Tuesday, July 30, 2002

I really hate doing this, since yesterday was the busiest traffic day in the history of Kairos, but today and tomorrow are not likely to have any active posting. This evening is slightly (and I mean SLIGHTLY) possible, but otherwise, nothing much until late tomorow or Thursday at the latest.

Check out Disputations while I am gone, or visit any number of the links on the right. And be sure to send Emily Stimpson a farewell email, as on Thursday she closes down her solo act and joins HMS blog.

Monday, July 29, 2002

"Challenge the Church" and "Alternative World Youth Day"
(the thing that fizzled)

My favorite part is this:
The "Pope-mania" that surrounds this event is something with which many Catholics have problems. "The Catholic Church’s teachings call for justice for the poor as a priority for both church and state" says Gwyneth Lonergan, a University of Toronto student and member of Challenge the Church. “I’m shocked the Vatican wants to pay for the Pope’s visit with funds that could be used to relieve homelessness.”

And, now, to Holy scripture (as put to a meter by Tim Rice, of all people):

"Woman your fine ointments
brand new and expensive
should have been saved for the poor
Why have they been wasted?
we could have raised maybe
300 silver pieces or more.
People who are hungry,
people who are starving
matter more than your feet and head!"

--Judas Iscariot

Interesting, eh?
More on husbands and wives submitting can be found at theHeart, Mind & Strength Blog. Ephesians ("wives obey your husbands; husbands love your wives") is taken up rather more directly than I manage. Good stuff.
Well, there sure are a lot of you Mark Shea readers out there, aren't there?

Welcome, and hope you stay a while. If you like what you find, skim the archives some, and don't forget to tell a friend about Kairos! And make sure to use the new "Blogs4God" rating system on the right. I would offer you an indulgence for doing so, but then I would be a heretical schismatic who is anathema. And I don't want to be that. :)
I think nihil obstat must be very lonely.
I am pleased to note that Integrity is back to posting, and primarily on its original area of focus, Christifideles Laici. I will add Integrity back to the links on the right next time I fiddle with the template, but for now, go check it out.
“Go then, eat your bread in happiness and drink your wine with a cheerful heart; for God has already approved your works. “

-- Ecclesiastes 9:7

The Water of Life

It is a curious fact that many alcoholic drinks identified with a particular nationality—Whiskey, Vodka, and Aquavit, for instance—derive their names from words for “water of life.” It is partially curious just because it reveal more about us than perhaps the originators of those drinks could know, but is also curious because of the similarity of alcohol to life. That is, alcohol (at least for those who drink at all) plays a role in friendship very much like the role the world plays in our relationship to God.

Worldly life and alcohol both have the potential to enslave us to them. But properly regulated, and understood as an enabler or an enhancer, they both become a means to an end. Whether of the highest quality or the lowest, both can be addictive, however much they repulse at first. (Try a few shots of Jagermeister if you doubt this.)

A gathering of friends held over bottles of good wine often has a magical quality about it that merely sitting down to quaff lacks. Our very word “convivial” comes from the latin “convivium,” which, like the Greek “symposion,” was an all night party of alcohol and conversation.

The use you put both to has much more to say about their value than anything else. Some are born at a station in life equivalent to a Chateau Lafite Rothschild; others, Bud Light. But both hold temptations to various kinds of abuse. Some get addicted to their consumption, others to their possession. For the hard-core wine addict, actual drinking of the wine is anathema.

And so too with life. The wealthy person born of high station (the Lafite) can become consumed with recounting the station, listing the pedigrees of ancestors who actually did something, fighting to preserve the value of the trust fund, and so miss out on the opportunity to actually live, to take advantage of a station in life that need not demand many hours a day for mere subsistence. They never ever drink of the wine in the cellar.

The impoverished person of lower station (the Bud Light) faces many more day-to-day obstacles, but often rises above them. For that person, the doors to the house and the refrigerator are both always open to company, and every moment is a good one to share a drink and some fellowship.

Of course, the poor person can be an alcoholic and the wealthy one the true philanthropist, who never turns a poor person away from the door. The contrast is not true in all cases. It merely illustrates that the quality of the alcohol and the quality of the life lie mainly in the use you make of them. And, in both cases, we know exceptions. There do seem to be people who can be highly-functional alcoholics and still remain agreeable companions, and highly selfish people who have apparently missed the point of existence who are fundamentally content. But choosing the most dangerous path merely because someone once crossed it is not a choice the vast majority of humanity can gamble with and win.

Drinking oneself numb is very much akin to thrill-seeking. In both cases, the risk of addiction increases, and in both cases the purpose is to quiet the still small voice that suggests something may have gone wrong. Soon enough, the purpose is gone entirely, and all that is left is a sieve trying to fill itself up.

Just as various heretics in the early church and occasionally more recently have decreed that the world as such is evil (Disputations will certainly note some in the comments section of this item) so some people who have no addiction nevertheless crusade against alcohol. Both assume the potential for abuse will always lead to abuse, and so condemn as evil that which is merely a tool for good or evil.

Why do I tell you all this?

One of my readers asked in the comments section on my Friday blog about Marriage, what the real purpose is? He gave the classic example of the married person who meets his or her “soulmate” and “knows” that the new person will make him or her happy.

Now, I cannot here speak about the purpose of a purely secular marriage. (I do wish we could disconnect marriage with job benefits more completely, so that those who use it as a benefits program or as PR for their film careers could find a better way to do those things, that don’t undermine all forms of marriage. But that is a blog for another day.) But for a Christian the purpose of marriage has nothing to do with happiness, though that is of course one of its effects. The purpose of marriage is to form a spiritual bond, to emulate in life the spiritual bond of Christ and His Church, and to have and raise children within the light of Christ.

If you set out to capture “the perfect buzz” you will more likely wind up getting sick on the gutter or never quite hit that pleasant level. If you set out to “be happy” in a marriage, some therapist’s child is likely to get a new pony. But if you soak up the companionship and alcohol around you in a measured way, “the perfect buzz” often comes. If you and your spouse both make loving, honoring, and obeying the purpose of your marriage, you will probably wonder what all this twaddle about “finding a soulmate” was all about.

There are exceptions, of course, because life offers no promises save impermanence. But setting out to control the things you can is a little like shaving the dice in your favor. They don’t always come up your way, but you surely ought to bet on 7s anyway.
Monday Intentions

If you have someone you would like to add, please email me.

For Alicia, her sister, and her sister's boyfriend. For the repose of the souls of Iris and Violet Carey. For a just peace wherever fighting prevails. For S, her mother and her family. For Bill L.'s mother, father, and daughter. For Dave's nephew and family. For Eugene D. and my wife's cousin Sue. For those who need strength to bear their crosses. For Fr. Jim's cousin, mothers who choose life, especially those who choose adoption, Karin, Elizabeth, Sarah, Randy, Deb, Roger, Corey, Michael, and the anonymous ones as well.
Psalm 4

Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness!
You have relieved me in my distress;
Have mercy on me, and hear my prayer.
How long, O you sons of men,
Will you turn my glory to shame?
How long will you love worthlessness
And seek falsehood?Selah
But know that the LORD has set apart[1] for Himself him who is godly;
The LORD will hear when I call to Him.
Be angry, and do not sin.
Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still.Selah
Offer the sacrifices of righteousness,
And put your trust in the LORD.
There are many who say,
"Who will show us any good?"
LORD, lift up the light of Your countenance upon us.
You have put gladness in my heart,
More than in the season that their grain and wine increased.
I will both lie down in peace, and sleep;
For You alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.

Sunday, July 28, 2002

I'm sorry not to be posting much this weekend. The gazillion word essay on Friday used up all my brainpower. Plus, I'm busy getting ready to move. Monday should have some posts. Tuesday and Wednesday likely will not. Then I should be back on track for the duration.

Friday, July 26, 2002

Okay, so the following blog is really, really long. I read enough blogsites that I skim the extra long posts, too, so I feel your pain. But please read all the way through to the end. It had to be that long.

At least 60% of the time in my marriage, I am an extraordinarily annoying person. I belch, fart, and snore. I whine, I complain. If not for the fact that the other 40% of the time, I do the kinds of things written below, my wife would long ago have hidden my corpse in little freezer bags. But she is annoying too.

That’s the point. We have a very strong marriage not because we are perfect, but because we deal with the imperfections.

[Warning: not all imperfections can be dealt with. If you stick with him just a little longer because you just know he’s gonna change, he isn’t.]
To Love, Honor, and Obey

“Mawwiage…mawwiage is what bwings us togevver today. Mawwiage, that bwessed awwangement, that dweam wivin a dweam. Then wove, twue wove, will follow you fowever.”

--The Princess Bride

I was surprised, when doing a little digging on the history of the Sacrament of Marriage in the Church, to find that the vows most of us said (or will say, for my young love-bird readers) are not required. Indeed, the form of the vows is basically up to the bride and groom, because in the Catholic Church the couple are the ministers of their own joining, and the priest or deacon is there to sanctify it. (Interestingly, this makes it true only in a legal, and not a scaremental sense, to say “Father Orr married us.”)

But even the recommended form (the one most of us use, about loving and honoring all the days of my life) does not contain the words we hear so often on television, about the wife promising “to love, honor and obey.” This is really too bad.

[“Ladies and Gentlemen, please withhold your flames until the airblog has come to a complete stop and the captain has turned off the ‘no flaming’ sign. Thank you for flying Kairos Airways, and we hope to see you again soon.”]

Just to keep you in suspense, I’m going to take the words in the order they come.

