Thursday, March 30, 2006

Where ya been, dude?

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I have been recuperating from some otorhinolanryngeal infections (not too severe, just so draining, like mono), dealing with some political (and ego-driven) scullduggery at work, trying to get a leg up on a big writing project I've let slide (no, this one isn't even for the blog -- it's so big it's offline! /gasp!/), learning French and Spanish with some audio programs on my iPod as I travel to and from work, trying to keep up with tai chi and judo, returning to Chinese lessons three times a week, and basically dealing wtih any number of things that make up a life. I have gotten a number of important letters out at last. Strangely enough, over the past few weeks I've been sleeping more, which is surprising given my habits, but good. Culturing and drinking snow fungus yogurt (it's a Tibetan thing) has seemed to work wonders on my sinuses and allergy problems.

I am happiest to report that I have finally, by the grace of God, gotten on fairly stable and healthy ground as far as Lent goes. I am avoiding mortal sin more ably, praying a bit more regularly, my hunger for God's Word in the Bible has spiked (with the added bonus of keeping my German in shape by switching full-time to my German Catholic Bible), and, once my food-only med series is over, I am ready to fast and pray for peace in Iraq. Fasting is not merely self-denial; it is strategic self-denial for the sake of something better. A desert father (or perhaps just "Eastern Christianity" in general) once called fasting without prayer the fasting of demons. On the negative side, I have fasted from and reading any other blogs. On the positive side, I've also committed to a daily examen of conscience (or "consciousness" as now seems to be the hipper sense of the practice). I haven't kept this discipline perfectly, which grieves me, but I shall keep walking, even hobbling, in the light.

I'll admit it has been a very hard time for me lately. Lent has been a very trying time for me, not the least because I've been so aware of my lack of zeal, depth and piety. While I have finally formulated a solid, feasible timeline for the next two years, the present is often a very inscrutable fleeting mystery to me these days. Yesterday was a testing day, so we got off early; I made remakrably good use of the extra time by completing numerous errands. Even so, once the dust had settled, and I was left with myself, I experienced an all too familiar disorientation, perhaps even faceless disquietude. My confessor told me I must learn to "float" right now; the time for deciding, moving, changing, beginning and all the other "active" parts of growth will come. Right now I am in an opaque sea, and feel disconnected from my usual delights, feel removed from my old assurances and alliances. I won't say it's a "dark night of the soul" -- more of a hazy early morning. I can't seem to sink my teeth into anything. I'm not actually sad (at least, not very often); it's more the case that, when I look within, I often feel as opaque and amorphous as this sea on which I am floating.

Monday, March 13, 2006

My little addiction

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I keep my eyes peeled for news about the bird flu. This article paints a pretty grim picture.

In a remarkable speech over the weekend, Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael Leavitt recommended that Americans start storing canned tuna and powdered milk under their beds as the prospect of a deadly bird flu outbreak approaches the United States. ...

U.S. spy satellites are tracking the infected flocks, which started in Asia and are now heading north to Siberia and Alaska, where they will soon mingle with flocks from the North American flyways.

"What we're watching in real time is evolution," said Laurie Garrett, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations. "And it's a biological process, and it is, by definition, unpredictable."

I see the light

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Wow now I understand why Elliot wanted some help with this blog. Easy to dive in with some steam... but then keep posting day after day? Too many articles, too much good TV on.

Anyway, here's a joke I heard.

A man was auditioning for an anchorman job at a leading news network. The producers were happy with him, he spoke clearly, looked good, sounded intellligent. But towards the end of the audition he started winking and smirking and twitching.

"Are you okay?" the TV guys asked. Worried now. "You were doing great until you, uh, started twitching and winking like that."

Oh don't worry," said the anchorman. "It's a small nerve disorder of mine. It's easily treated with a packet of aspirin."

"Really?" asked the news guys.

"Yeah, let me show you," said the anchorman. "I've always got some aspirin with me if this starts up." He reached into his pockets but pulled out packet after packet of condoms. Still looking for the aspirin, the anchorman now had a little pile of condoms on the table.

"Ahem," said the news guys. "I'm afraid we can't hire a... womanizer. We have a good reputation."

"I resent that" yelled the anchorman. "I am a faithful husband, been married twenty years. I'm no womanizer."

"Well how do you explain all the condoms?" they asked.

"Have YOU ever gone into a drug store winking and smirking asking for a pack of aspirin?"

Thank you, thank you, I'll be here all week.

Saturday, March 4, 2006

Great, just great

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Before the pandemic even begins to break, Europe is melting in an epidemic of mass hypochondria. What a great breeding ground for disease.

Friday, March 3, 2006

Crotchety conformist Catholics

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Always enforcing the status quo, always enabling the elite.

Then again...

Bush said what?

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The uproar is about Bush claiming no one expected a levee breach in New Orleans during Katrina... but now videos show he was warned about a danger of levee trouble. This is a such a sad ugly mess but I wanted to stake my claim.

