Monday, March 31, 2014

The Gospel of Anger has Its Limits



Fr. Angelo Mary Geiger has posted an exceptionally well-written, thoughtful and well-argued piece about the dangers of "bishop bashing" and the false promises of the Gospel of Anger.

It has even made me pause, especially since I've been publicly critical of Bishop Finn and Cardinal Dolan on this very blog.

Note that Fr. Geiger does not say that we should put up with public scandal caused by our bishops, nor does he argue for clericalism.  Rather, his argument is more nuanced.  To be understood it requires an attempt to enter into the spirit in which it is written - which is typically the last thing people do these days.  Indeed, all reading and all communication requires this spirit, a spirit of humility, that lays aside personal agenda and ideology for the sake of opening up to what the other is saying.

And note in particular what Fr. Geiger says about the Cross and how an awareness of it should mold our approach to the wrongs in the Church and the wrongs in the world.  Shirking the cross (which we're all tempted to do) is at the heart of so many of our woes.  As I wrote last May ...

You know, the world tells you to do whatever it takes to get the job done; win at all costs. Christ says, "look at the cross and win by losing". They can't STAND that.
"They" are whoever resist the cross, which is all of us in one way or another. 
"They" is the world.


Sunday, March 30, 2014

Aronofsky was Wrong! This Guy's Right!

If I ever see Noah, there's no way I'll enjoy it as much as I'm enjoying reading reviews on it.

A well-written review at Patheos is followed up by a comment by someone named M. L. Wilson, who assures us ...

I did more the 10 years of research to write my trilogy on the antediluvian world. My conclusions as to who and what the Nephilim are as well as what they mean to this present world are starkly different from Darren Aronofsky's. For those interested, may I suggest: www.thegodprinciplebook.com

Now, before you ask yourself how could anyone do ten years of research on a time in history that no one knows anything about, rest assured that this guy's figured out what the Nephilim are.  

And they're this ...


One wonders: did M. L. Wilson research the naked chick in the foreground as carefully as he researched the Nephilim?

The other strange thing is that Mr. Wilson's trilogy consists of FOUR books.  Not only has Wilson figured out who the Nephilim are, he's the first person in history to write a four-book trilogy.





The Foundations the Flood Waters Reveal



I have not seen Noah.  

But watching the reactions to it from the outside are fascinating.

The film has served as a touchstone that has revealed an interesting split in the Church at large.  Maybe the deluge of criticism even reveals certain foundational differences (Mat. 7:25).


  • There seems to be a flood of biblical illiteracy out there, even among fundamentalists.  As a friend of mine remarked, "I honestly don't know what these Christian audiences want. They think they want more Bible movies, but they wouldn't be able to stomach it."  Indeed.  Could they even stomach the Bible?  Are they even reading it?

  • Perhaps one of the great things Hipster Catholics, many Evangelicals and all suburban Catholics have in common is they don't read Scripture - at least not in context.  Thus (whether the movie is good or bad) they don't get what follows: if the film depicts a brutal hero in brutal times it is very much in the spirit of the Old Testament.  If the film depicts a righteous man with feet of clay occasionally descending into doubt or sin, then he's like every single righteous man in both the Old and the New Testaments, with the single exception of Jesus.  If the film depicts a righteous man doing his best to discern God's will and to follow it, although he follows it imperfectly and without fully understanding it, then he's not only like every righteous man in Scripture, he's exactly like every single practicing Christian or Jew who ever lived.  And so, good movie or bad movie, why do the critics not seem to get this?

  • This split in the Church at large is analogous to the reactions to Pope Francis.  This is a generalization, but the Francis-bashers tend to be people for whom the Faith is a thing to box in and protect and nail down and contain.  "It's alive!" is not a phrase that escapes from their mouths when it comes to Christ and His Church.  And although there are no doubt Francis-haters who love this movie and Francis-lovers who hate it, the split is similar.  Art can be a dangerous and disturbing thing, and whether this movie is good or bad, much of the negative reaction to it seems to come from people who are uncomfortable with agitation, with art that stirs the spirit - which is really what Pope Francis is doing with the Faith.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

A Flood of Disagreement



Maybe the movie Noah is good.  Maybe it's bad.  But it can't be nearly as entertaining as the battle in the Catholic blogosphere that has erupted over it!

First, Steven Greydanus at Catholic World Report says some remarkable things about the movie.  In a serious and well-written review, Greydanus also manages to make some rather profound theological observations ...

This theme of uncertainty exists in tension with Methuselah’s assurance to Noah that God’s will is knowable: “You must trust that he speaks to you in a way you can understand.” Perhaps it’s enough that at every stage Noah has the light he needs to do what is necessary at that moment, even if he doesn’t always fully grasp why or for what ultimate end.
This is a case in point of what seems to me one of the film’s most notable achievements: its sense of a story unfolding in the present tense, with characters who don’t know how it all ends any more than we know how our stories end.
Struggling to understand and interpret the signs of his times in light of his faith and what he understands as God’s will, Noah is not unlike the Twelve in the Gospels, with their faulty conception of what Jesus was getting at regarding the kingdom of God and the Messiah’s mission. Or Francis of Assisi, setting about literally rebuilding the church at San Damiano when Jesus really wanted him to help rebuild the universal Church.
The exact import of events we are living through, whether in light of divine revelation or any other framework of meaning, is often unclear. Ultimate realities seem to loom large and close, peering from behind or even through proximate events. The collapse of any way of life is always a glimpse of the eschaton; the birth of anything new always evokes the inception of new world, the arrival of heavenly Jerusalem.

Deep stuff!  Well written and perceptive - the kind of thing you don't normally see in a movie review.  And whether Greydamus is right or not about perceiving this as a theme of Noah - in other words, even if he simply reads this into the movie and it's not there at all - this observation is a truth about how we live out our relationship with God - a profound truth that is worth reflecting upon.

***

Contrast this with the spirited but shrill review by Barbara Nicolosi at Patheos.  She admits she is not offering a "serious review" of the film.  Instead, she becomes SCTV's Bill Needle on steroids (see below) - and in the process emphatically condemns any critic who disagrees with her assessment of this movie as being a tool of the anti-christian secular mainstream media system of evil.  That's ... a bit harsh.

  • It reminds me of Michael Voris flatly stating that critics of Fr. Corapi's meltdown were "professional Catholics" whose motives were sinister and who were tools of the great international homosexual conspiracy.  This is really what Voris claimed, in so many words.
  • It reminds me of when a Catholic deacon told me that the only reason I was criticizing Christopher West and West's peculiar interpretation of JP2's Theology of the Body was because I was jealous of West and wanted to ruin his career.  My motives were not based upon defending orthodox Church teaching; my motives were anger that West was getting more bookings than Theater of the Word.  And I was using this mighty blog to put an end to that!
  • And of course this is what makes it impossible to discuss "gay marriage" in a rational way.  Those of us who object to it are "bigots".  Our motives are sinister and we are tools of the great international heterosexual conspiracy.  

So this bizarre tendency to use irrational ad hominems against people we disagree with is an old, old story.  

Older than Noah.

