Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Stop the presses!

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I'm willing to bet all of you know Mikey, of "Give it to Mikey, he'll eat anything" fame. That Life cereal commercial is one of the most famous cultural memes around. I myself have been called Mikey -- the pseudonym for a "human garbage disposal" -- more times than I can recall.

But what I bet almost none of you realizes is this: the Mikey meme is totally fallacious. A memes go, the Mikey meme is a grotesque mutation of the original ad[1]. If you'll watch the ad, you realize Mikey is exactly the opposite of what we've construed him to be. Far from being a human food Dispose-All, little Mikey is a totally picky eater. This is, in fact, the only scenario that makes sense. It would hardly be a credit to Life cereal if a wildly indiscriminate eater enjoyed their cereal. No, the appeal of the cereal must come from the fact (or appearance of fact) that it's so good even contrarian Mikey will eat it.

This rather elementary observation was made by none other than my coworker buddy, Brett, a few weeks ago during our lunch break. As he traced the logic back, and then as I found the ad online for the rest of us to watch, the truth filled our office like warm, numinous light. Brett was stunned, not only because such a plain ad had been so bizarrely warped, but also because, to use his own words, "I never catch that culture s--t." Well, Brett, good catch this time.

Knowing the truth about Mikey is good, but it presents a lot of unsettled (and unsettling) questions. Namely, how in the world did the Mikey meme get so profoundly and broadly twisted? Also, why haven't we heard of any legal cases by the Mikey actor suing for damages and libel? And, worst of all, what nickname will I now get as an eating cretin?

[1] I point you to the source of this ad, a digital cornucopia of Classic Commericals (http://www.bubblegoose.com/ClassicCommercials/
commercials.html)
.

More cameo blogging!

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My good buddy and former roommate, Matt, sent me the following email. As you can see, he speaks well enough for himslef, and I haven't much commentary. I realize he comes across pretty strongly at times, but keep in mind, as he does, that he's attacking a type -- the egregiously vain and egotistical tyrant of small things -- more than a single person.

Just returned a couple days ago from two weeks in Brevard, North Carolina, where I co-chaperoned and solo-chaperoned 10 kids each week (boys the first, girls the second). Bet you can't guess which group caused infinitely more stress and head-ache for me. Whilst there, I read _On the Road_, by Jack Kerouack (I actually have about 15 pages left) for the first time, the one with introduction by Ann Charters, and it was, quite literally, an eye-opening, life-changing experience for me. ...

Anyway, while I was reading this book during the second week, I was also becoming further and further fed up with one girl in particular on the team who is a borderline narcissist. She is self-absorbed to the max, manipulative, ambivalent to any concerns but her own, and downright mean. She's wealthy and indulged, and knows how to get what she wants. Well, not really from me. ... I couldn't care less if she is mad at me, and I know (and she knows) that she can do nothing to harm me in any way, so I ignore her a lot of the time, and flatly disregard or shoot down her selfish tantrums just as often. ...

So one afternoon when we had some free time, I was in my room reading Kerouack, and then decided to vent some frustration in my journal, so that I wouldn't vent it on this girl or the rest of the team by accident.

Wise man.

I poured out my exasperation about her attitude onto the page, and followed with some musings on how empty and pathetic the life of the totally spoiled and egocentric must really be. Here's an excerpt:

"...They're so bloated on their own egos, and they just keep shoveling it in. They'll keep right on gorging themselves on the fawning attention of others, the compliments, the jealousy, the hatred. They don't believe any of it, so they try to surround themselves with others even more pathetic so they can maintain the illusion; they pretend to fool themselves, but the mirage is so weak that it's barely even translucent (as opposed to opaque, solid, real -MFP). Empty, pathetic, hollow shells filled with simple, angry, desperate little whisps of life.

That line really knocked my socks off, by the way.

I can't imagine what it must be like to have such a sad life, totally bereft of meaning."

And then I had a bit of an epiphany, as bits of _On the Road_ marinated in my mind, mixing with my disgust at the behavior and attitude of this girl. I was struck by the contrast between the lives of this girl and the character Dean Moriarty. She is spoiled, arrogant, bored, ... while Dean is dirt poor, wild, carefree, and filled with wonder by anything and everything. And there it was in black and white, two extremes presented in stark contrast with one so clearly superior that it was the only one worth even considering. Here I'll present another excerpt from my journal:

"I'm going back to church when I get back to Gainesville.

I had only an inkling you (Matt) were so thoroughly disaffected from church life. Thank God, welcome back!

Writing all of this, thinking about what a life without any real meaning actually constitutes, makes me realize how completely certain it is that there is a God, and that He necessarily must be the end all and be all, the very center of all life, all meaning, all purpose, and to not direct 100% of my effort in everything I do to knowing this God would be a total waste of my life.

Bingo. Now to the living of it.

If everything: all nature, all thought, all emotion, all love, all desire comes from and is sustained by and through Him, then what absolute folly it is to run after anything else. How futile to chase after those things of earth that entice, amaze, enthrall, when they are simply by-products of the great continually exploding expanding supernova that is God. No, I must strive for the source of all that is beautiful and true to me. I wonder now as I sit here if I've ever had this realization before. It's so clear to me now, as if I'm Dean Moriarty on a three-day Benzedrine trip seeing things clearly and without coloration: pure, undistilled truth revealed as if for the first time."

I tend to ramble a lot in my journal, and use punctuation weirdly. It's also probably influenced by my reading _On the Road_. If you haven't read it, do. It's pretty rough going early, but it's really a great and important book. I guess I was just so struck by the way Dean goes after life full-bore at all times, although he's missing the whole point and it takes its toll continually. Kind of weird that I'd take something so spiritually powerful from a book that is largely about hedonism, and from a girl for whom God is of little concern. ... I guess it's just that God is everywhere, permeating the fabric of the very being of all things, and he is revealed in the smallest and most illogical ways if the eyes are open.

I've heard it said that unless all of Creation is a medium for general revelation there is no medium for special revelation. This is some deep and invigorating stuff, Matt. Keep the prophetic pulses coming.

This one goes out to my homey

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The chieftain of Craig's Cranny, one of the shrewdest, wittiest dudes I've ever known, a member of one of my favorite families, and the source of many a fine music lead. Best of all, he was my stroke for two or three years during my high school rowing days. I shall never forget the moment he pulled us out of a rut in the heat of 900m race against St. Paul's in Reading, England. "Let's get the hell out of here." Primal excellence, clean victory. I still get chills.

Recently, Craig was at a truly cataclysmic event: the Phinal Phish Phrenzy in Vermont. Without further ado, I give you (most of) his inimitable reportage of that event:



So I'm sure everyone has been wondering "Craig, where ya been?" I'll tell you where I've been, TRAFFIC. For hours. I just so happened to get a ticket to the last Phish show. Yes that event my relatives all saw on CNN and called me about, the very same. The very same show that some people paid in excess of $900 for a single ticket. I didn't pay nearly that much (get ‘em early, get ‘em cheap). But it was a pretty swell event, despite the debacle of getting there. . .

9:30AM 8/13/2004 - Yes, Friday the 13th, not a good way to start out an epic adventure. We leave Burlington, VT, ... [and back] roads are chosen for our journey as we've already heard that the traffic to the venue in Coventry, VT is already backed up on the main highways. Keep in mind that this is Friday morning, and the concert doesn’t start until Saturday night and the traffic is already backed up for miles on the highway. We manage to drive within about 5 miles of the event gate and we stop. It's only backed up about 3 miles, how long could it possibly take to go 5 miles? The answer is 10 hours. Stop and go for 10 hours, but its not really stop and go. Its more like roll 20 feet and shut the car off, take a nap for 30 minutes, start the car and repeat. And its raining the whole time.

At one point I thought it would be a good idea to use a payphone at a gas station that we were stopped next to to check my voicemail.... While Im paying $.80 for a phone call back to Burlington the traffic begins to move. ... It took me well over an hour to walk along the highway in the rain to finally get to my car. ...

6:00PM 8/13/2004 - Finally making it to the event gates our car was "searched" as they said they would. ... The extent of the search of my car was limited to a guy looking through my window, asking me a few questions, making a few wise cracks, and then leaving for the next car. ... So we eventually get to the place where we're supposed to park, a giant mud pit. The guy directing traffic just tells me to "gun it", and I'm immediately stuck, wheels spinning. So I get out and ask if its OK to park there, he replies "no, you'll have to move it." I could tell this guy was a real achiever.

Luckily just then a local farmer was rolling by on his tractor, and I got him to pull me out of the mud pit and on to some semi-solid ground. That's where the car would remain for the next two days (see pictures). Much to my dismay when I turned the car on, the "Check Engine" light was on and the "Cruise Control" light was flashing on and off. Bad news if you ask me, but I wasn’t about to call AAA and have them try and find me in a field in rural Vermont amongst 60,000 other cars. I can imagine the conversation.....

AAA "AAA, what can I do for you?"

Me "Well Im stuck and having some trouble with my car"

AAA "What kind of trouble, and how are you stuck?"

Me "Hmmm...where do I start. Im in a mud pit stuck up to the axles and there's lights flashing on the dashboard"

AAA "That doesnt sound good....Where are you at, maybe we can send a truck out to pull you out?"

Me "Im parked in a field in the middle of nowhere in rural Vermont"

AAA " ....click....dial tone....."

If you knew Craig's voice, and his deadpan narrative style, you too would be dying in laughter on the floor with me!

We managed to get the tent up on a grassy spot and finished Friday the 13th, finally.

