Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Walking Home at Night

An older bit I wrote, from ~1 1/2 years ago. Consolidating little snippets of writing in one place. Also, I'm 5'1", hence the emphasis on someone else being smaller. My instincts are generally more fight-centered than flight-centered which is not always for the best.


If I take one route home (using public transit), the bus drops me at an overpass that I must traverse. At night, there is little foot-traffic and enough deep shadows to make it unsettling and vaguely threatening. Tonight, I hopped off the bus and started across. Someone was keeping pace behind me. Speeding up my walking, I heard the person behind increase their speed as well. Glancing behind, I saw a figure, slightly smaller than I, in a hoodie that obscured their face. I sped up even more, almost running, to see if I was being followed. And the person behind sped up as well, with a shuffling gait. "Oh crap," I thought. "I'm about to get mugged...and by someone smaller!!!" So I suddenly stopped and turned around aggressively...

...to find myself looking into the face of an old Asian woman who'd been running after me because she was scared of the path at night. "I'm coming with you!!!" she cried. And we went the rest of the way together, chatting amiably. She apparently waits for nice looking people to cross over with.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Let Our Voices Blend With Theirs

Gentleness, meekness, mildness - these are things vaunted in word but often ridiculed or rejected (even if only in thought) when encountered. The meek are deemed weak or sentimental and perhaps even simple-minded because they shun the frenetic activities of the aggressive and power-driven.

My mind marches along at a slow pace, turning things over and over again, like checking and double-checking to make sure the stove is off and the door locked. It does not launch like a firework into the sky, sending down dazzling rains of light - it's like a slug that gropes and flinches away from pointy rocks and salt, leaving a trail of slime to show its path: where it came from and the direction it's headed in. You can track its progress and watch its binary operations. I can't keep pace with frenzy. It feels unnatural.

We desire to be loved and admired, praised and emulated. Our words and works we want propagated but we are seldom satisfied to enter into harmonious melodies with others. The strident voice is the one heard - the one that shouts louder, which is most out of tune, standing apart from all the rest. That is the one we often remember.

And we listen to it time and again. The forceful are called clever in our encounters and we point to them and say they speak truths because they speak in high contrast. Their rhetoric pulls us into the eddies of their different worldviews and their agility of mind and strength of conviction sway us. Truth is a clarion call, isn't it? A mark of truth is that it cuts?

We start to mimic, to grow coarser and less forgiving as we emulate the sharp. I see men and women begin to simplify their ideas and their voices until they all sound alike even when meaning to be opposites. And their likeness is all harsh cries and subjugation. It's like when a group sings a copyrighted song SO BADLY that YouTube doesn't even flag it as a copyright infringement: its algorithm can't figure out what the tune is.

There is the echo chamber of us surrounding ourselves with those who hold similar views as we back-pat ourselves. There's also the cage we impose on ourselves by echoing others. It's not that we need to be original - one of my professors once told a class to not even both trying since everything we thought and would write had been thought and written before. But we do need to be authentic.  (Heideggerian language sometimes will out.)

Very few of us, I'd like to imagine, *really* get off on calling people dumb, telling them to fuck off, or, worse, damn them to hell. But I see, for example (a mild example that I've seen happen time and again), people with kindly dispositions slide from swearing in acronyms (wtf, wtaf, etc.), to explicit swearing, to caricatures of the people whose attention they're trying to catch or whose fame they covet. It often isn't *them* and it's not *who they are* and it's not *their voice.* It's a corruption.

I DON'T have an issue with swearing (or vulgarity!) so long as it doesn't profane what is good or holy...and sometimes find it a bit boring when used badly. My grandmother saw Gone With the Wind in theaters remembers vividly the gasp that came from the audience at the line "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn." That damn had solidity and weight, rhetorical impact and measure. If you're going to damn, make it good for heaven's sake!

But when those with hearts clamoring to find out and think the best of people find that this is Not How Things Are Done By Those In The Spotlight, they slowly stifle better impulses and shush the flames of charity. Reluctantly at first, they begin to change and small inroads are made until force of habit kicks in and they begin to relish this newfound cacophony since they, too, are being Noticed or are in the company of the Noticed. And their hearts become like duckweed on a pond - drifting here and there, seeking attention (everyone knows duck-weed is diva-like, yes?), becoming closed and indifferent.

