Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Tuesday's Wave

"A man can no more diminish God's glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word, 'darkness' on the walls of his cell." - C. S. Lewis

Monday, April 29, 2013

This Week's Lesser Feasts

April 29th: St. Catherine of Siena, the first woman to be referred to as a Doctor of the Church
 Everlasting God, who so kindled the flame of holy love in the heart of blessed Catherine of Siena, as she meditated on the passion of your Son our Savior, that she devoted her life to the poor and the sick, and to the peace and unity of the Church: Grant that we also may share in the mystery of Christ's death, and rejoice in the revelation of His Glory, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.
May 2: Athanasius
Uphold your Church, O God of truth, as you upheld your servant Athanasius, to maintain and proclaim boldly the catholic faith against all opposition, trusting solely in the grace of your eternal Word, who took upon himself our humanity that we might share his divinity; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

May 4: St. Monnica

St. Monnica [note the two "n's', as there is an interesting archaeological tale involved in that spelling] was the mother of St. Augustine of Hippo, one of the three or four greatest theologians in Christian history, whose most favored quotation was from his great work The Confessions, in which he said that, despite his mother's devotion to Christ and her desire for her son to be equally devoted, in his younger days his prayer was "Lord, give me chastity, but not yet."

Anyway, Monnica was a well-born member of a North African family of the early 4th century; her family was Christian.  In her youth, she was a little on the wild side [a family trait, it appears]; her fondness for wine was extreme to the point that her family's servants would openly ridicule her for her drunkenness.  A sense of shame and developing maturity caused her to eschew wine for the remainder of her life.  However, it is safe to say that she did find her spirituality to be intoxicating.

Her husband was a pagan, and it was to these outworn creeds that her brilliant, precocious son Augustine was originally drawn.  Her singular mission was to see that her son came to Christ, and it was to this she remained dedicated until, with inexorable results, Augustine would be baptized on Easter of 387.  It should be noted that it was the Christian intellectual Ambrose, the bishop of Milan, who had much to do with Augustine's conversion, as Ambrose taught Augustine that one could be both an intellectual and a Christian.  Ah, for an Ambrose in the 21st century....

Monnica followed her son as his political career took him from Carthage to Rome; her work with Christians in the Holy See would become legend.  Interestingly, it was through her efforts that the sites of the Holy Land, while part of the Christian Roman Empire, would be set aside as special.  The building of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is thought to be on the site of Jesus' crucifixion, was the singular project encouraged by her work and devotion.

She died before she could return home to Carthage and was entombed in Ostia, on the Italian coast, on this day in the year 387.  Her tomb would be discovered and revealed by archaeologists at the end of World War II.  On it, the spelling of her name is as it appears in this posting, and not as "Monica", which is how it had been spelled in history texts since...well, for a long, long time.  It is not known if the newer [which is to say, older] spelling is accurate or the result of a clumsy stone mason, but it is the spelling that is now accepted.

O Lord, through spiritual discipline you strengthened your servant Monnica to persevere in offering her love and prayers and tears for the conversion of her husband and of Augustine their son: Deepen our devotion, we pray, and use us in accordance with your will to bring others, even our own kindred, to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

No Kidding

New York Times: "People have lost faith in the church, but they haven’t lost faith in science. My behavior shows that science is not holy."

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Archaeological News. Sorta.

Hudson River giant head has Marist 'dumbfounded'

When Evil Can't Be Mentioned, The Educated Become Non-Sensical

The Tsarnaevs' mom, now relocated from Cambridge to Makhachkala in delightful Dagestan, told a press conference the other day that she regrets ever having gotten mixed up with those crazy Yanks: "I would prefer not to have lived in America," she said.

Not, I'm sure, as much as the Richard family would have preferred it. Eight-year-old Martin was killed; his sister lost a leg; and his mother suffered serious brain injuries. What did the Richards and some 200 other families do to deserve having a great big hole blown in their lives? Well, according to The New York Times, they and you bear collective responsibility. Writing on the op-ed page, Marcello Suarez-Orozco, Dean of the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, and Carola Suarez-Orozco, a professor at the same institution, began their ruminations thus:

"The alleged involvement of two ethnic Chechen brothers in the deadly attack at the Boston Marathon last week should prompt Americans to reflect on whether we do an adequate job assimilating immigrants who arrive in the United States as children or teenagers."

Maybe. Alternatively, the above opening sentence should "prompt Americans to reflect" on whether whoever's editing America's newspaper of record these days "does an adequate job" in choosing which pseudo-credentialed experts it farms out its principal analysis on terrorist atrocities to.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Growing Scriptural Illiteracy

A correction from the New York Times:

"Because of an editing error, an article on Thursday about the funeral of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of Britain referred incorrectly to the biblical passage read by Amanda Thatcher as the first lesson at her grandmother’s funeral. It was Ephesians 6:10-18 — not VI Ephesians 10:18."

