Wednesday, November 17, 2010

What My Dogs Think

I wondered if my dogs find it odd that I'm allowed to pee in the house. Then I wondered if they find it odd that I pee in their water bowl.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Smart Atheists

 Just because many of the atheists I know are smarter than I, doesn’t mean they’re right about God. Still I have to admire them. It takes more courage than I can muster to live a life of value without being rooted in a sense of belonging to the divine and thus having some access to eternal life.

Monday, November 15, 2010


Ever wonder how owls got the rep for being wise? Me too. I mean they stay up all night and eat rodents. Anybody think Ozzie Osbourne is wise? ...what I'm sayin'.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Tech-Savvy Dog Walker

In addition to being less than adept at multi-tasking, I'm kind of  techno-phobic. Tonight though, I threw caution to the wind by calling my sister in Ohio while I was out walking one of the dogs. I figured I had it covered once I put my Bluetooth ear-piece in. All I had to do was thumb her number on my contacts list, and the whole operation would be hands free from then on - the phone piece at any rate. I'd still need both hands to manage the dog, our still uncivilized, straight-off-the-track greyhound.

Surprisingly, it actually worked out that way. The Bluetooth worked flawlessly, and I managed to get him to do his business while I talked. I even got back to the house and made his dinner while I finished up my conversation. In the end I felt like I had finally accomplished some bit of 21st Century competence, and that I might soon be able to simultaneously listen to music and play online poker without going all in on a pair of Jacks because I get distracted by the peculiar quality of Casandra Wilson's voice, for instance, that sounds like polished stones falling through honey to the bottom of a tin pail.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Irony of Priesthood

          It has been the unfortunate history of priesthoods since the beginning of time to claim the village virgins to their own purposes.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Ideology of Neo-Barbarism

Get your own knuckles at the knuckle tattoo gun.

          I had a visit yesterday from a couple of young women from Jehovah’s Witnesses. They caught me outside walking the dog. There was a group of about 10 of them canvassing our neighborhood. This happens quite often, at least every other month or so. I don’t mind that they do this. I only mind when they won’t take ‘no thanks’ for an answer.
I’m always polite. I had some very good friends in Oklahoma who were Jehovah’s Witnesses. They were pleasant and personable and content to let my Catholic peculiarities simmer away without comment. For some reason they didn’t feel compelled to get all up in my soul with arguments about the stuff they figured I had figured wrong. When they came over to my house, they didn’t bring Bibles and pamphlets and copies of the Watchtower. To my everlasting spiritual joy, they brought beer.
Like many of the others before them, these two young women out canvassing yesterday would not be easily dissuaded by my stated lack of interest in their literature or their interpretation of Scripture. I told them I was a devout Catholic, and that I was extremely unlikely to change my views.
The older of the two told me that she had been raised Catholic and attended Catholic schools. I guess this was to prove to me that I wasn’t as beyond redemption as I thought. She had seen the light, and so, presumably, could I.
The fact that she had been a Catholic once did not surprise me. I have witnessed this before. There is something about fallen-away Catholics that makes them love to out themselves, especially to still practicing Catholics. It’s like some badge of honor to them that they have managed to escape the sticky tentacles of Papism without bursting into flames. Maybe it’s just that they want to start from some shared bond in a traditional Catholic upbringing to move the practicing Catholic toward their newly adopted version of enlightenment.
Their reasons for outing themselves are easier to understand than their reasons for falling away in the first place. These I don’t understand. My first reaction—although I’ve learned not to be so confrontational—is to think, you must not have been paying very close attention in Catholic school, else you would still be a Catholic. If you say something like this out loud you always get a litany of fairly emotional reasons why they left the Church. Some of them are unassailable—I was molested by my pastor is one, or just bringing up the fact of pedophilia in the priesthood and the scandalous cover-up by our bishops. There’s not much I can say about that. I personally don’t believe that these are good reasons not to be Catholic anymore, but I can’t in good faith fault the reasoning of someone who believes otherwise.
I’m not judgmental anymore. I don’t make confrontational statements. Instead I ask, “Don’t you miss the sacraments?”
I know I would. The sacramental life is the center of the Catholic faith. The sacraments encompass ritual, worship, community, and access to the Divine all at once. I can’t imagine a religious existence without them. I think it’s a good question.
When I asked this of the young woman yesterday, she asked in return, “Which ones?”
This was proof to me that she had not been paying attention at all in Catholic school. If the nuns had not been so busy seeing to my spiritual development by rapping my knuckles with a ruler or making me kneel on a broomstick, they might have noticed that some of the girls weren’t getting it when we studied our catechisms. They might have prevented this little lost sheep from bolting out of the fold and wondering aimlessly over the religious landscape until she was snatched up by proselytizing wolves.
“Well all of them,” was my reply, “but especially the Eucharist.”
This is of course the only appropriate response. My new friend, the Jehovah’s Witness, wouldn’t have had to pay especially close attention in Catholic school to know that the Eucharist is central to Catholic worship. The Catechism puts it this way:
The Eucharist is 'the source and summit of the Christian life.’ The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it. For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself, our Pasch. … In brief, the Eucharist is the sum and summary of our faith: ‘Our way of thinking is attuned to the Eucharist, and the Eucharist in turn confirms our way of thinking.’

