Monday, December 29, 2008

Mondays with Chesterton

When we were children we were grateful to those who filled our stockings at
Christmas time. Why are we not grateful to God for filling our stockings with

Monday, December 22, 2008

A Conversation at Bedtime (or, St. Joseph don't get no respect)

Kenny: Crissmiss comin!
Me: That's right, Kenny. Are you ready to welcome Baby Jesus on his birthday?
Kenny: Yesh!
Me: Good. Do you know who Jesus's mommy is?
Kenny: Maaarrrrreeeeee!!!!
Me: That's right. Who is Jesus's Daddy?
Kenny: Um .... God.
Me: Very good. Jesus is God's son and he sent him to be born here as a little baby like your brother Paul because he loves us. But do you know who was Jesus's daddy on earth? ...

Kenny: staring blankly

Me: ... someone who lived with him and Mary and taught him things and played with him and protected him?

long pause. and then ...

Kenny: Oh, I know! Sheep!

Mondays with G.K.

I have a number of posts in various stages of draft, but am having trouble finishing them. In an effort to unclog the blogger's block, I figured a gimmick might be in order. So here is the first installment of Mondays with G.K., where I'll post each week a timely (at least to my mind) excerpt from Chesterton's writings, sometimes with my commentary, but hopefully not enough to ruin it.

At Christmas we do our best to give shelter to the Christ Child in our homes and our hearts. Here Chesterton turns that around to an even deeper truth: that in the very act of God becoming homeless, we will find our own true home.

There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.
The crazy stable close at hand,
With shaking timber and shifting sand,
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
Than the square stones of Rome.

For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.

Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
And chance and honour and high surprise,
But our homes are under miraculous skies
Where the yule tale was begun.

A child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost---how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky's dome.

This world is wild as an old wife's tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star.

To an open house in the evening
Home shall all men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Our New Family Bible

As a dad, I'm trying to come up with ways to make the faith something important for the boys. In looking around the house last month, I noticed we have perhaps a dozen different bibles in several different rooms, but nothing much distinguishes them from the books next to them on the shelves. I thought it was important to have a well made family bible that could be passed down through generations, and a special place to keep it, to show without words that the Word of God is important in our family.

After a good bit of research we purchased the Ignatius Family Bible, and are thrilled with it. It's an excellent translation, has beautiful artwork interspersed throughout, a full concordance, and the coolest part: a 16 page family record section to record our family tree, and all the sacraments our family receives, and other significant events. I look at what's been recorded (our marriage, the boys' baptisms) and am reminded of the great work God has done. I'm reminded that the things recorded in this book, and how I cooperate with God to see that the graces received in those events are nurtured, will be my ultimate legacy as a Catholic dad. I pray that if God wills, we'll fill in during the years ahead those many blank spaces with baptisms of children yet to be born, first Eucharists, first Confessions, Confirmations, and when the time comes and the Bible is well worn, marriages, ordinations, or religious professions.

Tomorrow, after Thanksgiving Day Mass, we'll bless our bible using this short prayer service (PDF) from the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Some thoughts on the election and a challenge to us all (Part II: Political Action)

Tom at Disputations raises an important point I think:
According to Bishop Hermann,
The question I need to ask myself is this: What kind of witness will I give to Him when I go into the voting booth this election day?
I respectfully submit that more important is this question: What kind of witness will I give to Him when I come out of the voting booth?

We have more than half a million minutes a year when we're not voting. When we come forth from that voting booth, do we stay tied hand and foot, in effect dead until it's time to go back in and vote again? Or do we come forth and live in such a way that, not only do people know how we voted, they know why?

So what will we do with the half a million minutes a year when we're not voting? Voting is a small part of political involvement, but for most Catholics it's our only involvement. This can't continue. Because Pro-Life Democrats are marginalized, we had Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton competing with each other to promise goodies to the pro-abortion lobby. Because Republicans take the vote of pro-lifers entirely for granted, the candidate who in 2000 was opposed because he wasn't reliable on pro-life issues, is painted as a Pro-Life savior in 2008, when it's clear the issue was barely on his radar. We appear condemned to resorting to proportionalism and lesser-evil voting as the situation just gets worse with every election. Does it have to be this way?

I can't recommend enough this article by Fr. Rob Johansen on this issue. Excerpt:
The idea that we need to align ourselves with the party or candidate who most closely lines up with Catholic teaching is fine, as far as it goes. The problem is that it does not go far enough: It is hardly the robust, evangelistic, sanctify-the-world posture that our vocation to holiness and call to apostleship requires. In the fourth century, St. Ambrose stood up to and rebuked the Roman emperor Theodosius. Were he transported to our own time, I cannot imagine that he would find this policy sufficient.

As Deal W. Hudson has recently pointed out, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' document "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship" has some serious flaws. But it does provide a valuable teaching that addresses our Faustian bargain:

As Catholics, we should be guided more by our moral convictions than by our attachment to a political party or interest group. When necessary, our participation should help transform the party to which we belong [emphasis mine]; we should not let the party transform us in such a way that we neglect or deny fundamental moral truths (14).

Looking across the Catholic political landscape, it seems that we have far more Catholics who are in danger of being -- or have been already -- transformed, than we have Catholics who are making any headway in transforming politics.
So where are the Catholics in politics? The teaching of the Church and of our bishops instructs us to take our faith as our starting point and build our politics around that. Instead, we choose our politics and then see how we can shoehorn it into our faith. We find ourselves having to explain away the conflict between the tenets of the Faith and our political allegiances in order to defend our Faustian bargain.
Let me repeat that message from the Bishops: "When necessary, our participation should help transform the party to which we belong; we should not let the party transform us in such a way that we neglect or deny fundamental moral truths (14)."

So how might we get engaged? Here's a few thoughts.

