Thursday, June 26, 2008

Still Here

Still here. Being dragged to lake. Finishing chores left undone. Jumping dead batteries after overhead lights are left on for a week. Getting oil changed in truck. Napping. Will return shortly.

Monday, June 23, 2008

If You Can't Say Something Nice

As I was taking time to compose a post (bits and pieces over the past three days), I came across an excerpt from a book that always strikes a resonant chord: St. John Climacus's (+650) The Ladder of Perfection. Today's excerpt came from the Daily Gospel that I receive, well, daily in my inbox. It stopped my pencil. (Perhaps an old dog can learn a new trick or two.) And this refrain constantly comes to the forefront: Do not judge. Do not judge. Do not judge.

Here's the quote:

I have heard some people speak ill of their neighbour and have rebuked them. To defend themselves, these evildoers have answered: "We are saying these things out of charity and concern!" However, I have replied: "Stop practising a charity like that or you will be accusing of deceit the one who said: 'Whoever slanders his neighbour in secret, him will I destroy,' (Ps 101[100],5). If you love him – as you claim – pray for him in secret and don't make a mock of the man. This is the way of loving that pleases the Lord; don't lose sight of it and you will take the greatest care not to judge sinners. Judas was of the number of the apostles and the thief was among the criminals but, in an instant, what an astonishing change! ..."

So reply to anyone who speaks evil of his neighbor to you: "Stop, brother! I myself fall into the most serious faults every day; how could I now condemn this man?" Thus you will make a twofold gain: you will heal yourself and heal your neighbor. Not judging is a shortcut towards the forgiveness of sins, if this saying is true: "Do not judge and you will not be judged" ... Some people have committed grave faults in the sight of everyone but, in secret, have carried out the greatest acts of virtue. Thus their detractors have been mistaken by focussing only on the smoke without seeing the sun ...

Those who are hastily censorious and severe fall into this delusion because they don't keep the memory and constant care of their own sins before them ... Judging others is shamelessly to usurp a divine prerogative; condemning them is to bring down our own souls ... Just as a good grape-picker eats the grapes that are ripe and does not pick those that are green, so a watchful and sensible soul carefully takes note of all the virtues he sees in others; but it is the stupid man who keeps an eye on their faults and failings.

I am a stupid man. I hate judgmentalism in others because I see it so clearly in me. Lord, have mercy.

Pray for me, St. John Climacus, that I might love truly, forgive all, and judge none.

Friday, June 20, 2008

N.T. Wright Vs. Stephen Colbert, Kind Of

Not what I was hoping for last night, but a mildly amusing interview anyway. By the way, when I met the good bishop he had the same clothes on, and that was three years ago. I don't know what's up with that.

And if you're interested in more about the book: Here's Bishop Wright and Fr. Neuhaus of First Things going at it. Some good criticism by each of the men, I would imagine. Nevertheless, writing is an unforgiving mistress. A cautionary tale here for each of us. Certainly for me.

And here's Neuhaus's review of Surprised by Hope. (My linking is a little bass ackwards, my apologies.)

Thursday, June 19, 2008


Schooool's out. for. summeeerrr! Schooool's out. for. eveeerrr!

(Not hardly, but it is permissible that one may kid oneself on his first free afternoon.)

Starting Tuesday, Laura's first day out, Every Day Is Saturday™, again. Make a note of it.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Nonchalance in the Midst of Great Chalance

Sophie is testing all week, per our state's requirement for homeschooled kids. Now, in our neck of the woods, parents are allowed to administer the tests themselves. I appreciate this because it trusts me. The downside is that today while administering a math test, I was nearly driven into apoplexy as I watched my child marking, left and right, the wrong bubbles. I was staid, and remained so. Nonchalant. But how utterly maddening to know that she knows better and then to be forced to watch her record one incorrect answer after another. It was as if she were punishing me.

I quickly determined (with my razor-sharp intellect) that it would have been wise to use a practice test, in order to provide some strategies for taking such tests - like the ins and outs of using scratch paper. (Apparently there is a difference between telling something to a child and actually having her do it.)

