…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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St. Paul and the Painted Ladies

For almost three weeks my oldest son was home prior to deploying overseas. At least twice a day I’d go outside to our covered patio behind the garage and find him there, sitting with Buster his beagle, iPhone in hand, smoking a cigarette. Just three years ago I’d have been mortified by the sight of him sitting with no shirt, tattoos on his shoulders, smoking a cigarette. But there are battles to fight in this life that are worth fighting and as he left for boot camp later that October in 2014 I knew those were two skirmishes to be avoided. Three years later I find myself not minding so much.

And as was the case the last time he was sent overseas I’d go outside and be met by the starkness of his absence. It was like being struck in the face to go back there where I prayed a rosary or the Divine Office every day and have that image so fresh in my mind of him occupying that space. Yet I remind myself on a regular basis that he’ll return, or at least that’s the hope. I know there are hundreds and thousands of parents each day who face an empty patio chair, couch or bed of a loved one who will not be returning as they have left the earth. This sobers me and I’m able to keep myself together.

Yes, I take pictures of ash now.

The Sunday we took him to the Omaha airport to fly back to his base a few days before he deployed, we returned home to a house once again occupied by the four of us. Five counting Buster. I walked slowly outside and stared at the place we he’d sat just hours before and had “a last cigarette at home” and talked to me about “just stuff.” Sitting in his spot I looked down and saw the remnants of his habit: cigarette ashes. When he left for Iraq last year I’d swept the patio rug clean right away. This time, however, I’ve left them to linger. In a few weeks we’ll be sweeping the rug before rolling it up and putting it away for the winter. But for now I decided they could stay. Two years ago he promised me he would give up smoking when his four years were over, and he told me on that final Sunday morning that he was going to use his deployment to do so. Where he’s going cigarettes will be hard to come by, so he figured it would be the best time to do it. Right now I don’t care. I just want my son back.

The days before he arrived home for his leave my wife had clipped the dying flowers off the row of Black-eyed Susans we have near our deck. During his visit one small, defiant flower emerged and stood watch. I checked this morning in the rain and note that almost a month later it’s still there. For reasons I cannot explain this has brought me much comfort and every day when I’m outside praying I focus on that burst of yellow among the drab hues of autumn: the dark greens and the browns.

At her post.

On this, a gray, rainy day, and feeling down, I took my breviary to the Pink Sisters chapel as I try to do each week. I prayed for my family, friends, for peace but most especially for my son and his fellow soldiers. The following passage in the Office of Readings caught my eye and I spent the next 15-20 minutes re-reading and meditating upon it.

There is no need to worry; but if there is anything you need, pray for it, asking God for it with prayer and thanksgiving, and that peace of God, which is so much greater than we can understand, will guard your hearts and your thoughts, in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, fill your minds with everything that is true, everything that is noble, everything that is good and pure, everything that we love and honor, and everything that can be thought virtuous or worthy of praise. Keep doing all the things that you learnt from me and have been taught by me and have heard or seen that I do. Then the God of peace will be with you. – Philippians 4:6-9

The nuns have a little bookstore at the front entryway and I paged through a book that caught my eye. A Mind At Peace: Reclaiming an Ordered Soul in the Age of Distraction  contains a forward by Fr. Paul Scalia, son of the recently deceased Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia. He writes:

But we live in a schizophrenic culture. As much as we might want that peace, we still desire the world’s distractions. We love the gifts of the digital age: “Big Data,” connectivity, constant streaming, and so forth – even as we sense a need for quiet, for relief from information and communication overload. We want both the promises of the digital age and the habit of recollection (“mindfulness,” as it is now fashionable to say). It is increasingly clear how difficult it is to have both – to be at once digitalized and recollected.

Finding myself guilty of the above I decided to get the book.

As I wrote earlier this week social media…connectivity…all of the noise has finally gotten to me. I longer care to participate. While I have not deleted my Twitter account I’ve started with baby steps and “unfollowed” any and all political pundits or media people outside of one or two. This significantly reduced the clutter on my Twitter feed. It is now mostly comprised of baseball-related organizations, coaches and the like that I follow as well as Catholic priests, authors and media. Facebook is a beast I aim to tackle in 2018 once and for all. I’m also three years in to my old iPhone 5s and early next year am going to “downsize” my phone into a lesser model. Because the opening paragraphs of that books Introduction asks the same questions I’ve been asking myself for over a year.