First, for Catholic Democrats, whoever you voted for, go and join (i.e. send some Membership Due$) Democrats for Life of America. Work to support the 95-10 Initiative and the Pregnant Women Support Act. Read Angelo Matera on the need to open a second front in the American Pro-Life movement and Mark Stricherz on how the party that fought for the little guy came to such an abominable position on the littlest guys. Get on the horn to elected pro-life democrats and thank them for their support, and encourage them to be less timid and more forthright in advocating their views. Reach out to moderate Democrats who in all likelihood haven't ever given abortion much thought beyond sloganeering. They've come to their position out of ignorance and laziness, and are ripe for conversion on the issue.

I'm thinking in particular of someone like Patrick Murphy, whose district includes most of Bucks County and part of NE Philly. Mr. Murphy is an Archbishop Ryan grad, weekly Mass-goer, and was president of the St. Thomas More Society in law school. And he's a congressional co-sponsor of the Freedom of Choice Act. I can't imagine though that this was any more than a pro-forma, "oh yeah, I'm pro-choice, I'll sponsor that." sort of action. He ran for congress out of deep conviction on ending the war in Iraq and working for economic justice, and it seems clear to me that he just simply takes for granted the pro-choice position as being consistent with the rest. Pray for him, e-mail, write and phone him until you know each of his staffers by name, send him things like Serrin Foster's talk: Women Deserve Better than Abortion or other things in a similar "out of the box" vein that are more likely to get a hearing and harder to dismiss. He is certainly reachable, we just have to show him we're serious. I'd put his colleague on the other side of Philly's suburbs, Cardinal O'Hara grad Joe Sestak, in the same category. I really think a wide swath of moderate Democrats can be moved toward a pro-life position with a combination of intellectual engagement and credible threats to not vote for them if they don't change or significantly improve their positions. The second part is critical, if you're not willing to ultimately withold your vote on principle despite substantial agreement on other issues, you won't see a lot of change among particular politicians or the party leadership. But let a couple incumbents lose, and you'll see others come around and the leadership recruit Pro-Life dems to run in the future. This has already happened in a several districts in the south in 06 and 08.

The Republican party of course also desperately needs transformation on life issues. In the aftermath of the big electoral defeat there are some party members trying mightily to recast the party in the Guliani mold, going to bat for every jot and tittle of libertine economics and Wilsonian internationalism, while throwing social conservatives under the bus. Dale Price rather humorously calls this the "Godbotherer heave-ho Project", but the results of a successful effort would be far from funny. My first suggestion to prevent this from happening would be to improve the delivery of the message, without at all watering down our commitments. Angelo Matera makes that point in advocating a Pro-life movement within the Democratic Party, but I think it applies in spades for the Republicans:

Right now the Catholic “culture of life” strategy has been to ally with Bible Christians, who have a visceral and simple attraction to life and family issues.

They are an important ally in the culture war.

But their approach is limited, often relying on harsh language about eternal damnation that fails to distinguish the sinner from the sin. They aren’t good at articulating the ethical reasoning behind the moral law, which is based on love and human dignity.

Pope John Paul II’s theology of the body is one example of how the Church has developed new insights that go far beyond “dos” and “don’ts” to reveal the beauty and dignity of marriage. This is missing from most current debates.

I mean no disrespect to Evangelical friends, but I think this is in very broad strokes an accurate observation. What can be done to get this started? Sending legislators copies of Alcorn's Pro-Life Answers to Pro-Choice Arguements and Kreeft's Unaborted Socrates would be great. Those books are very readable for someone without a philosophical background, and give strong, carefully reasoned answers on why abortion is wrong and why that should be recognized in law. Borrowing liberally from the message and style of Feminists for Life and their Women Deserve Better campaign would also help to short circuit the stereotype of pro-lifers as women-hating misogynists. It's also an electorally superior message. Pro-life politicians face a skeptical, unsympathetic media that will pounce on anything that sounds irrational or angry. Educating politicians to deliver a sound and compassionate message is critical to the viability of social conservatism within the party.

Secondly, significant efforts must be made to challenge socially liberal republicans in primaries. There seems to be very little of this that gets any traction. How Arlen Specter fought off Pat Toomey for the PA Senate nomination in 2004 is a mystery to me. I heard it argued in the subsequent general election (by none other than Sen. Rick Santorum, I think) that pro-lifers, depsite the presence of a pro-life third party candidate, should vote for pro-choice republican Specter over pro-choice democrat Hoeffel because that will keep the Republican majority in the senate, and that will ultimately help the pro-life cause. Talk about selling your birthright for a mess of potage! That's pretty far out on a very thin branch don't you think? The advice given above to the Democrats above has to apply here: work to change positions of those in your party, but if they don't you have to decline to support them with your vote. No wonder the Republicans take pro-lifers for granted. If Pro-life votes help elect the Arlen Specters and Mike Castles of the world, well, something is seriously wrong.

For the rest of us (or for the folks in the above categories who get discouraged trying to transform their own party) there is the big task of funding and creating a viable third party alternative that will truly promote Catholic values. Here's Fr. Johansen again:
And then what? Some of my fellow Catholics have decided that the best option is to vote third-party. Steve Skojec explains:

We've heard a lot of talk this election cycle (and the one before it . . . and the one before that . . .) about stopping a great evil by voting for a lesser one. And yet, the only certain outcome of constantly choosing the lesser of two evils is the perpetuation of evil.

The problem is that third-party candidates have little to no chance of being elected in national races. Those who do vote third-party are frequently accused of "throwing away" their vote.

But this need not be the case. If sufficient numbers of Catholics decide to opt-out of electoral politics as currently played and organized themselves, wouldn't they begin to exercise greater political clout? That is how politics works, after all.

What if Catholic Democrats, tired of having to choose between social policy and defending the right to life, said, "We're going to withhold our votes until the leadership takes our life-issue concerns seriously. When the national party is ready to countenance a legislative initiative that will meaningfully restrict the abortion license, we'll give you our support"?

And what if Catholic Republicans said, "For 30 years you have taken our support for granted on life issues. Unless you seriously reign in foreign adventurism and reject the Guantanamo-and-rendition assaults on human rights, we will withhold our support"? Eventually, political necessity would force them to pay attention (or if they didn't, we'd at least have our integrity). But as long as we are willing to sell our principles for a mess of political pottage, we will continue to be weak and ineffectual.

