Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Saint Benedict's Day

July 11th is the feast of Saint Benedict on the universal Roman Calendar. As the Rule reminds us: We must never despair of God's mercy.

"Let us, then, make it our aim to work for peace and to strengthen one another" (Romans 14:19).


Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Christina Grimmie: "More Than Life"



"Love never ends" (1 Corinthians 13:8).

Remembering Christina Grimmie (March 12, 1994–June 10, 2016) with sorrow, anguish, even incomprehension—but also (and above all) with a firm hope in the Love that is stronger than death.

She remains a sign of hope for all of us.💚

Monday, July 9, 2018

"Power Made Perfect in Weakness"—What Does This Mean?

It must be a painful ordeal to pass through the mystery indicated by the text cited below from the twelfth chapter of 2 Corinithians. I admit that I am afraid of it, and feel powerless to walk with others as they endure it.

How much do I really trust in the mercy and the goodness of God?

Still, "God is good." What else could he be? He is that goodness that creates, sustains, and draws to himself every person.

But why, then, the darkness? Why suffering?

Sin has brought suffering and death into the world. But why does God allow us to sin? Why does he allow sin to devastate the world? Of course, I know that love can only be embraced in freedom, and he allows us to reject him. He also empowers us to participate in his redeeming love.

Freedom is profound, but sometimes it seems so complicated, and even overwhelming. The little human being—the bodily person in the world of time and space, who spends a third of his or her life asleep and much of the rest of it eating, drinking, and "going to the bathroom"—the little human being gets beaten down, gets sick, gets old, or just gets exhausted.

Saint Paul doesn't tell us the concrete details of his "thorn in the flesh." But we know of the many hardships he endured, of his own fragility, of all his suffering. In 2Corinthians12, Paul says he begged the Lord to give him some relief.

God's child begs him for help. What is God's answer? How does God answer our begging, when we're just helpless and there doesn't seem to be a way out?

There is no discourse that can communicate this "answer." God's answer is that he comes to be with us, to seek out each one of us, and to stay with us. His "answer" is to love us, and draw us into the experience of the infinite mystery of his goodness, of communion with his very being, He who is Absolute Love.

He created us for this communion, and it corresponds to what our hearts truly seek. To accomplish this fulfillment, to bring us to himself forever, God comes to dwell with us in our weakness.

In limited, human terms, he says that "power is made perfect in weakness." I am very far from understanding what this really means for me, for my actions today, my motives, my hopes and aspirations for the future, my love for Eileen and the kids, for my brother, my family and friends, for my Dad and my Mom...

Still, Jesus is here.

Jesus is here with me in my confusion and anxiety. He is with every person on the unique path they travel. Jesus is with us in our weakness.

"My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness."

Here is the love of God expressed in relation to the suffering of each one of us. To the natural mind it sounds like an incomprehensible paradox, but faith grasps that it refers to the fact that Jesus has embraced all the suffering of each one of us on the Cross, carried it (and us) as his own, and thereby has revealed the infinite measure and depth of the love of God in his resurrection.

He begins to draw us into that Love by the gift of the Holy Spirit, and enables us to hope in that Love as the ultimate fulfillment, the true meaning of everything, of every moment—even the moments that seem impossible to endure.

Jesus wants to stay with us. He is with us, whether we suffer because of our own sins or are afflicted by others or even just constrained and hindered by the restrictions of the most banal circumstances of life.

In speaking of his own afflictions, Saint Paul told the Corinthians:

"Three times I begged the Lord about this,
that it might leave me,
but he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you,
for power is made perfect in weakness.'
I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses,
in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.
Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults,
hardships, persecutions, and constraints,
for the sake of Christ;
for when I am weak, then I am strong."

~2 Corinthians 12:8-10

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

My Country is Still a Young Country



Happy Fourth of July! Happy Birthday to the United States of America!

My country is 242 years old today. As a nation we are still relatively young, even though we have had a very large impact on the world since the Twentieth Century.

Still, we are perhaps younger than we realize.

In Italy I lived in a building that was more than 242 years old, and it wasn't a historical landmark or a museum. It was just a building. Indeed, it was one of the "newer" buildings! In Europe it's not unusual to find ordinary people who have lived in the same town or region since the Middle Ages.

Of course, there is also a great deal of movement and change in ancient societies over the passing of the centuries, for many reasons. Some things are lost, others are gained. A place like Rome is a kind of living example of this peculiar and ongoing vitality over two and a half millennia.

Seen in this context, the U.S.A. is a young country, and Americans are an even younger "people," so many of whom (including me) are descended from immigrants who arrived long after this nation was founded. After three generations of my family being here, however, I have become very distinctively American (my time living in Italy certainly convinced me that I was far from being "Italian" in any real sense of Italy's contemporary national life).

I have not lost my connection to my Mediterranean ethnic and cultural roots. My heritage and the heritages of immigrants from all over the world are part of the fabric of the American people. We are a young people, a growing people. Even if our ancestors weren't here for the actual American founding, we celebrate today because this is our country.

My ancestors were grateful to become American citizens and I am grateful to be one. I am grateful too that my children are American citizens—and they are descended from not only Italian but also from Irish, Spanish, and Filipino immigrants!

I love my country, which does not mean that I excuse its historical errors or ignore its current flaws. I try to love my country with realism and hope, two factors that seem particularly essential to any kind of real love in this world.

My country is a beautiful country. I have seen much of it over the years. Perhaps I'm biased, but nothing is more beautiful to me than the (truly old) Appalachian Mountains where I have spent most of my life.

So what will we do today? It looks like I will be house-bound and in bed most of the day, but others in the family are (or will be) out attending various celebrations. 

People do many things to celebrate July Fourth: there are parades, parties, barbeques, and, of course, fireworks. And I think many Americans would agree that today is an especially good day to pray. That is one thing I can do with them.

