Monday, February 27, 2017

How People Argue on the Internet

Here's how arguing on the internet goes. A: The sky is blue. B: How dare you! Prove it. A: Look at the sky. What color do you see? B: White. A: Those are clouds. B: Got ya! A: No, you don't "got me". You're looking at the wrong thing. Let's try this. What color is that shirt you're wearing? B: Blue. A: Look at the sky. That open part next to the clouds. Is not that the same color as your shirt? B: Are you saying the sky comes from Wal-Mart just like my shirt? You are an idiot!

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Pro-Life Teen

In teaching Speech and Communications for Homeschool Connections, I try to get my students to understand the importance of believing what you're saying, of being passionately invested in it, and of speaking the truth.

The is a great example of all those things.

Misplaced Enthusiasm

We live in a world in which people think that enthusiasm fixes everything.

When I was a young man, I was enthusiastic, at least about one thing: women.  I wanted a Love Affair that Mattered.  And so I had an intense affair with a young woman who was as enthusiastic as I was and who I later referred to as my "Hitler Youth".  She was a college student who was keen on Ayn Rand and Nietzsche and that whole "might makes right" crowd.  She had an undisguised contempt for the man in the street, including her chunky bourgeois father who was an utterly worthless human being, and she would have been happy disowning him completely (philistine that he was) except for one small detail: he paid her college tuition.  Daddy was Sugar Daddy, but was Stupid Daddy nonetheless.

And one of the things Daddy got wrong was his lack of passion.  He took it easy.  He didn't know that, as Nietzsche says, "I say unto you: one must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star."  Hitler Youth and I loved that quote.  We didn't know what it meant, but we loved it.  Her fat father, who worked 40 hours a week to provide for his family, in this woman's eyes, was beneath contempt; we sensitive artists and readers, we elite, we had chaos in ourselves and we would give birth to a dancing star!  Yes, we would.  You just watch us!

We were obviously mismatched, Hitler Youth and I, but we were both Emphatic, both Intense, both on a deliberate rocket of emotion and "spirituality" - and the rocket was all about the thrust.  We didn't know where we were going, but we were going there forcefully.  We were going to the dancing star.  But where the hell was the dancing star?

In Devout Catholic circles, you see the tragedy again and again of Misplaced Enthusiasm, of people who really really want their Faith to make a difference.  That's laudable, especially since the vast majority of Catholics are indistinguishable from the secular bourgeois suburbanites who worship nothing in particular.  These Enthusiastic Catholics don't want to be the typical parish soccer moms, they want to be Emphatically Christian.

Well, fine.  But of course you can be Christian, even emphatically Christian, and still be a soccer mom, still live in the suburbs, still do all the boring daily things that ordinary people do.

And the problem becomes not so much the rejection of the ordinary, but the strange and fantastic shapes a misplaced enthusiasm takes.

For one thing, there are cults within the Catholic Church, which the bishops and the Vatican refuse to rein in, in any serious way.  The great fraud of Fr. Maciel is the prime example, but there are others.  And yet lots of well-meaning Catholics get sucked into these unregulated movements, including the most damaging of them.

But, beyond that, there seems to be no direction in the Church on practical matters.  There's lots of talk about the love of God, but not a word about how to put that love into practice, especially in the painful areas of our lives.  People are more than willing to make great sacrifices in areas that are safe - missionary work overseas (Protestants in particular specialize in this), and time and effort set aside for devotions and prayer, while more pressing matters that Christ is calling us to address are ignored.  It's easier to pray a novena for your neighbor's lumbago than it is to quit drinking so much and making your wife and kids miserable, for instance.

We are not able to imagine that Christ is willing to get down and dirty with us; that He wants to redeem not the easy stuff that we are willing to give to Him, but the hard stuff that we clutch at and refuse to bring to the light of day, keeping it hidden in the dark closets of our souls.

This is not to say that prayer or missionary work is wrong; what I'm saying is enthusiasm, like any form of love, needs to be channeled, focused, canalized, prioritized, made to work within boundaries, and that religious enthusiasm in particular should be focused on the very things we don't want to deal with in our lives.  And guidance in this is very hard to find within the Church.  Giving your life for a cause is "sexy".  Being a faithful husband and changing dirty diapers day in and day out is not "sexy".  But most of us are called to the latter and not to the former.