Meanwhile, Nicolosi in her Noah review also says a few things that are reminiscent of her review of the Spielberg Lincoln movie.  She called that film talky and boring, and found fault with its screenplay because it was not formulaic - or at least not written according to the formula that she sells, the only formula that she apparently believes makes for good writing.  When I pointed out on this blog that the best screenplays are anything but formulaic, she became a bit shrill with me on Facebook.

But you know this is all rather funny.  And Nicolosi's review, for all its over-the-top anger and bitterness, is a lot of fun to read.  And she trumps Greydamus in having the best line yet.

"[Noah] is bad enough," Nicolosi writes, "to be a Christian movie!"

Meanwhile, here's film critic Bill Needle.  I bet his review of Noah would top even Barbara Nicolosi's!


The Bitter Root of the Problem

The plant wormwood.

A few days ago I talked about Fr. Longenecker's reflections on Radical Christianity.

The word radical, as I pointed out there, means "of the root", or addressing things at the most fundamental level, the level of origins, the place from which all things spring forth.

We see this in Scripture in the Book of Acts.  When Simon Magus tries to buy from Peter and John the seemingly magical power of the laying on of hands, Peter sternly rebukes him.

Peter answered: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money!  You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God.  Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart.  For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.” (Acts 8:20-23)

Note the phrases your heart is not right before God and having such a thought in your heart.  The Greek word for the latter, ἐπίνοια (epinoia), deals with "intent": epi - upon  is combined with nous - mind / soul / heart: in other words epi-noia = "builds upon the heart", or as Strong's says, epinoia means "what is on the mind and where this leads to".  Peter, therefore, is addressing the root of the problem.

He is, in effect, saying to Simon, "Your intention is wrong.  There is a root in you from which your actions spring, a bitter root that makes you full of the gall of bitterness and captive to sin.  Uproot this at once."

This allusion to a root of bitterness is found also in Deuteronomy.

Make sure there is no man or woman, clan or tribe among you today whose heart turns away from the LORD our God to go and worship the gods of those nations; make sure there is no root among you that produces such bitter poison. (Deut. 29:18)

... and echoed in Hebrews.

See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. (Heb. 12:15)

The problem, you see, is not just what we do, but who we are.

Christ changes us at the deepest level, the level of our being, at our root.  And this is, quite literally, radical!

***

But we resist this change, for we are all more like Simon the Magician than Peter the Apostle.

Simon Magus is a big shot.  Through a combination of magic tricks, demonic powers and weird but seductive philosophy, he becomes a kind of god in the eyes of his audiences.  In Samaria, and even more so when he hits the road later in his career, he's Big Man on Campus in a really Big Way.  He's a hit.  He's a star.  And as we actors know, that kind of fame and the adoration it brings is very seductive, very tempting - we all secretly really want that!   And yet the Magic Man has a conversion - of sorts.  He goes so far as to be baptized, and he seems enthralled at this Christian thing and at the men who are proclaiming it.  He follows them about and laps it all up.

But he does not allow God's grace to change him at the root.  When the Holy Spirit comes to people by means of Peter's and John's prayers and the laying on of their hands, Simon says, "I want to get me some of that!  Hell, I'm willing to pay for it!"  At root, his heart is still set on power.  He lusts after status, adoration and the material things of this world.

His baptism, then, is not allowed to take root.  

Interestingly, here in Acts and elsewhere, we see that the Apostles recognize a kind of incomplete baptism that is not Trinitarian and that does not convey the gift of the Holy Spirit.  This is, in a way, the beginning of the distinction between Baptism and Confirmation in the Western Church.  Indeed, it implicitly recognizes the threefold nature of conversion, which Joseph Pearce points out is evident in the Angelus prayer.

1. The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary - This is the is the gratuitous gift of God, who takes the initiative to change us; He creates in us a longing for Him and He appears to fulfill that longing and to complete our creation.
2. Be it done unto me according to thy word - Mary (who stands for all believers) accepts this gift and submits to the mortification or little death it brings her (compare Baptism, which is a participation in the death of Christ - Rom. 6:4): she allows the New Root to be planted in her: she allows herself to be grafted onto the vine of Christ (see John 15:5, and in a different sense Rom. 11:16-21), and thereby ... 
3. The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.   Her role as the New Eve (mother of all living) is sealed, and Almighty God deigns to bears fruit (indeed, becoming flesh incarnate) through His humble mediatrix.  

And as in Mary, so in all of us.   1.) God freely offers, 2.) we submit by dying to self and living to Him, and 3.) He then is present in us and through us.

But how do we pull off that tricky little middle part?  How do we indeed mortify our sinfulness, so that "having been buried with Him in baptism," we can also be "raised with Him through faith"?  (Col. 2:12)

That's what Lent - and the entire Christian journey - is about.

Uprooting the root of bitterness (and thereby its bitter fruit), and letting the living root of Christ infuse us with new sap that will bear good fruit.

If a root is holy, the branches will be holy too. (Rom. 11:16)
I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.  (John 15:5

Let us, this Lent, cooperate with the Gardener in the work of uprooting the source of bitterness and gall in all of us.



Lenten Reflection

“Your real, new self (which is Christ's and also yours, and yours just because it is His) will not come as long as you are looking for it. It will come when you are looking for Him. Does that sound strange? The same principle holds, you know, for more everyday matters. Even in social life, you will never make a good impression on other people until you stop thinking about what sort of impression you are making. Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it. The principle runs through all life from top to bottom, Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favourite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.” 

-C.S. Lewis  (h/t Timothy Trosclair)

Friday, March 28, 2014

On a Slow Boat to China

My romantic duet with my wife Karen.

To understand why "Hop on a dinghy on the River des Peres" is funny, you have to know the River des Peres - River of the Fathers, discovered by Fr. Marquette and Fr. Jolliet in 1673, now an open drainage ditch running through St. Louis County.

Scenic River des Peres

Don't worry.  I have to explain most of my jokes.


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

I Feel Funny

40 Days of Lent with the O'Brien Family Singers - I Feel Funny, but Colin disagrees.

Addiction, Intensity and that Jewish Kid from Nazareth

Intensity!

One of the paradoxes of the spiritual life is that big and eternally significant things are achieved in small and sometimes hidden ways.  And God works in our daily lives at times without our noticing Him.  He is present through the boredom, the little ups, the little downs, and everything in between.  We keep expecting the Messiah to be someone famous and noticeable.  But He's just that Jewish boy from Nazareth - of all places!

They said, "Isn't this Jesus, the son of Joseph? We know his father and mother. How can he say, 'I came down from heaven'?" (John 6:42)

And in the same way that those who knew Jesus in person rejected His divinity because He wasn't tall enough or good looking enough or because they knew His kinfolk and Mary and Joseph certainly weren't special, so the little things in our lives get overlooked and undervalued. I have often gotten into trouble in my life from trying to attain Big Results spiritually - namely, a kind of Intensity that must be similar to the high that drug users get.

