Sunday, August 5, 2012

Hey, If You're Going to Fabricate Dylan Quotes...

Warning: This photo is not my intellectual property
Jonah Lehrer's book Imagine: How Creativity Works contained a number of fabricated and compiled quotes that he attributed to Bob Dylan. A journalistic crime to be sure, but it was also a shame that the quotes offered no new insights into Bob Dylan's thought processes. 
Here are some quotes that offer a glimpse into the real world of Bob Dylan. 
And, yes I made them up.

"It's always the lyrics that come first. When I get to the point where I think a song works, I sing the lyrics to The Hokey Pokey. If they work with that, they will work with anything else I can come up with." 

"People suggest that I have no rhyme or reason to my touring schedule. Let me just say that it's no accident that I am often playing in cities where the McRib is available for a limited time."

"I did not make a deal with the Devil. I get asked that all the time. We had lunch a couple of times, but that's as far as it went."

"I'm not afraid of my fans, my security guys are."

"I probably listen to Jethro Tull more than anything else. When Tempest is released, you may notice that the title song owes a lot of it's structure to side two of Minstrel in the Gallery"

"It's been said that I never talk to my band. That's preposterous. I talk to them all the time. I do avoid eye contact however."

"Yes, there's a song about coal plants on the new album. It reflects my desire to be the voice of co-generation"

"I'm more than just a singer and songwriter. I paint, write prose and I love to weld. Do you need a new gate?"

"No, Tempest will not be my last album. I'm already midway through an album of children's songs due out in spring. It will either be called Pre-school from the Heart or Milk on the Tracks"

"Shakespeare's last play was called The Tempest. It wasn't called just plain Tempest. The name of my record is just plain Tempest. It's two different titles."

The last item is an actual quote from Bob Dylan's recent interview with Mikal Gilmore of Rolling Stone. I apologize for the oversight. 

If I had a job, I would resign immediately.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Spot Free Rinse for the Soul

What I'm saying this month at

One morning a few weeks ago, I opened the dishwasher and thought, “Why can’t anyone learn how to load the G@# d#@n dishwasher!” Actually, I did not think that, I was reflecting on one of my father’s favorite phrases.
He was a proficient blasphemer and applied this skill to a wide range of topics. Railing about the dishwasher was perhaps his ultimate passion...

Read the rest of this post at

Monday, July 23, 2012

You Can't Fight City Hall (If they won't fight back)

The rainy season was coming to an end when escrow closed on our house. The irrigation system was turned off and it took me a couple of weeks to get around to setting the  timer up and get the sprinklers working.
IMG_0464 I noticed that there was a huge leak in the main irrigation line, resulting in streams of water gushing into the gutter and very little water hitting the actual lawn. After some digging, I found a break in the pipe under the concrete walkway to our house. It just happened to be directly under the portion of the walkway that had been cut out and replaced by the City while installing our water meter.
As I had my head buried under the walkway, trying to inspect the damage, a neighbor walked by and commented "Oh, the City did that. The guy who lived here before was fighting with them over it". "Hmm.. " I thought, "Nice of him to tell me".
For weeks, I stewed about it, but procrastinated. Rather than deal with the problem, I wandered into the front yard every morning to hand water all the dry spots that resulted from the leak.
My sprained ankle
     Things came to a head a week or so ago when I slipped on the wet grass and slid down a three foot raised portion of the lawn while watering. I landed face first in a puddle of water, The hose landed on top of me, running full force over my back. I sprained my ankle on the way down and was unable to move for several minutes.
       When I was finally able to regain both my footing and composure, I hobbled back to the house. At this point, I noticed a tag hanging on my front door. It was another day before I had the time or inclination to retrieve it.
photo-2       I pulled the tag off the door the next day. It was a message from the City. They wanted to inform me that according to the data they were collecting from my newly installed meter, they suspected that I had some sort of leak. If I wanted to call their water conservation department, they would be happy to help me determine the cause.
     OK. Enough! I spent they next couple of days preparing a testy memo to the City with photos to document the damage. The memo ended with a polite, but firm demand that the City repair my pipeline.
     Last Thursday, I finally went down to the City Water Division (several miles from City Hall).
With my testy memo in hand and having mentally rehearsed all the potential "let me talk to your supervisor" scenarios that might result, I walked in ready for battle.
      "I'm not sure who I need to talk to, but my irrigation system was damaged when you installed my water meter". The woman working at the counter looked at me and said. "You just talk to me, I'll make sure it's taken care of." She asked me for my address, looked it up on a computer and determined when the meter was installed and identified the construction company that had done the installation. "I'm emailing them right now. They'll come out and look at it."
"I have pictures" I said, "I have a memo!" She stared at me for a second, "No, I don't need any of that. They will take care of it and they will respond quickly" I walked out mildly disappointed that my righteous indignation would have to wait for another day.
     As promised, a man from the construction company that installed the water meter arrived at my house early the next day. He looked at the damage and said "Oh, I don't think that was us, this is a real Micky Mouse job. Let me call my boss and double check". He went to his truck to make the call and was back at my door a few minutes later. "It was us!" he said, "I'm sorry we did such a lousy job. I'll be back Monday and take care of it."
     Sure enough, he was back this morning, and spent two hours digging out the meter box, replacing the damaged pipe and replacing the meter cover. He even spent some time cleaning and adjusting the sprinklers that had been affected by the leak.
      It would have been more fun to write about feckless bureaucrats indifferent to my suffering and outrage. Alas, I was denied the opportunity to rage against the City at all. I have been robbed of the chance to regale others with stories about how I "let em have it!" There would be no long and winding accounts about being sent from one department to another. Most importantly, they have denied me access to the moral high ground.
     Like they say, you can't fight City Hall.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Rebuilding The Temple

