…and he is us.

Narrator: [opening narration] You walk into this room at your own risk, because it leads to the future, not a future that will be but one that might be. This is not a new world, it is simply an extension of what began in the old one. It has patterned itself after every dictator who has ever planted the ripping imprint of a boot on the pages of history since the beginning of time. It has refinements, technological advances, and a more sophisticated approach to the destruction of human freedom. But like every one of the super-states that preceded it, it has one iron rule: logic is an enemy and truth is a menace. [source]

So this week we had this warning:

Another former Facebook executive has spoken out about the harm the social network is doing to civil society around the world. Chamath Palihapitiya, who joined Facebook in 2007 and became its vice president for user growth, said he feels “tremendous guilt” about the company he helped make. “I think we have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works,” he told an audience at Stanford Graduate School of Business, before recommending people take a “hard break” from social media.

Palihapitiya’s criticisms were aimed not only at Facebook, but the wider online ecosystem. “The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops we’ve created are destroying how society works,” he said, referring to online interactions driven by “hearts, likes, thumbs-up.” “No civil discourse, no cooperation; misinformation, mistruth. And it’s not an American problem — this is not about Russians ads. This is a global problem.”

He went on to describe an incident in India where hoax messages about kidnappings shared on WhatsApp led to the lynching of seven innocent people. “That’s what we’re dealing with,” said Palihapitiya. “And imagine taking that to the extreme, where bad actors can now manipulate large swathes of people to do anything you want. It’s just a really, really bad state of affairs.”

And a few days later, another:

“Imagine a future where your life is measured by a number — three digits that dictate your place in society,” the latest cover of Wired declares. “That future is now.” The accompanying piece, written by Mara Hvistendahl, details the Chinese government’s attempts — with occasional assistance from private companies — to develop a system of “social credit,” using digital data to rank every citizen based on every aspect of his life. “The aim is for every Chinese citizen to be trailed by a file compiling data from public and private sources by 2020, and for those files to be searchable by fingerprints and other biometric characteristics,” according to the story.

What could possibly go wrong? Already, Hvistendahl notes, private ranking systems in China can penalize poor scorers, relegating them to second-class treatment when it comes to various services. Users can even face a downgrade for associating with low-scoring friends. “For the Chinese Communist Party, social credit is an attempt at a softer, more invisible authoritarianism,” the article notes. “The State Council has signaled that under the national social credit system people will be penalized for the crime of spreading online rumors, among other offenses, and that those deemed ‘seriously untrustworthy’ can expect to receive substandard services.”

Well, never mind. That’s China. America is the land of the free, the home of the brave! It is also, however, the home of millions of people giving up boatloads of private data and personal information to random corporations on a completely voluntary basis! Here’s looking at you, Alexa. “The US government can’t legally compel me to participate in some massive data-driven social experiment,” Hvistendahl points out, “but I give up my data to private companies every day.”

Yesterday I saw this video posted by Obianuju Ekeocha (@obianuju) before seeing it posted by others. [For the record, I recommend her Twitter account as one worthy of a “follow”.]

It wasn’t that long ago that the Netherlands fought against the Nazi’s and their eugenicist ideals. But that was then, and this is now.

To recap we are able to distill the costs each one of us has upon society and use it to determine “worth”. Worth as it is measured in costs to taxpayers, or social credits, or our guilt (or innocence) as judged by the frothing, incoherent social media mob who themselves are not so different from the torch and pitchfork crowd that marched many an innocent to the guillotines of France during its revolution just a few short centuries ago.

There is no tinfoil hat ensconced my head. I’m just well-read, continue to read and study history, and am distressingly aware of what humanity is capable of while the masses are distracted by shiny objects and the pursuit of more comfort.

I am just one man making an observation.

We have met the enemy…

Narrator: [closing narration] The chancellor, the late chancellor, was only partly correct. He *was* obsolete. But so is the State, the entity he worshiped. Any state, any entity, any ideology that fails to recognize the worth, the dignity, the rights of Man, that state is obsolete. A case to be filed under “M” for Mankind – in The Twilight Zone.

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Friday Five – Volume 122 (of 122)

When I began to compile these weekly five items I did so as a way in which to share little bits and pieces of the positives that I’d come across each week, or even had passed on to me by others. Now and then I got a little preachy and they became too long to hold the attention span of even myself. Then I became too busy to compile them, and when I did set aside time I found the little beams of light harder to find in the state of suffocating negativity in which we presently reside.

Therefore I’m all but certain that this will be the final edition of the Friday Five. In part because of the reasons I’ve listed above, but also due to my own schedule. At the moment I’m not sure that this won’t be the final posting on my blog, though a quick scan of the twenty to thirty drafts of future posts reveals that there are a few things worth polishing and posting at a later date. For today however, and as we approach the start of Advent this weekend, I offer the following.

— 1 —

Let’s begin with a little Johann Sebastian Bach. No worries. It’s just four minutes long. Four wonderful minutes.

With Christmas approaching and fresh news of horrifying violence arriving daily from around the world, read again God’s plan for all people, as described by the prophet Micah. It’s a plan forgotten by most, ignored by many, and refused by many more. As to the rest of us, well…it’s something I can’t help but look forward to.