A correction from the journal, Foreign Policy:

"An earlier version of this post referred to the Biblical passage from which Amanda Thatcher read as the Epistles. She read from Ephesians, which is one of the Epistles."

Remember, these stories were written by at least one, but probably more, reporters and passed through at least two editors before appearing in print.

Robert Crisp and Tommy MacPherson

“People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.” - George Orwell [maybe]

Earlier this week, some British soldiers' remains, newly discovered, were finally interred after a proper reading of the Episcopal/Anglican Burial Office, nearly a century after their deaths.  It caused me to recall a number of British soldiers who were famous among boys and young men during my formative years, especially those years spent in the UK.  While it is no longer fashionable to think so among the NPR/NYT crowd that shapes common opinion, outside of that shrinking bubble there are still those of us who find the warriors worthy of some admiration.  If you find this an odd statement for a clergyperson to make, I will assume it's because history wasn't your favorite subject.  Yet, in the aftermath of yet another terrorist attack, there is something of their resolve that all of us may need to adopt to fulfill the evolving expectations of citizenship.  After all, and as a number of international news outlets noted, it is an American tendency to run towards the site of disaster to offer aid rather than away from it in panic.

I can't remember where I read it, as it was in the middle of an Internet surfing expedition,  but it was in an article about the personality types that tend to excel in periods of emergency.  During peacetime or times of social harmony, these types either tend to be querulous, difficult in their interpersonal relations, and display a profound tendency towards addictive disorder; or they are shy, retiring, and largely all but socially invisible.  In war or natural disaster, they are irreplaceable, as their leadership and ability to claim immediate authority often means the difference between survival and death or victory and defeat.

An infantry officer of my acquaintance [that's one way of putting it], a Marine Corps captain, used to call it the "Woody Allen syndrome". The guy who was least likely to serve any logical purpose in a tactical unit, who did not apparently fit either intellectually or physically into any command structure, would transform in times of extremis into an absolute fire-eater.

Two such fellows came to mind as I was reading the article.  During times of peace, one found himself socially listless or in conflict with authority, disadvantaged by drink, or...um...challenged by conventional norms of moral comportment. The other merely a good, quiet Scot of an apparently benign and affable mien.  Both were the kind of men who were lofted up in post-war British society as examples of moral and physical courage; men worth emulating in general character.

Robert Crisp was a cricketer of some renown from South Africa and holds a record that still stands in professional cricket [more than once he had taken four wickets in four balls as a bowler; I have no idea what that means but it always impresses the heck out of cricket fans]. He was also famous for his womanizing [Is that still a term we can use?] and drinking. Unable to contain his general exuberance, he also climbed Mount Kilimanjaro twice and swam the length of Loch Lomond in Scotland [Having swum the Loch myself, all I can say is “ew”; it was not the cleanest body of freshwater].

He just looks like the kind of guy you don't want taking your daughter on a date.

Despite his accomplishments, or perhaps because of them, Crisp was in near constant conflict with authority. So, naturally, he became an officer in the British Army, immersing himself in a command structure where he often ran afoul of senior officers, being either promoted for original thinking, demoted for general insouciance, re-promoted for battlefield innovation, and re-demoted for inappropriate behavior time and again. When not engaged in this funicular of military service, in addition to being near-mortally wounded several times, Crisp created a tactic for engaging, with his underpowered and under-armored tank squadron, the superior tanks of the German Army and routing them.

It's hard to believe, but there are actually ten clowns inside of that thing.

On one particular occasion, Crisp charged a line of Field Marshal Rommel’s best and, with one medium-sized American-made tank, successfully stopped 70 heavy-duty panzers. He would end the war as a major and be awarded, among other medals, the Distinguished Service Order. He then found himself unemployed.

Never to be daunted, Crisp continued his life of adventure, first writing two well-received books about tank warfare, one of which was still being read in military training courses in the US as of the mid-1970’s, and becoming a travel writer/journalist of some popularity. When diagnosed with cancer in late middle-age, Crisp engaged in his own form of physical therapy by hiking around the island of Crete. His cancer went into remission. He would spend the end of his life living in a beach hovel in Greece, in the evenings entertaining a rather broad range of women, both local and tourist.

He died in his sleep at the age of 82. An entertaining article about him may be found here.  His books about the war in Greece, The Gods Were Neutral, and the war in North Africa, Brazen Chariots, are still in print and also now available in electronic editions.  I can't say they are of general interest in our rather beta culture, but they are worth reading for anyone interested in 20th century history.

