1. So: sometime today, given normal traffic, this blog will get its 100,000th view. About 35,000 visitors. Don’t know what makes up views and visitors, except there are enough caveats, provisos, quid pro quos to make the common sense understanding (whatever that might be) unlikely to align with these numbers. Whatever. W00, and, I might add, Hoo.
2. Up in Tahoe for the long weekend, with a couple of families from school – one mom very graciously gets her sister to rent us a cabin (in the Tahoe sense of a two-story building on snow-plowed roads that sleeps 16 or so in suburban comfort) so that the cost is very low per person. Unlike previous years, we gocher snow Right Here:
Over the Echo Summit (7,382′), snow was piled a dozen or more feet high on either side of the road. Right after the summit, the road bears left and descend along a cliff over the course of a couple miles to about lake level (6,225′). Usually, this section is a bit bracing, what with very scenic and life-threatening drops a suddenly flimsy-looking guardrail away. This time, there was a view-obstructing yet somehow comforting pile of cleared snow along most of the route. Good thing, too, since there was a light snow that was *just* starting to stick.
I lived in New Mexico (Santa Fe, Albuquerque) long enough to learn that snow sucks. Those people with their ice fishing and tobogganing and what not are in denial. Go ahead and kid yourselves however you need to to survive until spring, where you’ll have a couple weeks of nice weather before it turns hot, nasty and mosquito-infested. No, snow is not fun, at least, past the age of 12 and after about 5 minutes. It’s just cold, wet and occasionally dangerous.
3. The truly dedicated and obsessive reader might recall that, last year, when we also went to Tahoe, we attended Mass with very nice people in a lovely (after the manner of its kind) church that had certain carpentry features that triggered my OCD I found really distracting.
We attended yet another lovely Mass with the kind people of South Lake Tahoe today. We sat in another section, so I got a different view of what Frankenstein’s Monster would have looked like if Dr. Frankenstein had been a church carpenter:
Ah! My Eyes!
4. Lots of drafts. A couple of which might even be interesting, that I hope to get out while I should be out playing in the snow. Right.
(Usual disclaimer about how all the people involved are no doubt better Christians than me, no hard feelings, just calling it as I see it.)
Got blindsided this morning at Mass, as it is Catholic Schools Week, and not having any kids in K-12 Catholic schools, I didn’t see it coming.
What ‘it’ is is all the schoolkids and their parents showing up for the same Mass. This Mass includes several homilies/sermons – the normal one after the Gospel, as well as a pre-Mass sermon about what we’re all celebrating today (hint: Our Lord and Savior’s redeeming sacrifice as manifested on the altar didn’t seem to figure prominently) and the post-Mass sermon wherein we recognize and thank all sorts of people and remind everyone that there will be donuts and coffee at the school’s open house after Mass.
Remember the part in the V-II documents wherein Mass is supposed to contain performances, musical and otherwise, by kids at every opportunity, because nothing says ‘full, active participation’ like listening to children sing goofy social justice songs during Mass?
On the good side, the children’s choir is much better at this parish than the average in my experience, and they even – amazing! – sang some Latin commons. Whoa. This is not to be discounted – that these kids have learned some beautiful music could change their lives. A very good thing.
But the first and last songs, which nobody except the kids in the choir knew and for which no music or text was supplied, sang about ending discrimination and achieving justice. God may have been mentioned at some point, don’t know, I was kind of not listening after a while out of self-defense.
I If anyone ever wonders why we didn’t send our kids to Catholic K-12 schools, well, this about sums it up.
Anyway, as a public service, thought I’d write a song I’d like the little darlings to learn, and sing every morning right after the Pledge of Allegiance and never, ever sing at Mass:
The I’m Not All That and Need to Lean Something Song
O my head is empty,
There’s nothing inside.
And teacher’s no better
There’s no place to hide!
Oy Vey! Oy Vey! My head is empty!
Oy Vey! Oy Vey! I don’t know a thing.
There’s no shame in saying
I don’t have a clue
I am still quite little
Now, how about you?
Oy Vey! Oy Vey! My head is empty!
Oy Vey! Oy Vey! I don’t know a thing.