          I expected the former Catholic Jehovah’s Witness to know this much. I didn’t expect her to be able to articulate it, but I knew she knew it because everything I learned in Catholic school was directed to this distilled essence of our Faith. This is a universal precept of Catholicism. It is not different between one school and another or one parish and another. What is true at St. Ignacius is true at Mary Help of Christians, Sacred Heart, Corpus Christi, St. Mark, St. Clement, and Our Lady of Perpetual Sorrow. There is no escaping it. There is apparently slipping out of it, however, for that is what my young lady did.
          “I encounter Christ every day in prayer and in the Scriptures,” she said.
          The implication was that she encountered her Savior in reading and reflection, and that was for her the same or maybe better than encountering Him in bread and wine. She didn’t miss the Eucharist. She had replaced it with something that worked for her.
          I’ve heard this kind of argument before, too. It is akin to the argument of people who say that they are spiritual but not religious—that they find the creative majesty of God manifest in nature rather than in church. They find the community of believers to be a distraction. Hell, I find a community of believers to be a distraction, but God didn’t give us mountains and valleys and streams and forests to lead us to eternal life. He gave us Church, and you have to get down amongst the warts and boils and farts, the petty banalities and self-centered posturing of the community of believers in order to appreciate the beauty of this plan. You have to overcome the distractions to get at the truth. It’s not supposed to be easy. If it were easy we wouldn’t have required salvation in the first place.
          The same is true of the Eucharist. It’s not an easy tenet to embrace. Even His disciples were moved to declare, “this saying is hard; who can accept it?” when Jesus delivered his discourse on the Bread of Life. What He had just said that was hard for them and caused many of them to leave His company was this: “For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” (John 6:55-56)
          This is a hard saying. Accepting it on its face is harder even than wallowing in the miasma of a community of believers. It doesn’t make any sense to us who are able to split atoms, bounce high-definition video signals off satellites, and map the human genome. We’re surely beyond this kind of self-affirming mysticism, this fettering superstition, unsupported as it is by the science we have perfected. Never mind that we are capable of believing all manner of concocted clap-trap, from the law of attraction to a karmic council of ascended masters that includes Mohammad, Buddha, and Mother Theresa, we want our science and our hard facts and a system of beliefs that doesn’t admit of Ecclesiastical Magic like Transubstantiation.   
          The problem for me has always been, once well-meaning believers have rejected the real presence of Christ—body, blood, soul, and divinity—in the Eucharist, they feel compelled to embrace the rest of Scripture piecemeal to justify their own notions of justification. So for example my new Jehovah’s Witness friend believes that Jesus was not crucified, that is hung up on a cross, but nailed rather to a single upright post. She believes that only 144,000 souls are going to be finally admitted into the beatific vision and that, in order to pare all creation down to that miniscule number of the truly saved, God is going to insist that our beliefs be absolutely correct. In other words, unless I believe exactly as the Jehovah’s Witnesses say I must, I have no hope whatsoever of attaining salvation, and damn little chance of making the final 144K even if I do. She also believes that Jesus is a fully created human, perfect and exemplary, but without any divine aspect. Surely Jesus will be first among the 144,000, so there are in effect only 143,999 spaces left on the heavenly roster.
          It seems to me that in order to get to these tenets of belief the faithful Jehovah’s Witness has to ignore an awful lot of sublimely poetic scripture. John 1:1-3 comes immediately to mind:
In [the] beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god. This one was in [the] beginning with God. All things came into existence through him, and apart from him not even one thing came into existence.
