Sunday, October 25, 2020

The Art of Autumn

We have not yet had really good colors this Fall, though I'm sure the best is yet to come. Meanwhile I have taken the opportunity to "anticipate" (and, perhaps, exaggerate) some Autumn brightness with a few works of Digital Art:

Saturday, October 24, 2020

"San Lorenzo" of the Americas

On the sixth anniversary of his death (and - he would probably want me to add - his future feast day๐Ÿ˜‰), I cannot think of a better way to remember the gigantic (in many senses of that term) figure of Lorenzo Albacete than to reproduce here the rambling tribute I wrote on the day of his funeral in 2014.

I'm not saying it was that great of a tribute, but I thought it would be appropriate to follow the lead of the Master and just plagiarize... and as anyone who tries to write knows, you end up plagiarizing yourself all the time, whether you realize it or not. So rather than spend hours writing something that might not even be as good as this original, I shall take advantage of what I already have and recycle it!

The title above is a spoof he might appreciate, but it's also ironic, probably in ways that haven't occurred to me. But I do know that, on the one hand, Lorenzo jokingly campaigned for his "cause" while still alive. Regarding the much more streamlined process for canonizations in recent years, he quipped, "It's great. The more they lower the standards, the better the chances are for me!" Yes, he was always joking, but his humor was an expression of joy. And it wasn't a cheap joy, but a joy that prevailed in the face of much suffering.

I can't describe it without reducing it to a clichรฉ. The best way to get a sense of Father Albacete now is to watch videos of his many presentations or read his writings (which are being collected, edited, and published). Visit the website dedicated to him for all the links: the Albacete Forum.

Here is my thing, reproduced below. If you can't see it, or it's too tiny to read, just click HERE and it will take you to the original post.

Friday, October 23, 2020

I Unite Myself Wholly to You...

O God, I give thanks to You. 

How amazing is the design of Your wisdom for the human race. You have willed to manifest and glorify the Mystery of who You are by pouring Yourself out and becoming one of us. You dwell among us and give Yourself up entirely for each and all of us. 

You reveal that the Absolute Being is Absolute Love, and You offer that Love to each of us. In your wisdom you shape the hearts of each of us, fashioning us to be Your companions, making us capable of giving and receiving love and then placing Yourself in the midst of us so that we might love You and be loved by You and be transformed into Your likeness.

O Jesus help me.
All I can do is offer everything to You.
You have created me for Yourself.
My heart desires You,
and yet how often do I even think of what I do?
I am resolved to do the best I can.
I am resolved to seek Your will and to do Your will,
because Your will is Love,
and it will always be what will enlarge my soul,
and make me truly free,
because I am made for Love.

I have been entrusted to Your Love,
ever since the day when You claimed me as Your own;
in spoken word and water and the Spirit,
I was born anew,
a child of the Father, 
inserted into the history of Love's ultimate gift,
anointed as a witness to hope.

I encounter You in worship,
in the precious faces of my brothers and sisters
who walk with me on this journey toward You,
in the welcoming words of Your forgiveness,
and especially in the Bread of Life given each day,
You, body and blood, salvation, become our food.

Jesus, I need You.
Come and nourish me, be my sustenance.
I embrace You and I unite myself wholly to You,
with my small love and all my incoherence, 
my wounds, my fears, my hesitations, my need for healing,
but also with all my confidence in Your presence and Your Love.

Never permit me to be separated from You.

I abandon myself completely to You,
and to Your plan for my life.
I know there is weakness and resistance in me
that I do not know how to overcome.
I know there are ways I must grow that I do not understand.
I know that my life is a mystery 
hidden in Your wisdom and goodness.

O Jesus, I offer everything to You.
Convert me.
Change me.
Open my heart to the Love You give me in this moment.
Carry my soul.
Give me, in Your Infinite Mercy, the willing heart
that loves You in the way You long for me to love You.
I am hindered from the freedom for which I have been made,
the freedom to live as the image and grow as the likeness of God.
And so I abandon myself entirely to Your Mercy.
For You have loved me first,
so that - by the power of Your Love - I might love You
and receive You in giving myself to 

Jesus, I trust in You.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Saint John Paul II Rescued Us When We Were Drowning

I belong to the generation that spanned the entire pontificate of the man we now know as Saint John Paul II. Even now, I speak about "Pope Benedict" and "Pope Francis," but when I say the Pope I mean John Paul II.

In fact, for our generation he was always more than "just a Pope." Through him, Jesus grabbed hold of our minds and hearts. We went from being confused and weak to being renewed with an intense and vital faith. John Paul II evangelized and catechized us. He showed us the face of Jesus.

It was a face we desperately needed to see.

Growing up in the 1970s was very difficult, and few of us came through unscathed. We were the children of the 60s, of all the upheaval and reevaluation that opened up in those times as the last rotting support beams of what had once been the edifice of the "modern world" gave way in dramatic fashion.

And when those last walls fell we found ourselves surrounded by fascinating and terrifying instruments for exercising power over the material world -- power to communicate and learn, to build and heal in remarkable ways, power to move from one place to another, power to manipulate our own bodies, power to shape our imaginations and those of others and to foster great illusions, power to expand our horizons and also to widen vastly the scope of self-indulgence and self-deception, power that opened up whole new categories of subtle psychological and emotional manipulation and violence, power for greater empathy and solidarity with others and also to destroy ourselves, one another, and our environment. All of this power was within the reach of our emerging personalities and freedom... a freedom that shivered in the winds of this strange new world, seemingly boundless but with no sense of direction, no idea which way to move or where to go.

So we experimented. We played with these powers like toys. We found good things and had beautiful experiences. We also did violence to ourselves and to one another; even as we worried about unspeakable weapons of mass destruction, we committed innumerable atrocities on a smaller scale, leaving a wreckage of interpersonal relationships that so many of us are still not ready to face.