Have you ever regretted sending an e-mail, a text, or a post? Have you recently forgotten an appointment that a year or two ago you would have had no difficulty remembering? Do you catch your mind wandering when you should be attending carefully to the task, or the person, right in front of you?

What about the way you have been spending your time? Is it difficult to refrain from checking your phone or e-mail every several minutes? Are you uncomfortable being alone and quick to look for relief from boredom? Do you find yourself browsing websites or trying to keep up with the latest news? Do you fall into binge-watching television shows, or playing just one more round of a video game? Are you preoccupied with social media to the point of compulsively checking updates, statuses, and likes?

Are you more often ill at ease or anxious than in the pasts? Are you uncomfortable with your own thoughts? Do you feel unfocused, distracted, restless? Are you finding less joy in conversation, reading, and prayer than you used to?

Yes! To all of the above. I remarked to my wife the other day that in 2017 I’ve read fewer books than I have since we were married almost twenty-five years ago. My lack of sustained focus and ability to read for more than twenty minutes annoys and also scares the hell out of me.

Feeling somewhat buoyed by what I read from St. Paul and the pages I’d scanned in the book, I went outside where the rain had momentarily stopped. While walking to the parking lot I was suddenly surrounded by little butterflies. They bounced off my face and head and I noticed that I had walked right by a flowered area. We’ve been enjoying thousands of these little visitors throughout Lincoln this fall and have a few dozen that have been squatting on some flowers in our yard as well. They are called Painted lady butterflies and our local paper wrote about them here. I watched them for several minutes and snapped a few pictures. Even after it once again began to rain I stood there watching them. It’s a fluke that they are even here this fall and I’ve not stopped to really notice and appreciate them. I recalled what I’d read by St. Paul in Philippians in the chapel:

…fill your minds with everything that is true, everything that is noble, everything that is good and pure, everything that we love and honor, and everything that can be thought virtuous or worthy of praise.

And so I will. Tonight I’ll look at a lone Black-eyed Susan in my backyard.

I’ll watch the Painted ladies.

And then the God of peace will be with me.

– Oct. 6: feast of St. Bruno

Painted ladies on Pink Sisters’ flowers.

National Dog Day, Cromwell, Liberty Valance, and so on…

A cool breeze and Supertramp on the radio.

A cool breeze and Supertramp on the radio.

Today is National Dog Day. In the spirit of this designation I thought I’d share a photo of the ever faithful Buster the Wonder Beagle™ doing what he does.

Snippets of what I’ve been reading or observing are below. Instead of the Friday Five format that I’ve been using for the last several years I’m switching up a bit this week. Basically because I have more than five things I wanted to include and rather than hold some over for next week I wanted to get them published today in case I get too busy next week. Mostly it’s because I’m too lazy to edit myself.

• Today is Day 12 of the 54-Day Rosary Novena for Our Nation and so far I’ve remained engaged. I have enjoyed getting up earlier to watch the sunrise while praying. I also continue to read Fr. Calloway’s excellent book Champions of the Rosary.

An unexpected treat in this book has been the history of the Rosary through the centuries. A little sampling perhaps? Ok then, here’s an excerpt from pages 93-94:

One telling account of the tremendous love that the Irish people had for the rosary during this time of persecution was written by the hand of the man who was sent to persecute and kill Catholics in Ireland: Oliver Cromwell.  Cromwell was an English military leader bearing the title “Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland.” During his military campaign in Ireland, he sought to rid the country of Catholics and made the following report back to his superiors in England.

All is not well with Ireland yet. You gave us the money, you gave us the guns. But let me tell you that every house in Ireland is a house of prayer, and when I bring these fanatical Irish before the muzzles of my guns, they hold up in their hands a string of beads, and they never surrender.

Incredibly, to this day in the town of Clonmel, in County Tipperary – an area of Ireland where the Dominicans have not had a house since medieval times – the following prayer is said by the faithful during the recitation of the rosary:

Glorious St. Dominic,
intercede with Mary Immaculate
to crush the serpent,
and let peace reign in the whole world.
You are the founder of the most holy rosary.
Do not permit the enemy
to penetrate into these places
where the rosary is recited.
Amen.

• This bit about the bloodthirsty fanatic (well he was) Cromwell struck me this week as I encountered an individual online who was a classic relativist. She persisted in defending the innocence of Islam while condemning the “bloody history” of Catholicism. She hit all the standard lines: the Inquisition, the Crusades, the Holocaust (wait…what?). After yet again citing the historical fact that 3000-6000 persons were killed over a 500 year period of the Inquisition (not “hundreds of millions”), and how the Crusades were a counter-attack and a defense brought about by Muslim aggression, I admit I shut it down when she trotted out the Holocaust.

