Monday, September 19, 2011

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Sunday, September 18, 2011

Reflecting on Early Milwaukee's Drinking Culture

In an article published in the Milwaukee Sentinel on 21 February 1932, Gunnar Mickelsen offers what I consider to be a very insightful argument for the virtue of a robust and healthy drinking culture in a city.  I would highlight and reflect upon certain aspects of his argument, but I also recommend to the reader the whole article; it makes for good reading.  You can find it here.

Writing in 1932, Mickelsen is looking back at what he calls the "beer age," ie., the era when beer brewing and drinking were integral to Milwaukee life to a degree that was not possible during the Great War and then of course during Prohibition.  The reason for his lament is that, even though both of those two cultural atrocities were over, Milwaukee was still suffering their lasting effects.  From our modern, rather myopic, perspective, we are tempted to conclude that we are in a "beer age" of our own.  In many ways, Milwaukee did bounce back, and our culture certainly seems as beer-centered as ever.  Yet it is helpful to consider the voices from our past, with their clearer view of their past.  And when we do, we see that in Milwaukee's golden era of beer there was something more than merely the unbridled consumption of booze and brews.  The beer was part of an intellectually rich culture, one which we have today as well, yet not, I fear, to the degree in which it flourished in the post-World War I years.  More on that as we go along.

I love his opening line:
There was in the United States, in the beer age, no more delightful a city than Milwaukee, in which to spend a day, a year or a life.
But what exactly was so special about Milwaukee in those days?  Or, put it another way, what is so special about a culture that values drinking, and makes drinking part of its public life?  Mickelsen argues that the open exchange of ideas, which is necessary to the human spirit, and conducive to an intellectually productive culture, is encouraged and inspired by a robust social drinking atmosphere, and that without such an atmosphere, the exchange and expression of ideas is stifled, and therefore the overall happiness of a city is affected for the worse.  As Mickelsen writes:
Now, it is our theory that Milwaukee was happy because it talked.  The urge to hold conversation, to communicate ideas and experiences, is one of man's major motivations...Beer and wine make for communication.  There is in liquors of mild alcoholic persuasion that which quickens the flow of the thoughts in a man's cranium, loosens a notch the belt about his reticence and releases upon his tongue the fruits of his meditations.
Meeting together in public houses and talking about one's work, whether that work be physical or intellectual, is not a novel notion, but enjoys a noble history.  In theology we could think of the Black Bear Inn in Germany and the White Horse Tavern in England.  The myth of the Prancing Pony as a place where folks may gather to find refuge from the various troubles that may be brewing in the world, while enjoying some good brew in the company of friends, is believable precisely because it is rooted in a noble and endearing tradition of Western culture. 

And indeed, Milwaukee's cultural scene was far richer than we can appreciate todday.  It was known as the German Athens (Deutsches Athen).  It had numerous non-English newspapers (especially German), and the arts flourished.  It is fair to say that the American sense of free expression, artistic and intellectual, was appreciated and realized in this city.

The ravages of a world war, and one which particularly devastated a Germanic city like Milwaukee, followed by the culturally deadening effects of Prohibition, left Milwaukee a palpably different city.  Writes Mickelsen:
Those twin blights have robbed Milwaukee more finitely of its Germanesque mood of "gemuethlichkeit," than it seems possible could have been accomplished by any other agencies under the sun.
During Prohibition drinking was taken, all too literally, underground.  Of such establishments:
They exist in dank airs, away from the sun, under conditions of mummery and secrecy that smack of the reopened grave.
By contrast, consider the scene that flourished previously:
Pour beer out upon the locality and it won't be long till the ground is dotted with gardens.  They will grow and bloom so long as the beer continues to nourish them.  One of the first to take shape here was that of H. Kemper, built by him in 1850.
Under the affable personality of Pius Dreher, the garden came into its best days. Beneath its trees on the block between State, Fourteenth and Fifteenth streets and Prairie avenue, there were 500 tables and at least 3,000 persons could be seated there.
(Mickelsen goes on to describe many other beer gardens and taverns which were part of Milwaukee life in those decades.)

Men can adapt, and learn to drink and gather in speakeasies, and even learn to love such a covert arrangement.  (Today we even pay homage to that era with the Safe House.)  Likewise, there are times and places in which the Church has faced quite open and hostile opposition, necessitating her gatherings to be hidden from the world.  The Church can adapt, and conduct her most essential and sacred rites in the dank airs of the Catacombs.  Nevertheless, it is the open and free light of day that best befits the Church's liturgical proclamation; it is beautiful edifices that best befit her eucharist.  Likewise, it is in the open and free light of day, with society's full civil sanction, that the drinking community will enjoy its most wholesome life and have its fullest effects on the culture of a city.

Today, Milwaukee drinks like there is no tomorrow.  And there are some great beers, now that we are in the microbrewery age; and some great bars, I might add.  And yet, I think it is unfortunate that more and more of these places are filled with big screen TVs, and have become places to sit next to other people and, instead of interacting with them, watch a game on the screen, just as happens all too often with our loved ones in the home itself (which is a separate problem).  For entertainment in these gatherings, before there was TV there was communal singing.  For social interaction in these gatherings, there was once far more in the way of the intellectual expression of ideas and arguments, and perhaps a bit less of the meat market which prevails today.  Here's to hoping we can take our love of beer, and recapture some of that old Milwaukee sense of noble sociability.  If so, there may be hope for modern American culture.