…along with almost the whole of Chapter 6. Of course they don’t expunge these passages. They just translate them and interpret them differently from the more mainstream Christian sects. The above translation is from the official Jehovah’s Witness translation—the New World Bible. The King James Version has it like this:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
And the New American Version like this:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be.
Small differences perhaps in language, but the simple inclusion of the article “a” and the small case rendering of “god” make it an easy matter for the Jehovah’s Witnesses to reject the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, and the miraculous efficacy of the Eucharist.
          The Jehovah’s Witnesses are not alone in their selective championing of the Bible as the inspired word of God. I once asked a Baptist friend of mine who taught Sunday School how his church interpreted Jesus’ insistence that “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” His reply was that, since it (presumably communion) was not a requirement of salvation, it really didn’t matter what it meant. This is perhaps the most disingenuous reply to a religious question that I have ever received, but I interpreted it to mean that he really didn’t know how to answer my question. Perhaps he thought I was laying some kind of apologetic trap for him that he needed to escape. Escape he did, although I was merely curious in my questioning, and remain to this day even curiouser with respect to his answer.
          I am not a theologian or a Bible scholar, but it seems to me that if you are going to regard scripture as the inspired revelation of God then you have to accept the whole thing and you have to interpret its bits in such a way that they are consistent with the entire document. This goes beyond reconciling the bloodthirsty, jealous, and often capricious ‘I Am’ of the Old Testament with the Paschal Lamb of the New. You also have to understand that, when St. Paul describes Christ as “the image of the invisible God” in Colossians 1, he gives depth to our understanding of Genesis, where we are told that God “formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life” to “make man in our image, after our likeness,” and that these passages together inform our understanding of John’s use of the word “Word” to posit Christ as, not just the embodiment, but the very personification of God’s own image of Himself from the very beginning.
          So I guess what I am saying, ultimately, is that I don’t think that, if you understood all this the same way I do, you could possibly leave the Catholic Church to become a Jehovah’s Witness, or anything else for that matter. Not only would you have to give up the Sacraments, but the symmetry and poetry of quite a lot of Holy Scripture would be lost in the translation. (pun fully intended)
          I’m not naive. I understand that my faith is the faith of my parents, and that if it weren’t for them I would be some other variety of believer. This much is true for most of us. Why then do so many of us run around insisting that everyone else change their beliefs to match ours? This is not just true of religion either. It also applies to politics and ideologies. The result never has been and probably never will be a shift toward consensus. Even though as humans we are quite capable of embracing all manner of lunacy where we don’t already have firm foundations in place, we do not easily give up notions we already hold dear. It has gotten to the point, all across the board of possible discourse, where we would rather argue what we believe than accomplish anything. Most evangelists, it seems, would rather beat me over the head with their interpretation of the Bible than to actually pray for my salvation. They would rather win a debate than win a soul.
          This attitude carries over into other aspects of our existence. The approaching elections are a case in point. Attack ads are the norm. No seems capable of advancing considered solutions to the ills that plague us. Most Republicans would rather spout platitudes about balancing the budget than agree to redress the financial rape of the middle class by unregulated robber barons. Most Democrats would rather squander their political capital on favored causes than to actually fix the considerable problems that we face as a nation. Meanwhile nearly every discussion of politics and candidates devolves into a cacophony of accusations and name calling. Incivility and personal attacks are the order of the day, and likely will come to define the age that we live in as one of Neo-Barbarism. We all think we’re right, just ask us.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Howling Antiquities