Fr. Calloway’s book has already covered the Siege of Vienna, the Battle of Lepanto, and various other battles waged by Catholic Christians in defense against Muslim aggression.

• While we’re in the medieval era of Europe: I stumbled across a film I’d never heard of this morning called Ironclad (2011). According to imdb.com:

It is the year 1215 and the rebel barons of England have forced their despised King John to put his royal seal to the Magna Carta, a noble, seminal document that upheld the rights of free-men. Yet within months of pledging himself to the great charter, the King reneged on his word and assembled a mercenary army on the south coast of England with the intention of bringing the barons and the country back under his tyrannical rule. Barring his way stood the mighty Rochester castle, a place that would become the symbol of the rebel’s momentous struggle for justice and freedom.

The trailer is below, and I’ve already saved it to my Netflix watch list. I’m in the mood.

• As long as I’m in movie mode one of my favorites was brought to mind yesterday when I retrieved a rather thick, important looking envelope from my mailbox informing me that I was on call for jury duty for two weeks in October. Immediately my mind raced for ways to recuse myself before a possible jury selection process and for whatever reason this scene from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance popped into my head:

What do you think? If I stand up and holler “That’s right! Hang him! Give him a rope necktie and let him swing!” the attorney for the defense will want to keep me on the jury?

Just a (admittedly bad) thought.

• One more comment about medieval times and for that I defer to Hilliare Belloc, a favorite historian and an essay he wrote in 1912:

The Barbarian hopes—and that is the very mark of him—that he can have his cake and eat it too. He will consume what civilisation has slowly produced after generations of selection and effort but he will not be at the pains to replace such goods nor indeed has he a comprehension of the virtue that has brought them into being. Discipline seems to him irrational, on which account he is for ever marvelling that civilisation should have offended him with priests and soldiers. ~Hilaire Belloc: This That and the Other. (1912)

Did I say it was about medieval times? Sure sounds like it could have been referring to our 2016 barbarians, donit?

By the way, I’m not a Game of Thrones guy. Never seen an episode or read a page. Is that odd? Maybe, but I’ve read enough about it to know that in the limited time it just doesn’t draw me in.

And now you think less of me. Ah well, can’t win ‘em all.

• Michael Baggot, a Legion of Christ brother, wrote an article that caught my eye over at First Things this week. In “Lectio Divina and the Facebook Newsfeed” he begins:

Puppies bounding through a field, a jubilant wedding, a new round of beheadings in the Middle East, homemade tacos al pastor, an Olympics triumph over adversity. As my thumb slides over the Facebook newsfeed, I am drawn hypnotically to swipe and swipe again. Perhaps I will rediscover an old friend from college, or scroll upon a factoid to share at the dinner table. As I feed my curiosity, I realize that I have lost a half-hour, with little to show for it. I paid a visit to Facebook for a refreshing diversion, but instead I have grown wearier.

There is so much more I’d like to quote from this brief article, but it is brief and I do not want to steal his thunder and would instead very much encourage you to click over to read it yourself. Baggot points out how the endless scrolling and consuming all manner of different things from our Facebook newsfeed (and I would also include Twitter) affects our minds, as well as our ability to think, read and reflect. I have noticed as much during the past year when I read. I cannot seem to endure long passages of time spent in a book like I used to and have had to own up to the fact that each night I can’t stop picking up my phone to scroll through my timeline. Ironically the day before I read this article I logged out of Twitter and deleted it from my phone. Baby steps.

Baggot’s article is here. Please do yourself a favor and read it.

• The “On This Day” feature on Facebook is one in which it displays all the posts you made on that specific date during the year. This includes photos, links or your friend’s posts in which you were “tagged”. As I’ve read these over the past year the thought has occurred to me (more than once) that I was much more carefree, interesting and funny from 2009-2014. In short, I’ve passed my “sell by” date on social media. Or more accurately one might say that from 2009-14 I was Don Knotts’ character Barney Fife: affable, likeable, and funny now and then. But now I’ve morphed into Ralph Furley: the annoying, unfunny, overstayed-his-welcome guy who lives downstairs.

• Even my metaphors and references are as dated as the jumpsuits and ascots Furley wore.

Just a few more items and I’ll wrap this up.