The Rising - Bruce Springsteen [DVD Live in Barcelona 2002]

You may have noticed that for the past several days I have posted a number of Springsteen songs here. It was not, in fact, merely an expression of my ordinary Springsteen fanaticism. There was a theme. Namely, from last Sunday, 9-11, to today I have posted a series of songs from the 2002 album, The Rising, all of which are in some way inspired by the events of 9-11.  Many of them have a hopeful note, though in some it is kind of buried or subdued.  In this final song, "The Rising," however, there is a definite theme of optimism, of rebuilding, rising again, etc.  The songs from the album which I did not post here do not have as dominant a connection to 9-11, but they are all good songs.  They are more along the line of what one might expect out of Springsteen, you know, like the working class struggles of the mining industry on Mars.  Over all, The Rising is one of my favorite albums.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Coffee Brewing Techniques with George Bregar - Alterra Coffee


a poetic meditation on the Anima Christi

Some of you may know my friend Mike Carter.  He loves to meditate on the faith in poetic verse.  You may also know the medieval prayer, Anima Christi.  It is a wonderful prayer to the crucified Christ.  I recommend its use anytime, but especially after receiving Holy Communion. 

(For those not familiar, here is the traditional text:
Anima Christi, sanctifica me.
Corpus Christi, salva me.
Sanguis Christi, inebria me.
Aqua lateris Christi, lava me.
Passio Christi, conforta me.
O bone Iesu, exaudi me.
Intra tua vulnera absconde me.
Ne permittas me separari a te.
Ab hoste maligno defende me.
In hora mortis meae voca me.
Et iube me venire ad te,
Ut cum Sanctis tuis laudem te.
In saecula saeculorum. Amen.
And here is a classic translation:
Soul of Christ, sanctify me.
Body of Christ, save me.
Blood of Christ, inebriate me.
Water from the side of Christ, wash me.
Passion of Christ, strengthen me.
O good Jesus, hear me.
Within Thy wounds, hide me.
Suffer me not to be separated from Thee.
From the malignant enemy, defend me.
In the hour of my death, call me.
And bid me come to Thee.
That, with Thy saints, I may praise Thee,
World without end. Amen.
And here is another version I like, this one a bit more of a free translation, from the nineteenth century, by Cardinal Newman:
Soul of Christ, be my sanctification.
Body of Christ, be my salvation.
Blood of Christ, fill all my veins.
Water from Christ’s side, wash out my stains.
Passion of Christ, my comfort be.
O good Jesus, listen to me.
In Thy wounds I fain would hide.
N’er to be parted from Thy side.
Guard me should the foe assail me.
Call me when my life shall fail me.
Bid me come to Thee above.
With Thy saints to sing Thy love.
World without end. Amen.

But this is not really a blog post the Anima Christi.  That merits a separate entry, which I hope to do some time.)  My point here is to introduce you to a poetic creation which Mike has produced.  It is based upon the Anima Christi, and I think it lives up to the venerable tradition of that prayer.  Please find it here:
Nice job, Mike.

Bruce Springsteen - Paradise

Vaccinating Against Sexually Transmitted Infections

Lately there has been much chatter in the political sphere about the vaccination for the Human Papillomavirus, in light of the recent debate among Republican contenders for the next general presidential election.  I propose to offer here what I would call a Traditionalist Lutheran view on the whole matter, which is not the same as a politically conservative view.  My position on this issue intersects with the conservative position, yet they are not coterminous.  They are distinct, as you will see, for the accent is different.

When Texas Governor Rick Perry issued an executive order that girls in his state be injected with Gardasil, the vaccination for HPV, he was surely acting upon his concern for the health of the girls and women of Texas, though a cynical assessment would also beg the questions raised by the curious coincidence of the financial support he has received from Merck, the manufacturer of the popular brand of vaccine.  His defenders are quick to point out that one could opt out of the vaccine, and that Perry has repented of the way he pursued this policy (ie., by executive order).  His critics on this issue point out that we cannot be completely sure of the safety of this vaccine (the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has a history of taking back its approval of drugs years after initial approval); that, despite the technical opt-out clause, the obvious pressure is on the girls to go ahead and choose the default option of getting the injections; and that a matter of this sort ought to be deliberated in the legislature, rather than dictated by executive order.  For the most part, these have been the parameters of the controversy as it has been argued in the political realm.

What is unfortunate to me is that conservatives, by and large, are not looking deeper, to the real issue of the appalling moral scandal of vaccinating our girls to protect them from infections and diseases that are sexually transmitted.  Even apart from a government mandated vaccination, as what happened for a time in Texas, for several years now we have been in the brave new culture of the HPV vaccine.  On the one hand, I admit that the distinction between having an opt-out or an opt-in is valid and important; in other words, the former still preserves the individual's legal freedom in the matter, while the latter places the burden on the individual to step up and say, I opt out.  On the other hand, however, in a certain sense the scenario which obtains where there is no such executive mandate, say, here in Wisconsin, for example, is just as damaging to a young lady, and it is damaging to our culture's moral climate.

Let us be clear. HPV is sexually transmitted.  I repeat, HPV is a sexually transmitted infection (STI).  There is no case, of which I am aware, of someone contracting this infection without sexual activity.  Now let us be even more particular.  The promoters of the vaccine are keen to point out that intercourse is not necessary in order to get HPV, for all that is needed is genital contact.  So isn't my statement, then, that HPV is sexually transmitted, false?  No, for I do not define sexual activity so narrowly as to exclude everything but intercourse.