If I pay attention
And read stuff that’s old
I might just learn something
Before my body’s cold.
Oy Vey! Oy Vey! My head is empty!
Oy Vey! Oy Vey! I don’t know a thing.
Here’s another ditty, sung, perhaps, to Deutschland, Deutschland Uber Alles Praise the Lord, Ye Heavens Adore Him. Or not. Trying to reach kids where they are. Suitable for no occasions.
1. Added to the growing pile of drafts – as always, the post I haven’t written is the best post I ever wrote – but, alas, caught my first full-on cold in years. Why is it when your nose gets stuffed up, so does your brain? Would like to finish a draft or two, but can’t because my thoughts are clouded and confused. More than usual, I mean.
2. Because of this cold, which settled in Saturday, I’ve only caught 2 Simbang Gabi 5:30 a.m. masses. Tomorrow and Saturday are the last 2 – let’s see if I can man up, and share good cheer and cold viruses with my fellow Christians. Or not…
3. Another Orwellian euphemism in the service of modern education is ‘exposure’. The assumption is that if you don’t hand over your kids to the schools, they will somehow fail to be exposed to all the right stuff, and grow up with a narrow view of reality and thus be unable to realize their full potential. That if you let your young children pursue whatever interests them instead of micromanaging their every minute, they will grow up stunted. That if you don’t send them to school and act in loco schoolmasters and enforce all homework without question, you are a Bad Parent who has Ruined their own child.
But War is Peace. The actually effect of all the ‘exposure’ is that our kids are unlikely to ever hear a clear explication and vigorous defense of any position not held by their school masters. They are then trained to reject any other opinions out of hand – this is called ‘critical thinking’. The stunning willingness of people to embrace the most outrageous caricatures of those we disagree with increases with the level of education, so that a PhD pretty much immunizes the victim against ever entertaining an idea that they have not already accepted.
This is the world in which business people, some of whom certainly do buy political influence in order to get richer, are a greater evil than communist dictators, who without exception abuse, rob and eventually murder their own subjects. The rich man’s greed may motivate him to steal, and may even motivate him to murder in order to steal; the communist dictator’s lust for power disguised as efforts to bring History to its inevitable conclusion, motivates him to murder anyone in his (History’s) way; murder in the 10s of millions in the cases of Mao and Stalin. The billions a very rich man(1) controls make him an irredeemable villain; the nation-state level wealth controlled by a communist dictator, on the other hand, has no effect on his actions whatsoever, which are conclusively presumed to be sweetness and life itself, no matter how many are enslaved, impoverished or killed by them.
Such discussions are evidently unknown among the enlightened. Few well educated people have been exposed to them, and certainly not in the schools. At best, the well-educated are familiar with the accepted caricature, which exists only to aid summary dismissal of the ideas being caricatured.
4. Trying to work on world/tech/family background for the Novel Which Shall Not Be Named, but it’s hard when moments of clarity (such as they are) are like island in a cold-induced fog. Insofar as I can do it, it’s fun – knowing who these folks are, what they want, why they’re on the generational longship in the first place. So far, my muse, if I have one, has been quiet but not discouraging: the stuff I’m outlining fails to trigger the ‘lame’ response.
I’m counting that as a positive. That may be the virus talkin’.
I’m such a newbie. Spent some time worrying how I’d come up with all these complicated relationships in such a way as to make them work with the story arc, when I remembered: I know a boatload of family stories, both from history, literature and real life. Just use them! What a novel idea! (nyuk) Being careful, of course, with the real life stuff, which is far less realistic than fiction is allowed to be.
A. Busy at work, which means I’m avoiding even more work than usual. Plus, somehow, I ended up with stuff to do every night this week except Friday.
Cuts into the blogging. Yea, yea, boo-freakin’-hoo.
B. Tonight, for an RCIA class, I got volunteered to do some Church history, which, to my naive mind, isn’t any different from plain old history everywhere the Church has ever been. As in, you can hardly talk of secular history in those places and times without the Church, nor can you talk about the Church without knowing what was going on in the larger world (if, indeed, the world can be said to be larger…).