I mentioned a couple of months ago that I would have to put the blog on hold for a while, but I didn't think it would be this long.

In late spring, we took on the challenge of moving into a house with one of our children and our three grandchildren. This meant buying one house, moving out of two, getting one ready for market and making the other habitable for our oldest son and his wife.

After all the packing, unpacking, cleaning and so forth, there has been the assembly. In the last two months, I have assembled a desk, a bookshelf, several chairs, a garage storage rack and a swing set. There are still several Ikea flat packs waiting for me in the garage.
A recent project

Things have been so hectic of late, I have found it difficult to read, let alone write. It was all I could do in June to write a single, brief, disjointed column for July over at Catholic Mom. ( The Cradle Rocks ).

I read almost nothing for a month or so and have gotten back in the groove with a couple of  Swedish crime novels by Theorin Johan.

I have been so busy doing other things that I have had trouble thinking of what to say, so today and in the coming weeks, I'll focus on what other folks are saying.

I participate in two reading groups. That has helped keep me from losing touch with the printed word entirely. One group that I meet with focuses largely on the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas.
I enjoy the reading and the discussions that go along with it, but I have to admit that reading the Summa  makes me feel more that a little stupid. For someone who's prior experience with reading theology ended with the Baltimore Catechism, the Summa is tough going.

Looking for a resource to help me get a better feel for Aquinas, I stumbled upon this review for The Summa Philosophica by Peter Kreeft.  Peter Sean Bradley, a member of the reading group. Although it is not a discussion of the Summa Theologica, but a discussion of Philosophy written in the style of the Summa, I think it will help me deal with the Summa itself. On the strength of his review, and by the powers of Amazon Prime, I will be reading this soon.

Lastly today, I want to share a couple of other folks' observations about the Amazing Spiderman.  First is an article by Marissa Nichols at Catholic Mom and the Theology of Laundry , The Amazingly Universal Appeal of God and Spiderman.

The other is this Movie review of The Amazing Spiderman by Father Robert Barron.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Dietrich and Donna

The Queen of disco and the King of German lieder both died this week.
Although I am neither a fan of disco or lieder, I have long had Pandora Channels named for both Donna Summers and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau
Donna Summers

I dipped heavily into both Pandora channels over the weekend as I reflected on the passing of both of these great (in very different ways) singers.

Listening to the Donna Summers channel, I heard some of her hits like Last Dance, Hot Stuff and She Works Hard For the Money. I also got to hear  artists like Chic, Gloria Gaynor and the Bee Gees. (Including Robin Gibb who also died this weekend to honor the "celebrities die in threes" rule.)

Listening for a couple of hours while puttering around the house, I wondered why I disliked disco so intensely when I was younger. Most of it was pleasant and easy to listen to. I was able to appreciate why, for a time, Donna Summers was Queen of the genre. Here songs were beautifully produced and she sang with beautiful tone, effortless phrasing and real power.

Turning to the Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau channel in the evening was more of a challenge. The channel, understandably, is programmed mostly with lieder composted by Shubert, Beethoven and the like. Even though I have been a fan of Fischer-Dieskau for decades, he is most noted for music I have just never warmed up to.

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau was one of the greatest singers of the 20th century and perhaps the most recorded with over 1000 albums to his credit. My appreciation of him is based on only one of those performances.

In the early 1970's he appeared in a film version of Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro. I have watched or listened to his performance as Count Almaviva hundreds of times over the last 20 years. His performance as the count is so great, it makes it hard to appreciate other interpretations of the part. To me, he is Count Almaviva.