Tommy MacPherson was never a roue of any sort, certainly not of the Crisp quality; however, like the cricketer, he was one of those people one would not have expected to be anything more than a typical landowner’s son and clergyman’s grandson.

Any war can be improved by wearing a jaunty hat

MacPherson, a Scot, and I share an educational institution, as he is one of the stellar alumni of Edinburgh Academy, and it is there that I first heard of him. While Crisp was often featured in the ripping yarns of mid-century British boys’ magazines, MacPherson was a quieter sort, at least in terms of self-promotion, not of deeds.

After a rather ordinary early life for one of his social class, MacPherson joined the Royal Army at the beginning of World War II after earning degrees at Oxford in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics and representing his college in rugby. He was initially commissioned a subaltern [what US forces call a “second lieutenant”] with one of the Highland regiments. Shortly thereafter, he was transferred into the notorious Number 11 Commando, a unit made up of the maddest of mad Scots, and it is here that he earned his reputation.

In his first mission, MacPherson and three others were sent to recon the beaches of North Africa in a couple of canvas kayaks. They leaked and the submarine that was to meet them never showed up. So, they decided to land and walk to Tobruk, which was a mere five days away, somewhat complicated by the fact that the four-man team had no food or water and was clad only in swim shorts. Pathetically, they were captured by...yes, the Italians.

MacPherson made at least three failed escape attempts. When the Italians turned over their prisoners to the Germans, he made another couple of escape attempts. When the prisoners were transferred to Austria, MacPherson escaped again, was caught again, was transferred into Poland, and escaped again. This time, he was successful.

Upon his return to the UK he was awarded the Military Cross and invited to return to occupied Europe to create general chaos on behalf of the Allies. Of course, he said “yes”. Scots.

In advance of D-Day, MacPherson parachuted into France to fulfill the direct orders of Winston Churchill to, in the PM’s words, “set Europe ablaze”. Winnie had a way with words, without question.  Since he had so much experience with being captured, and since he didn't wish to be executed as a spy, MacPherson decided to operate as a secret agent in Nazi-occupied France while dressed in the full service uniform of an officer in the Highland Regiments, including tartan kilt and argyle socks. From a distance, it looked to members of the French resistance that someone had brought his wife with him on a mission.

Hey, James Bond never had to wear a skirt.

Thus attired, and equipped with a resolute, if factually vague, mission from Churchill himself, MacPherson committed to a program of active mayhem across the French countryside.  I could list, with viscera, the details of MacPherson’s actions, but it will suffice to note that during this time he earned the nickname “The Kilted Killer”.

I will offer this anecdote, however:

“On another occasion Macpherson took decisive action as the Second Motorised SS Infantry Division and the Das Reich Division pushed towards the fragile Normandy beach-head. Unarmed and accompanied by a doctor and a French officer, he drove a stolen German Red Cross Land Rover through ten miles of enemy-held territory, through machine gun fire and straight to the Das Reich Division headquarters where, dressed in full Highland regalia, he warned that he would unleash heavy artillery and call on the RAF if they did not surrender. In consequence, 23,000 German troops surrendered. It was a bluff that may have saved thousands of lives.”

After messing up France, MacPherson was sent to Italy to generally harass the remaining members of the German army.  He did so with relish and, by war's end, was Britain's most decorated soldier.  He stayed with the so-called Territorial Army of the RA for the remainder of his military career, retiring as a full colonel.  He is still alive and very well.  In fact, Sir Tommy, as he is now known, still makes an annual visit to his alma mater in Edinburgh to the delight of the students and the vexation of the more pacifistic members of the faculty.  "Scots wha hae!", Sir Tommy.

A few years ago he published his autobiography, Behind Enemy Lines.  It's on my nightstand, about three books down, but like its subject, I may give it a promotion.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Relax, Let The Police Be The Only Ones With The Guns. They're The Professionals, After All.

Cop who pointed gun at McDonald's customer will lose certification

Thursday's Verses

There's a wideness in God's mercy
like the wideness of the sea;
there's a kindness in his justice,
which is more than liberty.

There is welcome for the sinner,
and more graces for the good;
there is mercy with the Savior;
there is healing in his blood.

There is no place where earth's sorrows
are more felt than in heaven;
there is no place where earth's failings
have such kind judgment given.

There is plentiful redemption
in the blood that has been shed;
there is joy for all the members
in the sorrows of the Head.

For the love of God is broader
than the measure of man's mind;
and the heart of the Eternal
is most wonderfully kind.

