Redwoods & Moss – Year End Getaway

Elim Grove is a B&B in Cazadero, a tiny town along Austin Creek among the redwoods, ferns, and moss about 6 miles from the Russian River and the coastal town of Jenner. 

My wife and I come back here whenever we can get away because it feels like another world even though it’s only 2 hours from the Moore Compound/House of Lost Play.

There are a couple of 1,000 year old redwoods on the property that the loggers somehow missed, but even the second growth pups are huge – it’s been maybe 75-100 years since the redwoods were logged in this area, they’ve had time to grow back. 

The only day we could get away this year was yesterday, and Mark, the innkeeper, had one cabin with exactly that night free – otherwise, booked up in either temporal direction. 

It was lovely:

Ancient redwoods out front

Moss-covered bridge over Austin Creek

Not uncommon in tourist areas to find a small church building with a larger outdoor arrangement – the crowds come when the weather is nice anyway, so you don’t need to heat a big building when the weather turns colder.

Had a lovely time. Now doing the California yuppie tourist thing and stopping at boutique bakery and cheese shop to pay ridiculous prices for some snacks. They are very yummy, though. 

Happy St Sylvester Day and Feast of Fools! Still 6 days of Christmas to go! 

Merry Christmas! 

May God bless you and yours with good cheer and peace on this holy day! 

Preparing a feast for 35-odd people (insert obligatory in laws joke here) and, having been on my feet for pretty much 3 days straight of shopping, prepping and cooking (40 lbs of pork butt and about 60-70 ciabatta rolls for pulled pork sandwiches, among other things), taking a break before rallying once more into the breach. 

Something like that. 

So, midnight mass, then Home to put the pork in the oven and bake the last couple batches of rolls, and in bed by 3:00. My beloved, who is part vampire or at least can get by on remarkably small amounts of sleep, maybe came to bed later – I wouldn’t know, as I was out cold and she was already up by the time I woke. 

We made coffee and tea, and the 8 of us – 4 kids, g-ma, aunt Clare in from Baltimore, my wife and I – gathered round the table to see what we got in our stockings.

My beloved commanded that I take pictures. She wasn’t any more specific. 

A rag I grabbed to wipe up some coffee I’d spilt on my laptop and shirt. It’s kind of like shorthand for all of Dickens
A close up of the water picture immediately in front of me. What may at first appear to be a lack of focus is, instead, an ironic existential cry of terminal ennui. That’s my story.
Still life with butter knives.

Some people are so hard to please.

Leet Leet Skilz: The Parish Ale

Mentioned last post that I’d whiled away a little too much time clicking links and doing the whole ‘hmmm – that looks interesting’ thing while digging a bit into the history of ‘quiet enjoyment’. The internet is like having a drug dealer in your home – as a child, I’d have to go to a physical library to waste this kind of time, wandering through the stacks, pulling books that looked interesting, sitting on the floor skimming them until my legs fell asleep.

Now? That kind of high is just a click away! WEEEEEE!

Ahem. Anyway, quiet enjoyment lead to courts leet, which it turns out were a flavor of courts baron, or manorial courts, which lead to parish ale. No, really. A ‘leet’ seems to be an area that comprised the lands governed by a baron, so that a court leet was a manorial court for that area. English law, growing from feudal, ecclesiastical and tribal roots, as well as a heavy dose of Danish and Norman influence, had a variety of courts with equally varied jurisdictions. Courts leet generally handled criminal cases up to a certain level of seriousness, with the most serious cases kicked up to aristocratic or royal courts. There was also a sense of group responsibility in the subgroups within the leet. Hundreds and tithes would be responsible for the duties and crimes of those within them. Like all things feudal, layers and layers of relationships, duties and rights.

There’s some relationship between a parish and a leet, but it’s not clear exactly how that worked, unless the lord in the manor house had an area of rule that happened to correspond to a single parish – easy to imagine that being the case at least some of the time, but I don’t know.

