I don’t know where to begin. I haven’t written a word outside of emails in a long time. I’ve tried to start. Several times. My excuse during the spring and summer was that I was just too busy with my son’s baseball schedule. But that excuse has been gone for almost a month now. The kids are back in school. And I’m faced by the fact that I just cannot muster the will to write for the first time in almost two decades. It’s like I’m staring at a 50 foot wall and just cannot find a way over or around it.
This is my attempt to begin to knock down that wall.
Mostly my summer was filled with baseball, taking my daughter to the neighborhood pool, and awaiting the return of our oldest. Squeezed into all of that a columnist at our local paper wrote a nice follow-up story to one she’d written ten years ago regarding me and some of the little league boys I used to coach. The result was “The baseball that went to Iraq and back and the boys who became men.”
In the meantime I’ve been keeping busy with some reading. I’m still working my way through Paige Erickson’s excellent The Nice Thing About Strangers, Particles of Faith by Stacy Trasancos and Champions of the Rosary by Fr. Donald Calloway. Once I’ve completed those I’m finally going to tackle a long-time goal and read The City of God by St. Augustine. At this time in history it really feels like a book I need to read.
*Full Disclosure: Paige was kind enough to include me in the Acknowledgements portion of her book and Stacy had an advance copy of her book in Kindle format sent to me for reading. I really want to finish both books and write what would be my very first Amazon book reviews. I do not know Fr. Calloway, but his book is one of the best I’ve ever read on the subject of the Rosary (or any subject, really). Obviously I never met St. Augustine of Hippo…but I wish I had.
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It’s been almost three years since we cut the satellite television signal out of our lives. Not only did this serve to liberate our pocketbook but our minds as well. A fact proven to me every time we find ourselves at a hotel for an overnight stay during baseball season. This summer found us staying in six or seven cities and each time my children couldn’t wait to turn on the television so they could watch cable. This never lasted long however as the bombardment of commercials every 7-10 minutes became too overwhelming for them. This was a relief to my wife and I as we paid attention to the content now on display on our children’s former favorite channels like Disney, Nickelodeon and ABC Family (now no longer calling itself by that name which may be the first honest thing they’ve done at that network).
Near the end of July my son and I spent a week in Utah for his final tournament of the year. It was here that my son actually advocated just shutting it off. We’d watch a ballgame on ESPN when it was on, but otherwise he at last understood why we got rid of cable television.
We are not without access to other things via the television besides what we receive over the air for free however. We subscribe to Netflix and Amazon Prime and so have discovered many television series and movies that we otherwise would never have known about. My 9-year old daughter spent the first half of the summer repeatedly watching the three seasons of “Liv & Maddie” on Netflix, and it became a family favorite as well. Other series we’ve enjoyed include “Merlin”, “Granite Flats” and “Spooksville”. On Amazon we’ve enjoyed the first season of “Just Add Magic” and three seasons of “Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street.” We have also stumbled across and enjoyed many movies that were not box office champions but were instead terrific stories. I’m grateful to them.
As for me I’ve taken in “The Office”, “Firefly”, “Daredevil” and “Stranger Things” on Netflix. I’ve several others queued up for viewing, but my time is limited so it takes me awhile.
Plus the kids and I are currently about a third of the way through the journey we take now and then through the (sadly) only season of “The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.” that I own on DVD. I crack up every time my daughter says in her best cowboy drawl “You touched mah piece! Nobody touches mah piece!” Pete Hutter and Brisco’s horse Comet are her favs. My son likes Lord Bowler and Professor Wickwire (played to a tee by John Astin). Of course I’m partial to Dixie Cousins myself, but we all love Brisco.
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Here’s an interesting quote I read the other day, spoken by FCC Commissioner Newton Minow:
When television is good, nothing — not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers — nothing is better.
But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite each of you to sit down in front of your own television set when your station goes on the air and stay there, for a day, without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland.
You will see a procession of game shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons. And endlessly commercials — many screaming, cajoling, and offending. And most of all, boredom. True, you’ll see a few things you will enjoy. But they will be very, very few. And if you think I exaggerate, I only ask you to try it.
By the way, Minow did not recently make that statement. He said that in 1961.
His full speech is here.