If our love were but more faithful,
we should take him at his word;
and our life would be thanksgiving
for the goodness of the Lord.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Tuesday's Wave

"He is not wise to me who is wise in words only, but he who is wise in deeds." - Saint Gregory

Sunday, April 21, 2013

For The New York Times, This Is A HUGE Admission

Why Going To Church Is Good For You

But, But, But...How Can That Be?! That's Illegal!


As I have said and will continue to say: New and more restrictive gun control will do nothing as it only constrains the law-abiding.  By definition, criminals, lunatics, and terrorists exist outside of laws.

Honestly, it makes me think Connecticut's gun control laws are just new ways of generating income for the state government.  Only rubes think it will make a difference, which I suppose is what the politicians are counting on.

I'll bet they didn't have bomb permits, either.

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Feast Of Alphege, 953-1012

Archbishops of Canterbury used to be absolute fire-eaters, to use an English expression.  About fifty years before William the Conqueror and the Normans invaded Britain, the Danes did so and established their king.  When tribute [bribes] was demanded of the church, Alphege politely, but resolutely, told the Danes that it wasn't going to happen.  A collection of drunks then abused and murdered him for not giving them money.  [Interestingly, something similar happened to a Jamaican priest just a few years ago, although not by Danes.] 

More about him may be found here.  By rough count, about eighteen Archbishops of Canterbury have been martyred or otherwise killed for their faith.  Nowadays, they are simply ridiculed by the BBC and Oxford faculty.

O loving God, your martyr bishop Alphege of Canterbury suffered violent death when he refused to permit a ransom to be extorted from his people: Grant that all pastors of your flock may pattern themselves on the Good Shepherd, who laid down his life for the sheep; and who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Madeleine L'Engle

"The great thing about getting older is that you don't lose all the other ages you've been."

There is a scene in Woody Allen's Annie Hall when, while standing in a theater queue arguing with another film-goer about Marshall McLuhan, Allen is able to pull McLuhan himself from off-camera to support his argument.  I recall Allen observing that he wished life, instead of just fantasy, could sometimes be like that.  While I don't have a story that strictly corresponds to that scene, I do have an experience that left me just as satisfied.

In the 6th Grade I was scolded by my teacher for being disharmonious during a classroom discussion.  I  remind the reader that when I was in 6th Grade the elementary school world was somewhat different than it is today.  There were no such things as "participation trophies", what is now called "bullying" was, in those days, called "school"; corporal punishment was common, and classroom deportment was held to a rigid standard. According to a poll conducted by a teachers' organization in 1967, the most troubling school offense was chewing gum in class.  To be labeled as "disharmonious" by the teacher meant that I had committed a transgression that was mighty in both intention and deed.

What had happened is that I had noted a religious element in a book that our class had just read and had mentioned my observation in our discussion.  The teacher, whom I seem to recall was a "free-thinker", did not believe that Christianity should be mentioned in the classroom.  This was at a time when such "mentions" were becoming controversial and our teacher, highly anxious to be promoted to a comfy sinecure in an administrative office somewhere, wanted nothing controversial to thwart that ambition. So, I was roundly eliminated from any further class discussion and had to have a note about my transgression taken home to be signed by my parents.  This was a pity as we were reading A Wrinkle in Time and it was the first book assigned in a classroom that I actually enjoyed reading.  That wouldn't happen again until I was a sophomore in college.

For those unfamiliar with this Newbery Award-winning classic in children's literature, Wrinkle is about girl who, along with her athletic twin brothers and their genius youngest brother, attempts to find her father, a brilliant scientist who has gone missing while working on a mysterious device known as the "tesseract".  Need I say more?  You should really read it, as should your children or grandchildren.  Trust me, when you're eleven-years-old and a big fan of Jonny Quest [maybe I'll need to write about him one day], this kind of science-fiction adventure was a welcome respite from stories about islands of blue dolphins and crickets in Times Square.

As in C.S. Lewis's Narnia books, the Christian message is unmistakable, albeit presented through  fantasy characters designed to appeal to a child's imagination.  This is no surprise since the author, Madeleine L'Engle, was a devout Episcopalian who would one day be the writer-in-residence at New York's Cathedral of St. John the Divine and a familiar speaker and lay preacher throughout the Episcopal Church.

I'm appreciative of the author for two reasons.  The first is that she showed me, at that impressionable age, how Christian theology could be presented even through a science fiction-styled children's story,  leading me as I matured to an appreciation of the uses of archetype in literature and art.  I remember  first reading Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and noting the repeated, and often unsuspected, references to Gospel tropes in the story of "bull goose loony" McMurphy and his twelve fellow lunatics.  [That was the novel that I read as a sophomore in college that I enjoyed as much as I had L'Engle's novel in 6th Grade].  This was the first awareness of the depth that marks art from...well...the rest.

