joined up the same time as me. But I'm only 5'6" and 130 pounds and he's 6'8" and weighs near 300 pounds dry.

Be sure to tell Walt and Elmer to hurry and join before other fellers get onto this setup and come stampeding in.

Your loving daughter,

Gail

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Body Work Revisited

Paul Evdokimov (1902-1970) was a noted french Orthodox theologian whose works are studied by persons interested in Orthodox Christianity. He has been known as "a theological bridge between East and West," since he brings patristic insights to bear upon the present day situations. Even after his death, his books are still sold throughout the world. Unfortunately, most of what is written about him is in French.

Last night I attended the second night of my "Theology of the Body" class. When I got home, I pulled two books off the "Eastern Christian Studies" shelf of my library, to find two of his works that had been sitting there, waiting for the right time to read them.

The Sacrament of Love reflects on marriage in light of the Orthodox tradition. As is believed by Catholics, the union of man and woman in marriage is a relationship of persons united in love, as is seen in its perfection in the case of God in the Trinity. Evdokimov elaborates on the fruitfullness of this love -- not only as expressed through the procreation of children, but through other works such as hospitality, service, or through a common creation. He goes on to view love as manifest in monastic and non-monastic celibacy.

In his more daring work, Woman and the Salvation of the World, Evdokimov challenges contemporary Christianity to face up to the current phenomenon, of the dominance of the male both in the Church and in the world, asserting this as the root of many evils in the modern world. Not unlike John Paul II in his Theology of the Body, Evdokimov proposes a rediscovery of an authentic Christian anthropology, that sees male and female as complementary, yet with distinct charisms and vocations.

How to bring this all to bear in real life, is a subject for another day. After all, I just got started on all this. Stay tuned...

Monday, November 17, 2003

While I was out...

I have just discovered that it's been nearly two weeks since I've made an entry. I was under the weather for part of that time. It's also that time of year that I'm reminded of the holidays approaching. Thankfully, this year has found me in a better disposition than in the previous two years. Must be that "9/11" thing wearing off too. In the meantime...

My son Paul has his own weblog now, entitled Paul's Days and Nights. It's what you might expect of a talented young man who is a little too immersed in the popular culture. But he has his moments. Hopefully most of them will make it here. Besides, the kid still cracks me up.

I went to see Donna The Buffalo in concert (with dance) last Friday night. The lovely voice and instrumental talent of Tara Nevins was noticably absent, as she was out sick. But guitarist Jeb Peryear, the other mainstay of the group, carried on the long-standing tradition of "the show must go on." He did a great job, and everybody loved him and the band for it.

My dance lessons with Tom and Debra have continued. I spent the previous weekend at a workshop watching Savoy Ballroom original Frankie Manning show his stuff. At 89 years of age, he's still got game. My dance experience has expanded of late, and has been more confined to within the Capital Beltway. "Bal'mer" can get along fine without me some weekends. At least for now.

Saturday I assisted at a Solemn Latin High Mass. Some Navy lieutenant was getting married. He and the bride made a lovely couple alright. It was moving to see them, so young and hopeful, with absolutely no idea of what they were getting into. But doing it anyway. Meanwhile, two of the assisting priests were from the Pittsburgh Oratory, where another St Blog's parishioner is known to hang out.

Tonight I continue with the "Theology of the Body" class. Then I'll go home. I'm thinking maybe I won't go to Connecticut for Thanksgiving this year after all. Not just because I may end up passing on the dance weekend in Rochester, but it seems I have enough to do right here in town. With enough people gone, maybe the traffic won't be so bad.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Body Work

I started a class last night, to study John Paul II's Theology of the Body. It will meet at the Catholic Information Center every other Monday. It was a nice group of about twenty people, led by a woman who took me for a brother or a theology student. It can happen.

People like to talk about it, but few know what it is exactly. Here's the short explanation:

"The theology of the body is Pope John Paul II's integrated vision of the human person, body, soul and spirit. He tells us how the physical human body has a specific meaning and how it shows us the answers to basic questions of life such as: Is there a real purpose to life and if so, what is it? Why were we created male and female - and does it really matter if you're one sex or another? Why were man and woman called to communion from the beginning and what does the marital union of a man and woman say to us about God and his plan for our lives? What is the purpose of the married and celibate vocations? What exactly is love? Is it truly possible to be pure of heart? All of these questions and many more are answered in Pope John Paul II's 129 Wednesday audiences which were given between the years 1979 and 1984. His reflections are based on Scripture (especially the Gospels, St. Paul and the Book of Genesis) and contain a vision of the human person truly worthy of man. They discuss who man was in the beginning, who he is now, after sin, and who he will be in the age to come. He then applies this understanding to the vocations of marriage and celibacy for the Kingdom."

The rest can be found at the website linked with the above quotation. Of particular interest to me is a website dedicated to his 1960 book Love and Responsibility. I hope to study that work as well. Someday.

But for now, the class has been most promising. It is like food to a starving man, to be among those who are "on the same page," as it were, with so many things. You connect with those who are seekers like yourself, and next thing you know, it is as if you have known each other for much longer. I belong here alright.

Meanwhile, my cousin and his wife in Connecticut had a little boy yesterday, their second. I called today, and talked to her mother. I'm hoping to be up that way on Thanksgiving. I'll be on the road to Rochester, to visit where I'd been before.

Monday, November 03, 2003

Maria Goretti Kicks @$$ in Philly

One of the most well-known saints among Catholic schoolchildren is Maria Goretti, a young teenager who chose death by stabbing over giving in to the passions of a local hired hand. While in prison, she appeared to him with a garland of roses, one for each stab wound, and forgave him. He later entered religious life, and was present in Rome for her canonization.

Closer to the present, on the wires of the Associated Press, is what may be an unusual example of her intercession.

In Philadelphia (a city already well-established by this writer as a haven for nice Catholic girls of all ages), a man with a habit of exposing himself in public was chased down by a group of young ladies from the nearby St Maria Goretti High School for Girls. They caught up with him, kicked him and otherwise knocked him around, then subdued him until the police arrived. After being treated at the hospital for his injuries, authorities expect him to face a number of criminal charges.

St Maria Goretti, ora pro nobis. You go, grrrl!!!