The meek and gentle have no such allures. Theirs is a quiet and deep-abiding character that is not turned easily and which springs from deeper sources and has oak-like roots. Meekness seems to keep a slower pace in some ways and its very mildness is seen as a disgrace or, what seems like the greater sin, boring. A line from Whit Stillman's movie Metropolitan comes to mind:
It's incredible the eagerness of girls like you to justify the worst bastards imaginable as being sensitive and shy. But if any guy who really was shy dared talk to you, you wouldn't give him the time of day. Your eyes would glaze over.
But the gentle have strength: the strength to shore up, to refuse to be sowers of discord, the courage to pursue the promptings of the Holy Spirit. As Augustine says:
You wish to possess the earth now; take heed lest you be possessed by it. If you be meek, you will possess it; if ungentle, you will be possessed by it...For this is to be meek, not to resist your God. (Sermon 3 on the New Testament, emphasis added)
And if God calls you to be a preacher with words of fire, that is one thing. And if God calls you to be a mother who soothes her child, that's another. In hearkening to His voice, in diminishing like John the Baptist, we become more authentically ourselves: we blend our voice with those of the angelic hosts. We should not seek to assert our voice aggressively but to be conduits of the Holy Spirit.

"If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts."

NB, I am heavily influenced by this quote of Graham Greene: "I want men to admire me, but that's a trick you learn in school - a movement of the eyes, a tone of voice, a touch of the hand on the shoulder or the head. If they think you admire them, they will admire you because of your good taste, and when they admire you, you have an illusion for a moment that there's something to admire."

Also heavily influenced by re-reading Servais Pinckaers on the Beatitudes in his Sources of Christian Ethics.

Am also sort of using gentle and meek interchangeably - I know their senses are different, but they're similar. **shrugs**

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Living in Denial

Trad Catholic
Catholic Socialist
Catholic Libertarian
Normie Catholic
Weird Catholic
Leftist Catholic
Catholic Republican
Catholic Democrat
Communist Catholic

This one has a little car.
THAT one has a little star!
Say! What a lot of Catholics there are.

When I was at Cal, I colluded with a fellow student to bring a contingent of students into contact with the extraordinary form of the Mass. We'd drive them over, help 'em get used to the weird missals, and whisper warm encouraging things when their eyes glazed over at the 1 1/2 hour mark, surreptitiously dabbing away the drool trickling from their slackened mouths.

That's little exaggeration - going to a completely new (to you) liturgy can be draining. When a friend brought me to some Eastern Rite Mass, I practically fainted. He helpfully clutched my elbow for awhile in case I decided a reverent face-plant was in order. So many new sensory inputs, so much difference, is daze-inducing to the detail-oriented.

After one Mass (we'd made this a regular offering to students, and I think we went for maybe 4 months in a row, 1x/month?), a regular approached me with a smile asking if I was thinking of becoming a regular, too. Her mantilla-framed face froze as I told her that I was happy with the Ordinary Form. She *turned her back on me* and left without another word (perhaps she mumbled an "oh"? Maybe.), leaving me a solitary stunned outcast.

Literally bringing people to the extraordinary form of the Mass couldn't satiate her - I must conform to just and only this, leaving no room in my heart for anything else. It certainly felt like there was no space in that woman's heart for me à la Ordinary Form - or maybe she had IBS and I totally misinterpreted her frozen face of horror as she had a bowel movement and one of those LITERAL "CRAP!!! I'M NOT WEARING DEPENDS!!!" moments and had to waddle away. MAYBE.

That didn't stop me from bringing people to the extraordinary form, but it remained with me as a formative perception.

I hate being labeled and often hate labels. Flannery O'Connor hated labels. She's good company. Sort of spicy and acerbic but with a warm pulse - leaves you feeling like she's trying to shove your begrudging body in the right direction with a wry grimace-smile.