The second reason is even better.  Nearly 35 years after being not-so-gently steered away from any discussion of Christian archetype by my 6th Grade teacher, I was seated next to Madeleine L'Engle herself at my dining room table.  Over the course of the years, I would wind up having as a seminary professor her son-in-law and coming to know her daughter and grand-children, living as they did in the same town.  One evening, with the pleasant chaos of young people running about the house, and her daughter with my wife intensely involved in the kitchen with the preparation of an elaborate dessert, with the just the two of us left in the dining room I told Madeleine of that day from long ago.

"She should have let you speak.  You were right.  Clearly, she was an idiot."

Aces to Madeleine; snubs to you, Mrs. Suscheck.

Madeleine died in 2007, leaving a formidable body of work.  She wrote a number of fiction and non-fiction books, including two sequels to Wrinkle [one of which won a National Book Award]; most of her works are still in print. A complete bibliography may be found at this link.

As she once wrote, "With each book I write, I become more and more convinced that the books have a life of their own, quite apart from me."  Certainly, as with our spiritual being, her books continue  to live.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

I Posted This On The Parish Facebook Page Last Night And It Went Viral

I should have thought to post it here, too.  Allow me to address that now.

From The Book of Common Prayer:

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love's sake. Amen.

Tuesday's Wave

"Not only in faith, but also in works, God has given man freedom of the will." - St. Irenaeus

Friday, April 12, 2013

James Agee

james-agee.jpg (202×289)

“We are talking now of summer evenings in Knoxville, Tennessee, in the time that I lived there so successfully disguised to myself as a child.” 

A film reviewer died recently.  Until disease silenced him, he was a ubiquitous presence, especially on public television.  Upon his death, his numerous obits highlighted his work not only in film but in other forms of journalism, a script for a produced movie that he wrote, and his politics.

I was always disquieted by his dismissive and condescending attitude towards his television co-host, by the fact that the movie he wrote was smutty and superficial, and that his politics were disappointingly prosaic.  However, his written work was remarkable for its genre, as he brought thoughtfulness to every movie review, even if the film were some slasher nonsense or Hollywood cluster bomb.

It is thought by many of the generations younger than my own that this purposeful and literate style of film review originated with the recently departed, but in fact it was a standard that was set by the "father" of American film critique, James Agee.

Agee originated the film review as we now know it while on the staff of Time/Life magazines in the 1930's and 40's.  In his reviews, he would examine thematic structures, narrative flow, soundtrack recordings, camera angles, costumes,  and the range and talents of the actors.  With the same zeal applied by literary critics to their craft, Agee took film seriously enough to recognize it as a true American art form and and present it as such.  Film directors Francois Truffaut and Martin Scorsese credit Agee as an inspiration for their subsequent work, which is especially interesting since both of those film-makers began their careers as reviewers.

In that light, appreciate this consideration of Agee as film critic that was offered by the National Endowment for the Humanities:
The Agee style—intensely literary and endlessly alert to the textual nuances of an emerging medium—was a striking departure from the prevailing movie coverage, which often seemed little more than a willing arm of the studio publicity mill..[his work] affirmed the stature of film criticism as its own art form, creating a standard that subsequent generations of reviewers have tried to match.Decades after Agee’s passing, the idea of film reviewing as something intellectually valuable seems thoroughly mainstream. But when Agee was making his way as a journalist in the 1930s and 1940s, few editors were interested in devoting “think pieces” to something so seemingly transient as a Hollywood flick. In fighting for film’s place in the pantheon of modern culture, Agee was defying convention, even at the risk of stalling his career.

Were he only a critic, he would still have produced an admirable body of work, ably captured in a two-volume anthology entitled Agee on Film, used copies of which are still to be found.  Included in this collection is his essay on silent film comedy that is still the best analysis of what made Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, and Agee's favorite, Charlie Chaplin, transcend their era and create the unique style of physical comedy that is still as prized as it is elusive in contemporary cinema.

However, like the recently deceased movie critic, Agee was also a screenwriter; albeit of a film of greater quality and endurance.  In 1951, working with the director John Huston from a novel by C.S. Forester [the author of the "Horatio Hornblower" series], Agee wrote the script for "The African Queen", starring Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn.  The film, now considered a classic, won Agee an Academy Award nomination for best screenplay.

