Thursday, February 28, 2008

A Documentary about Euripedes? And There Are Puppets?

I watched a provocative documentary last night called Protagonist, by Jessica Yu. The documentary was about what it means to be a man, to be heroic, real, honest. It's about control (or it's illusion). It's about change and being unable to change. It's about fathers and sons. It left me thinking, and I'm writing to help me think about it.

One of the issues Protagonist speaks about is the idea of certainty - the tragedian dangers of it. And I understand they are there. I understand the hubris that is rightly associated with it. But there is certainty and there is certainty.

Let me provide a simple example from religion. Faith is certainty - this is what the writer of Hebrews teaches us. (I don't mean to imply that we don't doubt or question at times. Doubt is common to every man.) But with this certainty I can go one of two ways: (1) I can love God, love people, or (2) I can become a tyrant of righteousness - a jihadist, an unflinching apologist unmindful of the expense, a crusader. And, here's the rub, I can be both of these - sometimes within the same hour. Christianity is not safe - the world is right about that. It is certainly no guarantor of civility or love. History and the mirror say so. But Christianity, Christ, is the way to love, to kindness, to the Father. Each of us are becoming more alive or more dead - we choose life or we choose death (and, for a moment, relieve those phrases from their ties to abortion). In death we reject others. We hate. We categorize and judge. In life, we embrace. We befriend people like the ex-ex-gay evangelist. We forgive the terrorist, the thief. We forgive our fathers. We love. And it doesn't matter how they think of us or what they say about us or how they treat us. Regardless of what we receive, we give back love.

We must humanize people - see them with eyes of compassion, as brothers and sisters. This documentary helps to do this without taking away personal responsibility. It sees sources, it sees abuse, but it doesn't leave the blame there. As our German terrorist, Hans-Joachim, says, "I am not the victim. I am the perpetrator."

It's a good documentary, but also a difficult one. I'd be happy to continue the conversation in the combox.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Thinking Out Loud, Even When I Know Better

I've been a bad blogger in recent weeks: I've been busy. I've been enjoying family. I've been reading books. I've been watching politics. So let me explain some of what has been taking place in my brain, and then I'll step aside and let the metaphoric shit idiomatically hit the fan.

I've been thinking a great deal about my faith and my ballot card in recent weeks. I've talked about it briefly here before. But I have a serious and growing conflict in my heart over Sen Obama. I like this man. I like his stand on a lot of the issues, as socialized and liberal as they may seem to some. Here are some of the things I like: (1) The "conservative" view of immigration is, to me, untenable as a follower of Christ. And it stinks of fascism - the very idea of rounding up people for deportation is abhorrent to me. I've seen police set up blockades on streets leading to our parish, which has a high Mexican population, on Sunday mornings - actually picking up people who are on their way to worship. That is not the America I love. That is not how we are told to treat the alien and the stranger. That is not how we treat our poor neighbors. (2) That all children receive health care in the richest nation on earth, and all people be able to afford it, also seems a no-brainer - and perhaps it seems so because I have no great wealth that currently provides me the oft-touted "best health care in the world." (3) To pull a card from the Obama playbook: I have been against the war in Iraq since the beginning. And while I think it has become tragically complicated now that we're there (and a simple pull-out ill-advised perhaps), I also am terribly sickened by it. The war has meant persecution and suffering for Iraqi Christians as well as countless other innocents, not excluding the loss of American lives.

So let's play a little Tevye: On one hand, I am resolutely pro-life. I believe it is my responsibility as a citizen and as a Catholic to vote. On the other hand, thinking about voting for John McCain, leaves me feeling nauseated: same turd herders, same price. On the other hand, I like the rhetoric of Obama, and do not believe that it is just rhetoric. I like the inspiration and hope that he brings to the table. On the other hand, I do not in any way condone his views on life within the womb. On the other hand, I am not taken in by the fear-mongering of extremists who worry about his name or his cult following or who think (erroneously) that he didn't put his hand on his chest during the Pledge of Allegiance. That's wacko land. And, of that country, I don't intend to be a citizen.

Will I vote for Obama? I don't know. If I do, it will be in spite of his views on abortion. For me a vote for Obama would not be a light matter. But then, a vote for McCain would also be a reluctant vote.

The big question, of course, is how does someone who is pro-life reconcile that belief with a vote for Sen Obama? It is certainly not by weighing the good I believe Obama would do with the evil of abortion. But it no longer seems so easy to me as casting a vote. It is not as simple a choice as a choice between life or death, between good and evil. A Republican vote does not guarantee that life will take root in our land or that more children will be saved. A Democratic vote does not mean that more children will be murdered. And a simple vote does not wash my hands clean from the evil of abortion, or absolve me of my responsibility to be a force for life (from conception to death) in the circles in which I live and move. Last night, I watched a post-abortive woman talk about the suffering she has been through. And while I felt her pain deeply, I also came away wondering that if many women feel as she does, to a greater or lesser degree pressured or duped into abortion (without choice) - what becomes of these women? What becomes of the people who push death rather than life? Do they suddenly cease to exist in conformity to the law of the land? Our society must change its view on life before any law (or revocation of law) has any great effect. Abortion is, for many people, understood as a right. It's the default mentality of our society, like contraception or sterilization.