• Brandon Vogt has produced yet another useful free service for Catholics that want to spend some time ahead of Sunday Mass reflecting on that week’s gospel passage. Simply go to DeeperGospel.com and sign up. Every Thursday you will receive an email containing that coming Sunday’s Gospel text along with three reflections from various saints or popes regarding that passage. I received my first email yesterday (Luke 14:1, 7-14) and the reflections were from St. John Chrysostom, St. Josemaria Escriva and Pope Benedict XVI. I read through it Thursday, did again this morning and will once more on Saturday.

A much better use of time than scrolling through cute kitty videos on Facebook, no?

• PS: You don’t have to be Catholic to put this to use.

• My bishop, James D. Conley of the Diocese of Lincoln, was featured in an interview that appeared in Catholic World Report yesterday. In the course of the interview Bishop Conley discusses his background, as well as that of our diocese and our high amount of priestly vocations. You can read the whole interview here.

• Yesterday I read this wonderful post by blogger John Pavlovitz from this past February. The title is “On the Day I Die” and is a marvelous meditation and reflection on what will happen on that fateful day. It is also a call to live. I was going to post a portion of it. But then I remembered the second reading from The Liturgy of the Hours that I’d prayed yesterday on the Memorial of St. Louis IX. It is from a spiritual testament written to his son are contains some great advice on how to live. I’ve decided to close out this week with some bulleted excerpts from it below. Both the words of St. Louis and of John Pavlovitz are worthy of mental chewing over the weekend.

  • My dearest son, my first instruction is that you should love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your strength. Without this there is no salvation.
  • Keep yourself, my son, from everything that you know displeases God, that is to say, from every mortal sin. You should permit yourself to be tormented by every kind of martyrdom before you would allow yourself to commit a mortal sin.
  • If the Lord has permitted you to have some trial, bear it willingly and with gratitude, considering that it has happened for your good and that perhaps you well deserved it.
  • If the Lord bestows upon you any kind of prosperity, thank him humbly and see that you become no worse for it, either through vain pride or anything else, because you ought not to oppose God or offend him in the matter of his gifts.
  • Listen to the divine office with pleasure and devotion.
  • As long as you are in church, be careful not to let your eyes wander and not to speak empty words, but pray to the Lord devoutly, either aloud or with the interior prayer of the heart.
  • Be kindhearted to the poor, the unfortunate and the afflicted. Give them as much help and consolation as you can.
  • Thank God for all the benefits he has bestowed upon you, that you may be worthy to receive greater.
  • In conclusion, dearest son, I give you every blessing that a loving father can give a son. May the three Persons of the Holy Trinity and all the saints protect you from every evil. And may the Lord give you the grace to do his will so that he may be served and honored through you, that in the next life we may together come to see him, love him and praise him unceasingly. Amen.

Friday Five – Volume 108

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.

Friday Five-Mere Observations

— 1 —

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.

— 2 —

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.

— 3 —

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.

— 4 —

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.

I'm using the Sacred Heart rosary I picked up while on retreat at Broom Tree four years ago.

I’m using the Sacred Heart rosary I picked up while on retreat at Broom Tree four years ago.

— 5 —

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.

[snip]

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.

Be thankful.

Removed

monalisa-selfie

Heather King has been in Rome for a few weeks. A few days ago she wrote about something that’s been on my mind a lot: our ongoing obsession with screens.

Never have I seen the throngs of folks wielding selfie sticks like the throngs at St. Peter’s in Rome. The whole scene was too much for me and I gave away my tickets to the Papal Mass and a Papal Audience in favor of wandering elsewhere, in particular along the banks of the Tiber.

[snip]

I’ve thought a lot about the phenomenon of posting our life instead of living it. On FB, no-one says I’m having a bad time, this place sucks, I feel lonely, depressed, and unloved, I just ate a ripoff meal. We don’t travel. We just move our body to a new place so we can have a different background for our Instagram pix.

I know, I know. Not another blog about how self-centered we all are with our phones. It’s been done to death and I agree. But I want to continue in the vein not of selfies, but of how we’ve become together alone. I’ve noticed this when walking around downtown, eating a meal at a restaurant, or even at a red light in traffic while looking into the car next to me. Literally no one is looking at their surroundings or at the people with them, usually the people we purport to love and care for the most. And, I’m ashamed to admit, I’ve noticed the same in my own living room at night. After supper we’ll sit down for a little while together as a family and as I pause to look up from where I’ve been catching up on my Twitter feed, my wife is looking into her phone, as my son is staring at his iPod and my daughter into her tablet. I look over at the dog’s bed in the corner of our living room and he’s looking at all of us, waiting for…something. I’m not sure. A discussion maybe? For someone to laugh and communicate in some manner? I imagine it all looks rather lonely to a beagle. Imagine how it would be to be a toddler or young child in a family who’s attention is not on each other, but on some handheld device. A cold, impersonal device.

