Sunday, September 30

This weekend, I sat on the couch with half an eye on football, reading Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague. Based on a actual events, it's the story of an English village whose inhabitants are beset by the Black Plague in 1665. At the behest of their pastor, they voluntarily quarantine themselves off from the rest of the world so that the contagion would not spread. The story is told through the eyes of the pastor's housekeeper. It's a good book - not a great one - but absorbing and richly detailed. A particular strength is the obvious understanding Brooks has for the passionate love between mother and child - it comes through in all sorts of ways and angles. A few anachronistic attitudes peak through, particulary regarding the ultimate fate of the housekeeper, and I don't think the character of the pastor as it's ultimately revealed is adequately prepared for. In fact, the last thirty-or so pages of the book really don't work - they are just too melodramatic. Plus, if you're looking for an inspiring story of faith affirmed, don't look here. It's not anti-religious, at all, but it does portray a gradual weakening of Christian faith beset by a horror like the Plague, which, we must admit, would not be an unrealistic consequence of seeing one-half of your village drop dead within a year.
Looks like another energetic night for Joseph. He slept a bit in the early evening, but now is up and ready and good to go, lying on the floor of my study with his very own computer keyboard (an old one I put down there for him to bang on).

Friday, September 28

What I'm reading: As usual, it's a mixture of business and pleasure, although I'm quite fortunate, since the business reading isn't exactly unpleasant.

In preparation for a couple of book projects, I'm reading up on prayer and parables. I just wrote a review article of Richard McBrien's (and his graduate assistant's, we can trust) latest, Lives of the Saints , which I will post here after it's published. I also read a new biography of Hildegard of Bingen by Fiona Maddocks which was quite good, but I didn't have room to include it in that review article. On the pleasure side of things, this weekend I'll be reading Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague by Geraldine Brooks. Still waiting for my copy of The Corrections, though.

For those interested in some Just War thoughts , read this article from the most recent issue of First Things,, this excerpt from the Summa, or this explanation from Boundless e-zine.

Thursday, September 27

A friend wrote me with news on the Yankee Doodle Watch front: her local public radio station, as a part of their fall fund drive, keeps reminding listeners and potential donors of how much news they offered during the first days after the attack, and if this is valued, well you'd better make your contribution to the station! I was just on the Delta Airlines site, where I clicked on a notice for some sale fares - the page said something about needing to re-connect with family and friends during "this time of healing and remembrance." So fly Delta. Oh, but don't try it during Thanksgiving - those are blackout days. If you want to heal and remember then, tough luck.

Wednesday, September 26

The National Review has started a running feature they're calling Kumbaya Watch, which keeps an eye on the most egregious, unrealistic let's-understand-where-the-terrorists-are-coming-from moments in our national life. I'm on the lookout for something else, but I'm not sure what I'll call it: maybe Yankee Doodle Watch or perhaps the Lee Greenwood Watch. I'm after examples of commercial exploitation of the current situation, in which the line between patriotism and marketing has clearly been crossed. The news networks all flying little flags in the corner of their screens would qualify. The most startling example this week for me has been the sight of a ceiling-height American flag built out of Coke cases at the grocery store - regular Coke for the red stripes and Diet for the white, with a square of blue paper in the corner. No stars yet. Maybe bottle tops?
Maureen Dowd had her day about three years ago, and it's been downhill ever since. She is now just astonishingly bad, and for this reason: she isn't about anything. She argues no principles. Her observations are offered in nothing but the most superficial context: what supposedly fashionable people are thinking. Catch today's column here. It's actually rather vile. The ladies-who-lunch are having a hard time finding gas masks. This is worth 800 words on the New York Times op-ed page?

Tuesday, September 25

Brilliant article by Michael Novak dissecting the motivations of the trrorists who threaten us. Click here to read it.

Monday, September 24

A pleasant, if tiring weekend. Christopher made it up and back safely. It was, of course, a football weekend - watching it on TV on Saturday and attending the Colts' game on Sunday - he and David, that is. Michael and I took them down, hung out watching that and other games on televisions in various establishments downtown, then brought David back as Christopher made his way back down to Knoxville. I was a pretty proud Mom all weekend - my brood is turning out pretty well. I like it especially when the 16 and 19-year old boys (men?) fight (gently) over who gets to hold the baby.

I need to get my work head together - several mid-sized projects need my attention, and I think there are articles I need to write, but I'm not sure. I would also like to get some substantive words down about our present situation, particularly about the Church's response to it. Working on it.