Young Christian men and women, I say this to all of you. Immodest behavior betrays the dignity of your person; it betrays your Creator; it betrays who you are in Christ; it betrays the Spirit of God Who dwells in you.  Immodest behavior brings with it deep emotional dangers, which only makes sense, for the body is a wondrously integrated organism, and compartmentalizing may seem clever and mature, but it is in fact an unnatural fragmenting of life, and quite dangerous.  And above and beyond all of that, the more we learn in the scientific realm, the more we see that immodest behavior often also leads to physical consequences.  Modesty is the best policy.  To put it another way, leading a chaste and decent life in word and deed (which includes such things as how you behave on Facebook and how you dress your body) befits your wondrous creation; it befits who you are in Christ; it befits your life and body as an abode of the Spirit and as a living epistle; and it honors the Triune God, Who has real plans for your life.

Yes, HPV is one of those physical consequences to which I was just alluding.  It is a potential and not uncommon result of contact with the genital area of another person.  And to be quite frank, it, in turn, can result in cancer.  Just as the dangers of the previous paragraph are interrelated, some modeling themselves after others, some resulting in others, etc, likewise, we cannot clinically compartmentalize life by supposing we can remove the danger in one area, and content ourselves that at least now our young people are safe from the physical consequences of their behavior. 

The media campaign, to which girls and their well meaning mothers fall prey, funded by the drug manufacturer, and the readily available nature of the vaccination, is in some ways a situation analogous to the culture of the acceptance of condoms (which is a stunning reversal from the social place of condoms just a generation or so ago), and their easy availability today (some public school systems even give out condoms in the nurse's office).  There are differences, of course, but there is an analogy.  And yet, look at how the thinking has broken down, or at how lazy we have become on these issues (issues which require of us vigilance).  Rush Limbaugh would ridicule the condom culture by performing radio stunts, stretching a condom over his microphone, and calling it "safe talk," etc.  Now there is hardly a peep in popular conservative culture about the inappropriate nature of giving our young people a medical treatment for something that they will never get apart from choosing to engage in sexual activity.  Instead the debate turns to the question of whether Perry will survive this politically, whether Bachman goes too far in her talk of the dangers of vaccines, etc.

A woman's brain is a wonderful creation of God.  To be fair to what we know scientifically about that brain, however, we must admit that it is not fully developed in its capacity to make emotionally mature decisions until around the early to mid twenties.  Yet there is to a large extent a hands-off approach to parenting in our culture.  The decision to get the HPV vaccine, too, is too often left to the girl and her mother.  How often does the father, even where there is one, assert his authority in a matter of this sort?  Just as the family is incomplete without the dynamics of the emotional subtleties of the feminine, likewise, it suffers when left without real leadership from the father.  Fathers, your leadership is needed.  Just say no to bad ideas.  And lead also by positive conversation and life.

And churchmen, can you not find it in yourselves to say something on these issues?  We can study how matters of casuistry were argued three centuries ago, and we should.  That is a fine endeavor.  But until we learn to promote consistently a culture of life today, life in all its fullness (which is not limited merely to protesting abortion), our people will be effectively left to their own devices against Merck, against the music and entertainment scene, against pressure of every sort, including the old Adam which rages in each of us.  It is the New Man, Christ Himself, Whose resurrection life renews itself each day in the life of the regenerate Christian.  Let us preach His cross, and His life, for His sake.  For He is the One Who takes upon Himself our immodesty, our betrayal, our sin, and bears it up the hard and lonely way to where it is all nailed to His holy Body.  He thus unites Himself to our sin for us.  And He rises triumphant over that sin and the death which sin produces.  You and I who are baptized are thus buried into that death, and immersed into that victory.  Our life is His.  His life is lived out in the members of the body, both in the sense of the mystical body of the Church and quite literally in the members of your body.  Let us bear all this in mind, for the sake of Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

mad men and the church

For some reason I decided to start watching Mad Men.  I heard it was an interesting show, and we don't get whatever channel that carries it (at least I don't think we do), so we're going through the series via NetFlix, albeit at a rather slow pace.  Today we saw the fourth episode of the second season, titled "Three Sundays" (if you wish, you might want to view it, maybe through hulu or netflix or whatever) and I found two moments of the show to be especially noteworthy here.  The first I found very humorous, and the second I found to be a subtle but serious violation of priestly vows.  Both are good lessons for priests and seminarists, except that most these days, I fear, wouldn't even notice anything amiss in these examples.

1. A priest, Father Gill, is invited to a family dinner, and being set in the early 1960s, this Roman Catholic family naturally shows great respect, some practically fawning over him.  He is given the honor of saying grace, and so he prays a short but somewhat eloquent prayer that is clearly invented on the spot.  When he has completed this prayer, the lady says to him, "That was beautiful; are you going to say grace now?"  He then makes the sign of the cross, and says the traditional table blessing.  I loved this scene.  Whether intended as such by the writers or not, what it says is that people have a sense of tradition, and this woman in particular just didn't feel as though grace was said, however eloquent and meaningful the priest's prayer from the heart was.  When asked to stand up and pray, a priest does well to reinforce (and indeed in some cases reintroduce) the traditional prayers of the Church, such as the table blessing Luther preserved for us in the Catechism.