Rest in Peace Dietrich and Donna. (Robin Gibb too)

I'll leave you with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau as Count Almaviva.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

A Quiet Period

Our Future Living Room

Life has taken a strange turn over the last month or so. Since Debbie and I decided to buy a house and move in with our Daughter and her three children, life has been anything but quiet. This blog, on the other hand, has been. Very.

We got Robin and the kids moved in this week, in couple of weeks Debbie and I will move in as well. When the dust settles, I'll have more time to post.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Postcards From Florence

I have started packing my desk.

I will be moving it from my current home office to the office/den/bedroom in our new place. It will be interesting to see how the new arrangement works out.

Lippi - The Disposition
Lippi - The Disposition 
My desk is a simple, table like affair with a number of cubby holes at the back, some narrow and vertical, others are wide horizontal shelves. All are crammed with things I have felt the needed organize. Most of the items disappeared from my memory the moment they were placed there.

Bernini - Ecstasy of Saint Therese
Bernini - Ecstasy of Therese

As I emptied the compartments one by one, I assessed each item, then placed it in a box to be moved, placed it in a bag to be donated or placed in a bag to thrown in the trash. (It's surprising how much of the stuff was in category three) 

In one of the cubbies, I found a glassine envelope containing postcards we bought at the gift shop in the Academy of the Arts in Florence. The cards were reproductions of some of the art we had seen during our trip to Italy.
Bonaguida - The Tree of Life
Bonaguida - The Tree of Life

We arrived in Florence on day eight of a ten day trip that took us to Rome, Assisi, Orvieto, Sienna and Perugia as well.  By the time we arrived in Florence, we had overdosed on beauty. It was difficult to absorb one more beautiful painting, one more incredible building or stunning sculpture.

Now, two years later, I stumble upon these postcards and have a second chance to absorb what I couldn't when I had the chance to see these works of art in person.

The postcards are now sitting on my desk waiting for me to figure out what to do with them. They don't belong in a desk drawer and I can't bear to throw them away. Where and how they might fit into the environment at our new house remains to be seen.

For now, the postcards serve to remind me how much we want to go back. After two years we are ready to absorb more beauty. We are ready for second helpings of Giotto and gelato.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Resurrection Round Up

It's Easter, so you would expect Catholic Bloggers to be discussing Christ and the importance of the resurrection to the Catholic faith.

But folks are having to work a bit harder this year since a theme popping up in the mainstream culture this season is a vision of Christ without all that messy divine mumbo-jumbo.

First, take a look at what Craig Bernthal is writing over at Huron County Extract. In this post he discusses the importance of the resurrection and his response to "liberal" christians who assert that Christ's teachings are what is important, that his divinity is not.

Next, Check out Father Robert Barron's response  to Andrew Sullivan's recent article "Christianity In Crisis" in which Sullivan suggests that we forget about religion and focus directly on Christ's teachings.

Finally, Peter Sean Bradley over at Lex Communis in his Radio Free Aquinas podcast, discusses the recent writings of Bart Ehrman. Ehrman asserts that although Jesus existed as a historical figure, that the Bible was wrong about the resurrection.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Getting Back on Track For Lent

The tracks across the street from my house

Lent was going great until week five. Among my intentions for Lent were to abstain from alcohol, to fast and diet (to lose about 15 pounds), and to read all the Flannery O'Connor short stories.

The first four weeks went well. I was down ten pounds, about half way through the 500+ pages of the O'Connor stories and drank only on Debbie's birthday and Saint Patrick's day.

Then week five hit.

We went into escrow on a new house. If you had asked me if I ever planned to move again on Ash Wednesday, I would have told you no. Lots of life changes have occurred since then (But that's another post.) 

Then there was the unexpected house guest, the unexpected family get together that I hosted as a result, the unexpected road trip last weekend ending with a night out to celebrate multiple birthdays.

No time to read, the diet went out the window and the events of the weekend called for a drink (or three).

So was my Lenten experience a failure? No. Not really. Monday came and I resumed my fast, I read one of the longest of Flannery O'Connor's short stories, and avoided the temptation to have a night cap. 

This year, I chose some challenging observances for Lent. I have retained my commitment to the goals and intend to keep going beyond Easter. It may take me until mid April to finish the stories. It may be the end of April before I loose the 15 pounds and I suspect that the few weeks of successful abstinence from alcohol will lead long term moderation.

I am confident that I will look back on Lent 2012 as a great success. I have learned a lot about life and faith from O'Conner (Although I may never be able to articulate why or how) and I have learned a bit about myself as well. 