Catholic Christians in the developed world in the 70s faced the same disorientation as the wider culture. The Church in the time of Saint Paul VI was heroic, but she was enduring a kind of martyrdom. Hers was a mysterious and hidden witness (for those of us who lacked the faith to perceive it at the time). It was a seed plunging deep into the earth, destined to bear tremendous fruit, but at that time far below the horizon of those of us who were thrown into the wild, primal seas of the new culture of power. We were desperate for a way to survive.

The amazing new world of possibilities and urges and speed and images was like a great flood. We couldn't direct it. We hardly knew what to do as it engulfed us. We had become lightheaded and out of focus, choking beneath the waves, dizzy from the lack of oxygen.

I can't adequately express what John Paul II did not only for me but for our entire generation.

People have to understand: we were drowning, DROWNING, and he rescued us.

He showed us that we were human beings, and that following Jesus was the way to find our true selves. He held up to our gaze the image of Christ, the greatness of Christ. He convinced us that Christ could give meaning to our lives, that Christ was stronger than all the forces raging around us and within us.

With Christ, we could find the way to live in the midst of the flood, and even to walk on the water.

The Lord used Saint John Paul II to rescue us from a deluge that was carrying away our sense of identity, our human dignity, our confidence in God. He showed us anew the face of Jesus, and proclaimed that Jesus was more than adequate to the upheaval of the times. John Paul II convinced us - by the depth of his teaching and by the witness of his own transformed humanity - that we didn't need to be afraid. That is why my generation loves him so much, and why we will never forget him.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

่‹ฅๆœ› ๅผท ็œ‹ๅฎˆ่€… "The Rectification of Names" (sort of...?)

"The Rectification of Names" (sort of...?)

่‹ฅๆœ› (John, my proper name in Chinese)

ๅผท  (the term "Qiang" means "strong," sounds like "John")

็œ‹ๅฎˆ่€… (the term "Kanshouzhe" means "watchman" - ["Janaro" = "door guard"] )

My Chinese name is "Watchman Strong" (with surname first), but it sounds better to take the shorter term for a surname, result in this name

ๅผท  ็œ‹ๅฎˆ่€… (Qiang Kanshouzhe)

Add my Christian name at the beginning and I am "John Qiang Kanshouzhe," ่‹ฅๆœ› ๅผท ็œ‹ๅฎˆ่€… ... I don't know if any of this is correct!

่‹ฅๆœ› ๅผท ็œ‹ๅฎˆ่€… "John Qiang Kanshouzhe" (pronounced "Chong Kan-show-je," or something like that?)


So what is the point of all of this linguistic speculation? Not much. One way to begin to understand a language (not just to "translate" but try to perceive its inner genius) is to "play around with it." In relation to the Chinese language, I have the aptitude of a baby. Indeed, I'm a baby who is curious and reckless and who has some very powerful toys.

In the global village, many of us are "babies" in more ways than we know. We are playing around with world, and it would be helpful if there were more "adults" here to guide us and keep us out of trouble. As I've noted before, the "global village" is not a quaint metaphor. It's a kind of paradox with its "enormous proximity." It's a dangerous place, where we must be very careful before we pick quarrels.

This year we have learned that it doesn't take much to paralyze the village. I hope we don't need to be reminded that it would be very easy to burn the whole thing down.

But... getting back to Chinese...

I am aware of the irony of playing around with one of history's oldest languages. But the Internet serves up characters, pronunciation, even images of calligraphy (that's my "name" in Chinese script at the top). I have titled this post (ironically) with an invocation of one of the basic concerns of Confucius: the need to call things by their right names.

In a global multimedia "conversation," this is a great challenge. Imagery is more than ever a "language" of its own: easily manipulated, but also possessed of the capacity to cut through elaborate and entrenched rationalizations and recall human beings to basic truths, and perhaps even present new things.

We must learn to use the language of multimedia wisely. Perhaps the Chinese have something to teach us, with their highly refined pictographic literature. Here, I have tossed around word-characters fed to me by AI translation technology. I was told that ๅผท means "strong" but I was not told why. Written Chinese is not a language of abstract signs, rules, and grammatical constructions. It is a language of illustrations, that conveys levels of meaning, metaphors, and beauty in a different way.

The illustrations are stylized from centuries of use, but mastering the styles permits one not only to understand but also "to see" basic images associated with the concepts, drawn (at least remotely) from the experience of reality.

As we become less literate in the West (and we are becoming poorer readers and writers, even as we are surrounded by phonetic words), we also are adopting elements of (a still very primitive) pictoral writing. The emoji (๐Ÿ˜‰) is a very long way from the rich, evocative Chinese pictogram. Am I correct in thinking that there is a connection nonetheless?

I don't yet "see" the pictoral construction in ๅผท (is it an "arm" combined with a "person"?) but I wonder if "๐Ÿ’ช๐Ÿ‘ค" could develop toward something like this in the future.

An interestic point: verbally diverse Asian languages can be written down using the same pictography. Though they have often developed their own variations, rooted in the Chinese styles.

Now that I have done my usual bit of overthinking, I want to remember again that all this was done "for fun," and it has that value if nothing else. If it all turns out to be foolish, it was only some foolish fun. It ain't nuthin like language theory, ok?๐Ÿ˜‰


Other variations:

ใ‚ธใƒงใƒณ (John, Japanese)

์š”ํ•œ  (John, Korean)


Evidence for my "research":

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Thirty Years Ago: From Bitterness to Joy

I have been looking back at the (handwritten) journal I was keeping 30 years ago. 

It was sort of a "proto-Blog," even though I couldn't have imagined in those days anything like what we can do now with blogs. It was my "writing workshop," I suppose, but I knew that no one else was reading it. Well... at least not yet! Given that I was planning on (dreaming about) becoming a Great Man "in the future" - this was half my lifetime ago - I probably had at least a subconscious expection that this journal would be of interest "to posterity." 