Saturday, September 22

Well, it doesn't look as if I'll be getting to St. Augustine until Monday. Christopher's here, and the weekend's packed. For your reading pleasure, though - or horror - I point you towards this piece from the Wall Street Journal by an Italian journalist who was in Lebanon on September 11. It's a chilling corrective to the impression given by the cooperative American media, that only a "small minority" of Muslim Arabs celebrated the bombing.

Friday, September 21

As questions of blame for the terrorist attacks continue to circulate and be debated, with a fascinating range of purported "thinkers" from Jerry Falwell to Susan Sontag to Michael Moore to a whole lot of people in and around San Francisco finding many creative ways to blame, as it were, the victims, for this attack, my thoughts turn to St. Augustine. Come back later for a little exposition on what Augustine says in The City of God about the issue.
Today is the feast of St. Matthew. It's in Matthew's gospel that we read of Herod's Slaughter of the Innocents. We pray today, as we've prayed every hour of every day since September 11, for our innocents, slaughtered by unspeakable evil.

Thursday, September 20

A routine reminder of my favorite links, some of which you might also enjoy: The National Review Online , the Wall Street Journal's Opinion Journal , Arts and Letters Daily , Andrew Sullivan's site , Relapsed Catholic, and Lucianne Golberg's site. They've all been good during the past week, but I have to give special note to Lucianne. The site is sort of like Free Republic, in that people post articles and then discuss them. What I like it for is the daily note at the top of the page - since the attacks, Lucianne's comments have been particularly incisive and even moving sometimes. Always sensible, too.
It's after eleven o'clock and do you know where your baby is? Mine's rolling around the floor of my study, ripping a Land's End catalogue into damp shreds. He can't believe his luck, and he keeps looking at me as if he's expecting me to disrupt his ecstasy at any moment.
A good speech by our president. In fact, it was just about perfect. Said what needed to be said, didn't say anything unecessary. He described the conflict in exactly the right way: it's not with Islam, but with this peculiar misuse/perversion of Islam. Like many of you, of course, one-third of me was listening to the speech, one-third was wondering how Bill Clinton would find a moment in such a speech to be self-referential, and one-third was fervently thanking God that Al Gore isn't president.
Infinite Justice may have a short life, after all. The name, at least.

Wednesday, September 19

Operation Infinite Justice?

I mean, I am slowly working out my attitude towards this matter, and it is not exactly a pacifist one, but this title for our next war appalls me. Naturally, confidence is in order, but this drips of hubris. I don't know if it's intended to be a jab at the radical Islamic claims to divine approbration for mass slaughter - I suppose it is. But it still strikes me as irony waiting to happen, and that makes me nervous.

Tuesday, September 18

Salon is generally useless, especially now that Camille Paglia no longer writes for them, but today's (Wednesday's) edition contains some illuminating, if terribly sad pieces about the horrors of Ground Zero, as well as a good column by Norah Vincent. By the way, if anyone knows whether Paglia has written about the terrorist attacks, please let me know where I can find it.
A busy rest of the week. Katie gets the wires put on her braces tomorrow, then has handbell choir after school and dance tomorrow evening. David has a job interview on Thursday - more on that if he gets it. Then, on Friday, Christopher arrives from Tennessee for a weekend visit.
I'm sitting here marking time until The Baby Who Never Sleeps decides to give up. Actually, he does sleep - what messes us up, though, is that he can't make it from three (when he usually wakes from his afternoon nap) until a normal bedtime (around 8) without a nap. He usually conks out at some point in between, which means he's then up until...well...what time is it?
At Mass this morning, (I was there, not only because I should be, but because Katie did the first reading), our pastor, not an elderly man by any means, dismissed us "In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.
It had to come - the wisdom of Father Greeley. Click here for the original column in the Chicago Sun-Times, and better yet, click here for the National Review's Ramesh Ponnuru's dissection. To get a feel for the column, all you have to do is read the first line: The national cry for revenge is shameful. And then there's: Will mass murder satisfy American blood lust? As Ponnuru says, I must have missed those speeches. This isn't about revenge. It's about protection, so Fr. Greeley can keep writing his columns and making millions from his ghost-written novels.