“Love.” When you promise to love your spouse, poetry ain’t in it. There is nothing in there about being gushy, or arguing about who is going to hang up the phone last, or even about continuing to bring flowers and sing love songs. (Am I dating myself with that Neil Diamond reference?) I’m not knocking any of those things; several of them, in fact, have gotten me out of more than one marital jam. It’s just that promising to love your spouse is not the same thing as promising to be in love with your spouse.

Being “in love” is just a mood, really, like being mad, or being happy. I don’t take the same slightly mocking view of the mood that CS Lewis sometimes did (before he was married, by the way) but I do believe that people who think the point of marriage is to be in love, and that the marriage is worthless when that feeling goes, are foolish and childish in the extreme. The emotion of romantic love ebbs and flows like every emotion, some days it is very strong, some days it is entirely absent. Some days I am snarky and sarcastic, other days patient and charitable.

I find thinking about romantic love as it really is to be tremendously helpful. After all, it doesn’t surprise me when I have a hard time being patient with the people around me. There are no poems or Britney Spears songs pouring out of my radio hour after hour extolling the magnificent bliss brought about by feeling patient. No one has ever invited me to a movie in the hopes of seducing me after the movie induces a feeling of deep, abiding patience in me. (Come to think of it, no one has ever actually taken me to a movie in the hopes of seducing me period. Memo to self: discuss with therapist.) No wife has ever yet rolled over at midnight and said to her husband “We need to talk. How come you never tell me you’re patient anymore?” Nor would any sane person expect this to be true. Everyone understands that patience is not a permanent thing.

And honestly, what kind of sick and twisted religion would require its members to take a vow to be in a particular mood for the rest of their lives? All you “recovering Catholics” out there, put your hands down. You’ve mostly missed my point.

So if the vow isn’t a vow to be in a mood, what kind of love are we talking about? An act of will. You cannot make yourself be in a mood, but you can make yourself do something. You can love as a transitive verb, however out of reach the intransitive is. (Another odd quirk of language: the mood is an intransitive verb, but a transitory state; the act is transitive but potentially intransitory. Discuss amongst yourselves.)

This kind of love can be done even when not felt. When I provide for my wife’s material comfort (at least to a point) I am loving her in this sense. When she walks away from a fight I am trying to pick, she is loving me. When one of us is sick, and the other picks up the slack around the house with the chores, that is love. When I am tired and due for an early meeting, but stay up to let her vent about the problem at work, that is love as an act of will. Every time she bites back an acid reply to a stupid remark, whenever one of us would rather be doing something else but instead stick it out, these are love as acts of will. There is nothing romantic about any of them.

Remember a while ago, loyal reader, when I wrote about the “bad aim” we have as a species? This is another example. If you make the goal of marriage “being in love” you will fail. There are no qualifications to that. Failure will result.

But if you make the goal of your marriage loving as an act of will, you will find yourself feeling in love a great deal of the time. Not all the time, mind, but a lot of it. The various feelings of compassion, of pride (the good kind: pleasure at another’s success), of shared sorrow and mutual joy, all conspire to trigger the mood the poets write about.

“Honor.” This word, honor, is fairly alien to western society in the early 21st Century, which is a real shame. (Really. Shameful.) Postmodernism has no room for anything that smacks of chivalry, since of course chivalry was all about keeping women in their proper place. (I think I read that in a book somewhere, so it must be true.)

But set the Marine Corps ideal of “keep our honor clean” aside. Again we are talking about a verb, an action we can take. I doubt anyone objects to the word in the vows, but few people think much about it either. To “honor” a wife is to hold her in esteem, to grant her dignity, to revere her. This is not to say, put her on a pedestal, but to treat her as a fellow human being worthy of at least as much consideration as yourself. The duties of charity and humility inform this, and mean you actually need to grant more consideration to her than to yourself. “I deserve better” is a statement that often conflicts with the duty to honor a spouse. (Flamers please note the use of the modifier “often.” “Often” is an adverb meaning frequently, but not necessarily always.)

[Ed. Note: My wife, having no knowledge of what I am writing, just turned on “Wedding Story” on TLC. The groom just promised “to honor you.” Creeeeeeeepy.]

“Obey.” Okay, take a deep breath, and read all the way to the end of this section. Marital obedience is a concept so alien to the modern world for most people, that the merest mention of it sets many pulses quickening and much blood a’boilin’.

I do not advocate for a situation where a wife surrenders her will with the taking of her vows, nor where a husband gains the powers of a tyrant when the priest introduces the married couple to the congregation. Neither, however, does the Church, nor has it ever envisioned that, though some have deliberately misconstrued the teachings, and some husbands have abused the vows.

Marital obedience means two things to me. First, it is mostly mutual. And second, it is a tie-breaking procedure.

If there are two partners in anything, there must be a mechanism for deciding disagreements. It is all well and good to say “we’re partners, 50-50, and we decide everything together.” It is also a bunch of hooey. No two people, no matter how like-minded, ever agree on everything. In spite of the denials of ideologically-driven people, science continually reveals details about our makeup that confirms the truth of this as regards men and women. Though once a tautology, it now bears constant repeating. Men and women are different. Our bodies are different and our brains are different. This means our marriages will have differences. In this regard, a properly constructed marriage is really going to be split 51-49.

Now, of course, it won’t always be the same 51-49 split. In many couples, only one person is trusted with managing the checkbook, because the other is hopelessly dangerous with it. It is not always the man who is in charge of this. In those same couples, however, the other person may make the decisions about the cars, or the house. A sensible couple divides responsibilities according to ability, and recognizes the appropriate person’s sovereignty in each area. For example, in our marriage, I am in charge of Cleaning Up Vomit, while my wife is in charge of Birthday Parties That Involve Other People’s Small Children. This is very mutually satisfactory.

But there is the larger question, too. St. Paul tells wives to obey their husbands and husbands to love their wives. These, as you may have noticed, are not exactly the same things. In keeping with St. Paul, I approach this question with “fear and trembling.” Why it should be so, that the wife is instructed to obey the husband, is not an easy question to answer.

The easiest reason to give, though the hardest to understand in most ways, is that the Sacrament of Marriage is modeled upon the union of God and His People. Christ is the Bridegroom of His followers, and the Church is his Bride. Christ is the head of this union, and the Church the subjects. And so, the Groom, holding the place of Christ in the union, is the head, and the bride the subject.

Ironically enough, it was the Protestant reformation that began the process of calling this idea into question. (I say ironically, because you will find many more Protestants who believe the wife should be subject to the husband than you will Catholics.) Calvin and Luther both considered this concept of the Sacramental nature of marriage to be a late invention, though they did not deny the sacramental nature of marriage. This notion of “late invention” has become an assumed first principle of western discourse for many years, even though Calvin and Luther were hardly notable for their ideas about women’s equality.

Now, let’s forget the “late invention” question, and assume the truth of it for the moment. The biggest problem is most readily apparent: though I may be filling the role of Christ in my marriage, I am hardly Christ, nor very much like Him. But many men take this idea to grant them god-like powers in their marriage, which is surely a sin of pride of the worst sort.

Every military officer is trained from the first never to give an order that won’t be obeyed, and this is the kind of obedience a husband must start from. A good officer rarely needs to give direct orders as such. He and his troops are in accord, and when they are not, the troops trust the officer because he has earned the trust—in some sense, the troops and the officer “love and honor” one another. A good officer listens to his troops, and learns when they need to be led and when they need to be pushed. He finds compensations for his own limitations within the body he leads, so that the sum of strengths is truly greater than the individual parts. On the other hand, tyrannical officers cause mutinies, and tyrannical husbands do too.

If we are to continue the military metaphor, we should think of a wife as not so much “the troops” as an officer of the same grade, only with slightly less seniority. A senior colonel may tyrannize a junior lieutenant with little fear . That same colonel would be wise to treat a junior colonel with more respect and deference—even when giving orders—for the junior colonel may be a general in charge of the senior one at a moment’s notice.

Thus, for a husband, “orders,” if given at all, are given with due respect and deference, with a realization that it is greatly to be regretted that the decision had to be arrived at in such a manner, and in the firm hope that mutual understanding will be soon enough restored that such unfortunate circumstances will not arise again. For a wife, the realization ought to be that she has tremendous power to influence decisions in advance, that her duty to obey is tempered by her duty to solve problems without pressing the issue of who is subordinate to whom. After any such occurrence, both parties must make whole the rift, that personal rivalry not affect the good of the whole.

This is not to tell you wives should in fact be subordinate to their husbands. I say all this to explain what that idea means, because so many men and women think it means something entirely different. Before you decide to reject something or accept it, after all, you need to understand it.

It seems to me that the method of allocating 51% decision-making power among both partners is probably going to avoid most, if not all, situations where it might otherwise come down to, “because I’m the husband!” and that that is greatly preferable to any circumstance that might result in the husband or wife feeling a harmful resentment of the other.

Marriage, after all, ought not be about power at all. It ought to be about mutual respect and caring, about loving and honoring, and about the rearing of children. To the extent we pay heed to St. Paul on this, we ought to view his instruction as a last resort guideline for solving what might otherwise become irreconcilable, not as a starting point. “In case of possible sundering, break glass,” not “It’s good to be the king.” Any to whom such power is granted should approach it as the power of the physician to heal, not to rule. And like a physician, the use of that power should be governed by the first principle to do no harm.