...It seemed like our parking spot was just about "Ground Zero" for the mud pits, but we heard over the radio that a lot of people were getting turned away and were told to go home. I guess they didn’t really like that idea, and about 5000 people just ditched their cars on I-91 and walked the last 15 or so miles to the venue. Now that's dedication.

Not to mention an act of religious devotion in most corners of the world.

I don’t think there's any other band past or present that could 1) sell out 70,000 tickets to a one band festival in about a week or 2) have the fans that would risk losing their cars and walking 15 miles to a concert after waiting over 30 hours in traffic. Pretty amazing. The performance had some good parts and some weak parts overall. I ended up about 5th row for the first night. They played for close to 5 hours during the three sets. The second night was good as well, lots of mud, some muddy playing, but overall pretty good.

Getting out of the venue wasn't too bad. ... I got home around 4:30AM Monday morning, and I heard on the news that a lot of people didnt even leave the venue due to traffic until Tuesday afternoon.

War stinks

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No, seriously, I mean that literally.

Props to Jimmy Akin.

Bad parenting

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Props to Jimmy Akin

Did you know about...

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The Myth of the Flat Earth?

The following are exceprts from a very interesting essay by James Hannam at Bede's Library.

We all know that Christopher Columbus encountered stiff resistance about his idea of sailing off West to try and reach the East Indies. Many of us have laboured under the impression that people were concerned that he would sail off the edge of the Earth which was widely believed to be flat. History is thought to have vindicated Columbus against those filled with the Christian superstition of a flat Earth who held on to old fashioned beliefs. A minority of people are even under the impression that Galileo's trial centred on the subject rather than whether the Earth orbited the sun.

It comes as some surprise, therefore, to find that Columbus was wrong and his critics were right - not because the world is actually flat after all, but because at the time everyone knew it was a globe and were arguing about how big it was. The idea that the uncouth people of the Middle Ages thought the Earth was flat is an example of the myth that has been propagated since the nineteenth century to give us a quite unfair view of this vibrant and exciting period.

Amen, amen, amen!

The Greeks had tried hard to find out how large the Earth is and managed to calculate many different figures depending on the methods and accuracy of their work. The most famous effort today is that of Eratosthenes, Librarian of Alexandria, who wrote a treatise On the Measurement of the Earth (now lost) in which he gave a figure for the Earth's circumference of 250,000 stadia ... the equivalent of about 23,000 miles, creditably close to the true figure of 24,900 miles. ...

A more popular figure is that given in by Strabo and Ptolemy, two distinguished Greek geographers of around the first century AD who both suggested 180,000 stadia. We are not sure where they got their figures from but they were repeated by the Latin writer Seneca who transmitted them to the medieval West. By the time that it became a live issue for Columbus, Eratosthenes' figure was back in vogue and the experts were wisely urging the Italian not to set sail. ...

It is not difficult to see how the story of Columbus was adapted so that he became the figure of progress rather than a lucky man who profited from his error. According to Jeffrey Burton Russell here, the invention of the flat Earth myth can be laid at the feet of Washington Irving, who included it in his historical novel on Columbus, and the wider idea that the everyone in the Middle Ages was deluded has been widely accepted ever since.

The myth that Christians in the Middle Ages thought the world was flat was given a massive boost by Andrew Dickson White's weighty tome _The Warfare of Science with Theology_. This book has become something of a running joke among historians of science and it is dutifully mentioned as a prime example of misinformation in the preface of most modern works on science and religion. ... He [White] finds himself grudgingly admitting that Clement, Origen, Ambrose, Augustine, Isodore, Albertus Magnus and Aquinas all accepted the Earth was a globe - in other words none of the great doctors of the church had considered the matter in doubt. ...

Luckily for White there were then, as there are now, a few fringe writers who could be counted upon to support any point of view no matter how wild. Cosmas Indicopleustes was one such man. ...

Lactantius was another church father who did seem sure the earth was flat but no one paid much attention to him either. Other early Christians may well have simply been using common language that we still use today. Saying "to the ends of the earth", "the four corners of the world" or "the sun sank into the sea" does not make you a flat Earther and we should treat ancient people with the same generosity. What can be stated categorically was that a flat Earth was at no time ever an element of Christian doctrine and that no one was ever persecuted or pressurised into believing it. This is interesting because the Bible itself implies the Earth is flat (for example at Daniel 4:11 or 4:8 in Catholic Bibles) and most of its writers (certainly those of the Old Testament) probably thought so. Clearly, belief in the complete scientific accuracy of the scriptures against known facts was not upheld by the early or medieval church who were happy to accept a figurative interpretation. ...

Anti-clerical history of science writers have promulgated the myth so that even today, in his book _The Discoverers_, Daniel Boorstin manages to produce a totally misleading account. His bias shows badly when he castigates Christians for thinking the world was flat when they did not and then praises the erudition of Chinese geographers who actually did believe it. The myth is so prevalent that the blurb on the back cover of the UK version of Umberto Eco's _Serendipities_, the editor repeats the myth even though within the book itself, Eco devotes a good deal of attention to debunking it!

The doyen of historians of Medieval Science, Edward Grant, covers the issue in his new book, _God and Reason in the Middle Ages_ where he finds all educated people in the Middle Ages were well aware the Earth was a sphere. Perhaps today we can at last dispense with this patronising belief about the Christian Middle Ages.

What a crappy view

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On a lighter note...

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I saw *Monsters, Inc.* last night. I've wanted to see it for years and was totally pleased with it. I nearly died in an eruption of guffaws when Mike (near the end of the movie) tried to get Boo to laugh. Huh-larious. Plus, the animation just blew me away.

It's a weird compulsion for such a stuffy, bookish, old-fashioned guy as myself, but I simply LOVE all those CGI/animated comedies, pretty much without qualification. (Maybe I just have low standards. *A Nightmare Before Christmas*, *Toy Story* (1 and 2), *A Bug's Life*, *Finding Nemo*, *Ice Age* -- you name it and I'll probably like it. People that know me never quite believe me, but it's true. Same thing for the show, *Blind Date.* I'm a raving fan and that baffles people. Now if only they'd animate it -- I'd never sleep!

Strangely enough, though, I have an equally strong distaste for CGI in non-animated films. Give me clay, plastic, rubber and metal monsters any day over that etheral, felt-chalkboard gimmicry of, say, the *Star Wars* re-releases. Indeed, the only part of *The Passion of the Christ* I disliked was the scene in which a CGI dove flew in superimposed frenzy over the trial.

As you may or may not know, my brother, Hunter, is a phenomenal, truly outstanding artist. He's finishing up at Columbus College of Art and Design (CCAD), with, well, I'm not exactly sure what kind of medium-focus. He's expressed interest in working for Pixar or Dreamworks as an illustrator/ designer, so maybe my taste for animation is just a family affair. I've had it in mind for some time to collaborate with him on a kids' book, or maybe just an illustrated novel. "Written by Elliot Bougis - Illustrated by Hunter Bougis" What dreams may come!

Inhale, exhale

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I'm sure there's a technical psychological term for how I feel. There is probably a well recognized psychological phenomenon that occurs in the wake of releasing a large amount of psychic pressure, of revealing a deep secret, of being vulnerable in a big way. If there's no such phenomenon on the books, I've got it anyway.

Having now officially brought everyone up to speed on my faith journey, I feel amazingly hollow, almost dull and inert. It's like making a big jump down a steep hill. You land with a rush but then need a moment to catch your breath, get your bearings. I've made the jump and now I'm dazed.

Besides this, much of my disorientation stems from some personal issues I’m dealing with – poorly, I admit – at the same time. As they say in German, “Alles in der Luft” – everything’s up in the air. I’m in denial and deep confusion about some important things and people in my life, and it takes a lot just to get through a day right now on more than auto-pilot.

At any rate, I'm happy to say people so far have been very supportive and charitable about my revelation, even if they most certainly disagree with my path, position, or procedure (or all three). As much as I'd like this to be a binary action, a mere mental and spiritual flip of the switch, I know it is a process. It is a walk of faith, and all I have in me at present is the strength to keep inhaling the grace God gives me from moment to moment.

Now, there are three clarifications I would like to add to my long "coming out" post below. First, I said “the Eucharist actually saves the world," and that is true. But just to be more exact, let me rephrase myself: "BY MEANS OF the Eucharist, God the Father in Christ by the Holy Spirit saves the world." The Eucharist is not magic; nor is any sacrament or act of faith, for that matter. Magic derives its strength from the elements and instruments themselves for the glory of humans, whereas the sacraments draw their power from God for the glory of God. Contrary to popular little Jack Chick tracts about the “magic cookie” of the Eucharist, I do not look to the bread and wine to save me. No, I look to my Lord in them to save me by faith. After all, He’s the one that humbled Himself into mere bread and wine, which is but a perpetual, sacramental re-enactment of his humility on the cross. He started it; I’m merely heeding His call to continue it, with Him.

Second, although I emphasized the doctrinal, rational, literate aspects of my journey I want to emphasize even more clearly that I know this is not just an academic odyssey. I don't want ideas; I want Jesus. I don't want to know the truth; I want the Truth Himself. And I know, increasingly in fact, that reading is not the best way to meet Him. The road to life is not paved with words, but with blood. The way of Christ is not a meditation, it is a lifelong dance of worship under the Cross. This is what I meant by saying a major component of my journey is worship. God help me -- and here's where your prayers come in! -- I know I can only trust His grace in faith, love and prayer. God help me to listen to Him, in prayer and before Him in the mystery of His Eucharistic presence.