The Parochial and Plain Sermons of Bl. John Henry Newman, which I am reading daily, are very good at making us aware of this.  Enthusiasm, like any emotion, has a purpose.  We don't want to admit this; as with "art for art's sake" we want "feeling for feeling's sake".

But Newman, nearly 200 years ago, told his Christian hearers what we never hear today ...

Doubtless it is no sin to feel at times passionately on the subject of religion; it is natural in some men, and under certain circumstances it is praiseworthy in others. But these are accidents. As a general rule, the more religious men become, the calmer they become; and at all times the religious principle, viewed by itself, is calm, sober, and deliberate.

And he concludes, beautifully, solidly, simply ...

One secret act of self-denial, one sacrifice of inclination to duty, is worth all the mere good thoughts, warm feelings, passionate prayers, in which idle people indulge themselves. It will give us more comfort on our deathbed to reflect on one deed of self-denying mercy, purity, or humility, than to recollect the shedding of many tears, and the recurrence of frequent transports, and much spiritual exultation. These latter feelings come and go; they may or may not accompany hearty obedience; they are never tests of it; but good actions are the fruits of faith, and assure us that we are Christ's; they comfort us as an evidence of the Spirit working in us. 

Throwing the Book at You

A reader writes ...

[On your blog Waiting for Godot to Leave] you posted a few chapters from your projected memoir, but I've seen nothing about it after you let your enthusiastic readers know that you had a book contract and would no longer post.
I've been saving my money ever since to buy your book. Is it available yet? I relished those excepts so much; I could hardly wait to read the whole thing.

The book is written and awaiting publication, which, I am told, will be within about six months.  It is tentatively titled A Bad Actor's Guide to the Meaning of Life - unless the publisher (or my readers) can think of a better title.  It's actually pretty good.

After that, ACS Books will be publishing a collection of my plays.  So all the money my readers are saving can buy two books!

Friday, February 24, 2017

A Few Pointed Observations on Vagueness

I've been dealing with a challenging situation for the last two weeks, so I have not been posting.  Now  we appear to be past that, but I've got a major creative project that I hope to finish by Ash Wednesday, so I'm going to keep this post brief - then I plan on bugging my readers with frequent posts and videos and even podcasts during Lent!

I will be your penance, dear reader!

Meanwhile, a few observations ... with bullet points (my favorite).

  • What is all this excitement about lack of boundaries?  Certainly we must take in refugees, but why is it that liberals don't recognize the basic function of borders and boundaries, not only physical boundaries, but intangible ones?  We live in a world without form, without definition.  Ask someone to define something and you are called judgmental and bigoted.  But the easiest way to be victimized in this world is to blur the edges.  For instance we sinners often tell ourselves things like the following ...
    • I won't look at porn, but these pictures of naked ladies or this lurid story won't count as porn - why be so judgmental?
    • I won't have another drink, but I can open the bottle, smell it, taste it, even have a few sips, can't I?  You wouldn't call that "having another drink" - unless you were some sort of intransigent bigot!
    • If you cheat on your wife with someone you love, that's not really "cheating" is it?  I mean, love has to win, doesn't it?  And pretty much every good feeling is love, and how dare you try to define what love actually is!  Bigot!
    • My god, your god, his god, her god ... who cares?  God is beyond definition!
  • One of the great tools of heresies in the past (especially during the first seven or so centuries of Church history) has been using words in a deliberately ambiguous way, so that Party A can say, "I have a dog" and mean a four legged animal that barks, and Party B can say, "I have a dog" and mean a four legged animal that meows.  Both parties can be happy because each party can use the same word in a way that suits them, subjectively.  And in such "fifty shades of intellectual gray", we can all get along - and get exactly what we want, which is a rose by any other name.  Lack of definition is the great tool of the devil, and the engine that propels the Irrational.  And if our age is anything, it is the Age of the Irrational.
  • The good that John Senior and others did with the Integrated Humanities Program at Kansas University all those years ago continues to bear fruit.  If you meet the former disciples of the program, you can see that education in the True, the Beautiful and the Good can be a life-changing experience and will lead students to God ... and to joy.
  • With that in mind, the art of any good education is education toward Form - toward a recognition of where one things ends and another begins: an awareness of boundaries.  This is especially true in Moral Education and in recognizing the built-in limitations of our relationships.  (Or, as Chesterton said, "Art, like morality, consists of drawing the line somewhere.")  Try to make a friend (or a job or a creative endeavor) something other than what it is and you will be miserable.  Actors learn this lesson again and again.  An acting gig is a great blessing, but it is just an acting gig: it is not the salvation of our souls, our big break, the chance finally to be loved, the thing that will make us permanently happy.  Maturity is, in many ways, simply recognizing the boundaries that are built in to the moral and physical universe and making the requisite sacrifices to live by them.
  • One paragraph from a sermon by Bl. John Henry Newman is worth twenty volumes of theology by Hans Urs von Balthasar (and I like von Balthasar).  Why?  Because Newman knows the simple truth.  Neither knowledge of God nor love of Him means anything without the painful daily self-sacrifices that cooperate with His grace to conform us to His image.
  • Don't waste your money on a turkey sandwich if it's that awful processed deli half-water turkey.  The only real turkey is real turkey, sliced from a cooked bird.  Otherwise, just get a hamburger.  At least a hamburger is real beef - or real horse-meat - but at least it's real something.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

