Igitur non dormiamus sicut ceteri.

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Coffee Legends


Over at Catholic Exchange, Sam Guzman of The Catholic Gentleman discusses a very interesting legend about Pope Clement VIII blessing coffee and assuring its popularity for all posterity in the West. I am unsure if it is true, but thank God for it.

Really, though, I just wanted to post this image.

Now, the story of how coffee came to the west is even more interesting for me. For, you see, it is from the spoils of war and the lifting of a great siege.

The city of Vienna had resisted a massive Ottoman army in 1683 until Jan III Sobieski of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth brought relief and routed Kara Mustaph’s massive force. The Ottoman army fled so quickly that they left behind many great spoils, including bags of coffee, a substance that was known to some parts of Christendom but quite new to Europe.

Vienna, Europe, and the World owe a great debt of gratitude to one particular man,  Franz George Kolschitzky. According to most reliable sources, Kolschitzky was a well-traveled and learned man who knew the value of the precious, dark commodity. He is credited with teaching brewing techniques to the Viennese. He opened the first of what would be numerous coffee houses in Vienna and was honored with accolades and even a statue. You can read more about him and the fallout of these spoils here.

Of course, Vienna’s coffee houses quickly became meeting spaces for some of the most brilliant of minds. If we are to believe some modern scholarship (ahem) we can credit/blame these places of the sacred brew for psychoanalysis, Marxism, and perhaps a few modern wars.

Ah, let’s not think of this and let’s instead get one of my readers to send me a few pounds of Ozo.

Franz George Kolschitzky, a patron saint of Catholic Coffee Drinkers

Three Unexpected Films for Lent


K. V. Turley over at Crisis Magazine has a fantastic overview of the newly re-released film Roma, Città Aperta. Director Roberto Rossellini filmed his masterpiece in Rome a mere six months after the Nazi’s withdrew from the city and the effects of the war provided the harrowing backdrop. This particular movie introduced the world to Italian neorealism when directors used the streets and everyday citizens of the Eternal City as their studio, giving the genre its renowned grittiness and realistic feel.

As a film junkie, I was pleased that Crisis would cover what is arguably one of the finest movies to highlight the struggles of faith in the face of great persecution. Read Turley’s overview and then find the film on Hulu Plus or Netflix. It is worth your time.

As we are in the season of Lent, I tried to think of other great pieces of cinematic brilliance which lend themselves to contemplation and, one hopes, a touch of hope for redemption. Obviously, I could mention The Passion of the ChristJesus of Nazareth, and a host of other biblical and religious flicks. However, let’s look at two more unexpected classics that will move and delight your senses while also setting your mind on the acts of Christ, who brought the world out of darkness. Because, hey, you need a good excuse to watch a fantastic film.

Nota Bene: These films are not child appropriate. I assume you’ll use all your discretion and not subject your children to the existential pain of great cinema too early.

La Dolce Vita

Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (The Sweet Life) is a film that gave the world an iconic phrase that few realise is abounding in irony. Oh yes, the characters are of the Italian capital’s social elite who enjoy a very fine life of wealth, celebrity, and corporeal pleasures up and down the posh Via Veneto. The imagery is so iconic I had trouble envisioning Rome without the black ties and sunglasses. It is only when one watches the film with an attentive eye that they see the irony of calling this The Sweet Life.

Marcello is the journalist who covers much of these debaucherous affairs for a sensationalist newspaper, often seen with his paparazzi while he cavorts with and charms the wealthy and glitterati of Rome. During the course of seven nights the depravity unfolds as if the deadly sins were each taking a claim to Rome’s famous hills.

While it may look attractive, due to the brilliant cinematography and the lushness of Rome’s physical beauty, Marcello’s life is revealed to be an allegorical tale of a man without a center who is aimless in his ambitions. He has little belief in anything outside of his ever changing passions and thus even his high life is unattractive to him and, eventually, to the audience.

This is a fine movie to reflect on how our ambitions and desire for wealth will bring us little happiness if we don’t ground them in something. The beauty of Rome and its art and architecture is often confronted with the monstrous, the lame, and the downtrodden; a human drama visually acted out like an old street pantomime.

Fellini was aware of religious symbolism, but was not a practicing Catholic and even had an anti-clerical streak in his imagination. Keep an eye out for what some have interpreted to be anti-Catholicism.

Ran

Akira Kurosawa is the master of the Samurai films and has inspired just about every action and epic movie trope that we see today. However, his eye for rich visual settings and powerful human tales have given humanity a rich treasure of cinematic art.