Third, I am not switching my allegiance from Christ to "the Church." People have asked me why Christ isn't enough, why trusting Him is inadequate without also trusting in His Church. All I can say is that this objection, or interjection, suffers from a grave false dichotomy. I am not switching allegiance from Christ so much as I am deepening my allegiance to Him. Far from wriggling out from under the Lord's gentle yoke, my entrance into the fullness of His Church -- liturgically, sacramentally and historically understood -- is the entire point of submitting to Him.

To be in the Church is to be in Christ and to be in Christ is to be holy. Although I've said more than once that "I want" to enter the Catholic Church, with all its wonders and warts, this desire must be understood as being synonymous with wanting to obey God. I want the Church so very much because I believe Christ wants me, and all of us, to want the Church. The goal of repentance is life in the Church; and the goal of life in the Church is life with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, forever and ever, amen! Christ came to redeem all people and all peoples -- which is to say He came to build a Church, an *ekklesia*, an assembly of saints. Such an assembly (of people) necessarily has concrete dimensions and features, none of which nullifies its mystical, spiritual dimensions. (Please see the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), paragraphs 751-52, 760-61, 763-66, 771, 775-76.)

It's purely gnostic to say we can live for Christ -- in any sustainable, vital way -- apart from the Church. It's just as foolish to say the arm can live apart from the whole body. Oh sure, we moderns can contrive such a feat, but the Scriptures were inspired in a time without such amputated magic, thus conveying a simple meaning: the Body is Christ, the Body is one, and the Body is life. (Please see 1 Corinthians 12:12ff., Ephesians 1:22, 2:19-22, and Colossians 1:12-27.) I don’t want the Church for the sake of being churchy. I want the Church because I believe Christ Himself lived, died and rose again to welcome me into it, and thus into the eternal life of the Trinity, by means of it. Hence, to be clear, I don’t believe the Church; I believe Christ. It just so happens that believing Him means believing in His Church as well.

Augustine Day by Day - August 30 - Every Moment You Are Passing On

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"From the time that I started speaking until this moment, do you realize you have grown older? You cannot see your hair growing. Yet while you stand around, while you are here, while you do something, while you talk, your hair keeps growing -- but never so suddenly that you need a barber straightaway. In this way, your existence fades away. You are passing on."

-- Commentary on Psalm 38, 12

"Memento mori." Remember your death. "Quo vadis?" Where are you heading?

Prayer. My God, let me be thankful as I remember and acknowledge all your mercies.

-- Confessions 8, 1

August 30

Christian Heritage - August 30 - Never Consider Hurting Your Enemy

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"When your enemy falls into your hands, do not consider how you can pay him back and let him feel the sharp edge of your tongue before sending him packing; consider rather how you can heal him and restore him to a better frame of mind. Continue to make every effort both by word and deed until your gentleness has overcome his aggressiveness. Nothing has more power than gentleness. As someone has said: A soft word will break bones. And what is harder than bone? Well then, even if someone is as hard and inflexible as that, he will be conquered if you treat him gently. There is another saying: A soft answer turns away wrath. It is obvious, therefore, that whether your enemy continues to rage or whether he is reconciled depends much more on you than on him. For it rests with us, not with those who are angry, either to destroy their anger or enflame it."

John Chrysostom, patriarch of Constantinople (AD 347-407), De David et Saule, Hom. III, 6-7

Sunday, August 29, 2004

The best way

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[The following is perhaps the most important post/letter I've written to date. If you have any intention of reading it, I ask you to do so carefully, prayerfully and fully. Look before you leap, and read before you rant. Thank you. BTW, I apolgize for any weird formatting glitches and bumps that might appear in this; I wrote it on a Chinese-formatted PC and things can get a little tweaked in the Blogger transfer.]

[Once you've read this, have a look at some clarifications I added to this post, above.]

Many months ago (14 Dec 2003) on my earlier blog, Rocketagent, I wrote a short fairy tale about a man building a house for a King. Folks asked what the tale was about but I never explained – until now. The man is me and the King is God. So far so good.

The best way to hammer a nail is to hit it. The best way to try a meal is to eat it. The best way to say something is just to say it. So, let me say something: I want to become either Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox. This fact may baffle you; it may outrage you; it may in fact do nothing at all for you. Whatever your reaction, I assure you it has been the center of my life for just over two years now, and the source of much hidden anguish, confusion, joy, wonder, discovery, patience and prayer. For the past two years I have been wrestling with this decision and have finally found the opportunity to tell all my friends and family. I've agonized over when and how to make this announcenment but life has simply given this as the best time and "place." It's not ideal and I'm sure many would have liked to have heard earlier, or individually, or more gradually, or whatever, but I've done the best I can. Please forgive me for any hint of duplicity or disdain.

Much of the reason I delayed telling anyone so long is, first, because last year I was a full-time missionary and had a task to fulfill. I had a fairly significant leadership role and I knew launching such a wrench into the gears would further harm my already wounded team. Also, I knew my decision would very likely present some of my supporters with a conflict of interests and I didn't want to complicate things. It took me quite a while to get over feeling like a betrayer, so I at least wanted to finish what I started in good faith. I had every intention of announcing my decision over a year ago, but then I heard God's call to Taiwan and knew my announcement would have to wait for a better time. The reason I went through with this Evangelical mission a year ago despite my serious reservations about key points of Protestant theology and despite my serious leanings toward Roman Catholicism is that the absence of a firm decision for the latter left me with a firm default decision in favor of the former.

A second reason for my delaying this news has been my very academic, analytical nature. Though I can be a rash fellow in many things, I am rarely if ever rash about intellectual or spiritual ventures. When I decided to transfer from the University of Chicago at the end of my freshman year, I was accused of making a rash decision because I announced and executed my plan so abruptly. I understood this accusation, but also knew it was false. I did not rashly decide to transfer; I merely announced it suddenly after an entire year of living and thinking.

Likewise in this case, I have not made this decision – this decision to make a decision – abruptly; I have merely held off on announcing it en masse until now. My parents and a few friends know. Above all I wanted to give myself the time and thought and prayer to see if it was all merely a fluke, a fad, a weird phase. I didn't want to announce such a radical change without being able to give some intelligible reasons for it. Because I didn't want to come off half-cocked, I've spent the past two years reading and thinking and praying and reading, looking for loopholes, seeking the Lord wherever He leads me. As stereotype after stereotype and misrepresentation after misrepresentation fell, I felt the pull of Rome stronger and stronger. At bottom, I heard the Good Shepherd walking those old Italian streets and so I’ve hastened to that ancient city. Now here I am, wanting to be a Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox.

Though it baffles me, and though I know the deeper darker secrets of my own sinfulness, I must recognize the fact that I have a reputation as a strong Christian witness. Like it or not, I do have at least a modicum of influence in people’s spiritual lives. It is unbiblical of me to jeopardize people's faith – to scandalize them – with such a potentially shocking decision. Alas, it's equally unbiblical of me to stifle the truth God has given me. Hence, I've taken my time and tried to warm folks up to such news gradually.

Two asides: 1) Also, "conversion" is technically incorrect for my situation, since only formal heretics need to convert. I am, according to Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, merely a material heretic and need only be "reconciled" with them. Conversion entails baptism; reconciliation does not. 2) The reason I keep mentioning Roman Catholicism *and* Eastern Orthodox is that I have not yet discerned which body possesses the fullness of truth. My interest in Orthodoxy stemmed from my interest in Catholicism. Once I saw the shared fundamental strengths of these two “lungs of the Church” (as Pope John Paul II calls them), I knew I’d have to breathe deeply from both, even though I’d ultimately have to reside in only one. (God hasten the Reunion – ut unum sint!) I admit I have a very strong intuitive, and perhaps merely "Western", preference for Roman Catholicism, but I also recognize the issues are complex. Despite the great strengths of Roman Catholicism, I see a good (but obviously not overwhelming) deal of merit in Eastern Orthodoxy's key disagreements with Roman Catholicism. I'd be a fool just to stride past Eastern Orthodoxy because it’s more foreign and less accessible for me than Roman Catholicism. It may go without saying the key dispute is the role of the bishop of Rome, viz., papal supremacy. (Another time, another place!)

Now, let me explain the three earliest and strongest motivations for my reconciliation with Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. The first reason I felt this draw was that I realized Catholics were real people, and, more than that, they were real Christians. They were and are real sheep of the Lord and they need good brethren and discipleship just like any other believer. This became clear to me when I was researching anti-Catholicism two summers ago. At the very least, I got past the comforting illusion that things on "this side" of the Kingdom were so much better than "over there."

Second, I came to realize that just as God had put His living, doctrinal truth into a very concrete thing – a book, a bible, in fact – He had put His living, liturgical truth into a very concrete thing – a body, the Church. I realized I could not remove the Bible from the Church, and, just as importantly, I could not remove the Church from the Bible. In a word, I’ve come to see the biblical and philosophical value of Sacred Tradition. I was once discussing St. Thomas Aquinas and the riches of the Christian heritage with a good friend of mine, one of my best brethren in the Lord. He surprised me by saying he loved “all those old guys,” since I took him for a contentedly modern Evangelical. Though from afar, he revered St. Augustine and St. Anselm and St. Aquinas and St. Bonaventure and many other big Catholic greats (minus all that “saintly” baggage, of course).

"Why?" I asked him.

"Because it's hard to believe it all just stopped back then," he said, in so many words. Because the Bible age was so rich in divine truth and power it seemed impossible it just ended – he said in so many words. He had a strange and suspicious hunch that precisely because God’s power has not diminished with time, neither has His ability to inspire and guide His Church as in the biblical times faded. My friend was onto something deep; without even realizing it, he was onto Tradition. Tradition means "the Bible age" is now, not merely "back then." Further, orthodox tradition means all of "now" is measured against the "back then" of Scripture. There can be no Scripture apart from Sacred Tradition and no Tradition apart from the Sacred Scriptures.