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Village Feast by David Teniers the Elder circa 1640.   Panel Accademia Carrara, Bergamo     Source: http://gallery.euroweb.hu/html/t/teniers/jan1/index.html Paineted a century or so after the Middle Ages are supposed to have ended. Like the barrels – we will conclusively assume they are ale barrels for the purposes of this post.  

Among the layers of relationships, rights and responsibilities (hey – a feudal 3 R’s! Wouldn’t it be nice if our current comparatively trivial 3 R’s took place within those medieval ones? Might even work better…) was a responsibility for upkeep of the parish church. One way this was handled was with parish ale. The word ‘ale’ when tacked onto the end of another word tended to mean party or feast, as ale is of the class of substances known to bring joy, and a readiness to party, to a man’s heart.

A parish ale was a generally annual feast or party celebrated with ale, as a fundraiser for the parish. Food, music, dancing held in the parish yard or a nearby barn. Money was charged for the ale, at least, with the proceeds going to church maintenance and the poor box. All in all, a charming example of local people taking care of local issues in the most Catholic way possible – duty, charity, and a party all rolled into one!

The oracle Wikipedia has this to say:

These parish festivals were of much ecclesiastical and social importance in medieval England. The chief purpose of the church-ale (which was originally instituted to honour the church saint) and the clerk-ale, was to facilitate the collection of parish dues and to make a profit for the church from the sale of ale by the church wardens.[3] These profits kept the parish church in repair, or were distributed as alms to the poor.

The churches must owe, as we all do know,
For when they be drooping and ready to fall,
By a Whitsun or Church-ale up again they shall go
And owe their repairing to a pot of good ale

— “Exaltation of Ale”, by Francis Beaumont[3]

In the gallery of the tower arch of St Agnes, Cawston in Norfolk is inscribed:

God speed the plough
And give us good ale enow …
Be merry and glade,
With good ale was this work made.[4]

On the beam of a screen in the church of Thorpe-le-SokenEssex, is the following inscription in raised blackletter on a scroll held by two angels: “This cost is the bachelers made by ales thesn be ther med.” The date is about 1480.

The parish ale being local, fun, and traditional, the English Reformation was of course opposed to them. Over time, they were restricted and largely faded away, but a few persist to this day.

No other reason for this post than that I found the idea of the parish ale delightful.

Inspector of Nuisances

Taking deep breath. Just coming up for air after a plunge down the rabbit hole discovered by googling “quiet enjoyment”.  English common law, “hundreds”

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An inspector of nuisances. Nice beard! 

and Wapentake, frankpledge, court leet, and, among a dozen more fascinating tidbits, the inspector of nuisances.

The issue that triggered my research is this: the idea that people have a right to the quiet enjoyment of their lives. English common law recognized that right, breaking it into two parts: common, where some activity or failure to act impairs the ability of the people in general to quietly enjoy their lives in public, and private, where some private persons are deprived of the quiet enjoyment of something, such as leased property, to which they have specific, privately contracted rights.

Thus, the office of Inspector of Nuisances. Somebody has got to check out claims that, for example, somebody is making too much of a racket in the commons or that the neighbors are burning trash upwind.

Inspectors of nuisances eventually became public health inspectors, charged with dealing with sewage and slums and trash. Wonder if this delightfully named office could be resurrected and repurposed to deal with the messes people make when they dump their personal garbage on the intellectual and moral landscape?

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Evidently, problems with cat ladies can be a nuisance, and go way back. The guy on the left looks like a bobby, so I’m guessing guy on the right is the Inspector of Nuisances. 

That the modern intellectual and moral landscape more and more is a dump and open sewer only becomes an issue for our newly-commissioned Inspector of Nuisances if it infringes on our quiet enjoyment. While it is still conceivable that a private person might simply ignore what goes on in public, never opening a browser or newspaper or turning on a TV, the situation is such that that they’d need to shield their eyes whenever out and about. If one were generous and dedicated enough, that might work, for now.

But, we are told, politics is everything. Part of the dumpster fire we’d be attempting to ignore is the claim that we can’t ignore it, that there’s no such thing as a private life. Thus, even if we were determined to not let the garbage into our private lives, there are demonstrably those unwilling to let us do so, that even our claim to have a private life is wrong and must be crushed.