This pitch is right in my wheelhouse, so I’m all rarin’ to go. I was assigned the period of 1200 through the Counter Reformation – woohoo! – and given a 15 minute slot. Well. As no one has ever accused me of being too terse, it might be a *slight* challenge to fit 400+ tumultuous and critical years of history that happens to include, among other things, discovery of an entire hemisphere, into 15 minutes. If I gave 3 minutes each to Gregory VII,(1) Francis, Dominic, Gothic architecture, Wittenberg and Trent, I’m already 3 minutes over, and haven’t touched on Charles Borromeo, the way the Counter Reformation influenced music (I could do an hour or more just on O Magnum Mysterium...), and about a dozen more topics that spring to mind before I’ve even researched it. We will be pruning with the ol’ intellectual chainsaw, here.
Since I’m already doing Feasts & Faith, I probably should hold off doing a Church History seminar-thing for another year. At that point, I’m thinking 10 1.5 hour lecture/discussions, which would barely scratch the surface. What I’d bring to the game: blending art, music and philosophy into the narrative. There’s only like a library of books on this topic – my only excuse for doing this would be bringing in threads from many sources. There’s probably already a book or 50 that do just that….
C. One thing I wish I had time to discuss: the relationship of the Church & State, and how it differed in the East and West, and how the West’s division of Church and State helped bring about the artistic, cultural and technological revolution in Medieval Europe. I doubt there could have even been a Dante of the Eastern Churches – a man passionate about the complementary and divinely-given rights and duties of Church and State. Instead, the East retained more of the ancient Roman practice of religious careers being government careers – I should say, religious careers *of course* being government careers.
The fragmented feudalism of the West allowed for layers of duties and rights across several dimensions, such that a serf, even a serf’s wife, had a position where an emperor or pope owed her a certain inviolate respect. The battles of the Middle Ages seem to be over who owed whom exactly what level of fealty, with the Church presumed beyond discussion to be distinct and hold honor and duty apart from the king.
Not so much, in the East, where emperors from the earliest days saw it to be an obvious right and duty of theirs to meddle even in theology, let alone in who got to be patriarch. (2)
But, alas! No time for that in 15 minutes.
D. So, writing. Only able to throw an hour here and there at it for the time being, but it may be that’s just a well – I think I need to reach a critical mass of ideas, and I’m not *quite* there.
What’s happening: I started with a broad arc that ended in a life-or-death decision being made by a young girl in an intense situation. I’d outlined a lot of the social conditions that would lead up to this point, as well as the technology that would be required – it’s space stuff, trying to keep the science pretty hard. Now, details: I had to describe in detail where they were going, including describing and naming all the celestial objects (complete with backstories), describe how they get there, and – this is still skeletal – describe the culture(s) involved.
Then, I reached the point where I needed to name and describe all the people. Um, I’m guessing other writers do this first? Because it’s not a story unless people care about the girl making the decision and the people whose lives are in the balance. So, now, in this background – and the background still needs a lot of work – I’m outlining 3 or 4 (going with 4 for now) families who travel together with thousands of other explorers/colonists to the stars, marry into each other, feud – and produce this remarkable girl upon which the fate of many – including many of the members of these families – depends.
And that, my friends, is the actual story, not the tech and the alien worlds. It’s Sci Fi, as the story could not exist without the science, but these people now crowd my brain. These people, so far, only lurk in my head. Once they start to keep me up at night, I’ll have something.
One of the ancestors of the girl, a great-great grandmother, is introduced here. (BTW: much cleaned up that preface – thanks for all the feedback.)
All in all, fun, but not tending to produce any pages I might throw up here.
Gregory VII was the last pope to ask and receive imperial permission to be pope, in the late 11th century; yet, over the centuries, many kings and emperors claimed veto power exercised through their cardinals. The last cardinal to veto the decision of the College of Cardinals in the name of his King was the Prince-Bishop of Krakow, who vetoed the leading papabile on orders from the Holy Roman Emperor – in 1903! The outraged Cardinals then voted in Pius X, who promptly and strenuously rejected any idea that kings could overrule the Cardinals. Only took 1900 years!