Oh! how I need a vacation.

Friday, June 13, 2008

And This News Just Makes Me Sad

Tim Russert died today of an apparent heart attack. He was 58 years old.

Memory Eternal!

More Stuff

The other day, wonder of wonders, my daughter gave me a pencil to sharpen. I worked on it for several minutes, but couldn't quite get down to the lead. I looked at it carefully, then, took out my pocket knife and split it open. The pencil had no lead. Not an ounce. In my 37+ years I've never seen such a thing.

Come quickly, Lord Jesus. Come quickly.

Yesterday, Will was combing his hair, which he never does. He looked at a picture of St Paul that I had on the table, who was holding the Scriptures in one hand and a sword in the other. Intrigued by the sword, he said, "I want my hair to look like him."

"He's bald, son," I said.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Some Stuff

Life is funny. Just when I start getting interesting in pipe smoking, it possibly turns to dirt. The last couple of mornings after smoking, I've woken up with a monster migraine. I'm not certain the two are causally related, but it's likely. For me, it simply doesn't take much of a change in environment to trigger a headache. And that reaction from my body just makes me sad. I like the ritual of the pipe - the quiet of it, its spirituality. I'm going to give it a few more shots, but if the headaches, such severe headaches, continue on subsequent mornings, then this sordid affair, though passionate, will be short-lived.

On Fresh Air today (NPR), Terry Gross interviewed Ron Hansen, author of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and who has just released a new historical fiction book on the life of Gerard Manley Hopkins (one of my most favorite of poets). Mr. Hansen is a deacon in the Catholic Church and Hopkins was a convert to the Catholic Church, who became a Jesuit priest and whose poetry was all published posthumously. This is my kind of book. It's titled Exiles and I think it's going to my Father's Day gift to myself. (Happy Father's Day to me! Happy Father's Day to me!)

Speaking of books, today the UPS man brought a gargantuan box of the complete works of Shakespeare, hardcovers all, 38 books total. The offer was through Amazon and published by the Penguin Group. All for $60 (that's $1.58 per play). A splurge on my part, but I couldn't resist. ("Happy Father's Day to you!" sings my wife. "Happy Father's Day to you!")

I lost my Rosary and am quite frustrated about it (truth be told, I'm cussing mad). I had it sitting on the night stand next to my bed and two days ago it came up missing. I checked with the local pack rat (yellow-haired), but she doesn't seem to have it. No one has seen it. I've checked under and in the bed and in all the pockets of shorts and jeans I've worn and I can't find it. It really bothers me. My dad gave me this Rosary, one that he had from ages past and I've enjoyed praying with it. Say a quick prayer for me that I'll find it, if you would, since I obviously can't pray without it.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Another Bad Habit

Two years ago, on Father's Day, I purchased two tobacco pipes off eBay: A Peterson Irish Seconds and a Wellington Medium. I was trying to get on board cheap. I received the pipes and they sat in my important-things basket largely forgotten. You'd think in North Carolina that you could find tobacco in Toys-R-Us, but you can't. (Well, perhaps cigarettes.) So earlier this year while at a mall we infrequent, about an hour from where we live, I stopped by a tobacco store and picked up two ounces of pipe tobacco. I ordered a smoker's knife off eBay and had Laura pick up more wooden matches from the grocery store the next time she was there.

I've smoked about five times in the past two months. The first time was outside at midnight after watching a movie by myself - I went through 30 matches easily. I'm a student, a novice, a newbie. I used to not like being inexperienced at something, but I've realized that in nearly everything in my life I am a learner. So it became easier to ask the owner of the shop about smoking a pipe and his advice on tobacco.

Now being a novice is not the only thing that makes beginning smoking difficult. There is a good deal of societal pressure against starting a habit like smoking or drinking when you're a quiet, staid adult rather than an experimental, wild youth. Some people think it's wrong and others speak of its dangers. Some think it's wrong because of the dangers.