It's one of the things that attracted me to the cult-like experience of Jiman Duncan's Academy for the Performing Arts.  I learned a lot from Jiman, both good and bad, but the hallmark was a kind of Artificial Intimacy and Forced Intensity.  Real intimacy grows slowly over months and years; it is not the product of quasi-group-therapy sessions in which you bare your soul to other actors.  And real intensity is marked by patience and endurance.  You can't love your wife and kids, for example, with bursts of intensity.  You've got to love them little by little, even when you're half asleep and watching TV on the couch in the family room.

And yet I've distrusted the Little Way, I've disliked the mundane.  I've wanted to feel that "10" all the time, but life is comprised of days that range between a 3 and a 6, every now and then a 7.  Seeking the rush can be dangerous, not only for addicts but also for Christians.

For the story of Our Lord and the transformation He works in us is a story that is played out over long and sometimes quiet and unremarkable periods of time.  Every day is not the Apocalypse.

But One Day will be, and when that day comes we will be judged by how we valued "the least of these" (Mat. 25:40) - not by the Big Deal, not by the high, not by the intensity, but by the small and unnoticed moments of love.



Hypo-no-tized

40 Days of Lent with the O'Brien Family Singers continues as Kerry and I sing an obscure old Irving Berlin tune.  My grandpa had this song on a 78, and when I was young I memorized it and went around singing both parts - the guy's and the girl's.

It's better with Kerry.


Human Mercy and Divine Mercy


If an enemy were insulting me,
I could endure it;
if a foe were rising against me,
I could hide.
But it is you, a man like myself,
my companion, my close friend,
with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship
(Ps. 55:12-14)

If you can forgive the worst thing another person can do to you - if you can even endure it - you are practicing heroic virtue.

Betrayal, treachery, abuse, ingratitude, abandonment - these things are upardonable - humanly speaking.  But

Love means loving the unlovable, or it is no virtue at all.  Charity means pardoning the unpardonable, or it is no virtue at all. - G K Chesterton

And, as Chesterton advocates elsewhere, we are required to be loyal to life, even when life seems to be disloyal to us.  And if (speaking as a knight) we are loyal to a Lady who is disloyal to us, then where lies nobility?  Where lies true loyalty?

It lies in fidelity to the true, the good and the beautiful despite the lies, the evil and the ugliness in our hearts and in the hearts of those we are called to be loyal to.

In other words, it lies in Mercy.



The Cross and the Metronome













One of my tutoring students wanted to learn how to play piano.  He was musically gifted, and this was a sincere desire of his.


Since my tutoring students are home schooled, I can, to a large extent, set the curriculum to match the interests of the student.  So I bought and paid for a "do it yourself" piano class from the University of Nebraska Online High School.  It came with a book and a metronome.

My student lasted a week in this do-it-yourself class and then quit.  What do you think the problem was?

The problem was the metronome.  

One of the reasons I was tutoring this kid was he refused to go to his physical school on time, if at all, and his wealthy parents were too distracted with becoming wealthier to make him get out of bed and get there.  It was, therefore, no surprise to me that he was difficult to motivate at home, too.

So I was looking for any hook - any interest that would spur him to get out of bed on time and give himself to his studies with something resembling gusto.  Or even mild interest.

But this never really happened.  As Erich Fromm says of today's young people ...

Many of the younger generation tend to have no character at all. ... What I mean is that they live, emotionally and intellectually speaking, from hand to mouth. They satisfy every need immediately, have little patience to learn, cannot easily endure frustration, and have no center within themselves, no sense of identity. 

The metronome, you see, was forcing my student to play in time.  It was discipline - almost discipline personified.  He just wanted to sit down and play.  He had no patience for the hard work and self-sacrifice learning an instrument takes.  Anyone who's ever struggled to learn an instrument, or a language, or any skill at all, knows this feeling quite well.  You want so badly to play, to have the skill to enjoy what you're doing and to let it fly - but you can't do that without a lot of hard work - sometimes years of hard work.  One of the most true statements of the secular world is no pain, no gain.

And what is this pain, what is the pain of discipline, but a form of suffering?

The Book of Wisdom tells us ...

The beginning of wisdom is the most sincere desire for instruction, and concern for instruction is love of her, and love of her is the keeping of her laws, and giving heed to her laws is assurance of immortality, and immortality brings one near to God; so the desire for wisdom leads to a kingdom.  (Wis. 6:17-20)

Yes, desire leads to a Kingdom.  Or, as Jesus said, "Seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you." (Mat. 7:7).  But the path of desire leads through discipline.  In other words, the path to the Kingdom is the Way of the Cross.

The author of the inspired Book of Wisdom, who tells us he is the wise King Solomon, lays it out for us in the passage I quoted above.

1. To attain Wisdom (which in Jewish wisdom literature and in Christian tradition is really a form of union with God) - to attain Wisdom, you must first sincerely desire "instruction" - to be taught.  The path to Lady Wisdom begins not only with the desire for her, but with a humble attitude.  You can't be taught if you're a know-it-all; you must submit to something greater than yourself in order to learn.  One must desire not only the Lady, but also the humble way that you must tread to get to this Lady. One must not only have a desire to play the piano, but a willingness to submit to the demands of the metronome in doing so - even through the times when you feel like picking the damn thing up and throwing it against the wall. (Click-click-click-smash!)
2. "Concern for instruction is love of her" - which is to say that conscientiousness in submitting to the discipline of instruction is an expression of love.  Indeed, it is an expression of something I've been talking a lot about lately - mature love.   One of the things spoiled teens (and adults) have to learn is how love comes with a price: no pain, no gain.  You can't skip school and sleep til noon and expect Wisdom to come to you.  We are loving a Lady, the object of our quest, and to find her requires suffering and submission to suffering.  It requires discipline and adventure.  Our mother may give us the teat as we lay there passively; she might even pick us up and burp us.  But Lady Wisdom requires the end of an infantile attitude on our part.  She demands a quest, a search, an ordeal.  She requires love expressed as endurance.  And even something as simple as "concern for instruction" is love of her.
3. "Love is the keeping of her laws."  We moderns do not want to hear this!  But see Ps. 119.
4. Now it gets interesting.  "Giving heed to her laws is assurance of immortality".  And this from the Old Testament!  The gift of Lady Wisdom (who personifies union with God) is eternal life!
 5. "and immortality brings one near to God; so the desire for wisdom leads to a kingdom."

Seek and ye shall find, in other words, but God never promises us a rose garden.  On the contrary ...

All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. (2 Tim. 3:12)

And believe it or not this post is in many ways about the errors of Christopher West and the spiritualization of lust.  West is right when he says that Desire is good and should not be quenched automatically, for Desire leads to God.

But Eros leads to God through the discipline and suffering of Marriage, family life, dirty diapers and sleepless nights with a sick child.  The true fulfillment of our sexual desire is anything but sexy.

And the metronome - like the Cross - is anything but fun.





Tuesday, March 25, 2014

We're All Eunuchs for Mammon



Homo Consumens - consuming man, man who exists entirely to fuel the economy and whose ultimate end and purpose in life in shopping - is more "homo" than consumens.

A hundred years ago G. K. Chesterton was busy pointing out that eugenics and contraception were tools of our capitalist masters, intended to create more malleable and affordable employees, as the most useful workers were young, childless and therefore cheaper.  Killing the old and keeping the young from raising more young (and demanding more raises) was therefore sound policy, at least from the point of view of the bottom line.

