Sunday, December 19, 2010

Caught on Tape

A few months ago I received a letter in the mail from the City of Wilmington. When I opened it up, there was a picture of a car with my license plate going through a red light and a fine for $110.

My first reaction was, "I didn't do it." I thought this even as I looked at the picture of my car and the red light above it. It seemed so unfair, so legalistic. I don't run red least not deliberately. I do run yellows from time to time, though. If they turn red as I'm going under them, I figure, I'm still in the clear. I was innocent, even though the evidence said otherwise.

How do you contest something when you are "caught on tape?" What am I going to say? "It wasn't me." It was. " The light wasn't red." It was. I had committed an infraction, and now I was going to have to pay. I was pissed. I had no excuse.

This whole scenario got me thinking about my moral life, and how easy it is in our culture to rationalize our sin. How many yellow lights have I skirted through? Yellow lights are meant to be a warning; there's got to be a reason the traffic signals don't go straight from green to red. If you're smart, you slow down to a stop before the light turns red. If you're ballsy, you take your chances. Most of the time, nobody notices. Every now and then you get nailed.

Sometimes you're even at those intersections where there is nobody around for miles and you're just sitting at a red light and you're like "why can't I just go?" You are obeying the law, but there are no other cars around to be in danger of hitting. You can rationalize the law, saying that since there's no one around, that red light is not for you. The law suddenly seems stupid. You go through. If there's a camera, it will take your picture, and you will get a fine and have to pay. If there's no camera, then no harm no foul, right?

Maybe yellow lights are like occasions of sin, and red lights are like the real deal, the sin itself. You can run a yellow and be ok, but its better to stop, just to be on the safe side. The law is there to protect citizens, you and me both, from people who might run red lights and put themselves and other people in danger. I want everyone to obey the rules of the road, for my own protection as well as everybody else's.

But we're not playing by God's rules in today's society. Everybody is deciding when to stop and when to go on their own terms and as a result souls are perishing and nothing feels safe and I'm afraid to drive on this proverbial road. Society is descending into morally relativistic chaos because nobody thinks God is watching. But he is.

In the eyes of God everything we do is on tape; there is nothing that escapes God's notice, even when we think otherwise. Running a red light may seem like an innocent enough thing. But what if you do it and you hit another car and kill the people inside? Are you going to say you're not to blame?

When I die, God is going to roll the tape of all the dirty stuff I've done, and all the good I haven't done, and its going to be a Shame Fest, and all the saints will be watching and wailing for me and my fate and it will be 10,000 times worse than running any red light and there won't be any amount of money in the world that I can pay God back for it all. To say, "I didn't do it," would only add insult to injury. Because I've done it all, and its all on tape.

Sunday, December 12, 2010


I'll admit something: I like to pray lying down. I find I'm able to relax and not be so distracted by my aching back or knees, and I enjoy it because I'm comfortable. In short, it feels less like work, and I'm not watching the clock for when time is up. I'm just enjoying the quiet time with God.

Sometimes I fall asleep. Actually a lot of the time. Is this a bad thing? Some people would say it is fine, I'm sure, "it's enough that you're praying." But people more serious about prayer I think would say it's a sign of laziness, the lying down. What if I lie down and don't fall asleep, though? Isn't the falling asleep the danger?

I like to think of a child laying at the feet of his father who is ignorant of the "proper" posture. I used to lie down on the bench in the Adoration chapel at St. Mary of the Assumption in Manayunk, and one time I got in trouble for doing it. Not trouble, really, but the overseer of the chapel thought I was a vagrant or something that was just napping. I know it must have looked odd, or disrespectful, but I didn't care. I was alone in the chapel, and laying before my Lord like a child.

Is there a right way to pray? Most people would say that conversing with God or being still in His presence is the important thing, and it doesn't matter what posture you assume. But I'm not so sure. I think my desire to lie down in prayer comes in large part from not wanting prayer to be work, of wanting to be comfortable, and perhaps from laziness. Perhaps the position is more associated with sleep, then being alert, like Jesus says in Mark 13: "If he comes, do not let him find you sleeping." Then again, I would rather lie down for 15 minutes of prayer than not pray at all, if it came to that.

What do you think, readers? Am I just a lazy bum looking for an excuse to rest, or does praying lying down have any value at all? How do you pray?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Under the Influence

I often wonder why I became a Catholic-Christian. Sometimes I am stumped for an answer, or find it hard to articulate just what it was that drove me knocking at the Church's door. No doubt there were influences along the way. Here's the story of two particular friends who complementarily influenced my decision to become a Christian and, ultimately, join the Catholic Church.

Andy was my best friend growing up. He attended the local Presbyterian church in Doylestown. He never preached Jesus to me or anything, but I always knew he was active in his church's youth group. Andy had his church friends and his secular friends, and they didn't mix too much, though we did occasionally get together to play football at Fonthill. They were all pretty cool, I guess, though were that kind of "Christian cool," like, going to Christian concerts and mission trips and not smoking or drinking but playing sports and acting like regular people otherwise. They were ok to hang out with I guess, but in all honesty I felt more comfortable with our non-church friends. But they all had values, for sure.

Andy was a kind of model of what was good for me. We got into all kinds of trouble (we once drive-by paintballed the school and got chased by the janitor in her truck, had drag races, stole intertubes and built a raft and sailed down the delaware, etc.), but he was always reaching out to people who weren't popular, and going against the grain when it came to peer pressure. He didn't talk much about Jesus, but I sensed he was trying to live a good life, but not in a generic be-a-good-person kind of way, but modeling after someone's life in particular. He was following a different kind of way, as if there was an afterlife we were preparing for, as if what we were doing in this life counted for something. He was always accepting and forgiving, and even when I shafted him or treated him bad, he never held it against me. I was curious about his faith, I guess, but the youth-group thing kind of turned me off--I knew Andy thought it was cool but I didn't--and if that's what being a Christian was, I didn't want any part of it.

I had another friend, Brian, who I ran cross country and track with. He went to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, the local Catholic grade school, til 8th grade, I think, then went to Lenape and West. He had a lot of brothers and sisters who were older than him, and his parents were pretty old. He also had a pool, and lived across the street from Andy.

Brian was a junior when I was a senior, and I convinced him to spend the summer after my graduation hiking the Appalachian Trail with me. It was a great adventure. I don't ever remember Brian sharing anything religious or Christian with me, though I knew he was Catholic. I didn't know what a Catholic was then, really, only that it seemed to be like this exclusive club. It was made up of Christians who maybe didn't care much about Jesus or being good or anything like that, but could always fall back on their special status with their membership card or whatever. I once badmouthed the local Catholic church while I was in the car with my dad ('Everyone goes there,' I said with disdain) and he harshly reprimanded me for my lack of reverence. I didn't know what it was about Catholics, but I didn't like them because I was secretly jealous of not being in their club.

Brian's mother was a pious woman. She had pictures of the Sacred Heart and the Immaculate Heart and Jesus and Mary all over the walls, the St. Christopher sticker in the car, the crucifixes over the beds, the rosaries, all of it. I couldn't tell, but it seemed like she was really into the Catholic Club thing, like it was a nationality or something. I was secretly fascinated, and would ask her about the Catholic stuff, and she delightfully indulged me. I wanted to be part of the club, and she knew it.

Andy gave me the general model for living and believing in what was Good. Brian (and his mom, moreso) gave me the specific (intellectual and theological) backbone for putting my general faith in a specific context, and, subsequently, in a particular community of believers. I think both are important.

We don't live in a vacuum. Everyone comes to faith through the influence of someone or something in their lives that affects their experience; faith comes alive through experience. Experience isn't everything, but I do think it's important. I have been influenced by others and, hopefully, I have influenced others as well to come to have a personal relationship with Jesus. I have learned from Andy that living by example can have powerful effects, and from Brian's mom that those pious devotions can sometimes spark enough curiosity in someone as to incite belief.