2.  In the confessional, a woman confesses, among other things, the sins of her sister.  She is angry about her sister getting away with her liberated lifestyle, and she spills the beans about the baby her sister has had out of wedlock.  Later in the episode, on Easter Sunday, the priest sees the woman (who secretly has a child) and hands her an Easter egg, and says, "for the little one."  This may be a clever way of "ministering" to her, of "opening lines of communication" with her, or whatever.  But one thing is for sure.  He has acted upon information he learned in the confessional, and he is out of line in doing so.


life before fort wayne

My wife was looking at pictures, for some reason, and showed me this one.  It brings back memories.  This predates our move to Ft. Wayne.  Late 90's.  We were living in the campus house at University Lutheran Chapel.  The background in this picture is the kitchen of the apartment where we lived, right off the chapel.  Fr. Wiest and family lived above us, on the second and third floors.  I'm actually not drinking beer at the moment of this photo; it is root beer.  That is the unique and wonderful Maple Root Beer, from Lakefront Brewery.  The amazing thing to me about that bottle is that it seems to be a glass bottle.  Lakefront bottles the root beer in plastic bottles; so I guess they bottled it in glass at one time, and I just don't remember it. 

Nothing like a hyper-ritualist being in his native environment.

Bruce Springsteen - Into The Fire - 9/11 WTC Tribute Video

Lakefront Brewery - Meet Phil

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Joyce Carol Oates Part V

made in milwaukee festival

Last weekend my wife and I took the time to go to the Made in Milwaukee Festival at Cathedral Square.  Like all great free street festivals in Milwaukee, the Made in Milwaukee Festival had a good variety of entertainments and activities, like dance, music, and crafts.  But what was best about this event was that a great plenitude and diversity of local businesses was highlighted.  One could sample the coffee of three local coffee roasters, or find produce from area farms, as well as many booths with local artists, and business of all types.  It was a good way of promoting local businesses, and local art, as well as other institutions, of Milwaukee. 

One of the fun opportunities was to pose with a sign on which you write your favorite local business.  You can find mine here.  (And that was before I was offered a job at Lakefront.)

At another booth, people were encouraged to pick one of Milwaukee's famous statues, and pose the same way as the statue.  I chose to pose like the Robert Burns statue, which is over on the Lower East Side, on Prospect Ave.  Here is my pose.

It was a nice Milwaukee summer afternoon.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

an anniversary

It was on this day, the Feast of Mary's earthly birthday, that I started seminary classes.  It was a Monday that year.  I remember thinking about how fitting it was that my seminary formation would begin with a Marian theme.  I don't remember chapel that day, though I rather doubt that the Mother of God came up.  I didn't mind too much though.  I knew that I had embarked on an exciting new chapter in life.  And indeed, it was a great ride. 

The course of life changes.  But one thing remains the same: Theology rules, guides, and is the passion of my life.  Theology is not only the Queen of Sciences, it is the highest Art.  More than that, it is the only truly satisfying pursuit.  I think of it as life itself, life in its fullness.  And so, my time in the seminary was worth the while.  And whatever happens from here, I am grateful.  For like the obscure handmaiden who was called upon to be the God-bearer, my soul, and in Christ the whole of my life, magnifies the Lord, for He has regarded my low estate.  I don't see much strength in my own life, but the important thing is that the Lord has shown strength with His arm; He that is mighty has done to me great things, and holy is His name.  May I always know it, and tell it.

Daughter of Mossad Chief: I Refuse to Enlist in the Israeli Military

I find this to be a very interesting trend. And aside from the Israeli/Palestinian issues, there is another problem, namely, the very fact that women are recruited and conscripted for military service in Israel. I believe that when a country drafts women into the military, it is no longer a civilized nation. So I support the objections of these young men and women objectors, and add that for the women they have a second, and more basic, ground of objection, whether they realize it or not.  Unfortunately, they probably do not realize it, for feminism (that is, the war against the essential dignity of a woman's femininity) is so ingrained and institutionalized in the culture that it will take a major cultural shift, over time, for it to be displaced. 

Saint Bernard on the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

From a Sermon of St. Bernard, the Abbot.

Behold how many things shine like stars in the geneology of Mary!  First of all, that she was sprung from kings; that she was of the seed of Abraham; that she was of the noble lineage of David.  If this be too little, add thereto: that she is known to have been divinely granted to that lineage on account of its singular privilege of holiness; that she was promised from heaven to the fathers thereof long beforehand; that she was befigured by mysterious wonders; that she was foretold in the oracles of the Prophets.  For she was prefigured by the priestly rod of Aaron, blossoming without root; by Gideon's fleece, full of the dew of heaven in the midst of the dry threshing-floor; by the eastern gate in the vision of Ezekiel, which had never been opened to anyone.  Again, it was of her, above all others, that Isaiah foretold. First, he speaketh of the rod that would rise from the root of Jesse; and then later of the Virgin that would bring forth Emmanuel.  Rightly doth the Apocalypse say: And there appeared a great wonder in heaven: for this same had previously been figured from heaven by all these things granted therefrom under the Old Covenant.

Alterra Coffee - Art of the Pour

St. Jerome on the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

A Homily by St. Jerome, the Priest.

In Isaiah we read: Who shall declare his generation.  But let us not therefore conclude that there is a contradiction between the Prophet (who implieth that this thing cannot be done) and the Evangelist (who bringeth his Gospel by doing it).  For the one speaketh of the generation of the Divine Word by the Eternal Father, and the other of the family in which the incarnation took place.  In other words, Matthew beginneth with carnal things (contrariwise to the Prophet) that by learning of men we may go on to learn of God.  And when he saith: The Son of David, the son of Abraham, he reverseth the proper order, for Abraham came in time before David.  But this reversal is necessary to his account, for if Abraham had been put first and David afterwards, Abraham would have had to be mentioned again, in order to marshall the pedigree properly.