What I have written below is not "polished" or proposed as any kind of formal prayer. It's just the thoughts that came to my mind earlier today. I originally posted them on social media, and I shall reproduce them here below:

Dear God, thank you,
thank you for everything you have given to us!
Continue to provide for all our needs,
and make us good stewards of this beautiful and abundant land
you have entrusted to our care.
Give us respect for the dignity of each and every human person
without exception,
whom you have created in your image.
Grant us the courage to treat with justice, love, and compassion
the most vulnerable persons in our midst,
and all who are suffering.
Grant us peace and solidarity
with the many other nations and peoples of the world,
working together with them responsibly and wisely
in these tumultuous times for the good of all.
Dear God, please bless the U.S.A., my sweet home;
Bless all peoples and nations who turn to you
with their many needs in this world.
And bring us all through this life's journey
to the joy of being with you forever.

Monday, July 2, 2018

You Should "Try Thai"!

Beer from Bangkok is just the beginning.
Let's start off July on a lighter note.

We have learned a few things from the experience of our younger, more free-wheeling days, when we could pop around the WashingtonDC /Virginia /Maryland metro area in search of interesting cuisine.

In those long ago days, kids could be carted along, or (even better) left in the hands of happy grandparents (on both coasts: we also did a fair amount of eating in the San Francisco Bay Area, when we visited Eileen's parents in California).

Here's one thing we learned: Don't judge a Thai Restaurant by its hokey name or by its "unlikely" location.

Eileen and I celebrated our anniversary at "Try Thai" Restaurant and Sushi Bar which, I am happy to say, is right on Main Street in our own little Front Royal, Virginia. It's all but a stone's throw away from our house. What a splendid addition to our town center, along with its craft shops, antique stores, and cafes, the park, the gazebo, and other promising new places such as the Front Royal Brewery and an art gallery. All of this is nestled in the Shenandoah Valley surrounded by the Blue Ridge mountains. It's pleasant just to walk there on an early summer evening.

On this evening, the weather was wet. But the Try Thai restaurant more than made up for that. The food we had was awesome! It compared well with any Thai food we've had in any Big City. I'm not a restaurant reviewer, so I'll just share a few pictures. You can learn more by visiting the website (click HERE). If you're a local, definitely check it out.

The first picture shows our delightful main course, the "Special of the Day"—a (whole) Red Snapper, cooked perfectly, which was accompanied by a sweet and sour sauce with plenty of fresh chunks of fruit and veggies. Yum!😋


This fish could fill the bellies of two very hungry people in one sitting. Order more than one and you'll have some magical leftovers to put in your fridge for your next meal.

We both loved the presentation, the arrangement of the cooked fish pieces in their "original package" including the head (which has some of the best meat if you do a little work to get it out, but you're not required to do that). The body of the fish was well prepared and easy to eat. Occasional bones were not surprising and simple to remove. I wish I had taken a picture of the generous bowl of sauce.

I didn't take many pictures. I was too busy eating.

So the Special was excellent, and we hope they'll offer it again frequently. We were also pleased by the appetizers. All the food we saw looked very fine, and the service was good and personable.

For me, what inevitably distinguishes the quality of a Thai Restaurant is how they prepare my personal favorite: chicken and coconut milk soup. The soup at Try Thai was just as it should be, and more. The hot spice was enough to keep my attention, but not overwhelming or overdone. It played well with the other flavors, and there was a generous portion of chicken.

I ordered the cup, and it is pictured below. A bowl of this wonderful stuff could serve as a meal all on its own. Delicious!😋


We had a lovely evening.

In conclusion, all I can say is that you really should "TRY THAI"!😉


Saturday, June 30, 2018

Mid-Year 2018: The State of My Mind in "Survival Mode"

Here we are, halfway through the year 2018.

On the one hand, time flies as usual in this period of my life. But, on the other hand....

A lot has happened.

Just six months ago, we spent the early part of New Year's Eve at my parents' condo in Arlington (which is ten minutes away from the Washington Monument).

They lived there together for nearly 30 years. Arlington had become home for them in later life, and the place where they became "Papa" and "Grandma" to their five grandchildren. The kids all have happy memories of many visits, weekends, and holidays in Arlington.

On New Year's Eve 2017 we had our "traditional three-way birthday cake" for Agnese (December 21), my Mom (December 29), and me (January 2). I remember noticing my Dad struggling a bit to eat his piece of cake, seeming lost and confused and unusually tired (for him). I knew he had been having some trouble, but this was the first time it really struck me, though I put aside the momentary flash of alarm that had gone through me.

We knew that my parents' long-settled life was changing with the fragility of their years. Be we didn't expect it to happen so suddenly.

So much has happened this year.

In the past six months, our son John Paul spent a semester in Rome, had a tremendous experience, visited other places in Europe, and is now back and getting ready for his Senior year in college.

Agnese successfully and very happily completed her Freshman year. Lucia graduated from High School and will begin college in the Fall. Teresa is co-directing four week-long horse riding camps this Summer, and is acting in a local community play.

The Washington Capitals WON THE STANLEY CUP!!! (I still gotta write a blog post on that whole thing.😊)

We still look basically the same as we did six months ago.
I have been reading, studying, forming ideas, writing about "technological ecology" (we need this), the philosophy of communications media, art and music, East Asian history (especially recent history of China, Indochina, Japan).

Not surprisingly, given the events of that history, I'm seeing in a new way the human capacity to live in "survival mode" in the face of enormous and persistent trauma, but also the long term psychological damage that it inflicts, that manifests itself later on.

I wonder how widespread the experience of trauma is in our tumultuous world. How many of us live much of our lives in various forms of "survival mode" with its streamlined priorities, strange acuity, and almost unnatural capacity for endurance? We stay focused on surviving, but with our humanity diminished in various ways. We are afflicted by all kinds of stress. It is a persistent affliction that breaks us again and again even as we find temporary bandages and cover our wounds with big scars.

So much has happened this year! Almost more than I can bear.

As he approached his 83rd birthday, my Dad's health collapsed. After a lifetime of strength and capability, he suddenly tumbled from what seemed to be mild forgetfulness and confusion last year into the advanced stages of dementia, a state of physical and mental incapacity and helplessness.

Our primary preoccupation in the past three months has been moving Dad to an Assisted Living Home. We were grateful to find a lovely place in Strasburg, Virginia, which is only a 20 minute drive from our house. At least we are nearby and able to be a regular part of his life in these new and difficult circumstances.

