Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Cakewalk April 29

77. Franklin County Courthouse, Union, Missouri.  We got to the courthouse five minutes after it closed, at 4:35 pm.  The guard refused to let me in.  So I took the picture through the window (left, below), catching more of the reflections from the street than the cake.  Seeing I was a harmless oaf with a camera and not a full-fledged terrorist, the guard then motioned me inside, where I took a quick shot of the cake in the lobby.  So thanks to the un-named and un-photographed guard, who showed that the "courthouse was made for man, and not man for the courthouse" (Mark 2:27).

78. The Washington, Missouri cake.  This was one of the prettier cakes, decorated to commemorate Missouri Wine Country, but its placement was in a really stupid spot, as you can see.  The bottom photo shows the cake in all its glory.  The top one give a sense of the town surrounding it, which (though the photo doesn't show it) is actually a very charming and photogenic town on the Missouri River.  The river can be seen at the bottom of the hill.  I spent many years riding the school bus an hour each way to and from Washington, MO from our A-frame hideout in Hermit Hollow.

79. Head's Store, St. Alban's, MO.

80. In front of City Hall, looking across Manchester Road, Manchester, MO.  Steeple, flagpole, candle.

81. The cake at Maritz corporate headquarters had a Route 66 theme.

The cake is to the right of the flag, under the windows.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Glamor vs. Glory

Another repeat, this one from Nov. of 2012.


Most actors have "careers" that consist of waiting - waiting tables and waiting for their big break. 

Many of my actors over the years have left St. Louis for Hollywood, all but one running into a brick wall in the process.  The one who made it big in L.A. is nevertheless at a precarious point in her career where her big hit is ending its run - which means that she might be as forgotten ten years from now as she was unknown ten years ago.

My solution to this was never to go to L.A.  Since I first moved out on my own as a 20-year-old, I have made a living in show business - in St. Louis, no less, a town not known as a theater friendly place, a town where few movies or TV shows film.  I've had to be versatile - and since I didn't want my career to consist of "waiting", it's consisted of everything from making money as a stand-up comic, magician, drama teacher, director, singing telegram performer, audio book performer, and so on. 

But I've had limits.  Early on I decided that I would only do good work that I was interested in and proud of; and that I would not work for free.  This means that I've had to learn how to be an entrepreneur, and how to write, produce and direct my own material.  It means my stuff has had to be good enough to please an audience and succeed in the marketplace.

Now this form of scrapping - and sometimes of scraping and scrambling - teaches you quickly that it's not glamorous.  Becoming a star or having adoring fans is something that I long ago gladly traded for earning a living doing what I love to do and what God has made me to do.  This means that to an extent I am indeed a star and I do have fans, but I'm a star in small towns like Sesser, Illinois and my fans are 90-year-old ladies who watch EWTN. 

So when I audition actresses for our murder mysteries, I tell them, "This is not for everybody.  The audiences are often drunk.  Our changing rooms can be small two-toilet bathrooms that are closed to the public the night of our show.  We're often staying at Super-8's in rural America surrounded by corn fields.  This is more vaudeville than it is legitimate theater.  But I love it.  The audiences love it.  We are bringing joy to people.  Our shows are actually good, well-written, very funny and liberating; they are more fun than I can ever describe.  And yet - it's not for everybody," which is my way of saying, I only want to hire troopers, not diva-Hollywood-wanna-be's.


And so this all leads me to reflect upon life and how we listen to God when He talks to us. 

Or how we don't.


This weekend in Chicago on a Theater of the Word tour, we met with a friend of ours - a religious sister who has suffered a great deal in her life, but whose radiant joy is the light that the darkness of suffering could not overcome. 

I won't go into detail, since I don't know how much of her story she would want me to publicize - but it's all about how she thought that she had founded a religious order - an order that Cardinal George approved and that she and another sister took vows for - but an order that seemed to fizzle and die before it ever got off the ground.

The other sister left; our friend got very ill; life itself seemed to come apart at the seams.  Suffering upon suffering and cross upon cross sent our friend through a dark night of the soul that made her doubt (I imagine) her very reason for being.

And yet, now it is becoming more clear to our friend.  She begins to see that the particular things she suffered were particular preparations for a very particular sort of Work that she is being called to do for the Lord.  The order is not dead; it is just that God is Forming it.  Helpers are beginning to appear.  A mission is beginning to reveal itself.


Much the same is the story for Theater of the Word Incorporated. 