It shall come to pass in the latter days
that the mountain of the house of the LORD
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised up above the hills;
and peoples shall flow to it,

And many nations shall come, and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and we may walk in his paths.”

For out of Zion shall go forth the law,
and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

He shall judge between many peoples,
and shall decide for strong nations afar off;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more;

But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree,
and none shall make them afraid;
for the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken.

For all the peoples walk
each in the name of its god,
but we will walk in the name of the LORD our God
for ever and ever.

… And he shall be our peace.

— 2 —

The Legend of the Christmas Rose is a longer story, and one you’ll want to set aside time for to read and savor. I’d not heard it before, but thoroughly enjoyed it yesterday and wanted to pass it along.

Just as I do whenever I read the parable of the prodigal son in Luke (Lk 15:11-32) and consider whether I am like the prodigal’s father, his brother, or the prodigal himself, I found myself doing the same with this story. I wonder: am I more like the Robber Mother, Abbot Hans, or the lay brother?

I encourage you to read for yourself as you prepare for Christmas.

Robber Mother, who lived in Robbers’ Cave in Göinge Forest, went down to the village one day on a begging tour. Robber Father, who was an outlawed man, did not dare to leave the forest, but had to content himself with lying in wait for the wayfarers who ventured within its borders. But at that time travelers were not very plentiful in Southern Skåne. If it so happened that the man had had a few weeks of ill luck with his hunt, his wife would take to the road. She took with her five youngsters, and each youngster wore a ragged leathern suit and birch-bark shoes and bore a sack on his back as long as himself. When Robber Mother stepped inside the door of a cabin, no one dared refuse to give her whatever she demanded; for she was not above coming back the following night and setting fire to the house if she had not been well received. Robber Mother and her brood were worse than a pack of wolves, and many a man felt like running a spear through them; but it was never done, because they all knew that the man stayed up in the forest, and he would have known how to wreak vengeance if anything had happened to the children or the old woman.

Now that Robber Mother went from house to house and begged, she came one day to Övid, which at that time was a cloister. She rang the bell of the cloister gate and asked for food. The watchman let down a small wicket in the gate and handed her six round bread cakes – one for herself and one for each of the five children.

While the mother was standing quietly at the gate, her youngsters were running about. And now one of them came and pulled at her skirt, as a signal that he had discovered something which she ought to come and see, and Robber Mother followed him promptly.

The entire cloister was surrounded by a high and strong wall, but the youngster had managed to find a little back gate which stood ajar. When Robber Mother got there, she pushed the gate open and walked inside without asking leave, as it was her custom to do.

Continue to read the rest by clicking here.

— 3 —

After spending the first six years of my “SmartPhone” life using various Motorola Droid phones, I switched to an iPhone 5s in January 2015 when my son, fresh out of boot camp, purchased the then-new iPhone 6. The iPhone 5s were all drastically reduced at this time so it was an easy and (relatively) inexpensive leap. And all was right in the land.

But over the course of the last year I’ve been thinking it was time I scaled back and “downsized” as it were. I seriously considered switching to a “dumb” phone for awhile. But because of articles like this one from Heather Wilhelm that I read with alarming frequency I knew one way or the other I was going to make a change to a less expensive phone, and close off access to social media in order to once again increase my drastically reduced attention span.

And then Apple unleashed OS11 which, once installed, killed my phone. The battery suddenly would only remain charged for 1-2 hours. The conspiracy theorist in me blamed Tim Cook for unleashing a way for them to force people to upgrade to the newer phones. Tinfoil hat firmly attached to my dome, I didn’t concede, and in October bought another Motorola. From Ms. Wilhelm’s article:

Who among us hasn’t looked up at least once, smartphone in hand, slightly dazed, only to discover that precious bundles of minutes or hours have somehow slithered by, lost to all eternity, usually in exchange for no discernable enlightenment at all? A photo gets a new “like.” A Kardashian or a sports star or a president says something amusing or absurd. Strangers squabble. The phone tightens its leash. Are there any updates? Any infinitesimal variation on the news? We must check again, even though we know we shouldn’t.

We are wasting our lives.

According to the latest data from Apple, smartphone users check in compulsively, averaging around 80 times a day. (A 2013 Kleiner Perkins report estimated the number at a whopping 150 times a day.) American adults eat, sleep, and breathe media, according to a recent eMarketer survey, consuming an average of twelve hours a day.

“The smartphone has become a repository of the self,” wrote Nicolas Carr in last weekend’s Wall Street Journal, “recording and dispensing the words, sounds and images that define what we think, what we experience and who we are.” For many, this is increasingly true. It’s also flat-out creepy. As Carr and a growing number of smartphone resisters note, our foremost national addiction isn’t good for anyone’s mental health.

Studies have linked smartphones to decreased concentration, lower problem-solving skills, a general sense of “brain drain,” and depression. A growing number of Silicon Valley insiders — including Justin Rosenstein, who invented the Facebook “Like” button — are publicly pushing back against highly developed and intentionally addictive social-media apps that they compare to heroin.

If adults can’t handle smartphone technology, how could kids possibly stand a chance?