Arlington, Virginia: Bright lights, big city.
For the present, however, my Mom remains in Arlington. Though she is still able to move around the house, and can manage to care for herself, she is much too weak to make any kind of trip. Through various arrangements (and help from us and others) she gets the assistance she needs right now. But she can't visit my Dad. She can't really leave the house.

Dad is mostly incoherent, but not entirely. The capacity and focus he has left in his mind centers mostly on the sorrow of not being with his wife of 58 years. He has very little day-to-day memory, but he understands (sometimes, to some extent) that she is still in Arlington and she is getting the help she needs (from us, the neighbors in the condo, etc.) but that she's also home-bound.

She can't move in with him, because the Strasburg home is only for people with memory problems. Insurance would not cover her in that context. Every part of this life-changing process, in fact, is swamped with bureaucratic complexities.

We want my parents to be together, to be near each other at least. We want all of us to be near one another, as near as possible. But everything we do to move forward requires solving ten thousand puzzles and untying ten thousand knots. My brother has been an absolute hero in taking on so much of the nitty-gritty of this stuff.

Maybe living in the wonderful "First World" is not as easy and carefree as we have been led to believe....

So what about me? I'm a wreck. I'm barely holding on physically and psychologically. There's nothing terribly new about that, except that in certain ways it has gotten harder.

Part of the Assisted Living Home in Strasburg, Virginia.
But I am holding on.

My intellect is strong, thanks to what I call that-one-part-of-my-brain-that-always-keeps-working no matter what else is going on, no matter how sick I am in other ways.

As long as that part-of-my-brain keeps going, I will keep studying and learning and communicating. If nothing else, I'll study myself.

I'm inspired by people like Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who began "writing" the immortal chronicle of The Gulag Archipelago in his mind and memory even as he labored through his days in the Soviet prison camp system that denied him the use of pen or paper.

I'm inspired by people like Dr. Takashi Nagai, the great scientist of Nagasaki who—after initially surviving the atomic holocaust of August 8, 1945—studied himself and wrote about the effects of radiation on himself when he was slowly dying from radiation poisoning.

I'm inspired by people like Haing Ngor and Dith Pran and Loung Ung and other Cambodians who have shown us their brokenness, who have told their stories and allowed us to see in themselves the pain of the past and the ongoing suffering that millions of their compatriots still carry to this day. Through them, the survivors, even with all their scars, we are given the chance to have compassion for millions of our fellow human beings who endured the imposition of monstrous, incomprehensible violence.

I want to write more about them too.

These people humble me. I have so very little to bear, and I don't have their honesty. I hope I can learn to be more humble and more transparent.

Suffering is personal, and yet there is a kinship in the common experience of helplessness, exhaustion, being overwhelmed and afraid, being wounded, and so many other human factors. That's why we have to tell our stories, share our sorrows, be patient with one another, with our weakness and frailty, be compassionate, try to accompany one another.

"Survival Mode" may seem like a kind of death, but like a seed sown deep in the earth it can also bring forth mysterious and abundant fruit.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Rose Study, Number 2

I got some roses for Eileen for our anniversary, and I worked with a photo of one of them as the foundation
for a piece of digital graphic art.
.
Here is Rose Study 2, June 2018.😙
.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Happy Saint John's Day!

"There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world"
(John 1:6-9).

Today is six months since Christmas Eve (and six months UNTIL Christmas Eve). Whoa, where did that time go?😜

But mainly, it's the Solemnity of the Birth of Saint John the Baptist. Happy Name Day, fellow Johnnys!😉

Zechariah said,
"You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way,
to give his people knowledge of salvation
by the forgiveness of their sins" (Luke 1:76-77).

Picture above: 15th Century Birth and Naming of the Baptist by Giovanni da Fiesole (a.k.a. "Fra Angelico").

Saturday, June 23, 2018

After 22 Years: Marriage is Life Together

So it's been 22 years, and here is what we look like now.

When Eileen and I got married in 1996 we certainly didn't know what these years were going to be like. The only way to know any vocation is to live it, because vocations are personal.

Obviously there are basic realities that define marriage as a state of life. But the whole experience is lived by two people in an very particular way, two people with two different personalities, with special joys and special challenges, and with so many circumstances that we have had to face together—things we never would have dreamed.

After all, this is not just "any" marriage; this is "our marriage."

We didn't know whether or not married life would conform to our expectations (we didn't even really know we had expectations).

Really, things are turning out to be continually surprising, different, and better than we could have known (note that I did not say easier).

It's a life together.

What did we know back then? We knew enough to commit ourselves irrevocably to each other and to going through together "whatever might come."

Now we have a family, which in one way is "not surprising"—and it is certainly something we wanted—but in another sense it is a continually unfolding surprise and challenge: these five human persons have been entrusted to us, and they have grown and changed, each one of them with their own unique personality.

The kids have changed so much since the book Never Give Up was published in 2010 and since I began this blog in 2011. Suddenly, they were teenagers. And now, "suddenly" they are adults (some of them) and even though we've all been through so much together, it can sometimes seem like it just went by so quickly.

Our two youngest are not grownups yet, and there are lots more adventures coming up with them.😜

We've also had the struggles with my illness, with loss of employment, change of employment, needing money, managing "stuff," being weak selfish sinful human beings, being forgetful, being exhausted, and now this new kind of experience of caring for our own aging parents (mine, for now—Eileen's are younger and doing well at present).

Marriage is life. It's life as a companionship. It's a gift, a journey, an adventure, a daily experience of the reality that we belong to something greater than ourselves, something... Someone, mysterious and good, leading us deeper toward the fulfillment for which we have been created, which is beyond our understanding...Someone who is worthy of our trust.

Marriage, like life, involves much suffering. This is mysterious too, and we are still learning to endure all kinds of sufferings with patience.

Marriage, like life, is a joy. There are many joyful surprises, but there is also that deep joy that remains at the foundation and still holds us even through desperation and the biggest challenges.

And so, we remember these things as we continue together.