[“The no flaming sign has been turned off, and you are now free to move about the cabin.”]
In lieu of a hymn, some days I prefer the psalms. Even though there are some innacuracies in the translation, I also prefer the King James Version for its majesty and poetry. When there's a major deficiency, I'll use a different text, but basically the psalms should be approached as the Mass is, and that means experiencing beauty.

The 23rd Psalm

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.
Friday Intentions

If you have someone you would like to add, please email me.

For Alicia, her sister, and her sister's boyfriend. For the repose of the souls of Iris and Violet Carey. For a just peace wherever fighting prevails. For S, her mother and her family. For Bill L.'s mother, father, and daughter. For Dave's nephew and family. For Eugene D. and my wife's cousin Sue. For those who need strength to bear their crosses. For Fr. Jim's cousin, mothers who choose life, especially those who choose adoption, Karin, Elizabeth, Sarah, Randy, Deb, Roger, Corey, Michael, and the anonymous ones as well.

Thursday, July 25, 2002

If you are wondering why sometimes there is a blank post up, the answer is that Blogger is owned and operated by the Antichrist. Because of this, it actively seeks to subvert Catholic bloggers from posting and publishing their thoughts to the web. Sometimes publishing an empty post tricks it into believing it has defeated me, and I am able to get actual posts published as well.
So, now I'm guilty of "desirion" too? Oh man, is father ever gonna get an earful at 4:30 on Saturday!

I'm reminded of the time someone scoldingly said to me, "You know, sarcasm is the lowest form of wit!" To which your not-so-humble correspondent replied "Oh, really?"
Aw, crud.

It turns out I have committed an"extra-judicial verbal injury of a neighbor against his will opposed to the virtue of justice" in my Wills bit below. And I thought I was just being cranky.
Yes, thank you. As a matter of fact, I have noticed that today's posts have been decidedly sarcastic and even rather uncharitable in some cases. Sleep deprivation does that to a guy. Not a good excuse, really, but it happens to be true. I promise to get back to being charitable just as soon as I can.
Oh, Really?

Wills says "The papacy stands for a number of things the right wing of the church wants to forget: efforts for peace by Paul VI, against nuclear armaments, against Third World poverty, all of that has been fueled through Rome."

Uh, actually there Gar, you're wrong on this one. The right wing is against Third World poverty, too. It's just that our solution is to nuke the third world, because, of course, we are in favor of nuclear war.
Did you happen to see my post on movies the other night? It was a rare late evening post for me, and it was followed by a day or comparatively few hits.
Visualized Whirled Peas

In general, I’m not a fan of bumper stickers. I like to read snarky ones on the mall kiosk, because I find snarkiness funny. But on the highway, I don’t care that you’re pro-choice and you vote. After all, I’m pro-life and a reckless driver. The fact that your college has a better sports program than mine is jim-dandy with me, but the 23 other school stickers that represent every place ever visited by you, your spouse, your kids and enough cousins to staff good size wedding in certain parts of Vermont, tells me a lot more about you than where you went to school.

“Free Tibet!” is a great idea, I suppose, but I keep looking on the side panels of the cars for an explanation of how to accomplish it. And if Richard Gere weren’t such a big fan of the Dalai Lama’s, would the People’s Republic of Cambridge even know where Tibet is? “Question Authority” is really kind of ironic as a bumper sticker, printed in batches of 10,000. And, anyway, if it’s “supposed” to be on upside down, who’s the real rebel, the one who puts it on that way, or the one who puts it on right side up?

“I brake for” anything stickers are essentially a way of communicating to other commuters that, if the highway were high school, the chess club would be meeting in that lane. “I heart my dog or cat" says you have no children and desperately regret it, and also that you spend waaaaaaaay too much on pet care products.

“My child is an honor student at Pompous Windbag Middle School” is kind of annoying, but I mostly let those slide, since the school sends those home, and what parent can refuse to put it on the car once it comes out of the backpack with an enormous grin. “My child was citizen of the month,” however, is kind of like the statuette of the kid with the bowling ball from “Everybody Gets a Trophy Night” at Penny Lanes bowling alley.

“Practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty” is just one of those ideas that in theory I should have no problem with, but every time I meet the person with that sticker on the car I wind up working extraordinarily hard at not punching the self-righteous twit in the mouth. Repeatedly.

“This car climbed Mount Washington!” Whoop-de-damn-do. Did you get a good cardio workout pumping the gas? “Follow me to [Restaurant]!” Why? So you can call the police to report a stalker?

“Got Jesus?” and other associated Christian stickers likewise give me the creeps, for the same reason people who announce their salvation do. “Do you know why I drive a Lexus ES 300? Jesus got it for me. Seriously. Until I found the Lord, I couldn’t afford anything better than an Impala.” (For some reason, the Jesus sticker on the 1982 Toyota doesn’t bother me half as much.) At the other end of the spectrum, the Darwin Fish with legs, which I once found modestly amusing, is just plain dumb. People who think that evolution as such and Christianity as such are mutually exclusive shouldn’t be allowed to operate heavy machinery. (I did see one today, though, that does seem to have some value to it: “No Jesus, no peace.” Clever, and even a syllogism, though compressed. And it said nothing about the moral worth of the driver. But it will still probably bug me after I see it 30 or 40 times.)

What I don’t like about most bumper stickers is the idea that life can be reduced to a slogan. “Free Tibet!” Grand. How? I guarantee you if the 101st Airborne jumps into Tibet tomorrow to liberate it, the same people with those stickers on their cars will be burning flags and chanting “No blood for Yetis!” ten minutes after Peter Jennings finishes condemning American aggression. “Save Fenway Park!” I could get behind if anyone had a clear means of doing so that would ensure my posterior was not numb by the 7th Inning Stretch in those teeny seats.

But life is not something that can be answered by slogans. Christianity is on the face of it one of the simplest ideas ever, and look at how many words have been written trying to explain it. Look at how many words I’ve written on this blog since May, for goodness’ sake. A good general rule of thumb is, if you can fit your philosophy onto a bumper sticker, get a new philosophy. (Actually, that's a philosophy itself, and it would fit. Someone call a printer!)

Of course, with that boundless human capacity to grant oneself exemptions to rules one demands be imposed on others, I have allowed myself one non-parking-related sticker on my car. It’s not very big, and it’s shaped like wings. It is for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots' Association, and it tells other pilots that we are brothers. Maybe when we get to the airport we can give the secret handshake, and laugh at all the wingless freaks.
Thursday Intentions

If you have someone you would like to add, please email me.

For Alicia, her sister, and her sister's boyfriend. For the repose of the souls of Iris and Violet Carey. For S, her mother and her family. For Bill L.'s mother, father, and daughter. For Dave's nephew and family. For Eugene D. and my wife's cousin Sue. For those who need strength to bear their crosses. For Fr. Jim's cousin, mothers who choose life, especially those who choose adoption, Karin, Elizabeth, Sarah, Randy, Deb, Roger, Corey, Michael, and the anonymous ones as well.

Wednesday, July 24, 2002

"She turned me into a newt...I got better."

Witch's woe at Wiccan wedding refusal

Apparently, these Catholic-Wiccan mixed marriages are more common than we thought.
Thursday Intentions

If you have someone you would like to add, please email me.

For Alicia, her sister, and her sister's boyfriend. For the repose of the souls of Iris and Violet Carey. For the people of Israel and the children of Palestine. For Bill L.'s mother, father, and daughter. For Dave's nephew family. For Eugene D. and my wife's cousin Sue. For those who need strength to bear their crosses. For Fr. Jim's cousin, mothers who choose life, especially those who choose adoption, Karin, Elizabeth, Sarah, Randy, Deb, Roger, Corey, Michael, and the anonymous ones as well.

Tuesday, July 23, 2002


So this weekend’s movies were Spider-Man and the Royal Tenenbaums. On most levels, they could not have been more different. Spider-Man, after all, is an adaptation of the comic book, created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko in the “Silver Age” of comics. The Royal Tenenbaums (hereinafter “TRT” which is waaaay easier to type) is Owen Wilson’s all-star art-house flick, filled with a great deal of significant pauses and much-too-much affectedness.

But, at the same time, both movies really dealt with the same issue, the question of sin and redemption, though they came to some very different conclusions. I will begin by saying that I did not like TRT for its affected style and its labored artiness, and that I have been waiting for this kind of Spider-Man adaptation since I was 5. So, warning: Bias ahead.

For those of you who didn’t hang around us comics collectors in junior high, I will quickly summarize Spider-Man. Peter Parker is the classic school geek: chess club; school paper photographer. Skinny, nerdy, thick glasses. Then one day, on a school visit to a university lab, he gets bitten by a radioactive spider (updated to a genetically-modified one in the movie). Superpowers follow. Extraordinary strength, the ability to climb walls, shoot webs from new glands on the wrists, and a “spider sense” that gives Peter Parker a precognitive sense that allows him to “react” just before danger really begins, all develop within a very short time. But Peter has a problem.

Since he was 6 years old, Peter has been mooning for the literal girl-next-door, Mary Jane Watson. Sadly, MJ seems to barely know Peter is alive (though she does treat him kindly when she notices him, whereas most others are just mean). Peter begins to forge a connection with her, but is beaten out by the High School football star, Flash. (The movie really follows the comic book script, so cheesy late 50s nicknames get used.) Seeking money to buy a car to compete with Flash’s, Peter decides to test his new superpowers by entering a wrestling match with a minor champion known as “Bonesaw.” After defeating the champ, Peter goes to claim his $3,000 prize, but the unscrupulous promoter gives him only $100. When Peter tells the man he needs the money, the promoter only replies, “I missed the part where that was my problem.”