In her article Heather writes about an organization called Wait Until 8th that advocates for parents to hold off on getting their children smartphones until at least the eighth grade. This is, in fact, what we did with our second child. He received his first phone, a cheaper LG SmartPhone, for his 14th birthday in September. He is in 8th grade. He is the last member of his travel baseball team to have one.

PS: The James Wright poem “Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota” is quoted by Heather in that article. I’ve printed it off and it is now one of my favorites and warrants a post all its own. Perhaps one day…

— 4 —

Tribalism is, in my opinion, the biggest problem we face as a nation. Divided largely into Democrat or Republican tribes, we are now a citizenry that cannot fathom voting for someone on the “other team” no matter how corrupt our tribe’s candidate or how upstanding and good the other tribe’s candidate may be. As a result we have Democrats who will defend to the death sexual miscreants such like Al Franken or John Conyers, and Republicans who do the same for the likes of Roy Moore. It would seem that after years of taking their lumps and observing the hypocrisy on the Left in their refusal to eat their own no matter their flaws, the Right has decided at long last to do the same. No longer aspiring to stay above the fray they have decided to crawl into the gutter, too. What has been the saddest spectacle of all has been the acquiescence of those Christians on the Right who have cast their lot with the contemptible, as long as they are the contemptible who belong to the right tribe. If you sit back and watch as I tend to do more and more these days you begin to see that there is no difference between the two tribes, really. The best example of this is President Donald Trump. Until just before announcing his candidacy he was a known registered Democrat and considered a fairly liberal individual. Once he slapped the R after his name he became the most evil, hated and deplorable human being (if in fact he is human) since Mitt Romney carried around that binder full of women. It was astounding to watch. Had he ran with a D and somehow won the presidency he would be universally loved and adored because of the fact that he was a Democrat.

I’ll stop here before I bore you all to death. It is only but a start of what I’d like to say, but I’ve learned my lesson on Facebook, much like author T. Adams Upchurch describes in his article What Has Facebook Done to Political Discourse?

Not until the presidential election season of 2012 did I awaken to the realization that no good was coming from voicing my opinion on Facebook, but a lot of bad was coming from it. I saw that nobody was changing his vote one way or the other based on my opinion. I was merely preaching to my own choir and reinforcing views it already held, while provoking the other side to dig in and fight all the harder for their party and candidates. Since then, I have stopped casting my pearls of political wisdom on Facebook, and I have become a mostly passive reader of other people’s posts, clicking the “like” button or scrolling on past, but rarely commenting. And my peace, joy, and contentment have returned.

Mine has returned as well, outside of being frankly bored with it all. I can only handle so many pictures of someone’s lunch, just as I’m certain I have friends who tired of reading about baseball. A year ago at this time I lost several good friends who went down the unhinged rabbit hole after the election. Some are still down there doing God knows what. On Twitter I unfollowed every political pundit or news service with the exception of those like Heather Wilhelm who are genuinely decent people who outside of tweeting links to the articles they write refrain from tweeting or retweeting political ravings. One of my resolutions for 2018 is to never again read online comments of any kind. Honestly, they are depressing as hell. There be zombies.

— 5 —

I’ll close with a thought/quote of my own. It came to me as I read Twitter comments after yet another tweet about yet another scandal. The tribes were evident as each one immediately formed ranks and began to fire what can be best described as “whataboutisms” back and forth. Basically that’s when Tribe 1 posts about an event or action a member of Tribe 2 is guilty of doing, and instead of addressing that action Tribe 2 “defends” their own by derailing the conversation towards a similar thing that a member of Tribe 1 has done, but that’s completely unrelated to the subject of the tweet/article.

Easy example ripped from this week’s headlines:

Tweet: “Al Franken has been accused of groping a female at a charity event.”
Response from Al’s tribe: “But what Roy Moore did is just fine then in your opinion?”

Whataboutism. Both tribes use it. And it’s so damned lazy when they do so.

Another term for this is moral relativism. Again, both sides use it. And again, it’s lazy.

And this brings me to my thoughts recently about relativism because I was seeing it all of the time on social media.

The thing I’ve found about moral relativism is that too often there is nothing moral about it. It’s just an excuse to justify bad behavior. ~ Me

I’m just so damned sick of it all and social media has amplified it to, as Nigel Tufnel said in Spinal Tap, “Eleven”.

***********

So that’s it. Perhaps the final Friday Five.

I’ll close with the word exchanged between me and my Japanese roommate when we last saw one another on the day he graduated from college in 1989, a year before I would do the same. Tatsuhiro was an outstanding human being and remains a friend of mine to this day, despite having half the United States and entire Pacific Ocean between us. We often called him “Tatsmyhero” as a play on his name. He surely was mine.

Sayonara.

***********

Disturb us, Lord, when we are too well pleased with ourselves; when our dreams have come true because we dreamed too little; when we arrive safely because we sailed too close to the shore. Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly – to venture on wider seas where storms will show your mastery; where losing sight of land, we shall find the stars. ~ A prayer attributed to Sir Francis Drake

The Searchers

I started to write this a few years ago, when the strains and pressures of a former job and lifestyle were fresh in my mind. Thankfully this is no longer the case for me. My blood pressure is down and the ulcers are gone. I now face a new adversary, very much different yet in a way born of the same cloth, that I engage in battle.