We still don't know what's coming. Nor does any other married couple. There are new experiences and new challenges and new sufferings at every stage of a lifelong commitment (I have the example of my own parents, who are called to face new and hard things even now, after 58 years together).

We live committed to stay together, to love each other, to persevere in hope. What we learn more and more is how Jesus has consecrated this commitment with his love; the reality of marriage as a sacrament fills the whole living out of this vocation.

Christ crucified and risen has placed himself at the heart of our commitment to each other, and made it a superabundant source of grace so that we might grow together in his likeness. And his presence is a promise that we can make it through anything, that our commitment is not based on our weakness but on his faithfulness.

We continue together, with hope, with joy, because Jesus is here. He has come to dwell with us and has promised to remain with us. Trusting in him, we find the strength for each day.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Twenty Two Years on June 22nd!😊

Every year these "kids" look younger and younger...😉


Twenty two years ago we began the beautiful, crazy, happy adventure of marriage. I am more grateful than I can ever express in words.

Happy Anniversary, Eileen Janaro! I love you!💗

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Mental Health and Technological Power

Recently, two American celebrities died by suicide in the same week. I have written numerous articles that address directly the tragedy of suicide, the frequent underlying struggles with mental illness, and my own experience with Depression.

I am also among those who have lost loved ones. For me, this is an intensely personal topic.

At this time, I find it too difficult to address directly. But I have observed the wider conversation, and it has prompted me to put a few thoughts together on mental health within the context of the peculiar circumstances we live in today.

The news, the blogosphere, and the social media world have chewed over various aspects of these recent suicides and what might have led to them, as well as broader mental health issues.

People are beginning to become more aware of mental illness, at least in general terms. The extent of the problem, however, has also begun to generate reflection about what it means to live a happy life. What do we need to be happy? Why are so many people unhappy? Are we "doing it wrong," somehow?

The frequency of tragic deaths among those who are regarded by our society as competent and successful is one of the circumstances that has prompted people to raise these larger questions. Is the increase in suicide today a sign of a fundamental dissatisfaction with a life rich in material prosperity but poor in personal values, community, and ultimate meaning?

Here we identify an important problem. We need to recognize our distorted and dangerous ideal of human achievement, and revise our isolated, individualistic paradigm of a self-sufficient, autonomous human existence focused on self-generated success.

In fact, living isolated in this society and being measured by its standards breaks people in many ways, including the ravaging of their mental health.

No doubt this is part of the problem. But mental health, like all human health, is subtle and comprised of many facets. We cannot forget that there are also neurobiological propensities that have a hereditary element (among other elements) and that can develop into pathological conditions that need health treatment. It shouldn't surprise us that we see more of this in the ferociously stressful and disoriented society we live in.

I find the need to emphasize the reality of mental illness because too many people still don't see it as a factor at all. That can be a dangerous mistake.

Mental illness is real. Psychiatric care is health care. It might be necessary. It is nothing to be ashamed of. We can ask questions about our understanding of what makes for a happy life and what diminishes happiness and also address the nature of mental illness as a medical problem. These are not mutually exclusive (or even competing) conversations.

At the same time, the problems in our society today require us to consider a new set of factors that we are also prone to overlook. We are living in the midst of an enormous, epoch-defining event—the ongoing, unpredictable technological revolution.

We hardly notice, it seems, that we live in conditions never known before in history. Insofar as we do think about this fact, we tend to consider it to be an unqualified improvement of life. In truth, it is more complicated and ambivalent than we know, and we have hardly begun to grapple with it.

In the "developed world," our ordinary ("normal") lifestyle is vastly extended by the environment of gigantic and
dizzying possibilities opened up by technological power. I am not speaking about some occasional remarkable augmentation of human activity, but rather the immense apparatus that we employ in the basic gestures of engaging with reality in our daily life.

Even a little reflection makes this clear. We start the day using the light switch and the water faucet, but these are just two examples of the whole complex technological infrastructure that shapes our homes and the way we live in them.

Outside the house, technology, its frameworks, and the environments they create shape so much of the way we do things and engage in relationships.

Examples abound. Cars and mass transportation have changed human interaction as much as anything in history. We move our bodies around the world with a speed and ease beyond the wildest dreams of our forebears. This affects the way we experience space and time, places and relationships. Clearly, this is having a profound psychological impact on us, and it will affect future generations in ways we don't even know.

Meanwhile, we turn to more technology to further the extension of power we have already achieved, but also to compensate for the impact of other technology on what we know to be the more stable elements and basic needs of our humanity. Transportation technology has extended the power of our bodies to travel great distances. Not surprisingly, we have sought to extend further and more fully our capacity to communicate over great distances with communications technology.

This represents another expansion of human possibilities at the expense of a certain remoteness and dislocation from basic reality.  Social media and smartphones in part represent the desperation of people trying to be connected while also being uprooted and constantly moving around.

There have been remarkable technological advances in health care too, of course. But the question needs to be asked: Is the whole impact of the ongoing technological revolution generating unprecedented kinds of stress and new (even as yet unknown) challenges to the fragility of human physical and mental health?

We could go on and on, analyzing and unpacking the implications of technology in every facet of life to a point we might find shocking. But we wouldn't remain shocked for very long. The technological environment has become like the air we breathe, in the sense that we easily integrate into our awareness and expectations techniques that enormously extend our sensory capacities and our physical power.

We are scarcely conscious of our "tools." Yet they change us even as we use them. They have stretched the potential of human temporal life and vastly expanded the choices available to us. Yet we lack a sense of direction and find it more difficult than ever to focus our freedom.

We may feel empowered, but we also feel bewildered. We are overwhelmed, overextended by what seems to be the excessive complexity of life, crushed by what we think is expected of us.

And what is the point of it all?

The multiplication of frustrations and the sheer stress engendered by this explosion of possibilities for involvement with the material world give a potentially monstrous scope to human life. This surely must be a factor in the rise of debilitating physical and mental illness in our time.

It can also deepen the lack of real relationships and community in people's lives. The illusion of human self-sufficiency is no longer just the luxury of philosophical speculation, the goal of revolutionary activism, or the opaque aspiration of people in general. Technology has democratized individualism, and taken it to a new level.