Thus Matthew in the first place nameth as Christ the Son of these twain, namely, Abraham and David, without making mention of the others, because unto these twain only was promise of Christ made.  Unto Abraham, where it is said: In thy seed, that is, in Christ, shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.  And unto David, in the words: Of the fruit of thy body shall I set upon thy seat.  The Evangelist continueth: And Judas begat Phares and Zara of Thamar.  Here it is to be remarked that in the geneology of the Saviour none of the holy women are named, but those women only are named against whom the Scripture hath something to say amiss.  He who came to save sinners was born of sinners, that he might wash away all sin.  Thus afterwards, are named Ruth, who was a Moabitess, and Bathsheba, who had been the wife of Uriah.

Matthew continueth: And Jacob begat Joseph.  This is one of the passages which the Emperor Julian put forward against us as an instance of mutual contradiction between the Evangelists.  For, whereas Matthew here saith that Jacob begat Joseph, Luke saith that Joseph was the son of Heli.  And herein Julian shewed how little he understood the use of Scripture.  For one Evangelist speaketh of the father of Joseph by nature, and the other speaketh of the adoptive fatherhood according to the law.  Thus the Mosaic ordinance, which was held to be a command of God, ordained: If brethren dwell together, and one of them die and have no child, the wife of the dead shall not marry without unto a stranger; her husband's brother shall go in unto her, and take her to him to wife, and perform the duty of a husband's brother unto her; and it shall be, that the first-born which she beareth shall succeed in the name of his brother which is dead, that his name be not put out of Israel.  And when ye read: Joseph, the husband of Mary, let not this title of husband lead thee to suppose that the marriage had already taken place.  Remember rather the use of Scripture, which is to speak of the bride and bridegroom as husband and wife.

Joyce Carol Oates Part III

Saint Augustine on the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

From a Sermon of Saint Augustine, the Bishop.

Dearly beloved, the day for which we have longed is come, even this holy-day of the praiseworthy and Blessed Ever-Virgin Mary.  Let our land laugh and sing with merriment, bathed in the light of this great Virgin's rising.  She is the flower of the field, from her the priceless Lily of the valley hath blossomed.  With her that dolorous sentence which was pronounced over Eve ended its course.  To her it was never said: In sorrow thou shalt bring forth children.  She brought forth a child, even the Lord, but she brought Him forth, not in sorrow, but in joy.

Eve wept, but Mary laughed. Eve's womb was big with tears, but Mary's womb was big with gladness.  Eve gave birth to a sinner, but Mary gave birth to the Sinless One.  The mother of our race brought punishment into the earth, but the mother of our Lord brought forth Salvation.  Eve introduced sin, but Mary righteousness.  Eve gave a welcome unto death, but Mary welcomed Life.  For Eve's disobedience, Mary offered obedience.  For Eve's unbelief, Mary offered faith.

Mary singeth, as it were, to an instrument of ten strings, and between its quick notes soundeth the timbrels of those who celebrate this new kind of motherhood.  Therefore let the gladsome choirs join with her, to sing antiphonally her lovely hymn. O hearken to the melody which she maketh as she proclaimeth: My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour; for He hath regarded the low estate of His handmaiden; for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed; for He that is mighty hath magnified me. The song of Mary hath brought to an end the lamentations of Eve.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Joyce Carol Oates Part I

Joyce Carol Oates, the reader of this blog may have inferred over time, is one of my favorite modern writers. I happened to come across this video of an appearance she made at a book shop recently. It is in several parts, and so I will share it here in several installments. Those not particularly interested in the writings of Joyce Carol Oates will find this interesting nevertheless. She touches on a number of issues and topics, beginning with the virtues of real books. Also, writers, and aspiring writers, will find interesting insight into the craft, the art, the life, of writing. Enjoy.

P.S.  Let me just add, no offense meant to the host of this event, but I can testify that Oates's memoir of widowhood was an excellent read but does not bring everyone to tears.

St. James Infirmary -

Next Year in Gaba

Some of you thought that Gaba was merely a state of mind.  In fact, it is also a place.  Gaba is a town in Iraq.  Specifically, it is in the As Sulaymaniyah region, just 169 miles out of Baghdad (pardon me-in local terms the distance to Baghdad is 272 kilometers).

To go to Gaba is to see what life is like in the future, for while it is 3 p.m. in Milwaukee, it is 11 p.m. in Gaba.  Even at 11 p.m. it is 30 degrees, that is, 86 degrees Fahrenheit.

If I ever travel the world, I want Gaba to be on the itinerary.

non moriar, sed vivam

Have you stopped lately to consider the amazingly defiant tone of Psalm 118?  It includes one of my favorite phrases in the Psalter, what amounts to a bold Christian confession:
I shall not die, but live:
and declare the works of the Lord.
If you want to affirm life, amid the horror and absurdity that surrounds us in the modern world, I'm telling you, pray the Psalms.  The Psalms do not dreamily portray a life to which we cannot relate.  They reflect our struggles in every way. Yet they also orient us to the reality that we cannot see very clearly with our eyes of flesh.  They remind us that in Christ we do live life more abundantly.  The martyrs knew this, even as they faced their tormentors.  You and I, too, can face the lies with which we are battered by the devil, by the world, and by our own selves, and in the face of those lies about life confess life itself, Life Himself, the One Whose way is the way of truth and life.