Today Patrick J. Deneen points out not only why corporations like Anheuser Busch have been sponsoring "Gay Pride" parades for a few decades now, but also why the bizarre affiliation of the Left and Corporations has sprung up to support "gay marriage".  We know why the Left likes "gay marriage", but why would capitalists support it?  Aren't capitalists usually Republicans and don't Republicans usually resist "gay marriage"?  Deneen answers (my emphasis) ...

Corporations ... defend gay marriage for the same reason (and using the same tactics) they seek to undermine unions, environmental regulations, and tax policy—most obviously short-term gain, but more deeply, a society that needs to be remade in such a way that short-term gain seems the only game left in town: a thoroughly mobile society devoted to personal satisfaction, composed of individuals whose relationships are fungible and who have no strong relationship to place, history, or the generations stretching between the past and the future.

He's describing the "metrosexual", the Man with the Hollow Chest, who feels no passion for his children, for he doesn't have any children; who feels no passion for his wife, for he has no wife; who feels no passion for his lovers, for his genital gymnastics have nothing to do with "love".  These New Eunuchs are the perfect citizens of the monolith that is the Corporate State.  Their narcissistic needs are met with things they can buy, and as long as they're kept relatively affluent and distracted, they'll put up with anything their masters command of them - though the command is couched in the form of a "pitch" that they "buy".  These engineered humanoids will be the last sorts of souls to stage a revolt.

Deneen sums it up ...

... you are an individual, a consumer, and there should be no limitation on your pursuit of personal satisfaction, including obstacles in nature (biological or environmental) or morality (norms regarding sex or discouragements to greed). The ecology for both modern economics and modern marriage is one of untethered consumptive individualism. 



Monday, March 24, 2014

Family Song

Since today is the Annunciation, let me remind you that there are only 270 shopping days til Christmas.


The Tease

This is a repeat.  I linked to this in my latest post.  It's from last year, but it's worth republishing.

Some readers were confused about this - as they are about a lot of things I write.  It's just the perfect portrait of more than one person I've known, that's all.  I suspect my readers have known one or two of these themselves.

***

We've heard from the Poet and the Sinner.

Today I received an email from the Tease.

Gosh!  I had no idea you would be reading this.  And look at what I'm wearing!
Kevin, we really want you to perform at our parish picnic fish fry fundraiser.  We really really do.  Can you send me a contract?
Oh, well, we can't pay you.  So it will have to be a free show.  And you'll have to pay your own way here, and we're at Fr. Corapi's Montana Ranch, so it's not cheap to get here.
Did I say cheap?  That's what the boys used to call me!  My!  Has my strap been down like that the whole time I've been talking to you?  
You are the most amazing man I've ever known.  I'm enclosing a link to photos of me reading your blog at a nudist colony in Saskatchewan.  I really want to hear back from you.
How dare you click on that link!   Stop stalking me!  I never want to hear from you again!  I am calling my lawyer!
Miss you.
The Tease 



What Fathers Should be Telling Us

The disappearance of fathers and fathering from our society means we don't hear things like this ...


  • If you lose your life you will find it.  Stop whining.  Stop focusing on your "issues".  Forget about yourself.  Suck it up.  Do what needs to be done, put your head down, grit your teeth and endure the pain - for their sake, not yours.  Be a man.  Other people are depending on you.  Stop being so selfish.

  • Affluence is a terrible curse because it means you suffer no enforced discipline.  Discipline is a form of suffering and without it we become self-indulgent, spoiled, petty and unhappy people.  Be poor, hungry, cold and miserable for His sake and the sake of His Kingdom.  You can do it and it will bring you joy in the process.  Who needs a soft life anyway?

  • Defend your ladies and do not allow incursions.  Don't let that crap that tears us down from TV and the internet into your home.  Repel the invaders.  Don't let the siren song seduce you, not from the young Tease and not from the lure of success.  

  • You're a victim, you say?  Well, we all are.  Get over it.  All Victims were redeemed by the One Victim 2,000 years ago.  Suffering for the sins of others is a great honor.  Practice some heroic virtue, forgive him or her, and move on.

  • Lay down your life for the ones you love.  If you lose your life you will find it.  


Two Little Boys

This song featured Colin and me - and Colin broke down in tears in the middle of one of the takes.  It's kind of sad - a beautiful little story-song that was popular in Australia many years ago.


What People Will Do for Root Beer

So it's Saturday, March 22 and my actress Maria Romine and I are performing my show A Few Good Murders at Snus Hill Winery, which is located halfway between Slater and Madrid, Iowa.  Which is to say, in the middle of nowhere.

Yours truly as Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Murders.

The show is going reasonably well, though it takes most of Act One for the audience to get used to our style of humor, as this is only our second performance at this venue and we don't have an established following yet.  But by the end of Act Two, it's obvious that the audience loves us and we could very well be performing regularly at Snus Hill Winery for the next 15 years, as we have been at Pheasant Hollow Winery in Illinois, at Holy-Field Vineyard in Kansas, and at many of our other regular locations.

During the dessert break, Maria reminds me of something.  "You know," she says, "Today is the future birthday of Captain James T. Kirk!"  Readers may recall that Maria and I visited the future birthplace of Captain Kirk on our last trip to Iowa, which was only two weeks ago.  And as you can see below ...



.
.. March 22, 2014 marked the -214th birthday (that's negative 214th) of the commander of the Starship Enterprise.  Which is remarkable, as he doesn't look a day over negative 212.

Now back in the mid-1970's, when the original Star Trek was first in syndication, I used to watch grainy broadcasts of it on Channel 13 out of Jefferson City, Missouri - all without commercials, as Ch. 13 apparently couldn't place spots on a show that aired at 10:15 every Saturday night (nobody stayed up very late in those days).  And though the episodes were grainy (we lived more or less in the foothills of the Ozarks and a snowy picture was the best our rooftop antenna could muster), it was clear that in every episode of that remarkable First Season, somehow Captain Kirk's shirt got torn off and he went bare-chested for five or ten minutes at a time.  Oddly, this didn't happen as much in the following two seasons, as the good captain began to put on more and more weight.

By Season Three it was obvious that Kirk would have to have both his shirt and his girdle torn off if the producers wanted him to go bare-chested.

Here I am in our mystery Who Killed Captain Kirk, and it's clear from my "posture" that I'm portraying the Kirk from Season Three.


Anyway, back to the present.

"You know, Maria," I remark, changing the subject, as we chat in our green room while the audience eats dessert.  "We've got two really good audience members out there who are playing bit parts in our show tonight.  The gal playing the Judge and the gal playing the Hooker.  After we give a bottle of wine to the best sleuth in the house, I'm going to give something to one of those two girls as the best actress in the audience."

"What do you want to give them?"

"One of those mini-bottles of Iowa Root Beer, naturally.  It will fit in the pocket of my Tom Cruise Gym Shorts."