Today, the average ordinary individual has so much access to material power (utterly unprecedented access, like nothing in human history) that people easily put into practice the ideology that they can create their own identity and define the meaning of their own humanity. Mass technology has given power the "feel" of being spontaneously available; it seems natural to use it for whatever it can do, if we want it.

When it gets dark, it seems natural to turn on the light. But it can also seem natural to use technological power to produce facile resolutions of deeper problems, to escape from the difficult concrete responsibilities of family and community relationships, to demand extreme attention to work production, to increasingly invade one another's interior space, to allow the images and sensory involvement of television and the internet to replace critical thinking and reflection, to fill our lives with noise to escape the challenge of being with ourselves in silence.

Technology enhances our power dramatically, and we interiorize that enhancement so that the effective exercise of vast power becomes habitual in our daily life. Thus, when we face the more profound problems of life, the problems of being a human person, we easily become frustrated.

These problems do not reduce themselves to the logic of the power that has become so apparently natural to us. We are easily tempted to reduce our humanity to the measure of our power, to censure our real human nature, to reduce persons to "things" over which we have power, and to impose this power by violence—especially against those who are too poor or too weak to resist.

If someone has brittle bones to begin with, and then you compel them to run fast and jump high, they will soon have broken bones. It should not be surprising, then, that people with mental fragility are further injured in a power-dominant society, that mental illness is inflamed and aggravated in this society. As we have noted, the use of power seems natural because it has become the environment in which we live. But it is also used without reflection, and frequently becomes disorienting. And those who are weak often experience it turned against them in violence.

In truth, the use of technology is "natural" (it is an application of human practical reason) but it has to be subordinate to the human person, and the human person has to live in real relationship to God and other persons. If it is to be a constructive force in human life, technology must be integrated within this more fundamental human personal, interpersonal, and transcendent context.

I am convinced above all that without the foundational experience of belonging-to-something-else, to that Mystery that gives value to all of life including "myself," all our technological power just scatters our humanity and uproots us more and more. It makes it harder for us to experience authentic human encounter and relationship.

But we don't even perceive that there's a problem here, which points to the extent to which we have become alienated from ourselves. We are numb to our fundamental human needs because we have become drunk with power to manipulate the world and our own bodies. We forget the concrete reality and intimate aspirations of our personhood.

I do not condemn technology. I love being human, and I love the human vocation to use our personal presence, our reason and our freedom, to build up the world and make it a better place to live in. Technological development is one of the fruits of this human vocation, which is why I want to emphasize the need for balance in the titanic new environment it generates, the need for a "technological ecology" not only for the planet in general, but for us as human persons.

Otherwise, our life in this world will increasingly become collectively sociopathic. This will wreak havoc on what's left of normal human efforts to live reasonable, generous lives. It will suffocate physical vitality and, obviously, be disastrous for mental health. People who have neuro-based sensitivities to mental disorders are going to have these propensities exacerbated (others will suffer repeated traumas, that build up like so many "psychological concussions" until they become serious conditions).

Therefore, the urgent problem of mental health requires us to consider not just "neurobiological illness," nor can it be reduced to just "social problems." It involves both these factors and a lot more.

With all the amazing power we possess, we need a corresponding deepening of our humanity, a deeper awareness of the human person, a deeper solidarity, and a deeper sense of responsibility and compassion.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Long and Cool Evenings

Mid-June is one of the loveliest times of the year in Virginia. It's possible to take nice walks even after dinner (Janaro-style dinner being never before 7:00 PM).

The evenings are long and cool, there are lots of fireflies but not many mosquitoes (not yet!😜), and the sun goes behind the mountains after 8:30 PM.😊


Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Survivor



SURVIVOR

I remember the days of running.
They were days upon days of slippery running on glassy ground
under an electric forest, with whispering wirey trees
tangled together into angry knots.
And the birds did not sing
or breathe,
but lay everywhere still,
like colored shadows in the long twilight.
Days upon days, every day the same.
Every day we were running, running away,
feeling forever in a winding tunnel of wind and echoes,
a path of perpetual survival.

"Run, scream,
scream to hear yourselves.
Run, scream,
feel the life inside you and hold hard on it.
Follow the little soft lights.
Stay in the shade,
or you will burn away
and become skulls with empty sockets,
and forever-frozen jaws."

I remember the days of running
with a huge roaring crowd,
all of us with electric shoes that jumped up and down,
each footfall shaking the floor, a great thumping sound,
flooding the room,
flooding our heads.
Sound upon sound, gigantic, total,
always the same, the unceasing clamor,
clatter, crashing rush
of running to save our lives.

"Run, scream, shout the song
with your synthetic throats.
Shout with the dance of the electric feet.
Shout and run and stay with this beat,
because music is dangerous; like fire
it will consume you utterly.
But we are running to survive, day upon endless day,
and we will never change."

One day
I remember running.
It was very early in the morning,
and the blue rain was falling all over my face,
splashing, stinging, vanishing into vapor,
into the florescent cyan mist that was light to my withered eyes.
One day among all the days upon days,
I was running
and I turned my head.
I did not intend to turn my head,
but I could not help it.
I thought I saw something.
My eyes were fixed against the edge of the sky.

"Run, run, and never stop
for in the stillness you will die.
That one over there has stopped and turned:
his face is white.
He says he saw something.
He says he is hearing something.
Now he vanishes and runs no more.
But we run into the day, and the days upon days to come.
We are running with those who survive."
A man was sitting in his lounge chair going through his Twitter feed and it was all the usual stuff, you know, nothing ever changes, but then he saw a tweet from @XX and he always paid attention to @XX's tweets, so he read it and it was just HORRIBLE NEWS! He thought, "Lives keep being snuffed out! What a brutal world we live in. But this is especially unbearable, to be so young with so much vitality and so many hopes and dreams, and to just get killed like that. Why did this happen, why, why?"... but then his lament was interrupted by an inner urging: 'Look look look!' What? 'Look look look! Look there! Look there!' "Wait," he thought, "There's something to see here, if I'm willing to look."
I stopped running one day.
I looked.
There was a flash on the horizon,
not like the dawn that comes every day
mild and sweet and seldom noticed.
No, there was a flash
like the convergence of a thousand suns.