The Christian, despite the fact that even he may see all sorts of evidence to the contrary, can truly confess, I shall not die, but live, for his life is in the One Who lives, and Who is life itself, Christ our Lord.  For we who are baptized into Jesus Christ are baptized into His death.  Consequently, we are buried with Him, by baptism, into death, that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also have renewed life. 

This is the confession and Christic content of the psalms. 

the Proustian Oates

I just started reading Bellefleur by Joyce Carol Oates (picked it up cheap at a thrift shop on Brady Street yesterday as my wife, one of my lovely nieces, and I enjoyed an afternoon outing).  I knew it was one of her longer length family chronicling novels, a family saga which spans a number of generations, and I've been wanting to read it for some time.  What I didn't know was that the novel is only partially set in the real world, that to a great extent it plays with the sequence of time, and other aspects of reality as we know it.  It is a gothic novel elevated to high art, a highly symbolic work, ripe with religious meaning.  So I very much look forward to seeing what the Bellefleur family and the Bellefleur castle have in store for me.

I really don't think that I would say there is such thing as a typically Oatesean sentence, in the sense that Joyce Carol Oates has a particular or signature style, except that she is exceptionally good at setting her writing in the unique feel of the novel or story she is writing. In that sense she is very economical in her writing; that is, it is all presented intentionally in a certain way, in order to help in the construction of the world of the story.  In the case of Bellefleur, the opening paragraph struck me as oddly Proustian.  For it is a single sentence, and reminded me of many passages in Proust's great work, which perhaps coincidentally or perhaps not coincidentally also delves in many ways into the theme of time, and the sequence of time.  (The Bellefleur family, by the way, is also French.)  The construction of long sentences, like the use of long words, can be clumsy, pretentious, poorly executed, or just inappropriate for the context.  (Proust himself could write very short sentences just as effectively as the long ones.)  In this case, it comes across beautifully, and begs the question (in my mind anyway) as to what this sentence might be telling us about the whole sage that is about to unfold.
It was many years ago in that dark, chaotic, unfathomable pool of time before Germaine's birth (nearly twelve months before her birth), on a night in late September stirred by innumerable frenzied winds, like spirits contending with one another-now plaintively, now angrily, now with a subtle cellolike delicacy capable of making the flesh rise on one's arms and neck-a night so sulfurous, so restless, so swollen with inarticulate longing that Leah and Gideon Bellefleur in their enormous bed quarreled once again, brought to tears because their love was too ravenous to be contained by their mere mortal bodies; and their groping, careless, anguished words were like strips of raw silk rubbed violently together (for each was convinced that the other did not, could not, be equal to his love-Leah doubted that any man was capable of a love so profound it could be silent, like a forest pond; Gideon doubted that any woman was capable of comprehending the nature of a man's passion, which might tear through him, rendering him broken and exhausted, as vulnerable as a small child): it was on this tumultuous rain-lashed night that Mahalaleel came to Bellefleur Manor on the western shore of the great Lake Noir, where he was to stay for nearly five years.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Life on an oil field 'man camp'

Life on an oil field 'man camp' _ not for everyone - National Business -

As I was skimming the Sunday paper after Mass yesterday, I came across this AP article (linked above) about the enormous oil boom in North Dakota.  There is so much work on the oil field right now that the hundreds of workers far outnumber the available housing in the region of Williston, North Dakota.  So they've constructed a camp full of temporary housing units, which are minimalist one bed dorm rooms, in which you share a bathroom with the guy in the next room. 
The smell of plastic (a main component in the walls of these temporary structures) and pesticide (mice and insects are problems out here on the prairie) also can be a little overwhelming.  But to most of the men who come here, especially those who've lived elsewhere on the oil fields, the accommodation is just fine.
A worker really doesn't need much more than a place to lay his head, though, since the long hours of hard work leave a man without time or energy for much else.  But the money is good.  Very good.   The article highlights one worker who is making six figures, and reports:
He figures that, with more experience and plenty of overtime, he'll take home $4,000 to $5,000 a week.
As someone who has been out of work for too long, I admit I am tempted to look into a job in the North Dakota oil fields.  There is a modern oil rush there, and men from a variety of backgrounds are finding work.  Could there be work there for me, a man with no skills in that line of work?  And if there is unskilled work there, does it pay well enough to justify staying three states away from home?  I don't know, but I'd like to find out.  My landlord, too, is out of work.  He has an engineering degree, and has had to take temporary jobs here and there.  Right now he's got a short term job in the western part of Wisconsin, mining the earth for sand, which gets shipped down to Texas to aid the oil drilling there.  There does seem to be manufacturing jobs in remote places.  I hear that next year iron ore mining might open up in northern Wisconsin.  Those jobs are said to be in the neighborhood of $60,000/year.  Again, it's probably just a dream that I could get into something like that. But I'll look into anything at this point.  Who knows? Maybe my future is with the taconite in northern Wisconsin, or the oil in North Dakota.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Neo-Nazis and Anti-Neo-Nazis in Milwaukee

While I was going about my business yesterday in what some consider the "bad" or "dangerous" part of Milwaukee, it seems that there was a Neo-Nazis demonstration and a simultaneous protest against this group, which all took place in West Allis.  There does not seem to have been any major violence, however, on either side.  Five people were arrested; the West Allis Police, with help from the Milwaukee Police Department and the FBI, did a good job of making sure it was safe for everyone there. 

