Where Have I Been?

For about the last week or so I’ve been in bed taking Percocet and listening to Gilbert and Sullivan.

I don’t know quite how this combination came to be, but last week, after coming home from gallbladder/hernia surgery, I took my meds, got in bed, and thought, out of the blue, “I’m going to listen to some Gilbert & Sullivan.”

And it wasn’t just a passing thought, either: it was more like “I NEED TO LISTEN TO HMS PINAFORE NOW OR I’M GONNA BURN THIS PLACE DOWN!!!1!”

The weird part is that I don’t listen to musicals, or opera, or Gilbert & Sullivan … ever. I have a sentient person’s knowledge of Pinafore and Pirates and The Mikado and I saw Topsy Turvey and that’s about it.

So, that was odd, and not among the listed side effects of either Percocet or abdominal surgery.

gilbert-and-sullivan-1378135665In the past week I’ve had a barnstorming tour of the whole G&S oeuvre, thanks to a combination of streaming music with multiple versions of each show, this incredibly deep Gilbert and Sullivan Archive, and a helpful discography to serve as a guide through the various performances. I prefer full dialog versions and am partial to the mid-century D’oyly Carte releases on Decca, but I supplement these with odd items like the Ohio Light Opera’s excellent rendering of Ruddigore and Oh sweet mercy what has happened to me? What else did they remove along with my gallbladder?!

Turns out the offending organ was really really bad and likely causing much of the problems I’ve been having the past few months. My surgeon–an army field surgeon with experience going back to the first Gulf War–didn’t seem prone to overstatement, so when he told me afterwards that it was a really rotten gallbladder, I was relieved to have it out of my body.

So, I hope to be back to bloggishness soon and put these last awful few months behind me. Those who follow me on Facebook and Twitter, thanks for your prayers.

One parting gift: Chesterton on Gilbert and Sullivan.

My Chickens Are Smarter Than Animal Rights Activists

It’s county fair season here the wild parts of America, which means farm animals, tractor pulls, goat races, games, fair food, rides, and good old American small town entertainment.

My wife and daughter are active in 4H, and they’re helping staff the poultry tent this week, as they do every year. My daughter wouldn’t miss one minute of it.

All of the animal tents are run by 4H, which is for kids 18 years old and under who love, raise, care for, and show their animals. Their function at the county fair is to teach. They expose adults and children to animals and help them understand them. Kids come from far away, and some of them have never seen a cow or a goat or a chicken up close. That connection to animals and the sources of food is important.

Every chicken in that poultry tent was hand-raised by a child, many of them since they were just eggs in an incubator. In fact, a number of new chicks are being hatched right now. These little fluffballs were born last night:

chicksIn short, 4H teaches and promotes care for and love of animals.

So imagine their surprise last night when their tent was invaded by chanting, obnoxious “animal rights” activists who harassed the children and guests, laid down to block the aisles, and generally made a nuisances of themselves. Our 4H leader saw one of them pulling out fake blood and stepped between the nutball and the children. The “blood” wound up hitting her. She’s still trying to get it off her phone.

My wife went for the police, because although people are allowed to protest, they’re not allowed to harass or assault. The first uniformed people she found were ASPCA officers, so you had the spectacle of fake animals right activists being chased off by real animal rights activists. The ASPCA does more for animals in a day than these pests or PETA will ever do. (And, to be fair, my wife was informed that the PETA protesters at the fair were professional and polite, which means this group was worse than PETA.)

The most fabulously hilarious part was what one of the loons was yelling: “How can you look these birds in the eye and steal their eggs?!

Do they even realize that a) a healthy chicken will lay an egg about every 24 hours, and b) these eggs are not fertilized since most people don’t keep roosters? What do they think a chicken with a sterile egg is going to do with it? It would rot, burst, stink, and make them sick if left alone.

I can only imagine what was going through their little bird brains (the chickens, not the protesters) while they witnessed this: “You idiots! We’re hand raised by loving children and fed on a diet of watermelon, mealworms, and hugs! Get the hell out of here before you ruin everything!” (And, no, the kids don’t kiss chickens because they’re not idiots.)