And it seems that my pompous subconscious was right, in a way: "posterity" is interested, and is reading the never-really-meant-to-be-private journals. Here I am, my posterior self, thirty years later (and "here you are," if you're reading this now). Anyway, here is a page that represents what I'm finding in the old journal, at the end of the month of October in the year One Thousand Nine Hundred and Ninety (yes, that's 1990):

Hmmm. It seems that  Autumn always comes "late" to the DC-Maryland-Virginia area (I lived in Arlington, Virginia in those days). 

Edith Stein quotations have lost none of their vividness.

Television was "raising the kids" in 1990. The Box was indeed at its height. Cable was booming with new networks, and everyone had VCRs and at least one membership card to a video rental store. Of course, by 1990 we also had personal computers in our homes. They were planted on desks, and looked like bulky microwave ovens. They were useful for documents and data, but they weren't much fun. In those days, the television and the computer occupied two entirely separate worlds, and there was no reason to imagine that that would ever change. As for phones... well, they were your house, securely plugged into the wall.

TV was king. In a few months, Americans would get to watch their first "live war." Thanks to CNN, the bombing of Baghdad was brought into our living rooms like a football game. They even designed a eye-catching logo for "the Gulf War." TV was shaping all of us. It was defining the stories with its images. Upstart cable stations and poor quality homemade video tapes hinted at the possibility of "new media," but not much....

What about John Janaro in 1990? I was doing well in graduate school. "But I am not happy. I am not content. I am not satisfied." I was 27 and I thought that "all things [were] bitter on the tongue."

For all that has happened in the past thirty years — even with the ironic realization that the brilliant and promising future that stretched before me in 1990 ended up being the academic-and-human-trainwreck that 
happened to me (and that continues) in 2020 — still, I would not describe my life today as "bitter on the tongue." No. Not at all!

It is a great life

Things are not bitter. Arduous and difficult, yes. But not bitter. It is a great thing to be alive, and to have hope for each day. At the root of me, beneath whatever complaints, frustrations, problems and pains, there is gratitude

It is not some facile emotion. It is a stubborn disposition, and it's not something I feel like I can "take credit for" (if anything, it has grown in spite of my all my fears and impatience and petulance). I am grateful for this gratitude, this joy. I could make a long list of what I'm grateful for, but it would only scratch the surface of something about my life that I don't really understand (and that I can't take for granted, but must recall myself to it as best as I can, I must live it, I want to live it). 

I think it has to do with a deeper awareness of "belonging" to the ultimate Mystery, and a stronger conviction that this Mystery is a Someone who loves me. I can rediscover gratitude and joy, rediscover my true self, when I remember that I have a loving Father, and that I am his child, and that the long journey of this life is leading me home.

Perhaps in some ways I've grown younger with the passing of years.

Monday, October 19, 2020

In Memory of a Friend

In Memory of a Friend

"He didn't seem like he was depressed and was always smiling. This is shocking" (Anon).

A bright autumn day
sunlight flashing on the windows.
A clear day, blue with painted hues of leaf.

I stood strong and tall
in the breezy wind
and felt life once again
like great power
from my head flowing down through me.

With large strides
I passed over the fields
drinking fountains of expansive air.

And with the red sun playing on my head,
I burst through the door
but her face was bloodless white.
I stopped, and suddenly
the October air froze on my skin.

She searched my face
with a gaze of shiny wet cheeks
and spoke your name,
and this single word
had a weight
that said everything.

Sparks of fire enkindled my bones,
spreading all over and through me,
with warm rivers flowing out from my eyes.

And the sun flickered in the shadows.

              --in memoriam, jp, +october 17, 2005

Saturday, October 17, 2020

The Strange New Joy of Ignatius of Antioch

We have all heard about the early Christians who were persecuted by being "thrown to the lions" during the games in Imperial Rome. It may seem like a clichรฉ to us so many centuries later. 

The second century texts of Saint Ignatius of Antioch, however, speak about this tortuous and humiliating death with strange eloquence, long before anyone in the world had imagined that such a terrible fate could be embraced with heroism, much less longed-for as the crown of life. Yet as his condemnation drew closer, Ignatius wrote letters to the churches in Asia Minor and to Rome where he was destined to meet his earthly end. Before the year 110, he wrote about this "new thing" called martyrdom in astonishing terms. 

What gave a human being the audacity to say that when he was killed and shamed by those who hated him - when his body was torn apart by lions - "then, I shall become a man"...?

Something new had happened in the world: Jesus Christ had died on the cross, and was risen.

Death had been overcome. And in these days so soon after the era of the New Testament, Ignatius was vividly aware that this victory over death revealed the meaning of life. We have been made in God's image and destined to his glory through Jesus, the Father's Son, who took flesh in the womb of a virgin and made his dwelling with us. 

Ignatius bore witness to these very specific events as the central events of history, "mysteries...wrought in the stillness of God": Mary's virginity, Jesus's birth, his saving death... actual events that happened to a real man only very recently, and known only to a few people on the face of the earth. Ignatius bore witness in his final days, as a man condemned to death, that all of it happened, that it was all true, that it changed everything.

Thus, he could exhort Christians then and now to rejoice in God and share this new life with all the world: "You all are fellow travelers, God-bearers and temple-bearers, Christ-bearers and bearers of holiness, with the commandments of Jesus Christ for festal attire... But pray unceasingly also for the rest of men, for they offer ground for hoping that they may be converted and win their way to God. Give them an opportunity therefore, at least by your conduct, of becoming your disciples. Meet their angry outbursts with your own gentleness, their boastfulness with your humility, their revilings with your prayers, their error with your constancy in the faith, their harshness with your meekness; and beware of trying to match their example. Let us prove ourselves their brothers through courtesy" (to Ephesians, chs 9, 10).

This love - bearing witness to the redeeming love of Jesus on the cross - changes life and changes death. The ardent metaphors of Ignatius of Antioch in the face of martyrdom express this love:

"Allow me to be eaten by the beasts, which are my way of reaching to God. I am God’s wheat, and I am to be ground by the teeth of wild beasts, so that I may become the pure bread of Christ" (to Romans).