The demonstration was organized by the National Socialist Movement, of which I know very little.  I will share two thoughts, just based on my immediate impressions.  1. They seem to have very snappy uniforms, for an organization that does not admit homosexuals.
"Party Membership is open to non-Semitic heterosexuals' of European Descent. If you really care for your heritage and for the future of your family, race and nation, fill out a Membership Application today."

2. Those crosses on their armbands remind me of the seminary (of course I am referring to the shape of those old four-in-one study carrels at Walther Library).

But seriously, what struck me, when I watched clips of some of the speakers on the news, was just how surreal it is to hear these white supremacist statements coming from people who actually seem to mean it.  Really, they look like a caricature of themselves. 

Each race in modern America should have as its collective prayer, "God save us from our enemies, and from our friends."

a great show at Linnemans

I heard a few weeks ago that Lil Rev and Jim Liban were going to be playing together at Linnemans this weekend, but I did not have high hopes of being able to make that show.  I'm still quite unemployed; times are tough.  Late this past week, however, I fell into just enough cash to make the cover charge with enough left over to get a drink.  So I dropped in there last night (Linnemans is a great little place, right in Riverwest, just a few blocks from my apartment), and my brother, and our friend Chris, met me there.  We were in for a real treat.  Anyone who has seen Lil Rev knows what a great musician and showman he is.  A Lil Rev show is always a rewarding experience.  Jim Liban is a living legend, a true bluesman.  He also could hold the stage on his own.  And they were joined by another great musician, Steve Cohen, whose blues voice, guitar work, and harmonica I'd love to hear again.  The three of them, for about four hours, took turns picking what they would play. 

It was a great night for the blues, a truly outstanding show.  I must say that one of the things that made it so special was that, beyond the great music, there was a real engagement with the crowd.  I could envision a great musician playing a whole set without ever interacting with the crowd.  (In fact, I saw Bob Dylan do this once at Summerfest.)  Not so with these three; they were all very engaging; Rev, though, seems to go the extra mile.  His banter, his getting the crowd to sing certain parts, his humor, it all elevated the collective mood in the room.  He often tells a story before playing a song, about its writer, or about his own experience, or whatever. 

In fact, one of my favorite moments of the night was when they played Lil Rev's own bluesy version of "Saint James Infirmary", and Rev introduced it by talking about the great music scene in New Orleans. He said that there is a certain club in New Orleans (I don't recall the name of the place) where you will find a sign that actually gives a price for requesting certain songs. "Saint James Infirmary" is one of them. My brother had his fancy phone with him, and took a few seconds of video during this song:


I don't think I have ever heard two harmonicas at one time.  Last night that happened quite a few times.  All three are great harmonica players.  In fact, for one song, all three were on harmonica. 

Especially meaningful for me was when Lil Rev took a few minutes to talk about his greatest personal harmonica influence, my late pastor, Stephen Wiest.  All in all, it was a splendid night.  I got out of there at about half past midnight, which of course I shouldn't do on the night before the Lord's Day, but hey, maybe tonight or tomorrow I will catch up on sleep.  Below are two pictures that my brother took.  The guy on your right is Jim Liban.  The one on your left is Steve Cohen.  The one with the hat is Lil Rev.

quotable Maher (Terry, that is; not Bill)

What's that you say?  You want another juicy quote from Dr. Terry Maher?  Okay, just for you.

"Sometimes the best constructio on something is that it is a pile of crap."

Saturday, September 3, 2011

yet another contrarian & judgemental post

Saint Gregory the Great had the nerve to die during the Lenten fast (12 March, 604).  For centuries and centuries, consequently, the Church had the misfortune of being stuck with Gregory's feast taking place in Lent, since for almost fourteen hundred years there was no one smart enough to figure out a solution to this travesty.  It really was annoying how Gregory's Day kept ruining our Lenten observances.  Thank God that finally Annibale Bugnini and his liturgical experts came along to set things straight.  The obvious solution, it turns out, is to decide that it's all the same if you just pick some other occasion for the date of a saint's feast.  How about his birth?  Maybe his first Communion.  Maybe the day he lost his first tooth.  In this case, 3 September presented itself, since that is the date, in 590, on which Gregory was consecrated Bishop of Rome. 

In case you couldn't tell, the paragraph above is written with not a little sarcasm.  One of the traits of a traditionalist is the notion that the dating of a feast is not a problem to be fixed, not a situation to be improved, not a thing to be reinvented.  I do understand that a saint's death was not in every case the occasion for his feast.  But that is the general pattern.  A very beautiful and meaningful pattern, by the way.  These feasts remind us that the saints, too, are flesh and blood; they too had to suffer certain consequences of sin and a fallen world.  In short, they followed Christ.  Even their death is in Him.  Likewise, all of us who are baptized into Christ's death will walk through that dark door of death, and find on the other side the heavenly universe of eternal life with God.  In Christ, ours too will be bona mors, a happy death.

So I observe Gregory's feast on its traditional date, the 12th of March.  Let me assure the reader, however, that I am not just any traditionalist, but a Lutheran one.  In other words, I won't be celebrating Pius X's feast today either. 

One more thought on Gregory for now.  For the record, I have no gastric uneasiness about the word "pope."  It is an important and a valid and historical term.  In a certain sense, indeed, Gregory was a pope.  On the other hand, any fair treatment of Gregory would have to show that he was, as Luther pointed out, a true bishop, in some ways, the last of the true bishops of Rome, more than a pope in the later sense of the term.  Gregory had no pretensions of papal power as later realized by his successors.  Therefore, for example, I would advise against portraying Gregory in the triple tiara, which wasn't even used until the fourteenth century, when rival popes asserted competing claims over which pope was the one who really had power over "every living creature" (as it says in the bull Unam Sanctam).  Gregory preferred to be known as servus servorum Dei, and is thus best honored by us.