Never underestimate your influence.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Living Beyond Our Means

I think drug addiction is a scourge of humanity. I'm starting to think the same about credit.

Think about how lenders were pushing easy credit before the sub-prime mortgage crisis the way a drug dealer peddles addictive drugs--looking for easy targets, vulnerable people, wanting to make money and not caring how it wrecks a persons life. Credit card companies targeting college students (who have little to no source of income).

Our materialistic culture, where wants have become needs, is the perfect petrie dish for this virus to grow. Make people feel entitled and you can get them to buy all sorts of things they can't afford.

I use a credit card. I love being able to pay for things with it because it is super convenient. But I pay it off each month; never had a balance, hopefully I never will. If I can't afford something, I don't buy it. I like to consider myself responsible. But what about those people who aren't responsible or financially educated, who spend more than they make on a consistent basis, or buy houses they can't afford, and find themselves in major debt or foreclosure, or even find themselves addicted to credit cards?

It's been bothering me because it affects society as a whole, for the worse, and I feel powerless to do anything about it except lead by example. I feel bad for the guy who has been faithfully paying his mortgage and is surrounded by foreclosed houses, driving down the value of his house. That could easily be us. I find myself judging, and angry. We all have to live with the fallout.

Everyone knows the story of the ant and the grasshopper. The ant was responsible, working all summer to save food for the winter while the grasshopper didn't. Winter came and the grasshopper comes asking for help because he has nothing saved. The grasshopper is suddenly poor, but it's his own fault. What is the Christian response? Do we let the grasshopper lie in the bed that he has made, forcing him to be accountable for his actions, or help him out of a sense of Christian charity to 'the poor', turning a blind eye to what got him in this mess in the first place?

I don't know the answer. I have been wrestling with it since this whole financial crisis began. I feel for the poor, those who have lost their house, etc., but I want people to be held responsible for their bad choices, and their spending rather than saving, as well. I can't do all this without judging, either, which makes things worse (Granted, not all poverty is related to bad choices. Misfortune, disability, losing a job, etc all contribute to sudden poverty). But do you just turn a blind eye to it? Aren't we forced to judge to make prudent decisions?

In the 20's, during the Great Depression, people didn't have the same kind of access to credit that we have today. That means that if you didn't have the money to buy something (and a lot of people didn't), you didn't buy it. You suffered because of it. You learned how to stretch your money because you had to. As the saying went, "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without." How often do we do that today?

I know this sounds preachy, or superior or whatever, but I don't know how to make it sound otherwise. I'm pissed with the state of our economy, and how it got this way in the first place, and I'm looking to blame. It has me feeling sour...

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Cure for Pain

Medical marijuana proponents tout the drug for its ability to treat pain; getting high just happens to be a nice by-product. But what if you could treat pain with a cannabinoid without the accompanying mind-altering high?

Now you can! Sativex, a cannabis-based nasal spray developed by GW Pharmaceuticals, has been proven to be effective at managing pain for people suffering from MS and cancer treatment without the accompanying marijuana high. It has been approved for use in the U.K. and Canada.

Isn't effective cannabis-based pain managment at the heart of the legalization fight? Not really. Pain managment is the front--getting high is what people really want. Take that away and it is like sex without orgasm: functional, but not much fun.

The development of Sativex is not good news for pot-smokers seeking refuge for their "chronic pain" under the umbrella of medical marijuana. According to a recent article in TIME, "The moment Sativex goes on the market, the need for medical dispensaries, caregivers and growers--and all the confusions and prevarications that attend them--disappears."

I visited a medicinal marijuana dispensary in Oakland once with a friend who was a cop. It was kind of a joke. According to my friend, there is a "doctor" upstairs who you pay $100 or something and he writes you a prescription. It could be for anything, but "chronic pain" or "depression" is kind-of the catch all. Then you go downstairs and get your "medicine." Then you go home, take out your bong, and treat your pain.

Personally, I think the medical arguments for legalizing marijuana are weak. I agree with Christian Thurstone, a psychiatrist in Denver, who said in the aforementioned TIME article, "If we want to legalize marijuana, then let's legalize marijuana and call it a day. Let's not sneak it in the back door, dragging the medical system into it."

Marijuana can be used to treat pain, but so can meditation. Meditation requires effort...smoking a joint is, well, relatively easy. Meditation is good for mental clarity; marijuana, not so much so (any good Buddhist will tell you that). Is it any wonder why most people will jump on the bandwagon towards the path of least resistence?

Most of us don't want to make friends with our pain, whether it is physical, emotional, or psychological. It is seen as something "bad," having little or no value, something to get rid of as fast as possible, whether than involves popping a pill or smoking a bowl. I think Jesus taught us to see pain, suffering, and discomfort as something different, something to be embraced rather than run from. Teachers come in the subtlest of guises; perhaps pain has something to teach us after all.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Fair's Fair

I was listening to a podcast by Andy Stanley about the fairness of Christianity. He contended that Christianity is not based on fairness, but truth. It does not seem fair that one sin would make us a sinner, but that is indeed the case. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God, we inherited their punishment, and all became sinners in need of grace; the issue of fairness went out the window. We are all sinners, because not one person can say they have not sinned; one sin makes a sinner. And because of God's justice, sin has to be accounted for.

Yesterday I got an application for life insurance from AAA. One of the questions was have you used nicotine in the last twelve months. It seemed unfair, and totally legalistic. Have just one cigarette in a year's time and you're paying more than twice the normal rate. Does one cigarette a year make one a smoker? I personally don't think so. At the same time, there's no gray area: if you've smoked once, you're a smoker, as far as AAA is concerned. Doesn't seem fair. In any case, I made a resolve not to smoke at all for the next year, so that, if anything, I can answer the question of nicotine use honestly and receive a lower rate.

I can resolve to not smoke and follow through on that and free myself from the higher rates for life insurance, but the same cannot be said about my sin. I cannot free myself from damnation by resolving never to sin again, because it would never work. No matter how hard I try to get myself into the 'no sin' category, I would fall short, guaranteed.

I don't believe that one cigarette a year makes one a bonafide smoker; but the least sin, no matter how small, makes us fall short of the perfection that God demands, and as such, makes us unworthy of heaven. Christ bore the punishment for our sins. The way to salvation is through faith in him, through the faith that trusts that God accepted Christ's perfect sacrifice for us as sufficient to merit heaven. Doesn't seem very fair to me that Christ should have to die. But then again, just because it's not fair doesn't mean its not true.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


A couple years ago I met a girl who had a life-changing experience at Medjugorje. I thought about it a lot after that, and even felt that the Blessed Mother was calling me there to experience her presence and witness her miracles, including the miracle of the spinning sun. I didn't know much about Medjugorje, or even what country it was in, but I knew that at some point in my life, I should get there, that something--I don't know what--was waiting for me there.

I haven't been to Medjugorje yet; I keep putting it off. I have a skeptic's heart, a regular Doubting Thomas. But I desire a deeper relationship with the Mother of God, because she is looking out for us as any mother would. She is warning us of the impending judgment that is coming, the "chastisement for the sins of the world." I haven't been touched yet; I feel unprepared for what lies ahead. Though I did see the sun in the sky yesterday and it looked...very strange. It reminded me of Medjugorje.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A Sincere Heart

My wife is helping to lead a women's retreat this weekend, and she is stressing out about her talk: "Loving God with a Sincere Heart." As soon as I got home from my college fair, she confronted me: "Help!" she said, "I don't know what to write!" It got me thinking about what a sincere heart really is, and who possesses it.

My models for sincerity are David (in the Old Testament) and Peter (in the New Testament). I don't know why, but I always equate the two together, like Peter is the New David in some way. David danced in a loin cloth before the Lord, he didn't care what people thought. He ate the showbread because he was hungry. He sinned boldly, but was quick to see his own fault, and humble enough to admit it. And he loved the Lord madly. Psalm 51, which was written after Nathan the prophet confronts David after his affair with Bathsheba, says of the Lord, "you insist on sincerity of heart."