***

So we begin Act Three, which is the Solution.  I reveal Who Dunnit and how the clues all fit together.  We give a bottle of Snus Hill wine to one of the audience members who figured it out and who filled out a vote card, correctly guessing the murderer.  Lots of laughs, thunderous applause, the show is over, but I'm not quite through.

"Let's have the audience vote for the Best Actor / Actress in the audience.  The winner gets a mini-bottle of Iowa Root Beer!" I say reaching into my Tom Cruise Gym Shorts.  I have the dozen or so people in the audience who played suspects stand up.  I place my hand over each audience-actor's head in turn to see how much applause they get.  I save the Judge and the Hooker til the end, knowing they'll be the fan favorites.

Wild and raucous cheers erupt for both performers.  There's no way to determine who's won.

Well, as you can see we all ended up with a mini bottle of Iowa Root Beer (I kept the one that I'd stored in my pocket) - but how we got to that point takes some explaining.

Left to Right: The Judge, Yours Truly as Tom Cruise, the Hooker

Remember, now, two wildly popular audience members have gotten an equal volume of cheers from the audience and are neck and neck for this fabulous prize.

To break the tie, I approach two male caterers standing to the side.  "Which do you think wins the vote, guys?  The Judge or the Hooker?  You're impartial!  The choice is yours!"

At this point the Hooker stands up and starts dancing provocatively for the caterers, much to the audience's delight, trying to earn their favor.

The Judge, not to be outdone, stands up and takes off her sweater and begins prancing around (kind of like one of my Judge Judy fantasies, but somehow more disturbing).  She's wearing a T-shirt underneath, but at this point I'm faced with a bumping and grinding Street Walker and an almost topless Her Honor, an audience that's going wild - and I really don't know what to do.

So I did the only reasonable thing a comic actor would do in this situation.

I removed my shirt as well.

Hell, we're fighting for a Mini Bottle of Iowa Root Beer, after all!

But a bit of an unexpected thing happened.  When I removed my Tom Cruise T-shirt, my Tom Cruise Hat and Wig came off with it, leaving me dressed only in my Tom Cruise Gym Shorts and my Tom Cruise Make-up.

So that's the comic climax, right?

Well, not quite.

Seeing my wig on the floor, the Hooker does a kind of strip poker move that took us all by surprise.  She takes off her own wig and begins twirling it around.

It was like an episode of Girls Gone Wild, only it was in Iowa, not in the Bahamas, and I'm still having nightmares about it.  Luckily (or not so luckily), it was all caught on someone's cell phone.

The incriminating evidence follows.

The Judge, the Caterers, the Street Walker.

Yes, this actually happened.

And we have a winner!  Three of them!

Well, there you go.
So I inadvertently celebrated Kirk's future birthday in a way that will someday - 214 years from now - make him proud.

Did I mentioned I'm retiring from show business?  Soon, I hope!



Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Church Tells Us what the World Won't: Eros is Deadly

Thomas Mann-I'm-Bored
Thomas Mann's Death in Venice is about a guy who's got a problem.

He's got a thing for little boys.

And slowly but surely his perversion ruins him - eats away at him from the inside like a cancer.  It's one of those intellectual novels of despair and effete ennui, but it tells the truth of concupiscence in a way that it probably doesn't intend to and in a way that's hard to forget.  It's almost a fictional version of the story of Oscar Wilde - who learns, like the protagonist of Mann's tale, that our Eros is not always to be trusted - our desires are not to be deified.

But why is this?

Why can we not simply do what Joseph Campbell told us and Follow Our Bliss?  Why can't we "do our own thing"?  Why can 't we indulge our lusts - or our perversions for that matter - and be happy?  After all, Christopher West and his followers tell us that a man who knocks at the door of a brothel is really seeking God.  Yes, he's seeking God by way of grave sin and abuse of another human being, but it's all good, isn't it?  If the Song of Songs is the Centerfold of the Bible, then isn't the Passion of Our Savior akin to the passion of the bedroom?  If St. John has an ecstasy on Patmos, then may I not have my own ecstasy on a mattress?  West sees sexual imagery even in the Baptism of Our Lord, even at the Easter Vigil, even in icons of the Virgin.  St. Paul warns us of men whose "gods are their bellies" (Phil. 3:19).  I say the ones we should fear are those whose gods are a few inches lower than that.

For the fact is that it's a deadly danger to spiritualize sex.  We seem to have forgotten this, but Eros - which is an aspect of Love - is a mixed blessing because of our fallen human nature.  Sometimes the blessing is not so mixed; sometimes we turn it into a great curse.  But that's something you're not allowed to say any more.  Nowadays we have to Buy the Lie - the lie that Deifies Desire, that makes a God out of What We Want.  The Big Lie goes something like this ...


Is it really so bad that Mann's hero has a thing for boys on the beach in wet speedos?  Is it really so bad that this desire is self-consuming, sterile, destructive of innocence and is unnatural, as deadly as the cholera in Venice?  And poor Oscar Wilde!  All he did was abandon his wife and children, opting out of loving and protecting them because of the allure of anal penetration with another man.  Who are we to judge?!???!

***

I have had my own tussles with Eros.

Much of my life I've done exactly what Christopher West rightly warns against.  I've smothered and suffocated it.  And I mean Eros in the larger sense, not just in the narrowly sexual sense.  Eros, writ large, is upward attraction, desire for anything we love, hunger for that which satisfies (in my case, this has generally been Acting and a life in Drama).  And, yes, ultimately Eros is seeking God - both West and Campbell get that right.  Even Pope Benedict said as much.  In his encyclical Deus Caritas Est he makes it clear that love without Eros is love that is lame, a crippled love, a castrated love.  Not only selfless love (agape) leads to God, but so does love that seeks to fill our heart's desire - which is another way of saying Eros.  Agape without Eros is rote and hollow; Eros without Agape is self-consuming and fatal.  We need both and both in balance.

But how often do we get that right?  Especially since these days the Church at the diocesan and parish level is (generally speaking) absolutely no help whatsoever in addressing the central challenge of our lives - which is how to love, and love maturely (which is what St. Paul called being "mature in Christ").

For if I sometimes suffocated Eros, at other times in my life the balance was out of kilter in the other direction.  Instead of smothering Eros, I indulged it, and thinking that the Romantic writers were right, The Poet in me demanded to sing love songs - at all hours, drunk or sober, even to strumpets on the street.  And the Actor in me decided he'd work under any conditions, he loved acting so much, even for little pay and for people who took advantage of him.  For four full years I followed that path and it made me utterly and totally miserable.  Miserable like Mann's boy-lover in Venice.  Miserable like Oscar Wilde in Reading Gaol.  Miserable like a guy going through a mid-life crisis who leaves his wife for a stripper on the East Side.

If we simply Follow our Bliss we are blasted, not blissful.

Eros without Agape - a love of desire without a love of self-sacrifice - is deadly.



Comments

I've turned comments back on for this blog.  It's the internet, you know, so feel free to say something incredibly stupid or hateful.


Radical Christianity

Every now and then, Catholic sites on the internet rise above petty squabbles and inside-the-Roman-beltway gossip and, seemingly out of nowhere, prophecy pours forth.