The Scriptures are the vocabulary of faith – what to say – and Tradition is the grammar – how to say it. The Scriptures are the living wisdom of the Faith and the Church is the living prophet of that wisdom. The Scriptures are the music of truth and the Church is the only instrument that plays it properly. (The human soul is the medium, the ear, for that music.) The Scriptures are the script and Tradition is the play itself; the Author and the Director are one and the same. The Scriptures are the genome of faith, Tradition is the divine lifeblood, and the Church is the organism itself. The Bible *is* Tradition, in fact: encapsulated and preserved for all time in the Church. The Tradition, in turn, is the Bible extended and expanded through time in the life of the Church.

Every Protestant knows the Church only makes sense in the Bible. As Calvin said, the Bible is the school of the Holy Spirit. But what not many Protestants recognize, and certainly what I didn't recognize, is that the Bible, in turn, only makes sense in the Church. We know the marks of the Church based on the Scriptures. And we know the contents of Scriptures based on the testimony of the Church, in the tradition of the Fathers. And we know the Fathers based on the authority of the Church. Round and round it goes, like a beautiful, celestial, harmonious, unbreakable Trinitarian dance. Far from being foes, Tradition and Scripture form one mysterious whole in the Church. Scripture, in fact, is but the crowning gem of the Tradition.

The third, and certainly most important, reason for my decision is the Eucharist. Once I understood the beauty and power and reality of Christ offering Himself in the Eucharist, I could not resist. That holy meal, that life-giving offering, that supernatural embrace of the Crucified and Glorified One became the pearl of great price, and I was ready to sell everything if it meant having Him. I'm painfully aware how bizarre such a passion may seem to many of you, since, of course, I already "have" Christ by faith. This is true, and is no less true just because Christ is more fully present in the Eucharist than elsewhere, than in any other mode. Now is not the time to discuss it, but my Eucharistic frenzy has everything to do with the sacramental ("incarnational") rather than merely pneumatic ("spiritual") nature of Christianity. I hungered, and I hunger, for the Eucharist in addition to my enjoyment of Christ by faith precisely because encountering Him in the Eucharist is supremely by faith.

Beyond these three points, I would not like to discuss the exact -- and many -- reasons why I have withdrawn my long-standing belief in Christ as a Protestant. There's no need to pick fights just for the sake of picking fights. Rather, I ask you to email me (or leave comments here) about specific questions and concerns. I do want to make it clear, though, that my embrace of Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodox is infinitely more about a fuller embrace of divine truth than it is a petty, snotty rejection of the "flaws" of my Protestant heritage. (In particular I was very taken by the power of Catholic moral theology, and its sexual theology, especially as it has been re-dynamized under Pope John Paul II.) I am leaving – now reluctantly, now happily – not because Protestantism stinks, but because I’ve caught a whiff of an even more sumptuous feast.

I cannot emphasize enough how happy I was to be a Protestant – a stolid Calvinist in fact – over two years ago. I had absolutely no interest in leaving my Protestant faith, and certainly no interest in Roman Catholicism, other than a typical reverence for some famous Catholic thinkers and writers. And no, it wasn’t the "smells and bells." Until I learned the point and power of liturgy, I found a lot of the "high church" formality off-putting and a little insincere. When this all began, I assure you I fought it, loathed it, feared it and denied it as strenuously as I could. But God is stronger and wise than I.

No one in his right mind despises a well made chassis just because it lacks an engine; but no one of sound mind thinks a car without an engine is anything but a lemon. There may be no reducing the offensiveness to my Protestant brethren, but in this whole process I've not aimed to spit on the chassis of my Protestant faith. I simply want to get a feel for the engine of Catholic and Orthodox truth that makes it drive. Or, in other terms, I do not hate the wooden table at which I've eaten for years. I simply want to find the living tree from which that table came. It may sound odd, but my embrace of Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodox actually stemmed from my ongoing efforts to be a more faithful Protestant. Believe it or not, my discovery of the catholic orthodox faith resulted from my pursuit of biblical truth.

Now – and *please take my word for this* despite all I’ve said – although I have tremendous confidence in the Catholic and Orthodox faith, I should make it clear I am still not out of the woods. There is still a lot of Protestant kick in these bones. I could, possibly, end up a Calvinist again. (For the record, I think Calvinism is the only satisfying and consistently Protestant belief system out there.) Like I said, I *loved* being a Protestant! I am taking myself through a rigorous examination of the core beliefs of orthodox Protestant (whatever that may be, exactly), so I do not delude myself with a straw man. I am willing to acknowledge, for the sake of humility, I may be missing something crucial and it will only take a good dose of biblical wisdom to sober me up. If I had to scratch that itch and put a number on it for you, I'd say I’m 90-10 sure Roman Catholicism is the fullness of the Christian truth (and 100% sure it's at least 90% of the truth ;) ) Nevertheless, being unable to side resolutely with any of the three titans in this situation puts me in a tight spot; I'm everybody's friend and enemy at once. Ach, well, stuck in the middle with Him.

The complement of this Protestant exploration is further rigorous study of the main tenets of Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. I'm not trying to head-fake myself or intellectually what-if myself to death, but I must admit my profound ignorance in many of these matters. I can't do this alone, and I refuse to be flippant and incautious with the gift of faith God has given me. Many people would like me just to jump across the Tiber; others of course want me to retreat to Wittenberg and Geneva as quickly as my chicken legs will carry me. Maybe I am trying the Lord's patience with the need for human certainty, but so far He has guided me sometimes slowly, sometimes rapidly, always lovingly. With Him I'll continue, at His pace, in His time, by His light. Besides, it's fun to keep learning.

In addition to book-larnin', another major part of this journey is worship. I have explained to my Banner church team that this process is my greatest priority, and I will be setting aside time for attending Catholic Mass, Orthodox Liturgy, and going through RCIA (the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults in the Catholic Church), all of which will take place against the backdrop of living and talking with my friends here. Unless I find some major errors in Roman Catholicism, or major defense in Protestant, I intend to be confirmed a Catholic by next summer. From now until then I place my life, my mind, my will squarely where I've always tried to keep them: in God's hand.

A closing request. As convenient and civil as it is to say Catholicism and Orthodoxy and Calvinism – the whole dizzying panoply of Christian life, in fact – is just a matter of taste, I ask you not to take that route. It seems sensible, and much simpler besides, to say I just want to change my worship style, or experience God in a new way, but I think this attitude is a simplistic cop-out. It can be a stunning idea for an Evangelical to imagine, but our worship whims might actually have to be molded anew based on the truth of Christ's Church, rather than vice versa. It's taken me some time to comes to grips with the fact, but God is still the designer of holy worship, and the vast liturgical tradition of the Church is the record of His holy art.

As I said, the biggest draw for me to Catholicism (and yes, Orthodoxy) is not the maze of chutes and ladders about extrinsic and intrinsic epistemic certainty, collective authority versus sectarian subjectivism, and all the rest – no, the draw is ever and ever more about worshipping God the way He desires. Anthropologically speaking, there is nothing much lacking in Protestant (especially high Protestant) liturgy to draw people into a "pious state of mind". If the goal of worship is merely to ennoble the human spirit and gather believers together with the shared presence of God the Holy Spirit, I guess all's fair in love and ecumenism.

However, objectively speaking, and according to the will of God in Christ, I am every day losing my grip on the worth of any ecclesial worship apart from the Eucharist. The Eucharist, and the Mass generally, is not superior for some subtle aesthetic and psychosocial reasons about encountering the numinous or kerygmatically entering the hermeneutic spiral or some other abstruse blather. The spiritual value of the Eucharist -- its inestimable worth in the eyes of God even apart from the response of us wee mortals -- is the propitiatory work of Christ recalled to God for the benefit of man at every Eucharist.

The Eucharist actually saves the world; it does not, as Calvin argued, merely encourage and sanctify Christians. Hence, the Mass is so ornate, so beautiful, so disarmingly finicky, because all that human effort points to the divine power at work during it. The beauty of the Mass is a sacrament of the work of the Mass; and the work of the Mass is the chief work of God: the Eucharistic offering and salvation of the world. I want a Church that is bigger than me, a Church that conveys an air of only barely containing the worship God has given it. Such I see in Orthodoxy and Catholicism. Christ said that when He is lifted up (in His Passion), not merely proclaimed or remembered, He will draw all people to Himself. And at every Catholic Mass and Orthodox Liturgy for almost two thousand years Christ has been lifted up in body, blood, soul and divinity. That is the fundamental draw I feel.

Hey, quite a mouthful, innit? It's almost unbelievable that I'm writing and sending this. For two years I've lived in semi-paranoia, watching my words, hiding books, feigning disinterest, suppressing suspicious links to overtly Catholic web pages, etc. Truth be told, I've gained a fair (in)famous reputation online under a grotesquely Germanic pseudonym, Geistesweisheit. (Go ahead, you know you want to: Google it, and my proper name.) Even bigger truth be told, for the past two months I've been blogsitting one of my favorite Catholic blogs, Mark Shea's "Catholic and Enjoying It!" (CAEI) (renamed "Not Quite Catholic But Still Enjoying It!" (NQCBSEI)under my quixotic watch).[1]

Well. So. That's been my secret life; this is my "coming out" letter. But hey, now I'm free! I no longer have to hide! It may make me that much more vulnerable to arrows and rocks, but at least I'm no longer hunched sweating it out alone in the cave. Practically, this means I will no longer feign neutrality, I will no longer suppress links to Catholic or Orthodox pages, and I will no longer abstain from posting "Catholic" thoughts.