Peter was brazen, but only because he loved the Lord with everything he had. When Peter said, "though all may fall away, I will not fall away," he was being sincere. But he was wrong, too! He did fall away, but his sincerity displayed itself in the tears of shame he wept after realizing he had denied Jesus, and was being shown what he was at that time: a hypocrite, a liar, a bad friend.

But was this all Peter was? Does his denying Christ reduce him to just that--a denier? Jesus did not reduce Peter to what he was at that moment; rather, he saw him in his entirety. Part of sincerity is not pretending to be anything other than what you are--a sinner--while at the same time not reducing yourself to that identity. It is having "eyes to see."

In chapter 18 of the book of John, Peter is denying Christ three times. By chapter 21, Jesus is asking Peter, "do you love me?" and Peter has the audacity to proclaim three times, "Lord, you know that I do." Is he being sincere? I believe he is. So moral failing and sincerity must have something to do with one another. Someone could say, "he is not sincere because what he says (I love you) does not match up with his actions (I don't know you). Peter does not get "stuck" on his imperfection, but boldly proclaims his love for Christ in spite of it.

Sincerity (like repentance) comes from the heart...not the mind. The heart is not perfect, but it can be, I believe, perfectly sincere. And a sincere heart does not pay heed to those who stand in judgment of it, dredging up the sins of the past and wagging them in front of it, because it knows that only God can judge the heart, for "man sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7).

Saturday, October 2, 2010

What Might Happen

We took my sister-in-law's kids to the park today, they were riding bikes and running around, being kids. And this side of me came out...what was it? Control freak! "Jackson, don't go too far! Bella, come back here!" They weren't out of control, but I was not in control. I didn't want them out of my sight. I was afraid something might happen to them.

I would like to stop worrying about "what might happen." It is keeping me from "living in the present," as the saying goes. I don't want to be one of those parents that doesn't let their kids play for fear of something that might happen. Control seems to be the opposite of play.

What if I did let one of the kids out of my sight? It's hard to say. Something could happen, something might not. It's a fine balance, this being responsible. I haven't quite figured it out yet.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Trust me.

I started a new job recently. It seems to be going well, a bit dizzying with all the meetings, appointments, and orientations I have to attend. Long hours, lots of travel, and a packed schedule. It is taking some getting used to (esp. having to wear a tie every day), but I think it will be good. The university is putting a good deal of stock in me, trusting that the person I portrayed in my interview is who I am delivering to them. They have given me business cards, a name plate for my desk, a sizable office with a window, an email address, a salary, a territory, assignments, expectations, etc. If I were to quit suddenly and unexpectedly, I would in many ways be screwing them. Betraying their trust to deliver on what I promised.

My wife has also put a lot of stock in me, trusting me with her heart and her very life, not to mention the joint checking account and legal prescriptions. All this responsibility all of a sudden! It is a little unnerving for someone who has generally shied away from it most of his life. I generally want the good without the bad, the office without the responsibility. But I don't think it works this way.

In all honesty, Deb and I haven't gone through any major struggles yet in our marriage; I'm sure our trials are still to come. But I have a friend who is going through his first major trial with his wife and it has gotten me thinking about this issue of trust and betrayal, how fragile trust is, how great a responsibility it is, and how great the need for forgiveness in a marriage.

We are not perfect people, especially us men. I can't imagine going through the course of my marriage and not making any mistakes. There has to be forgiveness for a marriage to work. This doesn't make it any easier to restore a trust that has been betrayed. As much as I trust Deb to be there for me, I trust her to forgive me even more. I know that if I eff up, I won't be fired. There are no 3-strike rules in our marriage.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

We've got to go someplace, find something...

I'm reading You Shall Know Our Velocity! by Dave Eggers, the first book I have read since graduate school, I think. It is a work of fiction about two 27 year old guys on a maniacal mission to give away $32,000 around the world in a week for some reason unbeknownst to the reader. It makes me tired, Eggers creatively manic prose. I yawn; I am manic no more. I read the energy with detachment as the boys bop and jump from one continent to another working out their ghosts.

I threw out a pair of pants yesterday because I had worn them out and didn't need them anymore. I rolled them up and folded them into the trashcan. I had been waiting for a while to finish them out. I bought three new sweaters, merino wool sweaters to replace my wool sweater ridden with moth holes (also retired into the trashcan), good for wearing outside and keeping warm in the rain and packing into rucksacks. But I have hung up my rucksack.

Do we outgrow adventure? Tell me.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Assumption of Historical Existence

The genealogy of Jesus Christ as recorded in the gospels of Matthew and Luke have as their goal the proof of a claim, that is, that Jesus of Nazareth is the historically anticipated Messiah. Because they are addressing two distinct audiences, the methods they employ differ. While Matthew relies on a lineage which shows Jesus’ connection to the throne of David, Luke uses such historical means to arrive at an ahistorical point of origin.

However, the question remains: in a postmodern age, can we trust sources which claim to be able to tell us where we came from, and who came before us? Can the same historically-based methodology used by the writers of Matthew and Luke to prove historical existence be applied in a paradigmatic sphere of postmodern skepticism?

To illustrate this difficulty with the certainty of historical existence, I propose to contrast the historical accounts of the genealogy of Jesus of Nazareth in Matthew and Luke with a modern day genealogy. To do this I consider my own family origins, but more specifically, the ontological character of my grandfather (my father’s father), who died before I was born. Such an investigation might even be inspired by those who lay claims to great lineages, including one man in Great Britain who claims to have traced his ancestry all the way back to the first parents! While such a genealogy may in fact be verified and affirmed by historical evidence as being possible, the inability to verify the authenticity of such historical accounts makes ontological certitude subject to skepticism; the longer the lineage, the higher the susceptibility to the problem of regress. This individual was most likely not as concerned with securing absolute ontological certitude in his proposition of being a blood relative of Adam and Eve as he was with simply tracing the historical family “lines” back to their source. And so the metaphysical question from the aforementioned scenario remains: How do I prove that my grandfather, who died before I was born, maintained a historical existence on earth between the years 1920-1971?

To begin, we could say that logical inference might support the claim based on genealogy:

I (N) am born from my mother (M) and my father (F).


My father (F) was born from my grandmother (F^m) and my grandfather (F^f).

Represented schematically, it might look like this (similar to a truncated family tree):

/ \
/ \ / \
M^m M^f F^m F^f

Thus, there is a direct lineage between myself and my grandfather. This relationship is bound both historically and genetically.

There also exists an antithesis, which may be stated as follows:

If F^f did not exist in historical past
I would not exist at present.
Because I exist
F^f existed.

While this overly-simplified Cartesian method of deductive reasoning appears to “prove” the historical existence of a family member, how would one approach the problem of proving the existence of an un-related historical figure such as, for instance, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.? In such a scenario it becomes clear that the presuppositions of existence rest on an empiricism that is not immediately identifiable by sense-experience. Consider the proposition:

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. existed.

Because there is not a direct lineage from myself to Dr. King, I am unable to appeal to direct experiential logic to verify this proposition; this is something that must take place a posteriori, since it expresses an empirical fact which is unable to be known by reason alone. But I have adequate resources to give clues as to his existence, such as television recordings of his speeches, copies of letters written by him, and possibly access to second or first-hand accounts from people who knew him personally or who had a relative who did. While all these historical “artifacts” give clues into the existence of this man the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and virtually every United States citizen would affirm his existence as a leading civil rights activist and historical figure, there is no way in which I can empirically “prove” his existence without, as Thomas said, “putting my finger in his side.”

Although a complete epistemological investigation into the historical existence of Jesus of Nazareth is beyond the scope of this paper, a general theory of knowledge is necessary. I have used Descartes’ rational-foundationalist approach to illustrate how one could “prove” the existence of a historical ancestor using the coupling of genealogical history and the Cartesian “I” as the foundational starting point for such an investigation. This method corresponds with Matthew’s genealogical account of the ancestral lineage of Jesus to Abraham, sans the Cartesian epistemological component. It relies on third-person accounts and historical evidence to support the proposition that Jesus of Nazareth really is the Christ, the rightful heir to the throne of David and the fulfillment of the messianic promise.