But there's more:  In the 1930's, Agee was commissioned by Fortune magazine to tour Alabama during the Great Depression with photographer Walker Evans.  The photo essays, compiled into a book entitled Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, display through stark pictures and lush prose the realities of poverty in the United States.  Fortune found this approach too experimental and the magazine did not publish the finished product; the general public did not warm to it, either, as the book originally sold very few copies.  These days, it is considered a masterpiece in social commentary; a paradigm for all that followed.

So, highly literate and memorable film criticism, a pungent social commentary on poverty in the United States, an Oscar-nominated screenplay; any of these would have marked Agee as a member of the upper echelon of mid-century American writers.  But, there's more....

At this point I should mention that, like many authors, Agee had a problem with alcohol; a rather great problem with it.  So great that it would affect his health to such a degree that he would die in the back of a Manhattan taxi cab in 1955.  He was 45 years old.  What makes his death all the more remarkable is that it occurred on the anniversary of another death, that of his father; and that brings us to yet another arena of Agee's talent.

Although his father was fond of alcohol, too, it was an automobile accident in Knoxville that killed him. Agee was 9 years old at the time and the tragedy haunted him for the remainder of his life. So much so that he poured the grief that was not pickled in booze into a novel that he carefully crafted, like polishing a fine gemstone, for much of his adult life.  The father he barely knew became a physically absent, but certainly powerful, character in A Death in the Family, the novel that was discovered among Agee's personal papers upon his death and that, upon publication in 1958, won the Pulitzer Prize in fiction.

Consider this oft quoted description of summer in Tennessee:
Supper was at six and was over by half past. There was still daylight, shining softly and with a tarnish, like the lining of a shell; and the carbon lamps lifted at the corners were on in the light, and the locusts were started, and the fire flies were out, and a few frogs were flopping in the dewy grass, by the time the fathers and the children came out.
Like other writers we have examined on past Fridays, there is something compelling about sentences of that quality, whether in a novel, screenplay, film review, or photo caption.

As we live in a world where TV shows like Mad Men explore, in a ham-handed and pseudo-literate manner, the existential questions that have claimed the attention of mid-century Americans, a reading of any biography of James Agee would reveal a quest for identity far more compelling and less contrived than Don Draper reading Dante on a Hawaiian beach.  This quest was found, as well, in his film and fiction characters and in the themes of the movies that he loved.  It's a pity that he is so little regarded these days when lesser film reviewers, script writers, and novelists seem to be mining this rather fertile and familiar territory.

My own interest in Agee reaches back to my days as a literature grad student, when I used to delight in finding obscure, but worthy, writers and artists who had been all but forgotten.  When I discovered Agee's novella about a student keeping the Maundy Thursday to Good Friday vigil at his Episcopal boarding school's chapel, well, I was hooked.  There is always an undertone of Anglican spirituality in Agee's works, along with the themes of redemption and reconciliation that are recognizable to anyone who is, in the traditional sense of the word, devout.

A Death in the Family is now a Penguin Classic and still in print, as is Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.  The Library of America has collected the best of Agee's film criticism in James Agee: Selected Film Criticism and Journalism and another volume that features Death, Famous Men, and the aforementioned story of the vigil, The Morning Watch.  All may be found through online book dealers or even in one of the rare physical bookstores that offer classics in American writing.

For a more personal experience, please read or re-read my reminiscence of a few months ago in the The Coracle of Evening Prayer with Father James Harold Flye, who had been Agee's school chaplain, mentor, and friend.  The dualism of Agee's twin mentors, the pious and kind Flye and the roisterer John Huston, also would mark the interesting dichotomy present in his creative process.  Maybe someone will make a TV show of it one day.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

First Thursdays' Adult Forum Begins Tomorrow

Before I forget, there is Adult Forum on Thursday at 7pm in the parish house basement. This is the first of our once-a-month offerings which will be entitled "First Thursdays". This month, we're looking at fictional "lost cities" that turned out to be real.

Because of Easter Week, we're actually starting on the second Thursday, but still....

Sunday, April 7, 2013


It's that time of year, when Holy Week and Easter Week have concluded, and when school, community, and family responsibilities have been re-scheduled repeatedly to the point where I can no longer reasonably procrastinate.  Not to mention that I have a triathlon in which to compete in just six days.  Crikey, how did that happen?

Besides, as one may see from the photo above, the granddaughter is now working out with a stuffed alligator, and getting the better of it, which means I have to spend time refining her technique.

So, the staff of The Coracle is going to enjoy a few days off-line.

We'll be back no later than Friday with a continuation of the Person of the Week, someone selected from either personal acquaintance or from the obscure recesses of history about whom we think some words should be spoken.  In addition, on Tuesdays for the foreseeable future we will offer a Wave of the Week; a wave photo and inspirational quotation designed to induce some stray spiritual thinking.