I was not expecting Hollywood stardom and the glamor of adoring fans.  But I was expecting a certain amount of worldly success and some encouragement or acceptance by a grateful Church.  Have we had either?  We have had a touch of success from a worldly perspective, and much ad hoc private gratitude from audiences and fans; but we've also had lots of rejection and even a fair amount of persecution from what has been in general a very ungrateful Church.

This made me quite mad, and fueled alot of my discontent over the last three months.   (Read the blog posts since August, if you dare.)

Finally, I started to see the light that my own darkness had not understood.  I started to see two things.

  1. First, you can't really say you love someone or something (like the Church or your vocation) until you hit a kind of rock bottom and there is absolutely no reason to love it.
  2. Second, the frustration I'm feeling comes from a false expectation - the expectation that the Form I had envisioned for my apostolate - and for my life - is what God had in mind when I said "yes" to His call.  In other words, I thought I had said yes to a kind of Hollywood; but God, in His mercy, has given me something far more Real than anything like Hollywood - a grace for which I have thanked God by doing a good deal of complaining (as is my wont, I am sorry to say).

And so, like an actor who thinks he can only be successful if he's a big time TV star and that trudging along doing "guerrilla theater" at wineries and in church basements for 35 years is a failure; or like a religious sister who expects her order to be one thing and finds that it's totally different and perhaps much more painful; or even like a husband or wife who gets married and finds out that it's absolutely nothing like they imagined it to be - like all of these folks, we are usually our own worst enemies, and even when we say "yes" to God, we are often saying "yes" to the image in our minds, and not to the far greater Reality that He intends to give us.

For God is always Real.  That's what the Incarnation is all about.

Do you think, for example, that the Virgin Mary imagined her "yes" would mean the panic and poverty of the Nativity, life as a refugee in Egypt, losing her son for three days as He went about His Father's business, seeing Him condemned, tortured, executed?  Did she imagine, perhaps, that being the mother of the Messiah would entail a bit more honor (in this life) and ease and earthly glory?

We know she didn't have any of the selfish egotism that we all do.  But did she get confused or frightened when all of the apparent Success of being the Mother of God appeared to be for naught - a vocation of utter futility - on that dreadful day when the sun stopped shining and the earth shook?

We see the glossy images of the Nativity, but we don't smell the manure. 

We see a painting of the Flight into Egypt and we forget the Slaughter of the Innocents. 

We see the Reunion in the Temple, but we forget the horror and panic over a Lost Child.


Our Faith is Real, more Real than we would care to admit.

And every time our life, our career, our day doesn't go the way we envision it, let us say a little prayer.  Let us say, "Thank you, God, for speaking to me in this frustration; thank you for showing me by this little suffering that the Reality You're giving me is always greater than the Unreality I keep telling myself I'd rather have."

Yes, we should be magnanimous.  Yes, we should never settle.  We should not lower our expectations and aim for the easy mark.

But no, we should stop arguing with God that when we told Him we'd serve Him we meant it on our terms and not His.

Reflections on a Mirror

Here's a repeat of a post from last fall.


On our car ride home yesterday, actress Maria Romine had a lot to say about the "mirror" image from the Epistle of James (the first quotation below).  I have included two more quotations to round things out, as well as some "Reflections upon the Mirror" ...

  • But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.  (James 1:22-25
  • ... the purpose of playing [i.e. acting] ... is, to hold, as 'twere, the mirror up to nature; to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure.  (Hamlet III ii 20-24
  • For now we see in a mirror, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know fully even as also I was fully known. (1 Cor. 13:12

Yes, there is something artificial in a mirror.  We see not exact reality, but a picture of reality, a flat image, reversed.  And in the third of the three quotations above, Paul laments the lack of clarity in the image that could be seen in ancient mirrors.  Karen Butler writes ...

The mirrors of the ancients were of polished metal, in many cases they were of brass and they required constant polishing, so that a sponge with pounded pumice-stone was generally attached to it. ... The images reflected in these brass mirrors were indistinct in comparison to our modern mirrors. They were seen "darkly", which, literally translated from the original Greek language in which [Paul] wrote, means, “in a riddle or enigma…that the revelation appears indistinctly, imperfectly.” 

And yet, even such imperfect revelations can be shocking.  Hamlet, after all (quotation #2 above) is hoping that the "mirror" he will hold up to the face of his uncle Claudius, in the form of a stage play, will jar him into a recognition of self - which is exactly what happens.  Seeing his own image presented in the "mirror" of the dumb show on stage reveals to Claudius the murderous monster that he is, literally knocking him out of his seat and out of the theater.