"Racketeer for Life" Audio Book

My most recent audio book is now available on Audible.

It is the stirring and fascinating memoirs of Joe Scheidler of the Pro-Life Action League.

This is one of my favorite audio books that I've ever performed / produced.  Joe's story is inspiring and moving.

I got to meet Joe Scheidler and his lovely wife Ann in Chicago last month.  Our meeting and conversation were a real joy.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Spirit Catholic Radio

I will be interviewed this morning at 8:40 am Central Time on Spirit Catholic Radio.  You can listen live here!

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Hey, Kids!

How to Write Really Bad Plays

This is from a post on my old blog ...
Since I'm currently a judge in a one-act Catholic play writing contest, I don't want to say too much about the plays I'm reading.  But I have seen enough to know how to write a really bad play.

And I'm passing that advice on to you, dear reader!

  • Make sure your script contains NO comedy whatsoever - nothing the least bit funny, or if something almost-funny sneaks in, make it very predictable and stupid.

  • Put a homeless man in it so the audience has someone to feel sorry for.

  • Set the play at Christmas or in a foxhole during a war or in an abortion clinic.  Or better yet, at a makeshift abortion clinic in a foxhole on Christmas Eve.

  • Handle exposition awkwardly.  For example, in the first few lines, have one of the characters say,  "Remember when that meteorite hit our house and you bravely struggled to pull me out and save our four children and the reporter from the liberal paper made fun of you because you were Christian and -"

  • Give someone cancer or write an old and dying character so the audience has someone to feel sorry for.  Better yet, write in an old homeless man dying of cancer who stumbles into the foxhole on Christmas Eve and whose first monologue recalls the abortion he witnessed sixty years prior.  Then send in Santa Claus for the happy ending when the homeless man dies and goes to heaven.

  • Submitting your play to a Christian playwriting contest?  Use lots and lots and lots of gratuitous profanity.  Make David Mamet look like Walt Disney.

  • There is no such thing as character development.  There is no such thing as depth of character.  There is no such thing as a compelling plot.

  • There is no such thing as subtlety.  The audience must be hit over the head to get your point.

  • Whatever you do, don't make any of your dialogue the least bit literary or poetical or uplifting.  Don't read other plays and get ideas about innovative staging or structure.  Don't take any risks.

    But, beyond these points, if you really want to write bad stuff, do this.

    To be a bad writer, you must be a bad reader - a reader of bad books (or no books at all), and a poor reader of life.

    Somehow God has written a work (a Primary World that we call reality, "being", existence) that is incredibly rich and meaningful.  Any attempt at literary art must approach our fictional Secondary Worlds as God approached the Primary One.

