So, it’s a dirty secret of mine that I’m what some call a “radical Catholic,” by which those bloggers mean that I think a lot about economics, family, society, and the general human condition. I don’t write about all aspects because, well, I’m not an economist or a sociologist and I respect the great deal of time that goes into those disciplines before you can something that isn’t patently stupid.
Anyway, part of that interest is examining what it would be like for us to start making a local economy and growing food. I explore that in the latest podcast, that is with Ken and Cari Donaldson of Ghost Fawn Homestead.
I’ve been to the homestead a few times and Clan Donaldson has been the most of Christian hosts. And, yes, their six kids are very entertaining and love having strangers around. As a single guy, I love this touch of home. In many ways, I’ve come to call it my home in Connecticut’s quiet corner. There are animals, fields of barley, and six kids eager to show everything. I’m not sure that this situation is the ideal economic model, but for the family it seems perfect.
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.
On 14 June 1936 the world lost one of the most colourful and controversial writers of the modern era, and it is this man that I raise a glass to and say many thanks to Mr. G.K. Chesterton. It has never been a secret that I have great appreciation for the Beneficent Bomb, and I would go so far as to say that I owe him so much that I often wish he were alive so that I could in some way pay his debt. It is not just for his use of paradox, his exciting mysteries and thrillers, but it is the combination of his witty prose and larger-than-life attitude that I have been thankful for, but a combination of these things that have made him admired by authors such as Aidan Nichols, Slavoj Zizek (who actually quotes GKC more than any other non-Christian critic I know), Graham Greene, and C.S. Lewis. For all these things he is admired, but for me it is because he did what so few authors outside of the realm of mysticism were capable of doing: showing that innocence and joy were within reach without succumbing to ignorance.
Innocent, But Not Ignorant
Chesterton and many of his followers are often derided for a “Chestertonian Gusto” that can frankly be annoying to the more cynically-inclined like myself. Kafka is said to have remarked that Chesterton was so happy that one would think that he had found God, which is perhaps closest to the truth of the matter. There has been much written on the happiness exhibited by Chesterton and the almost controversial nature of his joy, but there is one thing that many writers seem to miss when analysing and scrutinizing how a man can be so happy at a time when so much seemed to be going wrong. The assumption that I have long suffered from and one that permeates almost all of society is that if one is innocent or has a feeling of joy then they are not paying attention. I believed this myself, and often still do during my ‘black dog days,’ but it is from this illusion that I will forever be thankful to Chesterton. In a way, he literally saved my life.
I can still remember on one bus ride from work in Boulder and reading my copy of Orthodoxy when a seed from Chesterton’s work was planted with the simple sentence, “I believe in Liberalism. But there was a rosy time of innocence when I believed in Liberals.” This was one of three times in my life where depression had actually made me into a monster most would never recognise; I had ceased believing in any form of spirituality and had come to suspect each and every person I encountered with a paranoia that I still find unbelievable. I had planned on suicide and had even composed a rather angry letter towards everyone I blamed. It is true that depression makes one act almost like the worst caricature of adolescence, and believe me it is embarrassing to think I am even capable of such behaviour. What Chesterton had planted was an idea that there was a goodness beyond the failures and inconsistencies of life, and in fact that there was great joy to be found in the very things we take for granted.
The world of Chesterton was always a search for a man with a golden key, a figure from his childhood toy theatre that opened a world of possibilities behind the most simple of doors to find something as exciting as a dragon or a piece of chalk. While it is easy to call him a childish optimist it cannot be understated that even Chesterton knew that blind belief in the perfection of the world always led to disappointment. Writing of these peculiar optimist, Chesterton states:
“If optimism means a general approval, it is certainly true that the more a man becomes an optimist the more he becomes a melancholy man. If he manages to praise everything, his praise will develop an alarming resemblance to a polite boredom. He will say that the marsh is as good as the garden; he will mean that the garden is as dull as the marsh.”
His view from the first sentence and through the many adventures confirmed in my mind for the first time that you might say that there are defects–what theologians call the stain of sin–throughout the whole of creation, but there is still an affirming goodness that we often forget about. The Chestertonian view found a goodness in the world that was rooted in the Christian belief that God created out of love, a love so great that God through Christ chose to become one with its creature. For someone who grew up in an Evangelical and liberal setting that imagined all suffering was just perception and could be defeated with prayer and positive thinking, Chesterton was an iconoclast who came to destroy the weak images and open the windows to a new world.
Chesterton believed that all people had the dignity of God in their character as it was imprinted in the order of creation; but this glory was expressed in the rest of the world that he often called a playground or a fairytale. Indeed, he probably looked to many as a mythological figure who had wandered into the real world and needed to be shaken back. However, this joy at life was not at all in ignorance. Chesterton was among the first to warn about Eugenics and the consequences that scientism could reap. Though he certainly spoke an anti-Jewish statement, he was also aware of Hitler and the dangerous ideology he represented while much of Europe remained ignorant, and even in his time he was debating issues that we now know are monstrous but in his own time were fashionable. This was a man who was in love with God and all of His creation, but that love did not mean he had to be delusional about it. When he affirmed the goodness of chalk, trees, his faith and his wife he also knew that this love would drive him to fight ardently while never forgetting why he started fighting. “The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.”