Examples: Private businesses are now subject to the rules of modern intolerance; social media are increasingly censored for politically unacceptable speech; schools are used (as designed) for inculcation of the latest, most modern ideas, and attempts to free our kids from this outrage are treated as practically treason, which, under the rules of the champions of  education, they are.

(This gets back to the problem of toleration discussed briefly in the last post – a ‘consensus’ that includes the idea that the state always knows better than the parents cannot tolerate dissention, while the old pseudo-convention could. The Supreme Court in Pierce v. Society of Sisters agreed that, while parents have the ultimate duty and consequent right to educate their own children, the state also has a duty and right to see to it that those children are educated. I fear it is not in the nature of things for the state to settle for having shared rights whenever it could have sole rights.)

If my business, my conversations and my decisions on how to educate my children are not private, the sphere of ‘private’ has shrunk drastically.

Chesterton repeatedly makes the point that the only place one can truly be free is with family and friends. In public, you are only free to conform. Even protests are conventional. By trying to make all things political, victims of post-modern ideas insist on public and private (because those are the same thing!) acceptance of those ideas. The very idea of quiet enjoyment, where what I do is my own business for my own pleasure but only on the condition that I honor the same rights in others, is an outrage, and in any event cannot be tolerated – it is a threat to the whole post-modern house of cards.

Putting Up With the Modern World

There is no such thing as complete tolerance. It’s not that complete tolerance, however defined, is desirable but difficult, or impossible in practice but a worthy ideal to measure our efforts against. Rather, it is a thing like sola scriptura, contradicted and revealed as impossible by the simple act of stating it. (1)

For toleration exists when a consensus on certain foundational matters allows people and ultimately a culture to put up with behaviors that that same consensus considers wrong. If they did not consider the tolerated behaviors to be wrong, what we’d have isn’t tolerance, but acceptance – conformity to the consensus. Acceptance and tolerance are mutually exclusive.

What we had here in America was something like a consensus around what C.S. Lewis infelicitously called ‘mere Christianity’ – an imagined (and imaginary) agreement on certain fundamental principles rooted in the stories and teachings found in the Bible.

Once came across a letter from the early part of the 19th century, wherein a Presbyterian Calvinist (I think – the exact denominations of the people involved isn’t important to the point) wrote expressing his despair over the impending marriage of a family member to a Methodist. Didn’t they realize that was the road to perdition? Today, it is somewhat startling to think there were people who didn’t think that the grey goo that runs from liberal Catholicism through Episcopalians and Lutherans and then on down through Presbyterians and Methodists all the way to the higher-church (if that’s the right term) Baptists and ending in Universalist Unitarians isn’t one big happy, if terminally vague, family. Outside this pale in either direction lie the Catholics, readily identified by their failure to reflexively buy into all liberal positions as a matter of identity, and the Evangelicals, identifiable by their insistence that there are things one must simply believe that precede and supercede politics. (It was in highschool that it dawned on me that Evangelicals and Catholics have way more in common than either has with mainline Protestants. It’s gotten more pronounced since.)

Along the way are the occasional reformed this and orthodox that flavors of mainline Protestantism, which tend to be sort of wannabe Catholics or Evangelicals or some mix. And, of course, the Jews, Muslims, and Orthodox don’t exactly fit anywhere here, let alone Hindus and atheists. This is all very rough, but I think it roughly true.

What we had at our country’s founding were, generally, Calvinists in New England  and Anglicans in much of the rest of the 13 Colonies, with some Catholics in Maryland and other oddball sects spread liberally all around. Later, after the Revolution, we had the mushrooming of more or less uniquely American varieties of Christianity from the Burned Over District (making them morel mushrooms, I suppose), but those new sects were not part of the consensus except accidentally, but rather more often a challenge to it.