            Seven hundred turned out in 1967 to see the Great Angry Poet.  We came to hear him howl.  We came to cheer as he banked coals of invective against the walls of the establishment.  We came as a congregation to stand in the light of the conflagration.  We meant to use the flames to melt our chains, to weld us together, to illuminate the dark hidey-holes of life as we knew it.
            The Great Angry Poet had other ideas.  He had shucked his black clothes, un-knit his black brow.  He showed up in a flowing white robe—all-natural fibers.  He floated in the middle of an all-natural entourage.  He brought thumb cymbals, a tambourine, a squeeze box, for crying out loud!  He glowed with the inner, hidden fire of brotherly love, the too-cool flame of nebulous mysticism.  He just wasn't that angry anymore.  He wasn't going to burn down anything.  The pilot light was out.  Seven hundred strong, we seethed in uncertainty.  We stumbled in the dark.
            The Great Angry Poet chanted mantras.  He shook his tambourine, clanged his little cymbals, squeezed his squeeze box.  The all-natural entourage, skinny boys and skinny girls, crawled around the stage like adoring cats, curled at his feet,  purred a harmonious OMMM in rhythm with the cycles of the universe.
            Somewhere in the middle, the Great Angry Poet read his Great Angry Poem to remind us what it was that made him Great in the first place.  But, out of context, it didn't remind anyone what made him Angry, and so the multitude looked at one another furtively as if to say.  How are we going to knock any walls down with these few little loaves and fishes?  Or, man, you should have been there when he was really pissed.
            When it was over, the Great Angry Poet took questions from the audience.  Only no one asked the real questions like WHAT ARE WE SUPPOSED TO DO NOW? or WHO'S THE NEW ENEMY THEN?  IT'S NOT THE RUSSIANS AGAIN, IS IT?  Or more succinctly, HUH?
            We were rescued, finally—all of us:  the multitude, the Great Angry Poet, the moment, the Age—by a cheerleader.  She was blonde, naturally, maybe.  She wore a plaid skirt, white blouse, green blazer, knee socks, penny loafers.  She was the perfect prep-school perk-noid.  She was impertinently pertinent.
            "IS IT TRUE," she began.  Her voice, clear and strident, ricocheted around the room, scraping bits of its flesh off on every surface until nothing was left of it except the bare bones of contention, the soul of censure.  "IS IT TRUE THAT YOU ARE MARRIED TO A MAN?"
            We all sucked in our breath.  The Great Angry Poet dropped one end of his squeeze box, which sucked in its breath too, and noisily.
            "WHOOSH," went our breath.
            "WHEEZE," went the squeeze box.
            "OMMM," went the all natural entourage.
            "UHM," went the Great Angry Poet.
            "WELL?" went the cheerleader.
            "Yes," said the Great Angry Poet at last.  "Yes that is true, but we don't fuck anymore."
            Six hundred ninety nine of us took flight in a swarm, the way having been lit, finally, by the Great Angry Poet who wasn't getting any anymore.  His flame rekindled by a perky spark, he shone like a beacon, lighting the hidden recesses of craggy convention.  We flew in its face.  We dive bombed.  We strafed.  We harried.  We defoliated.  The Great Angry Poet was a flare in the night.  We picked our targets and fought and fought and fought.
            Convention plodded on.  Sure it stumbled a few times, seemed ready to go down once or twice, but convention was already thousands of years old.  Convention had built up a lot of momentum.  Even if we had distracted it, convention had only to look at its wake to see what direction it had been headed. 
            Bored, convention yawned and we were swallowed up.  Some of us persisted, refusing to be assimilated.  We were thorny roughage—fibrous and resilient.  We would give convention a belly-ache.  We would give convention gas pains.  We would never break down.
            And we didn't break down.  Forty years later, nature having run its course, we came out the other end wearing steely grey pony tails and Birkenstock sandals, the uniform jack-boots of ancient hippies, our defiance emblazoned on silk-screened T-Shirts.  Thank goodness for male pattern-baldness.  You can finally tell the boys from the girls.
            We're still plenty pissed, but maybe not so focused anymore.  We need the T-Shirts to remind us of our agendas.  We need the Birkenstocks so our tired feet don't distract us from our purpose.  Instead we're distracted by our children and grandchildren.
            We worry that they would rather watch Brady Bunch re-runs than fire bomb the administration building, rather play video games than picket, rather have a new iPod than a clue.  We want to find them a pertinent cheerleader, but the cheerleaders are all drinking Jack Daniels and puking in the bathtub while skinny boys with earphones video the event and post the innocence lost on the Internet.  Nobody's not getting any anymore, and that sure takes the edge off.
            The Great Final Irony is that our children are angry at us.  Of course the most they can bring themselves to do about it is to whine, but when they can manage to pry their consciousness out of Grand Theft Auto or Resident Evil and unplug themselves from whatever current alternative to music has been boiling their corpuscles, what they want to know is, how come we didn't get down to business when we had the chance and leave them a world that included a place for them to work... or at least a BMW?