Without human intervention (coops, runs, fences), a chicken would be killed within 24 hours. Our area is full of chicken predators: opossums, raccoons, foxes, coyotes.

Do they protest the foxes, I wonder? No?

And I bet they would not care one bit that abortionists rip apart unborn children in order to sell their body parts. They care more about unfertilized eggs than fertile women or unborn children.

Look, the kind of person who does things like this fits a particular profile. They’re ignorant, self-involved, vain zealots whose actions say only one thing: “Pay attention to me! Pay attention to me!”

My chickens laugh at them.

rubyamused

 

 

Return to Blogging? I Think So!: A Bullet List of Random Thoughts and Pictures

Thanks for you messages and well wishes. My health’s improving, and I’m hoping to get back to work slowly.

What’s been happening since I’m gone? Did I miss anything important?

Good advice!

Good advice!

Let’s see, what’s been going on in my life for the past few weeks…

  • I was mostly vegetative on the couch or in bed for two solid weeks, watching a truly epic amount of Planet of the Apes, as in the entire franchise: movies, TV show, and cartoon. You know what? With the exception of Tim Burton’s movie, it all holds up amazingly well, and the TV show is far, far better than you might expect given its short life. Apes, Harryhausen, Universal Monsters, King Kong, Corman Poe movies, Hammer, and Doug McClure loomed large in my childhood. Star Wars was, relatively, a late-comer.
Jean Stapleton, Jean Simmons, Roddy McDowell, Alice Cooper

Jean Stapleton, Jean Simmons, Roddy McDowell, Alice Cooper

dcapes

didache

  • However, I wrote almost nothing. I just didn’t have any words.

avoid

  • I see that the Supreme Court reached into their collective buttholes and yanked out an imaginary Right to Gay Marriage. I can’t even pretend to be angry because it was always expected. This is what happens when a country is ruled not be sound reason or laws, but by All The Feels. This is the triumph of sentiment over sanity, and of moral relativism over reality. A person can no more “marry” someone of the same gender than he can marry a lamp. The doesn’t change because our Black Robed Overlords say it’s so.
He's not quite gay enough, apparently.

He’s not quite gay enough, apparently.

  • My dog turned one year old yesterday. Happy birthday Ivy!
My Mastiff-Chihuahua.

My Mastiff-Chihuahua.

  • I’ve been following Rod Dreher’s writing on the Benedict Option, which people continue to insist on misunderstanding as a “withdrawal to the hills” rather than as a building of intentional communities directed towards preserving and strengthening the faith. The idea, once explained this way, is so obvious and simple that only the most obtuse can continue to misunderstand it once it’s explained, but there’s no shortage of obtuseity. (It’s a word because I damn well say it is.)
St. Benedict

St. Benedict

  • My father’s day presents from the best family in the world.

2015-06-21 14.19.47

  • This is a book weight for keeping a book open while you’re doing research. It’s brilliant.

2015-06-21 16.59.44

  • The staggering OPM hack may not be the Digital Pearl Harbor some are claiming it is, but it’s at least the Digitial Invasion of Manchuria. I have been saying, and saying, and saying again that we are heading for a global cyber-war and we are not prepared and not taking it seriously. We will feel the pain of this, right down to the household level. America is not serious about computer security, and it will hurt us more than all the Muslim fundies in the world put together.

robots

  • St. Augustine’s finger is coming to Floridia. This makes me unbelievably happy. My religion is cooler than yours.
I like to imagine him making rude gestures with it.

I like to imagine him making rude gestures with it.

The Most Wicked Man in the Whole World

The Most Wicked Man in the Whole World

  • Did you know Samuel Beckett drove Andre the Giant to school because Andre couldn’t fit on the bus? True story.2015-07-08 11.06.38
  • Oh, what’s this? The pope is a Marxist! Because he scowled at an absurdly offensive and blasphemous hammer-and-sickle crucifix given to him by the little anti-clerical prick ruling Bolovia instead of dashing it to the ground and whizzing on it, because that’s what popes should do! Seriously, people: stop reading hysterical Catholic blogs and outrage-trolling social media. It’s bad for the soul.
Yeah, he looks thrilled.

