Monthly Archives: September 2011

Eyyyy, I jumped on the Quick Takes bandwagon! Great idea, really, because some days I really just can’t organize my thoughts more than a paragraph at a time. Let’s see, how’s this thing work?

There we go.

1: Passive Purification
I finally had my approximately-bi-weekly conversation with Father T. I was all “It’s awful, everything’s great!” and he was all “Then what’s the problem?” and I was all “That’s just it!”

Part of the reason I fear the Holy Mallet is that I like to feel like I’m doing something; I don’t like to give God the reins. But, as Richard Wilbur says, there is nothing to do with a day except to live it. Sometimes you have to sit back like a good piece of clay and let God do the molding. Passive Purification is what Fr. called it. Bears praying about.

2: Grease Monkey Redux
My beautiful motorcycle is still ailing. Someone knocked her over several weeks ago, bending the handlebars and rendering her unrideable. I ordered new handlebars, went to put ‘em on, and found out they were the wrong size. Ordered a second pair, put ‘em on, reattached all the levers and cables, and now she won’t start. Tried to figure out why and made it worse: now she won’t even try to start. And winter is closing in.

I just want another ride or two before the snow comes! That, and the chance to actually drive her, somehow, to the barn where she’ll be waiting out the big freeze.

3: The Soft-Dying Day
Speaking of seasons, though, I always seem to think I don’t care about autumn, until the first smell of autumn hits me. What is it about smell that takes you right back to a particular time and place? For me it’s usually Milton, about twenty years ago. Smell isn’t the most refined sense, but it’s the most poignant, and autumn is the most poignant (or second-most-poignant?) season. These things can knock you right over.

4: Steam Train
Every since January of 2010, I’ve made a habit of spending 30 consecutive minutes a day in silent prayer. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Usually I spend it in Adoration. Lately, though, that’s been feeling dry, and I’ve decided to make the move to daily Mass whenever possible. Adoration is lovely, but the Mass is…well, I don’t know what it is. I just know that, if Adoration feels like biking up a hill (most times), Mass feels like hopping a train.

5: Help, Please
I love that readers send me emails. Some people write with encouragement and prayer, and I can’t tell you how much this buoys me up. A few people write with disagreement, and so far, I’m impressed by how courteous they usually are.

And some people write for advice. I’m complimented and happy to get emails like this, even though I usually don’t know what to say. The question I have the hardest time answering is this: “My son/daughter/nephew/niece/cousin just told me he’s gay. I want to show him/her that I love and accept him/her, but I also don’t want to support a lifestyle that I know is immoral. What can I do? What can I say?”

Readers, I have no idea! I’ve only rarely been in this situation, and never with anybody who’s that close to me. But I’m betting some of you have been there. What do you? What worked? What didn’t work?

6: Dead Trees
I’m excited to be working on my first print article. It’s going to be on the subject of vocation, and will appear in Our Sunday Visitor’s news weekly. I’ll let you know! I sure hope I know what I’m talking about.

7: I Feel So Moron
I forgot to mention that I got the Search Term Poetry idea from Simcha Fisher, who if you don’t read her, you really oughtta. Blogerarily speaking, she’s my idol. I just reread one of hers, and she definitely wins. Not that it was a contest.

Thanks to Jen Fulwiler for hosting the 7 Quick Takes! See y’all soon. Like Fr. T always says, let’s keep praying for each other.

Some people think Christians are in love with suffering. Not true: it’s just that we don’t see it as something to be categorically avoided.

My heart hurts right now. It just does, and none of your business why, dear readers, although you’d understand it well enough. I know myself well enough to know that it’ll pass, and probably soon. There’s a kind of hurt that says You’re doing this wrong, and there’s another kind that says This has got to stop, but there’s a third that just is, the way a fact just is.

It’s the third kind that you can’t avoid, and shouldn’t. Léon Bloy says: “Man has places in his heart which do not yet exist, and into them enters suffering, in order that they may have existence.” Pain enters like a knife to cut away the dead parts.

Reality is the knife. You could almost define reality as The thing that we don’t desire, or anyway as The thing which is independent our desires. That’s what makes it worth desiring, because it is Not Us, Not Me. It’s the Other.

Do you remember that dreadfully sentimental movie from the ’90s, What Dreams May Come? Its vision of heaven is a place where we get what we want: the externalization of all our desires. My mother said that sounded a lot more like Hell: nothing but you and what you want, forever. No alarms, and no surprises. C. S. Lewis says something similar:

There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.”

I don’t mean to be melodramatic, Jesus — you’ve put up with a lot of that in our time together — but fiat voluntas tua, and I’m going to bed.