Catholics have a different kinda substance. The indelible mark(s) that we're sealed with re-configures our soul and thus our form and thus our body and thus our substance. They remain with us in the afterlife (so I've read). What that really means in theological terms, I'm not entirely sure, since I studied philosophy not theology, ya know? But it suggests to me that in some sense being a member of the Church is what we are and not an aggregation of the things we have done or what Mass we attend or what political party we adhere to.

Living up to our baptismal vows, remaining in communion with the Church, is a different matter. If you do not say "CREDO" to the fundamental truths, if you assent in intellect but spurn in will, if you deliberately face off against the Catholic Church like a forçado, well, then, you're still under her authority but not necessarily in communion.

I KNOW this is a pretty poor blush on the whole thing and that writers from Saint Bellarmine to John Paul the Great deal with the Church as the mystical body and make profound observations regarding its body and soul / being of the body / being of the soul of the Church, and how people fall into those categories. But bear with me - I'm aiming at something so don't focus on where I go wrong or where I'm the equivalent of a kindergartener spouting things about Kierkegaard -- I'm trying to wave my hand at something. Focus on that. Kthxendaside.

Probably, I would be identified as a Leftist Catholic, but would never and have never identified myself as anything but "Catholic." I suspect some might also say I'm a normie Catholics, perhaps. (I'm still not quite sure what the extension of that term is, but it seems pejorative.) To be Catholic is enough for me. The additional descriptors aren't substance-y enough but we often treat them as if they were, tho. You must BE a Republican if you are to call yourself a Catholic. You are CATHOLIC if you attend the extraordinary form of the Mass. Etc.

Then, armed with these descriptors, some of us stand shoulder to shoulder with our associates and get all down and tribal and funky. All who agree with us are within a protective bubble of civility. All who are outside are open to the worst epithets. What this person says is not just reasonable - the person himself is obviously erudite, has a good character, deserves standing applause. What THAT OTHER PERSON says is not just unreasonable - the person himself is obviously a peon, lacks any semblance of internal thought processes, and should be cursed unto the nth generation. Plus, their kids are ugly. And fat. And he looks like a goat. HA HA, OH SNAP.

What some (many?) people really mean by such requirement statements for Catholicism is: in order to be in union with the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, you must be x/y/z. We also see the phrase: "You cannot be Catholic and a/b/c" which has similar shorthand except it deals with the denial of a conjunction.

"You cannot be Catholic and pro-choice." Fine.
"You cannot be Catholic and support euthanasia." Fine.
"You cannot be Catholic and deny the divinity of Christ." Fine.
"You cannot be Catholic (in the USA) without being a Republican." Er.....

The first three things are not a positive affirmation of a position with an identity, but a denial. I'm ok with denial. I live in denial. What makes me uncomfortable is when identity statements are made about human institutions, transitory forms of liturgy, or political ideologies -- and that is the basis used for grouping ourselves within the Church and FIGHTING WITH EACH OTHER.

I'm not saying that these labels are without use -- but that some of the ways in which we use them are less than helpful and fuel for unnecessary division. We're members of the same Church, the mystical Body of Christ, claimed for Him through the same waters of baptism. To be Catholic defies, in some ways, defies such descriptors - it is so grand and there are so many rooms.

My, how we Christians love each other, eh?

[Thanks to mah friend Dr. Tan from Divine Wedgie who looked at this post to make sure I wasn't saying theologically unsound stupid stuff.]

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Topical Application

These are the subjects marinating in my head:
- Prone to Failure (Ambition, Commonality, First Followers)
- Knowing and Doing (Formal Necessity's Need)
- Catholic Tribalism (Are Descriptors Necessary?)
- Faux Appreciation of Gentleness (Judas Paying Lip-Service)
- Being in the Weeds (Considerations of Smaller Things)

Thursday, May 11, 2017

A Bit Odd, But It Works

Took (my first) hip hop class awhile back with my sister and...I'm putting my experience here because I WANT TO even though it happened earlier this year.


Dance instructors sometimes use word phrases as mnemonic devices for sequences of movement.

The teacher for this Hip Hop lesson asked the class: "So we're all adults here, right?" Everyone nodded and he continued: "...what I use to help me remember this is 'Bee Gees dancing naked in the living room'" For the rest of the class, that's how I practiced it. My sister later corrected me - it was actually "bitches", not "Bee Gees", and I was vaguely disappointed.