Take, for example, an October 2012  post by Fr. Dwight Longenecker.  Fr. Dwight for some reason
shared some excerpts from this post on Facebook today, even though the original was published 18 months ago.

He writes on Fullness and Foolishness and says some profound things, including this ...

Sin is the outworking of the lack of God’s glory in our lives.  Sin is the symptom.  I am not a sinner because I sin. I sin because I’m a sinner.

This seemingly simple observation gets to the heart of the matter.  To be a Christian is not about "faith vs. works", it's not about being in an exclusive club and turning your nose up at others, it's not even about ethics or behavior.  It's about an ontological change.  It's about an old self dying and a new self coming to life - coming to everlasting life - through God's grace.  

This is why the Faith is analogous to Acting, as I've written about before.  When an actor portrays a character, he might focus on individual external aspects, such as accent, posture, costume, attitude - but these are symptoms of a person, indicia of an organic being that an actor is attempting to become.  Of course the actor does not "become" his role "ontologically" (on the level of being) - an actor merely pretends - but what an actor aims to do is to pretend well and to portray the heart of his character's soul, and from this "ontological center" (as it were) the entire characterization flows.  The closer an actor comes to the center-of-being of his character, the more things like accent, physicality, motivation and so forth - the more the externals - will take care of themselves.

Now sometimes in Faith as in acting we have to focus on the externals.  Sometimes an actor in rehearsal can't easily get to the heart of his role, to the center of his character's soul, and so he imitates from the outside in.  Sometimes an actor can discover that a distinguishing walk or a way of speaking or a gesture or some external hook that he adopts as a kind of mark or imitation turns out to be a key to understanding the wholeness of his character.  Sometimes an outside expression makes the inside come alive.

So it is in life.  Sometimes, even when we don't feel like it, doing a good deed - even reluctantly - awakens something inside of us and starts to make us into better people.  This is certainly true for prayer, which is often forced or dry, but which, if persisted in, can yield great grace, despite a lack of a subjective sense of interior motivation on the part of the one who prays.

Fr. Dwight continues ...

I want to address the problem at the root. [My note: "at the root" means "radically".  Fr. Dwight here is describe what even "mere Christianity" aims at, which is the most "radical" thing on the planet.] I want to be filled with the fullness of God at the foundation level. Then everything else will take care of itself.

In other words, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you." (Mat. 6:33)

Fr. Dwight concludes (and here's where the prophetic tone rings out) ...

The main problem with Christianity today is that it has forgotten these astounding ambitions promised in the New Testament. Christians of all sorts–and Catholics especially–have turned Christianity into a bland exercise in trying to be nice people. We’ve turned the faith into some sort of dull middle class club that meets on Sundays to sing awful, sentimental songs before we discuss how we’re going to make the world a better place. Hasn’t anybody figured out that you don’t need religion to do all that? If that’s all religion is, then to hell with it. (h/t to Flannery) Making religion into a milquetoast milestone once a week is foolishness in the extreme. The next generation will ask quite rightly. “Why bother to go to church?” Excellent question. The world does trendy music, uplifting self help sermons and do gooder activities much better and without all the getting up early on Sunday morning stuff.
Real Christianity is about a radical transformation from the ground level up. The real thing is strong wine–not water. The real thing is the greatest adventure. The  real thing requires enormous courage and unbelievable stamina. The real thing requires a total, extreme makeover.
I wonder how many of us are really ready for that.

Show Tunes in the Shower

Karen's big solo hit with the O'Brien Family Singers.  She cleaned up with this one.


Saturday, March 22, 2014

Singing Dog

Even our dog got into the act with the O'Brien Family Singers.  Here's Presley singing "Take a Walk on the Outside".

 

Friday, March 21, 2014

Shaving with Occam's Razor


  • I once had an actor who would come up with strange and bizarre last minute reasons not to perform a show.  "He just doesn't want to do this any more," my wife Karen observed.

  • We once had a client who had turned from being cooperative and easy to work with into nickel and diming us to death about stupid, insignificant things.  I wondered if I had done something to offend this client, until I realized something.  "They're just short of money.  They're getting desperate."

  • I'm sure this has happened to you.  A friend goes into a long and agonizing sob story about relationship problems - how it's just not working out and how no matter what they do their partner doesn't respond properly, and how they're getting blamed for everything, and things are so "complicated" and complex and ... and the only thing to say in return is, "Your boyfriend or girlfriend wants out.  It's over.  You're getting dumped.  Deal with it."

  • For years after becoming Catholic I agonized over why things were so unsatisfying at our local parish, and especially why we were running into nothing but resistance when we would complain about the pagan education our children were receiving at the parish school.  Why is the music so bad at Mass?  Why is Father spending so much money on getting gadgets for the rectory, such as the latest DVRs and computers?  Why do the school Masses sometimes begin with hymns to the great Earth?  Why do our fellow parishioners seem absolutely no different from everybody else in the neighborhood - they seem to be into bad and inappropriate TV shows, their kids are sleeping around all over the place, they make jokes about porn, they clearly use contraception, they'll skip Mass on Sunday, but they'll get up at 4:00 am to shop on Black Friday and they'll be sure to attend the parish picnic, guzzling beer and bratwurst as they gossip about their neighbors.  Why is this?  "It's because they don't really believe," an inner voice said to me.  Judge not that ye not be judged.  Indeed.  But this doesn't mean we need to be blind.

  • I used to agonize over why Super Catholics would leave nasty and insipid comments on this blog, in which they proudly dissented from the Catechism on issues such as torture and lying, and why some Super Catholics would bend over backwards to defend their folk heroes, heroes who were "sketchy" at best and sometimes laughably buffoonish - folk heroes who more than once would, by their teaching or actions, contradict elements of the Catholic Faith.  Then it occurred to me.  "These angry commenters - they're simply Protestants."  They may be Protestants who like the Latin Mass, but they're Protestants.

  • All the nonsense over "gay marriage", all the bullying about tolerance, all the brutal insistence that we accept anal sex as a positive good - the point of all this is the seduction and corruption of our children.  That's where it's heading.  Period.

  • Back in the days when I used to do singing telegrams, there came a time when fewer and fewer folks were ordering them.  A friend in Omaha who did these for a living was so desperate she started working free-lance as a deliverer of balloon bouquets.  By 1985, however, it had become apparent.  "It's over," I told her.  "The fad has ended."


Occam's Razor states that the simplest hypothesis is the one to choose to explain any situation.  The simplest hypothesis is not always the correct one, but most of the time it is - and it's our own anxiety and confusion that complicates matters.

An actual photograph of me shaving with Occam's Razor.  Manly, yes, but I like it, too.

Kevin O'Brien - Horror Movie Star

I play a small but important role in this film, which is the perfect blend of horror, comedy and faux documentary - AND it features Mo-Mo the Missouri Monster. The trailer's pretty cool.


Will the 40 Days of Lent with the O'Brien Family Singers Ever End?

"Saturday" - sung by Colin


Love and Loss

Wisdom is glorious, and never fadeth away: yea, she is easily seen of them that love her, and found of such as seek her. - Wisdom 6:12

Set your heart on that Wisdom, though it appear to all the world as Foolishness.