The rector of the parish will still be around, however.  That guy.  I heard all about him at the senior center....

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Thank Heavens Legal Gun Owners Are Under Control, Eh?

Man shot to death in Hartford's 4th homicide of the year


32-Year-Old Man Shot And Killed In New Haven

Something tells me that these killers might not be following the state's new gun control laws.

I Wish There Were An IQ Test For Political Office

Again, if a timid, un-worldly priest like myself knows more about how guns work than those who are writing public policy and signing it into law, there may be a problem with the system.

A couple of days ago, I noted that Kathleen Sebelius doesn't seem to know how insurance works. Now Colorado's senior Democratic representative, who wants to ban extended magazines, appears to reveal that she doesn't know how the magazines that she wants to ban actually work.

Did Obama tell a Democratic audience that a “fully automatic weapon” was used at Newtown?

"Either (a) O’s referring to a different shooting, which I doubt, (b) I missed an update to the Newtown story, (c) he knows something we don’t, or (d) he has roughly the same mastery of gun fundamentals as magazine expert Diana DeGette."

For those who, like the President of the United States, don't know, fully automatic weapons have been illegal for civilian use since 1934.

This information might help:
Police have identified Lanza's gun as an M4-style carbine made by Bushmaster, specifically the Bushmaster XM15-E2S. Bushmaster explains that designation this way (emphasis added): "XM for Experimental Model, 15 for semi-automatic and E2S is second generation receivers with added reinforcing." Not only is this gun not "a fully automatic weapon"; it did not even qualify as an "assault weapon" under Connecticut law (or under the federal "assault weapon" ban that expired in 2004, which used similar criteria). We know that because police say Lanza's mother purchased it legally in Connecticut.

Even More Stories From The World Of Psychotropic Meds

You know, those things that every single mass shooting of the past fifteen years have in common.  [But let's make illegal the thumb hole in my rifle stock, instead.]

They found prescription medication for sertraline, a generic version of Zoloft used to treat depression, panic disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder; and Clonazepam, usually prescribed to treat anxiety and panic attacks.

The money that pharmaceutical companies has donated to political campaigns was well-invested, wasn't it?

More Stories From The World Of Psychotropic Meds

New York Times: One out of five teenage boys diagnosed with ADHD

Don't worry, I'm sure there will be drug control soon.  Really.  Any minute now.... 

Now It's USA Today That Is Baffled By Christianity

USA Today: Jesus hometown was Jerusalem

Now It's CBS That Is Baffled By Christianity

CBS: John the Baptist was at the Crucifixion

The Benefits Of Federalism And A Free Market Pleasantly Collide

OUTDOOR CHANNEL Pulls Productions from Colorado


 Beretta Leaves Maryland Because of Stricter Gun Laws

I've thought for some time that the contemporary pharisees who make up our political class, those who would use grief-disabled parents and murdered children to create greater revenue for state programs that are stuffed with their political cronies, have been viewing gun manufacturers and the large body of related industries as they traditionally have tobacco manufacturers.  You would think they would have figured out the difference between agriculture-based businesses that cannot move because their crops only grow in certain areas and manufacturing, which can happen anywhere there is a labor pool.

Since our economy, in a word, suffers, the labor pool is rather lush just about everywhere.

I'll be curious to see what Colt, Mossberg, and Ruger, not to mention smaller manufacturers in Connecticut, decide to do with their thousands of employees now that many, if not all, of their products are illegal for sale or possession in the state.  Why stay when you don't have to and can get a better deal elsewhere?

If I were a governor anywhere but Connecticut looking at the potential tax revenue, housing sales, and lowered unemployment rates possible in luring just one of these businesses to my state, I would make a Herculean effort to encourage their move.

This is something that Gov. Malloy should understand, since he was trying to lure the Bushmaster rifle company to Connecticut last year.  Bushmaster, of course, made the rifle that is claimed to have been used in Newtown [we won't know for sure until the official police report is released].

Which Is Why I Never Bother

NYT: Reasons Not to Stretch

Relax, Let The Police Be The Ones To Control Guns

Off-duty officer suspended after gun discharges in strip club restroom

It's Not Designed For Logic Or To Address A True Problem, It's Designed To Pander To The Suburban Vote

Connecticut's Gun Control: A Rush To Pass Laws That Couldn't Have Prevented Tragedy

I shoot a tiny bullet at a piece of paper with a type of rifle that has never been used in a crime.  Since that rifle is now illegal to own in Connecticut and I now need to be background-checked and fingerprinted and trained by some political appointee [sorry, Gunnery Sergeant Jackson, but your training was not good enough for Connecticut], not to mention pay a whopping fee to the state [the real reason for this gun control measure], I might as well buy a mess of handguns in the biggest calibers I can find.  Good work, Malloy.  You just made me a gun nut.