Yeah, he looks thrilled.

  • Of course, there’s something grotesquely appropriate about the Lord being nailed to the symbol of communism, since so many hundreds of millions have suffered at the hands of leftist ideologies for so long. We are being crucified on a cross of progressive politics right at this very moment. We are being told to move to the back of the bus, bake the gay wedding cake, and STFU. I refuse. Now what are they gonna do? It’s their move.

rebellious

 

 

In the Midst of Life, We Are In Death

Today is two years since my father died. This is what I wrote then, July 10th, 2013. 

After a long final illness, my father finally passed away early this morning at the age of 90. Although he lived well and died at home, it was an emotional and physical rollercoaster at the end, and I was left trying to figure out the point of it all. Does it mean something, or is it just the final, cruel grinding down of a human life to ash without any hope or purpose?

I think it was the nurses who finally gave me my answer: not by word, but by deed.

My father was a strong man with a body broken–repeatedly–in service to others. Seventy-six years (!) as a church usher, 25 years as a volunteer fireman, 4 years  in the 8th/9th Air Force and the Army of Occupation in the European theater, many more years serving at his  church’s soup kitchen, and a lifetime of backbreaking construction work (one of the most dangerous and least-respected professions) to support a family. He lost the two things that were his own private pleasures–bowling and golf–following a construction accident in which he saved the life of a falling man, only to have his shoulders destroyed, leaving him in pain for the last 20+ years of his life.

His hands were rough and his fingers pointed in different directions from being crushed or broken so many times. He survived countless accidents, illnesses, and surgeries. When he was diagnosed with an aortic aneurysm at age 87, doctors discovered that his heart was so strong they recommended valve replacement surgery, from which he recovered quickly and completely. If not for the lung cancer, that heart would have kept him going past 100. (Yes, I know: “And other than that, Mrs. Lincoln…”)

The man was made of bailing wire and leather. In the end, this made things all the harder for him, because his body just would not stop functioning. “I’m ready to go,” he kept telling me, telling everyone. He was at peace, he couldn’t move, see, or hear well. He could barely eat. He was wasting away. He wasn’t in pain: the hospice and the morphine took care of that. But he couldn’t do anything but sit in his recliner. He couldn’t even see or hear the TV.

Last week, he stopped being able to do even that.I was sleeping in his room when he awoke needing to go the bathroom. I helped him there and we were on the way back when he couldn’t go any further. I was able to get him to the hospital bed that had been placed in his room “just in case,” and which he insisted he would never use. That was where he stayed until the end. A short time later, he lost consciousness. Every night, a different visiting nurse would tell me he wouldn’t make it to the morning, and every morning, there he was, day after day, fading away but never dying. Finally, after days of this left me exhausted and twitchy, I let my wife start sharing the burden. She took the last two days, and proved by her kindness, strength, and nurturing that women just do this better.

My father and his parents, 1942

There were brief “rallies” and flickers here and there. One day, he was muttering something, and when my mother asked him who he was talking to, he said, “All of them” with a smile. He would regain tiny slivers of consciousness and his eyes would focus on blank places in the room, one after another, and smile beatifically.

He finally stopped waking up at all, but that heart kept pumping, to the confusion of the nurses and everyone else. Less than a hundred pounds, almost a week without food or more than a few drops of water, somehow he just kept grinding on. When they said it would only be hours it was days. When they said it was probably only minutes, it was hours.

My mother got angry. “What is the purpose of this? Why doesn’t God take him?” I said maybe it was to draw us closer to God in prayer. “I’m praying less,” she snapped. “I’m angry.”

I wasn’t too pleased with Him either.

I knew that this was the way of the world, and that one day my son may sit by my bed as I sat by my father’s. I reminded him of this while I went through it, and I knew that this was a lesson taught by living and dying in a certain way, and those are the most important and permanent lessons.