And I have learned as much from stumbling as I have from staying on track.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Pre Schooled in Prayer

Max has been a difficult child. 
     People who know him well might guess that there were some obvious reasons for that. Those with some child development classes under their belt would say it was because he was four years old. All reasons considered, it was about as much as I could take.
Last summer, I went from working full time to being a full time grandparent to Max, his 3 year old sister and seven year old brother. This would have been a challenge regardless of Max’s temperament. Going from being a “Fun” grandparent to one actively involved in their upbringing is a tough one for a grandparent to make.
My daughter’s separation from their father was rough on all three of my grandchildren, but Max soon became sullen and angry much of the time, stubborn all of the time. 
To be honest, it was rough on my wife and me as well. Just a few months from a retirement we had expected to be relatively carefree, we were suddenly plunged back into the world of parenting. In addition to the logistics of getting kids dressed and fed each morning, getting the oldest one to school on time, planning and serving dinners that we could eat as a family when my daughter got home from work, there was discipline. 
Discipline is easy when you are babysitting but critical when you’re with children for 40 or 50 hours a week. With Max it seemed impossible.
For months, everything was a battle. Getting him to dress was a battle, getting him in the car on the days he had pre-school was a battle, getting him to stop hitting anybody and everybody was a battle. The mayhem he was able to create seemed to keep us from getting anything accomplished.
What was more unsettling than the anger I saw in Max, was the anger I saw in myself. By the fall, I was constantly losing my patience. Neither of us was having a lot of fun. 
I was surprised at myself. I have spent half my life raising my own children and my whole career working with high school students, all with very little frustration or anger. Suddenly, a four year old seemed to have the better of me.
 Baffled, I turned to the only resource I could think of. I turned to prayer.
I hear other Catholics talking about having a prayer life. I’m not even sure what people mean by that, I just knew that I didn’t have one. Sure, I say the Rosary and the occasional Novena, but I’ve never been sure how to go about the deep, direct sort of prayer called for when you are troubled.
I do know enough about prayer to avoid asking God to affect a specific outcome. God doesn’t need my advice about how to solve a problem. Besides, God has a sense of humor, giving you exactly what you asked for in ways you least expected. 
I prayed for myself. I prayed for wisdom, understanding and patience. (If you’re asking, ask for something big!) I prayed for Max. I prayed for his wellbeing (Although it was tempting to pray for a list of behaviors I would like to see changed).
About a week or two into the prayer cycle, things started to change. Max suddenly became more cooperative and more polite. He started addressing me as Grandpa rather than “Chicken head” or “Monkey brain”. Pleases and thank you’s are now spontaneous. He is not yet an angel but he is at least window shopping for wings.
For my part, I have learned to be more relaxed. I am starting to get the hang of actually being with small children, rather than thinking about what else I need to be doing. I have gotten much better at being firm and clear without being emotional. I’m starting to get the hang of the “parent”  part of grandparenting.
People who know Max might guess that there were some obvious reasons for his turnaround. Those with some child development classes under their belt would say it was because he is now five. 
I know prayer was a factor as well. 
Over the past few weeks, Max and I have both come to a greater appreciation of our lives and of each other. I can think of no better answer to my prayers.
Does that mean I can cut back on prayer? Oh no. Lily turns four any day now.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Saint Patrick's Day Music - Carrickfergus

There is nothing happier or sadder than a drunken Irishman. This song is proof of the latter. 
Perhaps the second saddest Irish song of all time.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Saint Patrick's Day Music - Whiskey in the Jar

A double play today. Since this song is a classic in both the Irish folk and light metal genres, we offer one of each. First, the traditional take on the song by The Dubliners.

Next, since this song is also a rock staple, here are Irish rockers Gary Moore and Eric Bell, both formerly of Thin Lizzy performing a version based on that band's interpretation of the song from the early 70's.

Monday, March 12, 2012

St. Patrick's Day Music - Star of the County Down

Over the weekend, Craig over at Huron County Extract posted a couple of tunes from the BBC series The Transatlantic Sessions. He hasn't said as much, but I suspect he is developing a St. Patrick's day theme. I intend to take him on post for post.
Today's entry is from one of my "desert island" albums, Irish Heartbeat, by Van Morrison and the Chieftains.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