The same spirit, the same willingness, the same love endures today. For two thousand years, people have given their lives: people from all over the earth, from every historical period, from the multitude of nations, the most diverse ethnic groups and cultures, men and women, young and old, from every occupation, every social class. They have given their lives, totally, willingly, passionately, with immense love, not for an ideology or a worldview or an emotional sentiment, but for a man ... 

Jesus Christ.

There is nothing in all of history that compares to this testimony of so many, through the ages - all the devotion and human vitality of witnesses who gave freely and are still remembered and celebrated to this day - all for the love of this man, Jesus Christ.

This man, our brother, is God-with-us.

So we have reason to rejoice, to share that joy, and to love everyone in the hope that they too will find this joy, that they will find God who loves them, for whom they have been made.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Reality is an Event That Proceeds From An OTHER

Some texts from Msgr Giussani in our recent reading:

"Recognizing reality as deriving from the mystery should be familiar to reason, because precisely in recognizing what is real, just as it is, as God wanted it to be, rather than reduced, flattened out, without depth, we find a correspondence with the needs of our heart, and our innate capacity for reason and affectivity is fully realized. 

"For reason, owing to its own very original dynamic, cannot fulfill itself unless it recognizes that reality is rooted in mystery. Human reason reaches its apex, and so is truly reason, when it recognizes things for what they are, and things as they proceed from an Other."

In fact, this proceeding-from-an-Other means that everything that exists is constituted as an event. "The dynamic of event describes every instant of life: the flower in the field ‘which the Father clothes better than Solomon’ is an event; the ‘bird that falls’ and the heavenly Father knows it, ‘is an event;’ ‘the hairs on your head are numbered’ - they are an event. 

"Even heaven and earth, which have existed for a million centuries, are an event: an event that still occurs as something new, since their explanation is inexhaustible. To glimpse something greater in the relationship with everything means that the relationship itself is event.”

~Luigi Giussani

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Teresa of Avila: "Fulfill God's Will in Us"

"We can only learn to know ourselves and do what we can: namely, surrender our will and fulfill God's will in us" (Saint Teresa of Avila).

Here is today's "Collect Prayer" for Teresa's feast day:

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

War and Peace and Japanese Cartoons Everywhere

For many decades now, it seems that Japanese cartoons and animated series are everywhere. This is, in part, attributable to their creative and vivid storytelling, innovative design, hard work, and clever marketing.

But there's more to it than that.

Anime treats in certain ways some of the concerns of my "East Asian Studies Project" (that I described in a previous post, HERE). It emerges against the backdrop of the pervasively influential (and in some ways traumatic) "invasion" of East Asia by Western ideas, influences, and power over the past century and a half. 

In the throes of its own cultural crisis and change, the West flooded this region of ancient interconnected (yet often mutually hostile) societies and cultures with a spectacular mashup of the whole Western heritage: the good, the bad, and the ugly. 

Japan was affected in a very particular way by what I have called the "East-West collision" of the 19th and 20th centuries. Therefore, it's useful to view the Anime phenomenon in the larger context of the historical conditions from which it arose. 

Here I would like to put forth a few observations that are necessarily incomplete and by no means exhaustive (e.g. there is the whole specific story of the development of animation in general, and the way pioneering animators on both sides of the Pacific Ocean mutually influenced one another). I limit myself to the broader sociological view, which is a difficult endeavor when trying to assess the long (and ongoing) Japanese experience of the West in all of its peculiar complexity. Indeed, it is peculiar and complex in ways Westerners never think of.

The crucial point here, obviously, is that for Japan, the "East-West collision" included a war that was unprecedented in its magnitude and destruction.

We now are beginning to have enough "historical distance" from the most intense moments of Japan's 140 year modern relationship with the West to risk moving beyond the partisan narratives of the brutal conflict in the Asian-Pacific "theater" of World War II. Indeed, it is time to sketch a larger perspective that is more fully objective about the multifaceted events that took place in the war. This is not to challenge the established (and undeniable) consensus that the Japanese government and military waged an intolerable and criminally aggressive war of conquest in Asia and the Pacific. Defense against Japanese aggression was in principle necessary and just, and considerable effort went into meeting many of the demands of justice in practice. 

Japan's invasion of China, the brutal attacks by Japanese soldiers against Chinese civilians, and the (at least ferociously disproportionate) preemptive strikes and/or offensive territorial seizures of places under USA or British governance (notwithstanding Japan's stated motives of combatting Western imperialism) all point to the extremely violent and dangerous elements of Japanese militarism in this period. Whether these violent tendencies remain latent in Japan's national identity, manifest themselves in other ways, or might reemerge in revived forms is difficult to predict. Japan's current system of government with its political process has overall responsibility in this area, and - having demonstrated cooperation and good faith for over seven decades - it deserves the corresponding degree of trust from regional and international partners in addressing the violence in its own heritage.

But how did this conflict emerge in the first place? 

After the West's forcing open of Asian markets in the mid-19th century (which launched a cultural revolution in Asia beyond anyone's expectations), Japan's apparently wholesale adoption of Western social forms gave the impression that it had entered "the modern world" (a term still filled with "enchantment" in the West and regarded as an unqualified good). As already noted, however, the West rushed into enagement with East Asia on many levels at this time, thanks in large part to the advances in shipping technology (not least of which was the steam engine) that made unprecedented global interaction possible. The result was that the very different sets of cultural forms of the Western world and East Asia crashed into one another in an experience fraught with mutual misunderstandings, with the West bringing to bear the pressure of its superior material power to impose its structures and patterns in the East. What furthered the traumatic charactor of this imposition was that the West itself was in the midst of a crisis regarding the meaning of its own structures. What was exported to Asian peoples at this time was therefore very much a "mixed bag" of good and bad tendencies of material progress, and conflicting ideas about their significance.