Catholics make up some 25 percent of the population, but we exercise an influence far smaller than our numbers. We have been manipulated and divided by partisan political hacks: Whenever someone raises the point of the primacy of life issues in making political decisions, he is automatically considered by those on the Left to be shilling for Republicans. Whenever someone makes an argument for protecting those who are injured by the rough-and-tumble of the free market, he is automatically dismissed as a tool of the Democrats. Surely we can do better as disciples of Christ.

Will any Catholics step forward to lead us beyond the constraints of the two-party game? Whether it means a third party, or making our power felt within our existing parties by changing the rules of the game, something must be done. If we are to fulfill our call to sanctify the world, we must engage in politics in light of the gospel, and not by the categories of those more concerned with elections than the Kingdom.
So here's the deal, whether it's working to transform the existing parties or creating a third party alternative, we all must be doing something to make the Culture of Life message more viable in the political arena. We've come out from the voting booth. Do we stay tied hand and foot, in effect dead until it's time to go back in and vote again? Hell, no.

St. Thomas More, patron of politicians, Pray for Us.
St. Ambrose, who confronted the Emporer, Pray for Us.
Mary, Mother of the Unborn, Pray for Us.

Part III ... on moving from Political involvement to broader work to change the culture, still to come.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Some thoughts on the election and a challenge to us all (Part I: How I Voted)

I've tried several times to write and post something on the results of the election and what it means for Catholics, but I'm faced with having thoughts in a lot of different directions and I'm not sure how to tie them all together. I want to look particularly at the issue of abortion, and how we as Catholics can do better at moving the culture in this area, and how all of us, regardless of general political bent, spend too much time compromising and have pathetically low expectations of what God is calling us to do.

First, I figured I better lay my cards on the table. I did not vote for Barack Obama, which I don't think will be a surprise to many readers. But neither did I vote for John McCain, which could well be a surprise to some. I failed to see how Barack Obama's moral awfulness compelled me to vote for the 30% less evil candidate. I didn't support the cannibalism of embryonic stem-cell research; said no to the Hegelian Mambo. I would have like to have voted for Chuck Baldwin, but he wasn't on PA's ballot, and Pennsylvania essentially does not tally or report any write in votes. So I voted for the candidate with the most pro-life position among the four on the ballot (Ralph Nader was also on): Bob Barr. There are other reasons beyond the pro-life issue that led me away from both the major parties: not letting the Department of Defense be, you know, a Department of DEFENSE; and their swearing of everlasting fealty to big corporations. Now I'm not a capital L or small l libertarian, there's plenty in that approach I object to, but in the absence of Chesterton, Schumacher or Schriner being on the ballot, Bob Barr will certainly do.

Second, I don't want to condemn anyone for their vote. This is not least because I'm aware that some would condemn my vote as not having done all I could do to limit the greater evil of Obama by voting for the lesser evil of McCain. Indeed, even in many of the Bishop's pre-election statements, the message seemed to go beyond "you can not vote for x" to "you must vote for y". This gave me great pause; I do not take the statement of any bishop lightly. But ultimately I came to my decision through much consulting of the catechism, scripture, encyclicals and prayer. I think my conclusion is consistent with those, along with what I took as each Bishop's underlying message, that Life is a fundamental and primordial right, and this must be reflected in our voting. So, I'll assume you all did the same. We prayed about the issues, the candidates, what a vote is and means and what we want it to accomplish, entered the voting booth and cast our ballot, or maybe didn't cast a ballot, a la Alisdair Macintyre in 2004. Now, If you voted for Obama I think you weighed the issues incorrectly, or maybe bought into what I can only describe as the preposterous Kmiec Doctrine* that Obama was the real pro-life candidate. If you voted for McCain I think you were too willing to trust his and the party's commitment to the pro-life cause. The Republicans are Lucy holding the football, and we pro-lifers are Charlie Brown, thinking "this time I'll really kick the football" and we come running and fall flat on our backs. Every. Single. Time. And Lucy smiles, knowing we'll be back for more in 2012, and she doesn't have to let you get to kick anything then either. But again, I just think you're wrong not sinful. Well, we're all sinful, but you get my point.

But voting is done now. And we have a new president-elect. So what happens now? In upcoming posts, I'll lay out why it's important to engage in both the political and cultural spheres, and some concrete ideas on what we can be doing.

* Although I find Prof. Kmiec's position completely untenable, I also found this perspective helpful. Given the GOP's complete disregard for just war theory and their defense of torture, it's understandable that a Pro-Life, Anti-war person would look to jettison the GOP. But it's darn foolish and weak to turn around and embrace the Dems instead.

An Open Letter to President-Elect Barack Obama

Had I written this I don't think I could have been as conciliatory. But the purpose isn't devestating rhetorical flourishes, but to actually engage some of the positive things President-Elect Obama has said and to ask him to act accordingly. I continue to pray for a Saul to Paul style conversion for him on the abortion issue, but just having him postpone FOCA and enter a sincere dialogue with the Pro-Life community would be a fine start.


President-elect Barack Obama,

As American Catholics, we, the undersigned, would like to reiterate the congratulations given to you by Pope Benedict XVI. We will be praying for you as you undertake the office of President of the United States.

Wishing you much good will, we hope we will be able to work with you, your administration, and our fellow citizens to move beyond the gridlock which has often harmed our great nation in recent years. Too often, partisan politics has hampered our response to disaster and misfortune. As a result of this, many Americans have become resentful, blaming others for what happens instead of realizing our own responsibilities. We face serious problems as a people, and if we hope to overcome the crises we face in today’s world, we should make a serious effort to set aside the bitterness in our hearts, to listen to one another, and to work with one another

One of the praiseworthy elements of your campaign has been the call to end such partisanship. You have stated a desire to engage others in dialogue. With you, we believe that real achievement comes not through the defamation of one’s opponents, nor by amassing power and using it merely as a tool for one’s own individual will. We also believe dialogue is essential. We too wish to appeal to the better nature of the nation. We want to encourage people to work together for the common good. Such action can and will engender trust. It may change the hearts of many, and it might alter the path of our nation, shifting to a road leading to a better America. We hope this theme of your campaign is realized in the years ahead.