But that is a story for another day.

I have wanted to go back to my childhood home for years. To take a day off from work and just wander around all the old places, backstreets, etc., that I used to roam, whether by bicycle or car. I had the opportunity to do so a few weeks ago but decided against it. I turn 50 in six weeks. I’m still too young to wallow in the past and search for the ghosts of youth.

Not yet. I’m still sailing on the ocean of life. Still searching.

*****

Martin Sloan, age 36, vice-president in charge of media.

Successful in most things but not in the one effort that all men try at some time in their lives.

Trying to go home again.

And also like all men, perhaps there will be an occasion, maybe a summer night sometime, when he’ll look up from what he’s doing and listen to the distant music of a calliope and hear the voices and the laughter of the people and the places of his past.

And perhaps across his mind there will flit a little errant wish that a man might not have to become old. Never outgrow the parks and the merry-go-rounds of his youth.

And he’ll smile then too because he’ll know it is just an errant wish, some wisp of memory, not too important really.

Some laughing ghosts that cross a man’s mind.

That are a part of the twilight zone.

Walking Distance, The Twilight Zone (1959)

*****

Some people do not have to search. They find their niche early in life and rest there, seemingly contented and resigned. They do not seem to ask much of life, sometimes they do not take it seriously. At times I envy them, but usually I do not understand them. Seldom do they understand me.

I am one of the searchers. There are, I believe, millions of us. We are not unhappy, but neither are we really content. We continue to explore life, hoping to uncover its ultimate secret. We continue to explore ourselves, hoping to understand. We like to walk along the beach, we are drawn by the ocean, taken by its power, its unceasing motion, its mystery and unspeakable beauty. We like forests and mountains, deserts and hidden rivers, and the lonely cities as well. Our sadness is as much a part of our lives as is our laughter. To share our sadness with one we love is perhaps as great a joy as we can know – unless it be to share our laughter.

We searchers are ambitious only for life itself, for everything beautiful it can provide. Most of all we love and want to be loved. We want to live in a relationship that will not impede our wandering, nor prevent our search, nor lock us in prison walls; that will take us for what little we have to give. We do not want to prove ourselves to another or compete for love.

― James Kavanaugh, There Are Men Too Gentle to Live Among Wolves (1970)

There Are Men Too Gentle to Live Among Wolves

There are men too gentle to live among wolves
Who prey upon them with IBM eyes
And sell their hearts and guts for martinis at noon.
There are men too gentle for a savage world
Who dream instead of snow and children and Halloween
And wonder if the leaves will change their color soon.

There are men too gentle to live among wolves
Who anoint them for burial with greedy claws
And murder them for a merchant’s profit and gain.
There are men too gentle for a corporate world
Who dream instead of candied apples and ferris wheels
And pause to hear the distant whistle of a train.

There are men too gentle to live among wolves
Who devour them with eager appetite and search
For other men to prey upon and suck their childhood dry.
There are men too gentle for an accountant’s world
Who dream instead of Easter eggs and fragrant grass
And search for beauty in the mystery of the sky.

There are men too gentle to live among wolves
Who toss them like a lost and wounded dove.
Such gentle men are lonely in a merchant’s world,
Unless they have a gentle one to love.

(source)

Friday Five – Volume 121

— 1 —

Two videos this week. The first one is for you to listen to while reading the rest of the Five. The last video will be #5. As you will learn in the second video this piece was composed by a member of the Canadian armed forces deployed to Afghanistan.

Veteran’s Day is November 11. In other nations it’s called Remembrance Day. I don’t know at what point the significance of the poppy and its relationship with this day went out of fashion…perhaps it’s due to the fact that those who remember WWI are no longer with us…but it saddens me. For the first ten or so years of my childhood and school experience, the poppy was prevalent. I won my first (and only) art contest in third grade when the Women’s Auxiliary held a Veteran’s Day art contest and my rendition of poppies on the graves, alongside flags, at our local cemetery was chosen as the winner.

— 2 —

I’m a nerd, so things like Existential Comics makes me laugh. The image from this comic is too large to paste here so I’m just going to include a link for those who are nerds like me. The rest of you can skip to #3.

Existential Ad Agency

— 3 —

In “Lonely Old Men”, today’s column from Sean Dietrich, I catch a glimpse of my future should I be unfortunate enough to outlive my wife. (If you aren’t already receiving his daily column in your inbox via email you should be.)

His wife died two years ago. She was the quintessential woman. She took care of him.

She cooked big breakfasts from scratch while he piddled. Then he’d piddle through lunchtime. And every night after supper, he piddled some more.

Then they’d play Gin Rummy.

“Started playing when our kids were in high school,” he says. “They’d stay out late, neither of us could sleep until they were home safe.”

The couple kept a scorecard going for thirty-some years. When she passed, Mister Dan was ahead fifty-nine points.

“If I’d known she was sick,” he said. “I woulda been letting her win. She probably woulda murdered me if I EVER intentionally lost.”