And even as I turned to look and listen
the sky spoke thunder
and white hot light swallowed the earth.

There was no time.
No time to dither or complain,
to flee or to be afraid.
There was no more running
and nothing was the same anymore.
Everything had changed.

Everything, and yet...
There is a strange space of passage, still,
inside this flashing moment.
For who calculates the division of this instant;
who can fathom the depth of its duration?
Who knows how to measure the distance
between the beginning of the end
and the end of the end?
What we know is that the moment has come,
the time is at hand.

I am still here today with my scars
and people call me a "survivor."
But in this gifted interval which I cannot hold,
I tremble and hope and speak of what I have seen and heard.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Grimmie's Green Day

I designed this graphic for June 10, the second annual #GrimmieGreenDay in honor of the late Christina Grimmie. I am so grateful for the tremendous and enduring gift of this amazing young woman, her beautiful music, and her great heart.

Though she was taken from us too soon, her brief life of faith, self-giving, openness, and attention to human persons was an expression—to the very end—of that love which is our only hope against the violence of this world.💚


Sunday, June 10, 2018

After Two Years, Christina Grimmie Means More Than Ever

June 10 marks two years since the passing of Christina Grimmie. What can I say?

I can't explain why this girl has had and continues to have such a powerful impact on my life. I can't explain it.

Okay, true: she was a great "female singer/songwriter/musician"—it's clear that in more popular forms of contemporary music I appreciate especially artists of this kind. She was a YouTuber. She was a Christian. She was a beautiful young person whose life ended tragically.

It's hardly surprising that I am very moved by her and continue to be interested in her legacy.

It doesn't explain why she has shaken my soul to its very core.

There is something mysterious about all of this: something that is greater than music, greater than audiovisual media, greater than my interests, greater than death...

Though I never met her while she was living in this world, Christina is my friend. Even though I am still shocked, saddened, appalled, and grieved by what happened to her, I cannot deny that she has become more and more of a great and powerful and deeply encouraging friend to me in the past two years.

How is this possible? What am I talking about?

It's true that there are still her videos (where she seems to make the screen disappear and really be-with-you and communicate with you person-to-person). There's all her stuff from Twitter and other social media. There is the new music that has been released (and of course the Christina Grimmie Foundation and the continued presence and generosity of her family).

I cannot look at all these things as just stuff she "left behind," as just stuff-from-the-past. And it's not enough to say that she "seems to be with us, still;" it's not enough to say that it's "as if" she is still "with us."

But I also cannot try to pretend she's "still here" in some fuzzy, mythological, spiritualistic kind of way. There is no "magic" that can be invoked. This can't be some kind of imaginative escape from reality, some "alternative universe" we can conjure up. She's not accessible in any physical way, and there is no denying that her life and activity in this world have come to an end.

There is a "finality" about this fact that, as long as we live in this world, cannot be fully understood. It rightly evokes grief and sorrow that are profound but must not be overwhelming. Our human understanding does not "see," even though it probes and wonders and has obscure hints of things.

I am a Christian, of course. I believe that Jesus is the resurrection and the life. I can say, "Christina is with Jesus." Indeed, my hope is that many who have gone before me are with Jesus.

But if Christina's life is over, how can she "become more of a friend" to me? Am I just learning from her example? That's part of it, but I'm not sure it explains everything.

Christina died on June 10, 2016. Her life in this world is finished. But what is life? When the life of a person is "finished," it is also completed. The person reaches their fullness; they become "who-they-are" in a complete and irrevocable way.

How could we be satisfied by saying that all the good and beautiful things a person did in this world "live on" but the real person who did these things has ceased to exist? That contradicts our entire sense of the value of being human, of loving, of making sacrifices.

I can't be satisfied with that, not just because I'm a Christian, but because I'm a human being. I myself am a human person. I am seeking the fullness of being a person. Every person is a mystery, living with a purpose, seeking a destiny which includes relationship with other persons. Just because I can't put all this under a microscope doesn't mean it's not real. Personhood is more real than any of the things we measure and dominate in this material world.

The person endures beyond death. But how? We seek understanding, even a little bit, a drop, a sign of some meaning we cannot yet fully grasp.

This is what I am "thinking" as a philosopher (if you will) and in any case as a human being (and I am hardly the only one who has thought about it this way): A person endures in the mystery of his or her real self, and in the relationships deepened, fostered, engendered, and nurtured by his or her actions. The person who says "I" endures. The person who says "I love you" endures in that love-for-you. And as the fruits of their actions unfold, the loving person's heart "opens up" to the awareness of people in the world and becomes more accessible.

The person endures (lives!) in completeness and as radically entrusted to the Mystery beyond death. The person also endures as "remaining-in-relationship" through the love by which they gave themselves to others (a gift now fulfilled and irrevocable). Within this interpersonal relationship, this communion of love, they nurture our hope as we continue the journey of this life.

This is a real and powerful relationship.

And if a person gives his or her self unconditionally and concretely, embracing each other person with an openness to welcoming any person they encounter, and if they live and reach the fulfillment of their life in and through that unconditional love, it's not surprising that people continue to "meet" them and experience their love in a personal way even after their death.

They have become forever "persons-with-open-hearts" and there is room for everyone in the fruition of the love they have given, that continues to unfold in the present world.

I don't know if this makes sense to you all. Does it seem rather abstract when we look at the girl who once described her life as "food, music, and video games, all united and lifted up to Jesus"?

Yes, it does in a certain sense. Perhaps that shows how ironic and beautiful and odd and funny it is that we are friends.

[By the way, I think the descriptive imagery she used to talk about herself, her relationships, and God—in the reference I just noted and in other ways and other contexts—was profound, apt, down-to-earth, and humorous all at once.]

What I want to express above all on this June 10, 2018, two years later, is how incredibly grateful I am for Christina Grimmie, for her life, for her person, for the mysterious way that she is a friend to me and helps me, and for the love with which she gave her self—the love that continues to bear fruit.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Abstract, Concrete, Hearts that Love

Here is some recent graphic art:
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"Park Bench" -- digital design based on a photo of a park bench.

