A Modest Proposal: Don’t Elect Em, Buy Em

(They’re All for Sale, Anyway)

This ain’t politics, really. It’s economics.

Here’s a question.  Well, here’s a couple of questions.

What do you do with folks who live in places like this: places with people who jump at the chance for something to remind them of their “obligations”; who like Homeless Jesus statues in front of the churches in their rich neighborhoods to embarrass themselves and the high rollers and big spenders they live among when they come in their Caddies and Rollses and long dark Lincolns to be seen in church once or twice a year?  Homeless Jesus statues are even better than pictures of starving babies, or real bums on benches.  They never ask for money, or a meal.

These folks, they’ll feel “compunctive” for an hour or so, until they get back to the Club, The Bent Elbow  or The Green Albatross, for a few befores and a half dozen afters, and an hour or two with Big Jim Cornerstone, home from Upstate for the weekend talking over deals and the “help” they need; and maybe pushing an envelope across the table with a nod and a mention that help’s a two way street.  And, Jim nods and says, “I got your back in the Committee, Billy, my boy!” before he leaves.

Was that a stagger or a swagger on Jim going out the door to his car?

What do you do with a pol who goes on the payroll of a big deal company making drugs that have to be “regulated”, and picks up a trip or two from a company that wants to build a power line and needs to go to a nice resort in Arizona or some place to find out how the power line will impact her neighborhood back in Upper Michigan?  At $500.00 a night, plus the round trip up front with all the swells, and points.

What do you do when stuff like that happens…on both sides of the aisle?  Even in Philly, of all places; it being the home of brotherly love and all?

What do you do about an AG who finds out about all of this and then says there was nothing wrong?  Do you think the AG got a call from someone who said unprintable stuff and suddenly discovered that he’s an AG up a tree with no way down, alone in a desert with no water, in the middle of an ocean on a leaky boat without an oar?

No pol I suppose is ever going to feel bad about a thousand a month they get, regular, from XYZ MFG., you think?  They’ll never feel bad about their vote on XYZ’s plan to fast track the new factory they want to build between the VA Hospital and High School, because, well, that’ll bring 300 new jobs to town.

And, the runoff will add 300 tons of dirt a day to the Neversocruddy River.

You think a pol will ever say, you think that ANY pol has ever said, to themselves, “This ain’t really mine.  I only take it so’s I can stay in office and help the fools (oops, folks) who voted me in, and keep that jerk Bruntkowski from ruining the district and the state if he ever gets enough money to beat me.”  And then they stuff it in their pocket, or hand it to Tommy the Bag, and have another snort and light a cigar and smile and say, “Don’t worry. ”  Just like Big Jim from Upstate.

You think?

Here’s something to think about.  How about buying a few of our own?  I got an idea for a kind of Buyer’s Club.  I think this is real Poly Sci, not that other stuff that they charge you a couple of hundred “G’s” for in college, and you learn how to hold coats for real pols, and hand them stuff they never thought of sayin’ to say to the squares at the Town Meeting.

I’ll start small, someone from the School Board who’ll go for a Ham sandwich. But, he’ll be mine, and will say no to stupid stuff, of which there is a lot…like Common Core and uni-sex bathrooms…in schools all over the place.   I don’t care what he thinks.  As a matter of fact, if he’s a real pol, he don’t care what he thinks.  He may not even think at all; to want to think, or to be able to think.  I only need him to raise he hand at the right time and shut up the rest of the time.

You can’t convince me that Joe Biden thinks or even can think, or that guy from Indiana who was a Veep a couple of dozen years ago was able to think.  Reid can think?  Boehner?  Pelosi?  Gimme a break.  They’re owned, and they love it.   The difference between them and Tip O’Neill or LBJ is that they were sold, Tip and LBJ shopped themselves.