One of the critical issues which currently divides our nation is abortion. As you have said, no one is for abortion, and you would agree to limit late-term abortions as long as any bill which comes your way allows for exceptions to those limits, such as when the health of the mother is in jeopardy. You have also said you would like to work on those social issues which cause women to feel as if they have a need for an abortion, so as to reduce the actual number of abortions being performed in the United States.

Indeed, you said in your third presidential debate, “But there surely is some common ground when both those who believe in choice and those who are opposed to abortion can come together and say, ‘We should try to prevent unintended pregnancies by providing appropriate education to our youth, communicating that sexuality is sacred and that they should not be engaged in cavalier activity, and providing options for adoption, and helping single mothers if they want to choose to keep the baby.’”

As men and women who oppose abortion and embrace a pro-life ethic, we want to commend your willingness to engage us in dialogue, and we ask that you live up to your promise, and engage us on this issue.

There is much we can do together. There is much that we can do to help women who find themselves in difficult situations so they will not see abortion as their only option. There is much which we can do to help eliminate those unwanted pregnancies which lead to abortion.

One of your campaign promises is of grave concern to many pro-life citizens. On January 22, 2008, the 35th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, when speaking of the current right of women in America to have abortions, you said, “And I will continue to defend this right by passing the Freedom of Choice Act as president.”

The Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) might well undermine your engagement of pro-life Americans on the question of abortion. It might hamper any effort on your part to work with us to limit late-term abortions. We believe FOCA does more than allow for choice. It may force the choice of a woman upon others, and make them morally complicit in such choice. One concern is that it would force doctors and hospitals which would otherwise choose not to perform abortions to do so, even if it went against their sacred beliefs. Such a law would undermine choice, and might begin the process by which abortion is enforced as a preferred option, instead of being one possible choice for a doctor to practice.

It is because of such concern we write. We urge you to engage us, and to dialogue with us, and to do so before you consider signing this legislation. Let us reason together and search out the implications of FOCA. Let us carefully review it and search for contradictions of those positions which we hold in common.
If FOCA can be postponed for the present, and serious dialogue begun with us, as well as with those who disagree with us, you will demonstrate that your administration will indeed be one that rises above partisanship, and will be one of change. This might well be the first step toward resolving an issue which tears at the fabric of our churches, our political process, our families, our very society, and that causes so much hardship and heartache in pregnant women.

Likewise, you have also recently stated you might over-ride some of President G.W. Bush’s executive orders. This is also a concern to us. We believe doing so without having a dialogue with the American people would undermine the political environment you would like to establish. Among those issues which concern us are those which would use taxpayer money to support actions we find to be morally questionable, such as embryonic stem cell research, or to fund international organizations that would counsel women to have an abortion (this would make abortion to be more than a mere choice, but an encouraged activity).

Consider, sir, your general promise to the American people and set aside particular promises to a part of your constituency. This would indicate that you plan to reject politics as usual. This would indeed be a change we need.


Deal W. Hudson
Christopher Blosser
Marjorie Campbell
Mark J. Coughlan
Rev. James A. Nowack
Craig D. Baker
Susan DeBoisblanc
Megan Stout
Joshua D. Brumfield
Ashley M. Brumfield
Michael J. Iafrate
Natalie Navarro
Matthew Talbot
Paul Mitchell
Todd Flowerday
Henry C Karlson III
Darren Belajac
Adam P Verslype
Josiah Neeley
Michael J. Deem
Katerina M. Deem
Natalie Mixa
Henry Newman
Anthony M. Annett
Mickey Jackson
Veronica Greenwell
Thomas Greenwell PhD
Robert C. Koerpel
Nate Wildermuth

Toast from my Brother's Wedding

Happy 1st Anniversary to my brother Todd and sister-in-law Megan! I was privileged to be Todd's Best Man, and deliver this toast:

In a card he gave me last night at the rehearsal dinner Todd asked me to “always keep dishing out the brotherly advice”. Now, I would have kept it coming anyway, but it’s nice to finally hear a kid brother ask for it! So today I have some brotherly advice to a brother and a new sister. And against my better judgment; I’m taking that advice from two country songs.

Clint Black has a song called “Something that We Do”.

I remember well the day we wed
I can see that picture in my head
I still believe the words we said
Forever will ring true
Love is certain, love is kind
Love is yours and love is mine
But it isn't something that we find
It's something that we do

He continues on to say:

Love isn't something that we have
It's something that we do
Love's not just something that we're in

It's something that we do
Love isn't just those words we said
It's something that we do
Love isn't someplace that we fall

It's something that we do

I’ll add my lyrics – love isn’t a feeling. Love is a decision, and it’s a decision you don’t just make once. Today is a beautiful day that you will remember forever, but what’s most beautiful is the way today sanctifies all the days to come. Some days ahead are going to be exciting and memorable, others painful and difficult, but there are also going to be a lot of days that are hum drum, run-of-the-mill, maybe even a little boring. But it will only seem that way – because now even those regular days have an eternal significance – each and every day is a day you are called by God to live out in big and small ways the vows you’ve made today. As the Blues Brothers’ would say – You’re on a Mission from God.

The other song is “I come from a long line of love” by Michael Martin Murphy. A man is explaining to his fiancĂ©e why he thinks their love and marriage will last and he says:

I come from a long line of love
When the times get hard, we don’t give up
Forever’s in my heart and in my blood

You see I come from a long line of love

Todd and Megan, you are blessed to come from a long line of love. From Mom and Dad and Mr. and Mrs. Garrison you have been given great examples of love that has endured because of those daily decisions of self-sacrifice. And I know there are many other examples of great marriages in our extended families and going back in our family trees. Tonight I also wanted to point out who I think have been the most incredible example of married love in our lives -- the marriage of Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop -- a marriage of almost 64 years -- of 23,262 days of seized opportunities to show love to one another in countless ordinary and extraordinary ways. Although we miss Mom-mom so much, we now have her as an advocate and a support from heaven. So if ever there are times when love is tough, say a prayer to Mom-mom and I know she will send you encouragement and strength to love even when it might be hard.