Technically, in legalese (or Talking Head BS), Bush was right. So far no videos or testimony shows a levee BREACH was expected. Bush heard about levee flooding, for sure. But not a BREACH. And I hear that makes a very big differnece, really. Plus, it turns out the Louisiana governor, Blanco, accidentally misinformed Bush about the levess being OK or not. I feel terrible for her. Like she meant to donwplay the danger for her people.

This doesn't get Bush off the hook in my book tho because the point of his claim "no one expected" was to clear him and the FEMA boys from blame. It would have been so much more... savory? noble? presidential? ... if Bush had just admitted "We heard conflicting reports, but the fact is, we miscalculated and failed to deliver enough support on time. I am deeply sorry, America. Let's pull together" like that. Hearing "this is the big one", and that Katrina was just as intense as Hurricane Andrew ... only way bigger! ... and when you realize the NO levees weren't even up to CAT 3 standards yet ... this should put some steel in your presidential spine, and get you into the mess with both hands, all guns blazin.

Bush malevolent? No, just too far from the scene and too relaxed, and he let himself get distracted with advisors technicality. The onlt thing that should have been on his mind was "Wow people are going to die, let's go go go!" Even aside from Bush tho NO got drowned because it had a long history of inadequate levees and, facts is facts, I don't think anyone could imagine a storm as wicked as Katrina. It just broke all expcetations, it was the uber-storm and no scenarios could handle that.

Maybe not flu season after all

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I'm at my friend Scott's place so I can't be long, but this is good news I'd say.

Thursday, March 2, 2006

The Harlot of Rome!

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Pope suppresses the Bible!

Catholic Church stifles the Holy Spirit!

Catholics called to ignore the Bible!

Read all about it!

I'm keeping my eyes on this

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Both eyes. On bird flu. Now cats are dying in Germany. (And here I thought cats killed birds.) Oh and did I mention it's now in the Bahamas? I don't follow lots of news, but this is a stinker. I guess I can't blame Elliot anymore for sending us bad China bugs. This is worldwide, folks.

Oh well now I have another reason to stop

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I like Coke. I don't like Pepsi. I really like Sprite. But I figured out a while ago pop is a bad thing to like. Rots your teeth, burns your cash, drills open your stomach, weakens your bones. And now it gives you cancer.

Shockwaves of wonder

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A few months ago I read Joan Carroll Cruz's The Incorruptibles. It inspired me to research other "allied phenomena", such as stigmata, marvelous images, and weeping or bleeding icons. While reading about stigmata, more than once I found the objection that if they were really divine phenomena, they shouldn't manifest so disparately. This objection is rooted in the fact that many of even the most inexplicable cases of stigmata appear on different parts of the body, take on different shapes and sizes, bleed differently, etc. These discrepancies suggest to some a scam, as if the fakers were merely trying ignorantly to replicate previous stigmata, but getting it wrong in this or that detail. A related explanation given is that stigmatists are trying to mimic religious art and themes they've encountered throughout their lives. Since different people experience different art, different stigmatists manifest difference stigmata. It's variegated auto-suggestion, the critics say.

This objection is certainly valid in many of the cases. However, the more bizarre and truly inexplicable cases insist on more than auto-suggestion. Such a "sensible" objection depends on a shallow examination of the evidence in cases of spontaneous, prolonged, unwilled stigmata. In other words, the shrewdest miracle investigators, particularly those commissioned by, say, the Vatican, dismiss innumerable "stigmata" as hoaxes, whether from obvious self-mutilation or from the less obvious but possible power of auto-suggestion.

The key is not to approach such claims, let alone any part of life, with a facile Humean disdain for exceptional occurrences, but rather to measure carefully and soberly the evidence for this or that particular incident. Hume weighed evidence for miracles; honesty insists we measure the evidence. Weighing evidence for miracles instantly disfavors them, since they are by definition less common than other phenomena; measuring miracles, however, is a much more challenging task, such as Alexis Carroll, among many other professional physicians, have learned on a journey to Lourdes (see also Jaki's Two Lourdes Miracles). The great irony of Humean skeptics is that while they bar all such "divine anomalies" out of consideration on the a priori grounds of the statistical and commonsensical preponderance of a normal explanation, yet they argue the emergence of human life in an already incalculably unlikely universe is hardly shocking. The common non-believing (Humean) approach to cosmology is dismissive of the universe's amazing "fine tuning" and its highly "unnatural" anthropocentricity. "Such an occurrence was just bound to happen," the skeptic says, with a shrug. Yet, this same skeptic will say miracles are simply impossible given the overwhelmingly non-miraculous nature of experience.

But I digress. The point I'd like to make is not about the historicity and inexplicability of this or that miracle -- though such a venture is not overly difficult and not at all fruitless. Rather, I simply want to propose a "way of looking" (Schauensart) at the discrepancies among the more reliable cases of stigmata.