Japanese culture, however, used its genius for adaptability to rapidly integrate the whole Western "package" (and all its good, bad, and ugly aspects) into Japan's own native idealistic renaissance and reinvigorated martial spirit. The result was an admirably dynamic but also inherently unstable and even volatile emerging culture. Not suprisingly, extremists with sweeping visions of grandeur rose to positions of leadership. The drums of war - amplified now by microphones and dispersed everywhere by radio - began to beat.

By the middle of the 20th century, Japanese militarism was using its own "Westernized forces" to pursue a nationalist and regionally imperialist agenda. Ultimately, Japan became first the perpetrator of the horrors of technologically advanced "total warfare" on its neighbors, and then the catastrophic victim of the West's newer, savage, unprecedentedly brutal war technology that brought the Japanese people to a condition of devastation and utter humiliation. Japan has since been excluded from direct participation in the (ongoing) war culture, but it has regenerated on an even larger scale its industrial and financial "success" using Western ideas, and has become an innovator (along the lines of Western development) in engineering, electronics, and digital technology. Today, Japan is "more like us" than ever... or so it appears.

So, is the Japanese identity crisis a "thing of the past"? Has it moved on from wartime defeat and destruction, and decided to embrace "the Western road"? I don't really know the answer to that question. Japan today is hard to fathom. It has possibilities and problems similar to those in the West, but it faces distinctive challenges as well. Anime is an interesting medium for a mature observer to see these various tensions "played out" in diverse ways in a vast imaginative space.

Meanwhile, the real Japan remains enigmatic beneath its Western dress. It is a secular, materialistic, work-obsessed, often-lonely place. Economic assessments of material properity and productivity do not necessarily reflect these cultural factors (at least, not yet). In particular, the Japanese family has become fragmented and the newest generations are shrinking alarmingly under the looming shadow of demographic winter (caused, in part, by yet another, more recent Western imposition: an ideology-of-sterility implemented by a relentless technological invasion of the human ecosystem).

Yet the Japanese have not forgotten their history, their ideals, or their great sense of integrity, and they long for the lost solidarity of their families (which still exercises a defining, even though increasingly impotent, influence on their view of themselves and their own success). 

Also, the Japanese people - who during the war were largely victims of isolation from information, relentless propaganda, and a distorted, manipulated sense of "patriotic duty" - have since tried to embrace non-violence (an approach that also has roots in their tradition). They profess it sincerely, but inwardly there is much complexity and obscurity in their struggle to make this ideal their own. The Japanese are wrestling with what it means for human beings to use physical force against others, in what manner (and when) it may be appropriate or necessary, and what dispositions are required to keep force with the limits of respect for the other person. I think basic intuitions of morality (which we find at the foundations of "natural law" ethics) are being brought into consideration in a manner that has a certain freshness to it, like firm ground rediscovered in the midst of an ongoing overall disintegration. We see examples of Japanese culture today working through these questions and difficulties in original ways, including in the development of new schools of karate and other martial arts. 

Anime is also a forum where imaginary realms visualize these questions, the perplexity involved in them, and the consequences of transgressing the limits of force and indulging in violence. The context of this struggle for understanding and coherence is a story intended to "entertain" but that also moves within a spectrum of "attitudes" ranging from high idealism to deep cynicism. These cartoons (intended for adults) are most interesting when they are neither ideologically didactic nor morbidly aimed at providing vicarious indulgence of the urge for violence as revenge or self-destruction; they are most interesting when they present complex characters in empathy-engaging circumstances that are resolved imperfectly. Thus, imaginary universes with monsters and mythical creatures can simultaneously "entertain" by taking the viewers to a different world, amaze them with rich and original artwork, and mirror something of the viewers' own struggle with issues of the ambivalence and the problematic nature of "using force" in the context of some kind of ideal of non-violence. Anime also can reveal a society still seeking (often in repressed ways) the meaning of its own enduring pain.

This is not surprising, because in Japan the wounds of their last war remain open. The necessary repentance for their own crimes against their Asian neighbors (especially China) is mired in difficulties - not only because of their own pride but also because of China's tumultuous post-war history. 

Moreover, deep down they have not forgotten the (arguably disproportionate) punishment imposed upon them for their own arrogant imperial ambitions, or the massive direct attacks against their civilian population by incendiary bombing, and of course the unprecedented, horrifying liquidation of two cities by nuclear weapons whose damaging after-effects are still unknown. 

All of this was "justified" (according to a coalition led by Western powers) by the need to defeat Japan's extremist militant aggression. But the Allied Powers sought not just any ordinary victory. They were determined to coerce an unconditional surrender not only of Japan's armed forces but of the governance of the whole nation. The Japanese ultimately put their entire country into the hands of a coalition of "United Nations" that included one nation (the Soviet Union) whose leadership had perpetrated far more "crimes against humanity" (including genocide) than were ever dreamed of even by the most monstrous, deluded Japanese practitioners of neo-bushido ideology and its barbarous war crimes in the region.

Imperialist Japan had many foolish dreams regarding the domination of East Asia, and aims that its armies and navy pursued recklessly, without regard for human dignity or human life. But it had at least one instinct rooted in reality, and that was its fear of communist aggression from the north with the intention of establishing Stalinist hegemony in the region. Notwithstanding the arrogance of the Japanese imperialists themselves, this instinctive fear turned out to be eerily "prophetic."

Nevertheless, the Soviet Union played no role in the occupation of post-war Japan itself, in spite of Stalin's gigantic eleventh hour entry into the Pacific War with the Soviet invasion of Manchuria at 12:01 AM on August 9, 1945. The one-and-a-half-million men of the (Soviet) Red Army who poured into China and Korea would, nevertheless, have a decisive impact on the future of those countries. Japan was entrusted entirely to the USA, and was treated with an undeniable generosity and subsequently protected during the Cold War era. 