Time Lapse: Milwaukee Art Museum - Calatrava - Burke Brise Soleil - HD

Saint Stephen of Hungary

As much as I love and admire Hannah, the saintly mother of the Prophet Samuel, I prefer to recognize 2 September as the feast of Saint Stephen, King of Hungary. 

Saint Stephen, a man of the late tenth and early eleventh centuries, brought the Christian faith to his native Hungary.  He was Grand Prince of the Hungarians until he was made the first King of Hungary in 1000.  From then until his death in 1038 he poured his energy into the establishment of the Church in his country, founding and funding bishoprics, churches, and monasteries.  He hoped for his son, Emeric, to succeed him as king, but Emeric's life was cut short.  He died in a hunting accident, and Stephen's words of mourning for his son reveal a devout faith and knowledge of the scriptures:
By God's secret decision death took him, so that wickedness would not change his soul and false imaginations would not deceive his mind, as the Book of Wisdom teaches about early death.
Stephen fell asleep in Christ on the Feast of Mary's own dormition in Christ, 15 August, 1038.  His canonization and the transferal of his relics took place on 20 August, 1083.  For this reason 20 August was his longstanding feast day, which in the seventeenth century was moved to 2 September, to honor the Christian victory over the Ottoman Turk in Budapest.  The 20 August feast, however, remained a national celebration in Hungary, a feast which was co opted and perverted by the Communists during the Cold War.

Thank God for the way He advanced His Church by the devout lives of men such as Stephen of Hungary.  Christians of Hungarian heritage, and of the whole Church, owe a great deal to this Christian of ten centuries ago.  Let me just add one thought to this brief reflection.  Stephen was a great Christian influence on his country, yet that was only possible because his mother, Adelaide of Poland, was a devout Christian, and in Christ influenced both her husband (who was a pagan) and her son.  As with Saint Augustine, it was the mother whose faith in Christ planted the seed which came to full flower only after her earthly life had ended.

Friday, September 2, 2011

la fabbrica di San Pietro as life lesson

The building of Saint Peter's Basilica was a far longer and more complex project than the modern observer tends to appreciate.  It took two centuries, and the reigns of thirty popes, from Nicholas V to Alexander VII, to complete.  There were many intrigues along the way, many ups and downs; it was an epic filled with disasters, failures, terribly mixed motives, and also great examples of genius and true art.  If it could be said of ancient Imperial Rome, Roma die uno non aedificata est, then Renaissance Rome, with Saint Peter's as its crowning glory, was likewise much more than an overnight phenomenon.  From the point of view of the middle of the project it looked for a long time like a hopeless endeavor, one that had no apparent end on the horizon.  In fact, the very phrase la fabbrica di San Pietro took on the idiomatic meaning of a project that has no end in sight.

My point, besides the fact that I think this is interesting history in itself, is that I think the building of Saint Peter's is analogous in many ways to life in general.  God knows what is planned for your life, and for mine.  He knows what will be accomplished, what will be the final result.  He sees the beauty and genius of it from His perspective.  We see the raw material; He knows that in and through it all He is bringing about something great. 

The Lord rarely calls us to see our own success.  He does call us to see with the eyes of faith that He is succeeding at doing His will in our life, and to trust that it all works together for good, a truly great good.  He has our life in His gracious and almighty hand, and sees that what He has done is good.  He beholds it, and sees that it is very good.  For we are called according to His purpose.

All manner of sin was involved in the building of Saint Peter's, and yet that is only a type of the great sinfulness of our own lives.  Out of the building of Saint Peter's came a work of monumental beauty; how much more so is the beauty of one human life in Christ. 

I encourage you to consider your own struggles in this light.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

a good sermon on Matthew 16

Last Sunday I heard Fr. Kenneth W. Wieting preach one of the best sermons I've heard in a while.  I notice the text of the sermon is now posted at the Luther Memorial Chapel web site, so I thought I'd link and promote it here. 

It is one of those sermons that lets the cross shine through in all of its condemning power, and in all of its joyous comfort.  I'd call it a theology of the cross sermon, one which makes me think that Dr. Wieting has been meditating on Luther's Heidelberg Disputation.

Thank God that there is preaching in His Church which condemns and edifies so beautifully.

till it happens to you - corinne bailey rae

Phyllis Gaba

My mother, Phyllis Gaba, was born on this day in 1935.  So today she would be 76, except that the Lord took her to Himself in 1993.  He thus ended her struggle with cancer, rescuing her from her intense suffering. 

In the final analysis, perhaps the most pertinent facet of her life is that she gave us everything, since in and through her poor life she gave us Christ. The devil, the world, and my mother's own flesh attacked her in manifold ways. Through the rear view of several years, after so many miles down the road, I can begin to appreciate the fact that her physical suffering, and death, was ultimately a small and hollow victory for the devil. Painful though it was for all of us, with the eyes of faith we can look through that suffering, and see that though she was indeed very poor in spirit, in and through that poverty, she was truly blessed, for she possessed the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5), which is to say that she belongs to Christ. Christ, the Man of Sorrows, the poor man par excellence, the one who is acquainted with grief, He was with her the whole time. He, and His victory over sin and the devil, was in her, and she in Him. Christ, her Shepherd, is nigh at hand, and has given her everlasting rest (II Esdras 2).