“We have to accept that technological products are not neutral, for they create a framework which ends up conditioning lifestyles …. The idea of promoting a different cultural paradigm and employing technology as a mere instrument is nowadays inconceivable.” — Pope Francis, Laudato Si (2015)

On Oct. 21, 2015 I received an email letter from President Kevin Roberts of Wyoming Catholic College. I’m on this list because at one point I’d hoped my oldest son would attend school there. I’m going to quote parts of it.

At Wyoming Catholic College, we recognize the immense distractedness that cell phones create. Our policy requiring students to check-in their phones at the beginning of each semester fosters an environment in which we are truly present to others. From visitors to campus to employers of our graduates, many people remark at the joy and presence of our students. Though many factors can be attributed to those characteristics, we can attest to the absence of cell phones being a significant contributor.

Outside our WCC community, there is mounting evidence that we’d all would be well-served to untether ourselves from cell phones, even if for just a short while each day. From legitimate concerns about brain health to a recent report about teens’ posture being affected by overuse of cell phones, it is not an exaggeration to say that immoderate use of a tool has impacted humans negatively.

The most profound evidence of that problem may be photographer Eric Pickersgill’s new project, “Removed.” Pickersgill’s series of photographs capture the most normal of moments: families in the dining room, a couple reading at bedtime, and friends enjoying a barbecue. What’s captivating about each picture is that Pickersgill used software to remove the cell phone from each person’s hand, creating a stark image of how focused we are on our phones.

I’m going to break in here and urge you to click on the link to Pickersgill’s project right now. Here is that link again. I haven’t placed any of his photos in this blog post for copyright reasons. But these are among the most powerful, even haunting, photos I’ve ever seen. This is what we are saying is important to us. This is our priority. This is our downfall.

On his site Pickersgill says he got the idea while sitting in a café one morning and wrote the following observation:

Family sitting next to me at Illium café in Troy, NY is so disconnected from one another. Not much talking. Father and two daughters have their own phones out. Mom doesn’t have one or chooses to leave it put away. She stares out the window, sad and alone in the company of her closest family. Dad looks up every so often to announce some obscure piece of info he found online. Twice he goes on about a large fish that was caught. No one replies. I am saddened by the use of technology for interaction in exchange for not interacting. This has never happened before and I doubt we have scratched the surface of the social impact of this new experience. Mom has her phone out now.

The image of that family, the mother’s face, the teenage girls’ and their father’s posture and focus on the palm of their own hands has been burned in my mind. It was one of those moments where you see something so amazingly common that it startles you into consciousness of what’s actually happening and it is impossible to forget. I see this family at the grocery store, in classrooms, on the side of the highway and in my own bed as I fall asleep next to my wife. We rest back to back on our sides coddling our small, cold, illuminated devices every night.

President Roberts continued:

If you have doubted the naysayers about cell phone overuse, or questioned the wisdom of WCC’s cell phone policy, take a few moments to view and contemplate the photographs in “Removed.” They will convince you of the disordered obsession with our phones, which comes at the expense of the people in our company.

As I mention frequently, solutions to most of our social, cultural, and political problems begin with each of us taking small steps. Consider, therefore, what you can do to improve our genuine, face-to-face engagement with others. Imagine a dinner, a conversation, a meeting where each participant decides to put away their phone. Call instead of sending a text message.

We may very well learn again to prioritize the human persons in front of us, rather than the ephemeral appeal of a text message, Facebook post, or e-mail.

Back to Heather King’s blog for a minute to catch her ending:

Ticking, say, the seven basilicas of Rome off my checklist doesn’t make me a Catholic. What makes me a Catholic—a follower of Christ; fully human—is the way I see the world, experience the world. My poverty and need. My imagination, that sees the whole world as consecrated, redeemable. My human heart that, as all human hearts must be, is pierced through with a sword.

Chesterton said that “Culture is the art of growing things.” There is no growth if we do not cultivate and nurture our relationships with the people around us. There can be no family, no neighborhood and no community. There can be no culture.