O'Connor for Lent Vol II - A Good Man is (still) Hard to Find

“A good man is hard to find” Red Sammy said. “Everything is getting terrible. I remember the day you could go off and leave your screen door unlatched. Not no more” 
Red Sammy was sharing his observation about this faithless generation almost sixty years ago in Flannery O’Connors story, A Good Man is Hard to Find.  He made these remarks to “the grandmother” who was traveling with her son and his family. They had stopped at Red Sammy’s Barbecue on their vacation trip from Atlanta down to Florida. (A route that seems to be favored by O’Connor’s characters)
     The grandmother didn’t want to go to Florida, she tried to convince her son that Tennessee would be a more appropriate vacation destination since the paper was full of stories of “The Misfit” who had escaped from the Federal penitentiary and was thought to be headed to Florida as well. She told her son, “I wouldn't take my children in any direction with a criminal like that aloose in it. I couldn’t answer my conscience if I did.”
Shortly after leaving the barbecue stand, an unforeseen series of events leads them to be stranded on a deserted dirt road and brings her face to face with The Misfit.
     The grandmother’s confrontation with The Misfit and the incredible darkness of the story's ending made a huge impact on me when if first read it over 40 years ago. In my most recent re-reading of the story for Lent, something struck me that did not occur to me the first time I read it. (I was 14 at the time, I wasn’t paying close attention)
  The Misfit was a deeply wicked man, but it was the grandmother’s sinful (if seemingly minor) acts that brought her to him.
Her first misdeed was to smuggle a basket containing Pitty Sing, her cat, into the car. She did this because she knew her son Bailey would not allow the cat to come along.
Later in the trip, she tried to convince Bailey to turn off the highway onto a dirt road that led to a plantation she had visited as a child. Knowing that her son was unwilling to take the detour, she manipulated her grandchildren;
“There’s a secret panel in this house” she said, not telling the truth, but wishing we were."And  the story went that all the family silver was hidden in it when Sherman came through, but he never found it…"
The children, John Wesley and June Star, begged and pleaded until Bailey finally agreed to turn off onto the dirt road.
After a few miles on the dirt road, the grandmother suddenly realized that this was not the road to the plantation. That road was back in Georgia. They were already in Tennessee. She was so startled at the thought, she kicked the basket containing the cat. The basket became uncovered and Pitty Sing, in a state of panic, leaped out of the basket and onto Bailey’s head. This caused Bailey to lose control of the car. It is then that The Misfit and his two sidekicks appear.
Even after it was clear to her that her son and his family had been escorted into the woods and shot, her selfishness continues as she begs The Misfit to spare her life.
“Jesus” The old lady cried, “ I know you wouldn’t shoot a lady! You come from nice people! Pray! Jesus, you ought not to shoot a lady. I’ll give you all the money I’ve got!”
To which The Misfit replies, “Lady, there never was a body that gave the undertaker a tip”
 The grandmother thought of herself as a good woman, but she wasn't. She cared more about what she wanted than the happiness of those around her. Her behavior seemed harmless on the surface, but brings death to herself and her family. Even The Misfit seems more miserable for having met her.
The chilling part of the story is that the grandmother is like us. We are all guilty of putting our own wants before the good of others and before God. The story provides a great Lenten reflection because Lent is the perfect time to reflect on the toxic nature of our own selfishness.
By the way,  the grandmother got everything she wanted. The cat came along for the ride, they took the detour she wanted and the family vacation ended in Tennessee.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Life as a Prayer

You could spend a lifetime meditating on the meaning of The Lord’s Prayer. Indeed, you could spend a good part of your life meditating on the phrase, give us this day our daily bread. I got a brief glimpse of one of the many things that phrase means today.
As Debbie and I were finishing lunch with two of our three grandchildren (the eldest being in school), I remarked on the wind outside. Debbie said “Oh, great! Let’s go outside and fly a kite!”. “Good idea.” I replied. (While thinking, “Did I actually say that?”).
Five minutes later, I was assembling the 99 cent kite that had been sitting on our dining room table for the last week. Ten minutes later the four of us were out in the street learning to fly a kite, learning how to untangle the tail from a tree, and learning how to free the kite from the telephone wires above us.

Forty minutes of kite flying was followed by a few piggyback and horseyback rides. (There is a difference, you know) After that, the four of us sat down and played a game of Uno Roboto. Teaching an almost four and almost five year old how to play Uno is easier said than done. After that, we had about a half hour of “Grandpa school”. We did a craft project on the letter of the week….Q.
Sounds like another day in the life of a grandparent. It was. What was different was that I was actually able to relax and enjoy the experience. For the last 30 years, much of my time with my kids or grandkids was clouded by a preoccupation with work or other responsibilities. Even in the first eight months of my retirement, while watching the grandkids or playing with them, I was still in the habit of thinking about what else needed be done, what was next on the agenda. 