Yesterday, I was out shopping at Meijer's, a midwestern chain of grocery/department stores (like those Super Wal-Marts). The baby was content in the cart, I was gathering a diverse collection of items: socks for David, Katie's birthday cake, hamburger, garlic. Music - soft, in the background, wafting down from the ceiling - gradually entered my consciousness. It was a popular song, vaguely familiar - something about the "U.S.A." (No, not Lee Greenwood.) I registered it, thinking, of course. It's to be expected.

But then the next song began - the Washington Post March by Sousa. And after that was over, American the Beautiful. And I got so angry, I started shaking.

I couldn't exactly figure out why, though. It's not lack of patriotism. Our flag is flying in front of our house. As much as I despair about certain elements of our national life (abortion and the cultural dreck), this incident has nonetheless crystallized my appreciation for and devotion to the gift of Western Civilization and culture, and the particular form that has taken in our own country. We sang America the Beautiful at Mass on Sunday, and yes, as the voices swelled around me and my children stood close, I could barely choke the words out and had to blink back tears.

But when I heard military marches being played over the loudspeaker at the grocery store, something in me rebelled. Or balked. Or just got sick.

Must everything become an extension of commerce? Must every aspect of life become packaged, as the news networks do, with a logo, a title (America under attack...America's New War....America's Tragedy) and theme music?

We celebrate and vow to fight for freedom. However, aspects of commercial culture have always threatened freedom, as money-making entitities overwhelm us with images and sounds to convince us, not of truth, but of the depths of our desires for certain things. Anything and everything is stripped down and repackaged to us, to appeal to our deepest fears and needs, and to put us in the mood to buy or to stay with a certain cable news network instead of another.

Maybe I'm reading too much into it. Maybe the Vice-President in Charge of Muzak at Meijer's thought a loop of patriotic music fit the season, just as in a few weeks, he'll start the Christmas tape. But that's just the trouble, isn't it? This is a horrible, dangerous time. Our lives are at risk, and the world has changed. Five thousand lay buried in Manhattan. And Meijer's thinks Sousa in the diaper aisle fits the mood. What mood is that? Devastation? Fear? Grief?

The birthday party was painless. Living within walking distance of school has its advantages - the girls could just walk home with Katie, have a snack, play games, do a craft, have cake, play tag outside, and get picked up or walk home. Today is my father's birthday - happy birthday, Dad!

Monday, September 17

Once again, I point you toward The National Review as a source of excellent commentary on this present situation. My husband also has wisdom to share at his Web Log , too.
Today is Katie's birthday - she's ten years old. Lots of little girls will be swarming over our house later this afternoon. David's playing golf.
At Mass yesterday morning, sitting in the back in pews "reserved for parents with small children." Which means, of course, between the noise of the children (including our own), the distance from the front, and the horrendous sound system of our cavernous church, nothing could be heard without strain.

I did, however, hear the words of our pastor's homily, which, as with most of our church's leadership this week, were less than inspiring or even truly in touch with the crux of this situation.

The call is for "forgiveness," and such a call is consistently opposed to the supposed thirst for revenge that's out there. As I've said before, of course there are the simplistically bloodthirsty, but for the most part, Americans' call for action is about prevention of such acts in the future and containment of the threat of radical Islam as much as possible.

There is a complexity to the current situation that dumbed-down, simplistic post-Vatican II theology as it comes to us at the parish or even the diocesan level just isn't able to meet. We must always be wary of that complexity, always wary of the Church being called to give its blessing to political causes or, just as importantly, situations that can quickly become mucky and murky with sin, even as they begin with all good intentions. War, let it be said, is an evil. We have been witnessing a resurgence of admiration for the "greatest generation" that fought in World War II, and that is all well and good, but I invite you to actually read - rather than watch on made-for-television dramas - about those brutal battles in which young men were shipped by the thousands to European and Pacific fronts, not so much as combatants but as bodies to be put up, be shot at, and replaced by more bodies. Read about the Battle of the Somme in World War I.

No, war is to be avoided if we can, and so we desperately pray for peace.

The complexity comes, though, in the terms of peace, and what the ultimate goal of the present situation is. What is it? If you even start thinking about it, your mind will get overwhelmed, and quickly: the demands of Islamic fundamentalism, the presence of the US in the Middle East (particularly Saudi Arabia, which is bin Laden's peeve), the support of the US for Israel, the conflict between the Palestinians and Israel....these are all strands of the present and coming conflict. And what those, even in our Church, just don't understand is that the "other side" is uninterested in "forgiveness" or conciliation. They want to destroy Western Civilization. They fantasize about the establishment of a global caliphate, and that means the oppression of other faiths - look at what is happening to Christians in places like the Sudan and Afghanistan if you want that picture painted for you. They want Israel destroyed, make no mistake about it. They don't want peace with Israel - they want Israel destroyed. To not exist.