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Technology We Can Live With

          I had a conversation with a kid who made my sandwich at Subway tonight. I’ve seen this kid working there before. He’s fairly new at his job. He was unusually chatty tonight. I guess it’s taken him some time to loosen up enough to initiate a conversation with an older patron. I wasn’t in a conversational frame of mind, but I didn’t want to seem rude.
Anyway he got going about the Lexus automobile model that parallel parks itself. He didn’t think that was a good idea. He was afraid the sensors that enable the car to park itself could malfunction and get him into an accident that wouldn’t be his fault, but for which he would get blamed. He didn’t seem to require any comment from me at that point so I just let him ramble on.
From there he launched into a discussion of the car that slams on the brakes if you are about to have a collision. He didn’t think that was a very good idea either. In fact he thought it was an even worse idea than the self parking thing because it was likely to malfunction at a higher rate of speed than one would be likely to use to park. I couldn’t offer him any argument there either.
Finally he latched on to a thing that’s apparently been reported in the news about a device that would allow the police to disable the cars of fleeing drivers. He thought that was a terrible idea, and stated emphatically that he would never, ever buy a car so equipped.
Here I had an argument because I think that is an excellent idea. It is an idea so good that it ought to be a required addition to the automobiles of everyone who thinks that it is a bad idea. The rest of us, the docile and compliant citizen drivers who think it is a good idea are going to stop when the police tell us to. We don’t need to be disabled. The drivers who think it is a bad idea on the other hand, are precisely the kind of scofflaws who need to be forcibly prevented from leading the police on high speed chases that endanger the lives and property of all the rest of us.
In fact I don’t think that it should be just the police who have the disabling device. Some of the rest of us should get one too. I know for a certainty that I should get one. I said so to the Subway kid. He looked at me like I was crazy. I didn’t care. I had an irrefutable argument.
          “How many drivers have you seen just this week,” I asked him, “Where you really, really wanted to disable their ass?”