In Matthew’s account, such a proposition can be inferred logically by historical evidence; the same can be said of Luke’s. However, because Luke’s account seeks to prove Jesus’ divine, rather than historical, lineage, he extends his genealogy all the way to the first man, Adam, “son of God.” The question one must ask, then, is itself foundational: was Adam a real person?

[from the paper The Assumption of Historical Existence: Kierkegaard and Newman on Faith and the Traditio non Scripta. by Rob Marco. All rights reserved.]

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Journals of Yore, Pt. II

Last scrap of journal I could find for this Kerouacian trip out west with Misha...

Sun. 1/7/01

i try to get misha to go to mass with me. 'i don't have any nice clothes' he says. 'you don't need nice clothes to go to mass' i say. 'well, i'm agnostic anyway...' i stare uncomfortably at tacky christmas lights adorning the walls while the old priest cracks bad jokes. we roar out of town and head west towards silver city, only to find it isn't all that matt a. had made it out to be. we decide to forgo a night there and instead buy some groceries and head up rt. 15 towards the Gila wilderness. after getting up into the mountains, i feel like dean-incarnate zipping down switchback roads on momentum that twist like a snake and cause you to turn sharp every two seconds. a tourist greets us at the top...'we've got it better than those injuns, don't you think?' as he climbs in his ford f-350. i ponder the question...a night in the back of the truck in an empty parkinglot, we wake up with ice everywhere on the inside windows and roar out on a breakfast of evaporated milk and dried apricots, forgoing our plans at a 10,000ft. mountain climb. for some reason i develop a real hatred for the cliff dwellings and deny them a visit just to spite them. we even miss the wilderness hot springs, though that was a regret i mulled over for miles.

there was a time when there was nothing i would rather do than take a backpacking trip in such an exotic state, but i made amends with myself that such wilderness excursions were neither necessary nor a source of enjoyment. this is not the first time i've felt like this. the only difference is that i abandoned any lingering feelings of guilt over my domestication. my relationship with the wild has become personified in recent years, the more i think about it the more similarities it holds to any human relationship. we fall in love, we fall out of love, going our separate ways, yet being molded by the people that come in and out of our lives.

we stop off at a park cafe to get warm and plot our next course over a cup of joe. our waitress informs us that there was an explosion in T or C the night before; apparently someone backed into a propane tank and set of a series of explosions that rocked that dreary little town. to add to this, seven escape cons are roaming new mexico after a recent bust-out and there is a state-wide manhunt going on as we speak. we snub our butts and decide to head west, not wanting to stick around for a brewing storm.

we pick up a couple of hitchhikers on rt. 10 near the state line, deciding to take our chances that they aren't one of the Texas 7. turns out they were kind folk from minnesota, but they didn't have anything of worth to offer conversation wise and reminded me of the dime-a-dozen 20 something AT. we spent most of the ride in respectful silence. misha and i wonder where all the deans-and-sals are these days.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Journals of Yore

A Kerouacian trip out west with Misha...
Sat. 1/6/01

leaving santa fe, what a trip-to-be. packed bags and loaded truck, a hug to our pseudo ma margaret, and we drift out. a cup of coffee outside the plaza and a glance of underspoken guffaws exchange in response to our lattee-sipping brethren taos bound for skiing and resorting and other spoiled endeavors; a feeling of freer-than-thou confidence, naive maybe...what with my two dollar lumberjack jacket and ripped t-shirt and misha with nothing but his beard, saddlebag, and rugged looks. drop in on ernesto in his gallery and we silently sympathize with his having to deal with camera-clad tourists who innocently wander into the true-blue outskirts of genuine art adobes.

settle in on 25 through albuquerque and bounce in our seats with excitement at the site of ten thousand ft. contours scattered around our destination for the day. shot arrow-straight across flat plains with nothing but land and shacks to our right and left, with nothing but wild-west peaks ahead for our carrot.

roll into forlorn Truth or Consequences near dusk, after stopping at a local gas-station where the teenage attendants are smoking inside and a dusty old hobo is holding up a penthouse to the window, we wonder where we have really ended up. another mutual glance and dumbfounded guffaw at the storybook shack of a hostel we've pulled into, stray dogs and a faded blue dr. pepper machine make us feel right at home for the first night on the road. check in and settle for a cheap dinner of steak and potatoes and coffee at the hilltop cafe, plotting how to best capture the day tomorrow. it's easy for US to come and go with the hand we are dealt...some cash in the bank and no responsibilities, a car, and an affluent hometown. but i look at the sullen face of a teenage waitress in the back, the high-school gas station attendant, and wonder how the fuck you ever get OUT of a town like this. returning, the highlight of our accommodations are the hot springs to soak in and the end of the day. we are joined by an overweight middle aged man doing God-knows-what in a town like this, and a reefer-chomping hippie past his prime, whose stoner laugh makes me cringe. michael, our portly Australian proprietor, is our prime entertainment while we soak, spinning our ears off about the loves and responsibilities of the hot tubs. Misha has me rolling with his to-a-T impersonation...'Uyaeye drayne em'... and we turn in warm, but wake up shivering all night....

Monday, July 26, 2010

Finding God After Leaving Religion

In Response to Steve McSwain's article published in the Huffington Post:

The author claims "you don't have to go to church to know God" like it is some grand revelation. Of course you can find God outside of religion; God isn't confined by religion. But there is definitely something lost by "dropping out."

People want spirituality without religion in the same way that people want sex without commitment. It may be a growing trend, and people may have legitimate reasons for 'dropping out,' but it is certainly not anything worthy of admiration. We will be reaping what we sow in this regard.

We grow up rebeling against our parents because they tell us what to do and teach us right from wrong and punish us, but we are secretly grateful in our adult lives that they took on that responsibility. I would hate to have grown up without parents acting in that capacity. I'm grateful for it, in the same way I am grateful for my religion helping to form my moral center. For all the dysfunction and imperfection, I think it has more benefit than not.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Wedding Pictures!

Debbie and I
Sweaty palms.

The Philly Crew

At the Hilton

4 of 8 new nieces and nephews.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

On the Eve of Our Nuptials

July 10, 2010

My dearest Debbie,

I am sitting in the office, writing this letter to you, my beloved, on the eve of our marriage ceremony. It's 1am, a Saturday night, and everyone staying at the house (John, Todd, Megan, Michael and Maite) has gone to bed. After you left, Todd and everyone came back from the HiIlton, and Tim and Ana were still here. We were all having a good time talking and just relaxing and enjoying each other's company. I am so grateful for everyone coming to celebrate with us, and grateful that we have such great friends, and that we are beginning to have common friends, too! Michael and Maite and I sat out back smoking for a little while, and watched a YouTube clip of Julia Childs making an omelete. Then I went up, and here I am, at the computer, like a knight on the eve of a great battle, trying to document the experience of going to sleep one day single, and waking up the next day a married man. Crazy!

I'm writing to you, because its how I can truly express my love for you in a creative capacity. I hope to revisit this letter on each of our successive anniversaries, as a kind of ritual in our remember the day (at least, from my perspective) before one of the biggest days of our lives. We started out writing letters and emails, and as you've said, my writing wooed you;) I don't want that to necessarily die out. So here I am, at the computer, at 1am, typing my little heart out to you in the form of a love letter.

Part of me feels this should be something private, to be kept to ourselves, this letter exchange. But at the same time, you have always encouraged me to blog, to continue to nurture a gift, and to share that gift with the world. You have always encouraged my writing, and have encouraged that in the public sphere as well. It's like that book you have on the bookshelf, "Betty, I Love You, a published love story that is a celebration of marriage.

Scripture revealed itself to me tonight in Matthew 5:15, the gospel reading for our ceremony.

"You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden, nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket."