None of those pols in that Philly story think about anything except the next envelope, or the next free ride, and what stupid people like you and me who ain’t got any green to spread around have to put up with in the back of the bus, with our kids in a school with one bathroom for everyone next to a smelly factory.

So, I’m going shopping today for a pol who’ll be mine for twenty bucks.  I’ll put an add on E-bay.  We get 500,000 guys doing the same thing, and suddenly we got a “Movement”  I got a good name for it.  I’m gonna call it “Representative Democracy”  Because, what we got now ain’t.  If it ever was.

Unless of course you’re a Fortune 500 deal.

Happy Easter!

INSTEAD OF … WHY NOT TRY THIS?

I just finished reading a book. I recommend it to you, especially, to read during these forty days (not too many of which are left…) The nice fellow who wrote an introduction to the book said: “The thinkers examined in this book have all grown unbearably uncomfortable with the current metaphysical arrangements. Each reimagines the Judeo-Christian epic in global, transcultural, and macrohistorical terms and in the process refigures our relationship to God and our place in the cosmos.” (Goodness! One of the ways to know you are quoting from a brainy tome these days is to look at what your spell-checker doesn’t know.)

Father O’Sullivan, may he rest in peace, used to recommend me to the care and protection of Our Lady of Divine Discontent when as a young man I would sometimes sit with him and grumble about structures and strictures, position and privilege…and stupidity. He liked a letter I wrote which was published in my college newspaper; and smiled at me.

In that letter I had grumbled about buildings and busyness, rules and rites, walls and wished for no walls at all before finishing by writing: “I would have no church at all.”

Along with one of my teachers the long suffering priest said, “You are young, Peter.”

Now I know that without walls there is no way to have windows to open.  Or, to have windows to break.  Without walls what use is a portico?

Towards the very end of his book (proof that I read that far) the author writes about something he calls “ontological dissent”, and quotes some fellow who goes on a bit about “rules” of one kind or another which he he uses to argue that we should finally consent to only one rule: “the rule of the way of the world.”

Fine, I supposed.  “What is that?”

The author doesn’t say.  What he does say is this:  “The thinkers here would undoubtedly agree, but they would point out that there is another rule: the Rule of St. Benedict.  And that in the monastic life, we see a synthesis of distributist economics combined with a metahistorical critique.”  He could have saved the jawbreaker words and simply said “it’s common sense.)

My spellchecker needs a check-up.

Let me know if you would be interested in reading the book, and I will tell you its name.  There are no pictures.

On A Day Like Today

On a day like today with the snow falling like a thick cotton curtain,
and no wind at all to send snow like a frozen slap across the face of you,
to send snow in tall waves against the buildings, rattling windows, shaking fire escapes,
to send snow in white torrents down the roads, great white rapids down roads,
to send snow into the alleys, shooting down the alleys like water from a hydrant,
to send snow pouring over the rooftops in cascades of powder,

On a day like today every kid I knew on my block,
every kid home from school on the rare days of no school,
every kid would be out by now in the falling and the fallen snow at nine in the morning,
every kid dressed in the uniform of the day against snow and cold,
every kid in galoshes and gloves, and hat and coat,
every kid knee deep plowing a path through powder,
in a competition to be the first to plow a path through the powder
in a rush to be the first on a sleigh down a hill deep in powder,
in a contest to build the biggest, the fattest, the best snowman,
in a war with the kids on the next block inside their fort
making snow balls by the hundred, hiding behind cars, splatting
old ladies, old men, old dogs, passing cars, trolleys and trains,
every kid runny nosed, and red faced,  and wet from head to toe and freezing;
but not coming in from the snow falling like a curtain from the sky.

Every kid was out because Mom had sent us out,
out because Mom had been out when she was a kid,
out because all the others were out and it was no fun
staying home on a day like today with the snow
falling like a thick cotton curtain from the slate colored sky.