Her death nearly killed him. His house became a tomb. His kids live out of state.

What good is piddling when there’s nobody to piddle for?

— 4 —

If you had $86,400 in your bank and someone stole $10 would you spend all the rest of your money trying to get revenge?

Exactly, so if someone puts 10 seconds of negativity in your life don’t spend the next 86,400 seconds of the day thinking about it.

(Source)

— 5 —

The story behind Cap Trinity: From the sands of Afghanistan, to the concert hall in Budapest, this is the story of composer Martin Lapierre on his journey to realize his lifelong dream.

What’s Deepest in Us: Three for All Souls Day

After watching Game 7 of an exciting 2017 World Series and a few post-game interviews I shut off the TV. It was just after midnight and since November 2 is All Souls Day I decided to pray Matins from the Divine Office. I began:

Open my mouth, Lord, to bless Your holy name; cleanse my heart from all vain, perverse and distracting thoughts; enlighten my understanding, inflame my affections, that I may be able to recite this Office worthily, attentively and devoutly, and may deserve to be heard in the presence of Your divine Majesty. Amen.

For the next 45 minutes I did my best though I’m sure I slurred and nodded off at some point.

I have written on the subject of All Souls Day before, both in 2011 and 2014. When I learned of that this morning I wasn’t sure I felt the need to write about it again. In fact I think both of those entries hold up well. But I read a few things this morning while browsing Twitter over breakfast that I wanted to share on the occasion.

20 Ways

The first is a commentary written by Gretchen Filz called 20 Ways to Pray for the Holy Souls in Purgatory. Now before my non-Catholic readers roll their eyes Ms. Filz includes a section called “Church Teaching on Purgatory” at the beginning of her piece. It’s only four short paragraphs long, and includes just one link, but serves as a tidy introduction for those who are open to learning about something before casually dismissing it.

Moving on, she then lists her “20 Ways.” I usually perform number 11, 13, and always 16. I’m going to also do #5, the Holy Souls Rosary, tonight for the first time.

“Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord. And let the perpetual light shine upon them. And may the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.”

All Souls Story

Next I read a story written by Fr. Dwight Longenecker back in 2008. It begins:

I was living in England as a young Anglican priest when my younger brother came to live with me. Some weeks after his arrival he learned about the death in a plane crash of a young friend of his we shall call Tom.

Tom was about 5’2″ with a shock of blond hair, a round tanned face with freckles. He was brought up as a Baptist, but had never been baptized and he was in a state of rebellion against the faith when he died unprepared.

My brother Daryl told a priest named Fr. Philip about Tom and the priest said, “We must have a requiem Mass for Tom.” So the two of them got together with another priest named Fr. Roger. Fr Roger agreed to celebrate Mass for Tom’s soul. They decided that it would be best if the Mass were a semi-private celebration, so they went into church and locked the door and proceeded to say Mass for Tom.

Fr. Philip was an extraordinary man with a gift of second sight and the ability to read souls. This spiritual or psychic gift was a benefit to him in an active healing ministry. As the Mass proceeded my brother was overcome with emotion, and at the point of kneeling to receive Holy Communion he felt that Tom was actually there with them and that he was disturbed and confused by what was going on. Daryl (my brother) said that he felt as if Tom was there next to him at communion and he re-assured Tom that everything would be alright and urged him (in his mind) to simply accept the gift he was being given.

After Mass Daryl recounted his feelings to the two priests. “It was like Tom was actually there!”

“Oh he was there.” said Fr. Philip, “I saw him.”

I encourage you to read the rest.

In his homily for All Saint’s Day yesterday at my parish, Fr. Eckrich talked about what Catholics believe regarding those present at each and every Mass on earth and the communion of all saints, not just those formally recognized as those canonized by the Church. I once had it described to me in the following beautiful and simple manner: the Mass is when the Church Militant on earth gets together with the Church Triumphant in Heaven to pray for the Church Penitent in Purgatory (more on that here).

“There it is.”

Some of you are sitting back with arms folded and muttering “Jeff, Jeff…enough with the supernatural hocus-pocus.” Ok, I’ll close with this.

“The lack of transcendence in secularism is its greatest weakness, alongside its carnality and its hubris of man-as-god. It fails to satisfy what’s deepest in us.” – Fr. Arne Panula

I read that quote this morning in an article commemorating Fr. Panula who had died this past July. I’ve had many a conversation with those who are Catholic, Protestant, liberal or conservative about the loss of the sacred and the transcendental in our modern age and the destructiveness it is having on our society. “But Jeff, that was a softball. You quoted a Catholic priest.” Fair point. So I’ll close with these words from Paul Kingsworth, former environmental and conservation activist. I read them on Rod Dreher’s blog this morning via Twitter as well. Kingsworth is not a religious man, but he has a religious sensibility. In his essay “In The Black Chamber” (which I recommend as a good read) he writes:

I wonder if there has been a society in history so uninterested in the sacred as ours; so little concerned with the life of the spirit, so contemptuous of the immeasurable, so dismissive of those who feel that these things are essential to human life. The rationalist vanguard would have us believe that this represents progress: that we are heading for a new Jerusalem, a real one this time, having sloughed off ‘superstition’. I am not so sure. I think we are missing something big. Most cultures in human history have maintained, or tried to maintain, some kind of balance between the material and the immaterial; between the temple and the marketplace. Ours is converting the temples into luxury apartments and worshipping in the marketplace instead. We are allergic to learning from the past, but I think we could learn something here.