Love is to be proclaimed! Remember our story from Catholic Match that got published? Remember all those comments? Love stories touch people, and in a good way. That's why I decided to post this. I feel our union is being blessed by God, and it is awesome! I feel, for the first time in a while, that God is with me as I type to you, and speaking through me, in some subtle way, as I speak to you now. I thank God for who you are, and that you've chosen to spend your life with me.

Can't wait to see you tomorrow, my beautiful bride. I love you!


Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Rest of Your Life

I was 'down the shore' this weekend and thinking about irreparablity (is that a word?). It started with me being self-conscious about taking my shirt off to swim because of my jacked-up shoulder.

You see, when I was hit by a police car while riding my bike a year and a half ago, I broke my hand and my collarbone. I had very good surgeons taking care of me, but I did not follow directions very well as far as after-care was concerned. I rarely wore by sling, but the kicker was when I attempted to move a (small) refrigerator by myself (my friend Gerbs was supposed to come by and help but he was late and I was impatient). My collarbone had a screw in it holding it down, you see, and when I put weight on the arm my shoulder kind of dropped, the screw came out a bit, and it never quite healed right, much to the consternation of my very stern doctor. It looks like my collarbone on that side is sticking out of the skin a little, and my shoulder is lower than it should be, and it feels...well, 'almost' right. But not quite right.

I was stupid to have done what I did, though in the scheme of things it's probably no big deal, a cosmetic thing. But its not often you make a mistake and have to live with the fallout for the rest of your life. My shoulder will always be jacked up, and it will always be a reminder to me, 'if only I would have listened.'

* * *

I dated a woman once who cheated on me with someone she met at a bar, and she got herpes, and now she has to live with that the rest of her life. I was upset at the cheating part, but mostly I felt bad for her because she would have to live the rest of her life too with this gross STD reminder of what happened to be irreparable damage done. I'm not bitter about what happened; but it does suck for her.

Adultery, STDs, broken collarbones that don't quite heal right. And tattoos.

I have been wanting to write about tattoos for a while, but never knew quite what it was that made them worth writing about. The aforementioned woman was covered head to toe in tattoos. I thought it was kind of sexy at the time, but now I think it is just so...permanent. Not stupid, not trendy, just permanent. I can't help imagining people with tattoos up their arms (as seems to be the hipster trend now) as an old person walking down the street in a tee shirt, still sporting those hipster tattoos at 70, 80, 90. It's like a mini marriage between your skin and the ink: "Till death do us part." But it's with you for the rest of your life. That's pretty big, bigger than a jacked up shoulder. Or maybe its no big deal at all.

I think people who have tattoos get really tired and annoyed when people point to them and say, "Ooo my, that certainly is interesting. What does that mean?" It's a double edged sword--you got inked because you wanted to stand out, but once you are standing out--even as an 80 year old--you have to account for it. Kind of like having a public blog, you're putting your body on display for the world to admire as a kind of work of art. And nobody really gets art. So it will always be annoying.

I'm not a good candidate for a tattoo (though I have entertained the idea). I change my mind too much about things, have too many interests and identities to stick with just one representative symbol or whatever or 'who I am.' I want to die sporting a clean canvas. I like the aesthetic.

* * *

I remember a kid in high school who's quote in the yearbook was:

Why write something now I'll only regret later?

I thought that was very smart that quote: half smart-ass, and half intellectually he knew himself very well, or knew the future, or both. We live with regrets, only some are bigger and more permanent than others. Tattoos can be a minor regret (or no regret at all, though if you have a tribal tattoo around your arm like Pamela Anderson, or the word "LOCO" inked across your forehead, or any Looney Toons character on your body, anywhere, well that you might be a good candidate for regret). But they are so fascinating to me because they represent a real aesthetic commitment to something...however goofy and trendy that aesthetic might be.

* * *

A priest told me one time that when we confess our sins to God, he throws them all in the middle of the ocean and plants a sign that says, "NO FISHING." I thought that was cute; I liked that, like we don't have to revisit our sordid past, doctor's orders. But what do you do when your stupid decisions stare back at you in the mirror every time you take your shirt off?

You learn to live with them, I suppose, and take them as lessons learned. We can't live this life without making mistakes, so mistakes, in a way, show that we are really living, living as if we know there are no second-takes, as if we are writing on the wall in permanent marker, that is, as long as we really know it, are fully informed that this is not a dress rehearsal. When we get to Heaven God will ask, 'where are your scars?' I hope I will have a few to sport that aren't the result of mere stupidity.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Great take on G.K. Chesterton and Catholic converts from The New Yorker (esp. the part about the post office):

"Jewish converts to Christianity are relieved to get out from under all those strange Levitical laws on animal hooves. The newly adapted faith, they imagine, is a shining, perfectly balanced system, an intricately worked clock where the cosmos turns to tell the time, and the cuckoo comes out singing every Sunday. An outsider sees the church as a dreamy compound of incense and impossibility, and over-glamorizing its pretensions, underrates its adaptability. A Frenchman or an Italian, even a devout one, can see the Catholic Church as a normally bureaucratic human institution, the way patriotic Americans see the post office, recognizing the frailty and even the occasional psychosis of its employees without doubting its necessity or its ability to deliver the message. Chesterton writing about the church is like someone who has just made his first trip to the post office. Look, it delivers letters for the tiny price of a stamp! You write an address on the label, and they will send it anywhere, literally anywhere you like, across a continent and an ocean, in any weather! The fact that the post office attracts time servers, or has produced an occasional gun massacre, is only proof of the mystical enthusiasm that the post office alone provides! Glorifying the postman beyond what the postman can bear is what you do only if you are new to mail."

- from the column, “Critic at Large,” titled, “The Back of the World,” subtitled, “The Troubling genius of G.K. Chesterton,” by Adam Gopnik, in The New Yorker, July 7 & 14, 2008, p58, par 1.”

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A Hard Heart

As a young Catholic Worker, my mentor Bruce (who ran the St. Martin de Porres CW in Harrisburg) confessed to me one day as we were sitting outside, "Rob, my biggest fear is that my heart will harden." He was referring to the work of aiding the poor in an inner-city neighborhood. I have a lot of good memories of those days, but that one line stood out for me as a reality of doing God's work.

Bruce left the Worker suddenly amidst some scandal (allegations of sexual impropriety) and I had lost a mentor. There was no closure; just a gaping hole in the CW community. I missed Bruce, and left the community shortly thereafter. Had his heart finally gone cold, and was he just looking for an out? We'll never know. But I do remember the feelings of pain and betrayal that comes with someone you love and respect leaving you.

I think my own heart has hardened as of late, towards God, specifically, and towards all things Christian. I confessed this to my friend Andy today, and that I didn't know quite how to articulate it. I do remember reading in his Confessions that Augustine was initially turned off from the scriptures because they were not at all eloquent. I feel that way with Christian radio, literature, etc. It feels so superstitious or something, using the Bible to justify things, or people constantly talking about "God wants you to do this," or "this or that is God's will" like they know what they are talking about. I do know people of faith that I admire, whose faith I admire. But their explanations for why things happen or for what is going on in life feels so...I don't know...childish.

I have not been praying; that should have been my first red flag. I have my excuses, but in the back of my mind I'm really thinking, 'what good does it do to pray? I'd rather go to bed.' I feel like I'm in a stale marriage with God, where there are no new surprises; all the former professions of love seem childish in retrospect. I feel childish myself, refusing the pray out of spite, almost, for being in such a seemingly loveless relationship. My Invisible Spouse feels more like an imaginary friend. I'm embarrassed at my lack of faith and devotion, but don't know how to get it back. I could pray, but when I pray it is like my heart is constipated, and nothing comes out. How do you heal a hardened heart?

Monday, May 24, 2010

The God Fad

When I was nineteen and had first joined the Church, I felt like I was being given to the Lord in marriage. In fact, it is no surprise that this spousal analogy is used throughout the Old and New Testament to signify God's covenant with His people, and Christ's covenant with the church. It is a very special relationship, and not one to be taken lightly.