Trickle-Down Effect

Something hard for me to articulate to myself (but which I'm attempting to do, to clarify my own thinking) is how being gentle and being fierce are compatible in our dealings with others. Do we flow along like the quiet nurturing brook or thunder like the waterfall, cracking trees, pulling boulders from banks, and hurtling everything into the foamy-foam below: what floats may pass, what shatters then sinks will perish? 

It's something I see running about the web, too, framed in terms of rebuking the sinner:

P1: Be gentle with them.
P2: Go nuclear on their ass.

This tension is not between being conventionally nice and not-nice as in pleasant and unpleasant. People being rebuked isn't exactly something we doodle into our calendars and surround with hearts and swirls in colored ink. Because we like to reduce things to simpler terms, we tend to think of gentleness and nuclear as nice and not-nice and, then, as pleasant and unpleasant. The terms shift from a focus on treatment-of-people to how-our-treatment-of-people-makes-us-feel. I'm not sure that entirely makes sense as I've written it, but there's some subtle under-the-table-term-dodgery that seems to be going on and something gets lost in translation.

ANYWAYS, a good clue in resolving this tension might be found in depictions of saints. If we're the Church Militant, then what are the weapons that these saints used?

St. Nicholas had his fist to punch the heretic, St. Faustina her chaplet, Mother Teresa her hands to caress, Aquinas a flaming brand to chase the prostitute, St. Dominic the Rosary...there's a whole medley of saintly examples that run a gamut of behaviors from meekness to violence.

In our dealings with others, there is self and an other: it's between two  distinct persons. It's curious to me that we are not especially keen to reflect on ourselves as the source of an action or the other as the recipient but are, instead, quick to point to examples as guides. We like to dish it out, but not to take it so much, eh? But those were particular people in particular circumstances dealing with particular individuals. What is it that creates harmony between them all and provides a unifying explanation?

The nexus lies in the order of charity: are our actions rooted in Christ, are they fruits of virtue, are they a dynamic outpouring of love? The person who is united to Christ is able to discern the correct course of action in dealings with others in relation to our final end, at least to some degree. Since human knowledge is imperfect we go off of particular known circumstances and we can unwittingly err unless we have divine inspiration.

Knowledge is a powerful thing and where there is sin there is a sinner. We see a someone who has become a drunkard and we know they are drinking because they have suffered an immense blow and we treat them differently (I hope!) than the profligate wastrel who left his wife and children and spends all his time stumbling from bar to bar. Is the other person showing signs of sorrow? Is the other person manifesting malicious intent? There are so many considerations when we look at individuals that shape how we deal with them. This isn't an exciting observation. Most Catholics could probably tell you exactly what Canon 915 is about, for example, but it's not always acknowledged in theoretical dealings with less-ostentatious cases.

Or, on the side of self, we might know that we have a particularly irascible character and can turn into a wall of fury when dealing with certain persons - either because we've had it up to here with their crap OR because the subject at hand is one that particularly inflames us. Fraternal correction can then turn into a non-fraternal beat-down. We often get an unholy itch to kick someone when they're down (it's really the best time to do it, if you think about it), to lay it on thiccckkk, to be sure that the other person realizes just what an infinitesimal little blight they are on this glorious golden universe. Prudence might whisper: step away, you arse.

Human beings have the immense fight of mastering our passions, by the grace of God, and so when we deal with others it's not shocking that we can miss the sweet spot of excellence in action.  Both P1 and P2 may both be warning against opposite dangers that we can fall into (or they may simply be trying to justify their cruel treatment of others/etc. - there's many a man [and woman] who has hidden behind a mask of sanctity). Don't be too gentle with someone who needs rousing and don't be too aggressive with someone who needs a gentle hand.

So I guess the answer is: become a saint, desire God above all things, and let your actions flow from an active life of grace. Then in our dealings with others, we have the freedom to act with excellence, to discern with a clear(er) vision given our own self and an other what is the best path to our final end and theirs. I'm sure there are jumps and gaps in my logic here, but after 10+ hours of work and suchlike, GIVE THOU ME A BREAK.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Snowflakes in Winter

When I was perhaps 11 and my sister was 9, our Dad would often take us skiing in the winter, driving the 4 hours out to Lake Tahoe, and letting us wander the resorts so long as we stuck in a pair. We were both fairly competent and would tackle the occasional Black Diamond run or two together.