And so, I’d invite everyone now to raise your glasses … And mom-mom in heaven you can raise your Manhattan … And let’s all wish Todd and Megan a lifetime of happiness … and many, many thousands of days of showing their love to one another.

And to all my married readers -- remember that "Love is Something that You Do" and show that love today. Mom-mom will raise her Manhattan in your honor too.

Please say a prayer today for blessings on my brother's marriage, and for the soul of my Grandmother, Bernice Farrell.

(also posted at

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Mawwwage ... what bwought us togethew that day. Mawwage, that bwessed awwangement, that dweam within a dweam. And wove, twue wove, wiww fowwow us fowevah... So tweasuwe youw wove.

Four years. Wow.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

I wish Sen. Biden could find some shame and humility

But I guess that's hard to do when you give incoherent gobbledygook for answers, the same nonsense you and Rep. Pelosi gave on MTP that was entirely discredited, and still receive fawning headlines like "Biden balances his faith with social responsibility" Give thou me a break!

"To sum it up, as a Catholic, I'm a John XXIII guy, I'm not a Pope John Paul guy." -- Joe Biden

"You keep using that word. i do not think it means what you think it means." -- Inigo Montoya

Friday, September 5, 2008

Paul finds the door to fairyland

We welcomed Paul Vincent Lester into the world and our family at 3:26AM on Thursday.

As Paul was on the threshold of birth, in a moment of calm between the violence of contractions, our midwife said “I always wonder what they are thinking at this point.” I’m not sure what he was thinking right then, but I think in the days leading up to birth babies begin to “get it”. They begin to think, “this is all very lovely, but there must be something more.” Perhaps Paul was thinking along these lines:

By the Babe Unborn

By G. K. Chesterton

If trees were tall and grasses short,

As in some crazy tale,

If here and there a sea were blue

Beyond the breaking pale,

If a fixed fire hung in the air

To warm me one day through,

If deep green hair grew on great hills,

I know what I should do.

In dark I lie: dreaming that there

Are great eyes cold or kind,

And twisted streets and silent doors,

And living men behind.

Let storm-clouds come: Better an hour,

And leave to weep and fight,

Then all the ages I have ruled

The empires of the night.

I think that if they give me leave

Within the world to stand,

I would be good through all the day

I spent in fairyland.

They should not hear a word from me

Of selfishness and scorn,

If only I could find the door,

If only I were born!

Welcome Paul, my son. You found the door. I’m your dad, and my job is to let you know, as big and wonderful as this new world seems, there’s one more Door to go through! Just like your heart began to long for more than the dark of the womb, you’ll begin to notice that the fixed fire in the air and deep green hair growing on great hills point to one more Place, your final destination. Let’s find that door together Paul, and be born once again.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Chastity, Obedience, and Broadband Access

"Even the patience of our brothers was being tested by our slow internet."

--Fr. Daniel Van Santvoort O.Cist., quoted in this week's Time Magazine, explaining his Welsh monastery's decision to get broadband access.

Indeed. Job put up with a lot. But slow internet? Heaven forbid. I'll go out on a limb and predict that this monastery has fewer than five novices over the next ten years. Look, the Lord giveth broadband access, and the Lord taketh away the heart of Monastic life. I'm struck by that word "even" in the quote. The assumption is that the monks, by nature of their vocation, are very patient people. So if the internet makes them impatient, it must be an authentic trial and beyond what they should be expected to sacrifice. An alternative vision, if I may, Fr. Daniel – if your patience is being tested by your dial up connection, you’re doing a bad job of being a monk. You’ve created a life where every minor annoyance is a distraction from your Beloved, when the very vocation you’ve chosen is supposed to keep you turned towards Him. The horse left the barn pretty far back in your list of compromises.

I'm harping on this even though it violates an important spiritual suggestion I heard recently from a friend: "when it comes to following the Lord, keep your eyes on your own dang paper!" I'll justify it on account of what I'll call "trickle down gospel living", or the "universal call to mediocrity".

In “The Restoration of Christian Culture” John Senior advocates that the universal practice of Christian laity ought to be a “tithe of time for prayer”; about two and a half hours per day. After recognizing what the reader is thinking – “how is that possible?” he first blames lax contemplative religious for not keeping their vigils and praying less than eight hours a day, and then active religious and secular priests for not being faithful to the breviary and praying less than four hours a day. The lack of commitment of prayer from those whose vocations are designed to be more focused on prayer than work, leads those whose vocation are focused more on work than prayer to throw their hands up and strive for what is only a pittance. Of course, Senior also recognizes a whole slew of economic, cultural and technological realities that prevent the typical Christian from praying two plus hours, but he asserts that had we been committed to prayer we never would have let them become an issue in the first place.

The monks with broadband are the same thing. They proclaim in Time magazine that simple living is just dang hard, and the message the world hears is why should we try at all? Of course, a factual commitment to simplicity and poverty is positively essential for a committed prayer life. And the more the message of materialism is heard and taken to heart, the less it will even occur to us that we ought to be praying.

St. Anthony of Egypt, Ora Pro Nobis

St. Benedict, Ora Pro Nobis

St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Ora Pro Nobis

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The weekend's haul

You know you're a nerd when ....

You have a spreadsheet to track your garden production, and can compare it to other worksheets from 05, 06 and 07. AND you are thinking that simply tallying the numbers of vegetables picked really isn't enough ... that next year you need to go to weighing everything, which will also allow for accounting of herbs and leafy vegetables not included in the current data.

This is what my poor wife has to live with.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The coolest eggplant ever and other garden progress

Rosey loves Eggplant. I've expanded my palate significantly over the past few years, but haven't completely come around on it yet. So our garden features just a single eggplant plant (do you need to repeat the plant, or is the plant an eggplant and the fruit also an eggplant?). I didn't think it was going to do well. I planted it right next to one of our mutant sprawling tomato plants and it kept getting covered up and shaded by the tomato plants mighty vines. After some makeshift trellising the eggplant got some regular sun and has started bearing fruit. This is the first one picked:

Isn't that the coolest? Twin eggplants? I think it looks like a Hippopotamus.