    Oh, sorry.  That last comment was on how to write a good play, not a bad one.  

    Dang it!  I can't even write a good blog post!

    Monday, February 6, 2017

    School vs. Skool

    It's hard to say what good teachers do.

    But it's easy to say what bad students don't do.  

    They don't read the material!

    A few months back, I complained to my friend Ken Colston, a retired teacher, that many of the essay answers I was getting from my Homeschool Connections students were padded, meandering pieces that made me wonder if the students had even read the material they were busy pontificating about.  "The only way to make sure they're actually reading the material you've assigned is to give them multiple-choice tests," Ken suggested.  "This will avoid the deliberate vagueness of essay answers."

    And he's right.  And what have I learned from the multiple-choice quizzes I now routinely give in some of my Homeschool Conenctions courses?

    I've learned that at least a third of my students in each class are simply not bothering to read the material.  "Well, Dad," says my daughter Kerry, "Why would you be surprised?  They're just kids.  Colin and I never read the material," Kerry adds, referring to her brother Colin and their school careers.

    But we are fallen men and what Kerry is describing may be "school".  But it ain't skool.  

    Let me explain.


    Last week I posted about my play Socrates Meets Jesus.  Not long after, I was contacted a former student of mine, who is now in college, and who emailed me expressing her frustration over Plato's dialogue Phaedo, which is about the immortality of the soul.  She was making the mistake of trying to read Plato with a kind of literal fundamentalism, missing the poetry and the vision while looking for a philosophic system.

    I responded by turning to Eric Voegelin, a writer who has served as a gateway to Plato for me, and I pulled these quotations from Voegelin (Order and History, Volume III).  Voegelin is writing about Socrates and his followers, but the things he says are really about any good teacher and any eager student (the etymology of the word student comes from "to be eager", by the way) ...

    To create existential community through developing the other man’s true humanity in the image of his own—that is the work of the Socratic Eros ... 

    "The Socratic Eros" is the soul's desire for what is beyond.  What Voegelin says above is simply that a "school" is a community, an "existential community", a group of people joined together for a higher purpose.

    Image result for arthur miller
    It reminds me of playwright Arthur Miller, who distinguished between theaters, which he called "buildings for rent, real estate" and theatre.  Miller says, "A Theatre is people; a collection of talented people, including playwrights, directors, actors, and scene designers, who share a common outlook upon art and life, and are permanently joined together for the purpose of producing dramatic art."  In other words a theatre is an "existential community", a group of people united in seeking that which is beyond themselves.

    And what is the Church but a similar "existential community", a koinonia?  True, most of our parishes don't function as groups of people who (as Arthur Millers says about theatre) "share a common outlook upon art and life".  Most parishes I've been to in my extensive travels are filled with people who don't seem to share a common outlook upon anything.  But abusus non tollit usum - the abuse of a thing does not invalidate its proper use.  The true Church is not just a gathering of strangers who may or may not know why they're there, but an "existential community", a group of people living together toward a common end.

    In like manner, one could say that "schools" are "buildings for rent, real estate", while a "Skool" (to parody Miller's use of "theater" with an R-E at the end) is "a people: a collection of students who are joined together for a higher purpose".

    Voegelin speaks of Plato on the desire for immortality, which can take the form of people wishing to procreate and have heirs, so that they have physical beings who outlive them.  But there is a desire for "spiritual procreation" as well ...
    Those in whom [the desire to procreate] is spiritual rejuvenate themselves through procreation in the souls of young men [or young women], that is, through loving, tending, and developing the best in them. That is the force that animates the world of the Platonic dialogue. The older man, Socrates, speaks to the younger man and, through the power of his soul, awakens in him the echoing desire for the Good. The Idea of the Good, evoked in the communion of the dialogue, fills the souls of those who participate in the evocative act. And thus it becomes the sacramental bond between them and creates the nucleus of the new society. 
    Of course that's not just any good teacher and any eager student, that's (ideally) a writer and a reader, an artist and a viewer, Christ and the Apostles.