This whole post may seem like one more feat of verbal excess on my part. If so, it's one less issue for you to worry about. But if I did strike a cord, pray, think and email me.

Okay, fire at will.

Grace and peace to you,

Elliot...out

[1] Although each Permalink at CAEI says they're "by Elliot Bougis", not all posts are from me.

Augustine Day by Day - August 26-29

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August 26 - The Inner Voice

“Consider this great mystery. The sound of my words strikes the ears, and the Master is within! Do not suppose that any human is the teacher of another. We can admonish by the sound of our voice; but unless there is one who teaches on the inside, the sound we make is futile. I, for my part, have spoken to all; but those to whom the Anointing within does not speak, those whom the Holy Spirit within does not teach, go back untaught.

-- Sermon on 1 John 3, 12

Augustine: a Catholic Pentecostal?

Prayer. Instruct me, Lord, and command what you will. But first heal me and open my ears that I may hear your words.

-- Soliloquies 1, 5

August 27 - Caught Up in Ecstasy

"Now, while my mother and I were thus talking of God's wisdom and pining for it, with all the effort of our hearts we did for one instant attain to touch it. Then we returned to the sound of our own tongue, in which words must have a beginning and an end.

"We said: If in the silence of all earthly things God alone spoke to us, not by them but by himself, would not this constitute to 'enter into the joy of the Master'?"

-- Confessions 9, 10

Augustine: a Catholic Pentecostal!

Prayer. Lord, let those who understand, praise you. And let those who understand you not, praise you too.

-- Confessions 11, 31

August 28 - For You I Am the Bishop

"Believe me, brothers and sisters, if what I am for you frightens me, what I am with you reassures me. For you I am the bishop; with you I am a Christian.

'Bishop,' this is the title of an office one has accepted to discharge; 'Christian,' that is the name of the grace one receives. Dangerous title! Salutary name!"

-- Sermon 340, 1

Prayer. Lord, whether prosperity smiles or adversity frowns, let your praise be ever in my mouth.

-- Commentary on Psalm 138, 16

"PTLA!" _Praise the Lord Anyway_ by Frances Hunter, a charismatic classic and one of the first Christian books my mom got for me as I became a serious believer in early adolescence. Cheesy title and cheesy prose, but rock-solid truth!

August 29 - Love -- The Distinguishing Sign

"Love is the only sign that distinguishes the children of God from the children of the devil. To prove this, let them all sign themselves with the cross of Christ. Let them all respond: Amen. Let all sing: Alleluia. Let all build the walls of churches. There is still no way of discerning the children of God from the children of the devil except by love!"

-- Sermon on 1 John 5, 7
Class, your homework is the following: Love one another! Your homework for tomorrow night is the following: Love one another! Keep practicing until further advised. Now please your teacher alone; I'm still trying to figure out the homework too.

Prayer. Come to my aid, O God, the one eternal, true reality! In you there is no strife, no disorder, no change, no need, no death, but supreme harmony, supreme clarity, supreme permanence, supreme life.

-- Soliloquies 1, 1

Christian Heritage - August 26-29

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August 26 - By the Cross the Martyrs Were Strengthened

"We who worship Christ on the cross must try to grasp the greatness of his power and all the wonders he has wrought through the cross on our behalf; the holy David says: Our God and eternal King has wrought salvation throughout the world. For through the cross the nations were caught as in a net and the seeds of faith were sown everywhere. With the cross, as though with a plow, the disciples of Christ cultivated the unfruitful nature of humankind, revealed the Church's ever-green pastures, and gathered in an abundant harvest of believers in Christ. By the cross the martyrs were strengthened, and as they fell they smote down those who struck them. Through the cross Christ became known, and the Church of the faithful, with the scriptures ever open before her, introduces us to this same Christ, the Son of God, who is truly God and truly Lord, and who cries out: Any who wish to come after me must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me."

KABOOM!

Andrew of Crete (AD 660-720), Oratio 1 in exaltatione crucis: PG 97, 1041-1045

Andrew was a Damascene monk in Jerusalem who represented his patriarch at the Third Council of Constantinople. He was a remarkable orator and one of the principal hymnographers of the Eastern Church.

August 27 - Remember Monica, My Mother

"May Monica, my mother, rest in peace with her husband, before whom and after whom she was given in marriage to no man. She dutifully served him, bringing forth fruit to you with much patience, that she might also win him to you. Inspire, O Lord my God, inspire your servants my brethren, your children my master, whom I serve with my voice, my heart, and my writings, that as many of them as read these words may remember at your altar your handmaid, Monica, together with Patricius, formerly her husband, by whose flesh you brought me into this life, how I know not. May they with a pious affection remember them who were my parents in this transitory light, my brethren under you, our Father in our Catholic mother, and my fellow citizens in the eternal Jerusalem, for which your pilgrim people here below continually sigh from their setting out until their return, so that my mother's last request of me may be more abundantly granted by her through the prayers of many, occasioned by my confessions, rather than through my own prayers."

Augustine of Hippo (AD 354-430), Confessions IX, 13, 36-37

O God, please also remember my mother, the quirkiest of saints and one of my closest sisters in You.

August 28 - Preaching is Sharing

"Many people seek to discover God's mercy and faithfulness from the sacred books, and yet, when their learning is done, they live for their own sakes and not for God's. They are intent on their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. They preach mercy and faithfulness without practicing them. Their preaching proves that they know their subject, for they would not preach without knowledge. But it is a different matter in the case of someone who loves God and Christ. When such a person preaches God's mercy and faithfulness, he seeks to make them known for God's sake, not his own. This means that he is not out to gain temporal benefits from his preaching; his desire is to help Christ's members, that is, those who believe in him, by faithfully sharing with them the knowledge he himself possesses, so that the living may no longer live for themselves, but for him who died for all."

Augustine of Hippo (AD 354-430), Expositions of the Psalms 60, 9: CCL 39, 771

August 28 is St. Augustine’s feast day, commemorating his death and, more than that, his holy life. Also, I’m happy to report, August 28 is my brother Hunter’s birthday. (I checked the calendar and I’m still older than him, so all is in order.) In addition, August 28 is Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s (1749-1832) birthday and the memorial for the March on Washington (1963) when Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous “I have a dream” speech. Quite a day, innit?

August 29 - The Pledge of the Inheritance

"Even while still in this world they enter his palace, the dwelling-place of the angels and the spirits of the saints. For although they are not yet in possession of that perfect inheritance prepared for them in the age to come, they are as fully assured of it through the pledge they have received here on earth as though they were already crowned, already reigning.

"Christians find nothing strange in the fact that they are destined to reign in the world to come, since they have known the mysteries of grace beforehand.
When man transgressed the commandment, the devil shrouded the soul with a covering of darkness. But with the coming of grace the veil is entirely stripped away, so that with clear eyes the soul, now cleansed and restored to its true nature, which was created pure and blameless, ever clearly beholds the glory of the true light, the true Sun of Righteousness, brilliantly shining in its inmost being."

Macarius of Egypt (attributed) (4th-5th century), Hom. XVII, 3-4: PG 34, 625-626

A reader writes about my Spartan analogy:

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Spartans and modern America? Collectivistic Spartans with *individualistic* Americans? Are you serious? Come on, get real! Do you know *anything* about how a Spartan agoge works? There's NO comparison with anything in America.

Complaining about the elimination of "childishness" from American childhood? Meanwhile, the "conservative" critics here are complaining that society embraces "childishness" too much and that Americans in general are refusing to "grow up."

What gives here?

Well, at least this reader doesn't suffer from passivity, casuistry, vagueness or insincerity. A healthy dose of charity would be a nice addition, but no matter.

Reader, I'm glad you picked up on the paradox at work here: we increasingly erode (or drag) childhood into adulthood, but also hedonistically warp adulthood into an extended adolescence (as another reader put it). We are thus both eroding childhood and infantilizing adulthood. The problem is that the predicates of each age -- mature childhood and adolescent adulthood -- are illegitimate and therefore harmful to members of both age groups. Wizened kids make for wizened, even cynical, adults; and puerile adults make for, well, just look around. The common denominator, the prime drive, in both cases is economic well-being, commercial fitness, consumerism.

As for the invalidity of my Spartan analogy, you should heed what my old roommate always liked to say: "Don't focus on the wrong part of the story." I was merely discussing *aspects* of Spartan and US culture, not trying to analyze and harmonize every jot and tittle in them. No analogy is horrible just because it's not perfect. In fact, an analogy is meant to link only similar *parts* of two dissimilar things, in this case the economic attitude of the USA with the militant attitude of Sparta. Given your obvious expertise in the ways of Spartan life, you will recall how early and how systematically they toughened their children for battle. As well as how the left the weak to die upon the hills. Chilling similarities in otherwise plainly dissimilar cultures.

My point was and is that we regard economic fitness as our summum bonum, whereas the Spartans held military prowess as the primary end. (In both cases, I admit, these may actually just be means for that widely recognized universal greatest goal, happiness, but I hope you catch my drift.) The issue is not whether we or the Spartans are individualistic or collectivist, since that describes only economic principles. Rather the point is that we are as spartan about commerce as the Spartans were about battle. We are, to use terms you might be more comfortable with, individualistic economic Spartans, whereas the Spartans were collectivist social spartans.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

The story so far

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Trip to Alishan. Eating. Typhoon. Eating. Return. Reading. Sleep. Typhoon. No DSL connection. Reading. Cleaning. Eating. Shopping. Hanging with friends. No DSL. Sleep. Prayer. Cleaning. Eating. Shopping. Shipping. Reading. Hanging with friends. No DSL. Sleep. Prayer. Working out. Eating. Internet cafe. Present.