I’m enjoying your company
should I become a recluse
can a man be chaste

physics for pleasure
pussy demeanor
gay and the latin mass

crosses with barbed wire
wounded king
every thing about costing

iron horse gay
wes welker gay
a tree will dry

gay grease monkeys
is gay a real feeling
do your balls swell when you die?

WHAT emotions does a dry tree show
I love my motorcycle bad Fay just leave

From my pastor’s sermon today:

“Human beings are made in such a way that we can’t think ourselves into acting a certain way. We have to act ourselves into thinking a certain way.”

Which, incidentally, is how obedience to the Magisterium works. I don’t think you can understand Church teaching without living it first.

Which is probably why I understand so little of it.

This excellent article by Michael Baruzzini, titled Walker Percy, Bourbon, and the Holy Spirit.

Excerpt:

“Affection is made concrete with actions. Handshakes between colleagues, hugs and kisses between friends not only display, but actually create or make real the respect and affection between people. The true value of a family dinner lies at this level: we are a family because we eat together; we eat together because we are a family. It is in this act that our being as a family is made real, not fantasy. To take what may be the most powerful example, marital love is incarnated in the marital act. The coy euphemism ‘making love’ has more truth to it than we may realize.”

Occasionally I do pull out the gay card. The gay card, of course, is a conversational trump, as in: “You say homosexual acts are wrong? Well, I have a gay cousin!” This is exactly as logical as saying: “You think Cheetos aren’t nutritious? Well, I love Cheetos!” Probably true, but totally irrelevant — unless you expect me to tailor my principles according to who they’re going to offend.1

I use the gay card in the opposite way, as in: “You say I call homosexual actions immoral because I don’t understand what it’s like to be a gay man — well, I’ll let you in on a secret.” Sort of a cheap trick, really, and I’ve only used it twice. And, come to think of it, alcohol was involved both times.

The first time I used it was about seven years ago, in an argument with a Catholic woman I knew from college. She was a dissenter, and who could blame her: if I grew in her house, I’d probably think all Catholicism was as toxic as her parents’ brand apparently was.2

I was arguing that being gay meant being stuck in a kind of perpetual self-absorption: if the opposite sex is an image of otherness, and if one of the natural purposes of romantic love is to draw us out of ourselves — towards the other, towards that-which-is-not-us — then being oriented romantically towards your own gender is, by definition, narcissistic. My conclusion was that gay men, therefore, don’t know how to love.

I was arguing from theory, and she from experience: she told me that she knew gay men in loving relationships, whose unselfishness towards each other was something that anyone could learn from, and something that she only infrequently saw in straight couples. Gay men taught me how to love, she said.

Well, that was a long time ago. I stand by my fundamental points — you can’t ignore the built-in symbolism of the sexes, can’t pretend that it doesn’t exist or that it’s meaningless — but my conclusion was utterly bogus. Things are rarely that simple — or rather, truth is always simple, like white light, but it gets refracted and scattered somehow when it enters this world.3

The short version of what I’m about to say is: It’s not that gay men don’t know how to love. It’s that nobody does.

It’s easy for us (maybe especially those of us with SSA) to get so hung up on the Church’s teaching about homosexuality that we miss the bigger picture. The Church proposes an ideal for human sexuality that nobody fulfills: “There is no one who does good, not even one.” Being gay doesn’t guarantee that your relationships are thoroughly selfish, any more than being straight guarantees that they are thoroughly unselfish, and the Church has at least as much to say to straight couples as she does to gay ones.4

The tricky part, unfortunately, remains: a homosexual romantic relationship, unlike a heterosexual one, has no potential of coming to its proper fulfillment as a romantic relationship — that’s like saying an acorn could ever come to its proper fulfillment as a banana tree:5 it just doesn’t have it within itself.

That doesn’t mean a homosexual relationship doesn’t have its own potential, and its own proper fulfillment — it just means that that fulfillment isn’t marriage. There are men who begin as lovers and, as their love for each other deepens, end up as friends; when they discover that that’s what their relationship meant all along.

But I’m writing, as usual, of things I don’t fully understand. We’ve got some heavy hitters in the comboxes these days. Have at it, y’all.

1 Caveat: this doesn’t mean we can’t adjust the presentation of our principles to avoid being jerks. Some conservatives like to use truth like a bludgeon.
2 Someone, somewhere, says something like: Anyone who runs away from what is hateful, even if it’s (apparently) Jesus, is really running towards Jesus the whole time.
3 I’m pretty sure that’s what Yeats means by: “All mere complexities, / The fury and the mire of human veins.”
4 It’s just that “Catholic Church Holds Up Transcendently Gorgeous Standard For All Human Relationships!” doesn’t make as good press as “Catholic Church Still Chock-Full of Bigoted Assholes!”
5 The resonances of the banana imagery do not escape me. What can I say, it’s the first thing that came to mind.