    Friday, February 3, 2017

    New Web Site

    I'm now writing and posting videos and podcasts and other fun stuff at my new site,

    The plan is to "build up the Body of Christ" (Eph. 4:12), not tear it down.

    Pray for me ... and join me on the new site!

    Kevin O'Brien, King of the Internet

    Socrates and the Modern World

    I am hoping to book a performance of my play Socrates Meets Jesus (based on the book by Peter Kreeft) in New England this summer, and so I'm posting the video below of our performance of the play at the Chesterton Conference in Massachusetts.

    Some of my Homeschool Connections students really like this play.  For one thing, it's funny.  And for another, it answers the question, "What would the world's greatest philosopher make of the claims of the world's greatest man, Jesus Christ, who was born 400 years after the world's greatest philosopher died?"  And even more intriguing ... "What would Socrates make of the Silliness of the Modern World?"

    One of the most depressing things about our present time is the lack of Eros, of the aspect of Love that desires and takes seriously what it desires.  This seems like a strange thing to say.  Isn't our culture awash in the "erotic"?

    But Eros is more than the hyper-sexuality we have all around us, which is sex cut off from purpose and even from feeling and passion.  Eros is about desiring that which is beyond us; it's about our basic interest in life and in the "sting" of life.  The characters in my version of Socrates Meets Jesus are (like most modern people) "hypo-erotic" - they have casual sex, but they don't really care about anything, even the things they spend their lives studying or doing or professing.

    As John Lennon wrote ...
    Everybody's talking and no one says a word / Everybody's making love and no one really cares
    That's what life is like now.  "There's always something happening, but nothing going on," and "Everybody's crying, but no one makes a sound."

    So this play is not just "Socrates Meets Jesus".  It is "Socrates Meets Despair".

    Who Am I?

    Kevin O’Brien - atheist turned Catholic - is the founder and artistic director of two touring theater companies - the Theater of the Word Incorporated and Upstage Productions - and has been touring the United States performing his own plays for nearly thirty years.  Kevin is booked regularly at 24 wineries in 9 states, performing his own brand of interactive comedies - to a very loyal and devoted fan base.
    Kevin hosts the television series The Theater of the Word on EWTN and has appeared in several movies and television series.
    In addition, Kevin has performed and produced 45 audio books, and is the only person in history to play every part in a Shakespeare play, which he did for his audiobook productions of The Merchant of Venice and Macbeth.  His recording of The Innocence of Father Brown was a winner of the ForeWord Best Audiobook of the Year award in 2009.  
    He is also a writer and regular contributor to The St. Austin Review and Gilbert Magazine.  His second book, An Actor Bows, will be released in 2017.  His first book, The Church of the Kevin was listed as one of the Top Books of 2010 by Ignaitus Press.
    In addition, Kevin teaches several online classes for Homeschool Connections.

    Thursday, February 2, 2017

    A New Beginning

    Today, on the Feast of the Purification, I begin a new venture online - posting various things on this site.  I hope to put up videos, articles, pictures, podcasts.

    I also hope to avoid the negativity from my old blog, Waiting for Godot to Leave.
    Kevin O'Brien, playing the fool.  With my wife Karen, who's used to it.

    And I hope to reach my new audience - Catholic young people!  I have been teaching for two years now at Homeschool Connections and I'm in my second semester teaching High School Drama at St. John Paul Prep in St. Charles, Missouri.  And I love doing both!  My students are, as a rule, intelligent, creative, fun and serious about their faith.  And they need someplace fun, challenging and intelligent to go to on the web ... so maybe this can be it.

    I am a former atheist and a current devout Catholic who totally understands people's doubts and frustrations.  Plus I like stupid jokes.  In fact, I make my living writing stupid jokes.

    Meanwhile, I'm quite busy.  Last year between Upstage Productions and Theater of the Word, we had 214 performances of at least a dozen different scripts in ten or more states, which I produced and almost all of which I acted in.  I taught and designed about ten different courses, I recorded six audio books and wrote several plays and my soon-to-be-published book, A Bad Actor's Guide to the Meaning of Life.  So things are pretty nutty for me.

    But I am called to do this, so stay tuned.