It's been much less of a hassle than I might expect having no Internet for a few days. I've come to realize (or re-realize, or re-re-realize) the Internet is just a tool, not a hobby (for me at least), and certainly not a necessity. And no healthy person stares at a screwdriver or hammer for hours a day. Even once Chungwa Telecom returns my DSL from the typhoon battered grave, I hope to cut back on my tool-watching.

Not much "substance" to report. It's been a wonderful break before the fall semester starts. Saw *Count of Monte Cristo* (eh), *Big Fish* (hm) and *Ice Age* (wee, finally!). Reading _The Face_ by Daniel McNeill. The bulk of the shipping got done, but was way more expensive and difficult than I anticipated, so I held off on a few items.

I'm in a rather vacant state of mind these days. I'm thoughtful, but it's mostly running below the surface. There's much on my mind, and yet not much at all. I'm in a quiet mood, online and off.

A final thought, of substance: I spoke with my dad today on the phone (mark the calendar!) and I realized that we (USAmericans) raise our children for economic fitness the same way the Spartans raised kids for military advantage. I won't go into detail now, but I am increasingly aware of the US tendency to whittle life down to a young-adult-to-middle-age idealized meadian range. In addition to rubbing out the old end of the stick with the scouring pad of euthanasia and institutionalized benign neglect, we are pressing the upper limit of youth farther and farther back, robbing children of any protective barrier between true childishness and adulthood. And I'm very inclined to believe this erasure of life's outer limits is meant for the good of the market. We are economic Spartans. Insular, focused, peculiar and prepped for battle.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Augustine Day by Day - August 25 - Vocations in a Monastery

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"Although good order reigns in my household, I am human and I live among humans. I would not dare to say that my home is better than the community of the Lord Christ, in which eleven faithful souls put up with the faithless thief Judas. Yet with great difficulty have I met persons better than those who have made progress in the monastery."

-- Letter 78, 8-9

Prayer. Thanks be to Him Who is desired before he is seen, whose presence is felt, and who is hoped for in the future.

-- Sermon 24, 1

August 25

Christian Heritage - August 25 - The Legacy of the Saints

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"Even while the saints seemed to be with us they were not so in reality, for their minds were turned to God. They lived on earth as citizens of heaven. Having here no lasting city, they sought the heavenly one; having no earthly riches, they sought the riches of heaven. They were strangers and sojourners as their ancestors were. Strangers to the world, to the things of the world, and to the ways of the world, their whole hearts were absorbed in the things of heaven; these were the things they thought about and were concerned about. They longed for the beauty of heaven, its mansions and dwellings, its choirs and hymnody, its feasts and its eternal blessedness.

"The saints contemplated, sought, and hastened toward these things, and so at last they attained them. Their striving was rewarded by admission to the heavenly bridal chamber. Because they labored they now exult. Because they were not negligent they now rejoice. Precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of his saints."

Anastasius of Sinai, patriarch of Antioch, (AD ~599), Sermon: PG 89, 1192-1193

Not to say such beatitude doesn't give me pause about professionally riveting my eyes to this earth as a journalist.

The shipping news

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The shipping commences tomorrow. I spent today sleeping in (after a longer-than-expected night of writing), praying, cleaning up, KTVing with friends, engaging in a little more BB gun play, watching *Big Fish*, and then hollowing out my laptop for shipping to its new owner. Basically, riding out the rain. *Big Fish* was enjoyable much more for the acting -- Albert Finney and Ewan McGregor were superb -- than for the movie as a whole. Finney's character was unforgettable and I loved the lighthearted surrealism that is Tim Burton's trademark. Admittedly, although each scene was a delight, the movie as an entire piece was rather plodding. I enjoyed what I was seeing, but my mind more than once wandered to *Collateral*. ;)

Throughout the day I've been reading Eric Schlosser's _Reefer Madness_, a typically lucid, meticulously well documented, and eye-opening work by Schlosser. _Reefer Madness_ is comprised of three essays in which Schlosser investigates the underground economy of the USA, exposing where the nation's real big money is made and moved: pot, cheap immigrant labor, and porn. By far the most interesting essay is the last and longest one about the US porn industry, "An Empire of the Obscene".

The two most riveting aspects of "An Empire of the Obscene" are, first, that porn -- hard-core movie porn -- has been in the USA since the beginning of the twentieth-century and, second, that most denunciations of porn ring terribly hollow coming from the same people that otherwise support the free market. There are no bad men out there irresistibly infiltrating the public air waves with prurience. No, we the people, and the nation as a whole, swallow all things in the name of market efficiency and personal preference. Also, I had no idea the porn industry -- one of the largest, most lucrative industries in the world -- was begun almost singlehandedly by an ambitious, defiant little business man named Reuben Sturman. Though the government never could pin a serious conviction on Sturman for obscenity, Sturman, like Al Capone, hit his biggest snags due to tax crimes.

As other reviewers have mentioned, I would have liked the first two essays, particularly the second one about illegal migrant labor ("In the Strawberry Fields"), to be longer. Having worked my way through (and enjoyed) Schlosser's first, (in)famous book, _Fast Food Nation_, I wanted more of the same extremely intensive reportage in _Reefer Madness_. But the first two essays are more like exposes than systematic investigations. Of course, Schlosser can't be blamed too much for doing a good thing too briefly.

I highly respect Schlosser[1], not only for his indisputable journalistic integrity and accuracy, but also for the moral depth of his work. That's called being a good writer. Two comments in particular in _Reefer Madness_ took Schlosser up several notches in my book. First, in his acknowledgments, just after thanking his children for their understanding while he was away from home so often talking to pimps, drug dealers, convicts, porn stars, Schlosser mentioned he hoped to write a book someday that he would allow his kids to read. That grabbed me. The man has children, he cares about what goes in their minds, and he has established concrete boundaries for them. That's called being a good father. Second, on the publication page, just under the usual line "All rights reserved", Schlosser added his own message: "The moral right of the author has been asserted". That grabbed me, too. Schlosser is not merely a reporter; he's a moral person writing for a moral (albeit not moralizing) purpose. [LET THE RECORD STAND: THIS IS YET ONE MORE PIECE OF EVIDENCE OF MY IGNORANCE. I DIDN'T REALIZE, UNTIL A READER INFORMED ME, THAT SUCH A PHRASE JUST MEANS COPYRIGHT CLAIMS IN BRITISH ENGLISH.] Schlosser not only has first-class journalistic ability, but also a living moral conscience. I smell a professional role model.

Well, now I'm off to bed.

[1] I can't wait for Schlosser's book on the prison system. His work -- and a short interview I did a couple years ago for an article -- may just be the reason I become a journalist.

Augustine Update

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Yesterday the Villanova page from which I get my Christian and Augustine quotes had some errors, but now it's just peachy. I've updated the Augustine quotes for August 21-24. Enjoie!

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

I'm not the only one

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One of my favorite bloggers, Screaming Writer, recently posted some thoughts on the unpredictability of writing and really got me thinking. The following is me thinking:

The unpredictability of narrative. It's uncanny. I've had it happen to me more than once. Inexplicably, a story moves out from under you with a single key stroke and you're left just as blind to the ending as each of the characters. If I discuss a story I'm writing, people may ask me, "What happens next?" and I can only answer, "I don't know." Or they might ask me, "What's that character like?" and I can only answer, "I'm still finding out." It sounds absurd, but there it is. Writers write about characters. They don't merely chracterize, or give names and a face to, bare passing thoughts. As any student of philosophy knows, even the best ideas are tearfully boring unless they are either communicated well in writing or communicated well by a living, dynamic teacher. Stories are not primarily about ideas; they are, like life itself, about people.

A writer is much more passive than many people realize. He is often subject to the whims of the narrative itself. It violates a writer's whole way of life to force events and statements that don't fit just to arrive at some idealized "THE END" rest station. The best writers listen for a story to unfold and then simply get credit for transcribing it well. William Faulkner, one of my favorite authors, took this subjection to a radical, literal extreme when he wrote _A Light in August_. He imagined a young girl walking barefoot down a dirt road in August and determined to write a story explaining how she got there. The results speak for themselves. Faulkner had a vision, he cauight a passing glimpse of a living character, and then he wrote. He did not plan a perfect tale and then conscript aimless, clueless characters for his purposes. That's one reason why he's a superb writer. He was a good listener. He heard a girl walking down the road with no shoes on and he ended up with a masterpiece.

If I may be so bold, I try to do the same as Faulkner. In truth, I rather can't help writing like he wrote _A Light in August­_. It may be an impure way for a *writer* to think, but I have a very cinematic approach to writing. Usually, I must see it and hear, like a director blocking a dress rehearsal, before I can pen a story. There must be a beating pulse before there are tapping keys. (Never mind for the moment the equally true fact of the writer's life that very often -- 95% of the time, really -- there must be lots of steady disciplined tapping before you earn that pulse.) I am stung, or gripped, or caressed, by a single, unnamed image, or a passing comment from a character I may only be lucky to meet, and then I must weave those impressions into a story.