Today is a day like today on my block.
No kids are out doing what kids used to do in the snow
on my block when I was a kid, and the only thing I hear
is the snarl of snow throwers, and the only thing I see
except the men pushing them are the birds at my feeder,
the juncos from up north who winter in New Hampshire.

The Only Thing I See

The Only Thing I See

We’re Upstairs…

We’re upstairs the other day in the little room at the back of the house.  Just me and her.  We catch a show on the tube.  I can’t remember what the hell it is.  It doesn’t matter.

When it’s over she says she’s going downstairs to take care of some business and maybe we’ll catch another show in time.  Fine, I figure as I follow her down.  We’ll reassemble in a while.

I tell her I have a couple of things to do myself.  I say I have a wash to do.  I’m downstairs now saying this.  The clothes hamper is in our bedroom. The bedroom is directly above where I am saying this.  Upstairs.

She goes into the family room where I had left the vacuum cleaner a couple of hours earlier.  The day before I figured I would vacuum downstairs on this day, so I’d gotten the thing out of the closet early in the morning.

Her desk is there, and she sits at it to do…whatever.  I see the vacuum and remember what it is there for.

I turn around and leave, walk down the short hall to the stairs and begin to mount them.

Then I stop a few steps up.  I just stop.  And I think, or try to think, why am I climbing the stairs?  Oh, I think finally, I’m going upstairs to vacuum.  But then I think I can’t remember if the vacuum is upstairs, or still in the closet.  No, I remember, it is in the family room where I put it only a little while ago.

And, I turn to go and get it.

As I reach the bottom of the stairs and begin to walk down the little hall to the family room to get the vacuum I remember the wash I said I wanted to do.

I stop, turn and return to the stairs, climb them to our bedroom, get the hamper, take it to the basement and start the clothes washing.

I spend a lot more time on the stairs than I used to.

The floors got vacuumed after the wash was done.  We got together a bit later in the day and watched another show.

Of The Father’s Love Begotten: On the proper keeping of Christmas

We traveled to Coventry, Rhode Island, last week and spent several hours at the home of some lovely people whom we had never met before in the flesh.  One can do that, now, much more than was ever possible with the growth of that thing called “social media”.

We were invited to join them and as many of their friends as would show up after the first heavy snow of the year for an evening of singing carols and feasting in a manner one might read about in a novel by Dickens, or Trollope, or Austen.  Everyone from children to folks almost my advanced age joined in, and we sang for the better part of an hour carols old and new in several languages.  It was great fun for all, the most we’ve had for a while, wanting only a sleigh ride all the way home to make of it a true Currier and Ives evening.  They even served a steaming mug of mulled cider if such was your taste.

There was much calling out of numbers from the specially prepared booklet of carols; favorites were debated, voted on and voiced with enthusiasm and, especially the ones in Latin, German and Swedish, sometimes very amusing fracturing of pronunciation or momentary silence as a phrase sliding by under knit brows, around confused tongues, took place.  I sat next to a young fellow whose bass voice was a deep delight to hear rumbling under my old tenor.

My Grandmother Gallaher, from Ireland, used to say we should never arrive as guests at someone’s home with our two arms the same length, and we’ve tried to follow that advice.  Our hosts that night must have had advice of a similar kind from their Grandmothers.  As we left to go home our hostess presented us with homemade delicacies to enjoy in the weeks ahead.  Walking down her steps to our car with our arms more full than when we arrived I said a little prayer of thanks for a wonderful evening; among strangers really whose open hearts and home had been a near occasion of grace gladly accepted.

Why not more of that, I wondered, on the way home?

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Yesterday we went to work at the Mall for a few hours, doing what we get paid to do.  The work is simply that.  The people with whom we work and the customers make it what it is, though, and the thought occurs often it would be just as much fun to do it for nothing.  I call it My Very Important Post Retirement Career.  I work for Chick-fil-A.  All I do is stand in front of the counter and give passers- hurrying-by a little sample of the stuff we cook and sell there.  Well, that’s not all.  I smile at babies and little children, ask them if they’ve been good, or if their Mommies have before I give them all something.  I annoy teenagers, or ignore them with a hard look, and then tease them before they get a sample and a smile.  I joke with the guys and flirt with the ladies of a certain age from four to seventy.