Moments later, a thief enters the office and robs the company at gunpoint. Peter steps out of the crook’s way and the crook says “thanks” as he escapes. When the promoter complains to Peter about the theft, Peter replies (you guessed it) “I missed the part where that was my problem.”

Unfortunately, when Peter goes to meet his uncle for a ride home (he lives with his Aunt May and Uncle Ben), he finds Ben lying on the sidewalk, shot, the victim of a carjacking. Peter overhears the police saying that the thief is heading down 5th Avenue, and takes off after him. Now, we’re not in Tolstoy territory here, so of course it turns out that the carjacker is the thief that Peter allowed to escape, and so he is very personally responsible for his uncle’s death. It is at this moment that he becomes “Spider-Man” the typical sort of comic book crimefighter.

There’s a lot more that happens in the movie that I won’t summarize in much detail. Peter’s best friend is a not-very-bright rich kid, Harry Osborn, son of a major defense contractor trying to sell various things to the military. The father, Norman Osborn, becomes so consumed by greed that he becomes literally consumed, turning into a villain known as the Green Goblin. Spider-Man and he of course duke it out several times in big action scenes.

What is most interesting about this movie, both on its own and compared to other big-screen comic book adaptations, is how surprisingly character-driven the film is. Stan Lee is no great dramatist, and his characters are not especially fleshed out, or fully three-dimensional. But the story and the film have some real moments. After the Green Goblin finds out Spider-Man’s real identity, he attacks both Aunt May and MJ, causing Peter to realize that he represents a danger to those he loves. Late in the film, MJ confesses to having fallen in love with Peter, the thing he has wanted as long as he lives, but he sets that aside. Rather than give up his activity as Spider-Man, which he continues as a way of atoning for his uncle’s death, he rejects the romantic love of Mary Jane that he has sought for as long as he can remember. He turns his back on his own selfish desire because, as his uncle lectured him, “with great power, comes great responsibility.”
None of this is academy-award winning stuff. There are nuances to the problem, even at this level, that go unexplored. But on the whole the movie is as interested in the dilemma posed for Peter Parker as in the action sequences that the CGI guys can generate. And the film stayed true to Stan Lee’s early story, that denied any neat solution to the problem.

The movie is fairly violent, with lots of hand-to-hand fighting, and some explosions. But the violence didn’t really trouble me, per se, (see my post yesterday on violence to understand why). The message of the movie was very clear: some people choose to be violent, and to be evil, and other, good people have little choice but to fight back. In one scene, a cop is faced with arresting Spider-Man or allowing him to enter a burning building to save someone who is trapped. The cop makes the right choice. That’s why I took my young son to see it. The message he brought home from the movie was that the hero is the guy who stands up to the bad guys, and I’m really fine with that.

TRT on the other hand, makes every attempt to be as muddled and nuanced as possible. Though not in the “gay cowboys eating pudding” category of independent films, it nevertheless screams loudly that you would never have heard of it if not for the cast.

The extremely quick summary is, Royal Tenenbaum is a rich litigator in a New York-esque place, who gets thrown out by his wife when his children are small, and comes to regret it later, when he is finally thrown out of the hotel he has lived in for years. He has been disbarred, and spent time in prison, but seems unreformed and largely unrepentant. Though he does reget being cut off from his family, he doesn’t really address why that happened right away. He first try to inveigle himself back into their lives by faking a terminal illness, but of course the scam is discovered by the suspicious son (the one who actually got him disbarred). After this discovery, Royal is finally made fully low, when he becomes an elevator operator in the building he was ejected from.

The children are all screwed up in various ways. Chas is money-grubbing, and empty since his wife was killed in a plane crash, though he loves his children and their dog. His “adopted daughter” is extraordinarily alienated (which the movie cleverly signifies by making her a closet chain-smoker—how droll!). The Bomber is a professional tennis player in love with his adopted sister, who cracks up and is ruined when she marries. Blah blah blah. Lots of urban sophistication and deep-seated alienation among the family hangers-on.

Until Royal’s final humiliation, the movie lacks anything approaching redemptive value, not to mention any reward for the viewer for enduring all this nearly-French level of ennui. But with Royal being brought low, he finds that his last opportunity is to begin to make amends, which he does in several ways.

I’m not the sort of prig who says, “Since he didn’t seek God’s help, the movie is bad.” But the redemption of Royal Tenebaum follows an explicitly religious model, without ever acknowledging a religious aspect to it. It seems that writer Wilson went rather out of his way to avoid what is perfectly obvious about what’s going on in the character, and somewhat hard to explain.

It is a sort of post-modern Book of Job, with all the testing and testing, but ultimately doesn’t leave the satisfaction of understanding that Job does, that, however unanswered the question of suffering may be, the question of redemption is pretty well covered.

I haven’t really done a very good job with this particular blog, for which I apologize. I may refine and repost it in the coming days. Meanwhile, hug your local movie critic. Movie reviewing is hard stuff, man!!
From the Washington Post:

"Howard Kurtz: Media Notes
Bush Becomes 'Clintonized'
High approval ratings despite scandal. Sound familiar? "

Uh, yeah. Because, of course, Bush had sex with Ken Lay (heh heh) and the Board at Tyco, then sent the Cabinet out to lie about it, then lied himself.

Yeah. EXACTLY like Clinton.
"You and Thou"

Yes, I know "Thee" and "Thou" are old-fashioned, and sound a little too fancy for modern ears. But that is unfortunate in the extreme. The modernizers have lost something important, especially in religion, by getting rid of these second person forms.

Most European languages have a formal and a familiar form of the second person pronouns. In German "du" is the familiar form of "you." It get used among family and close friends. "Sie" is the formal usage: when you go to the bank the teller is addressed as "sie" not "du."

In English, "you" is historically in the formal, while "thou" is the familiar. (Didn't John Updike right a novel using entirely "thees" and "thous"? If not, who am I thinking of?) And so, in the interest of making God less "remote," more "accessible" we have really removed Him from a personal being with whom we are on intimate terms to a stranger in a bank or a retail shop, or maybe the president of a company where we are the janitors.

Yes, I know it is old-fashioned. But language really does matter, and how we use it--and especially how we address God--matters. If not, why is the Third Commandment "take not the name of the Lord in vain!"?
Tuesday Intentions

If you have someone you would like to add, please email me.

For the people of Israel and the children of Palestine. For Bill L.'s mother, father, and daughter. For Dave's nephew and my wife's cousin Sue. For those who need strength to bear their crosses. For Fr. Jim's cousin, mothers who choose life, especially those who choose adoption, Karin, Elizabeth, Sarah, Randy, Deb, Roger, Corey, Michael, and the anonymous ones as well.
Alleluia! Sing to Jesus!
Alleluia! sing to Jesus! His the scepter, His the throne.
Alleluia! His the triumph, His the victory alone.
Hark! the songs of peaceful Zion thunder like a mighty flood.
Jesus out of every nation has redeemed us by His blood.

Alleluia! not as orphans are we left in sorrow now;
Alleluia! He is near us, faith believes, nor questions how;
Though the cloud from sight received Him when the forty days were o’er
Shall our hearts forget His promise, “I am with you evermore”?

Alleluia! bread of angels, Thou on earth our food, our stay;
Alleluia! here the sinful flee to Thee from day to day:
Intercessor, Friend of sinners, Earth’s Redeemer, plead for me,
Where the songs of all the sinless sweep across the crystal sea.

Alleluia! King eternal, Thee the Lord of lords we own;
Alleluia! born of Mary, Earth Thy footstool, heav’n Thy throne:
Thou within the veil hast entered, robed in flesh our great High Priest;
Thou on earth both priest and victim in the Eucharistic feast.

Monday, July 22, 2002

China Update

Those of you who are making an effort to avoid Chinese-made products should be aware of China's encroachment into the grocery store. I discovered yesterday that the store brand apple juice I buy for my son has concentrate from China in it.

On a related note, I haven't quite figured out whether to include "Made in Hong Kong" on my avoidance list. Opinions from my fellow avoiders would be welcome. In particular, I don't know the status of Christian churches in Hong Kong vs. the mainland.
Election of Bishops

One of the things that has gotten a lot of bandying about lately in the wake of the Scandal, particularly among the group calling itself "Voice of the Faithful," is the idea that Bishops should be popularly elected. Many fellow bloggers are pooh-poohing the notion loudly and clearly. They seem to fear a demaguogery of the sort we see all too often in American politics.

Now, I'm not in favor of this as a solution. But, 1) it was the norm for significant parts of the Church's history; and, 2) I rather suspect the Holy Spirit's power to influence the hearts and minds of Pope's and Cardinals in their choices is not somehow diffused by having to affect significantly larger numbers of the laity. In the end, I would guess that the selections would be neither better nor worse than those we get under the present system. (That is in fact one reason not to favor it: it will accomplish nothing so far as I can tell.)

It is something of a heresy to modern ears to say so, but violence is morally neutral.

(Please note: pacifists will disagree with that statement, but I am not a pacifist, and I’ve already had my say on Christian pacifism. If you don’t like that I’m not a pacifist, get your own blog and say so. They are free at Blogger.)

Think about that, in light of the attitudes of the people you know, especially the parents. Violence is morally neutral.