This is what we miss when engrossed in our screens. We miss that part of our humanity in which we interact with and see the world. We are not just not communicating with those other humans that are with us, we are not communicating with nature, and by extension, the world itself. We do not see the world through our eyes, but through the eyes of an interpreter on the other end of that screen. We have abdicated our humanity and, ironically, our ability to have the choice we so ardently demand and desire. Any chance at having a mystical experience is removed, as is our ability to make our own mere observations.

Two years ago this November our household disconnected the satellite cable. Not only have we saved $2500 in two years but we haven’t missed it at all. I don’t feel that we and our kids are luddites, disconnected from the world. To be fair, into that vacuum rushed a different screen, proving that there will always be a vacuum if you are not careful. This is our next challenge as a family. This is the thing-that-must-be-removed. And then we must be prepared to fill that space.

Simply stated, we must be prepared to replace what we remove.

_________________

In the modern world the individual no longer faces silence, no longer faces the community, but faces only the universal noise. The individual stands between noise and silence. He is isolated from noise and isolated from silence. He is forlorn. ~ Max Picard, The World of Silence, page 65

 

Friday Five (plus one) – Volume 93

Friday Five-Mere Observations
Happy Feast of St. Augustine, one of my favorite saints and historical figures! And on we go to this week’s five in which I go primarily visual. 

— 1 —

In light of the events this week in which we entered a new age of social media in which it’s no longer ISIS that uses the medium to publish its snuff films, this article written last week by Monsignor Charles Pope holds some truths about how we’ve become more together alone.

The more materially affluent we get, the more spiritually poor we seem to become. The higher our standard of living, the lower our overall morals. The more filled our coffers, the emptier our churches. This is the evil of our times; and it is no theory. The data from the past 60 years demonstrate that as our collective standard of living has risen, church attendance and other signs of belief and spirituality have plummeted; so has family time and the developing of deeper human relationships. Marriage rates have declined drastically while divorces have soared. Birth rates are down. Children are viewed as a burden by a satiated world with a high standard of living.

And it isn’t just wealth; it’s all the things that distract and divert us. Most of these things are lawful pleasures, but it’s often just a case of too much of a good thing.

What if, instead, we were awed by God’s providence and fell to our knees in thanksgiving? What if, in our riches, we prayed and went to church even more, out of sheer gratitude? Alas, this is seldom the case today.

— 2 —

As an answer to that article and video comes a story from my diocese, city, and the neighborhood a few miles from my home. It’s a story/photo essay about the wonderful work put in by a community pulling together to furnish the recently rebuilt St. Patrick’s Catholic Church. Simply put they found joy in community and a purpose.

In the beginning, Father Troy Schweiger simply prayed about his plan.

“I said, ‘OK, God. How are we going to do this?’”

St. Patrick Catholic Church was replacing its old building, which had served Havelock for more than a century. Parishioners were emptying their pockets to pay for the new $5.5 million church, but they asked to do more.

“Almost universally, they kept saying, ‘Here’s our contribution.’ But they always followed up with: ‘If there’s anything I can do to help,'” Schweiger said. “People really wanted to do something that was substantial and meaningful. They wanted to be a part of building the church.”

So he came up with a plan: Parishioners could get involved by building the 69 pews for the new church. And the altar, pulpit, trim, baseboard and baptismal font.

The priest had another motive. By his estimates, the church could save more than $200,000 if it did the work itself.

So in November 2012, Schweiger scouted a creek near Palmyra, found a suitable oak and started his chainsaw.

At the end of the larger photo essay is a section called “Photos: Building a church, one pew at a time.” There are dozens of terrific photos (some of which moved me to tears) as I saw the process of how all of these local people came together. Some came from other city parishes, some were not even Catholic. But this photo and quote really made me smile:

stpatsLJSnewpulpit

Photo caption: It’s been more than a year since a car was parked in the rectory garage, which has become the woodworking shop for Schweiger and his mainstay volunteers. Here, Don Archer (left) listens to an impromptu homily from Mike Long, in the unfinished pulpit. The laughter is revealing, Schweiger said. “There’s joy. It’s not just drudgery. These people have come to know each other so deeply and so profoundly because they’ve worked with their hands to create something beautiful.”

— 3 —

 Since it’s his feast day I’ll quote St. Augustine:

When large numbers of people share their joy in common, the happiness of each is greater because each adds fuel to the other’s flame.