The rationalist delusion has a strong grip on our culture, and that grip has been getting stronger during my lifetime. Every year, it seems, the areas of life that remain uncolonised by scientific or economic language or assumptions grow fewer. The success that science has had in explaining what can be explained has apparently convinced many people that it can explain everything, or will one day be able to do so. The success that economics has had in monetising the things which science can explain has convinced many that everything of significance can be monetised.

Environmentalists and conservationists are as vulnerable to these literalist trends as anyone else, and many of them have persuaded themselves that, in order to be taken seriously by those with the power to save or destroy, they must speak this language too. But this has been a Faustian bargain. Argue that a forest should be protected because of its economic value as a ‘carbon sink’, and you have nothing to say when gold or oil of much greater value are discovered beneath it.

Speaking the language of the dominant culture, the culture of human empire which measures everything it sees and demands a return, is not a clever trick but a clever trap. Omit that sense of the sacred in nature – play it down, diminish it, laugh nervously when it is mentioned – and you are lost, and so is the world that moved you to save it for reasons you are never quite able to explain.

I’ll say it plainly, because I’ve worked myself up to it: in ‘nature’ I see something divine, and when I see it, it moves me to humility, not grandiosity, and that is good for me and good for those I come into contact with. I don’t want to be a god, even if I can. I want to be a servant of god, if by god we mean nature, life, the world. I want to be small in the world, belong to it, help it along, protect myself from its storms and try to cause none myself.

I know there are others who feel like this, and I know there are others who don’t. It is not a position to be argued from. I don’t want to try and convince you if you’re not already convinced. If you don’t feel it, you don’t feel it. I do, and I can’t argue it away. There it is.

(Feast of All Souls Day, 2017)

The Power

Scandal. Crime and corruption at the highest levels of church and government. Wars and rumors of wars. Incivility everywhere you look. The talking heads hone in on it all and shout with glee: “Look at it! Look at it and despair! How awful! LOOOOOOOOK AT IT!!!”

“More news after the break.”

Father Z, a prominent Catholic priest and blogger, relayed how one recent morning he received the following message from a friend:

Motus in fine velocior.* Our faith in the indefectibility of the Church is soon going to be tested and good people will legitimately choose different sides. I am neither an alarmist nor a conspiracy theory cook, but these people are evil.  …  It’s going to get SO much worse before it gets better. Brace yourselves and cling to your beads, catechism, Breviary and Mass.

His friend was not talking about the public scandals of our day that surround our celebrities or elected officials. That is all bad enough by themselves. Instead he was talking about those within the Catholic Church who are purposely sowing confusion and ambiguity.

But that’s not the subject I’m writing about today. Today I turn to Fr. Longenecker writing on his Suburban Hermit blog:

I was on retreat at Quarr Abbey once many years ago, and when I came out of the church after Vespers a teenaged kid was slouching on a bench outside smoking.

Denims, punk haircut, nose ring.

So I asked him what he was doing there.

“I’m just hanging out here.”

“Do you come here often?”

“Yeh.”

“Do you ever come into church to hear the monks sing?”

“Yeh.”

“Why do you come here?”

He grinned. “This is where the power is man.”

Then he got up and walked down the lane to the road beyond and the outside world.

This is where the power is man.

The English teenager gets it. Fr. Longenecker and Fr. Z get it. And so do I.

In describing these Benedictine monks Fr. Longenecker writes:

The monks are ordinary men who have realized that their lives are sacrifices which oil the wheels and cogs of the cosmos. They keep the furnace stoked. They man the engine room of the great ship.

Hidden from the world, they are the beating heart of the church. Why does the Catholic Church keep going on its everlasting roller coaster ride? Because the Benedictines don’t give up. They’re like weeds. They come back.

Their vow of stability is one of the most important vows they can offer the world. We think times are tumultuous. They have always been tumultuous. We think the world is on a knife edge about to tumble into the pit. It has always been so. We think there is corruption and strife in the church. Read church history. It has always been a battle. Isn’t that what you signed up for when you decided to follow Christ the King?

Motus in fine velocior.

It’s going to get SO much worse before it gets better.

This is where the power is man.

Fr. Longenecker writes that he returns to the monastery because “there is stability in the turmoil and peace in the midst of battle.”

It strengthens his resolve. It refills his spiritual tank. It gives him hope.

St. Augustine wrote:

“Hope has two beautiful daughters: their names are anger and courage. Anger that things are the way they are. Courage to make them the way they ought to be.”

It is because I am so familiar with the two daughters that I know their parent Hope. Hope is what keeps me going in these times. It would be far too easy to join the world and be angry all the time. To become so consumed in rage that I lash out on social media, while driving, in public or in the home. But anger is only one half of the equation. People who give in to their anger do not have hope because they do not know courage. Courage is what we have when we turn off the talking heads, disengage from our mobile screens blinding us with the anger and vitriol on social media, roll up our sleeves and go to work righting the ship.