Zucchini is also making its way to the table.

Our early planted plum tomatos are going from green to orange. The others, including several volunteer plants from the compost, are bearing fruit nicely a few weeks behind.

The beans and spinach are long gone, but the lettuce has been very heat resistant. I've finally let it go to seed, but the remaining leaves still look appetizing.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Thrift and Waste; Stewardship and Stupidity

So on NPR a few weeks ago there was a story of how gas prices have "trapped" an Ohio family with their Ford Excursion and Ford Expedition. For the uninitiated, these vehicles make a Ford Explorer look like a Yugo. With lots of coasting and gentle acceleration, you may be able to squeeze 12-15 mpg out of these things. Krusty the Clown would be envious.

The gentleman has five children and explained that he needed the big SUVs so he and his wife could take the kids to soccer games, etc. But now the they are spending about $200 a WEEK to fill the vehicles. Oh my. So they began looking into selling or trading in the Excursion for something smaller. You see, it turns out he was mostly just driving the Excursion around by himself for his home inspection business, so maybe they didn't need it after all. And here is where we all break out our tiny violins. Because the highest offer they could get after taking it around to several dealers was $11,500, while Kelly Blue Book said it was worth 24k. And they had paid 50k when they bought it new three years ago.

My Word. Fifty thousand dollars?? On what planet does this make any sense? Much hullabaloo is made of gas prices. But if gas prices remained at the roughly $2/gal when he bought the Excursion, he's still capital S Stupid to have sunk fifty grand into a depreciating asset. (and he probably borrowed heavily for the privilege!). Losing 60% of the value in three years and $100/week on gas is fine by him, while losing 80% of the value and $200/week on gas needs a news story? The poor schlub needs to sell the Excursion for 11k, the Expedition for 8k, buy a used minivan for the kids and a compact pick up if he needs it for the business. Done. Quit your whining.

Main takeaway from this post -- when you put everything into cents per mile, depreciation will still be a bigger cost for most vehicles then gasoline. Gas will need to be around $7/gallon before operating costs start routinely exceeding capital costs. So drive the car you have a little longer, and let someone else fall for the new car smell.

In related news, the Institute for American Values has launched For a New Thrift: Confronting the Debt Culture. Be sure to take the Thrift Quiz! And remember what our patron said:

Thrift is the really romantic thing; economy is more romantic than extravagance. It is the more poetic. It is poetic because it is creative. --G.K. Chesterton

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Baseball's Lessons on Eternity and a Father's Love

Game 1 Sunday June 21, 1964. Phillies 6, Mets 0.

The first place Philadelphia Phillies are in New York for a doubleheader against the basement dwelling Mets. The Phils have been perennial also rans since the 1950 Whiz Kids season, but now appear to be the real deal and are winning over the Philly Phaithful. Johnny Callison and rookie Richie Allen are pacing the offense. The pitching staff is led by an off-season trade acquisition from the Tigers, hard-throwing veteran Jim Bunning.As Bunning took the mound that summer Sunday afternoon, a television in the living room of a cape cod in Norwood, PA was tuned in. My dad sat down to watch the game with my grandfather. I don't think that either of them were really big sports or baseball fans. Granddad was an engineer with GE in their old Southwest Philly plant. Dad had just turned 13 and finished up 7th grade. Dad's older brother by 8 yrs, my Uncle Bill, had gotten married the month before, and so it was just Nana, Granddad and Dad. With all that excitement, plus Granddad's own 50th birthday having just passed, perhaps a low-key Father's Day was in order. Just a kid with his Pop. One on one. And so the game began.

The Phils put up a run in the top of the first and another in the second. When the Phils went up 6-o in the sixth on a Callison homer and Bunning helping his own cause with a two-run double, the game was well in hand. But something else was happening. Jim Bunning was pitching brilliantly. Every Met who stepped to the plate was retired. Not a hit, not a walk, not a hit by pitch or an error. No one had reached first base. As the bottom of the ninth came around, dad and granddad joined thousands of other fathers and sons throughout the area in sitting too close to the television and watching and waiting nervously. Charley Smith pops out ... George Altman down on strikes .... and John Stephenson .... down swinging!!!! He Did It!!! 27 up, 27 down. Jim Bunning Pitched a Perfect Game! First since Don Larsen in '56, and the first in the National League in 84 years. And most importantly, time had been spent and memories had been made. In the unexplainable magic that baseball can bring, Dads and Sons spoke without words:
"I love you."
"I'm glad you're here."
"This is gonna be some summer!"

The next morning, Granddad died of a heart attack. Some summer indeed!

Since baseball time is measured only in outs, all you have to do is succeed
utterly; keep hitting, keep the rally alive, and you have defeated time. You
remain forever young.
-- Roger Angell

That's the poetry and mystery of baseball. But we know time isn't ever defeated. Sometimes it goes way too fast. Like from a thrilling Sunday afternoon to a terrible Monday morning. In a memory though, or just a story for me, Dad is still forever young and the Granddad I've never met is still here. And in Another Place, Granddad waits. And there, time really is beaten. There is only now, the hits keep coming, and the rally is kept alive.

William N. Lester 1914-1964. Lux perpetua luceat ei.

Game 2: October 8, 1977 Dodgers 4, Phillies 1

Fast forward. October 8, 1977. The Phillies are in the playoffs against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Despite a ridiculous loss the night before to fall behind 2-1 in the best of five series, hope springs eternal. Not in the hearts of all the Philly cynics, but certainly in my mom. Mom has scored a pair of tickets to the game. The seats are way up in section 725 at the Vet. The forecast is for a cold rainy, night. And by the way, mom is nine months pregnant with yours truly. Mom is stoked. Dad is worried. As the evening came and they were getting ready to go to the game, I apparently began mildly suggesting they change their plans. The rain began to fall, giving my parents more time to debate whether the hospital or the stadium would be the destination.I became more adamant, and dad convinced mom that the hospital was the place to go. In the delivery room, mom screamed often. Sometimes at me; sometimes at the radio with the game on it. (This apparently caused some consternation among the nurses). I came into the world four minutes after midnight. Shortly after, the Phillies went down to an ignominious defeat and their season was over. In South Philly, misery. At Lankenau hospital, joy.