That common joy is evident in those pictures. Joy is something I used to write about on my Facebook page. It’s perhaps the most valuable commodity a person can possess. One that the world is constantly trying to rip from our grasps. Some of us give it up all too easily or even willingly. Some never discover they have it at all. It is easy to take Joy for granted and when we do it slips through our fingers like water.

If you pray the Divine Office each day you’ll begin The Office of Readings (or Matins) by praying Psalm 94 (or 95 in the Hebrew numbering). It begins:

psalm94-invitatory

Come, let us praise the Lord with joy; let us joyfully sing to God our Saviour. Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving, and with psalms let us sing our joy to Him.

Don’t forget praise and thanksgiving.

— 4 —

I used to drink a pot of coffee a day. I bought beans, ground them each morning, and brewed and drank an entire pot (because I felt I had to). Five years ago I bought a Keurig and joined the K-Cup crowd. I still use it each morning (and brew two cups on weekend mornings while I pray/read outside), but I do miss grinding those beans. Anyhow, here’s what happens to your body within an hour of drinking a cup of coffee.

— 5 —

If you close your eyes you’ll forget that the sounds you hear is one kid playing an accordion.

— +1 Bonus —

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention another beautiful new addition to our Catholic Church family here in Lincoln. Sadly I’ve been too busy to visit either of the two new churches in town, but have made plans to fix that this fall. This should have been #5 but I get the biggest kick out of the kid on the accordion. Must be the Czech in me.

You’ll find the story and some beautiful photos in the July edition of the Adoremus Bulletin. Click on the link to open the PDF file to read the story (and view the gorgeous photographs) that begins on page 6.

I was privileged a few years ago on a cold winter night to be part of a panel discussion on marriage presented to the men and women of the old Newman Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. It is a truly dynamic place and there’s nothing like it. I personally know several of the people in this video and am thrilled for what they accomplished with the help of so many benefactors. As expected, there is a crush of couples wanting to have their weddings take place at St. Thomas Aquinas and while attending the wedding of a friend’s daughter a few weeks ago at St. Teresa’s learned that on that day there were three weddings scheduled at St. Thomas: 1pm, 3pm and 5pm. And that’s pretty much a normal Saturday so far.

Within this short video of the Mass of Dedication highlights from this April is a brief time-lapse video showing the construction.

There is no place like Nebraska.

Adoremus Bulletin Hat tip: David Clayton at The Way of Beauty.

What St. Francis de Sales pointed out to me about social media

My edition of An Introduction to the Devout Life

My edition of An Introduction to the Devout Life

If unholy words are used secretly and with deliberate intention, they are infinitely more poisonous; for just as in proportion to its sharpness and point a dart enters easily into the body, so the more pointed a bad word, the further it penetrates the heart. Those who fancy that it is clever to introduce such things in society, do not know its aim, which should be like that of a hive of bees, gathered together to make honey, that is for pleasant and virtuous intercourse; and not like a nest of wasps which will feed upon anything however unclean. If any foolish person speaks to you in unbecoming language, show that your ears are offended, either by turning away from him, or by whatever means may be most discreet at the time.

A spirit of mockery is one of the worst imperfections of the mind, and displeases God greatly, so that He has often punished it most severely. Nothing is more hurtful to charity, and still more to devotion, than contempt and derision of our neighbor, and such is inevitably found in mockery. For this reason it has been said that mockery is the greatest insult a man can offer his neighbor, inasmuch as in other offenses he does not altogether cease to respect the person whom he offends, but in this he despises and contemns him.

St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622), An Introduction to the Devout Life (Chapter 27)

There was a time in my life, mostly during college, when I wielded my tongue like a sword, sarcastically ripping to shreds anyone who entered my crosshairs of the moment. Persons who wronged me, wronged friends of mine, or those who were just plain wrong (in my opinion) were all sliced and diced. Disguising this “talent” with dry humor and a quick flash, I left many a bloody body in my wake. Or at least I fancied that I did. Truthfully my targets rarely knew they’d been cut. My comments were made mostly to a group of friends who enjoyed engaging in such exercises as this with me. They were underclassmen and I’m ashamed to say I learned later that they really looked up to me as an example and even carried on this behavior after I graduated. I was to learn of this a year or two later while seated around a bonfire at a college party when I went back to visit them.

It was embarrassing and quite frankly horrified me to learn this. When the mirror was held up to my face I saw just how angry, bitter and wrong I was to speak like that about people, but also that I’d set an example that influenced guys that I really cared about, perpetuating the behavior. The odd thing was that during my senior year I had been the opposite of angry or bitter. It was in fact when of the happiest years of my life.