And, I wish everyone a Merry Christmas.

Some people answer me with the same words.  Not many, but some.

While doing all of that (and it wasn’t really much) I sang some of the songs we’d  sung at that gathering.  I sang softly, and don’t think anyone else heard me as they rushed past in every direction; as the hum from the Food Court guests got louder and louder; as rock videos on the big screen TVs hung around it kept playing; as the sounds of “Christmas” music down the hall where the work of Christmas took place in deadly earnest added to the chaos of Christmas Coming; the modern Advent preparation…for what.  I even sang a line or two in German: Stille Nacht and Es Ist Ein Ros Entsprungen.  No, no one heard.  But I wondered what might be the result if they did hear?

Would they join in?  Would you?

At one point I walked across the Food Court to the rest rooms.  Entering the little foyer like space before the lavatories one could hear what  passes for Seasonal Music now that Christmas the Feast is all but gone.  Some fellow was shouting a kind of blues tune, repeating a line that went something like, “Santa Claus is coming tonight, yeah!”   Whatever needed doing could be done later I decided and executed a sharp about face.

As I was getting ready to leave work a little while after, some of the young people working there wondered if I would be back on Christmas Eve.  “Would you dress up as an elf?”  I’d have no objection to that was my answer, and thought about bringing along a booklet of carols to sing.  No German, though.

But, I’d rather take the day and spend it quietly at home after Mass.

In a couple of weeks when Christmas everywhere else is long gone and Summer has arrived in all the stores I will continue to wish the little ones and the big ones who pass by a Merry Christmas.  Then I may sing out.  Perhaps some will remember what I said, hear what I sang and wonder why; a small crack will have opened, then…maybe.

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I remember singing carols in school and at home when I was a kid.  Both Mom and Dad had lovely voices.  Those times, as well as the frantic scenes at the Mall yesterday went through my mind mingling with the sights and sounds of the evening “over the hills and through the woods” last week.  Two of them seem so right, so homely in the old sense of the word.

The other?

Alas, the other seems a poverty.  If I was a smarter fellow perhaps something would present itself to me to describe by analogy what I mean, but don’t you all know it anyway?  We have spilled out the wine of Christmas..and of most else, too..and replaced it with vinegar and gall.   And we have let ourselves be persuaded that it is better drink.  And we are wiser, happier to drink it.

This morning as we prayed the office we were offered a number of hymns to sing. One of them is an ancient meditation on the Birth of Christ: “Of The Father’s Love Begotten.”  We sang that, but all of then were very beautiful, moving, apt and joyful; though tinged with the truth of that Child’s reason for being here.

Is that why we have rejected Christ Mass; tossed the charity and love central to the feast and substituted a month of Black Fridays?

I wonder.

Here, for your thoughtful appreciation are some truly Christmas hymns, carols; my little homage to the feast and it’s true reason (no German):

That is the English version of Praetorius’ hymn

Here is Silent Night (Stille Nacht):

Now, rest in this:

The lyrics are listed in the remarks.  You may wish to read them as you listen.

Merry Christmas From The Ghetto!

Get Ready, ‘Cause Here I Come!

Down at the mall where my love and I work about once a week I walked through the doors to the food court on the day after Halloween a week and a little while ago.  Passing into the food court I heard playing in the background something from the 60’s.  It was a kind of Mo-Town recording of Frosty the Snowman; something like that, up-beat, smiley, guaranteed to put you in the mood…the mood to spend money.  That is after all the only reason to go to the mall.