Kurosawa was 75 when he directed Ran, a fact that is hard to ignore in light of the fact that the film’s source and inspiration is none other than Shakespeare’s King Lear. Lear is that figure of the “foolish old man” who is powerful and wise in the ways of the world but quite ignorant of the wickedness of those around him. Like Lear, Ran tells the tale of of a powerful war lord, Hidetora, who abdicates his throne to divide his kingdom among his children but still hopes to keep the trappings of kingly power.

No doubt, you fine readers know what will occur. The whole of the kingdom descends into absolute chaos and Hidetora is finally reduced to desperation and reduced to absolute desperation and madness; even a desire to take his own life by ritual seppuku—a last act to save his fleeting honour that is still denied. Through the use of colours and a fog of gun smoke, we see all order disappear into a nihilistic world where even the faintest glimmer of hope is smashed against the rocks.

This film is not at all shot with a Christian perspective in mind, but rather has a nihilistic view of the world after the horrors of the last century. I had read that Kurosawa had made this as a reflection of the “death of god.” Like King Lear, where so much of the drama is centered around the word “Nothing”, the action of the film is tending towards an apocalypse where little light remains.

Despite all that, Ran is a great image of what happens in a world without hope. The apocalypse witnessed by St. John speaks of hope for God’s children, but if one is lacking in such hope then surely the end is going to rip apart our previous foundations. In the end, all the power and wealth of a kingdom were undone by a single act of poor judgement. As we draw close to the end Lent, I think this film shows the desperation all were in before the Resurrection of Christ. I would not call this movie a good one to base your life on, but rather the characters serve as a warning for what awaits those who put their trust in the treasures of this life.

With that, may your Lent be a contemplative one in every little thing you do.

nota bene: The image is courtesy of Myrabella via Wikimedia Commons. This piece has been cross-posted on  the Ink Desk of the Saint Austin Review

On Procrastination


What kind of man starts redesigning and touching up his blog in 2011 and doesn’t get around to finishing it until 2014? The same dude who refuses to let go of a seven-year old neglected blog because it has too many memories for him and he spent too long coming up with the name. Actually, that last part is a lie; I came up with the name because I was pursuing my aspiration to be a Catholic blogger and I happened to be in a coffee shop where I was normally reading some philosopher or a trash novel.

So, here we are again, dear readers. The redesign is finished, the info has been updated, and we are back into the blogging world.

I was going to close this down, but I am a tad stubborn. If you are curious where I’ve been, I have been writing and editing for Catholic Exchange, a position I took in September, while working as a labourer in the vineyard at Saint Austin Review where I serve as a blog editor.  You will most likely see the bulk of my writing there but here we’ll have the more interesting stuff we can’t submit to every other Catholic site or that I’m working through. Think of this as a collection of unfinished thoughts by an over-caffeinated writer.

Finally, this is how I wish to be contacted. I’m available for speaking engagements and any writing opportunities you may have. I’m also available to advise on your social media and marketing strategies for your ministry. Perhaps your a new writer and want to feel superior to the editor that gave you advice and thus you found me. However, even after your snickering at the mistakes you’ll find on this site, I’m also available for you.

My many cheers, good reader, and I will look forward to our many chats.

My Boston–or, how to find your home


Thanks to Rod Dreher, there have been several discussions about finding and making a community lately; a theme that resonates a lot when the city I’ve come to love and reluctantly called home is attacked. I don’t know that I ever wanted to admit my love of this hard region, with the constant winters, the people and their famously laconic social skills, and the lack of real mountains. However, reading Dreher’s work and reflecting on how much New England has adopted me has certainly been a time of reflection and thus it’s overdue for some praise to my community.

Boston's Old North Church

Boston has a strange draw for us Lichens boys. I can recall being eight-years-old and being moved to tears that my oldest brother decided to leave Oregon for Boston. “Boston,” I thought, “Where is that and why would he want to leave?” Bob had just moved back in with the family and now needed a change; he needed to get as far away from Oregon’s spirit and geography as he could, and New England is as much a foreign nation to a kid from Cascadia as much as any other place. It seemed so weird to me, but I ended up following in his footsteps a good fourteen years later and would return to this region after my departure from grad school. Like Bob, I too needed to get out of Oregon but I never imagine that I’d feel the same affection that he did for this place.