When reading the lives of the saints, it’s common to see both a relentless practical disposition and utter spontaneity side by side in the same person. This is that whole Catholic both/and thing Chesterton among others likes to go on about. Thus, great saints will typically devote themselves to a rigorous, no excuses life of prayer and discipline AND run off to convert the Saracens at the drop of a biretta. Or kiss the leper, give somebody the clothes off their backs, take a condemned man’s place – that sort of thing.
A certain tiny rash act on my part, not remotely in the league of anything an actual saint would do reflects, I hope, a tiny bit of the spirit of the thing: I will, it seems, be in charge of a bit of continuing Catholic education at our parish. Because the director said I could do a class, and so I submitted an outline and that was that.
Here’s what I’ll be trying to do. First note my abiding hatred of the graded classroom model, so imagine this as being done in a way to defeat that model (which lurks, after 12+ years of Pavlovian training, in our minds despite our dislike of it and despite even efforts to root it out) so as to allow actual personal relationships to be formed – which is by far my most obvious weakness as a ‘teacher’. People are just so much more demanding than living in my own head! Anyway:
On the phone with a friend, who is one of those wonderful converts who know and love the faith much better than us spoiled cradles, where she told us she is working with the faith formation/RCIA group at her parish in a big midwestern college town. One project she’s on is a series of evening discussion groups designed for the professors at the University. They have been quite successful, with enthusiastic participation by a number of faculty members who, even though pressed for time, were looking forward to doing it again, and doing even more, next year.
So, first, hurray! Thank God for sending the Church enthusiastic and educated converts! As an aside, almost, she mentioned an oddity: that those participating seemed to all come from the math, engineering and science departments.
This may just be an artifact in the Small Sample Size Theatre, but I suspect not. To recap a point made before on this blog, university faculty fall roughly into two groups: those who got their positions at least in part because they had mastered an objective discipline, and those who got their positions because they conformed to the beliefs of those already in the department, despite there being no objective way to determine if those beliefs are true.
Objective disciplines are those where one can judge success or failure by reference to something other than the feelings of others in the field. A good engineer can design buildings that don’t fall down or machines that actually work; a good chemist concocts mixtures that do what his theories say they’ll do. And so on. I or anyone else who is not an engineer or a chemist can still, at least in theory, judge whether a given engineer or chemist is any good simply by looking at the results: The Bay Bridge is still standing; Round Up does kill the weeds.
Then there are those fields which have metastasized in our modern colleges and universities, and successfully invaded even once honorable fields like English and History, in which success is measured entirely by how well the aspirant conforms to the established orthodoxy. Thus, a sociologist may or may not actually know anything about society, but may still hope for a academic job based on how well he applies critical theory, class dynamics and historicism to the Australian aborigines or Amazonian Yanomami. His knowledge, such as it is, is largely irrelevant: if he fails to apply the proper Hegelian/Marxist hermeneutic, he has practically no chance at an academic job in any major public or private college or university.
Job qualifications in these cases is completely self-contained and circular. You get the job by demonstrating that you think exactly like other people who have similar jobs. It is not possible that you, the job applicant, are looking at the same *external* evidence as the job holders in your field and have come up with a different theory – that you and they agree on the observed, objective thing, but disagree about how it is to be understood. Nope, historicism teaches that all understanding and all observation are contextual, are informed entirely by their historical context. Of course, the current enlightened historical context, that held by the current bodhisattvas embodied as university professors and their mewling sycophants, is conclusively presumed to be, for lack of a better word, “true”. Thus, your success or failure in getting a university teaching job depends entirely on how well you conform to the beliefs held by those already holding those jobs.
In my experience, you’ll rarely come across more insecure and twitchy folks than college professors in the humanities and soft sciences.* On some level, they know they got their jobs by conforming and so lack that confidence that comes from true competence. Maybe. An even smaller sample size here.
Back to my friend’s discussion class. If you throw a discussion together about Catholicism, are insecure people who are professionally required to think they know everything there is to know about the Church (that it is evil, reactionary and counter-revolutionary) going to come? What if their coworkers were to see them? Or are those who are accustomed to seeing their ideas and works tested out in the real world more likely to be interested? Different ideas, in themselves, threaten one group; different ideas are measured against reality by the other.