Years ago it dawned on me what my writing style, my so to speak *modus scribendi*, is, or would be: a strange and ornate structure lies below the water of my consciousness. How it got there, I don't know. How to get it out of there, I'm not sure. But, as I aged and as I matured (two very different things), I noticed that quite apart from me the tide would ebb and flow; with every drop in the sea level, various peaks of that mysterious opaque structure would peak through. I would see a scene. I would hear a voice. And then--! And then the waters would rise, and the buidling, or at least most of it, would disappear until further notice.

Gradually, I would start to have a mental map of how these peaks and angles all fit together. The story is all there, even if it is comprised of many unrelated stories, like floors and rooms in one building. My task is to watch the tides and tell what I see. A squat man talking nervously over an office copy machine -- who is he? Where does he belong? Who is he talking to? The sweaty young baseball player in the outfield after school watching cars driver by -- who is he? Where does he belong? And why am I certain he and the copy machine man belong in the same story? I study the lines, triangulate the voices, sound the depths -- but to no avail. The waters rise suddenly and I must wait for future connections. I'm still waiting. In the meanwhile, I must keep tapping.

Strike while the iron is hot

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And when the days are slow. This is the week. It is the fall break before classes begin. This is the last vacation of note I'll have until January or February for Chinese New Year. We're being hit by a rather large storm system, so not only was my trip to Alishan a wash [rimshot!] but also classes and most work places are off tomorrow. There are no sick days by whim here; vacation is a federal affair. Literally. It takes the government issuing a national day-off to get people and most students not to come to work or school.

With only a few days before my schedule is once again in fuller swing, I am devoting this week to shipping all the things that need shipping: my laptop, my old roommate's stowaway goods, a couple books, some remote controls, and, well, we'll see what else I can dig up. I would try to do it all tomorrow, but I'll ride the emergency holiday and, God willing, send it all Thursday. There maaaay even be a spurt of blogging, but don't count your pennies yet.

As for Alishan. Although it wasn't too much more than a really long bus ride, punctuated by frequent rest stops, a smidgeon of hiking, an obligatory night of KTV, random delightful conversations with students (and one very unnerving question from one), the usual awkward silences from across the language barrier, a short BB gun battle, and, of course, hefty helpings of Taiwanese food -- although it was, according to the Offical Rulebook of Vacations and Leisure, a disappointment, I had a great time. It was cold and wet and unpredictable, and I loved it all. I even used the weekend to teach a few folks some smirking English irony: "At least it's not hot."

Life in Taiwan is like living in water. I have almost no idea what really lurks beneath the surface, but I enjoy my small pool all the same. Living here is like walking in knee-deep water. It takes great effort to move quickly, and is much more enjoyable to stride at the pace the water affords you. You can hustle and bustle and huff and puff and make good time and stay on point -- and all the rest -- but it's infintitely more exhausting. It's so much easier just to walk with the waves (never , of course, keeping your mind off sudden rip tides that will rip you off your feet).

If a bus stalls, the Taiwanese don't get too worked up about it. The women just start chatting, the men start speculating on how to fix the bus, and everyone, by all means, starts passing more food around. If the morning hike is cancelled due to rain, as it was this morning, you'll hear no whining or shuffling of anxious feet. People just sit, and sat, or stand, and stood, until they word comes to take the next step. Every room is potentially a living room. A delay is merely a vacation from your vacation, and every bit as enjoyable. In fact, I'm beginning to think delays are intentionlly part of trips here. They are the only sure thing I've seen so far.

The water lets you walk and then the water resists you and then you stop and then it flows and then you go. That's life in Taiwan. Maybe I've been out of the USA too long. Maybe it's the same there. Or maybe not. Either way, I definitely am a lot more flexible, and ever so slightly more peaceable, in the face of delays than before I came here.

At any rate, I was told we were heading to Alishan (Mt. Ali), but in fact we first went to Tong-Pu Mountain, to which I've never been, and then only passed through the actual Alishan area in order to get home in the typhoon. Alishan or no, I always love getting out of the city. The air is fresh, my breathing clears up, and the sights are always well worth the cramped bus rides. It's worth mentioning that buses here are not designed with my slightly-larger-than-typically-Taiwanese body in mind. I sat with my legs wedged at a 45-degree angle to my right almost the entire ride. But who's counting? It's just plain fun to stroll and chatter with Taiwanese friends and strangers out in nature.

Due to the rain, the usual tradition of seeing the sun rise Alishan's peak, was cancelled. No matter. The water changed course and we took new steps. Thankfully, I'd done that on my last trip to Alishan and the extra sleep was nice. Watching the sun rise normally involves waking up at 3 AM, taking a train to the top, and then standing there as in a splendorous oven warming up to have the beauty of Creation baked into your groggy face and mind and camera-clicking fingers.

Now, having said all this, perhaps the only thing I love more than getting out of the city, is coming back. A friend on the bus yesterday asked me if I prefer the mountains or the ocean. "The ocean," I said, and then paused. "The mountains," I corrected myself, and then paused. "I love the city too. ... I guess I just love being anywhere." And then all the under-appreciated might of cliches hit me like a wave, like an earthquake, like a traffic accident -- life is a gift. Thank You, O God, for this life. I am a sinner, life is good, but God is better.

Augustine Day by Day - August 21-24

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Absence of Friends

One day, you yourself will begin to have to surrender some of the very dearest of those you have reared, to the needs of the church situated far from you. It is then that you will understand the pangs of longing that stab me on losing the physical presence of friends united to me in the most close and sweet intimacy.

-- Letter 84, 1

Prayer. As long as we are here, let us ask God not to deprive us of our prayer and his mercy, so that we may pray with perseverance and he may have mercy with his perseverance.

-- Commentary on Psalm 65, 24

KABOOM!

August 21

Sing with Human Reason

Dear friends, sing the Psalm with human reason, not like birds. Thrushes, parrots, ravens, magpies, and the like are often taught to say what they do not understand. However, to know what we are saying was granted by God's will to human nature. Hence, we who have learned in the Church to sing God's words should be eager to do so. We should know and see with a clear mind what we have all sung together with one voice.

-- Commentary on Psalm 18, 2

"All men by nature desire to know." -- Aristotle, *Metaphysics* 1,1,1. That darned pagan was on to something.

Prayer. Give me strength to seek you, Lord, for you have already enabled me to find you and have given me hope of finding you ever more fully.

-- The Trinity 15, 51

August 22

Talents Are for Others

Jesus said: "To the person who has, it shall be given." God will give more to those who use for others that which they have received. He will fill up and pile to the brim what he first gave.

Our reflections will be multiplied at his prompting. Thus, in our service of him we will suffer no shortage but will rather rejoice in a miraculous abundance of ideas.

-- Christian Doctrine 1, 1

Prayer. Lord, my knowledge and my ignorance lie before you. Where you have opened to me, let me enter. Where you have closed to me, open when I knock.

-- The Trinity 15, 51

August 23

Praying for Others

Let me be helped by your prayers, so that the Lord may see fit to help me bear his burden. When you pray in this way, it is really for yourselves that you are praying. For what is the burden of which I am speaking but you? Pray for me, then, as I myself pray that you may not be burdensome. Support me so that we may bear one another's burdens, thus fulfilling the law of Christ.

-- Sermon 340, 1

Prayer. Lord, those who are bowed down with burdens you lift up, and they do not fall because you are their support.

-- Confessions 11, 31

August 24

Christian Heritage - August 21-24

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The Laws of Christ

"Christ's laws are life-giving, and what he commands is pure nourishment for us. He feeds us with health, joy, honor, and peace through the laws he lays down for us to live by. For as the prophet says: In you is the fountain of life, and by your light we shall see light. For the life and the vision which are true being, and the works which are in accordance with such being, are born in and come forth from his laws, both those he grants us through grace, and those he prescribes for us as ordinances. Hence also the complaint against us, so just and so deeply-felt, which he makes through Jeremiah: They have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and have hewn out for themselves cisterns, cracked cisterns, which hold no water. For although he is our guide to true pasture and well-being, we choose to go our own way, which leads to death; and although he is the fountain, we search for wells; and although that fountain is always flowing, we prefer cracked cisterns which hold no water. And undoubtedly, as Christ's commands are the real nourishment of our life, so the wrong choices we make, and the ways we follow when led by our own whims, deserve no better description than that given them by the prophet."

Luis de León, O.S.A. (AD 1527-1591), The Names of Christ I, 1

One my aphorisms, which I began using in high school, is a variation on Romans 6:23 -- "the wages of sin is death" -- infused with a heavy dose of the salty bluntness of the book of Proverbs. It runs like so: "The wages of folly is pain." I caused myself so much pain -- sheer, jaw-clenching, eye-squinting physical pain -- for the unbridled folly I wallowed in as a teen that I saw this aphorism almost as divine revelation. Fools get hurt, it's that simple. The joy of maturity is that while some of the physical pain has washed away, I now wallow in new pens, drinking deep of new pain: emotional and relational folly breeds pain of the same suit. All pain is mirror for the life of the soul. Folly breeds pain; sin breeds death.

Nature and Resurrection

"Look at how for our consolation the whole of nature rehearses the future resurrection. The sun sets and then is born again; the stars disappear and then return; the flowers die and come to life again. So it will be with our bodies of the dead in their graves. As trees hide their greenery in winter and display their withered branches, so all things that die are preserved and raised to life again. Much more then is this true of human beings, who were given mastery over everything that dies, so that they might have mastery also over everything that rises to new life. This is why the Son of God clothed himself in human nature and raised it from the dead.