"Elements, 1" is an abstract expressionist digital design. The theme is "elements."

"Sacred Heart" for the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, digital design based on freehand drawing.

"Immaculate Heart of Mary" is a digitally stylized and augmented rendering of a photo of a common Fatima image.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Christina Grimmie: "I Will Always Love You"

I'm glad Christina Grimmie's YouTube page reposted her beautiful rendition of the song "I Will Always Love You" which has an especially poignant and personal sense as we approach the second anniversary of her death.

Christina recorded this in 2012 on YouTube, when she was just 18 years old.

It was the only time she sang a cover with karaoke background music rather than arranging and performing the instrumental parts on her own keyboard. This cover was a tribute to Whitney Houston, who had just died, and Christina wanted to concentrate entirely on the vocals in order to do honor to the great singer who had left her mark on a whole era of popular music.

In the end, however, this was more than a tribute to Whitney. Christina did what she always did, what she couldn't not do. She made the song her own.

By 2012, she had a good microphone, but otherwise there was little in the way of high production for this song. The relative spontaneity of the "early days" of YouTube was still the rule. Nevertheless, it sounds terrific. This is a precious recording entirely because Christina Grimmie sang it, and poured into it her musical genius and passion.

She sang this song with her own unmistakable voice, with her own soulful, melodious resonance, her own combination of strength and sweetness, her own seemingly effortless modulation between soft and powerful tones, and her command of the whole range of volume, dynamics, and the entire palette of sonic nuance her voice could employ.

The voice of Christina Grimmie was unique, inimitable, and—like Whitney Houston—worthy of the word great.


Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Mighty Waters

We had so much rain over the weekend that there was high water and flash flooding all over our Valley.
.
But the new week has been dry and cool, with lots of sunshine. At least in my neighborhood, what had become Angry Creek was returning to manageable levels.
.
Still, this spot was little more than a muddy path in the unusual dryness of last Fall. Relatively speaking, we now have a roaring deluge of mighty waters near Happy Creek Road.
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It was big enough to be on YouTube!😉
.
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Further downstream, however, the creek was clearly "happier" and peaceful in June's long evening sunlight:
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Sunday, June 3, 2018

Corpus Christi: The Eucharist as God's "Poetry"



For some reason, this post from two years ago (the picture above--an image from the altar of our parish church--and the poem below, which I don't think is one of my best poems) is the most widely viewed post in the history of this blog. 

It could be a search engine accident--i.e. lots of people are looking for "pictures of the Last Supper" or for information about "Corpus Christi, Texas." In any case, many thousands have viewed the page from two years ago.

Perhaps a few have read it.

As I have written elsewhere, the Eucharist is God's poetry, written into the heart of history and the heart of every day.

Here I stammer, straining to see a few shadows and hear a few echoes of the mystery, and to remember the "taste" of His gift.

**************************************************************************

What is this Love?

What is this Love,
this Love inexhaustible
broken into crumbs,

poured out in earthen vessels?

What is this Love?
Love Creator of the burning stars;
Love Creator of the angels—
     those great, gigantic, magnificent, comprehending spirits.

Love Creator of the human being….
     The glorious human being:
     master of the earth and its things,
     yet a tiny speck under the sky;
     image of God,
     dust and ashes.
     great and miserable,
     hungry humanity, hungry with a thousand hungers….

This is Love's impossible gift;
Love inexhaustible,
     broken into crumbs,
     poured out in earthen vessels.

Love beyond all measure
become a morsel of food and drink
     in our tiny mouths.

Given and given, poured out and broken,
Love to the end, scattered
     beyond the edges of all wandering,
     finding, filling
     the hidden empty starved spaces
     of the most distant secret silent cries.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Human Relationships: Living as "Brothers and Sisters"

Dear fellow Christians: do we really believe that Jesus makes us brothers and sisters in a unity more intimate than anything in this world? Do we really know what it means to live as members of one another in Christ, journeying together toward our common destiny of eternal life and love in the Trinity?

It's so easy, as Catholic Christians, to have a moment in which we recognize, "this is the road for our journey!" but then to walk that road like we are strangers.

I have a very hard time with that. For me, the road is so weird and I get lost all the time, or go around in circles. I can't do this alone. I need something more than polite fellow-travelers on this trip. Even though I constantly fight to preserve the illusion of my "autonomy" and the fantasy of my own self-sufficiency, I know that I need to live my faith together with other people.

So where can I go? The Church, of course! But what does that mean? There's the local church ...what do I find in the typical vibrant American [or insert your country here] parish? There are the sacraments, first of all, -- the fountains of Christian life are given in them. But how is this life lived intensely? Well, the parish has many kinds of groups. I may encounter something here that really changes me. Or I might just find lots of well-intended activity going on. That's good and worthwhile, but by themselves good activities are not enough. After they're over, I get into my car and drive back to my lonely fortress. Is that what the New Testament calls "the fellowship of disciples"?

I need help for my whole life, relationships, everything. I need "community." This is a fundamental human need, and for a Christian this need only intensifies. But let's face it: building and sustaining a real community is the hardest thing in the world. People always end up fighting and dividing into factions. Catholics? Oh boy, we fight more than anybody.

So where can I find intense "Catholic community"?

What about just giving up my mind and my freedom to someone who seems to know it all, some self-appointed "benevolent Catholic dictator" who just tells me what to think and what to do and relieves me of the awful burden of being a human person? I must admit that this option can be very tempting. "Conformity" and "comfort," disguised as "obedience," could shape my notions and my behavior into a formulaic routine, and give me a sense of superiority, but they would also also suffocate my heart -- that depth of me that says, "I am someone, I have been made for a reason, I have aspiration, I have hope, I don't just want to be reduced to a 'part' of a project, not even the cosmic project!"