For some, it’s through direct action. They get off the couch and get involved.

For others, like me, it’s through prayer. As I’ve observed the descent into madness on all sides of the political aisle consume family, friends and acquaintances, my prayer life is the thing most keeping me sane. While I do get angry, I have courage.

I’ve never been particularly good at being the hands of the Church. It’s true that I’ve taught a little. I serve by doing various things during the liturgy or with the Knights of Columbus. As it is I’m much better, or at least more at home, in helping be the heart of the Church, keeping it beating regularly each day in prayer. In turn I receive the courage to deal with my anger and perhaps it is because of this the hope I receive not only helps me but helps others as it continues to inspire me to write bits and pieces on this blog, or on my social media. Things that I hope both teach and inspire others.

The word “courage” actually derives its meaning from a Latin root word “cor” which means “heart.” (Remember what the Cowardly Lion needed to gain his courage in The Wizard of Oz?) It means we are never more courageous than when we “have the courage of our convictions,” that is, when we live from the heart, remaining true to who we really are.

Choosing this path is to some, I’m sure, quite boring. The heart is hidden. Some of us have buried it and cut off all feeling to it, perhaps telling ourselves we do so as a means of survival.

Thump-thump

As it’s not visible it’s not relevant.

Thump-thump

It’s not obvious.

Thump-thump

It’s not sexy.

Thump-thump

We don’t take selfies of ourselves praying, but doing things.

Thump-thump

Things like eating a meal…hanging with friends…meeting celebrities…attending a concert. You know. Stuff.

Thump-thump

It’s not something we can show off to those who follow us on Twitter or Instagram for the almighty “like”.

Thump-thump

A heartbeat is regular. It maintains a rhythm.

Thump-thump

The rhythm and timing of praying with the Church though the daily Lauds and Vespers of the Divine Office. Through the Mass. The Angelus. The rosary.

Thump-thump

It is because of that heartbeat that I have hope.

Hope strengthens my resolve. Hope refills my spiritual tank.

I know you’re angry out there. I understand. Allow me to help give you a little hope. Allow me to introduce you, or re-introduce you, to courage.

It’s where the power is.

Thump-thump


*[Motion accelerates when the end is near] The latin motus in fine velocior is commonly used to indicate the faster passing of the time at the end of an historical period. The multiplication of events, in fact, shortens the course of time, which in itself does not exist outside of the things that flow. Time, says Aristotle, is the measure of movement (Physics, IV, 219 b). More precisely we define it as the duration of changeable things. God is eternal precisely because He is immutable: every moment has its cause in Him, but nothing in Him changes. The more one distances himself from God the more chaos, produced by the change, increases.

In this Season of Fireside Chronicles

[I began to write a year ago as we neared All Hallow’s Eve and All Souls Day.]

I had meant to have something written for All Hallow’s Eve and All Saints Day. Alas, I was unable to finish what I began and so they will wait until next year. I did come across the poem All Souls by Edith Wharton due to this story in Dappled Things and wanted to share it below. Her poem reminds me very much of the themes behind one of my favorite pieces of music, The Danse Macabre, by Camille Saint-Saëns.

But first a quote I found in this article by Sean Fitzpatrick that holds true for my own shelves at home.

There is a cobwebbed corner in every heart and in every library for the things that go bump in the night. Whether thrillers, shockers, or flesh-crawlers, the haunted volumes of literature and the chilling fireside chronicles are venerable indeed, and will remain beloved so long as human beings have lives to lose and souls to save.

That particular shelf holds for me books by Poe and Washington Irving. When I was younger it consisted of a lot of Stephen King’s books from Carrie to It. I haven’t read any of King’s works since around 1990 other than his non-fictional On Writing.

Author Karen Ullo writes along the same vein as Fitzpatrick does in The Spiritual Purpose of Horror Stories, part 1. Writing about this maligned and marginalized area of serious fiction, Ullo points out that:

The purpose of a horror story is to personify sin, often but not always in a supernatural form. Such stories allow us to take the part of ourselves that is the ugliest, the most malignant, the most intransigent and terrifying—the part that is already dead—and give it a shape with which we can grapple. The literary monster comes in varying degrees of embodied-ness and varying degrees of evil, ranging from Quasimodo, malformed but still capable of goodness, to the pure evil of Blatty’s demon (here she’s referring to William Blatty’s book The Exorcist). But the literary monster is always an outward projection of some part of the brokenness within our human souls. This remains true whether or not the author is a believer; it requires no religious conviction to be disgusted by the hideous deeds of which mankind, and one’s own self, are capable.

It is the nature of the literary monster to represent sin, the fallen state of man, which is a spiritual truth; therefore, it is the nature of horror stories to be vehicles for portraying spiritual struggle.