That is, the mere fact that one person struck another tells you nothing about the moral content of the act. Now, it may be that violence is likelier than not to be used for immoral purposes, but that’s a statement of probability, not moral weight. Sex is likelier than not to be used for immoral purposes, too, but modern sensibilities have actually decreed the act of intercourse (not to mention things not considered “sex” in Arkansas) to be a positive virtue. Again, though, the mere fact that two bodies are known to have engaged in intercourse, by itself, tells you nothing about the moral worth of the act.

I mention all this, because most parents I know have an aversion to allowing their children to see violence, any violence at all. The fact that one person will strike another in a movie or TV show is enough to make them forbid it to their child. Should one of those people be using a weapon, especially a firearm, the parents may even feel a need to host an intervention for their child, lest he or she become contaminated in some way. We are presented several times a year with a barrage of statistics confirming this: “the average child will witness 4.3 million acts of violence on television before the age of 2,” without distinguishing between a WWF “Smackdown” event and a police officer apprehending an armed robber.

Now, this is perfectly fine for very small children. A 3-year old, after all, is hardly in a position to make a distinction between violence in a good cause and violence in a bad one. But numerous problems arise with this as children grow.

First of all, there is no way to prevent a child from seeing violence. Unless one and all ones friends live like the UNABomber (whose lifestyle notably did not prevent a violent tendency, by the way), one cannot keep children from seeing violence on TV or in film sooner or later.

Second, children will see violence in person, no matter where they go to school. There has never yet been a gathering of 2 or more kids that does not, sooner or later, wind up at the very least in a shoving match. Actual punches are not unheard of either. This is true whether the kids are siblings or merely neighbors.

Third, the human brain is structured around a hippocampus and cerebral cortex that pretty much guarantee sooner or later that every single blessed one of us is going to act violently. A blessed few of us will learn to overcome those urges to the point that they can be managed perfectly, but the key point is the overcoming will be learned, i.e., it will take time to develop.

All of this will, sooner or later, mean kids will be faced with violence, and will be morally retarded about it. Worse, such kids will suspect (quite rightly in all probability) that their parents are morally retarded about violence too. They will be in the habit of thinking violence inherently wrong, but will recognize with their innate moral sense that some of the violence they see is not wrong. They will be forced to conclude that either their parents did them a tremendous disservice, or, far more likely (if you know any teenagers), that “right” and “wrong” must be meaningless concepts.

It is a difficult proposition to sustain, in any case, that Christianity teaches that violence inherently lacks moral value. Christ himself was not averse to violence, properly applied, as when he chased the moneychangers from the Temple. There was no passive resistance, no laying in doorways, no clever chants (“What do we want?” “The moneychangers out of my Father’s house!” “When do wen want it?” “Now!”). There was nothing but unrestrained anger and violent thrashing about.

What Christianity has always taught is that violence has many opportunities for sin, and should be avoided when nonviolence can achieve the same ends.

As a parent, then, my job is not to say, “No violence!” in our entertainments, but to explain what violence there is. “That character was wrong, because he struck that other person to make himself feel big.” “That policeman pulled out his gun to protect those people from the man with the rifle.”

Later today or tomorrow, I will pick up this theme, in talking about some movies I have seen recently.
Monday Intentions

If you have someone you would like to add, please email me.

For Bill L.'s mother, father, and daughter. For the repose of the soul of Neal Fischer. For Dave's nephew and my wife's cousin Sue. For those who need strength to bear their crosses. For the repose of the soul of Trina Persad, for Fr. Jim's cousin, mothers who choose life, especially those who choose adoption, Karin, Elizabeth, Sarah, Randy, Deb, Roger, Corey, Michael, and the anonymous ones as well.
All People That on Earth Do Dwell

All people that on earth do dwell,
Sing to the Lord with cheerful voice.
Him serve with mirth, His praise forth tell;
Come ye before Him and rejoice.

The Lord, ye know, is God indeed;
Without our aid He did us make;
We are His folk, He doth us feed,
And for His sheep He doth us take.

O enter then His gates with praise;
Approach with joy His courts unto;
Praise, laud, and bless His Name always,
For it is seemly so to do.

For why? the Lord our God is good;
His mercy is forever sure;
His truth at all times firmly stood,
And shall from age to age endure.

To Father, Son and Holy Ghost,
The God Whom heaven and earth adore,
From men and from the angel host
Be praise and glory evermore.

Sunday, July 21, 2002

Sorry, Kathy

From the Simpsons:

Bart: I need to go to Toronto.

Homer: In Canada? Why should we leave America, to visit America Jr.?

Friday, July 19, 2002

do you think the person whose Google search for "Faye Waddleton" wound up at Kairos was happy with what s/he found? Me neither.
Suffering, cont'd

Emily and I were debating a couple of weeks ago whether or not God and/or Christ chooses a cross for us to bear. The discussion has growth to include many other bloggers, including Sursum Corda, Amy Welborn, and various members of the Heart, Mind, Strength crew.

I'm not as firmly convinced as I was at the outset that Christ does not send just the right Cross to help us achieve salvation, but I'm still not convinced he does. Part of the problem in the wider debate seems to be what you think of as a cross, which is perhaps why the debate has broadened to the topic of "suffering." Emily had a good piece from Peter Kreeft yesterday, but in the end I think it falls short. The difference between us and the bear is, God has a means of explaining to us clearly what is going on, while the person in the analogy cannot under any circumstances make the bear understand. If the bear and the human were not strangers (if, for instance, the person were the bear's circus trainer) the bear might in fact trust the man.

At the end of the day, I think the broken world has enough suffering and crosses endemic to it that the role of Christ in sanctifying suffering is limited to pointing out the particular suffering that can be most helpful to us, rather than choosing it.
A request

If you like Kairos, and find it has something worth saying, please share it with someone. You don't need to use the handy-dandy "Tell-A-Friend" form on the left. Just sned an email with a link. I'm not doing this to become rich or famous (since I don't use my name, and there's no collection plate, that should be obvious), but I am hoping to make a little bit of a difference in my small corner of the world, and the more people you tell, the more chance there is of that happening. Mille Grazie.
Today's Opening Hymn

To Jesus' Heart All Burning


To Jesus’ Heart all burning
With fervent love for men,
My heart with fondest yearning
Shall raise the joyful strain.

Chorus—While ages course along,
Blest with loudest song

The Sacred Heart of Jesus
By ev’ry heart and tongue,
The Sacred Heart of Jesus
By ev’ry heart and tongue.

O Heart for me on fire,
With love no man can speak,
My yet untold desire,
God gives me for Thy sake.

Too true I have forsaken
Thy flock by willful sin,
Yet now let me be taken
Back to Thy fold again
Friday Intentions

If you have someone you would like to add, please email me.

For Bill L.'s mother, father, and daughter. For the repose of the soul of Neal Fischer. For Dave's nephew and my wife's cousin Sue. For those who need strength to bear their crosses. For the repose of the soul of Trina Persad, for Fr. Jim's cousin, mothers who choose life, especially those who choose adoption, Karin, Elizabeth, Sarah, Randy, Deb, Roger, Corey, Michael, and the anonymous ones as well.

Thursday, July 18, 2002

A question for Kairos readers

I need your help. St. Francis said "Preach the Gospel wherever you go. Use words, if necessary."

Well, I am finding it necessary. It is fairly easy here at Kairos to do so, among other reasons, because most of the readers I know about are already Crhistian, and most on the orthodox end of the Catholic spectrum. Not much struggle there.

Where I am struggling is how to deal with it in my private life, among friends and relatives who do not have anything that could be meaningfully called a Christian faith. Some have some vague forms of Christianity that they wear like an old shirt, comfortable and well-worn, but not really fit for use outside narrow confines. Others are vaguely pagan or atheist. All are the sort you would describe as "good people" who do good things and, in some cases, do a better job caring for the suffering than I or many of my more explicitly religious friends do.

The trouble is, as my own faith deepens and grows, it becomes more apparent to me as an imperative that I need at least to try to teach them, explicitly, with words, about the Gospel. This makes me uncomfortable for a whole lot of reasons. First, as much as I have rebelled against it and fought with it, I am a victim of the multicultural brainwashing college and the media have inflicted on me since the mid 80s. My own initial instincts around moral attitudes sometimes repulses me, because it is so heinously relativistic. Second, etiquette sometimes makes the religious education of another sticky at best. And, finally, there is my own repugnance (described in my earlier post today) at smug Christians Who Have All the Answers and use their "prayers" like a cudgel on me. I want nothing to do with that sort of thing, and fear any effort to spread the Gospel to those who have already rejected it will invariably lead me into all sorts of sins of Pride.

(As an aside, I have some experience of the kind of thing I'm talking about. This past winter, I got it into my head to give out to homeless people those aluminum space blankets that weigh very little and fold up to the size of a deck of cards. I don't like giving money to addicts to fuel their addiction, and this seemed like a good compromise to doing something for them, but not helping them hurt themselves. All went fine for a while, until I got it further into my head that simply waiting for a homeless person to cross my path was pretty lame, and I should actively find some to help. Anyone who has ever tried this knows what an act of condescending arrogance this turns out to be. So, once bitten, twice shy, as they say.)

So, I'm looking for advice from readers. It is plainly and clearly an obligation of a Christian to spread the Gospel. It is good that I do Kairos, if it helps spread or deepen it among Christians, but I seriously doubt whether anyone is ever going to undergo a conversion simply by reading the blather I post in odd moments. How do you approach those around you, in charity and humility, but with something that is nevertheless "the answer"?
Thursday Intentions

If you have someone you would like to add, please email me.