Over the past 75 years this has appeared to be unalloyed "win-win" situation for both countries, but beneath the surface it remains a complex, ambivalent experience that Japan still wrestles with. Its effects on Japan's sense of pride, honor, national identity, and capacity for an integrally human development are difficult to measure. There has been much good, and yet - as indicated above - all is not well, and scars and malformations abound that hinder in some respects the human and spiritual energies of the people.

It is important to understand all the factors of a wounded perspective that still festers in Japanese society, and to remember that ancient peoples hand down their resentments from generation to generation. Still, this is only one aspect among many conflicting memories evoked by the whole national effort of Westernization, including the rapid influx of often partial and distorted Western ideas. Underlying everything, there remains the serious search for identity that the Japanese people cannot escape, as they are confronted with basic questions underlying all the particular details of their gigantic ancient post-modern dysfunctional Japanese society -- questions about what it means to be human

All these considerations are applicable to a lot more things than Anime, but they're part of what these cartoon stories are involved with: pieces of a shattered cosmos of mythology and ancient customs of honor and propriety combined with Western science, the shattered fragments of Western humanism (and the sometimes-distorted shadows of the Christianity that once informed that humanism), and the peculiar historic experience of a complex combination of Western technological violence and Western magnanimity. It's all in the mix, along with the existential drama of living with freedom and aspirations and responsibility for the good that every human being goes through, AND (in Japan the still mostly hidden and mysterious) provocations of the grace of redemption and transfiguration.

In any case, we can't ignore the universe of Anime, and the diverse themes it deals with: from nihilism to the search for deeper identity and moral conviction. It shows us much in particular about the last several generations in East Asia (especially in Japan, where there has been 75 years of often perplexed but persistent soul searching) as they struggle to "re-create" and clarify their identity in the midst of a globalized world order of Western-influenced post-World-War-II technological-power-defined societies. 

We also need to look at why Anime has had such a universal impact on youth culture everywhere as well as the ambivalence of that impact - which sometimes appeals to aimless or bizarre violence and domination, bleak despair, superstitions or vacuous fantasies, but in other instances has some positive elements that revive perennial mythic expressions of good-versus-evil and the drama of human freedom struggling for the good.

In a world of flattened, exhausted imagination dominated by the milieu of materialistic consumption and the absence of the search for meaning and transcendence, the Japanese animated story may be one of the protagonists leading the way (for better or for worse) in the direction of a renewed human fascination with myth and symbolism.

To be continued...

Sunday, October 11, 2020

"He Will Wipe Away the Tears From Every Face"

The Lord "will destroy
the veil that veils all peoples,
the web that is woven over all nations;
he will destroy death forever.

"The Lord God will wipe away
the tears from every face;
the reproach of his people he will remove
from the whole earth; 
for the Lord has spoken.

"On that day it will be said:
'Behold our God, to whom we looked to save us!
This is the Lord for whom we looked;
let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us!'"

~Isaiah 25:7-9

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Christina Grimmie: "I'm Feeling So Alive"

"Everything's all right. I'm feeling so alive..." (Christina Grimmie - image from the movie "The Matchbreaker"). 

This is our hope for all our loved ones who have passed from this life into the embrace of the Infinite One who is merciful Love beyond all measure.

Each month Christina shines her bright beautiful light on that hope, and I find that I have a little more strength for what remains of my own journey, and a little more depth of conviction that the fulfillment of my journey is not extinction but the Life that has overcome death.

In these past couple of years, there have been some months when I have really needed this strength. So, once again, four years and four months after she passed from this life, I remember Christina Grimmie. Dear, dear Christina, thank you!๐Ÿ’š I have come to love you so much.

๐Ÿ’š๐Ÿ’š Thank you.๐Ÿ’š๐Ÿ’š

Friday, October 9, 2020

Dear Brendan McGuire, Rest in God's Peace

Today the whole university community at Christendom College joins many friends and family in mourning the loss to this world of Professor Brendan McGuire, who died of cancer early this morning. We entrust his good soul to the Lord with prayer in the firm hope of eternal life through Jesus Christ. We pray especially for consolation for his wife and children, and an abundance of God's mercy and healing.

Brendan was my student, long ago. Part of me will always remember him as "that incredibly bright kid" (teachers always remember "the kid" you once were, and will still see that young person who remains "part of you" no matter how old you get). But time moves fast, and soon he was my colleague. Then he was a much-loved professor to my own kids. 

He was also, for years, a witness to us all of faith, courage, and even a remarkable joy in the midst of great suffering. He was an accomplished scholar and a brilliant teacher, and a wonderful, strong, humble, charitable man. Even when facing very difficult and painful periods in his long battle with cancer, he showed appreciation and gratitude for the smallest things in daily life. He lived his days fully, with vigor and all the energy he could muster, because he had hope for eternal life. He saw, in the seeds sown in the ground of this world, the beginning of the garden of the New Creation where Jesus transfigures and brings to fruition all the good we have done.

What immense sorrow this brings (in different ways) for so many people! Sorrow and grief are mysterious things which we cannot avoid enduring in this world. They especially are the human things that would seem to have no resolution, but we know by faith that the Risen Jesus transforms even our sorrows from within by His love that has overcome death.

Lord, grant eternal rest to Brendan and let perpetual light shine upon him. And by your mercy, give spiritual healing, strength, and peace to his wife Susan and their children. Dear God, also grant consolation and encouragement to family, friends, colleagues, students, the whole Christendom community and our local parish community.

And may the Lord have mercy on us all.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

"Now He's Becoming a Horticultural Nerd Too?"

I saw colored leaves on this bush and thought, “There IT IS!! Fall is HERE!” But, after checking my "plant identifier" app, I’m... not so sure. 

The Nandina schrub (an Asian import popular in Japanese gardens) apparently has leaves all year round and its own schedule for dropping the red ones. This is an unusual, colorful bush. 

Those red berries add further visual variety (and they usually get bright red). That's important to remember, because “bright red” is nature’s “DANGER: POISON” sticker. 