On one particularly clear day, my little sister slipped while we were close to a dangerous near-vertical drop. She fell on her stomach, face towards me, and slowly slid towards her inevitable doom, reaching out her hands, crying out my name repeatedly, begging me to help her as she scrabbled desperately to gain some purchase on the icy incline.

I planted my ski poles, not five feet away from her, and laughed.

She was in no danger. I could see that she was sliding down a fairly gentle slope that ended in a wide flat ledge before the perilous drop really began. The contrast between her perceived and actual danger amused me.

As her small form slid further down and away, her eyes filled with horror and disbelief: her protector, her friend, her big sister, would not even stretch out a hand but simply stood back positively relishing her imminent demise. What sick cruel joke was this? 

It took her awhile to get over that, even once she understood that she'd been in no actual danger. It left such a lasting impression that she still sometimes brings it up.

If our reflex reaction is to laugh at others when they are scared because of perceived danger (real or imagined) that'll probably come back to haunt you later. Episodes like that have the potential of sticking with people more than rational argumentation - they only see a hideous laughing visage and the danger seems to become worse because you can't trust the people around you to act with compassion.

There is a huge amount of stupidity in the world. But we're fighting against principalities and powers - not against people. Stupidity doesn't need to be coddled because it's not a person and sometimes laughter might be a good response when someone says something incredibly obtuse. But it should be a measured and deliberate response to the stupidity versus a reflexive and default position that conflates person and position.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Suffering is Gross

"By following Jesus on the way of his Passion we not only see the Passion of Jesus, but we also see all the suffering in the world, and this is the profound intention of the prayer of the Way of the Cross:  to open our hearts and to help us to see with our heart...He was made man to give us a heart of flesh and to reawaken within us love for the suffering, for the destitute. "
-Benedict XVI, Way of the Cross

Suffering is an ugly thing: contorted trembling limbs, bodily fluids leaking from every whichwhere (gross!), wan faces with dulled over eyes - unpleasant to look at, uncomfortable to be near, hideous to experience.

The euthanasia movement is firmly established within U.S. - it used to be that if you asked someone about euthanasia they would, hesitantly, say they were against. The inverse is now true, at least in the SF Bay Area.

If someone is in excruciating pain or suffering from a terminal illness or from an illness that would slowly and agonizingly rip their mind or body away from them, why don't we allow them to die with some modicum of dignity - quietly slipping away into the dusky eternity?

We're so overcome at the idea of suffering that we hand someone a loaded gun and sentimentally sniffle into our handkerchiefs about it being a merciful thing to do.

Where were you when I needed a ride to the doctor?

Where were you when I was hungry and couldn't cook for myself or find the energy to even order delivery?

Where were you when I was crying and scared as the test results came back?

Were you there?

To have real compassion is not to allow people to think that their lives are worthless. The way to do that is to be with them in the darkness as bearers of Christ's light. When we feel loved by others, we want to stay with them even though we are in pain.

The Passion is not something to remotely contemplate once a year as a Gloriously Sorrowful Thing that opened the Gates of Heaven and aren't we all turrible sinners and whatnot -- and then be done with it because - BAM! EASTER! Rejoicing for 50 days!

The Passion is a template to follow in our daily lives: the example of Christ, of the women, and of Simon (reluctant though he was). Do not let others be alone. Christ came to us and "...was made flesh precisely to be able to suffer with us and to be with us in our suffering." And we, like Him, are to go out to others and be with them in theirs.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Friendship has benefits.

I wouldn't characterize myself as an adventurous person.

Sure, I moved abroad to take classes in a foreign language after only having studied it for one month (#yolo), threw my lot in with a Great Books program that lasted two years before imploding, go to improv classes, and am down to try pretty much any strange food or experience you throw at me. Bugs? Done. Animal nasty bits? Done. Horse? Yusss. Delicious. Tastes like Black Beauty. Toss me some o' that cheese you need to wear goggles with while eating lest the worms leap out at you - I'm down.