All these sects at the nation’s founding shared a couple things. Perhaps most important and certainly the most persistent, was that the Catholic Church was the wrongest wrong ever wronged. Right behind that was the idea, greatly to their credit, that Christians of whatever non-Catholic flavor should live together in peace, using a sort of 10 Commandments + Christ’s Commandments as a baseline. Quibbling over what, exactly, Christ commanded was bad form, at least during the Revolution, Continental Congress and Constitutional Convention. Insofar as a consensus existed, that was it – that some sort of ‘mere’ anti-Catholic Christianity, based on the Bible and a moral tradition defended from scripture was the baseline from which what qualified as tolerable dissent could be defined.

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An American church, out standing in its field.

The idea of tolerable dissent is key. Dissent which threatened the consensus could not be tolerated. We have little problem when the violation of the consensus is, say, murder. Action must be taken. We have more problems when the dissent is sexual. We want to think sex a merely private matter, but it’s very nearly true to say that all of morality is about sex. We have property rights – thou shalt not steal – because we need to hold property to fulfill our duties to our families, which were always understood as the fullest expression of human sexuality. Family life, and thus culture and society, are built on Commandments 4 – 10, and express our moral duties to our brothers and sisters. Thinking we can unhitch sex from moral duty is starting a brush fire in high winds. Lies? False witness? Coveting spouses?  Have these these not become characteristic of our age?

I mention all this, which is basic logic and American history, because, today, as the Protestant churches dissolve all around us and the Sexual Revolution assumes its intended place as the moral foundation of all that is right and just, the pseudo-consensus that could tolerate, for example, the Sexual Revolution, is being replaced by one that cannot tolerate opposition to the Sexual Revolution.

The consensus upon which cultural (and, by extension, political and legal) toleration can be built must also be able to say what cannot be tolerated. The ‘mere Christianity’ consensus was never quite real, sustained as it was by good intentions where logic failed, and in any event waged intermittent war against Catholics, who were never fully embraced as Americans. (JFK taught the still-valid lesson that a Catholic can be an American as long as he’s not much of a Catholic.)

The thought that won’t go away today: we can’t hope and long for the reinstatement of some past ideas of tolerance under which Catholics would be free to practice our faith without state interference or surveillance. That ship has sailed, and in any event was more illusion than reality. Broadly-supported anti-Catholic movements include the public schools, ‘no Irish need apply’, the Klan, the Masons – these all lie close to the core of American history, and have not so much gone away as changed form. The tight-laced Puritan who hated Catholics has been replaced in stages by the broad-minded Unitarian who hated Catholics and finally the secular atheist who hates Catholics. And, I suppose it should be noted, the secular liberal Catholic who hates Catholics.

I can’t help but think it’s not going to be pretty. We Catholics strongly suspect and see evidence all around us that the currently forming consensus is imploding as its internal contradictions cause structural failure. At the same time, our enemies have long been able to rally around their shared hatred of the Church, postponing their own purges and civil wars long enough to beat Catholics down. These times are far too interesting.

The historic rise of a strong man (and, no, Trump is only that guy in the fantasies of the losers. I’m thinking a Napoleon) can in some ways be seen as the inescapable imposition of a standard plugged into the lacuna left by a failed consensus.

Let’s hope we don’t go there. I fear, however, that we can’t go back to the way things were, that the illusion of a consensus under which we lived for 200+ years has been shattered into too many pieces.

  1. Not to beat a dead horse, instead I direct you to the hundreds of comments in this post on Ed Fesser’s blog, and the hundreds more on the followup posts. Dr. Fesser summarizes the state of the argument occasionally over the course of the series, if your eyes start getting crossed trying to follow the comments. The gist is that those who put their faith in sola scriptura, if serious,  will, when pressed with interpretations that contradict their own, eventually whittle down the true hermeneutic to ‘agrees with me and my friends’. That’s certainly what Luther meant by the term. That plowboy in the field, let alone the Jehovah’s Witness at the door? They’ve got it all wrong, somehow, although how they came to have gotten it so wrong seems to require a bit of extra-scriptural magic. It is breathtaking to see how often Luther lies at the root of poor habits of mind in the modern world.