Do you see how inadequate our popular theological language has become in relation to these issues? But perhaps that's what happens right before our perceptions are expanded and revolutionized.

It seems to me that at the moment, we should be praying for peace. But beyond that, we should be praying for protection, and for God's wisdom to guide those who are (finally) hunting down the network that would destroy us. I am sort of amazed at the distance we're still maintaining about this - read the bit in Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish entitled "Civil Defense" to see what I mean in terms of practical matters, but the same could apply to our spiritual take on this so least for those of us out of New York, who are grieving and pained, but are still thinking that we're safe.

Friday, September 14

We have a new sorta more upscale shopping center here in Fort Wayne called Jefferson Pointe. Like mispelling words makes you upscale. Anyway. One of the stores is a department store called Von Maur, which is part of an definitely upscale Midwestern chain. (It's the kind of store where they individually wrap each of your purchases in tissue paper, all in the name of "customer service" while you're wishing to God they'd just throw the stuff in the bag and let you and the seemingly-hundred pound baby on your arm the heck out of there).

I ventured there today on my hunt for birthday gifts for Katie (Monday, the 17th, she'll be ten.)

Of course I headed straight for the two tastefully labeled "sale" racks, contemplated buying a dress marked down to twenty-nine bucks, realized I'd seen something very similar sans designer label at Meijers, then settled on a denim shirt that could double as a light jacket, and a pullover sweater I know she'll like - I got out for well under thirty dollars.

Anyway, the point of this is not to bore you with boring details of my shopping trip but to tell you about the woman being waited on by the other clerk. She was tall, with stiff blonde hair framing her face, well-turned out (of course), a couple of years older than I (at least she looked to be in her mid-forties), with a husband and a little girl who seemed to be around three.

She was buying. And buying and buying. She was also talking to the saleslady about her little girl. "She is such a little girl" the clerk commented, meaning, as all people do when they say that - she's appearance-conscious.

"Oh yes," the mother agreed, "And I'm trying to make her that way on purpose. I want her to love frills and lace. She loves make-up and all that stuff. I'm so relieved. I'm really trying to program her to love it all."

Yes, I kept my mouth shut. It was close, though. I thought, however, that maybe I should offer a warning that you can't "program" kids (and why would you want to???), that they will be who they are, and that's the way it should be. It would have been a prophecy for her to remember, fifteen years from now, when her crop-haired, clean-faced daughter symbolically burns all the frills of her girlhood before packing her overalls and leaves for Provincetown or a commune somewhere..

Oh yes. Three hundred and eighteen dollars. $318.00. That's what she spent on her three-year old's wardrobe this morning.

Today is the Feast of the Exaltation (or Triumph) of the Holy Cross

As many have noted, there is no rational answer to the question of "Why does God permit suffering?", only the answer of Jesus hanging on a cross, as today's first reading from Philippians tells us:

who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,
but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Spare us, Jerry: Jerry Falwell's take on the situation: "I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way - all of them who have tried to secularize America - I point the finger in their face and say, 'You helped this happen,"

So is Jerry saying that if the United States were Christendom re-created (that wouldn't do because then it would be Catholic, but you get the point), radical Islam fundamentalist extremists determined to re-instate the Caliphate on a global scale would be happier with our existence? Somehow that doesn't make much sense.

Thursday, September 13

Read this. By an editor of the Wall Street Journal, it's heart-stopping.
No sports this weekend. That's a good thing. It's only right to honor the dead this way.
What I'm weary of:

Members of Congress on the television, all mouthing the same script. Of course, there's really nothing else to say except what's in the script, but since we all know what it says, why bother?

Emotions. Every man/woman in the street interview I've seen focuses on emotions. "How do you feel?" Perhaps the reporter doesn't want to be considered rude for not asking about a witness' or family member's feelings, but perhaps they should start considering the reverse: We know, intellectually, how these people feel. We feel some - just the small part that outsiders could feel - of this ourselves. Grief, anger, rage, helplessness, despair. It's all there, and we know it. To ask these people to constantly speak of their feelings seems to me an insult. It's an invasion of privacy, and it's a request for them to do the impossible: to put these profound senses and emotions into words. It can't be done.