It was the first day of November and Christmas was already here.  Or should I, out of respect, call it XMAS, and let it signify something entirely different than the old feast.  It is the last place, I suppose, outside of a few churches, where one will be able to remember the fact, and observe it after a fashion, that Christmas has once again rolled around.  The columns around the food court were decorated with colorfully lit wreaths.  Santa’s little perch in the middle of the mall where he will sit in state and dandle little kids on his knee for $25.00 a pop was already in business.  The Christmas Shop, in the space only a day before occupied by the Halloween Shop had garlands of phony pine needles, sparkling ornaments and yards of lights hanging where a scant 12 hours before hung goblins and mummies.  Walls now dripping with gay decoration only a day ago dripped with bloody horror for sale; another modern marketing sacrilege against an ancient and respectable remembrance, a time set aside to pray for our beloved dead.

The pace will accelerate, the fever will grow, the music will continue to batter the mind and ease the will into the right disposition, a mixture of frenzy and fear, frenzy to get and fear that it may not after all be able to be gotten, to satisfy the equal hunger in the heart of the recipient to receive; a hunger for the bright, the new, the perfectly engineered obsolescent machine, the momentarily stylish garment, the magically soon to be un-popular  film, game, cd; the breakable toy, the perfect gift; the one that cannot last.

Be not afraid.  Though it last what may seem an eternity of anxiety, frantic hurrying, grasping crowds, angry waiting, immense traffic jams, this season of worry and false cheer, the season of Xmas, it will end soon enough, sometime in the early afternoon of December 25th.  That is the time when the Community of Man, having feasted as few may have feasted in the million or so years of our presence here (except for the community meat frenzy around the occasional ten ton wooly mammoth, or the Neronic wallow in hummingbird tongues and other gustatory delights), gathered as one people before the Eye will enjoy The Games.  That is the climax of what used to be the celebration of the Birth of Jesus Christ, God and Man, in Bethlehem, in a manger, warmed by animals, sung by angels, adored by rough shepherds, held by His Virgin Mother Mary, watched over by His foster father Saint Joseph the peasant carpenter.

You will not have heard the name Jesus mentioned, or all the wonderful story of His birth retold in any mall, or sung in any song played there, in all the year; and especially not during this long season of the New Observation of the feast.  The primary desire is to keep one from thinking about all of that, about sacrifice, about Love, about salvation, about worship, about Beauty, Truth and Good.  You are meant to think about haste, about frenzy, about exhaustion, about anger, about excess of every kind.  That is the spirit of Xmas.

The first toy will break by 11:00am on Xmas morning.  When, the next day, you visit the Mall to bring back all that could not fit, was not wanted or was broken on opening the music will be a pleasant blend of “recent hits”, the Santa set will have been struck, the decorations gone, the wall bare, the Christmas store closed, its windows papered over.  Only business will be conducted as it should be, conducted with surgical efficiency and speed.

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Perhaps I should let that be what it is and stop.  But then..

Yesterday was the Feast of St. Albert the Great the Dominican philosopher, scientist, teacher of St. Thomas Aquinas.  He believed among other things that the world around us shone with the glory of God and part of the work of his life, his scientific explorations and discoveries, was in the service of demonstrating that belief, making it plain as day; the world is Good, and True, and Beautiful.  His mortal remains lie today in a humble crypt beneath St. Andrew’s Church in Cologne, Germany.  Not long ago my wife, Mariellen, and I were there.

P1020695

St. Andrew’s Church, Cologne, from the tower of Cologne Cathedral

It’s a lovely church just down the street from a magnificent structure, the Cathedral, built be people whose beliefs, if not as sophisticated or scientific as St. Albert’s, matched them.  You should make the pilgrimage, perhaps at Christmas time.  It will be unlike any Christmas you may have spent since you were a child yourself.

The Gospel yesterday told of Jesus’ conversation with the folks who want to know from Him when the world will end.  That short passage was one of the things that got me thinking about all the preparations now underway for Xmas across this wide land in malls and stores and in many homes and many minds; certainly on every TV channel, newspaper and radio station.  “How many of them are thinking when the world will end?” ran across my consciousness like a ticker tape.