You would think that spending hours on end with very young children would come naturally to someone who has already raised three children. The truth is that it has taken a while to adapt. Today was a breakthrough of sorts.
So what does this have to do with The Lord's Prayer or our daily bread?
I assume that when we ask this, we are not just asking to be fed physically, but mentally, socially and emotionally as well. I also assume that “our daily bread”  is not just given in a one-way transaction. Bread needs to be seen (or recognized), broken and shared to fulfill its promise.
In living this line, one needs to recognize gifts when they are given and share them with those around you. The gift may be as simple as a mild breeze occurring on the day you happen to have a new kite sitting around or as profound as seeing a young child flying a kite for the first time. 
Could something this simple be part of our daily bread? As Mr. Dylan once said, “The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.”

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Lex Communis - Review of Lord of the World by Robert Hugh Benson

I read Lord of the World a couple of years ago and found it chilling.
Check out Peter Sean Bradley's review on Lex Communis

Idolatry at the Surly Temple

     Father Robert Barron's most recent YouTube commentary is on the subject of idolatry.
As Father Barron frames it, the subject is both a fitting Lenten reflection and hits upon the overarching theme of this blog as well.
     He begins by suggesting that we would do well to pay more attention to the first three commandments than most people do. Placing God in the forefront of our lives not only makes it easier to heed the remaining seven commandments, but is the key to living a meaningful life. Idolatry in modern life often takes the form of placing undue importance on money, power, sex, food etc. Lent is the perfect time to focus on those things in life that we may love a bit too much, that may be taking our focus away from God. Lent can help us get back in line with commandments one through three.
     Toward the end he reflects on the notion that our bodies are temples of The Holy Spirit.
    First, Father Barron reminds us that when St. Paul tells us that our bodies are temples of The Holy Spirit, his notion of the body refers to one's whole being, not just the physical body. Just as a physical temple is a place to honor God, present sacrifice and observe the sabbath, our lives are intended to serve the same purpose.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

O'Conner for Lent - Part one

Flannery's Bird - KJW

One of my Lenten observances this year is to read all the stories of Flannery O’Conner. I’m about five stories into the collection.  The Geranium and The Barber, her first two stories, follow each other in the collection for a reason.  Both stories confront the same spiritual problem from different angles. 
In The Geranium, Dudley is transplanted from his boarding house in the deep south to his daughter’s tenement apartment in New York. The story follows Dudley as he confronts is unease with city life, then suffers a sense of physical and mental shock when he discovers that blacks and whites live in the same building. He has a near stroke after being helped up the stairs by his black neighbor.
Flannery O'Connor

In The Barber, Rayber is incensed that his barber and all of his cronies in the barber shop are staunch supporters of a segregationist candidate for governor. Since he is a college professor, he is confident he can articulate his support for the other candidate and argue the barber down. The problem is that he can’t seem to verbalize his thoughts. He leaves the barber shop humiliated, telling them that he will be back with a convincing argument to vote for the opponent. Over the next couple of weeks, in drafts a lengthy speech in support of his candidate. 
On the way to the barbershop for his next haircut, he passes by the feed store. In the window, is a display of automatic chicken killers. The sign in the window proclaims, “So Timid Persons Can Kill Their Own Foul!”. Not taking the hint, Rayber continues on his way to the barbershop. 
The professor is geared up to blast them with his finely honed speech, but the first few minutes of the conversation with the barber is all smalltalk. He finally broaches the subject himself and launches into the first sentence of his speech. The barber and his pals are not even listening.
Rayber turns beet faced, pushes the barber onto the adjacent chair and runs from the shop with lather still dripping from his chin.
The spiritual problem is the same for both men. When we view others through the lens of race, political ideology or religion etc., we place scales on our eyes. We no longer see those others as our neighbors, we see them as enemies. The professor, even though his views are easier to defend, is guilty of the same treatment of his neighbor as is Dudley in the geranium. Neither man can see through their prejudices to recognize the people on the other side of them.
How do you embrace what you know to be right while showing love for those who disagree? It’s one of the mysteries of Christian life.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday

The Lenten List

  1. Give up alcohol
  2. Eat Better (It's complicated)
  3. Attend Mass at least 4 times a week
  4. Read all the Flannery O'Conner short stories

Monday, February 20, 2012

Ready for Lent - Parched, by Heather King


"My own life was a mystery to me"
                                               Heather King, Parched