* To be fair, this no doubt has something to do with me – I tend to be not very awe-struck by fancy degrees and prestigious jobs, and want to talk about the stuff they are experts on. So, imagine you’re some junior professor and you give a talk on something I know something (however little) about. I’ll tend to walk right up, introduce myself and start right in as if I’m an actual human being just like the prof. So perhaps I’m totally wrong about professorial insecurity, I’m just perceived as rude and their (generally snide) reactions do not express a need to establish pecking order. I don’t think that’s it,. though.
1. Trust y’all had a happy, holy and blessed Triduum and Easter Week, and are now having a blessed and joyous Feast of the Annunciation. There are times when a certain profound yet routinely overlooked truth – that we are here to aid each other in attaining salvation – becomes so clear, so painfully obvious, that even I can’t miss it. This season is one of those times.
After hearing the author speak at Thomas Aquinas College, middle son sent us 33 Days to Merciful Love. Each night, my wife read a chapter for the day (as is intended) to me and our 12 year old son, ending yesterday on Divine Mercy Sunday.
This book is in every way something I, left to my own devices, would never in my lifetime have picked up, let alone read, let alone followed the program. And, truth be told, as my wife read, I meditated more on the Warrior’s chances of getting 73 wins and the nature of travel to and within a trinary star system than upon the Little Flower’s struggles with holiness. Yet, at the very end, last night after a celebratory Indian/Nepalese dinner (tip: stick to the butter chicken – the goat is too much work) we found ourselves at the local Perpetual Adoration chapel, reciting the family Consecration to Divine Mercy in the parking lot (honoring the silence observed in the chapel itself). Then we went inside for a few minutes.
I, with no interest in this but willing to go along so as not to scandalize my sons and wife, end up deeply moved – by a 12-year old boy’s obvious (if nonetheless boyishly awkward) reverence.
So now I’ve consecrated myself to Divine Mercy with only the vaguest idea what that means, dragged where I would not go by the efforts of my wife and sons.
I think this is how it is supposed to work.
2. I will forget my own advice as expressed in the following before the metaphorical ink is dry on this cyber-page. Just FYI.
One thing paying any attention at all to life should, it seems to me, make perfectly clear is that all of us are capable of high levels of both stupid and smart at any moment. There is no such thing as a completely smart or completely stupid person, just people who are doing a bit more of the one rather than the other at a given time. In the same way that progress is best understood as those cases where 100 steps forward have been made for every 99 steps back, smart people are those who are doing somewhat more smart stuff than stupid stuff. And, again like progress, just because you’re getting ahead in one area doesn’t mean you aren’t slipping back in some other, smart in one area doesn’t preclude being a manifest idiot in other areas.
I’ve used Samwise Gamgee as a model for an educated man. And so he is. He is also a model of a smart man. The smartest thing he does is refrain from having opinions about things he doesn’t know anything about – he is well aware that he is a gardener, and that he knows nothing but tales about elves, dwarfs and wizards. Yet, when called to act, he draws upon the wisdom of his people as expressed in the actions of heroes in exactly those tales – smart man!
The number of people I know or know of who, while brilliant in some part of their lives, can’t get and stay married, for example, even if that’s what they say they want to do, is legion. Samwise married Rosie and raised a bunch of little hobbits – what else could he possibly have done more brilliant than that?
I look in the mirror and see an aging man with increasingly poor eyesight who is willing, nay, eager to express an opinion about everything under the sun. Like the stopped clock, I’ve been brilliant once or twice – just like everybody else! (1) Similarly, I’ve done stuff that is so remarkably stupid I wince in my disbelief when remembering it.
3. Went to Lake Tahoe for the weekend with some families from school. At the lake itself, which is just under 5,000′ in elevation, there was no snow. Up above about 6,000′, there was lots:
What I liked most of all: It was about 60F out there on the snow, sunshine, blue skies. Well, actually, what I liked most is that out here in California, we generally keep our snow up on the mountains, where it is scenic, out of the way and yet convenient for visiting if that’s what floats your boat. Other parts of the country should adopt this wise policy!
4. How easily distracted am I? Consider:
I kneel down in lovely St. Theresa’s in South Lake Tahoe for the lovely Second Sunday of Easter Mass, and see the above abomination inches from my chin.