For Bill L.'s mother, father, and daughter. For the repose of the soul of Neal Fischer. For Dave's nephew and my wife's cousin Sue. For those who need strength to bear their crosses. For the repose of the soul of Trina Persad, for Fr. Jim's cousin, mothers who choose life, especially those who choose adoption, Karin, Elizabeth, Sarah, Randy, Deb, Roger, Corey, Michael, and the anonymous ones as well.
blogger is not behaving especially well again. so I may not get the hymn or intentions posted until later. sorry about that.

When I used to live in the DC area, I met a lot of new people. After getting to know someone a little bit, sooner or later the question, “What religion are you?” would arise, and as often as not, the answer my new friend would give was, “I’m a Christian.” Not, “I’m a Lutheran,” or “I’m a Baptist.” “I’m a Christian.”

Well, so am I. So why does that answer almost always cause me a secret cringe inside? After all, in one sense, their answer is a better one than mine: for me to say “I’m Roman Catholic” is to acknowledge the schism in the body of Christ—accurate to be sure, but unfortunate, because not everyone who believes in Christ is RC.

There seem to be several factors contributing to the cringe.

First is the “Free-range Christian” factor. To say, “I’m a Lutheran,” or “I’m a Baptist” (never mind “I’m a Roman Catholic!”) is to say “I subscribe to a specific theology with concrete and abstract precepts about God, Jesus and Salvation.” Free-range Christians, on the other hand, tend to have a few strongly-held beliefs—rooted in no specific tradition, except “the Bible”—and a rather squishy theology in many other ways. If you ask, they’ll almost always tell you that their Salvation depends not on the teachings of a Church but on their having accepted Jesus as their Personal Savior.

The second cringe-inducer is the tone of the statement often carries a notable lack of humility. Now, I don’t think anyone should or could be a Christian who would argue with the statement “Christianity is best.” The whole point of the Incarnation, Passion, Atonement, and Pentecost is that God was making it as clear as day what he expects and desires from us, and the religion that followed is the mechanism for meeting God’s expectations.

The problem comes in the leap of logic (that occurs all too often for all of us). “Christianity is best,” ergoI, a Christian, am best.” Because I have accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Savior, I am now, officially, a good person, and saved to boot. Since you have not, you are not.

The logic fails, of course. Because the thing that really distinguishes Christians from everyone else is not the knowledge that we are better. It is that we are the only ones who realize who truly bad we are. But the presumptiveness is also deeply problematic. The Catholic who can get from the confessional to the car without committing at least a venial sin is a remarkable person indeed. How much more temptation, then, lies in front of the person who thinks all the hard work is done, and that the path to Salvation is clear and free of difficulty from here on out? So long as we have a pulse and some brain function, the possibility—indeed, the probability—of sin lies before us. That is the message of Christ: you are sinners. God will love you, and I will be right beside you, holding out my hand for you to take. But you will drop that hand at least as often as you hold it.

I should distinguish, as well, among Free-range Christians and other Protestants who attend various denominations in the course of their lives. My own observation, uncharitable though it may be, is that the Free-range sort have not so much accepted Jesus as their Personal Savior, as they have a charismatic form of preaching as their Personal Savior which gets mistaken for Jesus. They attend whatever Church in their community happens to have such a preacher (usually not a long-established denomination like Presbyterian or Episcopalian).

Other Protestants who vary will say “I’m a Lutheran, though I’ve been going to the Methodist Church for a while.” Most of my Protestant friends here in the Northeast seem to fall into this category. Their reasons for moving around are usually related to a marriage of mixed-denomination, or a lack of knowledge about the sometimes very substantive differences in theology between what they think of as their own denomination and the church they attend. And, just as Catholic priests have been known to water-down the theology in the face of declining attendance, many ministers do the same. They won’t highlight the difference between an Anglican Holy Communion (which really does have the True Presence, though some deny it, or conceal it with different language) and a Lutheran one, which denies it.

The other big problem is that I know sooner or later these same people will say “I’ll pray for you” in the sort of tone that says “not that it will do any good, since you’re going to hell anyway.”

(If Mark Shea or Emily Stimpson are reading this, I’d like to hear from them, as they have both spent time as Evangelicals. )

In the end, I find it upsetting because it shows the difficulty that lies before us in reconciling the various members of the Body of Christ. These days, most of my close friends are Protestant (a curious fact, and one that makes choosing godparents for children something of a challenge) and in all but a couple of cases, we have no difficulty finding the common ground of our faiths. We have our differences, to be sure, and they are not all insubstantial. But we always approach one another in a charitable spirit. The “I’m a Christian” answer puts me on the defensive, because almost always (there have been some marvelous exceptions) it means I have come across a member of the Body who will not approach me charitably—which is itself an Occasion of Sin for me, as I respond with rather less charity of my own.

Wednesday, July 17, 2002

Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness;
in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense.
Thoroughly wash me from my guilt
and of my sin cleanse me.

For I acknowledge my offense,
and my sin is before me always:
"Against you only have I sinned,
and done what is evil in your sight,"

That you may be justified in your sentence,
vindicated when you condemn.
Indeed, in guilt was I born,
and in sin my mother conceived me;

Behold, you are pleased with sincerity of heart,
and in my inmost being you teach me wisdom.
Cleanse me of sin with hyssop, that I may be purified;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Let me hear the sounds of joy and gladness;
the bones you have crushed shall rejoice.
Turn away your face from my sins,
and blot out all my guilt.

A clean heart create for me, O God, a
nd a steadfast spirit renew within me.
Cast me not out from your presence,
and your holy spirit take not from me.

Give me back the joy of your salvation,
and a willing spirit sustain in me.
I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners shall return to you.

Free me from blood guilt, O Lord, my saving God;
then my tongue shall revel in your justice.
O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.

For you are not pleased with sacrifices;
should I offer a holocaust, you would not accept it.
My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit;
a heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn.

Be bountiful, O Lord, to Sion in your kindness
by rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem;
Then shall you be pleased with due sacrifices,
burnt offerings and holocausts; then shall they offer up bullocks on your altar.

A partial indulgence is granted to the faithful, who with repentant heart recite the psalm Have mercy on me (Ps 50)
I have cleaned up my links on the right a little bit. Sadly, Integrity seems to have fallen to intensely sporadic posting, but hasn't had anything on Christifiedles Laici for about a month now. If JACK gets back to it, I'll re-add.

I have added Disputations and Dappled Things, two really good sites. Disputations frequently makes me recognize myself for the poseur I am, and Dappled Things (by Fr. Jim Tucker in VA) is amusing as well as enlightening.

And, sadly, in a few more weeks, Emily Stimpson will be closing up shop, and moving to the Heart, Mind, and Strength blog. It's weird: I like the individual blogs of the people over there, but HMS itself hasn't really grabbed me. Maybe adding Emily's, ahem, *youthful* perspective will liven things up a bit.
Blogger is misbehaving for me. Don't know why, exactly, but posting is hard to make happen. Patience is appreciated.
From a comment on yesterday's post:

Can't agree with the sweep of your argument.

All religion, including Christianity and Judaism, is an answer to the question of death more than origin.

Death is much less abstract and is personal. Genesis is not as pressing a question except in conjunction with Death to explain how it came to be and what must be done about it.

My point isn't what religion starts out to explain. First, actually, I'd take exception to the notion that Christianity is meant to explain death. Christ came to destroy death, not explain it.

But setting that aside, my argument simply means to point out that, alone among the religions of the world, Christianity principally asks you to understand the natural world as natural. It is not really surprisiging (though it can still be frightening) that death should exist. All the pagan and other religions don't really explain why death happens: only what happens afterwards. Judaism and Christianity explain why life exists at all, and in the most ordinary terms possible. God loves us. Christianity then takes it further and says, not only does life exist--and this is the truly extraordinary thing--but it is meant to exist in other ways, and here are the ordinary things you can do to achieve it. Love your neighbor. Forgive those who harm you. Feed the hungry. Clothe the naked. Forget all that nonsense about building a pyre of goats--or of babies, as in Carthage. Those extraordinary things will do nothing to put ordinary food in your mouth, so stop it. Live your life as decently as you can, tolerate the misfortune that falls on you, celebrate the good fortune that comes, and live your life. That is all that God asks in return for the gift of your life.
King of Glory, King of Peace
King of glory, King of peace,
I will love Thee;
And that love may never cease,
I will move Thee.
Thou hast granted my request,
Thou hast heard me;
Thou didst note my working breast,
Thou hast spared me.

Wherefore with my utmost art
I will sing Thee,
And the cream of all my heart
I will bring Thee.
Though my sins against me cried,
Thou alone didst clear me;
And alone, when they replied,
Thou didst hear me.

Seven whole days, not one in seven,
I will praise Thee;
In my heart, thou not in Heaven,
I can raise Thee.
Small it is, in this poor sort
To enroll Thee:
E’en eternity’s too short
To extol Thee.
Wednesday Intentions

If you have someone you would like to add, please email me.

For Bill W.'s mother, father and daughter. For Dave's nephew and my wife's cousin Sue. For those who need strength to bear their crosses. For the repose of the soul of Trina Persad, for Fr. Jim's cousin, Emily's goddaughter, mothers who choose life, especially those who choose adoption, Karin, Elizabeth, Sarah, Randy, Deb, Roger, Corey, Michael, and the anonymous ones as well.

Tuesday, July 16, 2002

A thought that at first seems obvious

This may seem obvious at first, and so you may lightly skip over it. But the more I have reflected on it, and tested it against my daily experience and against the history I read, the less obvious and more remarkable it becomes.