The entire plant is “cyanogenic” — so it can kill birds or small animals if they eat it, and you... shouldn’t put this in the salad (why would you want to?๐Ÿ˜). 

It’s also a “hardy plant” (several US states consider it invasive). 

Am I becoming a horticultural nerd too?๐Ÿ˜ณ๐Ÿ˜‰

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Saying Goodbye to a Pioneering Guitarist

As you know by now, this blog is one of the few places on the internet where we address everything from saints to rock stars! Today brings sad news about Eddie Van Halen. RIP to another guitar legend.๐Ÿ˜ฅ๐ŸŽธ๐Ÿ”ฅ As a guitar hack for over forty years who even played a few gigs on rather small stages, I must pay appropriate tribute to this Master of the craft.

Now remember, it was “the 70s,” dear people. Eddie Van Halen was not what one would call an exemplar of moral virtue when I was a teenager. But the dude could PLAY!๐ŸŽถ๐Ÿ’ฅ

I can’t say that I consciously “imitated his playing style” because it was so far out of my league (or anybody’s league that I knew). This was from some other planet. (Actually he and his brother both had classical training on piano, which is one aspect for his inspiration for what’s going down on this video.)

Click THIS LINK to watch and listen to VIDEO 

Let me tell you, for a kid in those pre-digital days, an electric guitar was a marvel in itself: part challenging musical instrument, part interactive multimedia device, part rowdy noisemaker. (I apologize to all the folks in the neighborhood we drove crazy in those days. It didn’t help that we weren’t any good!๐Ÿ˜) But Eddie Van Halen was crazy good.๐ŸŒŸ You didn’t have to be a “Van Halen” (the band) fan to appreciate it. Anyone who “plugs in” a musical instrument today owes gratitude to this sonic pioneer. Eddie invented many of the “sounds for guitar” that are built into today’s gadgets.

Every electric guitarist who came after him stole something from him, or tried to! (which is how you show respect for someone in music๐Ÿ˜‰๐ŸŽต). 

Sadly, Eddie has had cancer the past few years. It wasn’t widely known, so we all find ourselves surprised. He was 65, which is uncomfortably close to my current age (gosh, when you’re 17 you think these guys are so much older than you... but that gap closes so soon๐Ÿ˜ณ). 

Life is more precious and more mysterious than we know.

God unfolds his plan for each of us in the time and patience that correspond to the particular mystery of each of us as a person, his gifts to us, and his amazing ways of engaging our freedom while respecting it completely and bringing his healing mercy to bear gently upon it.

May the merciful Lord grant that Eddie Van Halen might rest in his peace.

Monday, October 5, 2020

JJ's "East Asian Studies Project"

I want to introduce here some important scholarly work that I have been engaged in for the past three years on a consistent basis. I generally refer to it as my East Asian Studies Project.

My primary focus has been and continues to be China, where a fifth of the world's population lives. It wasn't until I reached my mid-50s that I realized that my knowledge about China was ridiculously superficial. After many years of historical study, I had little more than an introduction to China's immense history and culture, its geography and natural riches, its people[s], their language[s], their pictographic writing, their unique literary tradition, etc. And yet China is everywhere in the world today. It is becoming positively silly to think that we can speak about the world of the 21st century and know nothing about China.

Venturing into China (by way of study), I have also found the need to do justice to the various related peoples of the region, who have their own proud histories, traditions, and languages while also intersecting with China over the course of more than a millennium: the Japanese, Korean, Filipino, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Thai, Malay, and (to some degree, at least) Mongolian and East Turkic peoples, as well as the diverse minority groups living among these peoples. This is a broad research project that I think is crucial for the 21st century (even though I'm probably too old to do much of it - at least I can point others in its direction). It entails the effort of a Western-educated mind to acquire foundations for appreciating East Asian history and understanding Asian societies in the new directions they are taking today with all their raw and rapid flow of novelty. It also seeks insight into how Asian societies' "new directions" - often drawn from the influence of the West and interestingly adapted - relate to their roots and their future.

I believe we Westerners need to learn a lot in order to grasp the importance of "building bridges" and deepening the dialogue with this universe of peoples, whom we too often stubbornly insist on caricaturing or misunderstanding. We especially need to be able to pay careful attention to what has happened over the course of the past century-or-so in what used to be called "the Far East," and what continues to happen today. 

The multifaceted, complex, and (from a historical point of view) very rapid series of events that continue to tear asunder and reconfigure life on "the other side of the world" cannot be accurately described in a few sentences. But generalizations do serve useful purposes. They can help us "map out" some of the terrain that we must travel through, and give us some perspective on the noteworthy things we might encounter therein. They also help us formulate hypotheses as we go along (hypotheses which, of course, must be tested, refined, or altered according to what we learn from experience). In the increasingly interactive global village we live in, it's all the more important to "get to know" our global "neighbors," to build bridges of mutual understanding, to peacefully coexist (at least) and even collabrate fraternally on common (and urgent) problems the whole village must face, as well as building mutually enriching relationships.

Let me, therefore, start by proposing a few generalizations. Over the past century-or-so, the peoples of East Asian societies (whose identities were long and deeply rooted in ancient "pre-Christian" cultures) have been experiencing the impact of a sudden, widespread, and often traumatic "involvement" with the Western world. It was (and continues to be, even with the emergence of powerful responsive and increasingly original reverberations generated by Asians themselves) predominantly a massive and pervasive encounter initiated and precipitated over time by the West. 

Many, many good things have come about as a result: tremendous goods and dimensions of human development that no one would want to reverse. Indeed, the way forward is clearly one of dialogue and integration, rather than disconnection. This point is very important to establish and refer to wherever (and insofar as) it applies to our understanding of one another.

The first thing people would be inclined to point to as an unqualified good is the prolific material prosperity in so many areas of the region today. But I think that "the increase in power over material things" is by itself an ambivalent indicator of the health of a society in its properly human realm: its culture, its awareness of the dignity of the human person, its organic communities and healthy sense of inclusiveness, its pursuit of justice and equity, its governing systems, and its regard for the ultimate meaning of life.