Anyway, I've smoked the Irish Seconds pipe every time and haven't had a great deal of luck with the pipe. It is the nicer looking of the two pipes I have, but apparently it goes no further. Today I tried the other pipe with great success. I smoked through an entire bowl and only used about seven matches. Now a more seasoned smoker might chuckle at that number, I don't know. But for me to get through a bowl with seven matches when I was only smoking through a quarter of a bowl with three times as many is an accomplishment.

Now my dad asked a particularly cogent question about my drinking (my learning to appreciate beer, really) recently that is also appropriate to my picking up smoking, "Why do you want to try to like it?" And this question seems fair to me as drinking and smoking are not seen as entirely respectable in the circles in which I grew up. But as it concerns smoking a pipe and drinking beer, some of my reason has to do with being an adult, just as with coffee (though caffeine remains a less potent and more accepted drug). Coffee was particularly distasteful to me for years. But I plugged on because it seemed practical to enjoy a coffee with a friend and to get me moving in the morning. I love coffee now, though I am still also learning to love it. But there is more to it besides being an adult that drove me to drink and smoke. (It's the children, I tell ya!) Tobacco pipes and beer have always held a romantic place in my heart because of two English professors whom I greatly admire: C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. I devoured everything these two men wrote and wanted to be like them when I grew up. Of course, smoking and drinking were off limits - which, perhaps, made it that much more romantic for me. To boot, Jesus drank. And I always thought it would be a shame not to be able to enjoy a nice glass of wine with our Lord in the Hereafter. Furthermore, people have always found a great deal of pleasure in these two pastimes - respectably so in moderation. And as a child, I was enthralled by it. My godfather smoked a pipe and the cherry tobacco smelled, well, simply perfect.

Moreover, I'm quite ornery. And I get tired of stupid arguments about alcohol and sermons about juice and jelly in the first century. Jesus was accused of being a drunkard (though he was not) and of eating with drunkards. It seems like fine company to me.

So I will continue to ask around and learn how to enjoy these simple, age-old diversions. Pointers are welcome. Harbingers of my soon demise are not. Unless you're my mother.

A quick story from the yellow-haired files: While smoking in front of my children, Avery said to me, "Blow a circle like Randalf."

This comment made me chuckle, of course, and I told her that, sadly, I could not blow a smoke ring like Randalf - that he was a great wizard of Middle Earth and a far sight more gifted and experienced a smoker than I. And magic helps.

She then said, "Do you like the air when you smoke?"

"Yes, I do," I said. "It makes me feel ..." I paused to try to capture in words the peace and simple pleasure of it.

"Even weirder?" Avery offered.

Friday, June 06, 2008

The Problem with Piercings

The yellow-haired child has been carrying around a plastic silver-colored earring that she can slide on or off - I'm not sure earring was the pea-sized circle's primary purpose in its creation, but it's what it's used for. Of course, I rarely see it on her ears. It's usually on her nostril or her lip.

Yesterday she had it on her lower lip most of the day, and after Laura got home from work I switched it up to her nostril (I'm really no help in raising proper children). Sophie walked by and, upon seeing it, dismissed it saying, "It'd sure be hard to pick your nose."

Thursday, June 05, 2008

What Happened to Spring?

Here's our forecast: Today it's going to be 98°. Tomorrow, 99°. And Saturday and Sunday are each supposed to reach 100°. That's more appropriate for August, and has no business whatsoever in early June. (Just letting whomever is interested know.) The dog days are the downside of living in North Carolina. And why'd they have to come so early?

Giving thanks to God for A/C in NC.

The Church, Our Mother

Two ladies came to my door last night. I thought they were from the local Kingdom Hall, but as it turned out they were Baptists. They were very nice women and asked if they could send a bus to pick up my children for VBS at the end of June. They wanted names and ages, wanted the legion of children peeking out at them from behind and beside me registered then and there. I had some questions because of my wife's still being in school (extended year, long story) and hemmed and hawed my way out of Registration Now. I was given a flyer with a number to call if I decided to have the kids picked up.

We are not here to quibble over whether I am yellow. I am. So I did not say that I was not interested because I was Catholic. They simply would not have understood. They would not understand how they, with purest intentions, would try to steal God's graces from my children by trying to steal them from his Church.