Freak Leeks

I don’t cook with leeks a lot, but I’ve cut up at least dozens of leeks in my life – this is the first time I’ve come across this:

IMG_4632

Setting aside the immediate thought: are leeks evolving into or devolving from onions RIGHT BEFORE MY VERY EYES? was struck by the beauty of it all. Details of this, and the next also fascinating if less dramatic leek I cut into:

leek details 1

Leek details 2

After stopping to admire and photograph these beautiful vegetables, chopped them into bite-size pieces, mixed with halved Brussels sprouts, added a little olive oil, liberally salted and peppered them, spread them on a baking sheet, as roasted them in the oven. Earlier, had done the same to potatoes, yams, beets, and carrots, added whole garlic cloves, added thyme and rosemary and roasted separately – they take longer. Then mixed them all together and brought them to a post-caroling pot luck.

Several older couples attended -older than me, even. Imagine. A couple of people told me to tell my wife (who was off at the airport picking up incoming offspring) how good the vegetables were.

I smiled, and said I surely would.

Simbang Gabi 2017, Baby!

Today begins the delightful Advent novena of Simbang Gabi, a tradition from the Philippines, where Mass is celebrated in the darkness before dawn for the nine days leading to Christmas.

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By Patpat nava (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Over the years, I’ve read a number of explanations of the origin of Simbang Gabi, with slight variations. This seems a good one:

Different Christian cultures have adapted a way in celebrating the season of Advent. In the Roman Catholic tradition, it is the time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas. For Filipino Roman Catholics, the Simbang Gabi (literally means night worship) is a typical way of preparing for the great feast of Christmas. This religious tradition was brought to the Philippines by the Spanish evangelizers through Mexico. Originally, it was popularly known as Misa Aguinaldo. The “Aguinaldo” means gift, which is peculiar to Christmas. That is why, the faithful wake up early morning for nine days before Christmas to join in the celebration of the dawn Mass. The faithful make this their “Aguinaldo” to God for the great gift of Jesus. The practice can also be understood as the preparation of the faithful to receive from God the great gift or “Aguinaldo” of Christmas, Jesus, the Savior of the world. Simbang Gabi is also called Misa de Gallo or Mass of the Rooster based on the time of day it is celebrated; at dawn, at cockcrow.

Liturgically, the practice of Simbang Gabi had its origin in the Rorate Masses  (Gaudencio B. Cardinal Rosales, D.D., Archbishop of Manila. Guidelines on the Celebration of Simbang Gabi in the Archdiocese of Manila, 2010)  which takes its name from the first word of its introit (Entrance Hymn): “Rorate, caeli, desuper, et nubes pluant iustum,” or “Drop down dew, O heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain down righteousness.” It is a Mass  celebrated early in the morning in honor of the Virgin Mary in which the interplay of light and darkness convey the meaning of Advent.

This leaves out the part about shared breakfast, which, based on my tiny sample, is an important part of the tradition.

And so, today, the first day of the novena, the boys and I got up at 5:00 a.m. and headed over to St. Francis of Assisi Church together with a few hundred of our Filipino brothers and sister in the dark for Mass and an always interesting Filipino breakfast: chicken soup seems to be the one mandatory item, followed closely by hard-boiled eggs, white rolls and individually wrapped slices of American cheese. There can be and usually are other items, but these seem invariant.

The chicken soup is usually pretty tasty. Since various parishes and other Filipino groups take turns doing breakfast, one is never quite sure what one will get. Today’s soup was thick with rice and had saffron in it along with little bits of chicken – delicious. Sometimes, we get what I suppose is authentic chicken soup, wherein, it seems, entire chickens with bare minimal amount of prep are boiled until they fall apart – tastes OK, but beware the bones and gristle. Fried sausages and ham, sometimes cooked in sugar or honey, and various gelatinous sweet regular solids rounds out the options.

Since we’ve been doing this for a number of years now even though we are not Filipino nor part of any of the sponsoring organizations, we are recognized, greeted by name, any missing family members (not all of us make it every time – 5:00 a.m.!) asked after. It’s a very welcoming group.

The mass, complete with songs and mass parts in Tagalog, is of course the high point. To see several hundred people up at that hour and filled with good cheer as they prepare a straight way for the Lord is a great comfort and inspiration.