But this is not followed, in the play Hamlet, by any immediate climax.  The truth revealed to Claudius by seeing his own reflection, and to Hamlet by Claudius' reaction to his reflection, is just another kind of muddle, a "riddle or enigma" added to the mix, despite the rather distinct impression it makes.  Hamlet has the proof he was looking for - and still he delays.  Claudius sees his true self reflected before him - and still he refuses to repent.

Claudius and Hamlet are like the man described by St. James in the first quotation - one who sees his face in a mirror, but then walks away and immediately forgets what he looks like.  Why?  Because he failed to act on his image - to incarnate the word, to be a doer of the word and not just a hearer.  Of course there are always legitimate and prudent reasons not to act - this is certainly true in Hamlet.  But more often than not we fail to act - we fail to see our true selves - even after catching a glimpse in a mirror - for reasons that are less than noble.

This is from my own stage play, The Call, spoken by Sister Maria to a young man who is very much afraid of his own reflection, who is shrinking from his vocation, from God's call to him ... 

MARIA:  And now, you’ll go home and watch TV and read some books and play a video game and try to convince yourself this conversation never happened.  But if He’s really calling you, you’re hooked.  If it’s a true vocation, you won’t be able to forget it.  You’ll try to be happy doing other things, but you won’t be able to.  Something will haunt you, and every time you come close to doing what He’s calling you to do, you’ll feel more joy, more happiness than you ever thought possible.  It will be a foretaste of heaven, and it will scare the hell out of you—literally.  

God is giving us revelations all the time.  He speaks to us a lot more than we speak to Him.  Our prayers are being answered even when we forget to make them.  He gives us many glimpses - some by means of the mirror: moments when we see our true selves, sometimes darkly, sometimes starkly - but we see our true selves, face to face.  And we recoil like the guilty Claudius.  Or we turn away and forget what we look like - for we are not always avoiding the sight of our own sin, but sometimes the glimpse of the goodness that threatens to shine forth.  For when He shows us who He is, He shows us who we are.

And that image - whether seen in a play, or an insight, or in an actual mirror - can often unsettle us and tempt us to turn aside and to forget.

But we are people of the Word Incarnate, the Word Incorporated - we are doers of the word and not just hearers.

We are actors.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Cakewalk April 28

75. The Blue Owl, Kimmswick, MO

76. Mastadon State Park, Imperial MO.

Taking a Tour Bus to the Culture of Death

Several new sites will be on display here in my home town of St. Louis, and the tour buses will be busy incorporating the new stops for eager vacationers.

  • One is a statue of Henry Flurg, proudly on display in the public square in the heart of downtown.  Henry was a middle-aged St. Louisan who spent most of his time masturbating.  He had no social life and contributed nothing to society, but, "He led the way in something we should all be ashamed of," noted Earl Glurp, President of the Pride for Self-Indulgence, which was awarded a Federal Grant to fund the statue.

  • Shirleen Smink worked for the Department of Motor Vehicles and made customers' lives miserable.  She saw to it that some folks stood in line for several hours before being told in a rude and dismissive way that they didn't have the right paperwork.  In her personal life, she was selfish and nasty to her closest friends.  She has been honored with a plaque on St. Louis' Walk of Fame.

  • Thad Schlub managed to father three children whose mothers he abandoned, in spite of the fact that he did literally nothing but play video games, collect disability, and smoke an "unbelievable" amount of "weed" while listening to loud and annoying music.  Four local streets and a fountain will be named after him.


Sound ridiculous?

Well, not so much.

Cakeway to the West is an arts program that is celebrating the 250th Anniversary of the founding of the city of St. Louis by Pierre Laclede and Auguste Chouteau in 1764.  250 fiberglass cakes have been placed around the metro area, each decorated by a local artist.  My wife Karen and I are having fun traveling about and photographing every cake.

Now, there are the typical inanities that come with something like this.  Most of the cakes are pretty ugly.  Some of them have been placed in locations of commercial rather than historical or cultural significance (an abandoned pizza parlor? a motorcycle dealership?).  About half of the cakes are positioned so that it's impossible to photograph them and the landmark where they've been placed in one aesthetic shot.