My first impression of Boston was that it is an old city, carved by Puritans in a hostile place and refined by the toughest people I’ve ever encountered. New Englanders can come off as rude, with a huge chip on their shoulder. It can be mistaken as rudeness, but it is only their odd way of loving. They protect their hamlets, towns, neighborhoods, and cities much like the hero of The Napoleon of  Notting Hill. A boy growing up in East Boston or Bow, NH is likely to see their simple land as citadel worth protecting and loving. In fact, these last few days of carnage have reminded me that New England can teach the whole nations one simple truth: that a place is loved not because it is great but that its greatness is but a reflection of the love the people have poured out on it.

I may have been initially put off by the people, but I truly do love this region. Her old forests, colonial towns, and ages of folklore produce stories of ghosts, romance, and adventure and very often these same stories happen in the same few square miles. If you go to one town of a few hundred people you can plop down in a pub and feel the many ages of hopes and dreams that were poured out for generations even if not a single person will engage you in small talk. This is, after all, the soil which was tilled by the Sons of Liberty that helped plant the seeds for our many great poets and novelists.

“There are two ways of getting home,” Chesterton wrote, “and one of them is to stay there. The other is to walk round the whole world till we come back to the same place.” Chesterton was talking about seeing the familiar things made new, as if you found a new joy and adventure by gazing at the same hill you’ve walked one thousand times before. As I look at the videos of the Marathon Bombings I see the unspeakable horror of what a coward will do to maim and harm other but I also see the much overlooked simple kindness of people running back to offer aid and help to their fallen friends. Even in a place renowned for its less-than-friendly demeanor  there is still enough good in people that they will help when all common sense would say to run.

Boston and all of New England have so much beauty but it takes a second look before one can see it again. Here is my hope that I don’t forget the joys that this adopted land of mine teaches me.

Some Music For Labour Day


I don’t know that it’s entirely fitting, but I couldn’t think what to write that wasn’t already better said by Dorothy Day or a Pope. So, here’s a song. Cheers.

How Borders Taught Me To Move Forward


I’ve been working since I was sixteen and thus I am no stranger to job hunting. This practice has made me usually optimistic when changing career paths and I always manage to find a way to make myself an invaluable employee, no matter how many of my resumes will be rejected. Now, as you’ve no doubt read before, my reader, I am in a precarious situation shared by millions where my past successes aren’t exactly indicative of future greatness. Looking back on my previous jobs, perhaps stability was not always my calling.

Harper Library, via Justin Kern / The Golden Sieve

When I first entered the working world it was largely in restaurants, working among the salt-of-the earth that is the back kitchen, an experience I wouldn’t trade. Of course, my affection for books eventually led me to believe that a bookstore was an ideal place for employment–proof that going to grad school wasn’t my first decision led by my heart. I was initially turned down over and over again but my persistence finally led me to landing a job in a Presbyterian-run Christian book shop and even doing data entry for a great intellectual bookstore. When the Presbyterian store went out of buisness, I found a job with Waldenbooks and finally Borders. As usual, I was always praised for my interaction with customers and my odd cherriness when working the graveyard stocking shift.

At Borders I was sometimes arriving at 4am to start shelving the books and the dreaded Hobby/Games section. That upbeat attitude I talked about was my reaction to having a job I really enjoyed and my general unfamiliarity with the early morning hours. However, it was really helping people with book recommendations that I loved in each book shop I worked in. Every book was a chance to change someone’s life or at least see to it that they had a great time with a book. My crowning achievement was helping a young girl who was looking into religion and being able to send her home with Augustine, Chesterton and Anthony Flew. It was also at these stores that more and more philosophy and religion titles claimed a spot on my bookshelf.

However, Borders soon let me go due to one of Oregon’s many economic lulls and I worked part time at Waldenbooks in conjunction with several other positions until I decided to go back to college. Now, with them out of business, I am trying to understand how a giant in the industry is gone and one of several buildings I worked in is soon to be empty. This marks several of my former employers who are no longer operating, three of them bookstores. Along with so much that is unknown in my life, employment shouldn’t be such a new one.

The economy is the prime example of instability, as is perception of a college education and even our political model. Today I am reading emails and facebook status updates of my friends who are enduring Hurricane Irene. As I found out in graduating from a liberal arts school, even a bastion of stability like a university or a liberal arts college can change locations or curriculum in what seems to be a split second. Perhaps there was never that much stability in my life anyways, but being able to only find temp jobs that pay worse than Borders sure makes the unknown that is the future that much scarier.