I actually read that quote in the comments of this column written by Randall Smith for The Catholic Thing. One part in particular of his commentary resonated with me:
Televisions, computers, and iPhones are the perfect instruments for those who want to know everything about everything, but know nothing about themselves. (emphasis mine) The gadgets can reveal many things. The one thing you don’t usually see is yourself. Perhaps as a public service, every video screen should come equipped with a little “viewer’s box” – the kind you see when you’re using Skype or Google Chat – so that you have to look at yourself while you’re looking at the screen.
What would you see?
You might see a person interested and engaged – for a while. But if you were endlessly checking texts on your phone or watching television to “kill time,” what would you see then? A person sitting, staring blankly? A person with empty eyes? A person being drained of life? Would you turn off the television, computer, or iPhone, or just stop using the “viewer’s box”? Would you turn away from the video screen, or just from looking at yourself looking at it?
What do I see? That unless I change my own habits I am going to continue down the path to zombiehood with the rest of our nation. I cannot merely point the finger at everyone else anymore. I need to change, too. It sounds like I watch a lot of television, but I average about an hour per day. No, it’s this damned phone. Zombie Nation.
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The following was written by a convert to Catholicism. I read it (again) in the comments for and article I read this week (which I now cannot locate) and it struck me as being as close to the reasons for my own conversion as anything I’ve read (or written myself) so far. Someday I really do need to put it into my own words. Until then, there’s this:
I’m a convert to Roman Catholicism from Protestantism. Like many other converts, I was initially attracted by the depth of the intellectual tradition, the beauty of the architecture, church history, the truth of the moral teaching, but never found those to be sufficient reasons to enter the Church. For years I flirted with Rome; it was enough to read Aquinas and de Lubac on my own, to buy coffee table books of Gothic architecture, to consult the Catechism on any number of controverted ethical matters, but I could remain a Protestant and have those things sufficient to my needs. In the end, however, I heeded the rather stern advice of a priest who reminded me that St John and Our Lady were to be found with Jesus near the sacrifice of the cross while I was happy enough to look on from a safe distance. In other words, I entered the Church for the Eucharist. Not for the pope, not for the architecture, not for the theology, but to be with Jesus in the Tabernacle and on the Table. For my entire life I “had” Jesus in theory, in my thoughts and in my “heart,” but I no longer wanted my experience of him, I wanted him, and he was right there, right over there! (Shocking truth, a marvel!) I could see him, I could touch him; he sees me, he hears me, and I adore him (in and as the Host) with profound reverence.
Blessed John Henry Newman (1801-1890), himself a convert to Catholicism from the Church of England, once said: “To be deep in history, is to cease to be Protestant.” This maxim is also applicable to my conversion.
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On Monday I began getting up earlier than normal in order to sit outside and pray a rosary. It’s part of a Rosary Novena for our nation that will last for 54 days. I believe in the power of prayer and in the power of the Rosary. I believe it is the greatest spiritual weapon in our arsenal. Given the vitriolic political nonsense I see every day I’ve chosen this as my recourse and solution to keeping my peace of mind (that and a forthcoming extended break from ALL social media). At 5:30am on August 16th there was a brief downpour and when I came outside after 6am I was treated to a beautiful sunrise. Buster the Rosary Beagle has taken to joining me outside also.
The Rosary Novena will end on October 7th. You don’t have to be Catholic to participate. You don’t need to purchase the books in my photo below either. All the prayers and meditations are posted online or you can sign up to have the delivered via e-mail.
Thursday morning I prayed for the virtues of humility, charity, detachment from the world, purity and obedience. Lord knows I need all of them.
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Speaking of St. Augustine, this excerpt was from the Office of Readings in the Liturgy of the Hours for August 17th:
So we must not grumble, my brothers, for as the Apostle says: Some of them murmured and were destroyed by serpents. Is there any affliction now endured by mankind that was not endured by our fathers before us? What sufferings of ours even bear comparison with what we know of their sufferings? And yet you hear people complaining about this present day and age because things were so much better in former times. I wonder what would happen if they could be taken back to the days of their ancestors—would we not still hear them complaining? You may think past ages were good, but it is only because you are not living in them.
How then can you think that past ages were better than your own? From the time of that first Adam to the time of his descendants today, man’s lot has been labor and sweat, thorns and thistles. Have we forgotten the flood and the calamitous times of famine and war whose history has been recorded precisely in order to keep us from complaining to God on account of our own times? Just think what those past ages were like! Is there one of us who does not shudder to hear or read of them? Far from justifying complaints about our own time, they teach us how much we have to be thankful for.
Just a reminder that St. Augustine lived from 354 to 430. His advice is still very pertinent for today.