But it's easy for devotion to turn into a passing fad. I picture people saying to me, "Remember when you used to pray? Remember when you wanted to devote your whole life to God?" and it scares me a little. I used to be on fire for God; now that fire has dimmed to a flame. What happened, and could it have been prevented? Has God and Christianity become just another thing or cause I was 'into' for a time, and now I have found something to replace that desire? Has the marriage gotten old?

I have a friend who recently got married who said that he misses his "Invisible Friend." I guess he meant his new wife had, in a way, begun to fulfill those things that God fulfilled before. We can lean on God when we are lonely, when we need a friend or someone to talk to, but then someone else comes into our life that fills that role, and the dynamics shift. Where does God 'fit' now? Is God, as we imagine Him, expendable?

I have another friend who joined the Mennonite church as an adult. He was very on fire at first, and involved with the community. Then he moved, and simply failed to engage in religious life anymore. I suppose we all get 'into' things for one reason or another, to fill some need...for community, for acceptance, for purpose, for love, for curiosity's sake...and when we don't 'need' that anymore, we move on. But what do we really move on to? Does our past relationship with God seem like nothing more than an adolescent embarrassment?

I still believe God needs to be number one in a person's life, even before their spouse, for things to be in the right order. I always related to God as a single person; now that is going to change, and so, maybe the dynamics of our relationship will change with it.

And, I suppose, there are different seasons, different stages of development in a person's spiritual life. When we first come to know God, we are like wide-eyed children, eating up all experience with ravenous appetite, and bursting with possibilities. Then there is teenage rebellion. And then you reach your spiritual thirties, when things don't seem to turn out just the way one may have thought. Disappointment, disillusionment set it. And you wonder...just what am I devoted to these days?

I know God has not abandoned me, but sometimes I wonder if I have abandoned God through my lukewarm devotion, lackluster prayer life, and recent apathy towards all things religious. I pray and feel/experience nothing. Spiritual books appear foreign, superstitious, and sometimes, trite. The fact is, I simply seem to be more concerned with the practical aspects of living life, given my circumstances (getting married, looking for work, moving, etc). Unfortunately, God is far from practical, and religion is far from rational.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Tightrope Walker

A world-famous tightrope walker strung a wire across Niagara Falls and invited the public to come and see him walk across. On the day he was to do it, thousands of people showed up to watch. As he walked to the wire they cheered loudly. He stopped and asked them, “Do you believe I can do it?” They cheered, “Yes”. Then he walked across. He then asked them, “Do you believe I can do it again with a 100 lb. bag on my shoulders?” Again, they cheered and he walked across once more. A third time he asked the crowd, “Do you believe I can do it again carrying a man on my shoulders?” A loud roar went up. “Yes”, they shouted. "All right then, who will volunteer to be that man?" Not a sound could be heard.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Waiting Room

As I am applying for jobs, I am finding one emotion constantly recurring: hope. Obama capitalized on this during his run for president, and as Harvey Milk said, "you gotta give 'em hope." It's something that keeps us going. Whenever I see a job posting, sitting so helpless and far removed from the administrative powers-that-be, I imagine the possibilities. Whenever I have an interview, I hope to be offered a position. Fingers crossed, etc.

The disciples of Jesus waged their bets and put their hopes on Jesus. When he died on a cross, it took three days for him to make good on his promise. How long those three days must have been. Hope is a waiting game.

As I sit waiting to hear back about a job, I am in that hope-land limbo of wanting to believe the best, but more comfortable with imagining the worst. It is an emotional roller coaster putting your hopes in possibility, only to have it dashed in front of you. Sometimes I'd rather not hope at all. But who knows...something might come out of it. There's nothing to do now but wait. You gotta give them hope.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive dissonance is defined as the uncomfortable feeling caused by holding two contradictory ideas simultaneously. I remember experiencing this phenomenon very vividly as a child in a simple example. I was playing with a ball. I dropped the ball and it rolled away. I thought it was behind a piece of furniture, but it happened that it rolled much further away. I looked behind the piece of furniture where the ball was supposed to be...and it wasn't there. When I saw it across the room, I almost refused to believe it. I became very upset. It was supposed to be here, and it was there.

This experience left a strong impression on me, and would translate later in life to other experiences. When meeting with friends, I expected to have a good time, but I would be unhappy instead, for example. Going to a dance, or a social event, I expected to be a certain way, and it turned out that my assumption of who I was and how I would act was totally off. How to explain this? Only that sometimes we prefer our ideas about reality to how things actually are.

Of course, this applies to faith. I imagine God to be this, and he is that. I expect my prayers to be answered, and they are not. The reality of God does not square with my concept of God. To be truthful, I think cognitive dissonance is a necessary stage in spiritual development that occurs when we attempt to live in full reality instead of our childish illusions of faith.

I have a feeling marriage is not going to be whatever it is I have imagined in my head. That is ok. As long as I let go of the ideas when the reality presents itself, I think we will be ok. It's when we try to hold on to the ideas in the face of reality that we start living unauthentically and experience that cognitive dissonance, that uncomfortable, troubling feeling that things are not what they seem to be. That is when rationalizing, and living in unreality begins. Living in unreality is never authentic, and so recognizing the phenomenon of cognitive dissonance can help us develop further into the person we are...not the person we are supposed to be.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Getting Back to Zero

Mother Theresa said, "Without mistakes, there is no forgiveness. Without forgiveness, there is no love."

What happens when we make mistakes? Take the example of a drug addict. They spend years abusing drugs, their lives unraveling, hurting people, blowing thousands of dollars, getting arrested, etc. They want to get clean. They sweat and struggle and with support and grace and a lot of willpower, they put drugs behind them. Withdrawal is painful; not a day goes by when they don't feel like going back to drugs. They spend years repaying their debts, earning back trust. They are proud of their accomplishment, looking back on the horror and chaos of their former life and are grateful for their new life of sobriety. Life never felt so good. But every day is a struggle to stay above water. The return to grace is spent just getting back to zero.

Now compare them to someone who chose never got into drugs in the first place. They know nothing of the struggle to maintain sobriety, because they never lost it. They were able to focus their efforts on other things, maybe get ahead in life more. Drugs might have been fun, but this was a fun they never took part in. Short term "pain" for long term gain. They wonder what all the fuss is about, someone whose biggest accomplishment in life is not doing drugs.

Is the person who never abused drugs better than the one who chose to? No. But they also saved themselves a lot of grief and trouble by making the choice not to abuse drugs in the first place. The addict has had his fun, and now he is paying for it (and he knows he has to pay for it). The non-addict has nothing to pay, and so he is free to apply his efforts elsewhere.

The long hard fall from grace, though, seems to have some merit, since Jesus said, "those who are forgiven little, love little." Look at the parable of the prodigal son. The eldest son did everything right, the younger did everything wrong. The father loves them just the same, not one more than the other. But the eldest son is spiteful, and in the end, the younger brother got the fattened calf and party. The eldest son complains why he never got one before while he was doing all the right things. The father replies, "all I have is yours."

Maybe it is a matter of appreciation. Sometimes you don't know how delicious food tastes until you haven't had any for a day or two, for "hunger is the sweetest sauce." Should one take the invitation to sin, then, in order to experience the intoxicating joy of redemption--or in other words, "should we continue in sin so that grace may abound?" Paul says "certainly not!"

"When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."

One thing I worry about in our society is that things that people should be "ashamed of," as Paul says, people are not seeing as sinful. It is one thing to sin and know you are a sinner in need of grace; but things have been diluted, and people sin while not thinking themselves sinners, or even worse, that their sins are something to be proud of. This thinking will lead to death in the end, and people will say "Lord! Lord!" on the Last Day, but they will not be let in to the kingdom.