There is no love that is not mixed with sin, at least on this earth, at least until the End.  There is no love that will not be resisted - by the world, by the one you love ... and worst of all, by your own divided heart.  But love redeems and is redeemed.

For she draws us on, she makes us fools - and in fact we become fools to those around us, and even to ourselves.

But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong - 1 Cor. 1:27

Our dignity, battered and bruised though it might be, comes from our loyalty to this love, the love for Her - for Her who is the Wisdom of God, the Purity of Man, the delight of our existence.



Thursday, March 20, 2014

Chores

40 Days of Lent with the O'Brien Family Singers continues with the everlasting lament "Chores".


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Humor in Homeschooling



Here's my recent interview on Radio Maria.  The subject is Humor in Homeschooling.


Judy's Silver Gavel.

40 Days of Lent with the O'Brien Family Singers continues with my musical tribute to Judge Judy.

 

The Rules of Engagement

Some friends and I have been discussing the implications of Tolkien's advice to his son on sex, which I posted about yesterday here and here.  The subject of chivalry has come up.  I write ...

Once it became clear that the Second Coming would not be immediate, and that most people had to do the Martha thing and live in the world, with all the messy challenges and demands the world makes on us, then some code of Christian conduct had to be put forward for the two things that were incumbent upon every knight, and indeed upon every person - loving and fighting: for we all do both in one way or another every day.

In other words, "libido", or lust-for-life always involves loving and fighting, and there are two extremes of conduct when it comes to either.   Those two extremes are disengagement and indulgence.

Disengagement is explained by Our Lord in the Parable of the Talents, when the cowardly steward buries his lord's talent in a hole so as to avoid any chance of loss.  This is condemned, for our light is to be put on a hill, not covered with a basket.  Our Lord gives us our talents so as to engage them in life and put them at risk.  This can be done whether one leads a contemplative or an active life, and the sin of not doing so can be committed by anyone, in religious endeavors, in secular endeavors, and in sex.  Indeed, in the sexual realm, one of the worst things about contraception, masturbation and sodomy is that these activities deliberately bury or squander something in a place where we know it will do no good.  Sterile sex plays it safe, and our talent - our libido - was not meant for this.  The risk of loss and pain and the dizzying thrill of the new life and unpredictability that true engagement leads to - these things scare us.  But we are not to hoard, hold back or bury.

And yet neither are we to indulge, for indulgence is the opposite pole.  Desire can easily turn to lust and righteous anger can easily turn to wrath.  Lovers can ravish and soldiers can slaughter.

Only in the fullness of Christian culture are we taught the delicate balance between the two, and Chivalry is one way we used to be taught that, even the secular form of chivalry, which was the Christian code that boys should be courteous to girls - both because we should protect the innocent and weak and also because we love them and want to make babies with them - fighting and sex were thus managed with the leash of sacrifice and surrender that comes with the Cross.

And, believe it or not, I think Shakespeare wrote a whole play on this subject - one of his lighter comedies.

For more on how Much Ado about Nothing is really Much Ado about Something, read my article on The Christian Shakespeare here (originally published in the St. Austin Review, a magazine you should all subscribe to).



Monday, March 17, 2014

Irish Kerry

As we continue our Penance of 40 Days of Lent with the O'Brien Family Singers, here's "Irish Kerry", with Daughter Kerry and me and a tip of the hat to fellow Irishman George M. Cohan.


Our Father Who Art ... Here!

Just today I wrote Tolkien, Sex and the Central Challenge of the Church - which is about JRR Tolkien's view of the dangers of sex.  Just two days ago I wrote Our Father Who Art ... Where?, which is about the absence of fathers and fathering both in our culture and in the Church.

It strikes me that today's Tolkien piece is an exact illustration of why I wrote the Missing Father piece.

Tolkien's musings on sex and love are excerpts from advice he gave to his son.  They are brilliant examples of fathering in action.

Tolkien was doing precisely what a good father should do - he was passing along wisdom to his son, a young man about to embark on his own, who was in sore need of such wisdom (though young men typically don't think they're in sore need of anything from the "old man").

Tolkien laments, even as he writes to his son, 73 years ago, that the Church has dropped the ball on this and that Father at the parish probably won't bother to teach his spiritual children - his parishioners - what Father at home is teaching his son.  People are disappointed in marriage, Tolkien observes, because the Church does not teach the true nature of love, the dangers of sexual temptations disguised as "sympathies", and the need to work hard, to mortify one's selfish desires, and to take up one's cross daily for the sake of one's bride.  And what was true 73 years ago is doubly true today.

Dear Father in Heaven, may we have more fathers on earth like JRR Tolkien.  May we serve as fathers to one another in the Church when our clerical "fathers" neglect their call to do just that.  And may we always strive to be mature in our love, "mature in Christ", helping others to mature along with us - especially our own dear children, for whom we are given the awesome title "Father".


Christian vs. Catholic

A reader wants to know what makes something Catholic and not Christian?  Are these different things, or the same thing?

The answer is simple.

The Catholic Church is the Church Jesus Christ established, and full communion with it is full communion with Christ.  Only the Catholic Church is fully Christian; other churches are partially Christian and are becoming either more Catholic or less Catholic as the years go by.  Only the Catholic Church teaches the hard truths that many Protestants ignore - the sanctity of life, the evil of contraception, the indissolubility of true marriage, the sin of sexual activity outside of marriage - perverse or otherwise, the Sacramental nature of the Incarnation, salvation by grace through faith made manifest by works, and the awesome and confounding love of God even for sinners.  Everything else that's Christian but not fully Catholic falls shy of this.

This does not mean that your typical Catholic is any more holy than many Protestants, Eastern Orthodox or even an odd atheist here or there.  It does mean that only in the Catholic Church does the fullness of the Body of Christ subsist, and to reject even part of its teaching is to leave yourself cut off from full communion with that Body.

All baptized believers are baptized into the One True Church.  And only by nourishing herself with the Living Waters that flow from her can we hope for eternal life.  This does not mean the "unchurched" are damned, but it does mean that only from Christ does salvation flow, and that if the unchurched or non-Catholics are saved, it is by His grace and their participation in it that He saves them, and that they are judged according to their proper lights.


Tolkien, Sex, and the Central Challenge of the Church

Over at the Ink Desk, my friend Joseph Pearce has linked to this article - From Father to Son: JRR Tolkien on Sex.

It's fascinating stuff.  Here's a sample (my emphasis) ...

"The devil is endlessly ingenious, and sex is his favorite subject," Tolkien insisted. "He is as good every bit at catching you through generous romantic or tender motives, as through baser or more animal ones." Thus, Tolkien advised his young son, then 21, that the sexual fantasies of the 20th century were demonic lies, intended to ensnare human beings. Sex was a trap, Tolkien warned, because human beings are capable of almost infinite rationalization in terms of sexual motives. Romantic love is not sufficient as a justification for sex, Tolkien understood.
Taking the point further, Tolkien warned his son that "friendship" between a young man and a young woman, supposedly free from sexual desire, would not remain untroubled by sexual attraction for long. At least one of the partners is almost certain to be inflamed with sexual passion, Tolkien advised. This is especially true among the young, for Tolkien believed that such friendships might be possible later in life, "when sex cools down."
As any reader of Tolkien's works understands, Tolkien was a romantic at heart. He celebrated the fact that "in our Western culture the romantic chivalric tradition [is] still strong," though he recognized that "the times are inimical to it." Even so, as a concerned father, Tolkien warned Michael to avoid allowing his romantic instinct to lead him astray, fooled by "the flattery of sympathy nicely seasoned with a titillation of sex."