I have spent time in recent weeks reflecting on Heather Kings’s 2005 memoir Parched.  I’m gearing up for Lent and giving up alcohol is on my short list of Lenten observances this year.
The book chronicles Ms King’s life as a drunk and her eventual recovery.  The stories in her book provide plenty of reasons to lay the bottle down for six weeks and remind me that there is a price to be paid even for casual drinking. 
Letting go of the habit for forty days will help me re-assess the role drinking plays in my life and the extent to which it may interfere with my relationships with others and with God. 
But Parched is a great Lenten reflection not because it is about giving up drinking, it’s really about giving up everything. 
From her first beer in ninth grade and over the following twenty years her whole life centered around alcohol. As she describes it...
 "A normal person would regard the next two decades of my life, scratch his or her head and say, “Why’d you do that? Why didn’t you just stop?” But already I couldn’t have stopped. I didn’t know that by taking that first drink I had surrendered my free will: the thing that distinguishes me from an animal”
For Heather King, to stop drinking was not a matter of giving up one thing, it required giving up the entire life she had cultivated over the previous two decades. It also required the grace of God.
Toward the end of the book, King recounts how she was set up by her family. She was picked up at her apartment in Boston by her younger brother under the pretense they were going to a family gathering to celebrate her father’s birthday. She arrives to find her family sitting in a circle with an intervention counselor, a pitcher of lemonade, a litany of examples of how her drinking had hurt them and a plane ticket.
A few days later her family put her on a plane to Minnesota where they had booked her for a thirty day stay in a treatment facility. Her life, such as it had been,was now over.
A cynic might say that she did not recover through the grace of God, but through the intervention of her family. If a loving family isn’t a grace from God, what is? 

And what is a Lenten sacrifice if not an invitation to grace?

While we're on the subject of drinking, Merle Haggard, John Lee Hooker, The Louvin Brothers, George Jones and others are featured on my short Spotify playlist,
Songs by for and About Drunks.  

Spring Comes to Our Street

After a few weeks of cold, gloomy weather, the sun came out this morning and the you get the sense that Spring may be here soon.

The sun is out on our block

And on our porch
Pear Blossoms

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Is Bob Dylan Channeling Bishop Sheen?

Bob Dylan Channels Bishop SheenThe real Bishop Sheen

When I saw Bob Dylan performing Blind Willie McTell on TV a few weeks ago, I was struck with the increasing formality of his body language. The first time I saw him, about 8 years ago, he conveyed very little physically (or verbally, for that matter). 
By the Fall of 2009, he had loosened up considerably. He now actually faces his audience from time to time and employs dramatic gestures on a handful of songs. Ballad of a Thin Man, Forgetful Heart and Cold Irons Bound most notable among them. 
In the last year or so, his gestures seem to have grown more ritualistic. The hitching of his left leg while rocking at his keyboard, the clutching at the hem of his coat and the grabbing of his lapels (no jacket required) are now standard components of his live performance. 
Watching his performance of Blind Willie McTell, I was taken aback by how much he comes across like a musical version of Bishop Fulton Sheen. After reviewing one of the late Bishop’s Life is Worth Living episodes I was able to draw a few comparisons.

Both are flamboyant in dress and gesture.

Sheen was a rock star among bishops, Dylan a bishop among rock stars (Ok, that’s a reach, Dylan is more a successor to Paul than to Peter.) 

Bishop Sheen’s series ran for years on end, Bob’s tour is said to be never ending. 

Both have been praised by Pope John Paul II for their bodies of work.

Bishop Sheen used popular culture to illustrate scripture, Dylan uses scripture to illuminate popular culture (Doubt that? Listen to Blowin' in the Wind or All Along the Watchtower)

Father Robert Barron comments on All Along the Watchtower

Decades after his "Christian period" God continues to lurk in Dylan's music. Huck's Tune from the soundtrack of Lucky You is superficially about love and poker, but hints at something deeper.

All the merry little elves can go hang themselvesMy faith is as cold as can beI'm stacked high to the roof and I'm not without proofIf you don't believe me, come see.
                                             - Bob Dylan, Huck's Tune

On his album Together Through Life, This Dream of You and Forgetful Heart both describe a longing that is both romantic and spiritual at the same time.

From a cheerless room in a curtained gloomI saw a star from heaven fallI turned and looked again but it was goneAll I have and all I knowIs this dream of youWhich keeps me living on
                                         - Bob Dylan, This Dream of You

Forgetful heart
We loved with all the love that life can give
What can I say
Without you it's so hard to live
Can't take much more
Why can't we love like we did before
Forgetful heart
Like a walking shadow in my brain
All night long
I lay awake and listen to the sound of pain
The door has closed forevermore
If indeed there ever was a door

                                     - Bob Dylan, Forgetful Heart

You can listen to these and a few other recent Bob Dylan songs on the Spotify playlist Dylan Songs More People Should Hear.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Valentine's Day - When I get to it

Valentine cookies on the 16th? We do what we can.