Our moral conscience is like a delicate barometric machine that needs to be finely and wisely tuned. Allowing our societal standards to inform our conscience is like letting the plumber work on your car. How do expect it to turn out--plumbers are not car mechanics! In this way I think Christ's Church serves a valuable function--helping to inform our consciences in the right way--like a lighthouse guiding ships in the dark. Without it, we are crashing our ships into the rocks, one after the other.

Stupid Virgins

I've been reading a lot about people "underwater" with their mortgages. The newspapers seem to report about people who bought $300,000 to $500,000 houses, added additions, borrowed against their home equity, etc. and suddenly can't afford them due to one circumstance or another, or the value of their house is less than their mortgage and they can't move, etc. That stinks. On the other hand, how many of these people did not anticipate a loss in salary, injury, need to move, or simply bought too big a house? It is hard for me to feel sympathy for some of these people. I think the days of living beyond our means is over. It's a shame we can't count of the equity in our houses as an investment anymore, but times change, and things fall apart.

It reminds me of the parable of the wise and foolish virgins:

Now the kingdom of heaven may be compared to ten virgins, who took their lamps, and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were prudent. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the prudent took oil in flasks along with their lamps. Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and began to sleep. But at midnight there was a shout, "Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him." Then all these virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps. Now the foolish said to the prudent, "Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out." But the prudent answered saying, "No, there will not be enough for us and you too; go instead to the dealers and buy some for yourselves." Now while they were going away to make the purchase, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast; and the door was shut. Later the other virgins also came, saying, "Lord, Lord, open up for us." But he answered them and said, "Truly I say to you, I do not know you." Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour.

The thing that strikes me in this parable is that it seems almost uncharitable (un-Christian?) for the wise virgins to not share what they have in order to help the other virgins. The oil seems to be "non-transferable."

But is this not true of our spiritual "investments?" That is, those who put in the time and effort of developing a relationship with God so that on the day of judgment, God will recognize and welcome them in to the kingdom? Who spent their time in prayer and penance and living for God rather than other worldly pursuits? These things develop our spiritual character. And character is not transferable--we cannot lend it to others who have been unwise in not 'investing" in the Spirit. It's like someone who works out for months in a gym and someone who sits on their ass asking them "give me some of your muscle." It doesn't work like that. God holds us accountable. We reap what we sow; it's kind of a law.

So don't be a stupid virgin. Be a smart virgin. Live within your means, and trust in God for your "investments" to pay off.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

what to write about? bah!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Love the Shepherd, Love the Sheep

There is a running joke among my friends that "Rob hates people," as in, "Rob, do you want to go to a ball game tonight? To the clubs? To a live filming of Regis & Kelly?" No...I hate people.

I don't really hate people; just people en masse. The throngs of latte-seekers that come into the store. The people I have to contend with to get a tennis court. The lines at the DMV. Airports. Humanity itself, sometimes.

If you look through the Bible, Jesus had to deal with crowds a lot. People were always following him, thousands of them. Some were sincere, some were probably just following along for the show. They were often hungry and rowdy and didn't respect private property (like when they ripped apart a man's roof in Luke 5:19). In Jesus' public ministry--the job the Father had assigned to him--he was rarely left alone.

Despite this, Jesus never despised or cursed the masses; he cared for them and loved them and sometimes pitied them because they were "like sheep without a shepherd." Jesus came to save individuals, but he also came to save humanity--the very group I catch myself cursing so often. Despite his solitary ways, Jesus was also a real people person. He didn't avoid crowds or shirk his responsibility for them, though he may have wanted to at times.

It occurred to me recently that it is not Christ-like to hate people (duh), whether that be individuals or groups or whatever--there is no real justification for it. I still hate crowds, but maybe I can find another way to start sentences besides "these idiots..." when I am at work, and can stop judging people who choose to travel in mobs, or stop cursing people who want what I want. I can learn to stifle my ego a bit and put my prejudices aside. Consider it my Lenten sacrifice.

If you love the shepherd (*sigh) gotta love the sheep.

Monday, March 8, 2010

You GROW Girl

My babies are getting BIG under the grow light. Eggplant, tomatoes, peppers (bell and sweet) are pictured. Beans and zucchini on the other side (not pictured). Will probably wait another month or so to plant outside. Better re-pot in the mean time. Getting spring fever!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Luring Angels

A few weeks ago Debbie and I were at a friend's house. I have deep admiration for this friend and her family for their purity, goodness, and faith. Anyway, this friend recounted how just a few days ago two of her daughters encountered an angel in their basement. I can't remember the story in enough detail to retell it and give it justice, but it involved a bright light (bright enough that the young daughter thought the light was on in the basement) and the other daughter having the angel's hands resting on her shoulders (she thought it was her mother, at first). The mother and daughters were all very happy that an angel had visited their house.

I was skeptical, of course, but thought "what reason would she have to make this up?" And then my self-centered side of me thought, "why don't I see angels?" And my question was answered by my aforementioned skepticism--angels visit children because they believe. Which is why Jesus tells us to be like them.

Some days I am so filled with such anger and anxiety that it is no wonder why the angels stay away from me--I give them no room to exist. It reminds me of the story of St. Macarios and the angel:

"St. Macarios of the desert in walking one day, he sees someone and perceives that he is seeing an angel and as he draws near the angel says to him that he is not a man, but an angel. He says that in fact he is this man's guardian angel and points to a house. This angel had been weeping because this man was inside this house committing adultery and that he could not go into the house to protect the man because the stench is too strong."

St. John Cliamcus wrote:

“Are the guardian angels standing by us, or are they still at a great distance? For until they come close to us, our efforts are vain and futile. Our prayer has neither the power of access nor the wings of purity to reach the Lord, unless our angels draw near to us and take it and bring it to the Lord."

Which begs the question: how do you get an angel to stand close to you? Don't sin; they can't stand the stench. Be like a child. Be humble, and penitent. And believe. Remember: we can lose grace, can fall out of favor with God. Having an angel near you to deliver prayers to God is like having an hookup for a job--your resume might not make it on its own, but if an insider hand delivers it, you might be given a better chance to get an interview. And God knows we could all use more hook-ups these days. So keep your angels close.
"Fear, apprehension and suspicion make us live stingy, narrow and small lives."

--Henri Nouwen

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Pick Grain and Die

One of my part time jobs is evaluating transcripts at a local community college. Every now and then I will get a transcript for an engineering or computer science student who has taken and passed calculus. But for the most part it is a slew of D's and F's in courses as fundamental as beginning algebra or "math concepts." Most people hate math because most people suck at it. Math is hard.

Does this mean that schools like M.I.T., Princeton, etc. should 'lower the bar' to accommodate students who are not able to cut it in such rigorous, top-notch programs--to be more inclusive? No, because this would not be fair to those students who are looking to be challenged and excel in such programs. These top schools keep the bar high as a matter of academic integrity. If you can't make the cut...look elsewhere for your college experience.

After Jesus told his followers they must eat his flesh and drink his blood if they would have life, many grumbled against him and called the teaching hard, asking who could accept it. And it is written, "from this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him." The acceptance of the reality of the Eucharist was a non-negotiable for Jesus.

Then again, Jesus re-examined the "rules" of the religious institution against people's actual lives--like picking grain on the Sabbath, or stoning someone caught in adultery, and made adjustments accordingly. Jesus was compassionate towards people who could not 'make the cut,' but he did not water down his teaching to accommodate any standard lower than God's standard. The expectation was that people would change their lives to conform to God's teaching, not the other way around. And yet he made accommodations for the human experience which fell outside the bounds of the religious jurisdiction (ie, picking grain on the Sabbath).

In the same way that most people hate math because it is hard and does not come naturally, most people find distasteful rules and discipline designed to make us people of exemplary holiness. In this way the Church is criticized as being too strict, holding the bar too high, as to what kind of life each member is expected to live.

Yet despite my moral failings and my embarrassingly low threshold for suffering, I would not want the Church to change Her teachings to accommodate my lifestyle--or anyone else's lifestyle--assuming the Church's teachings are sanctioned by the Holy Spirit. I want the Church to continue to hold the bar high and continue to condemn fornication (homo and hetero alike), adultery, pre-marital sex, masturbation, abortion, murder (state sanctioned or otherwise), theft, idolatry, pride, etc., and uphhold Truth. I have no problem calling a sin a sin when it is, in fact, a sin.

