I never get much time to write, much less blog, but I keep trying to write as it is indeed my first love. This week, I was invited by my friend and fellow editor Brett Colasacco of Sightings asked me to write a response to the canonization of St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta. I focused on her experience of the dark night of the soul. You can read it here or click the image below.
Those who suffer from their own dark nights of the soul often feel as if they are doing something wrong—as if their faith were somehow weak because of these interior struggles. Mother Teresa, like her patrons St. Teresa of Avila and St. Thérèse of Lisieux, is an example to the countless souls who pursue a spiritual life of charity but are frustrated by feelings of doubt, loneliness, and depression. They now have a contemporary champion, someone who shows the way to a faithful selflessness, who could work for the good of others despite, or because of, her own struggles.
My latest for Catholic Exchange is a sort of goodbye and remembrance of Stratford Caldecott. Keep he and his family in your prayers.
Goodbye, Stratford, thank you for all the great conversations and good words of wisdom. Thank you for being a reflection of the love of Christ for so many throughout the world. Thank you for all the lessons, especially the lesson that Christ really wants to reveal Himself to us and that all we have to do is to open ourselves up to Him. Thank you for showing us that God really has united Himself with us to make all things new. Let us never forget.
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.
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 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.
Doing it once more, but hopefully for the last time. I’m packing up boxes, sorting out books, throwing stuff away, and looking to move out for one last adventure. I hate moving and everything that it entails. This, among all the reasons why I didn’t want to leave school, is the most salient excuse I had. I don’t know if it’s because I hate having to organize all my life into boxes or ask myself the uncomfortable questions such as, “Do I really need this old, moth-eaten sweater? Yeah it’s warm, but come on!” “Do I need to have a copy of Descartes in Latin? Do I even remember how to read Latin? Hell, did I ever learn Latin or just enough to satisfy the exam?” “Karl Barth? Sure, it will look great on my shelf, but there’s no way in hell I will ever have the time or patience to read Church Dogmatics.“
I no longer believe there are any strangers who read this blog, all the same I’ve been reluctant to talk about the fact that I have decided to leave academia. Not just because UChicago has rendered me exhausted, both emotionally and even physically, but because I just can’t ignore the stats and figures reported by MLA, AHA, and the facts plainly stated in articles such as Thomas Benton’s “The Big Lie About the ‘Life of the Mind,'” and even a report in The Economist or such great encouragement from Dr. Amanda Krauss and Mr. Rex at selloutyoursoul.com. Reading these reports, combined with my personal observations and conversations with current professors forced me to face the hard truth and ask the question, “If I am no longer having fun, and the chance of me getting a job are rather low, then why spend another four to six years preparing for a career that is unlikely?”
Ultimately, however, I had to look at what I wanted and what I was doing to achieve that desire. I am still discerning a vocation with the Dominicans, but as my diagnosed mental health difficulties keep becoming apparent I am no longer certain if it’s possible. If it is not to the religious life I am called then I still desire a family and, as most professors will tell you, it is almost impossible to start a family while in graduate school unless blessed with a very patient and supportive spouse. Even with such a great spouse, divorce rates are all too common among graduate students and professors. It really is no wonder that the University has been the traditional domain of consecrated celibates and confirmed bachelor dons.
Also, the demands of the academy require you to put everything second to your scholarship. This is why the most posh and cosmopolitan man in the world will end up in Kalamazoo or Eugene, OR instead of their natural New York/Boston habitat. This means that family is often put second and many academics are expected to delay having children until their 30’s and 40’s. While cultural norms tell us that thirty is the new twenty, biology still dictates when having children is optimal and when it becomes nearly impossible.
The Good News About Being A Quitter
All these family concerns are what finally made me want to quit grad school and move to Colorado. I want to be near the family I already have, which includes my ageing parents, my nephews, and my impossibly patient older brother and his wife. For the last six years I have had to live thousands of miles away from what little stability I have in life, and now it is time to try to get my roots and actually be from somewhere instead of just having another destination to travel back and forth to.
Ultimately, this freedom is the good news for all of us who have quit grad school and braved the uncertain job market. We will give up the chance for prestige and academic fame for the freedom to move where we want and to do what we wish. However, this freedom necessarily means a great deal of uncertainty, which is why many never leave the ivory tower even after years of working for $20k and no benefits. The reality is clear, but life outside of the hollowed halls of academia is a scary place, especially for someone in their mid-twenties with no job experience and a degree in a seemingly useless field like philosophy or English.
I’m moving to Colorado so I can be closer to family and the mountains I have missed so much while living in Chicago. Yes, I am scared shitless, but I’m also excited. For the first time in six years I have no clue where I will be in September; this is also the first time where I have a real choice where I will end up and what I will be doing with only the normal, quotidian circumstances dictating what I have to do with my days. I am unemployed, not at all certain of the future, and at the end of the day I’m ok with that because of the rewards of finally having the freedom to decide the course of my life.