When I was ten or eleven, I somehow1 came across a letter to my mother, written by a psychologist, I think Joseph Nicolosi — anyway if not him, somebody else in the field. She was worried about me and had found his name, and he’d been gracious enough to reply with advice: try to get him to socialize with other boys; guide him gently into activity with them. Then there was something about gender-identity disorder.

I was angry and scared, partly because I felt like she’d gone behind my back somehow, writing about me to a stranger;2 but mostly because of this terrifying phrase, gender-identity disorder. To me the phrase sounded and felt like some grey, filthy snake twisted up inside my guts, poisoning me and making me different. If anyone’s ever read or seen Return to Oz,3 remember the scene where they take Dorothy to that horrible quack doctor, to get rid of the Oz delusion? I felt like I would be taken somewhere like that, wired into an insidious machine with flashing lights that would fix whatever horrible thing was wrong with me.

This was around the time things got bad. I remember freaking out in school, name-dropping the horrible4 phrase because I didn’t know what else to do with it, and a classmate’s question: Does that mean you think you’re a girl? The teacher didn’t know what to do, and neither did I. That’s my only memory from that day, but you can see why it stands out.

Well, did I think I was a girl, or what? I didn’t, but I spent a lot of time around girls, and had a particular giggly, chatterbox way of talking. I started noticing this about myself for the first time, and — although this seems strange, to think of an eleven-year-old doing this — started working to change it. I quieted down, watched my speech patterns and the way I moved. I didn’t like the way my teacher had gone silent, and her face had gone still, when I dropped that phrase, gender-identity disorder; I didn’t like getting called a fairy or a sissy; so I cut it out.

I don’t set off almost anybody’s gaydar now.

I know how it sounds. I know that one of the Deadly Sins of 21st-century America is trying to change Who You Are. Am I glad I did it? Did I “do it” at all, or is my impression of conscious effort just a retrofitted memory? If I did do it, what would I be like if I hadn’t? Would I be less taciturn now, less introverted?

Maybe, but who cares? What if is a meaningless question. The right question is: am I proud of who I am, or ashamed?

I haven’t yet reached the magical point of Not Caring What Anybody Thinks — which is the first cardinal virtue of 21st-century America — and probably won’t hit it until I’m eighty, when I can say whatever I damn well please and have it put down to senility.

What you see when you meet me is me, near as I can figure, for whatever that’s worth. Whether I chose to stop acting effeminately or just grew out of it, it’s gone now, no longer a part of me, if it ever was. Part of life is becoming who you are, that’s true. But part of life is building who you are, a feat that’s mainly accomplished by thoroughly f★cking it all up six times in a row and then trying for a seventh.

Like I keep saying: a work in progress. My stars, it’s bedtime. Where are my fuzzy socks?

1 Pretty sure I was snooping.
2 To my wonderful mother, who is reading, just to be clear: this is 100% untrue, and couldn’t be further from the way I feel about it now. I’m grateful that you wrote to him, and for everything that’s happened since.
3 Is it just me, or was this the most terrifying movie in the history of the universe? I mean, remember the wheelers? Remember the TWO HUNDRED SHRIEKING DISEMBODIED HEADS?? Who thinks this is good stuff for kids to see?
4 That makes three horribles in two paragraphs, but stet, because I can’t make anything else fit.

[Discussion with an reader on mono- vs. polygenism] + [Adam & Eve] + [facebook queries] + [helpful friends] leads me to a fascinating post by Michael Flynn on the whole question. Excerpt:

…[They] appear to hold that the statement:

A: “There is one man from whom all humans are descended”

is equivalent to the statement:

B: “All humans are descended from [only] one man.”

But this logical fallacy hinges on an equivocation of “one,” failing to distinguish “one [out of many]” from “[only] one.” Traditional doctrine requires only A, not B: That all humans share a common ancestor, not that they have no other ancestors.

Read the whole thing here!

Thanks for prayers, everyone! The interview went very well, and I somehow wasn’t even nervous. It will air around Thanksgiving — I’ll let you know when I find out the exact time, and will try to have the audio file available on the site.

Got to run now. I took the day off because Rivka is in town. We are going to Mass and then for a hike.

I’m appreciating the comment thread going on in Men and Mountains right now. Incidentally, I’ve just added a subscribe-to-comments option — just check the little box when leaving a comment to be notified of followups.

Been meaning to tell you, but my server decided now would be a good time to go down. Anyway, it turns out I got a little overexcited. My interview on Catholic Answers Live is being recorded this Wednesday, but it won’t air till November some time.

Sorry for the false alarm! I’ll keep you posted. Still grateful, as always, for your prayers.

In other news, the Pats are kicking some substantial Dolphin ass tonight. My man Wes just ran in a 99-yard touchdown.