Looking back on that experience causes me to shudder when I think of how I would have acted were social media around in those days. I do not envy at all my children or their peers who are navigating through this minefield now. But as adults we now use the tools of social media and what I see is not encouraging to say the least. Those who are supposed to be the more mature among us are setting a terrible example for the next generation by acting like, well…children. It finally got so bad that almost three weeks ago I deactivated my Facebook account. The final straw for me came when a man whom I’ve known for thirty years reacted strongly and in a defensive posture when I posted a rare (for me) meme involving a politician (if you consider Donald Trump a politician). It was merely the latest of such “conversations” I’ve watched unfold between old and dear friends, and it was disheartening.

When I first joined Facebook in 2009 it was to monitor my oldest son who had opened an account. As I made new friends and found old ones, it was a really cool place to catch up, discuss events in our lives, and tell stories. There seemed to be some thought put into comments that were typed, and the replies contained even more thought. But then the worst thing that could happen, happened. The Facebook smartphone app was invented. Facebook became a home for photos of food (I love you dearly but I do not need to see the awesome grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup you had for lunch), videos of funny (or unfunny) cats. Viral video was born, and memes. Facebook became more of a visual cafeteria than one of discussion because it was easier. Have you ever tried to type out a coherent well-thought out sentence on a smartphone screen with one finger? It took too much time in a world that wanted speed over substance. Speed caused a reduction in courtesy, and quick reactionary (and often inflammatory) commentary rules the day. Reading some comments one can imagine hearing the slamming of fingers onto the poor phone’s screen as the words were pecked out.

Facebook-Twitter-on-mobile-phone

I watched this play out in real time on Twitter this morning. One of the first things I watched was an autoplay video someone retweeted from BuzzFeed of the live on-air execution of a television reporter and her cameraman as they interviewed a representative from that Virginia city’s chamber of commerce. With the horror fresh on the screen and their screams still echoing in our ears the feed was cut back to the studio and the stunned face of the woman behind the anchor desk. Amidst the cries from Twitter in the comments asking/telling/demanding/begging BuzzFeed to remove this video out of respect for the families of the dead (the cameraman’s fiancé was in the control room back at the station watching the entire event live), almost immediately ugly politics entered the fray. Comments screamed out that the shooter was obviously a Muslim/Black/White/Democrat/Republican/NRA-supporting/illegal immigrant/Tea Partying nutjob, amirite???

(I’ve provided no links nor further commentary as this story continues to develop as I write. I understand the shooter just shot himself a few minutes ago. You’ll have to seek out information on your own.)

I decided to avoid Twitter for the rest of the day.

The political realm is the worst, followed by “the cause”. But this would involve a whole other post that I don’t wish to write about now. Mostly what got to me was the sheer hypocrisy of most. Posts or photos of Zen sayings quoting Buddha or some other eastern mystic extolling the virtues of maintaining peace by being kind to others were followed by photos or news stories mocking a politician/celebrity/reality show star. I had one friend who did this regularly. She would quote Rumi one minute and in the next shred Sarah Palin with a “smirk”. I’m not a Palin fan necessarily, but after awhile the hypocrisy of it all got really old.

Our attentions spans have grown so short that we contradict ourselves within minutes.

We say things to each other (or passively-aggressively past each other) in our status updates or Tweets that we would never say directly to the face of our targets. What I’m seeing is a very public repeating of the crap I pulled as a 21-22 year old by people whom I respect and who, quite honestly, should know better. Should we really be surprised when our children do the same, or speak that way to us? Before I closed my Twitter today I saw a tweet from a priest I follow in which he pointed to evidence that our children are, in fact, watching how we conduct ourselves as adults. Not just in the homes, I would add, but online as well.

I will be reactivating my Facebook soon, though not after today’s events in Virginia. I’ll wait awhile. I realized yesterday that it is the only place I can access some poetry and song lyrics sent to me by a good friend who is pretty good at those things. I will not access it with my phone’s app and my time there will be greatly diminished during the day. I’ve kept Facebook all these years because it is a great way to stay in touch with family and close friends from around the country. But I will also be removing those who “poison” my well, so to speak, by conducting themselves more as wasps and less like bees as alluded to by St. Francis.

The more cynical or those considering themselves the paragons of irony will no doubt sneer at this statement. They are the wasps. I truly do not care. Someone has to draw the line somewhere and Saint Francis de Sales carries more weight with me.

Besides, he was right.

bees_wasps