"Therefore, since the resurrection of the body is certain, and since punishment awaits the faithless while the faithful have the promise and hope of a heavenly kingdom, it remains for us to devote ourselves to good works and persevere in all holiness, faith, and uprightness, so that we may rise not to punishment but to glory. "

Gregory of Elvira (AD 357-392), Treatise on Holy Scripture: PLS 1, 458-459

Some people fear such egregiously natural revelation -- a la C. Van Til, S. Hauerwas, etc. -- but obviously Gregory didn't. Gregory of E fought against Arianism and defended the Nicene Creed in action and in writing. He was an exegete who wrote principally on the Old Testament. I recommend C.S. Lewis's book _Miracles_ for an interesting and very penetrating discussion of the similarities -- valid or invalid -- between the Gospels and their contemporary pagan thought.

What God Did for Us

"As one of Christ's ambassadors, the apostle Paul pleads his cause in the words: For our sake God made the sinless one into sin. If God had done nothing more for us than to give up his Son for those who scorned him, we should still need to marvel at the greatness of the gesture. But in addition to this tremendous generosity, God permitted him who did no wrong to be crucified for wrongdoers. The sinless one, who was holiness incarnate, God made into sin: that is, he allowed him to be judged as a malefactor, to die as one accursed, for a man hanged upon a tree is accursed by God. Such a sentence was far worse than mere death. Saint Paul implies this elsewhere in the words: He became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Let us constantly remember, therefore, the many blessings we have received from him."

John Chrysostom (AD 347-407), II Cor. 11, 3-4: PG 61, 478-480 [link current;y unavailable due to internal server error at Villanova web page -- EBB]

Bartholomew, The Apostle

"When people begin to feel they have a soul, and a work to do, and a reward to be gained, greater or less, according as they improve the talents committed to them, then they are naturally tempted to be anxious from their very wish to be saved, and they say: 'What must I do to please God?' And sometimes they are led to think they ought to be useful on a large scale, and go out of their line of life that they may be doing something worth doing, as they consider it.

"Here we have the history of Saint Bartholomew and the other apostles to recall us to ourselves, and to assure us that we need not give up our usual manner of life, in order to serve God; that the most humble and quietest station is acceptable to him, if improved duly
— nay affords means for maturing the highest Christian character, even that of an apostle. Bartholomew read the scriptures and prayed to God; and thus was trained at length to give up his life for Christ, when he demanded it."

John Henry Newman (AD 1801-1890), Plain and Parochial Sermons II, 336-337

Monday, August 23, 2004

Hey there, hi there, ho there!

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And goodbye. I'm going on a short vacation.

Summer classes finished this past Friday, and Monday morning (aye, in only a few sleep-deprived hours!) I'm headed by bus to Mount Alishan for a couple days with my fellow Viator High teachers (http://www.vtsh.tc.edu.tw/).

second link's on the fritz,
I have no good clue why 'tis,
but give it a shot


[A haiku, just for you!]

Zaijian!

The power of kitsch compels you! The power of kitsch compels you!

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*The Exorcist* was a truly spiritual film, a popular apologetic for the supernatural. This scintillating adaptation hits all the high points of the classic’s ghoulish vision.

Unfortunately, it looks like its prequel sequel whatchamacallit needs a good exorcising (and better filmmaking, to boot).

Guys like this epitomize Olympic glory

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Amazing, simply amazing.

"How many fingers am I holding up?"

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"Good question," answer Brazilian tribesmen.

According to New Scientist, the researchers experimented with a Brazilian tribe called Pirahc, whose language allows counting only upto [sic] two. They found that when the members of the tribe were shown more objects they were unable to tell the difference between four objects placed in a row and five in the same configuration.

Aside from the neurolinguistic [REDUNDANCY ALERT!] insight these Pirahc pairs give us, realize also that this insight also goes quite some distance in countering the extreme anti-theistic claims God-talk, and therefore God, is meaningless. The claim is that since divinity is ultimately inexpressible (or at least not perfectly coherently expressible), then its very subject -- God -- must be meaningless as well. Balderdash. Try this logic out on a Pirahc villager when he sees more than two wild boars charging at him. The Pirahc inability to formulate higher mathematical concepts hardly renders them meaningless; and it's leagues from suggesting such concepts don't exist. Likewsie, the human inability to express the sum and summits of divine truth do little to prove those peaks are unattainable, and certainly say little about whether they exist.

About the best a post-Christian world can do, I suppose

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This interview would be hilarious if it weren't so sad.

Mitchell's chief moral axiom: "As long as it’s not porn, it must be sacred. Right? Right!?"

Mitchell's ancillary axioms: "Sex is for marriage so let’s make a movie full of sex outside of marriage. Er, I mean, sex is for marriage so let’s make marriage full of gay sex."

The zinger of the article: “These gay men will have sex at the drop of a hat.”

Finally, note well the perennial liberal anti-Christian catch-22 (at the end of the article). "The Church says the body and sex are sacred, so let’s enjoy them boundlessly! But hey, guess what! The Church also says the body and sex are sinful, so let’s enjoy them boundlessly! Either way, the Church is draconian, medieval, gnostic and outmoded, so let's enjoy sex boundlessly!"

The Bougis Bottom Line: this man, Mitchell, is too smart and talented to waste his time making porn, but too morally deranged to admit he's just making porn.

("A Movie Full of Sex, With Nothing Simulated About It" -- NY Times by DINITIA SMITH -- Published: August 19, 2004)

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Fons simulacrae

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The Source of Idols:

"When all you are is hungry, everything looks delicious." - Elliam Fakespeare

Augustine Day by Day - August 20 - Legitimate Human Longing

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"Even though I grieve that I do not see you, I take some comfort in my pain. I have no patience with that spurious 'strength of character' that puts up patiently with the absence of good things. Do we not all long for the future Jerusalem? I cannot refrain from this longing; I would be inhuman if I could. Indeed, I derive some sweetness from my very lack of self-control. And in this sweet yearning I seek some small consolation."

-- Letter 27, 1

Prayer. Lord, show me the way I must travel that I may see you.

-- Soliloquies 1, 1

August 20

Christian Heritage - August 20 - Inner Peace Flows From Love

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"The way to attain the perfection of divine love is thus stated. Do you think that I have come to bring peace on earth? In other words: Do not imagine that I have come to offer people a sensual, worldly, and unruly peace that will enable them to be united in their vices and achieve earthly prosperity [see Isaiah 48:22 -- EBB]. No, I tell you, I have not come to offer that kind of peace, but rather division — a good, healthy kind of division, physical as well as spiritual. Love for God and desire for inner peace will set those who believe in me at odds with wicked men and women, and make them part company with those who would turn them from their course of spiritual progress and from the purity of divine love, or who attempt to hinder them [see Genesis 39 -- EBB].

"Good, interior, spiritual peace consists in the repose of the mind in God, and in a rightly ordered harmony. To bestow this peace was the chief reason for Christ's coming. This inner peace flows from love. It is an unassailable joy of the mind in God, and it is called peace of heart. It is the beginning and a kind of foretaste of the peace of the saints in heaven — the peace of eternity."

Denis the Carthusian (AD 1408-1471), On Luke: Opera Omnia 12, 72-74.

Friday, August 20, 2004

The sin of brotherly love

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(Note well, this is Elliam Fakespare posting, not Elliot Bougis. Elliot just said he was going to bed and we all know how serious he is about getting sleep.)

"The sin of brotherly love is the love of brotherly sin." -- Elliam Fakespeare

Confessions of a Cinemaniac

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I saw *Collateral* a fourth time last night. Go ahead. Gasp. Shake your head. I know, I'm a weirdo. I cannot explain why the movie appeals to me as much as it does, but I know very few movies ever do appeal to me, and stir the coals of my intellect, as much as this film, so I feel fine riding this wave the few days *Collateral* is in Taichung. It's one of those rare movies that my eyes cannot keep up with, which my senses cannot get enough of. Every time I see it, I do all I can to soak up new details and images and impressions, knowing I'm missing many others (until the next viewing). Only last night, for example, I caught passing dialogue I'd missed the frist three times around which added a great authenticity to the scenes. More than that, I glimpsed a new angle, an important new layer, in something Vincent (Tom Cruise's) said. For whatever reason (and the allure does baffle me), I simply love spending two hours in the theater while *Collateral* is playing. It's a strange, numinous experience and I'm happy to bask in it for a time.

I often have the same kind of immersive attitude about CDs, as some of my old roomates could tell you. It's not unusual for me to listen to a single album up to a dozen times straight in a single day, mostly while working or studying. Sometimes I want the mood that Pearl Jam's *Vs.*, and no other album, produces. Sometimes I want the aura that The Roots's *The Tipping Point*, and no other album, generates. Well produced and well performed albums have their own feel, which listening to selct favortie songs cannot convey.

This is the notorious flaw of greatest hits CDs. Most people buy such Best of CDs for the high points of a band, like amateur sports fans (yours truly included) that only watch the highlights on ESPN. But any real fan notices the artificial gaps, like hiccups that won't come up but won't go away, when track 1 on the Best of CD is not followed by track 2 of the original CD. Part of the excellence of track 1 consists in how it dovetails with, or anticipates, its proper track 2. Favorite albums are families; greates hit CDs are foster homes: all the kids are there, but they don't really belong together. This feeling of discontinuity is especially pronounced, as one example, with U2. *War* has a fundamentally different flvor than The Joshua Tree or *Achtung, Baby*, and it's very unpleasant to hear those subtle textures callously rubbed away by the commercial heterogenity of a Best of CD.

At any rate, believe it or not, I was invited (with only the lsightest prompting on my part) just tonight at the gym to see *Collateral* this weekend. I admitted I'd see it before, but avoided exactly how many times. I'm more than happy to go, especially to catch up with the guy inviting me.

I need to sleep, friends.