And the whole project, fun as it is, reminds me of what you find at Gettysburg.  There are very few activities or tours at Gettysburg that capture the solemnity of the place, or that even touch upon the sacrifices made in land "consecrated" by the blood shed upon it.  What do you have instead at Gettysburg?  What do you have a lot of?  Ghost Tours.

Our culture always tends toward pop culture, and so Cakeway to the West misses most of the grandeur and dignity of our city's past, but manages all the same to capture a lot of its quirkiness and charm.  This is to be expected.  

We can't seem to do much more these days.


What's surprising, however, and extremely disappointing, is how the organizers of this celebration have manged to politicize it - and politicize it in the worst possible way.

There are at least two cakes dedicated to the so-called LGBT Community (I thought LGBT stood for my favorite authors - Lewis-Gilbert-Belloc-Tolkien - but I guess I was wrong).  And one of these cakes proudly displayed an ad for our nation's premier abortion mill, Planned Parenthood.

Ask yourself this - would the organizers of this public event have allowed cakes to be placed at the headquarters of the Respect Life Apostolate of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, or at Birthright?  On the flip side of that, would the organizers have allowed ads on cakes from the KKK, or even the NRA?  Would cakes have been set up at sites valued by the Republican Party but not the Democratic party?  


But it goes deeper than all of that.

Here's one of the few cakes whose placement makes any attempt to acknowledge the complexities and tragedies of our city's history.

It stands to the right of a monument to Union General Nathaniel Lyon, who saved the Federal Arsenal in the city, and who gave his life at age 43 at the Battle of Wilson Creek near Springfield to keep Missouri from joining the Confederacy.

And of course our city is named after the great saint, King Louis IX of France, crusader and lover of the poor.  This photo shows our city's official statue of St. Louis the King, holding aloft the cross at the end of his sword.  To the right of the statue is a gaudy cake (blue white and orange), impossible to photograph with the statue itself, as the cake is placed next to a large retaining wall - but at least this cake gives a nod to the depth of history that has shaped our community.

And yet what is really being celebrated when a cake promotes homosexuality and abortion? 

The same thing that would be celebrated by a statue to a man who masturbates, or a woman who serves as a mean and small-minded bureaucrat, or a man who smokes dope and lives off welfare.

What is being celebrated may be things that are common enough, but they are not things that add to our culture.  

They are things that are sterile, self-serving, self-indulgent and filled with darkness and regret.

They are the landmarks of the Culture of Death.


Pope St. John Paul II, pray for us.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Divine Mercy Cakewalk

51. First Imo's Pizza - now an abandoned building.  But a clever cake.  The base looked like pizza boxes ...

... and the top looked like pepperoni.

52. Missouri Botanical Garden (cake is the blue thing to the right of the lamp post)

53. Brightside St. Louis.  Look to the right of the giant butterfly, on grass across the street.  You'll see a blue cake.

54. Tower Grove Park.

55. The Chess Club, Central West End.

56. St. Louis College of Pharmacy

 57. Steinberg Rink, Forest Park.

58. The Jewel Box, Forest Park.  Cake is to the left of the left door, light blue.

Cake beside Jewel Box, with St. Francis of Assisi in the foreground.

 59. Across from St. Ambrose Church, the Hill.  Cake is to the far left.

The same cake, across the street from the Statue of Italian Immigrants in front of St. Ambrose, on the Hill.

60. Get ready for this.  Two "LGBT" sites have merited cakes.  This one includes ...

... a heartwarming ad for Planned Parenthood, our country's largest abortion mill.   (One wonders: would the organizers have allowed an ad for the KKK or even the NRA on a cake?)  Happy Birthday, Culture of Death!  Here's your cake!  What makes it worse is this place is just down the street from Sweetie Pie's.  Sweetie Pie's deserves a cake!

61. The Chase Park Plaza Hotel.

62. Left Bank Books.

63. Central Institute for the Deaf

64. Washington University School of Medicine.  Cake is lower left.

 65. LGBT Cake Number 2.  Celebrating Clementine's Gay Bar.  I am not making this up.  I wonder if the Respect Life Apostolate or Birthright was awarded a cake.

66. Soulard.

67. Sweet Divine, Soulard.

68. Soulard Market.

69. Trinity Lutheran Church.

Cake is lower right, a kind of tan or orange color.

70. Broadway Oyster Bar.

71. Lafayette Park.

Same cake from across the street.

72. Ameren Union Electric headquarters.

73. Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital.

74. Rigazzi's, the Hill