How will I explain this decision? How do I explain to people why I have spent so many years writing and studying an obscure subject? At the end of the day, I don’t know a bloody thing, but nobody ever said I had to. Also, if I can make it through the great volumes of research and all the work it took to get where I am, I doubt that anything can be that daunting. We shall see, and you shall hear much more from me as I write this out. However, for all of you who might be reading this and about to go through the same experience and feelings, try to keep in mind the freedom you are purchasing in exchange for the small comforts of the academy.
Pray for me, my dear reader, and see if you can offer any advice. As always, I love feedback and would enjoy any observations or violent disagreements you might have.
The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention:
If zombies did start roaming the streets, CDC would conduct an investigation much like any other disease outbreak. CDC would provide technical assistance to cities, states, or international partners dealing with a zombie infestation. This assistance might include consultation, lab testing and analysis, patient management and care, tracking of contacts, and infection control (including isolation and quarantine).
Something tells me that The Walking Dead inspired this little post. However, I just have to ask when the University of Chicago and the Windy City’s new mayor will have a plan.
I know that I have either made it in the world or need to repent when I have to worry about the price of vintage pipe tobacco. I’m not saying I don’t want to try a thirty-year old tin and if a lovely reader happened to want to send me some then I would absolutely love it. However, to worry about such a thing seems about as natural to me as worrying about the price of that bottle of Dalmore 62 I’ve been having my eye on; that is, my reader, these are the problems I could only wish to have but to even think about it makes my inner Marxist want to set fire to the few luxury items I own in Red Night of Books and Booze.
However, I think even my most revolutionary reader will find the following link of interest. Mr. G. L. Pease writes at Pipes Magazine’s blog about the price of vintage pipe tobacco and how it has been going up faster than my stressful puffs of smoke. Noting that there are some tins of vintage English tobacco going for around $400 per tin (averaging to about $20 a bowl), Mr Pease goes on to defend the price and specialness of these tobaccos, even if some can’t afford such a luxury. In fact, he gets close to how I feel about this whole thing:
Most of us, I’m guessing, are not in the position to spend such astronomical prices for these rare and vintage tins, but for those who are so blessed, I say, “Bravo!” and can I be your friend?
One final note is that our connoisseur features an image of the Three Nuns blend, a tobacco I’ve wanted to get my hands on for some time. If you look very closely at this blogs banner, squint, and let your vision be guided by imagination then you’ll see a tin of Three Nuns on the desk. Though this was not the first I heard of the stuff, I was surprised to see that it was a favourite brand of C. S. Lewis, a discovery I made when photographing the great-man-Clive’s restored desk at The Kilns, Lewis’ home from 1930 until his death in 1963. The experience of seeing Mr. Lewis’ home was itself a great joy, but it turns out that the gentleman leading our tour (I believe his name was Kim, but I can’t recall) had smoked some Three Nuns and spoke at length about the shocking amount the Lewis brothers and Mrs. Moore smoked. When I asked him about the tin his simple response was,
“Awful.” The consensus seems to be that Three Nuns is either something you enjoy or something you detest, with reviews ranging from discussions of the great nicotine high to the comparisons of meat loaf and vinegar (perhaps an explanation for its popularity among our English cousins?). Still, I want to try it for the experience and to see if I might get that much closer to having Lewis’ writing ability, which is otherwise doubtful without a miracle.
Like many Christians who take up pipe smoking, it was largely in imitation of men like Lewis, Tolkien, and Chesterton and then later reinforced when the Iron Lady of the Inklings was also revealed to be a smoker. That spark that Lewis gave me as a child by planting Aslan firmly in my imagination is something that turned into a raging fire that burns brightest in my darker nights. The images I had of Christ growing up were either the Amerievangelical images of “Christ the Saviour/My Boyfriend” in every pop worship song or my grandmother’s scary icon of the Sacred Heart that to this day I swore the eyes would follow me across the room.
Thus it was Aslan that gave me the first images of power, majesty, grace, and all other paradoxical images that are associated with Christ, and it was this image of Christ that led me to the Catholic Church. With such a high influence, I become like every annoying Lewis fan who insists on reading him even to the exclusion of the Bible or Patristics and probably gives him much more credit than he deserves. At the same time, I can’t help but to feel that I owe it to him for challenging the assumptions I had growing up and planting the seeds that first made me want to be truly educated and then further showed how far I will always be from that. Yes, we American C. S. Lewis fans are truly the most annoying, but closer readings of his work should even that out especially after we realize how ill-read we are compared to him.