There are some people, of course, who are Protestant and I would have few problems with them teaching my children about the Scriptures, about Jesus. They know us and, while they do not really understand our being Catholic and do not feel similarly, they respect that we are Catholic. They respect that we do love Christ and that we are in Christ. They understand that much and that much is enough. We know and trust them.

Strangers certainly do not have that relationship, however, and my children become little more than wheat-white-unto-harvest to them. Because they love them? Yes. Because Catholics and Protestants end up speaking past each other, as if speaking different languages? Certainly.

I am not disparaging Protestants here. Let us be honest with one another without having our feelings hurt: If you are a Protestant, you would not send your children to a Catholic VBS either. (Yes, we have them.) Just as you are for your children, I am responsible for the spiritual upbringing of mine. I brought them into the Catholic Church. And I intend to raise them in the Church and keep them in the Church. They may someday leave her. I pray that they do not, but someday they may. But that will then be their decision. Now, as children, they are unable to process or handle the differences between the Catholic Church and Protestant denominations. Now they only understand whether someone loves Jesus.

And some of you may well be wishing we were all like children in this respect, but that, unfortunately, is not our reality. We have real differences. We believe differently. And we must be willing to speak of our differences in order that we may be united with one another. As I said in the comment box for my post on C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity, "Knowing Jack," we cannot be faithful or deep Christians by all of us crowding into the hallway in between the separate rooms. Real ecumenism is not in the part, but in the whole - and it can only take place in one of the rooms.

I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. She is visible; not invisible. She must be: If the Church is invisible, then she is also indivisible, which renders our visible unity and Christ's prayer in John 17 meaningless, entirely useless.

But I'm getting off track. My children are saved; they're being saved - I do not need things muddled for them by someone asking them to be part of the Kingdom of which they already belong. I do not need them wondering about whether they prayed a prayer or whether they meant it. We pray. We love. We worship. We live and move and breathe in him. We have friendship with Christ because he has poured out his grace upon us.

I am not against evangelization, by any means, or against the spirit which motivates these good Baptist women to put feet on their faith and knock on my door. But if you wish to evangelize my children, teach them the Scriptures. Make them better Catholics. They do not need to be saved from the Church, but through her.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Knowing Jack

I am enjoying immensely reading through C.S. Lewis again. First, The Abolition of Man, and now, Mere Christianity. It's one of the things I love about good books - that each reading, each tasting, is different and each subsequent view richer.

I appreciate what Lewis does in this book, and while I admire what he attempts with his "mere," I also see negative ramifications of that same "mere." There is nothing mere or boiled down about Christianity. Because there is no essence to which Christianity can be boiled down. It is wholeness and fullness because it is Christ, and anything less than that fullness is less, not mere. All things considered, it is a very Protestant perspective of Christianity and therefore a very measured and fair view of the thing: He tries to say what is universally Christian among all who can claim the title. It is certainly more how I'd like to talk with family about faith, while not obscuring what I believe to be true. But it is still less. Then again, how much can you do in such a slim volume? I have disagreements here - that being said, Lewis is brilliant. His chapter on faith and works (Chapter 12) is a masterpiece and ought to be read by Catholics and Protestants alike who still imagine there a divide. He has terrific insights into the idea of "Sonship" that all of us, male and female, participate in. And he's readable, familiar, and goes to nearly embarrassing lengths to be so. The depth of his faith is context for the book, though it is seldom front and center. It is like a rich landscape painted with the promise of exploration, but remains, in this picture, only the backdrop. And I'm left wanting more of it - but he's cordoned off fabulous bits of the picture. Then again, how much can you do in such a slim volume?

There is this snippet at the end of his chapter on charity: "But the great thing to remember is that, though our feelings come and go, His love for us does not. It is not wearied by our sins, or our indifference; and, therefore, it is quite relentless in its determination that we shall be cured of those sins, at whatever cost to us, at whatever cost to Him." That's classic Lewis and authentic Christianity. And it's these moments of sweetness that make Jack one of my favorite Christian thinkers.