The church building follows the well-established pattern in resort areas in California of trying hard to look ‘natural’ – it’s made of timber and stone with large clear windows looking out on the pine trees. The interior is all sorts of sweepy and angular, sort of like an A-frame cottage with a creative arts degree and too much ambition for its own good.
Of course, one cannot actually build such a structure out of wood and stone – too many long unsupported spans, too many gravity-defying thrusts, too much high open space. (2) So, really, it’s a system of steel beams with wood stuck on them, and rock fascia over steel uprights, with glass and faux-dormer-style windows hung between and among the beams.
Weirdly enough, it looks kind of nice in person. Of course, the equally non rectilinear floorplan precludes rows of parallel pews of equal length, which are symbols of patriarchal oppression (or something) anyway, so we have a sort of amphitheatre-like array of pews of unequal length. Which brings us back to the picture above and my squirrel-level attention span.
Evidently, the church got a hold of a bunch of old pews and repurposed them. Trouble was, those old pews – not very old, they lack all the cool wood carving one finds on pews in old (especially German) parishes – appear to have been of a standard length, consistent with that oppressive style of church in which everybody sat in pews arrayed like soldiers ready to march, facing the same way, where the musicians were cruelly and, one supposes, oppressively stuck in the back where no one could see their reaction when the people applauded their latest partially successful efforts to sing a Jebbie song in unison.
No problem, says, I imagine, an ambitious parishioner with some power tools and time on his hands. I can just chop ’em down to size for the short pews, and stick pieces together for the long pews!
And so the parish, inevitably strapped for cash and trusting in God’s providential will, said OK.
We get a totally inoffensive and unremarkable set of pews for the first 4 rows, where all our intrepid volunteer carpenter needed to do was pull the end pieces off, cut the seat, back and rail to dimension, and put the end pieces back on. Piece of cake. Then it gets, um, interesting? He gets big points for not just cutting and piecing together the pews so that the cuts in the seat, back, and rail all align – that would have been even more ugly, and would not have worked structurally. Instead, he at least had the good sense to stagger the seams. So, structurally, it mostly works: little old ladies are not going to suddenly find themselves sitting on the floor as the pew disintegrates along the seams beneath them.
However: Aaaaw! My eyes! Starting with the 5th pew, each has one or more sections pieced together using the skills and techniques on display in that picture above. Exposed screws with the edges sanded down, a failed attempt to hide them with putty of an entirely wrong color, holding together two pieces of mismatched rail. Yikes.
So while I should have been meditating on, or at least listening to, the beautiful story from Acts where Peter’s shadow heals the sick, I’m thinking: maybe a biscuit cutter and a belt sander? Then, as Thomas has his doubts removed, I’m thinking: no, probably splines along the seat and back, dowels for the rails. By the end of the Mass, I was disassembling the pews in my head, cutting finger joints for the rails, doing a little light planing. He had to have done some disassembly in order to stagger the seams…
Yea, so, um, didn’t quite get a totally attentive and reverent Mass in on Sunday. Oops.
5. The education reading just not happening – serious burn-out. I’m switching back to sci-fi and Chesterton for a bit. Also, unbidden, the ghosts of the skeletons of some stories that have been haunting, however quietly, my mind for a couple decades have returned. Thus, wondering about getting to and around in a trinary star system… And, of course, the Brownson reviews remain unfinished, and there’s more Hegel to read, and I really want to do some Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr… And I have to work for a living. 1st world problems.
An incident brought to mind: once stopped a friend dead by observing something I thought obvious: that daycare is how we prepare kids emotionally for the day they will stick us in a nursing home. I can’t even guess where on a stupid/smart axis that remark would lie. But for one moment, to one guy, I was some sort of genius. I guess.
If you’re thinking: But! Gothic Cathedral! Stand down – while Gothic has all kinds of spans and thrusts, it also has a sense of order that is not shared by the subject church building. You can have huge spans and towering walls if you also have carefully planned buttresses. You can’t just decide that 20′ of beam is going to extend out over the sanctuary unsupported and also hold up the roof. You need steel and perhaps hallucinogenic drugs for that.