He answered them this way: ““The coming of the Kingdom of God cannot be observed, and no one will announce, ‘Look, here it is,’ or, ‘There it is.’  For behold, the Kingdom of God is among you.”  Even at the mall.

But, He also said: “The days will come when you will long to see
one of the days of the Son of Man, but you will not see it.  There will be those who will say to you, ‘Look, there he is,’ or ‘Look, here he is.’
Do not go off, do not run in pursuit.  For just as lightning flashes
and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day.  But first he must suffer greatly and be rejected by this generation.”

I thought of the last sentence above while thinking of the Xmas celebrations now taking place across the country.

Yesterday I thumbed through the latest issue of that Journal of Mere Christianity, Touchstone which arrives regularly in my mail.  Prof. Anthony Esolen of Providence College in Rhode Island is a Senior Editor, there.  In a lead editorial he throws a bomb over the transom into the kind of place the world is becoming.  But, he’s got another article at the back of the book, something about a lovely hymn written by Charles Wesley, “Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending.”  Professor Esolen’s short article on that hymn served me perfectly as commentary on the yesterday’s Gospel.  He wrote, about the “light” descending, the Light of Christ: ” So in the dark night of Advent we await the coming of the true light that enlightens every man; yet we should remember that light is cool, refreshing waters for those who love the light, and like the glare of an enemy to those who hate it. (Emphasis added.)

He points out through the rest of the article, with quotations from the hymn “this stark ambivalence” in us so masterfully expressed in what he calls the “most majestic of our Advent hymns.”  Just a short excerpt should suffice as an example of what he means about the glare.

Every eye shall now behold Him
Robed in dreadful majesty;
Those who set at naught and sold Him,
Pierced and nailed Him to the tree,
Deeply wailing, deeply wailing, deeply wailing,
Shall the true Messiah see.

Every island, sea, and mountain,
Heav’n and earth, shall flee away;
All who hate Him must, confounded,
Hear the trump proclaim the day:
Come to judgment! Come to judgment! Come to judgment!
Come to judgment! Come away!

The Advent of the Malls, the long Xmas orgy, is designed precisely to prevent such things from entering the mind of people who really don’t want to think, and who believe the Little Tale of Bethlehem is sentimental foolishness.  Yet, they will sit on several days in the next few weeks and watch wrapped in sentimental foolishness, for the thirtieth time perhaps, The Grinch, Frosty the Snowman, and how many others; ignoring once more heaven’s smallest and heaven’s greatest gift.

Who designs such things as that?

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Perhaps you may wish to think about that time, you don’t know when…maybe in the middle of a song while at the mall?, when He will come with clouds descending:

Another version, sung more clearly:

PS: It strikes me a little in my funny bone to know that Providence College, of such a happy name, where Anthony Esolen, whom I think such a happy fellow, is a professor in a Dominican school which without fellows like St. Albert the Great, who was probably great company, would probably not exist.

Frostiana, Your Lines Don’t Seem to Be His Work

Some scholars say that this is one of Robert Frost’s last poems.  No scholar myself, I simply know that it cannot be from the textual evidence.  Can you see why Frost could not have written it?

The Edge of Winter

Windy Autumn brawls down my street
Kicking fallen leaves aside.
Frantically scuttering they compete
For any safe place to hide

This dance I think is good excuse
For me to wait until the Spring.
Leaf herding with split bamboo’s
No good at all for my old wings.

The brash youngster across the way’s
Gone and got himself a leaf blower
That stirs up a hurricane
Of leaves and needles.  A shower

Surrounds him slowly blowing
His way across the lawn.
I watch him working, knowing
While he works the law time worn:

The afternoon won’t have ended,
Day will not yet have gone
Gentle, but bright colors blended
Once more blanket his deep green lawn .