The thought is simply this: Excepting only Christianity (and to some extent its older brother Judaism), all human religion, so far as I can tell throughout history, seeks to explain the ordinary by the extraordinary. You win or lose a battle not by virtue of your skill or preparation, but because this god sought to undermine that goddess by turning your general into a pig. You turn left instead of right because a hawk came out of the sky to speak your name and tell you which way to turn. Even Buddhism (which Chesterton maintains is a philosophy and nothing like a Church in our sense of the word) and Hinduism attribute mundane things to grave cosmological forces. And since few ever likely believed that the hawk spoke or the general became a pig, the universe is arbitrary and, ultimately, meaningless.

Christianity, in contrast, uniquely explains the extraordinary by the ordinary. The universe exists (a fact that physicists regard as almost infinitely improbable) because God loves it, and us. Creation is managed by ordinary processes, and God's interventions in those processes reiterate them, rather than contradict them. Water becomes wine at the wedding feast of Cannae and in the vineyards of Bordeaux. Cancer goes into remission at Brigham and Women's hospital and the Fountain of Lourdes because a switch in the tumor cells gets turned off.

Even senseless things take on the form of shape when the universe is viewed as a rational place. The atheists understand that, but few recognize how much Christianity is responsible--necessary, even--for the notion.
Tuesday Intentions

If you have someone you would like to add, please email me.

For Dave's nephew and my wife's cousin Sue. For those who need strength to bear their crosses. For the repose of the soul of Trina Persad, for Fr. Jim's cousin, Emily's goddaughter, mothers who choose life, especially those who choose adoption, Karin, Elizabeth, Sarah, Randy, Deb, Roger, Corey, Michael, and the anonymous ones as well.
O God, No Longer Hold Thy Peace

O God, no longer hold Thy peace,
No longer silent be;
Thine enemies lift up their head
To fight Thy saints and Thee.
Against Thine own, whom Thou dost love,
Their craft Thy foes employ;
They think to cut Thy people off,
Thy church they would destroy.

Thine ancient foes, conspiring still,
With one consent agree,
And they who with Thy people strive
Make war, O God, on Thee.
O God, Who in our fathers’ time
Didst smite our foes and Thine,
So smite Thine enemies today
Who in their pride combine.

Make them like dust and stubble blown
Before the whirlwind dire,
In terror driv’n before the storm
Of Thy consuming fire.
Confound them in their sin till they
To Thee for pardon fly,
Till in dismay they, trembling, own
That Thou art God Most High.

Monday, July 15, 2002


I have really not wanted to weigh in on the pacifism discussion occurring all over the blogosphere (go to Instapundit.com and scroll around for the last few weeks to see what it's all about), because so many people smarter than I have
been doing a good job with my position, but a couple of points do need some comment.

First, in response to Telford Work's reply to Kathy Shaidle, he quotes her saying, “I still say pacifism is a sin, because it is a privilege that only exists at the expense of another's life." He replies, "Hmmmm. What would the first three centuries of Christian martyrs have made of that claim?” I believe the martyrs would have: 1) acknowledged the impossibility of converting Rome by force (not that they would have advocated such a course); 2) recognized a positive duty to nevertheless live and preach the Gospel; 3) admitted the power of Rome (if not the right) to murder them; and, 4) declared a willingness to suffer their fate for the sake of Christ and their own immortal souls. If out of that they felt a need to construct a philosophy of pacifism as a means of asserting some control over the uncontrollable, well, I can hardly fault anyone for that. But that does not, by itself, have any claim on me, when the scriptural basis for it is weak and contradictory.

Second, Work makes a comment that is not, strictly speaking, true. “Since the American military does not allow recruits to participate conditionally in military actions or to be discharged when war takes an unjust turn, this pretty clearly precludes faithful Christians from American military service, unless they serve willing to face courts martial and dishonorable discharges when the time comes to withdraw.”

To start, a serving soldier in the volunteer military can even today apply for and receive conscientious objector status. (I tried to look up the relevant info in the UCMJ, but the Air Force has the only on-line version I could find, and it’s broken at the moment.) Separation from the service is the usual result, but in some circumstances a change of specialty has occurred—so an infantryman might become a medic, for instance. It’s not an easy thing to do, and not all true conscientious objectors get a change in status, but it is in fact possible.

In addition, there is by no means a perfect alignment between American civil or military law and God’s law (and I hope never to confuse the two) but many violations of God’s law also violate man’s. And the UCMJ not only allows, but in many cases positively requires, a soldier to disobey an unlawful order. This provision, codified from tradition into positive law after Nuremberg, greatly improves the lot of a faithful Christian in military service.

I therefore respectfully contend that service by a faithful Christian is not only not precluded, but in fact quite possible. I have not had the privilege of serving (thanks to a failed physical exam when I tried to join the Coast Guard) but many of my close friends have served over the years, and none have to my knowledge ever encountered a serious conflict between their duties to God and country. Indeed, I would argue that many civilian jobs (including my own) present more serious ethical problems for the Christian. The black-and-white, good-and-bad worldview of the military encourages the kind of ethical thinking that many corporations try to suppress.

This all supposes, of course, that one does not see pacifism as a positive obligation for the Christian (as I, obviously, do not). I cannot find in my conscience any such obligation, but can find many to the contrary. I do not suppose that the lot of a Christian soldier is necessarily always and everywhere an easy one, but that is true of Christians in every walk of life, and the burden seems rather less onerous for the Christian in the American military than in many others.
Crunchy Conservatives

I think Rod Dreher is on to something with the crunchy conservative thing. (Remember, though, that this is really nothing new. It was TR who started the National Park system.) I have recently found myself shopping at Wild Oats market, making my own bread (from a sourdough culture I started myself), and shopping 3-4 times/week to work with fresh foods. The gas mileage on my car is one of the major determining factors in buying it, and as soon as GM comes out with that hybrid minivan they've been talking about (35-40 mpg for a minivan!) I'm all over it. I recycle (except paper, which is as dirty a process as there is) and brew my own beer (well, some of it). Cheese and wine-making cannot be far behind. Now that I have found sandals made in the US (instead of China) I am spending nearly all my time in crunchy-attired feet.

One interesting thing to note: Dreher, Peter Kreeft, and I, all have beards. I wouldn't place a large wager on it, but I might make a modest bet that bearded conservatives are disproportionately "crunchy."

And, I would say that it is conservative crunchies who are being truest to their principles when they do crunchy things. Conservatism is about giving people the power to make real, honest choices about their lives: to work and worship as they please; to live where they please; to spend extra money on what it pleases them to buy, be it an ugly 12,000 sq. ft. home or organic produce for 20% more than the grocery store kind. Modern liberalism is about removing choices (except for the only acceptable "choice") and forcing everyone into conformity with whatever the intellectual fad of the moment is. As libertarianism has crept into conservatism, it has paradoxically caused a limiting of choices for conservatives. It is now seen as contradictory to be conservative and conservationist, where once it was the most natural connection in the world. The setting aside of vast swaths of land to be preserved as open space for hunting, fishing, recreation, camping, hiking: these conflict with no known principle of classical liberalism. They actually exemplify one major aspect of it: the classical virtue of Temperance, by moderating the tendency to consume and exploit.

Libertarianism, by denying the power of virtue, particularly in the public arena, has forced a conservative retreat from such concepts, and conceded the ground to lefties, who don't so much deny Virtue as conceive the State (rather than God) to be the source of it.

Perhaps what is needed is a public "coming out" party for all the like-minded conservatives. If enough of us come forward, we may moderate the tendency of many companies to cater to their apparently liberal-dominated customer bases, and perhaps detach Fresh Fields from Planned Parenthood, so that Emily Stimpson can go back to getting her herb-crusted tofu there.
O Kind Creator, Bow Thine Ear

O kind Creator, bend Thine ear
To mark the cry, to know the tear
Before Thy throne of mercy spent
In this Thy holy fast of Lent.

Our hearts are open, Lord, to Thee;
Thou knowest our infirmity;
Pour out on all who seek Thy face
Abundance of Thy pardoning grace.

Our sins are many, this we know;
Spare us, good Lord, Thy mercy show;
And for the honor of Thy Name
Our fainting souls to life reclaim.

Give us the self control that springs
From discipline of outward things,
That fasting inward secretly
The soul may purely dwell with Thee.

We pray Thee, Holy Trinity,
One God, unchanging Unity,
That we from this our abstinence
May reap the fruits of penitence.
Monday Intentions

For Dave's nephew and my wife's cousin Sue. For those who need strength to bear their crosses. For the repose of the soul of Trina Persad, for Fr. Jim's cousin, Emily's goddaughter, mothers who choose life, especially those who choose adoption, Karin, Elizabeth, Sarah, Randy, Deb, Roger, Corey, Michael, and the anonymous ones as well.
Vacation has come to a close

I'm back: tanned, fit, and ready to return to blathering on and hoping half-a-dozen regular readers stop by each day. (Ok, it's more than half-a-dozen. But I would be happy with that many.)

Sunday, July 07, 2002

Kairos is taking a real, honest-to-goodness vacation this week. I will be bringing a laptop, but I'm not at all sure I'll be doing any posting. To keep new readers occupied until my return in a week, I'm posting some link below to some older blogbits that I particularly liked, and that you only would have found by poking around in the archives.

For Monday, Prayer.

For Tuesday, Forgiveness.

For Wednesday, a follow-up to forgiveness.

For Thursday, Confession, part 1.

For Friday, Confession, part 2.

For Saturday, something to be added to Kathy Shaidle's "Bulging 'Why people have stopped going to church' file".