All of this, as I mentioned, was quite revolutionary for a young man who was in a rather great fit of despair. While I have read philosophers and theologians since that bus ride who have helped me in changing how I see the world, Chesterton still holds a great place with me for showing that such a vision was possible. I still have the black dog days and will always struggle with my own cross, but on that day I was able to walk back from the bus stop and look at the mountains with the single thought, “Perhaps it is good, but just has something missing.” Not profound, and certainly not a new idea, but it was something that probably has saved my life. For this alone, I agree with George Bernard Shaw when I say that the world is not thankful enough for G.K. Chesterton.
In honor of election day, to which Der Wolf and I share much of the same views, I offer a chant that sums up my feelings of this mid-term election.
“What do we want?”
“We don’t know!”
“When do we want it?”
Ok, Kaldi, the mythical goat farmer who introduced coffee to Sufi monks, is not a saint. However, I hold him in high regard for bringing us further proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy and it is thus I have always had a fondness for the ritual and tradition of Ethiopian coffee.
Ethiopia has a rich tradition of coffee and it is from there that God delivered his bean-sized grace throughout the world. Recently this tradition was celebrated at the Northwest African American Museum with the smells and bells to entice all the sense. Wish I could have been there, but do please read the report from the Seattle Times.
For all other folks in the Pacific Northwest, please do get a pound of Wandering Goat and send it on my way. Thank you kindly!
Proving that modern madness is truly stranger than fiction, Spam is enjoying an increase in sales as food inflation continues to soar at a steady 6.1 percent. While this may be taken as a sign of the times and a portent to the hard times we are about to face, I would like to offer hope that this current crisis of food prices might have many of us re-examine how we grow, buy, and distribute food.
I’ll admit that I am not an economist nor a farmer, but it has always been rather odd to me how the wealthiest and most agricultural nation in the world can have issues with hunger and the cost of food. While it was ridiculous of me to hope that the hops shortage–an issue very dear to my heart–would prompt a greater emphasis on local growth and home agriculture, it may just not be appropriate to visit such an issue. It may be a difficult road, but think of it this way: does anyone want to live in a nation of spam and crap beer? Stand in solidarity beer and food lovers.
Winter break affords me the rare luxury of surfing Gilbert Magazine’s backlogged articles and catch up on the many aspects of Chesterton’s thought being played out in the post-modern world. One article that caught my eyes was Roy F. Moore’s short piece that defended the ChesterBelloc idea of Distributism as being quite distinct from Marxist and other Socialistic ideologies.
In my experience with Distributism, the proponents of the system are often mistaken as liberals and labeled Utopians. This is unfortunate, for while I see that Distributism has some flaws, the Capital-Papists, who act as if the Free Market was an ex cathedra dogma, often become quite reactionary to anything that does not resemble the Anglo-American economy they’ve grown used to. The shame of this mindset is, of course, that in becoming so reactionary they have failed to see the flaws in a Free Market economy where the wealth of nations falls to the hands of a few and inhuman conditions grown more fierce on a daily basis. Chesterton was all too right when he called the world mad, even if some debate with his outline of sanity.
Many may remember my previous comments about Senator Brownback regarding his belief that governors don’t have enough experience to become president, and it appears that he is now out of the running while one former governor is still in. So much for senators just being better at things. I myself am not sure I like any of the candidates thus far-though the idea of President Colbert is mildly appealing-I am nonetheless unhappy to see another pro-life candidate drop out while Giuliani still has a chance of winning the nomination. As well, I have yet to hear one candidate discuss the idea of limiting government involvement or reducing the size of some of the ridiculous jobs set up by the current regime.
To say the least, it is a joy for me that during election year I am bombarded by school and cut off from my television, so much excitement would probably serve to give me an ulcer or two. God be with us, I raise my glass to the finest nation with a comical process!
Apparently, he’s so big that he wrote the book on orthodoxy! Well, that’s a bit of an overstatement that I’ll leave alone, but do check out Carl’s blog on the subject here.
The purposed $10 per stick cigar tax is set to be the best example of legislative puritans ruining the fun for the rest of us. For one, the bill forgets the fact that cigar smokers are not like cigarette smokers in that we don’t necessarily smoke them everyday and will simply quit buying them if the price jumps up 40%. The senate is hoping that such a ridiculous tax on fun will raise money for children’s health care, which it would if it weren’t for the fact that puritanical taxes rely on us to continue using the taboo substance. Even with cigarette taxes, most state governments will need the same number of smokers in 2017 as they have today in order to continue programs that heavily rely on smoking taxes. Given the anti-smoking climate that the puritans have created, it seems unlikely that they’ll have these numbers.
The other impact that many considering this tax forget is the impact on peoples of developing nations that manufacture and import cigars. The Chicago Tribune reports the impact it may have on Nicaragua, which last year exported 56 million cigars to America. The fear among Nicaraguans is that the loss of such a market may very well cause a massive loss in jobs. Such a scenario has been seen before, namely in the distilling and brewing industry of Ireland which took a massive hit during America’s prohibition. Maria Jose Morales, a Nicaraguan cigar maker, echoes a wish I share, “I wish we could bring those senators and congressmen down here to tell them that it’s nice to help the children of the United States, but look what you are doing to the people here.” The problem with the men of capitol hill is just that; when they get a crusade in their heads they blaze on and forget the global impact they might create from ridiculous legislation. In the end, tax gouging cigar smokers will not hurt the tobacco corporations people hate so much, but the farmers and manufacturers that politicians claim to love so much.