Mom and Dad's unused tickets from that night are framed and hang on my wall. On Christmas 1986, Dad gave me a book; I don't remember the title, only that it was a sort of baseball historical timeline. But I remember clearly what he wrote inside:

Page 243 tells of a sad, sad night for the Phillies. It was the
happiest night of my life.

Love, Dad

I don't know quite how all that registered in my 9 year old head, but I do know that was the moment I became a baseball fanatic. What might have been just a boyhood phase became a lifelong passion, because in playing, watching and reading baseball I was connected to Dad, and knew he loved me.

Game 3: July 11, 2006 American League 3, National League 2

There have been times watching baseball where I've leapt for joy, yelled in anger, or just plain cried (Joe Carter anyone?). But mostly I know it's just a game. And nowadays, a game played primarily by obscenely rich and arrogant players for even more obscenely rich and arrogant owners. I really love the game because it reminds me how blessed I am, and how precious life is, and how the next day or minute, or next at-bat or pitch, just might change everything. It reminds me of Granddad and Dad watching one last incredible game together. It reminds me of Dad telling me the story of that game as we visited Cooperstown on my 11th birthday. It reminds me of watching the 2006 all-star game as a new dad, with 3 week old Kenny asleep in my arms, looking at him and thinking that just a month before, I could never have imagined the depth and breadth of love a father has for a son, and longing to do anything I could to teach him, protect him and to ... succeed utterly; keep hitting, keep the rally alive, and have defeated time. So we could remain forever young.

Alas, I can't do that. But our Heavenly Father can. And in Him, Granddad, Dad, my sons and I are all brothers. And we are young. And there are games to play.

I love you Dad. Happy Father's Day.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Kenny's Faith Life

Any parent of a toddler knows that kids tend to get obsessed for a while with each new discovery. Rosey's Simpsons refrigerator magnets, especially Marge, were Kenny's constant companion in February and March. They gave way to a need to always have his favorite crayon, "Big Purple", with him all the time. Nowadays he's rarely without his very own St. Jude Shop $1.29 plastic mini-Mary statue. Also, for every item he points out, we must designate it as big ("be-bay"), medium ("me-may") or little ("leel" or "le-lay") and find comparitive items of the same genre to prove we've made the correct designation. This gets tough on the highways where for every big-rig you must find a medium box truck and a compact pick up or the world as we know it will come to an end!!

All this is a prelude to saying -- Kenny thinks he's had apparitions of the Blessed Virgin.

About a month ago, our dear friend Mary B. was visiting from Los Angeles and came over for dinner. Kenny was so excited to see "Mary". He loved eating that meal even more than usual, playing peek-a-boo with Mary and being very affectionate toward her afterwards.

In the time since Mary B's visit, it's become clear why he was so happy to meet her -- in his head Mary B and the BVM are one and the same. He will now point to the Mary statue at church or his Mary Holy Card and say "Mare, eat!". And I'll ask "Did Jesus's Mom come to eat with us Kenny?" and he nods yes. Or he'll point to the chair where Mary B. sat and say "Bebay-mare" (Big Mary) and then to our Holy Family statue and say "Leel Mare" (Little Mary). (To Mary B.-- Don't worry you're only big when compared to a very small statue!).

So needless to say, since he's met Mary in real life, he's really in to the Hail Mary. At bedtime we try to do an Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be. Through the Our Father, he usually interrupts with shouts of: "Mare! Geegus Mama!". So we speed through Jesus to get to the Mary prayers.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Off to Cooperstown (and Utica and Highland Lakes)

Fun long weekend ahead.

Tomorrow we head to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Rosey's never been; despite my numerous invitations. But her old college friend is having a "Getting her Ph.D." (Go Susan!) celebration in her hometown of Utica on Saturday, and Cooperstown is close enough that I successfully made the case. Pray that she at least humors me as I regale her with baseball lore and statistical minutiae! I'll try to hold back on the ride up and save it for the museum proper. K.B.III is coming too of course. I expect he won't quite get it, but being around baseball with my son means a 100% chance of me turning into a blubbering emotional fool at some point. I'll try to explain in a future post; but baseball and fatherhood are intimately connected. And a day in Cooperstown makes them both seem even more magical and mystical.

On Sunday we head down to Rosey's parents in Highland Lakes, NJ. (aka -- the cool, natury part of Jersey that I never knew existed until meeting my lovely Bride) for another day of fun. And then back home on Monday afternoon.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Garden Update

Although the overall amount planted is smaller this year, we have for the first time tried a spring crop. We ordered lettuce, spinach, snap peas and sunflower seeds from Seed Savers. They were planted on the enclosed front porch in March, and transplanted outside in early April. The yield has been excellent. We've had fresh salad for a few weeks already, and the snap peas will make their way to a stir fry pretty soon.

Six tomato plants, three zucchini, three pepper, two basil and an eggplant were bought and transplanted. Rosemary, thyme and parsley round out the lineup in containers by the front door.

The sun and rain (and perhaps our home grown compost) have been good. Here's one garden section on May 28th, along with that evenings salad:

And here's the same plot this afternoon. Holy cow, those peas are really taking off!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

How then Shall We Live?

He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8, NRSV)

There are plenty of blogs and other publications that decry our hedonistic culture. To all of them, I can only say Amen and pray that their words are heeded. In this little corner of cyberspace I'd like to look beyond the more obvious challenges and focus on some other nefarious influences. Regina Doman, in an issue of the Caelum et Terra Conversation, writes:
Most of us have experienced a gradual awakening (sometimes a rude awakening) to the fact that some -- in fact, much -- of our modern culture is not seamlessly aligned with that Faith. And I don't merely mean the presence of abortion, pornography, immorality, euthanasia, etc. in our society. I mean the debasement of culture by mass production, the insidious pervasiveness of advertising, the legislated injustices of capitalism upon which most modern lifestyles are built. (my bold -- KBrian)
The heart of the problem is that in rejecting the obvious immorality in the world, we Catholics leave unquestioned many other premises of society that just as assuredly have stifled Catholic family life and culture. Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day wanted to "build a world where it was easier to be good." With the sacramental grace of Marriage I think Catholic Families are especially called to help realize Peter and Dorothy's vision.