And I think this is even more of an issue now than when Tolkien was alive, especially with the New Technology.  As I recently wrote ...

Only within the past decade or so have people been able to communicate instantaneously and at any time, without regard to geographic distance or any of the natural things that used to put restraints on us.  For instance, throughout all of Christian history, if a married man started to spend too much time alone with a single woman, everyone in town would talk and the parish priest would privately admonish both of them.  Nowadays they can bare their souls to one another via email, and no one is the wiser - and even if they don't bare their bodies via Skype or sexting, they may have crossed a line without completely realizing what they were doing.  I've known people who have fallen into this habit almost unawares.  

... in other words "human beings are capable of almost infinite rationalization in terms of sexual motives" - especially when they have a technology and a culture that enables and facilitates our fallen natures.

Indeed the problem is our fallen natures, for whether we use the old technology or the new, the problem is in our hearts.  As the article quotes Tolkien (again, my emphasis): "The dislocation of sex-instinct is one of the chief symptoms of the Fall. The world has been 'going to the bad' all down the ages. The various social forms shift, and each new mode has its special dangers: but the 'hard spirit of concupiscence' has walked down every street, and sat leering in every house, since Adam fell".

We live in an age where we really think that sex is not dangerous - or if it is, it's dangerous for them and not for us.  Joseph Pearce is also a fan of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who famously said ...

If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

But the problem of sex is even more complex than that.  For even in our own hearts, mortification alone (destroying a piece of our own hearts) is only part of the answer.  For if we utterly destroy Eros, we destroy not only sexual desire but romantic love as well, indeed if we lose Eros we eventually lose motivation and interest.

Tolkien traced unhappiness in marriage, especially on the part of the husband, to the Church's failure to teach these truths and to speak of marriage honestly.

... the article tells us.  And Tolkien was lamenting this state many years ago!  It's only gotten worse, and the Church has only gotten more negligent.

This is why I think the Church is particularly called, in this day and age, to elucidate the nature of love, of mature love, which is maturity in Christ.

How are we to love?  That is the central challenge of life for all people.

And Jesus Christ is the only one who provides an answer to that challenge.



40 Days of Lent with the O'Brien Family Singers - "You Had a Really Bad Day"

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Our Father Who Art ... Where?


Mindy (not her real name) was one of my actresses.  She turned 30 and panicked.  She paid thousands of dollars to a dating service and began hyper-dating, a lunch date and a dinner date every day with a different guy for several weeks straight.

Finally she settled on a guy who proposed to her.  Disaster was written all over the relationship.  He was strange and very controlling of her.  She invited me to her wedding.

I wrote her and told her that I could not come to her wedding because I did not think she was making a wise choice in marrying this guy.

She never spoke to me again.

Apparently, I was the only one who had said anything to her.  Her father, at least, remained silent, as far as I could tell.

***

Here's the dynamic of more than one family out there.

The teen daughter is highly sensitive and capable, but is given absolutely no discipline whatsoever.  The father withdraws from the family - either by means of over-work or simple abandonment - and the mother does her best to pick up the pieces, all by herself and without his help.  The daughter is depressed and miserable.  She cuts herself, does drugs, drifts away.  Dad does everything but that daily demanding up and down thing called being a father to this girl.  He works later every night, goes on more business trips, makes more money to pay for his daughter's numerous therapists and even more numerous "meds".  But he doesn't come home, and when he is home, he's not really there, if you know what I mean.

When it's a son that's been psychologically abandoned by his father, the dynamic is different.  But either way this scenario plays itself out all over the place.  Drive down a suburban street - even a very affluent suburban street (especially a very affluent suburban street) - and count the houses.  Divide by two or three and you'll be pretty close to estimating the number of households (I hesitate to call them families) who live like this - or worse.

Child abuse is a horrible thing.  Child neglect is a form of abuse.

***

I know a young woman whose father left the family when she was under the age of five.  She's smart enough to know it's not her fault that Daddy left her and her mother, but she lives her entire life as if it is indeed her fault.  She obsessively compensates for this "core shame", she targets older married men for seduction, she's always seeking a male figure who's just out of reach and inaccessible, and if he becomes accessible in any way, she dumps him and runs.  She flirts with bisexuality and Lesbianism.   She becomes hungry for power and success in a man's world.  She occasionally uses drugs and binge drinks.

Meanwhile, Daddy lives alone and has a secret perversion that only the family knows about.  He spends his time getting his kicks as far away from his wife and children as he possibly can.  He's "found himself".  He's privately pleased with his perversion.  He's happy.

***

We were friends with a Catholic family who lived near us.  The father was transferred to a city over 400 miles away.  The mother refused to move with him, claiming that she didn't want to take her children out of the parish school.  It was supposed to be a temporary situation, until he found a job back home, or until he talked her in to moving the family to be with him.

That was 12 years ago.

The mother and father still live in separate cities.  He comes home every other weekend to see his family, and vacations with them one week every summer and at Christmas.  He's been doing that since 2002.

His son was four when the father left home and the mother stayed in St. Louis with the kids.  The son is now 16.  He's a young man who has spent almost his entire childhood without a father.

Mom and Dad are married.  The mother is active at the Church - almost too active, over-volunteering.  Everyone in the parish knows about the situation and knows that - by their own choice - this couple is living a kind of de facto divorce.  This has been public knowledge for more than a decade.

The pastor of the parish has never, to my knowledge, confronted either the father (who's never there), or the mother (who is always there) about this - or even counseled them, for that matter.  She calls her pastor Father, as we Catholics tend to call our priests.  Like her biological father, who is too timid to be emphatic with this woman about the damage she is doing and has done to her family, her spiritual father simply ignores the situation and drops the ball.  Doesn't want to offend her, or assumes it's not his business, I suppose.

***

There is one aspect of the Catholic Church in the modern world that is the constant that runs through arguments about the liturgy, politics, evangelization and so forth.  Left or right can agree on one thing.

What is undeniably true in our Church today is that the bishops have abdicated their authority.

The Apostles have left the building.

The only thing they're supposed to do is witness for Christ - which means teach, admonish, encourage, and present us all mature in Christ (Col. 1:28).  But it is the one thing most of them never even seem to try to do.  As a rule, they manage (or mis-manage) their dioceses physically and financially, but they never manage them spiritually.

***

So what do we have in the world around us?  From the ghetto - where fathers are deliberately and conspicuously absent, to the suburbs, where fathers are sometimes physically absent and where father-ing is often absent, to the Church where bishops and their priests likewise are found to neglect being the "Fathers" we term them to be - we have a society where at a very deep level we are beginning to wonder, "Who's your daddy"?