Fitzpatrick closed his article with these words:

At that time of year when nature doffs its seasonal splendor for a dress of decay, man’s mind turns to the end of his own life and those gone before him: the after-life and the supernatural mingled with the tingling fear of the unknown. During the autumn, when the world suffers a seeming death in aspects both wondrous and withering, men spy strange shapes across the moon and women tell strange stories over the fire. Paradoxically lively traditions were born that declared a need to know more about the composition of the world beyond sight. Was death a mere sleeping or the awakening from the dream, and life an agitated expectation? As their cathartically entertaining ghost stories suggest, such haunting folklore arose from the natural piety of simple folk whose thoughts were bent on the spirit of things.

The ghost story chronicles man’s understanding of himself, death itself, and the condition of the soul after death. They highlight man’s keen instincts and healthy curiosities. The tradition of the rural god, ghost, and goblin can be seen as historically rooted in a healthy, human, and even holy mentality rather than a heathen one. Tales of fear, like Washington Irving’s The Spectre Bridegroom, draw people closer, as around a life-giving fire, warding off the chill darkness reminiscent of death. The shadows thrown by flames are ominous, but they dance as well. This is the realm of ghostly escapades, haunted castles, and flitting phantoms—and it is a dance that keeps the worlds around us alive with the thrill of the unknown.

This is always a beautifully melancholy time of year for me. There’s just something about the fall. Baseball playoffs. Memories of raking leaves and burning them (when that was allowed), and driving around town with friends. At this time of year I also pull off my shelves a book by Poe, Irving, Shelley or Stoker to read some good 19th century tale of horror. This fall presents challenges as I deal with all that comes from having a son deployed overseas and the impending “big five oh” in a few short months. I pray with and for the souls in purgatory, and the Office of the Dead.

I’m planning a trip to my hometown soon, this week or the next, while we are enjoying these beautiful autumn days. My parents having moved away years ago I haven’t much reason to visit anymore. But a long-time friend who grew up across the street from me has moved back from Hong Kong with his wife to care for his elderly father, now over 90 years young, and I am drawn to visit and say hello once again to the ghosts of my past. Perhaps I’ll spy a strange shape across the moon. Maybe I’ll tell a chilling fireside chronicle. Or, perchance, I’ll dance.

But…lest you think me depressed or morbid I will point out that I’m far from those things. This is merely a part of the season of life and the cyclical calendar of the Church. And I’ll add that every day I am reminded that the light overcomes the darkness when I pray daily at Lauds the following from the Benedictus, or Canticle of Zechariah from Luke 1:68-79:

Through the bottomless mercy of our God,
one born on high will visit us
to give light to those who walk in darkness,
who live in the shadow of death;
to lead our feet in the path of peace.

Just as Death calls forth the dead at midnight once a year to dance under the moonlight until the cock crows at dawn and sends them back to their graves to sleep another year, I welcome the autumn to remind myself both where I have come from and where I am going.

And every day, no matter the season, I am reminded of the Light.

(Image source)

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All Souls
By Edith Wharton

I.
A thin moon faints in the sky o’erhead,
And dumb in the churchyard lie the dead.
Walk we not, Sweet, by garden ways,
Where the late rose hangs and the phlox delays,
But forth of the gate and down the road,
Past the church and the yews, to their dim abode.
For it’s turn of the year and All Souls’ night,
When the dead can hear and the dead have sight.

II.
Fear not that sound like wind in the trees:
It is only their call that comes on the breeze;
Fear not the shudder that seems to pass:
It is only the tread of their feet on the grass;
Fear not the drip of the bough as you stoop:
It is only the touch of their hands that grope —
For the year’s on the turn, and it’s All Souls’ night,
When the dead can yearn and the dead can smite.

III.
And where should a man bring his sweet to woo
But here, where such hundreds were lovers too?
Where lie the dead lips that thirst to kiss,
The empty hands that their fellows miss,
Where the maid and her lover, from sere to green,
Sleep bed by bed, with the worm between?
For it’s turn of the year and All Souls’ night,
When the dead can hear and the dead have sight.

IV.
And now that they rise and walk in the cold,
Let us warm their blood and give youth to the old.
Let them see us and hear us, and say: “Ah, thus
In the prime of the year it went with us!”
Till their lips drawn close, and so long unkist,
Forget they are mist that mingles with mist!
For the year’s on the turn, and it’s All Souls’ night,
When the dead can burn and the dead can smite.

V.
Till they say, as they hear us — poor dead, poor dead! —
“Just an hour of this, and our age-long bed —
Just a thrill of the old remembered pains
To kindle a flame in our frozen veins,
Just a touch, and a sight, and a floating apart,
As the chill of dawn strikes each phantom heart —
For it’s turn of the year and All Souls’ night,
When the dead can hear, and the dead have sight.”

VI.
And where should the living feel alive
But here in this wan white humming hive,
As the moon wastes down, and the dawn turns cold,
And one by one they creep back to the fold?
And where should a man hold his mate and say:
“One more, one more, ere we go their way”?
For the year’s on the turn, and it’s All Souls’ night,
When the living can learn by the churchyard light.

VII.
And how should we break faith who have seen
Those dead lips plight with the mist between,
And how forget, who have seen how soon
They lie thus chambered and cold to the moon?
How scorn, how hate, how strive, we too,
Who must do so soon as those others do?
For it’s All Souls’ night, and break of the day,
And behold, with the light the dead are away.