If my future wife and I practice artificial contraception when we are married, I pray God will have mercy on us, and that the Church will reconsider Her teaching on this matter, what feels to me like a matter of "tieing up heavy burdens and laying them on men's shoulders." Is artificial contraception a sin in the eyes of the Church? Yes. Do I believe it is a sin? This is besides the point. Is it a sin in the eyes of God? I don't know, but I know that God looks at the heart, and when I die I know I will be judged by God alone, not the Church, and so all I can ask is mercy.

And so when the Church teaches about the sinfulness of using artificial contraception, I find myself on that other side of the line, with those disciples who were complaining, "this is a hard teaching...who can accept it?" But did this teaching come from Jesus himself? No, it did not. Am I a bad Catholic....well, I don't seem to qualify as a good Catholic, a title I doubt I will ever earn. Is this then the alternative title? Should it matter? I have no good way to end this post, and so I'll just sign off with these questions unanswered, a reflection of my moral life as a whole, I suppose. Comments welcome.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

DIY: You can make a Japanese "floating" platform bed for under $50


(2) 4'x8' sheets 3/4" Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF) ($25 each @ Lowes)
1 1/2" wood or drywall screws

Step 1: Make the cuts: 12" off the bottom, 12" off the side, another 6" off the side of the 4'x8' sheets of MDF. This will leave you with a 2.5'x7' piece remaining. I have this cut in half so it can fit in my car, but you don't have to (this piece will be one half of the platform). This will leave you with two 48"x12" pieces, two 84"x12" pieces, two 84"x6" pieces, and two 84"x30" pieces (or four 42"x30" pieces, if you cut them in half).

Step 2: Cut two 3/4"x6" notches with a jigsaw in each of the 48"x12" pieces, and do the same for the 84"x12" pieces, as illustrated. The goal is to have these four pieces fit together to form what looks like a three-dimensional tic-tac-toe board. This is what the platform will rest on.

Step 3: Take one of the 84"x 6" pieces and cut it into four equal 12"x6" pieces. Screw these together as illustrated. This will act as a brace for the middle of the bed. Place this in the middle of the tic-tac-toe board when it is placed on the ground.

Step 4: Lay the platform so that one corner of each of the four 42"x30" pieces rest in the middle of the tic-tac-toe support. Drill holes and screw platform into the tic-tac-toe board as shown (where red dots are).

Step 5: Lay the remaining three boards and screw to the middle brace and tic-tac-toe board. Paint around the edges where the mattress will not cover the platform.

You're done! Enjoy.

Copyright Rob's Fobs. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Light of the World

Someone asked me today at work why we Catholics wear ashes on our forehead. I explained that it was the beginning of the penitential season, that the ashes are taken from palm branches from the previous year's Palm Sunday, that "we are but ashes and to ashes we shall return," etc.

But that never really answered the question as to why we wear them. Are we being branded like Jews with the star of David during the Holocaust? Or are we flaunting something, looking to be 'set apart,' acknowledged, congratulated for having gone to church or for being good Catholics or whatever. If that is the case, it seems contrary to what Jesus says when he tells people to wash their faces when they are fasting, to do all this in secret, so as not to attract attention to oneself as the hypocrites do. For that reason I was tempted to wash the soot off my forehead. But part of me felt they served a purpose. I just couldn't put my finger on it just yet.

Maybe it is a kind of branding, these ashes. If we claim to be Christian, when we are marked in this way, it holds us visibly accountable to our actions, behavior, and demeanor. It puts us in the spotlight (or under a microscope), not so that we might show off our good deeds, but so that others might see us and either be edified or scandalized, for "nothing is hidden, except to be revealed; nor has anything been secret, but that it would come to light."

Jesus said to his apostles, "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. " For this reason I think wearing ashes leaves no room for any kind of pride, since it is about giving humble witness, proclaiming through sign that we are sinners in need of forgiveness. At the same time, wearing ashes is a display of confident dignity that we are children of God, fallen, yes, but still followers of Christ, and that we are, indeed, called to light the way for those in darkness by our public be the light of the world.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Poem for the Evening

Pork and a cigarette
before the Great Fast.

The Desert Fathers on Habit

"Believe me, brethren, even if someone has just one passion as a habit, he will be subject to hell. Even if we do ten good deeds and one bad one, the bad one outweighs the good. It is like the eagle that is not captured by the snare, but only his claw is caught. Because of this he is captured and loses all his strength. Even if his whole body is outside the snare except just his claw can we say he has escaped? Anytime he so desires, the person who has placed the trap can take him. It is the same with the soul. If it has one passion hardened into a habit, the enemy can cast it down anytime he wishes because he controls it through that passion. It is for this reason that I will always tell you not to allow any passion to become a habit."

--Saint Dorotheos of Gaza

Monday, February 15, 2010

"Make No Mistake: This is War"

As my friends can attest, I love Mardi Gras. For the past five years, I have thrown a party to celebrate the last day before the start of Lent with drinking, smoking, feasting, and dancing...a gorging of the senses. I will not be hosting Fat Tuesday this year due to various circumstances, so in lieu of the partying I'm approaching this time with a more somber (and sober) state of mind than in the past; that is, with a deep breath and a tightening of the belt, invoking the prayers of the Desert Fathers, feeling like a knight on the eve of battle, an athlete the night before the Olympics.

Ash Wednesday marks the first day of spiritual boot camp. It is not about giving up chocolate or 'getting ashes' or self-improvement; it is about beginning the hard work that must necessarily accompany our pursuit of holiness. When we are marked with the sign of the cross, we are invited to pursue our true vocation: to 'turn away from sin, and believe in the Gospel.' It is our initiation into battle...with sin, the Devil, our passions, and our very selves. Let the games begin.

Monday, February 8, 2010

"I Used To Be Somebody, Now I Am Somebody Else," pt. 3

Marriage has always seemed like a kind of death to me. I remember my father telling me after a fight with my mom, when I was 9 or 10, cracking open a beer and putting me on his lap saying: "Robbie, don't get married. It's the end of everything." Or something to that effect. I've never forgotten that, whether I want to or not.

When I met Debbie, it became clear--or, at least, more clear--that God might have another destiny lined up for me. It was not a matter of wanting to get married or not; it was, more, "Can I make a life with this person?" and asking myself if God might have opened this door after he had shut the one to the monastery. Because in all truthfulness, I did not really see anyone else but God and God alone in the picture. Who was this woman, and what was I to do with another human being? Would it compromise my spiritual life, or at least, the spiritual life I endeavored towards? Would it be The End?

I reflect on this as my own wedding date approaches in July. Am I seeing this as an end, or a beginning? Maybe its both, like, what is that, Jastrow's "Rabbit-Duck?" Yes, that must be it. The altar is like an operating table where a New Thing is born; it also becomes the chopping block where my autonomy, my fantasy of being 'someone else,' loses its head. This death and new life is incarnational in its sacramental character and happens simultaneously: I am saying no to myself and yes to another; no to 'me' and yes to 'we.' 'Me' still exists, but is subjugated to the 'We.' In essence, a WE is born, a New Thing.

When God took flesh, did he become less God? And when Christ was born, was he not a man, as well as a man-god? The two exist together. And so my solitary life meets its death only to be born again, reincarnated, and joined at the hip to my partner for life to be.

If I seem unsentimental, it's not because I am without sentiment, but rather, that I don't trust sentiment when it comes to taking such a monumental leap of faith; I do not want something so unreliable being my guide in my journey to the altar of forever.

Could I find happiness in this life with someone else besides Debbie? I'm sure I could. But the strength of love comes in the choosing. Just as God chooses us, I choose you. No one else: you. There is something very ordinary in that choosing. And something absolutely extraordinary as well.