Related:  From the WSJ - Campbell Brown: The President Gives Hollywood a Pass on Violence
Well, like the drug companies, they contribute a mess o'bucks to the political class.

Also related:  Rifles were involved in fewer homicides in 2011 than blunt objects, fists, and knives – This stat is taken from the FBI’s most recent unified crime report which states that there were 323 homicides involving rifles in 2011 while there were 496 involving blunt objects, 728 involving fists, and 1694 involving knives.

Friday, April 5, 2013

An Obituary Of Note

We may have to speak of him some Friday.

Carmine Infantino


Cohabitation first is new norm for unmarrieds with kids

I've been officiating at weddings for thirty-one years and only twice has the couple not already been, in the language of the article, "co-habitating".  One couple was in their 80's when they were married and the other was separated by war and military service.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

I regret to inform the congregation that Maureen Haas, a long-time and faithful member and our Childrens' Ministries director, died this afternoon. Information about the reading of the burial office will be forthcoming.

Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servant Maureen. Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming. Receive her into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light. Amen.

May her soul and the souls of all the departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

Clearly, Guns Are Our Biggest Problem

U.S. sees highest poverty spike since the 1960s, leaving 50 million Americans poor


 Help shrinks as poverty spikes in the US


In U.S., Child Poverty and Hunger Rates Remain Alarmingly High

This is where I differ from my colleagues.  They think that guns cause violence.  I think that unemployment and poverty encourage it.  We're about to see who's right.

Easter Wednesday Wave

O God, whose blessed Son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread: Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Relax, Let The Police Be The Ones With The Guns

Norfolk deputy leaves gun in Macy's dressing room

Today's Story From The World Of Psychotropic Meds

Driver crashes car into Wal-Mart and starts attacking customers

From A NYT Book Review

The Karl Marx depicted in Jonathan Sperber’s absorbing, meticulously researched biography will be unnervingly familiar to anyone who has had even the most fleeting acquaintance with radical politics. Here is a man never more passionate than when attacking his own side, saddled with perennial money problems and still reliant on his parents for cash, constantly plotting new, world-changing ventures yet having trouble with both deadlines and personal hygiene, living in rooms that some might call bohemian, others plain “slummy,” and who can be maddeningly inconsistent when not lapsing into elaborate flights of theory and unintelligible abstraction.

First, anyone who visited the "Occupy Wall Street" area last year will recognize the "Marx style" that is still au courant in counter-cultural circles, and,

Two, how sad is it that the New York Times thinks that it would be shocking, rather than perfectly consistent, to discover Jesus organizing a parish bake sale?  If all Jesus did was walk around being holy, instead of serving as both a lyrical teacher and practical organizer, then we would have never heard of Christianity. 

Lord, non-theists are remedial.

Easter Tuesday Wave

O God, who by the glorious resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light: Grant that we, who have been raised with him, may abide in his presence and rejoice in the hope of eternal glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be dominion and praise for ever and ever. Amen.

The New York Times Doesn't Know What Easter Is

Correction: April 1, 2013

An earlier version of this article mischaracterized the Christian holiday of Easter. It is the celebration of Jesus’s resurrection from the dead, not his resurrection into heaven.

As another writer notes:

Where I think Michael understates the case is when he says that it reveals the Times as know-nothings to 1.2 billion Catholics. Leaving aside the massed ranks of Anglicans, Methodists et al, it exposes the Times to believers and non-believers alike as culturally ignorant. The Bible underpins a big chunk of western art, music, and literature, and not to know its basic concepts is to condemn yourself to bobbing around in the shallows.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Well That Changes Things

New research suggest Shroud of Turin dates to time of Jesus

Sorry, But This Is Just Wrong

Furor Growing Against Obama Over 'Monsanto Protection Act'

I've managed to lose over 30 pounds and regain a considerable amount of natural health by strictly avoiding the "Frankenfood" that is inundating the market, which alters even that which is grown organically.  The government likes to lecture/hector about soda cup sizes and tobacco and guns, but promotes nonsense like this that is far more deadly than any of the things against which they legislate.

Although, Monsanto has donated quite a bit to recent campaigns....

This is the kind of Christian social action that might be meaningful these days.

I've Been Saying This For Years

Why Not Separate Marriage and State?

Easter Monday Wave

Grant, we pray, Almighty God, that we who celebrate with awe the Paschal feast may be found worthy to attain to everlasting joys; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.