As I said in my last overly-personal post, the freedom that many gradate school quitters desire comes with that price of uncertainty. For the first time in over six years, I don’t know what I’m doing this Labour Day and I have nobody dictating what I will have to do for the next nine months. At once this is a feeling of liberation and oppression: I’m free to choose my road in life now, but I’m having to daily fight the paralysing fear that sometimes comes with that choice. I could find the job of my dreams and really start paying off my debts so I can truly explore the religious life or I could be working temp jobs for another few months. Heck, I could just randomly decide to move to Boston tomorrow and rejoin my friends and live in a city I have come to adore; but nothing is certain and that can make me stop altogether.

I should end this rambling missive, my reader, but there is one thing I have to say to all the googlers who find my website and might be deciding which path to choose. That one thing is that staying in what seems to be a stable life purely out of fear was a much worse feeling than any kind of anxiety I experience now. While in graduate school I was having to see counsellor once a week and I was, by the end of my time, on four different types of medicine that were aimed at alleviating my stressed-out mind. Where I am now is not where I want to be but I am finally able to be open to change or a new calling and I can read what I wish when I wish to. If your vocation is in the academy, then I commend you, but don’t stay or go to the ivory tower purely because of uncertainty. Being lost is about the best thing you can do with your twenties before the joyful responsibilities of family and real life come into play. Have a good time with it!

A Single Tree Monastery


From Byzantine Texas, comes this cool story:

(Atlas Obscura) – The One Wood Monastery seems tiny. It seems absolutely miniature, and fairly unimpressive until you realize it was constructed out of the wood from just one Oak tree.

in the early 16th century, a monk made an interesting discovery inside a hollowed oak while walking in the Romanian countryside. To his amazement, an icon of the Virgin Mary was carved into the interior. The icon spoke to the monk, telling him to raise a church using only the wood from the icon-emblazoned Oak tree.

This legend has obviously stirred controversy and claims of historical inaccuracy. Another version of the story has a shepherd finding the icon and acting accordingly. Even the icon itself has been victim to strict scrutiny as to its age and origin, with some claiming that it was a creation of Constantinople era Christian artists or 4th century Greek craftsman. Others are still more inclined to believe the religious legend of the monk.

Despite the holy origins of the church, it is in fact a recreation of the older building originally constructed. In the 17th century, a fire ravaged the church completely destroying the original Oak building and sparing the icon.

The legend persisted after the fire, and a monastery was built up around the area. Today, 50 nuns have dedicated their lives to the holy site. The icon is now housed in a stone church on the premises and is considered the most valuable of the monastery’s collections, which also include other icons and old books.

 

When I Agree With Krugman, You Know It’s Weird


Paul Krugman is undoubtedly an intelligent and perceptive man, but I always have a hard time agreeing with him. Part of that is that he’s a DNC supporter who has trouble blaming his own party for ills, but actually will when facts get too hard to face. Also, Dr. Krugman tends to write almost as if his Fiat grants him the right to make claims without backing things up and when something doesn’t work he can fall back into the Keynesian excuse, “We just didn’t spend enough money!” However, in this short column I find Krugman makes some great points and some fair challenges. I still don’t agree with everything he’s writing in this column, but it is worth a read.

If you were shocked by Friday’s job report, if you thought we were doing well and were taken aback by the bad news, you haven’t been paying attention. The fact is, the United States economy has been stuck in a rut for a year and a half

Yet a destructive passivity has overtaken our discourse. Turn on your TV and you’ll see some self-satisfied pundit declaring that nothing much can be done about the economy’s short-run problems (reminder: this “short run” is now in its fourth year), that we should focus on the long run instead.

Read the rest at the New York Times.

The Beauty of Your House: The Churches of Calabria (via Caelum Et Terra)


Daniel at Caelum Et Terra shares some gorgeous churches from Calabria, a traditional Byzantine enclave in Italy. Adding these places to my “things to see” list.

The Beauty of Your House: The Churches of Calabria Calabria is the "toe" of Italy's boot, the southernmost part of the peninsula. Greek-speaking until relatively recently, it still maintains much of its Byzantine heritage. … Read More

via Caelum Et Terra

R. R. Reno’s “Preferential Option for the Poor” (via On Journeying with those in Exile)


1. Introduction In Matthew 13.44-46, Jesus is recorded as describing the kingdom of heaven in this way: The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.  Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it. There are many people who ha … Read More

via On Journeying with those in Exile

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