What is required of me as a Catholic? This is a difficult question. And I've found it difficult to find a consistent answer with the wide array of Catholic thought (from extremely conservative to extremely liberal). As I understand it, the faith of the Church views a vote for a pro-abortion candidate as a grave sin if the vote is cast because of the candidate's position on abortion. To me that leaves the door open for a vote for a pro-choice Democrat. Again, not because he or she is pro-choice, but rather in spite of it.

At the end of the day, with a Hillary nomination or clear direction to vote pro-life come hell or high water, I may be required to take one for the team and vote for McCain. And that will be OK with me. But it seems that voting this year will deeply sadden me regardless of how or whether I come to any resolution on this issue.

Pray for me. Pray for our leaders, our country, our world. Pray for peace. Pray for those unborn who have had their lives unjustly stolen from them, and for those whose mothers are considering abortion. And pray for women who find themselves with unwanted and untimely pregnancies, who feel as if they are trapped, without hope or options. Pray that they might find hope in new life. That they might rediscover faith while in the oil press. That they might discover in the midst of their suffering, love. And that we might be the ones who show them that love.

Photograph by Annie Leibovitz, from Men's Vogue.

Monday, February 25, 2008

More Maintenance

I'm puttering around trying to figure how to completely change over to my Gmail addresses. I've been trying to set up my new home address to function with my Apple Mail, but I'm not having good results (it says my IMAP info isn't set up - ah! but it is!). If you have a Gmail account that you use with another mail program such as Apple mail or Eudora, could you let me know how you do it? I'd appreciate it. I have a Google Notifier, but that only works well with one Gmail account.

Technically Challenged in the Carolinas,

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Change of E-mail

I'm changing my home e-mail address. So if you, by any remote chance, have my home "" address I wanted to let you know that it's changing as we're tired of shelling out $100/year for it (sure, a Mac account comes with more perks than just an e-mail account, but we don't use them enough to justify the expense). Please e-mail me at the "" address if you want the new address.

Thanks - Oh, and sorry it's been so long since I've posted. I'll try to get back to it soon. It just hasn't been the priority recently. But everything is going quite well.

One more thing, the e-mail address associated with this blog is remaining the same and can be found through the link under my name.

Friday, February 08, 2008

The Decemberists - The Crane Wife 3

My older son loves this song by The Decemberists. It came on during the trip home from the dentist yesterday, and we listened to it for at least twenty minutes (not to mention that once we were home we couldn't get out of the truck until it had finished). Over and over again. Will sat staring out the window and sucking on his two fingers as he listened. And he sings:

hane my head yo.
hane my head, hane my head yo.
I wi' hane my head yo.

Daddy, why he hane he head?

The song is based on the beloved Japanese children's tale, "The Crane Wife."

The illustration is by Cheryl Kirk Noll.

Monday, February 04, 2008

The Lake Days

The yellow-haired girl eschews todays, yesterdays, and last weeks. She prefers this days and the other days. And when she speaks of that difficult-to-wait-for future, she speaks of the next days. Some days, of course, get their proper due: Her birthday, for instance, and Christmas. But even more than birthdays and Christmases, she speaks of the Lake Days. These are halcyon days: Summer evenings at the lake. Riotous family days.

In winter, she hides her bathing suits under her clothes as she dresses, and she comes out of her room and asks when the Lake Days will come. Their absence weighs on her.

She doesn't feel the rocky beach beneath her quick, sturdy feet that so torment me. She doesn't see the cloudy water that makes me wonder about the safety of swimming in this dammed-up river. She doesn't feel the unrelenting heat and the restlessness her father feels to leave for a more air-conditioned country. She only wants it to be the days when she only wants it to be now, this day.

Oh for the Lake Days, when one casts off the too-fittedness of modernity and clothes oneself with water, buoyed up and released. There is new life in that brown river, swept down this day.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Barnes & Noble

So, OK, maybe it's a giant operation that implacably devours all that's good in small-town America. I get it. But, on the other hand, because of its prevalence and the ubiquity of gift cards, it can also be an oasis for a child-beleaguered bibliophile. I, thank goodness, usually get at least one gift card from BN when people are giving gifts. I request them. That way a parent living in Michigan or an in-law in Virginia can buy this poor man, who would buy books before he bought clothes or food (at least for a couple of hours), at their BN and I can spend it at mine.