So perhaps my desire to smoke an outrageously priced tin of tobacco is like when I purchased first editions of his absolute greatest novel Til We Have Faces along with Broadcast Talks, and when I first began to spell thing with that extra “u” in words that looked wrong to most Americans. I do these things as hero worship and compared to what this particular hero was pointing towards it all seems about as strange as $400 smoke. All the same, count me in if any Windy City folks would like a new friend over drinks and said vintage.
UPDATE: Happy April Fool’s Day!
I love Sunday mass, but I have to admit that it is hard for me to be able to sit still for a length of time and not let my thoughts
wander. Long time readers of this blog will know that I bear the cross of ADHD and thus every service, no matter what the feast day, becomes either a) a period for reflection on the divine or b) a time to think about how Battlestar Galactica could have ended, how I need to do my laundry, the best episode of How I Met Your Mother, or what I’m going to smoke when I get home. A and B are mutually exclusive and thus cannot correspond in the same mind at the same time. However, some groups are trying to find a way for me to be more involved in the liturgy.
Puppets are the answer! While growing up as an evangelical I would look forward to the puppet show that happened every Easter. Always entertaining and always ridiculous, but oh so much better than Pastor’s three hour sermon about not getting caught up in the world. I was glad, then, when after years of the Mass and even sitting through the full Latin liturgy at S. Maria Maggiore in Rome, I found that the Catholic church was ecumenical and open to all. Even our felt and wooden friends need not be excluded from the Liturgy!
The Orthodox have used images since time immemorial and they even defended the use of ikons to the death during that unfortunate period. Even in the West we have been using statues and images and the Middle Ages showed that the Church could be a flourishing of the arts with the production of morality plays, liturgies written by influential composers from Helfta onwards, and not to mention the mosaics and statues. So, in that tradition we in the post Councilor Church stand to contribute our own cultural excellence in the form of puppet pagentry. See this video for the latest contribution by Catholics to the culture at large:
Now, some say that puppets are inappropriate for the Mass and that they do not inspire the needed reverence. I think the opposite, and in fact I believe that they inspire the necessary fear of God as described in the Book of Job. Tell me, dear reader, if
you could sit through the Mass and not be afraid with this swooping over you? Case made and the stick remains.
With today’s news of the earthquake in Japan and the tsunamis that are sweeping the Pacific, I’m not sure what mood I’m in for talking about the trifling things of the world. My own home state of Oregon got hit by waves and it looks like one man is dead as a result of the disaster in the home I remain in exile from. International news and the cable news cycle allows us to be in a place so that no disaster will go unnoticed and our sympathy’s almost always follow. The President of the United States has already pledged the U.S. military to provide aid and consultation to Japan and Oregon will receive help from FEMA; this is the only thing I can truly find amazing today.
In a few days there will be fund-raisers, missionaries of all stripes will go and offer help, and we will be asking the eternal questions of humanity and theodicy. I myself will be asking these questions in my own head while still needing to complete papers for finals, finish an incomplete from a previous class, and going about my business. Even in our daily business, though, we still care. This same technology that is such an occasion for sin can be used to focus our prayers and donate money to a good cause. Even the poser-luddite in me is in awe of how much can be done in such little time with the help of technology.
It is no secret that calamities can bring about best and worst of humanity. No doubt there will be stories of looting along with stories of heroism, and this earthquake will give another microcosm of humanity. While I wish no disasters on anyone and pray I never have to live through such a nightmare, I cannot help but to see the greatness of people when they are in the midst of calamities and choose to do good, help their neighbours, and generally act in a way that makes even the most cynical express amazement. That, it seems, is the most tremendous trifle I can find right now.
Though I usually love, love, love saying, “I told you so,” in my rather usual cynicism, this is one instance where I really wish I was wrong. Whenever I argue that ceding power to the hands of the few jeopardizes fundamental liberties in a way that can be spiritually and physically dangerous. I’m usually then told that my cynicism is just too damn awful and I really need to learn to trust people. Tell you, my dear utopian reader, when you can guarantee me that a right to euthanasia will not necessarily mean that doctors may decide not resuscitate me without informing my family of their rather grave decision, I’ll try try the trust route. However, given this current post at Secondhand Smoke, you can understand why I’m a little less trusting of experts who want to control my every decision.
UPDATE: Lest anyone think that anyone is over-reacting:
Last month, the Star reported on the case of Douglas DeGuerre, another Sunnybrook patient who requested full emergency care, which was changed by doctors without consultation, according to allegations filed in court by his daughter.
His daughter, Joy Wawrzyniak, says she pleaded with doctors to save her father’s life as he was in critical condition two years ago.
They stood back and refused as he suffered an arrest, she alleges