Saturday, February 20, 2010


          In her best selling book on the law of attraction, The Secret, author Rhonda Byrne maintains that Jesus was a prosperity teacher and a millionaire. She came by this notion from reading, among other sources, Catherine Ponder’s series of prosperity texts called The Millionaires of the Bible. Oh my! Jesus Christ preaching prosperity and living a “…more affluent lifestyle[s] than many present-day millionaires could conceive of.”
         Anyone remotely familiar with the New Testament will have heard many of Jesus’ pronouncements on the subjects of prosperity and poverty. I will list a few of the more famous of these here:
  1. And again I say unto you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God  (Matthew 19:24) 
  2. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me. (Luke 17:22)
  3. As he looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. "I tell you the truth," he said, "this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on. (Luke 21:1-4)
  4. Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God… But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. (Luke 6:20,24)
That should be enough to give you the idea of Jesus' real take on riches and prosperity. Jesus was not a prosperity teacher. Jesus preached detachment from riches. He blessed the ‘poor in spirit’ and the poor in fact. Jesus was all about storing up riches in heaven as opposed to earthly treasure. Furthermore, anyone who believes Jesus lived a life of ease and comfort that modern day millionaires could scarcely conceive of is bringing an awful lot of spin to the life of someone who went to his death possessing a single homespun cloak and a pair of sandals. Honestly, this doesn’t sound to me like a guy who was furiously working the law of attraction to get what he wanted out of life. I think suggesting that Jesus was a prosperity teacher and a millionaire sounds rather more like a load of heretical claptrap.
This is how I think the law of attraction really works. Hucksters and charlatans cherry pick and misinterpret Bible verses to attract money from hapless saps who are too easily persuaded that Jesus wants them to have a big house and a new Mercedes when a thorough understanding of everything Jesus had to say on the subjects of prosperity and poverty would lead one to the exact opposite conclusion. Jesus wants us to spend eternity in heaven with Him. He clearly believes that riches are an impediment to that happy result. It's not that he wants you to be poor, but rather than His priorities are completely directed toward the Kingdom on Heaven and not our worldly comfort.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Getting a Good Martini Out Nearly Impossible

I love martinis, but I almost never order one when I'm out because it's so difficult to get a good one. First of all the "dry" martini lobby has ruined the taste of a classic martini by causing the average bartender to believe that the appropriate amount of vermouth used in the drink is an amount insufficient to civilize the innate brutality of raw gin. Secondly, the extension of the appellation 'martini' beyond the ingredients indigenous to a classic martini—that is gin and vermouth—to include drinks made with vodka and a whole raft of peculiar and vaguely sissified beverages flavored with fruits and candies has eroded the integrity of the genre. Seriously, if you're going to drink one of those abominations you ought to at least have the decency to order it in a silly glass with an umbrella to warn passersby of the potential for noxious fruitiness. Worst of all to me though is the inability of modern bar staff to prepare a proper twist. The twists I see, and the twists I get when I'm moved to order one, are huge swatches of lemon containing virtual slabs of pith. These things do not impart any sophistication or subtlety to a proper martini. Instead they make for a bitter drink with a disagreeable appearance. Better to just build your own at home. Have a nice glass of wine when you're out. No one is likely to screw that up.

The little animation below is indicative of my experience. Enjoy.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Dear Achmed

Achmed Fatwahd
Common sense advice for the Jihadist on a short fuse!

Q.      Allah’s blessings be upon you, Achmed, and upon your sons and their sons to the twelfth generation. I am troubled Achmed, and seek your counsel. I am come late to the fight, and while I am ready to tape explosives around my middle, to light the fuse, and to embrace the infidel in public places, I fear that my reward may not be as great as I had once hoped. (Forgive me, Allah, for doubting.) So many of our faithful brothers have gone to their reward already, before I was of age, before I had the chance to serve our cause, that I begin to wonder (have mercy on your insignificant servant) whether there will be sufficient virgins left for me to get my allotted 6 dozen. Even worse I fear that even were sufficient numbers of virgins available to populate my heavenly domicile, the stocks may have been so severely depleted by the brave warriors before me that the ones left to my humble allotment may not be so comely to look upon as those whose fate it might have been to be possessed by me had I been able to blow myself and sundry infidels to kingdom come some years ago. Can you give me some assurance, Achmed, that my virgins will be beautiful enough under their burkahs to make my sacrifice worthwhile? – Moahmahr.

A.      Moahmahr, you faithless pile of camel dung. Have you no shame? Is it not enough for you to have a noble cause for which to sacrifice your miserable life? Must you also insist that your heavenly virgins be comely? Be glad that you have been called to give your life for the cause, and that your glorious demise will bring honor to your family and death to the infidel. Knowing this should be reward enough for the faithful and committed brethren. But, as you are young and your faith yet imperfectly formed, I have some comfort for you. I myself, not wishing to tax Allah’s munificence have elected to trade my own celestial virgins for a single pole-dancing bimbo with with blond hair and enormous implants.