In some ways, I am the first to jump.

But when it comes to forming friendships, I am exceedingly cautious. Doubly so when it comes to forming friendships with men.

It was only after two months of knowing some college-mates that I started drinking when going out to party with them on windy San Francisco beaches, sitting by a bonfire, sucking down cheap beer. In shock, they said: "But... You don't drink!" I'd waited until I was dead certain they were the sort of people who took care of their friends IF they drank too much and needed help staggering home. It was only after knowing one person for ten years that he actually started to feel like we were good friends. Usually, people see me as background, devoid of personality.

I don't expose much of me in person to relative strangers, faccia a faccia - what if someone discovers my Achilles' heel and hurt me or I them? What if they get the wrong idea? What if I reveal myself and am rejected?

One of the effects of the Fall was to break bonds between man and creation, between man and woman, between self and other. We still cover ourselves with fig leaves. But man is a social animal. Most of us, even we introverts, have a strong desire to be among others and give of ourselves to them as we are capable. This desire is checked against our knowledge that sometimes people will deliberately hurt us after we open up to them and that the people we're closest to have the greatest power to effect such hurt. Dante puts the treacherous into the deepest circle of hell - they are the most inhuman who turn their back on friends, family, and God. Backstabbing no-goodniks.

Forming friendships comes easily for some, harder for others depending on...many, many things.

Forming friendships with the opposite sex is naturally a bit more delicate since affection/intimacy is present and there's the whole concupiscence and "T'EH SEX" (!?!?!?) thing. But human nature is not broken to the point where we are incapable of having a pure friendship with a member of the opposite sex. To say otherwise would be the equivalent of asserting reason cannot hold sway over our passions, that we are primarily bestial and secondarily rational -- or to assert that having friendships with the opposite sex are meaningless unless they exist or terminate in some familial bond.

R.H. Benson wrote:
[Friendship] is not a manifestation of sex, for David can cry to Jonathan "Thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women"; it is not a sympathy arising from common interests, for the sage and the fool can form a friendship at least as strong as any between two sages or two fools; it is not a relationship based on the exchange of ideas, for the deepest friendships thrive better in silence than in speech. "No man is truly my friend," says Maeterlinck, "until we have each learned to be silent in one another's company."


The essence of a perfect friendship is that each friend reveals himself utterly to the other, flings aside his reserves, and shows himself for what he truly is...It is tolerably true to say that the difference between our behaviour respectively to an acquaintance and to a friend, is that in the first case we seek to conceal ourselves, to present an agreeable or a convenient image of our own character, to use language as a disguise, to use conversation as we might use counters; and in the second case that we put aside conventions and makeshifts, and seek to express ourselves as we are, and not as we would have our friend to think us to be.
-The Friendship of Christ
In our imperfect world, we rub off on each other until we're smooth like polished stone.We benefit both from revealing ourselves and having others reveal themselves to us. Our rough edges get worn away as we support, encourage, and bear burdens for each other. Friendships do not simply reveal who we are, but also allow us to be in a different way, to make real what was only potential before in our characters. We may choose to be courageous and patiently be with others in times of distress, or we may fade away when things get difficult or they make too many demands of our time and energy. Each friendship is an opportunity to love more and to love in manifestly different ways.

Human friendships are like Divine Friendship. When we become friends with Christ, then our human friendships are centered in the bosom of the Trinity. Our final end is seen and we want out friends to meet Him and He is:
...the one Friend who cannot fail. This is the one Friendship for whose sake we cannot humiliate ourselves too much, cannot expose ourselves too much, cannot give too intimate confidences or offer too great sacrifices. It is in the cause of this one Friend only and of His Friendship that the words of one of His intimates are completely justified in which he tells us that for His sake it is good to "count all things to be but loss" -- "and count them but as dung, that I may gain Christ."
-The Friendship of Christ
C.S. Lewis put it aptly in one of his lesser-read novels Till We Have Faces:
When the time comes to you at which you will be forced at last to utter the speech which has lain at the center of your soul for years, which you have, all that time, idiot-like, been saying over and over, you'll not talk about the joy of words. I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?