But I also knew there seemed to be no earthly reason for this body to continue functioning. He wasn’t suffering, mind you. Hospice does wonders in that regard, and morphine is a beautiful thing. He just was in that shadowy land between life and death. Everyone had gathered, and left. Everyone had said goodbye. We’d had our moments of grace and our lovely farewells. It was down to just my mother and me, night after night, praying for his release. And now I finally think I understand it.

He was, at the end, as he was in the beginning: like an infant. And, like infant, he was cared for with the kind of gentleness a mother gives to helpless newborn. The nurses of hospice treated his body with dignity, even when his mind could no longer function, putting lie to the notion that only our brains matter. All of them had stories to tell about their experiences with patients’ visions of the afterlife near death, and none of them was without faith. Each had seen things in their work with the dying that made a lack of faith utterly impossible. You may not be able to say “there are no atheists in foxholes” any more, but I can tell you there are damn few in hospice nursing.

They did all this because it was their job and they were paid to do it, but they did it with a tenderness and compassion that went beyond that: that indicated people with a calling. I helped when and how I could, but they were like a kind of priesthood of care, and they were better when left to do their work the way they knew best.

Curled up in a bed hemmed in by rails like a crib, he was left to their mercies, and mercy he received. They gently washed his body, lotioned his cracked skin, put dressings on his sores, gave him medicine, changed his diapers and his shirt, brushed his hair, and talked to him. They’d moisten his lips with swabs like foam lollipops, and once in a while, to my surprise, he’d move his mouth automatically to suck the water from them.

“Sucking is the first thing we do in life,” a nurse explained, “and it’s the last thing to go.”

And that’s when I began to get it just a bit, maybe. “Dust you are and to dust you shall return.” We end back and the beginning. My father had lived long and been strong, growing from a helpless child into a soldier, husband, father, builder, and Christian. This man who had given everything he had to others had one last lesson to give: we are not in charge. God comes in His Own time, and in His Own way.

His body was broken for his family, and seeing it there, used up and consumed at the last, he was like a lesson in sacrifice. I could see it in a way I never had before. I could see the scars left by a hard life, and the dignity still remaining in this man created in the image and likeness of his Creator. Life draws away from us with each breath, and sacrifice is implicit in every moment. This is certainly how it should be for a father, and how it was for the Son. Each death is a recapitulation of Calvary, and in suffering we are closest to the cross.

The bodies we have are noble and God-created: enfleshed spirit. They are wombs for the soul to be born into heaven, and one day we will return to these bodies, only to find them perfected.  And after this our exile, we will come face to face with the first fruit of that womb, and there will be neither tears, nor death, nor mourning, nor crying, nor pain.

Requiem Aeternam dona eis, Domine
et lux perpetua luceat eis:
Requiescant in pace. Amen.

“I Am Dog!”

This is Ivy.

This is Ivy. She is a Mastiff-Chihuahua. I have the papers to prove it.

An Analysis of the Cognitive Patterns of the Common House Ivy

IVY: Oh please dad, I have to go out! I have to go out SO BAD! I have to pee! Pleaseohpleaseohpleaseohplease!

[kind-hearted human lets dog out in the backyard]

IVY. Oh my! GRASS! When did this get here?! I love to roll in it!

[rollrollroll]

Isn’t grass the best! It’s so great! I’m going to do this forever!

[stops rolling, sticks nose in air]

Do you smell that?! Does that smell like the best! I think someone 1.3 miles away just started grilling a hamburger. Isn’t hamburger the best!

Oh look chickens! Aren’t chickens the best?! I’m going to see what they’re up to!

[chickens flee]

Oh look a bee! I’m going chase it! Grrr! I’m fierce and will get that bee!

[freezes, pointing in the distance with a one upraised paw]

Did you hear that?! I think a moth farted on the next block! Let’s go see! I must do this because I am dog!

[frustrated human chases dog back inside]

[five minutes pass]

IVY: Oh please dad, I have to go out! I have to go out SO BAD! I have to pee! Pleaseohpleaseohpleaseohplease!

[repeat for 10-15 years]

Do You Believe in Ghosts?