Here we need to examine more closely how the historically "recent" phenomenon of East-West interaction came about. Clearly what made it possible were the (previously unimaginable) developments in the West of technology for rapid, convenient transportation and mass communications, as well as the continued expansion of the industrial revolution and everything that followed from it. Thanks to these unprecedented innovations - which also spurred the invention of the technologically enhanced, mass produced, and powerfully destructive weapons used in the devastating wars of the 20th century - we could say that in a sense the West "collided into" East Asia.

This was an "encounter" that was in many respects violent. Some of the violence was "accidental" (at least, at the beginning) and good intentions abounded that brought forth many good fruits (as we noted above). But in many respects the encounter and subsequent "engagement" was (and continues to be) an upending of Asia extending beyond anyone's intentions or control, a "collision" resulting in many abrupt changes and their often unforeseen consequences, precipitated over the course of a century-or-so by the West. 

The Western world brought its "way of life" haphazardly but rapidly and relentlessly into a very different environment it failed to understand. It overwhelmed many Asian peoples, while others adopted one or another aspect of it and turned it to their own purposes. There were some (but not nearly enough) engagements that took root with patience, flowered through mutual exchanges, and bore fruit in enduring friendship. When this happened (even imperfectly) the results included the emergence of people on both sides - Asian and Western - with a deeper perspective that is much needed in today's global village. They are "bridges" between East and West, and those who express their vision in literature and/or scholarship often do so with remarkable and much-needed appreciation. I am always searching for these people who are "bridges" - not because they build perfect bridges - but because of the helpful insights and perspective their efforts provide. Perhaps I should develop a reading list of authors I have found helpful in my research (some of them have already been featured on this blog).

Having noted these fruitful efforts and the legacy they continue to generate, I want to return to the larger view of "the West-East collision" as a whole. What makes this especially complicated is that it reflects something much more than just an "encouter between two different types of cultures" and the crises resulting from it. Underlying the collision, and in some respects accounting for the confusion and violence it generated, was the tumultuous crisis that had already begun within the Western world itself, and that was destined to increase.

The West arrived in the mid-19th century with the intention of being a benefactor and a master, not simply because of racism, imperialism, or an insufficient education and lack of openness and patience, but also and especially to make money. In the midst of this hurricane there were great goods to share - life-giving water, healing medicines, certain approaches to political and social reform, useful technologies. 

But overall what pounded itself into East Asia - beginning with gunboat diplomacy in the mid-19th century and continuing with a shamelessly-rationalized enormous drug-peddling operation, cultural hegemony, colonialism, the introduction of industrialization, consumerism, all kinds of "modernization," and a flood of "Western ideas" - was not some static, stable form of "Western Civilization." It was a strange combustible, concentrated, chaotic "mashup" of "the West" - with its heritage, traditions, and history of intellectual development mixed together and compressed by the heat of its own great crisis as it plunged (and continues to hurtle at breakneck speed) through its own disconcerting transition from "the epoch of human self-assured rationalistic organization and classification of reality" to the titanic, wildly unpredictable and more evidently ambivalent "post-modern technocratic epoch of power."

You knew I would get to the "epoch of power" eventually. It's the factor that enters into every circumstance of our recent history and current affairs (right down me writing this blog post that in a few moments will be accessible to humans all over the planet).

That, of course, is another topic. It's relevant here because some places in East Asia today (certainly China, Japan, and Korea) appear to be "ahead of" the West in heralding the new epoch of the totalization of technological power. They have grabbed it with both hands and entered into it with lightning speed. They are also exhibiting in vivid ways some of the dangers of the new epoch (China and North Korea come immediately to mind, but the social impact in other societies also bears consideration).

At the same time, the ancient heritage and the sense of life that have shaped peoples in East Asia for millennia have not disappeared. Many antiquated superstitions endure, but so does a great treasury of wisdom - religious, philosophical, cultural, and common-sense wisdom. How much of the best of this human wisdom-tradition remains vital in the lives of people today? How does it "intersect" with the blinding materialism that drives the socioeconomic superstructure of China, with its evolving ideological stew of Marxism-Leninism and Fascism (the worst fallout from the historic collision with the West) and modernized versions of the Chinese "Legalist" or Neoconfucian, "extrinsicist" traditions and the ever-resiliant imperial-bureaucratic governing forms of the past?

That's a big long question. I hope I can learn enough to know how to ask the right questions, and how to listen to people who can shed light on the unpredictable path forward, and the hope for further possibilities of East-West friendship even in the midst of the ongoing whirlwind.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

The Unforgettable Saint Francis

Sunday takes precedence over Francis this year in the Roman liturgy, BUT he is impossible to forget. 

Buona Festa di San Francesco!๐Ÿ”ฅ➕

*Above: detail from painting by Margaritone D'Arezzo, 13th century.

Friday, October 2, 2020

We Are Defended By Their Protection

"The disciples approached Jesus and said, 'Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven?' He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said, 'Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me... See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father'" (Matthew 18:1-5, 10).

On October 2, the Roman calendar celebrates the Guardian Angels, who are with each person during the course of his or her life, cooperating with the Holy Spirit who leads the person on the path to the fullness of redemption and glory. 

The angels too are God's "co-workers" and our helpers and friends. God's Kingdom, which is in the absolute sense His work - precisely because it is His omnipotent, unfathomable creative and recreative action, His mysterious love - generates an interpersonal communion of mercy and service, gratitude and self-giving among those who share in His life. The New Creation is a "symphony of Agape, of joy, of thankfulness" whose music has already begun now, as we journey to its fulfillment.

O God, who in your unfathomable providence 
are pleased to send your holy Angels to guard us, 
hear our supplication as we cry to you, 
that we may always be defended by their protection 
and rejoice eternally in their company. 
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, 
who lives and reigns with you in the unity 
of the Holy Spirit, 
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.