For Sunday, a response to Confession parts 1 and 2.

Meanwhile, check in during the week,a s I may well get motivated to post from the Maine coast. Peace!
Rise, Ye Children of Salvation

Rise, ye children of salvation,
All who cleave to Christ the Head;
Wake, awake, O mighty nation,
Ere the foe on Zion tread;
He draws nigh, and would defy
All the hosts of God most high.

Saints and martyrs long before us
Firmly on this ground have stood;
See their banner waving o’er us,
Conquerors through the Savior’s blood.
Ground we hold, whereon of old,
Fought the faithful and the bold.

Fighting, we shall be victorious
By the blood of Christ our Lord;
On our foreheads, bright and glorious,
Shines the witness of His Word;
Spear and shield on battlefield,
His great Name; we cannot yield.

When His servants stand before Him
Each receiving his reward,
When His saints in light adore Him,
Giving glory to the Lord;
“Victory!” our song shall be
Like the thunder of the sea.
Sunday Intentions

For Dave's nephew and my wife's cousin Sue. For those who need strength to bear their crosses. For the repose of the soul of Trina Persad, for Fr. Jim's cousin, Emily's goddaughter, mothers who choose life, especially those who choose adoption, Karin, Elizabeth, Sarah, Randy, Deb, Roger, Corey, Michael, and the anonymous ones as well.

Saturday, July 06, 2002

A Story

There once was a family with two sons. One son was dutiful and obedient, while the other was rebellious and difficult. The parents tried to teach him the rules, but he would not obey.

As the rebellious child grew older and began to think himself wiser than his parents, he became even more difficult. He took to treating people poorly, fornicating freely, and even cheating friends out of their money.

His parents were at a loss, and so they asked his brother to help him: maybe the rebellious son would listen to someone who was more like him, and less like a parent. The brother agreed, and set out to find his troublesome brother and talk to him.

It happened at this time that the difficult son was in bar. Though his parents had tried to teach him not to drive drunk, he often did. They had told him they would come get him, no matter where he was, or pay even an expensive bill for a cab, if only he wouldn't do this thing that put his life so at risk. At various times, they threatened to withhold other financial support, sent him to treatment programs, and did all a parent can do for a child to make him stop. But the sad truth was, the boy was the kind of alcoholic who revels in his drunkenness.

The dutiful son found his brother in the sort of dark, anonymous bar he usually drank at, surrounded not by friends or even companions, but only other drunks. He spoke to his brother, alternating between a stern tone and an affectionate one, trying to convince him to change his path. The rebellious brother simply got angry at this interference, and stormed out, heading for his car. His brother stopped him, and demanded the car keys, and they wound up in a fistfight. After realizing the futility of the fighting, the good son stopped demanding his brother's keys, but insisted that he was going to ride with his brother, at least to try to get him home safely. The troublesome son, realizing that this was the easiest way to be done with the fight and rid of his brother, agreed.

On the way home, the difficult child drove too fast and spun out on a wet patch. His brother was ejected from the car and killed. He remained inside it for the fire that took his life too.


A giant obstacle for many non-believers is the idea that God chooses who is saved and who isn't. To them, Salvation is an arbitrary action of a perverse ruler, and so, patently false. If it were so, I too would reject it.

But Salvation is really a path, and walking it is really a choice. God as Father has told us what the path is, spent millennia begging us, cajoling us, threatening us--doing all the things any parent does--to get us to stay on the path. Finally, he sent us Himself in the person of His Son, that we might hear the message from a brother who is like us, and like Him. That Brother stands next to us every day, offering his hand, asking for the keys to the car.

Ultimately, it is up to us to hand over the keys, to take the path that gets us home safely. But God will not make us do what He wants: that would violate the rules he established, that every parent establishes. He will teach us what we need to know, holding our hands at first, but gradually letting us walk on our own.

God does not choose who will be saved and who will not anymore than the parents in the story chose to let their son die. As they sent their other son out to help, so Christ was sent to help us find the Way. The parents did everything possible to ensure their son lived, but he chose not to. So it is with Salvation.
Saturday Intentions

For Dave's nephew and my wife's cousin Sue. For those who need strength to bear their crosses. For the repose of the soul of Trina Persad, for Fr. Jim's cousin, Emily's goddaughter, mothers who choose life, especially those who choose adoption, Karin, Elizabeth, Sarah, Randy, Deb, Roger, Corey, Michael, and the anonymous ones as well.
Joy and Triumph Everlasting

Joy and triumph everlasting
Hath the heav’nly Church on high;
For that pure immortal gladness
All our feast days mourn and sigh:
Yet in death’s dark desert wild
Doth the mother aid her child;
Guards celestial thence attend us,
Stand in combat to defend us.

Here the world’s perpetual warfare
Holds from heav’n the soul apart;
Legioned foes in shadowy terror
Vex the Sabbath of the heart.
O how happy that estate
Where delight doth not abate!
For that home the spirit yearneth,
Where none languisheth nor mourneth.

There the body hath no torment,
There the mind is free from care,
There is every voice rejoicing,
Every heart is loving there.
Angels in that city dwell;
Them their King delighteth well:
Still they joy and weary never,
More and more desiring ever.

There the seers and fathers holy,
There the prophets glorified,
All their doubts and darkness ended,
In the Light of Light abide.
There the saints, whose memories old
We in faithful hymns uphold,
Have forgot their bitter story
In the joy of Jesus’ glory.

Friday, July 05, 2002

One of the few readers of the Kairos blog who actually knows me as a live human being (as opposed to an anonymous blogger/email presence) wrote me a pretty stern letter. I can't do a lot about part of what she was upset about, me being me, and she being she. But part of her upset was about what I thought was mainly a humorous post, but which she didn't find funny. I intended no harm by it, but my sense of humor is not everyone's, and it would seem an act of truly sinful Pride to insist that I leave up something that matters not a lick to me in a substantive sense when it hurts a friend. Unfortunately, I do care about the other parts that upset her, and think they matter enough to leave them be. But I publicly withdraw as much as I can.
Prayer Intentions

For Dave's nephew and my wife's cousin Sue. For those who need strength to bear their crosses. For the repose of the soul of Trina Persad, for Fr. Jim's cousin, Emily's goddaughter, mothers who choose life, especially those who choose adoption, Karin, Elizabeth, Sarah, Randy, Deb, Roger, Corey, Michael, and the anonymous ones as well.

Wednesday, July 03, 2002

Thursday Intentions

For a just peace in the world, for Dave's nephew and Emily's goddaughter. For Karen's disabilities and the anniversary of her pledge. For all those who need mercy, and those who have the opportunity to be merciful. For the citizens of the United States, and for her men and women under arms, that God will offer them comfort and consolation as they fight on distant shores.
Thursday is the day we in the US celebrate our independence from Great Britain. The date itself is somewhat odd. John Adams, who died July 4 1826, on the 50th Anniversary of Independence Day (within hours of his friend and political nemesis Thomas Jefferson), always believed that July 2 was the proper date, that being the day debate on the Declaration of Independence concluded. And the political event of declaring independence in 1776 was not fulfilled on the battlefield for many hard, dangerous years after. But nevermind all that. Tomorrow is the birthday of my birthplace.

I find it very difficult to express just how I feel about this country. People who know me well know how much I love my country, but I think most would be surprised to know just how choked up I can get during the Nationa Anthem at a ballgame, or how near to tears I come every time I hear America the Beautiful. Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address positively makes me cry, for the perfect encapsulation of the American ideal.

What makes it hard to express is that my love is unconditional. Not, "my country, right or wrong"--but for all its faults my country is after all mine. The people who look at all the bad things the US has done and conclude that the US is the worst thing ever to happen to the world have not looked very closely at any of the other countries. Or, more likely they have, and they resent, in spite of some truly hideous stains on our honor, that we have managed to rise above the worst things we have ever done, to do some great things too. They are the sort who run around, declaring "I'm as good as you!" when what they want you to understand is you are as bad as they.

The sly snickering in Europe and Asia whenever an American talks of good and evil is all the proof that those nations--or at least their leaders and intellectuals--are most definitely not as good as we. The fact that the wealthiest, most powerful nation in the history of the world still thinks about and honestly believes in objective Good and objective Evil, while the inventors of Dachau and Auschwitz, the murderers of kulaks and Falun Gong, mock and sneer and in gleeful moral torpor gives the lie to their smug disdain.

This country has flaws surely, even still. We carry a big stick, but we are not always careful about where we wave it, or how softly we speak. We worry too much about money, and we are too apt to believe that other people are just like us. We are the most successful multi-racial society ever, and yet we are obsessed with "race." We are inconstant, and often tempted by our older brothers' moral lethargy.

But as Eugene McCarthy noted, we can choke on a gnat, but we swallow tigers whole.

This nation enslaved hundreds of thousands of blacks, stolen from their homes and given over to a horrific life and death. But then we sacrificed hundreds of thousands of young free men's lives to free a people that no one else in the world cared about: not the blacks in Africa who captured and sold them, not the slave traders who transported them, and certainly not the people who 75 years later were putting their neighbors onto trains bound for gas chambers so they could steal their art and live in their houses.

And so, Gentle Reader, I conclude. If you live here, fly your flag proudly this July 4th. If you are not American, please come visit us, and so discover that much of what you have read about us is true, and even more false. We are a kind and generous people, rougher, less refined than our European cousins, egotistical and paradoxically humble. If you visit us with an open mind, you will surely leave with an open heart.

God bless you, and God bless America.