A few weeks after having read about this phenomenon, I was riding the bus to Jing Yi University. Suddenly, we hit a bump, and I noticed all the passengers' heads, including my own, bobbed downward in the same moment. It was if we all hiccupped or nodded at once. I wouldn't have given any more thought to it, except that I had happened to notice minute difference in the particular ways we all had bobbed our heads. When the bump came, one young lady had her head turned left, while I was looking straight ahead. Accordingly, my head went in planar descent, whereas hers curved downward a little diagonally. I noticed a student's younger, suppler neck bent farther down than the old lady's near her. And so on, for as many people as my view from the rear of the bus could register.

What had happened? We had all experienced the same phenomenon, or impulse, "from outside", but we each had manifested its effects differently according to where we sat, how we were composed, where were looking and so forth. It struck me like lightning that this is precisely the logic behind stigmatic discrepancies! Far from "branding" stigmatists like holy cattle, God the Spirit works from within a unique person to produce stigmata. As that person freely and deeply unites him or herself to Christ the wounded Savior, the Spirit synergizes this "co-suffering' into ultimately tangible effects. The wounds Padre Pio felt in his soul, as he followed his Crucified Lord, ultimately found their way to his flesh. This "phenomenological symmetry" between the soul and the flesh is exactly the aim of theosis (sanctification, union witht the divine, restoration of the self), insofar as theosis means reconciling the holy desires of the soul and will with the movements and impulses of the flesh. True stigmatists cannot simply "dredge up" these wounds; the wounds are, after all, not even their own: they are Christ's, belonging to Him who dwells within them. So, while genuine stigmata are, like all fruit of godliness, never possible without the Spirit's antecedent movements of grace, yet it is equally true they are never simply imposed by God on unwilling creatures. Precisely by uniting myself to Christ in religious zeal and obedience, I in a sense invite God to wound me, mark me, label me, as His own with the marks of Christ.

Crucially, of course, God marks ME, as a unique individual. The "marking" He achieve sin me is interwoven with my whole nature, my whole background, my whole cultural awareness, etc. So, in the mystery of the confluence of the divine will with the human, as the wounds of Christ well up from a fertile heart to be seen on the flesh by human eyes, they well up according to the vessel God chooses: namely, me. (No, I'm not a stigmatist! I simply dislike using "one" and "oneself".) Hence, it as little wonder that various stigmatists are stigmatized variously as various Christians express the same Gospel variously (in phraseology, piety, attitude, culture, "style", etc.). This or that cultural resonance will effect how the Spirit's stigmatization is "filtered" through my consciousness into tangibility. This or that dermatological or muscular constitution will affect how the marks of Christ "filter through" my flesh into the public eye.

Far from disproving the singular divine origin of stigmata, their variability, in conjunction with a sober investigation of their veracity, actually points to the very God those stigmatists worship: the God of persons, of freedom, of concreteness, of particular incarnation. And in pointing to this God, this God who went so far as to be crucified for us, stigmatists are stigmatized in yet one more way: they are stigmatized as fools and scoundrels by worldlings. Why? Because they bear in their redeemed flesh the same wounds which fallen man refuses to embrace. Better to bleed to death by your own merits than be bled upon and refilled with life by Another's.

Cardinal Casting

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Have a look-see at Francis Cardinal Arinze's podcast! How many cardinals do YOU know with their own podcast?

Any of you iPodders probably know these casts are downloadable into your iPod for portable listening. I imagine non-iPodders could right click and save the audio files onto a general MP3 player... somehow... maybe?

Wednesday, March 1, 2006

In the beginning...

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(A re-post from my rant on myspace)

Ok, so I'm reading (again) Neal Stephenson's essay "In The Beginning Was The Command Line". I am bringing this up because I have noticed that recently I have been judgemental about things. Lots of things. I don't do this to be a prick (although, I admit that I often am), I believe it has to do with what Stephenson says:

Orlando used to have a military installation called McCoy Air Force Base, with long runways from which B-52's could take off and reach Cuba, or just about anywhere else, with a load of nukes. But now McCoy has been scrapped and re-purposed. It has been absorbed into Orlando's civillian airport. The long runways are being used to land 747-loads of tourists from Brazil, Italy, Russia, and Japan, so that they can come to Disney World and steep in our media for a while.

To traditional cultures, especially word-based ones such as Islam, this in infinitely more threatening than the B-52's ever were. It is obvious, to everyone outside of the United States, that our arch-buzzwords-multiculturalism and diversity-are false fronts that are being used (in many cases unwittingly) to conceal a global trend to eradicate cultural differences. The basic tenet of multiculturalism (or "honoring diversity" or whatever you want to call it) is that people need to stop asserting (and, eventually, to stop believing) that this is right and that is wrong, this true and that false, one thing ugly and another thing beautiful, that God exists and has this or that set of qualities.

I couldn't agree more. And I refuse to bow to this pressure. It's wrong for women to be killed for insulting their husbands. It's dumb to worship a cow and refuse to eat it when people in your country are dying of starvation. Right and wrong exist. Now the real trick is to have all of these ideas and not be a prick, and still love people inspite of their (... of our) obvious shortcomings.

BTW, I'm Erick, I'm new here (kinda).