To live justly,
love kindness and walk humbly with our God needn't be so damn hard!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

How Much is Enough?

On an old Catholic Yahoo discussion group I used to moderate, I posted this in December 2002:
"In a weekly report Tuesday, the Bank of Toyko-Mitsubishi and UBS Warburg forecast that sales at stores opened at least a year, known as same-store sales, for the combined November and December period will be up only 1.5 percent. That would be the weakest increase since the same-store index started tracking the data in 1970."

I'm a news junkie, so this bit above represents about the 73rd time i've seen, heard or read some version of this "woe are we who have only increased sales of stuff by 1.5% over last year!" and i'm really sick of it.

A few thoughts (and keep in mind the irony that this is coming from a guy who on most economic policy issues is a supply-side republican):

I understand the need for continuous growth to drive job creation, pull us out of recession, etc. But why is a 1.5% increase such terrible news? Is it possible that after 30 years of increasing spending, marketers efforts aren't working or at least resulting in diminishing returns?

Another statistic I read put total holiday spending at a projected $215 billion this year. Thats about $1,000 per American over the age of 18 and it specifically excludes big ticket items like cars, and household goods and groceries which are bought anyway. So its $1000 per person on STUFF. And much of that is added to the enormous high interest credit card debt of America's middle class families. Given how highly debt laden the average american is, newspapers should breathe a sigh of relief when growth in spending matches instead of exceeds growth in disposable income.

From an investor's perspective, I don't understand why top-line revenue growth is such a priority anyway. It seems to me a company with $1 billion in sales and $100 million in profit is alot more attractive than a company with $10 billion in sales and $200 million in profit. I would welcome a shift in focus toward efficient cash flow and profit margin over a "growth at all costs" mentality.

And besides, how well does most of the stuff we gave and received this year fit this line from Pope John Paul in his general audience on Wednesday 12/18?:

"Christmas gifts are a reminder that the person of Christ is a gift to humanity. Our gifts in this feast to each other are a reflection and expression of this great Gift."

Five years later, and I still think I'm right. (except for the part where I say on most issues I'm a supply-side Republican. Sheesh. I suppose the first crack in that dam was posting something like this; and wondering if there might be something wrong with unending, undirected and unaccountable economic growth.)

In her books The Overworked American and The Overspent American, Juliet Schor discusses how after a certain point (a point long, long past) productivity gains would produce more overall happiness if they were applied to producing the same amount with less time, rather than producing a greater amount with the same time. In other words, growth and technology should lead to more leisure time, but instead they lead to less leisure time as we work and borrow toward ever newer and greater "necessities".

For a lot of reasons, this can't happen. The underlying assumptions of our economy won't allow it. The purpose of the economy is not to fulfill human needs, it is to create new ones. Orion Magazine takes a look at this phenomenon in The Gospel of Consumption:

By the late 1920s, America’s business and political elite had found a way to defuse the dual threat of stagnating economic growth and a radicalized working class in what one industrial consultant called “the gospel of consumption”—the notion that people could be convinced that however much they have, it isn’t enough. ... They celebrated the conceptual breakthrough: “Economically we have a boundless field before us; that there are new wants which will make way endlessly for newer wants, as fast as they are satisfied.”

Today “work and more work” is the accepted way of doing things. If anything, improvements to the labor-saving machinery since the 1920s have intensified the trend. Machines can save labor, but only if they go idle when we possess enough of what they can produce. In other words, the machinery offers us an opportunity to work less, an opportunity that as a society we have chosen not to take. Instead, we have allowed the owners of those machines to define their purpose: not reduction of labor, but “higher productivity”—and with it the imperative to consume virtually everything that the machinery can possibly produce.

A question for you: Do you remember what life was like in 1991? Were you living in squalor or were you reasonably well fed? Exactly. And yet:
By 2006 that figure [the amount of goods and services produced for each hour of labor] had risen another 30 percent. In other words, if as a society we made a collective decision to get by on the amount we produced and consumed seventeen years ago, we could cut back from the standard forty-hour week to 5.3 hours per day—or 2.7 hours if we were willing to return to the 1948 level. We were already the richest country on the planet in 1948 and most of the world has not yet caught up to where we were then.
Will we ever stop? I think the crux of the problem is it's tremendously difficult to opt out of the consumer treadmill in any meaningful and significant way. Part of the goal of this blog will be to look at ways our family is trying to live more simply and at least half-heartedly swimming against this tide.

An inspiration in this area has been my latest night time reading: Beyond Capitalism & Socialism: A New Statement of an Old Ideal. I'll be posting some reflections on the essays as a way to help me digest them.

... and be sure to go and read the whole Orion Mag article ... especially the story of the Kellogg company's 6-hour workday experiment.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Getting the Garden Ready

I love the smell of compost. Not the kind from Home Depot made in giant hoppers from leaves and little else. The kind from the backyard that began life in our kitchen as banana peels, coffee grinds, tea bags, egg shells, vegetable scraps, and paper towel tubes; mixed in with our leaves and grass clippings.

It was not as easy as I thought though. The compost bin was free at a seminar at the local public library back in October 06. Last spring the half-filled bin wasn't nearly done. But last month i dug through to the bottom and there it was: A homemade extravaganza of nutrients and worms! Only a few cubic feet though; and I had to pick out the unfinished bits (mostly the egg shells and some sticks that got tossed in with the leaves I guess). As you can see, I didn't really mind. This summer I'll experiment with a double bin to see if we can get it hotter and finished faster.

I wonder if Al Gore has ever bothered to bring a single bucket of vegetable scraps out to the backyard bin? Poseur!