The only decent survivor interview I've seen was on C-Span last night on a broadcast of a Canadian news program. The fellow being interviewed worked in the WTC, but his accent was Canadien (I didn't hear the very beginning, so I'm not sure of his identity). Since it wasn't American television, the interviewer wasn't intrusive, and the interview wasn't rushed or condensed into pre-programmed shorthand. The man had been part of a group on the 81st floor of the first building hit. His group, as it evacuated, amazingly enough, wanted to go up. He was arguing against going up, saying that was crazy, but was torn. He was distracted from the group by a banging on the wall on another floor. He went and found a man trapped behind some wreckage. He helped him get out, and by the time they got back to the stairs, the group had gone - up, we can presume. The two men proceeded down the stairs and escaped. The man being interviewed said that "Stan", the man he rescued, thanked him profusely for saving his life, but, as he observed, choking up, Stan saved his life as well, by forcing him to separate from the group that was determined to go upstairs.

While we're talking about feelings, let me say that it's distressing to see how ignorant Americans have become. Too often, when America's response to this attack is being discussed in the popular news media or on radio talk shows, we're warned not to "let our feelings get out of hand" or we're told that Americans are looking for someone to blame for this so they can "vent their anger" and so on. The desire for response is not about feelings or revenge - it shouldn't be at least, and I'm sure that in most people's minds, once anger subsides, they will admit this. No, a response is necessary to prevent this or anything like it from happening again. That seems rather basic, in my mind, and it's nothing to apologize for.

Kathy Shaidle of Relapsed Catholic posted a link to Catholicity's answer to the question of "Why Do They Hate Us So Much?" in which Bud McFarlane, Jr. said that it's all about our exportation of cultural "filth". Uh - okay. Certainly that cultural question has been a part of the rise of Islamic fundamentalism since the 1970's, but hey, Bud, what about Israel? It's fascinating to me that McFarlane chooses to completely ignore America's support for Israel as a motivation for the hatred some Arabs and Arab groups feel for the US. Why would he omit this?

On my rounds this morning, I listened to Dr. Joy Browne for a bit. A woman called up and said she was very disturbed that US television networks were showing footage of Palestinian celebrations of the attack. Not disturbed by the celebrations, but by the choice to broadcast them. "We are being manipulated into placing blame!" she whined, and Dr. Joy agreed, saying that airing the footage "smacked of jingoism." Say what?

Wednesday, September 12

Here's an excellent piece by one of my favorite columnists, Mark Steyn: Click here.
Another page of similar links: Here.
A good page of links to religious commentary on the tragedy: Click here .
There's little to say that's not been said or felt. I'm sure you have your own favorite sites that you visit for news and commentary, but I particularly commend to you the National Review website, the Wall Street Journal, and Andrew Sullivan's site, where he has posted the following well-known poem by Auden, written at the dawn of another catastrophe:

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade;
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night

- W. H. Auden, September 1, 1939

Tuesday, September 11

Ok....71 hits yesterday. Did you hear that? Seventy-one hits on the main website. I don't know who you people are, but welcome! (No, those aren't Drudge numbers, but that's pretty good for a personal website).

Monday, September 10

Joseph and I are both sick. We don't know who started it, so he can't blame me, and I can't blame him. He's got the beginnings of a ear and throat infection and when he coughs, he sounds like a dog barking. (So much for my - my-baby's-breastfeeding-and-not-in-daycare-so-he'll-never-get-sick arrogance.) He's on the medicine every parent knows well - the pink, bubble-gum flavored elixer called amoxicillin (that supposedly all the germs are getting immune to, requiring the use of incredibly expensive antibiotics later...I am still not so sure about all of that).

I finished writing Prove It:Jesus last week, and really, really hope to get Prove It: Prayer done in the next month or so. In preparation, I'm reading several books on, of course, prayer. I'm also waiting for a review copy of The Big Fall Novel, The Corrections by Jonathon Franzen.

A new distraction....

Welcome to the latest detour on my quest to conquer, rather than be conquered by the Internet. It's called a Web Log, or, in geek shorthand, a Blog. In my mind, it's really just a visually more sophisticated and much easier to maintain venue for the personal webpage. I am going to be using it as a replacement for most of what I have been putting in the "Personal News" and "What I'm Reading" sections of the webpage. There are some forms of Blogs which can incorporate reader comments, but from what I can see, they involved a degree of programming knowledge that I don't have and don't have any interest in spending time on developing. So we'll just keep it simple.


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