What else is there for me? Should I just embrace and exalt my aloneness? I could say, "I'm gonna do what I think is 'Catholic' [i.e. whatever I want, as long as I can rationalize it by some veneer of Catholic theology or piety] and just blow off everybody else." For me, personally, that's the short path to the psych ward. Others seem to get by with this attitude, except that it's really crummy for their spouses (who often become ex-spouses) and their children and anyone else who needs them or tries to care about them. Not a good option.

I don't want to be alone. I need people. Clubs and casual friends and the internet are not enough. But being part of some kind of "collective" not only is humanly unhealthy, it also just covers up the loneliness. And there can be a lot missing even from the experience of being in dedicated Catholic groups that work together for the good of the Church. People can share an activity (even passionately) without sharing their lives. Passion for the cause can become a cover for not acknowledging the poverty of my person, for not sharing myself, for not loving and for not being honest about my own vulnerability, my own need to be loved.

I can even "belong" to a "movement," and wear it like a badge, and conform myself to its external style, and do all the "stuff," and still not invest myself. I can cover up the fact that I'm poor and that I need God. I can hide it from others, and from myself. I can choose mere conformity over the struggle to live with others heart-to-heart. It's so much easier than the risk of exposing my suffering to myself and others, and then suffering even more as I discover that they don't fully understand me and they can't fix me.

Portrait of the Artist as a Proud Man
It's also true that I don't want people meddling in my life. I don't want to let them see my faults and then tell me what they think "I have to do." That's because I lack humility, first of all. I mean, let's be real here. I'm a proud man and I don't know how to be humble. I don't like being corrected by anyone else, even (especially!) when their corrections are spot on.

I'm proud, therefore I'm afraid.

But there is another reason for this fear that I have. So often in life, my experience has been that people come along, stand on their platform, rebuke me, and then they go away! It's as if they are saying, "You don't really belong (and we won't really love you) until you correct these aspects of your personality, and you have to do that all by yourself. Then, after you've filled up all your own personal holes, then we will be with you and love you."

I shouldn't be surprised by this, however, because I do the same thing to other people.

We do this so much to one another. Precisely those of us who are most committed to the ideals of community and relationships and solidarity: We do this. It happens in movements and committed Christian communities. It happens (too much) in "Catholic" marriages and "Catholic" families where we pride ourselves on our Catholic values, on how we "do things right" and how we are so different from all those screwed up families and screwed up people out there in the bad, bad world.

How different are we, really? We have an indissoluble marriage, a big family, a good Catholic community, or even an institution or movement "that has been praised by the Pope." But how do we live? Do we live as "brothers and sisters," really? Or, rather, do we live our real lives alone. Then we come out to "help" one another every so often. Then we go back to our own inner shells, to being alone.

Even when we are "together," we can easily live this dialectic of loneliness and invasiveness, reducing our togetherness into a kind of violence and alienation. This happens insofar as we forget about Jesus, insofar as we forget about the Holy Spirit. This forgetfulness can happen even when there's lots of talk about Jesus and the Holy Spirit and the Church and the Eucharist and the sacraments and community and the dignity of the human person and all the rest. It's easy to "domesticate" these words into our vocabulary and forget about the mysterious, intimate, concrete realities they signify.

I don't want to belong to a group of people who just correct my behavior and call me "brother," but forget the real Jesus, and therefore don't really, actively love me. That's not the life of the Church. That's manipulation. That's the dynamic of a fundamentalist sect. It's just another form of power imposing itself upon the weak.

Without Jesus emptying Himself on the cross out of love for sinners, for each one of us, for every human person, without Jesus and His love to the end... what are we? Nothing!

With Him, and depending completely on Him, trusting in Him, we really live the mystery of the Church. We are His presence in the world. This is our vocation, and this is what He wants so ardently, for us and for others, because He wants to love. What can I do except beg Jesus to make this happen in myself, my family, my friends, that the Holy Spirit will make this new life grow in me, change me, transform me, taking up all the weakness and the fear, opening up all the selfishness.

When we talk about our relationships within the Church, we use these terms: "brothers and sisters" and "members of a body." Why? Are we just being nice? Why these metaphors, or even better, are they just metaphors? The Church is our Mother. Baptism is a new birth. We are brothers and sisters and more, members of Christ's "mystical" body (and "mystical" means real, but in a mysterious way beyond our understanding). Thus incorporated into Christ's body, we are members of one another.

Is all this just "Christianspeak"? I hope not. Because this is what I want! I want brothers and sisters. I want a family. I want to belong to God, to call Him "Father," and to have the freedom to be with others in my life and say, "I am your brother" and "you are my brother, you are my sister."

You--my brother, my sister--you help me just by the fact that we are together, you help me even when you fail or forget. We live our fidelity to Jesus and the whole of His Catholic Church together, on the daily level. We can help one another to deal with all the junk that comes along every day, and when we look at one another, we'll start to remember that because of Jesus all of this junk has value.

And, if you think I'm being stupid about something, go ahead and tell me, because that's what brothers and sisters do. Of course you might be wrong, but if you think you see something that I'm missing about myself, you'll take the chance. I might get angry, but together we'll work it out (eventually, with patience) and we'll grow. We can look to our elders whose wisdom and example are a gift to us. We can forgive one another for having different personalities and therefore bumping against one another all the time, every day. Because we know we're a family and we're not going to go away and stop loving each other. We are together in Him. Jesus. We help one another to follow Him to the place where our hearts will all finally be at home.

Is it possible to live this way? Is it possible to even begin to live this way? It must be possible, because this is the life that God wants to give us. The Christian vocation is to love every person, of course, but the vitality of that love comes from the unity, openness, and freedom that Jesus gives to Christians who love one another. Thus we are exhorted to
"Lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all" (Ephesians 4:1-6).
This is at the heart of Jesus's prayer for all his followers:
"...that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me" (John 17:21-23).
Is it possible to live this way, daily, together? It must be possible. It is, more than anything, what the world desperately needs from us. We can at least begin. We can begin to want it, desire it, ask for it. We can begin to live this way, and then begin again the next day, and every day.

As for me, I run away from this life every day. It scares me to death (why is that?). But it's still what I really want. I beg for it. Jesus, I know that this is the only way to live really, to find myself, to walk the steps of each day, to attain my destiny.

Jesus, help me to begin again.