Gastrointestinal flu, colds and Bible study all conspired to delay the much anticipated baking of Valentine heart cookies with the grandkids until Thursday. I made a feeble attempt to compensate Tuesday morning by picking up a few heart shaped sugar cookies at Whole Foods. Liam declared them to be "The worst Valentine cookies he had ever tasted". Fortunately, these cookies, decorated by Lily, Max and me were given enthusiastic reviews.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Ready for Lent - Magnificat Lenten Companion for iPhone

First, a tip of the hat to CatholicMom for letting us know the app is out there.

Part of your Lenten observance may be to attend Mass more often, engage in morning or evening prayer or read from scripture on a daily basis. If any of these are in your Lenten plans, you may want to download this Lenten Companion from the publishers of Magnificat.

The application faithfuly replicates the feel of the periodical in a form that is ultra portable and easy to navigate with a single thumb. There is a page for every day of Lent with sections for morning and evening prayer, daily Mass and a daily Lenten Meditation.

If you are a subscriber to Magnificat, you will appreciate the guide as a compact and portable compliment to the magazine. If you are not familier with Magnificat, you will find it to be a great introduction.

The Magnificat Lenten Companion is available from the iPhone App Store and sells for 99 cents.

For more information, go to the Magnificat web site

Monday, February 13, 2012

Ready for Lent - simplifying THE SOUL

Paula Huston’s book, simplifying THE SOUL Lenten Practices to Renew your Spirit is an excellent resource for developing a deeper appreciation of Lenten practice and offers practical suggestions for every day of the season. I will comment on some of these over the next few weeks.

To be honest, three paragraphs in, I was expecting to dislike the book. Learning that this advice was going to come from a monastic based in Big Sur, I was concerned that the tone of the book would be too precious and the spiritual exercises too lofty for someone as crusty as myself. My fears were unfounded. Her book is down to earth, practical and entertaining. If you are someone who, like me, spent most of your life looking at Lent as a time to “give something up”, the book will challenge you to expand your notion of Lenten observance.
She starts by urging us to doing some physical and mental housecleaning prior to Lent, then divides the weeks of Lent into themes that focus on money, body, mind, schedule, relationships and prayer.
Some daily exercises are easy. Give to a charity, walking  instead of driving to the store, going for a walk while saying the Rosary. Others are challenging. Apologize to someone who is angry with you, turn off your cell phone for a day, pray the Divine Office (easy for some perhaps, but not for me!). 
The book’s humble approach challenges us to give many of her suggestions a try. As she provides a meditation on each practice, examples from her own life are not stories of mastery, but stories of failure, frustration and eventual growth.  
 One of her recommendations is  going to morning Mass on a week day.  I started attending morning Mass daily as part of my Lenten observance three years ago. It is a practice that stuck. I still go to 6:45 Mass most mornings and it has had an impact on my life. My work life was not overly pleasant at that time, so the immediate benefit was that I was no longer getting up to go to work in the morning, I was getting up to go to Mass. My frustration level decreased dramatically.
Her final pre-Lenten suggestion is to set up a quiet place for prayer and meditation. We took this one to heart long before I finished the book. 
The house we thought would be our empty nest is often teeming with grandchildren and dogs. Finding a quiet place to read or pray can be a challenge. This weekend, we screened off the disused, decidedly un-private deck outside our bedroom to serve as this space.

The quiet place

              ( Yes, that is an ashtray on the table. I do some of my best meditation with a cigar in hand) 

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Eric Metaxas - National Prayer Breakfast - February 2, 2012

A powerful and entertaining speech. A heroic (yet civil) challenge to the President's war on religious life in America.

Welcome to The Surly Temple

This blog was inspired by a recent re-reading of “A Temple of the Holy Spirit” by Flannery O’Conner. 

The principal character in this story, “The Child”, is a twelve year old girl, who comes to the realization that she was meant to become a saint. That posed a slight problem.

“ She would have to become a saint because that was the occupation that contained everything you could know; and yet she knew she would never be a saint. She did not steal or murder but she was a born liar and slothful and she sassed her mother and was deliberately ugly to almost everybody. She was eaten up also with the sin of pride, the worst one. 
…. She could could never be a saint, but she thought she could be a martyr if they killed her real quick.” 

The Child’s moronic visiting cousins mock the nuns at their convent school for asserting that their bodies were temples of the Holy Spirit. The Child however, knew this to be true and was overwhelmed at the prospect.

The child’s dilemma is our dilemma as well. How do you live the modern life of faith? How can I be called to sainthood? I am cranky, impatient, sarcastic and cynical. None of these were covered in the beatitudes, so I guess I have some things to figure out. I intend to use these pages to help me do that. If like me, you lean more to umbrage and outrage than to humility and contemplation, you may wish to tag along.

Hat Tip to Word on Fire for their recent review of Temple of the Holy Spirit