In the past we used cash. That works as well. But the nice thing about the gift card is that I can't use it to pay for groceries or put it in the general budget for whatever we might currently be in need of.

And the nice thing about the gift card is that my wife is gracious enough to let me go to the bookstore alone with my gift card. (Ah, so many books and so little money.) And this is the real gift, this free browsing time. No child in a stroller pulling books off shelves or proudly screaming louder than anyone else in the store. No children running to the Thomas the Tank Engine play table or needing supervision as they browse through the children's section. The real gift in a BN gift card is this moment: Just me and a store-load of books. That's priceless.

My hour was spent yesterday and I left the juggernaut of a bookstore with The Divine Comedy (Everyman's Library edition, hardcover, with all three cantos [Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso], translated by Allen Mandelbaum) and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford by Ron Hansen (which is, unfortunately, only available at the bookstore with the movie jacket - something I loathe on all books and am therefore proposing a two-year cap [which is too generous] on stocking and selling such books with such loathsome jackets regardless of how nice said jackets look).

Anyway, I've cracked open The Divine Comedy and am currently enjoying the second circle of hell. C'est la vie. Or maybe, c'est la mort? Anyway, it's beautiful in spite of itself.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Who We Are Instead

Are you ever struck by the lyrics of a song in ways not intended by the artist or even supported by the lyrics themselves - by a phrase or a combination of different phrases pulled from the song? Of course you have.

There's a terrific song by Jars of Clay titled "Trouble Is." Here are the lyrics:

My wings don't sail me to the sky
On my own these wings won't fly
Jesus told me so
Still I'm not so sure that I know

Can't find no rest for my soul
Can't find no rest on my own
Jesus told me so
Still I'm not so sure that I know

Chorus: Man, the trouble is
We don't know who we are instead

I keep runnin' the other way
My heart ain't built to stay
My heart ain't built to stay
And the world just ain't that way

My heart ain't built to stay
My heart ain't built to stay
Jesus told me so

(By the way, even if you aren't a Jars fan, you'll love their album Redemption Songs. And if you like the feel of it, you will probably also enjoy Who We Are Instead.)

What strikes me recently about this song, which I never seem to tire of, are the phrases, "Can't find no rest for my soul" combined with the chorus, "Man, the trouble is we don't know who we are instead." Restless souls without an identity, without a home. That's what is striking to me. Some of this resonance is due to my own history, recent and less so - my own path. Some due to choices and paths friends have recently made.

Let me briefly recapitulate my ecclesial journey before I discussing anyone else's: Fundamentalist-Evangelical, Evangelical, post-Evangelical, Emerging-Post-Modern, Catholic. I was lost in recent years. In danger of being truly lost, I've come to realize. Perhaps not irrevocably, but truly. Lust, cynicism, arrogance, and much more were surely destroying me. It is in looking back at my being post-Evangelical and Emerging that the Jars song hits me so profoundly. I knew what I no longer wanted and why, but, trouble was, I didn't know who I was instead. I was restless. I still, according to St Bono, hadn't found what I was looking for.

As I was emerging, I sloughed off authority after authority - institution after institution - in favor of what fell in line with my own thinking (even though my own thinking remained as it always had been, mostly orthodox). And the result was further restlessness. I have seen friends wrestling with the same restlessness right into disbelief. I have seen other friends wrestle their way into something with form, but no substance, no power. Others into heresy. Most into further division and schism. I began to despair. I had created a world in which I was king, and I came to realize that I did not know how to reign rightly. Nor could I ever learn.

But there is a remedy to restlessness and despair. It is humility and obedience. In Catholicism I found authentic authority born out of and given by the only authentic authority, Christ. And I found home in submission to this authority. And in doing so I have rediscovered freshly the One who speaks with authority.

St Cyprian says, rather loudly, No man can have God for his Father who does not have the Church for his Mother. In extremity, this quote can be misapplied in our age as it was spoken in another. But the truth of the matter remains: God has placed the fullness of Christ in his Church (Ephesians), and it is the Church that is the foundation and pillar of the truth (1 Timothy).

This post, I suppose, is a kind of plea to some specific people. I'm not naming names. Most of those whom I have in mind do not even read this journal. Though I have some specific people in mind, you are probably not him or her. Regardless, here is my plea: There is solace in Christ's Church, protection from sin and redemption in sorrow. There is pardon and peace. There is a King. There is a Father because there is a Mother (because of the Father). And there is Christ-with-Us - parousia, now and not yet.

I understand that my Catholic zeal can come across as triumphalism. I don't intend for it to, though I have been surely guilty here. There is one Church, and I love her.

One final thought, for a friend whose particular journey grieves me: God is love. God is life. There is neither without him. Just as one cannot love God without loving his brother, so one cannot love his neighbor without loving God. You think it is otherwise, but you are mistaken. I am praying for you, brother.