It’s time to tackle the question I’ve avoided in this series.

Do I believe in ghosts?Brown_lady

I am a Fortean as well as a Christian. I allow for the possibility of the strange, improbable, and anomalous in the world. I also enthusiastically embrace a supernatural worldview which includes daily miracles, the power of prayer, the eternal soul, the resurrection of the dead, and angels and demons fighting an epic battle for the salvation of each one of us.

I believe the world is much more interesting and unexplainable than science allows. I believe many in the “skeptical” community are simply narrow-minded zealots with a militant kind of scientistic religion. I think CSICOP is little more than a collection of dogmatic twits and James Randi is a nasty old fool. Self-described skeptics have a tendency to wave away any and all eyewitness testimony, assuming all witnesses are liars or deluded if their testimony does not reinforce the materialistic mechanism of the skeptical religion.

The folks at Fortean Times—for which I’ve written in the past—are my kind of people: curious and open-minded, but not credulous. They’re interested in the strange corners of the world that don’t fit the dominant narrative. In contrast to the arrogance of skeptics, they’re refreshingly humble in the face of this mysterious and magnificent world.

This does not, however, mean I’m a credulous person who grasps at strange happenings and accepts them uncritically. I do not believe in alien abduction, the Loch Ness monster, or that UFO guy on the history channel.

ancient-aliens-guy

I’m agnostic on lake monsters and giant hominids like bigfoot, but tend more to doubt than belief. We haven’t even come close to cataloging all the creatures of world, but I think after all this time, there would be better evidence that dinosaurs are in a Scottish lake or giant primates are traipsing around the Pacific Northwest. As someone inclined to view things anthropologically, I’m more interested in the belief in bigfoot than in his reality.

I think there may be a sixth sense that is beyond traditional perception, and that there’s probably nothing “supernatural” about it. It’s may just be a higher form of perception that we don’t yet understand, the way certain animals predict earthquakes. I do not, however, believe people can predict the future, unless gifted by God with a vision or charism of prophecy.

I believe it’s possible to traffic with evil spirits to the great destruction of the individual. It is not possible to a be a Christian and deny demons or demonic possession.

But as for ghosts?

Well, I don’t disbelieve in ghosts.

Or, to quote MR James, “I am prepared to consider evidence and accept it if it satisfies me.”

There is enough anecdotal evidence to suggest people have experienced sightings of the dead. I wholly accept that. My problem is with how we define “ghosts” and the nature of the vision. With Augustine, I suspect that most ghostly encounters are produced in the mediating imagination between the corporeal and the intellectual vision.

I allow that this vision can be influenced by outside supernatural agencies, but the fundamental question of Augustine—if the soul is immaterial, how are we seeing it?—remains a challenge. I think this point can be overcome by suggesting some external influence on the imagination of the witness, but it remains a question the medievals didn’t really put to rest, even while they were largely accepting of ghostly sightings.

I certainly believe God can allow for anything, including for the miraculous ability of the dead to appear to the living, through His, angelic, or demonic agency.

More problematic is the nature of the ordinary restless dead. The medievals accepted them because they could be fit into a larger theology of purgatory, and I’m willing to accept that as well. I certainly don’t think everyone who claims to have experienced a ghost is lying or deluded, though some certainly are. I think psychology rather than the supernatural is the best explanation in most cases, but others are genuinely supernatural.

So, my position is somewhere between Augustine and Thomas: I allow for the possibility, but have problems with some of the details.

Like Augustine, however, I can’t just leave it at that, especially not after a month of pelting you with ghost stories. And so I’ll share two of my own experiences with you.

The first comes from when I was very young, and is actually one of my earliest—and certainly most vivid—memories. I can still summon it as clearly as if it happened yesterday.

My grandfather, William Carhart

My grandfather, William Carhart

My grandfather died in my home when I was about two. I do not remember him, and only know him from pictures.

From a young age, I slept in a room shared with my brother. My bed was in front of a door which was kept open a bit, with a light left on in the hall. I was maybe four or five, and in bed, when I saw an old and wrinkled hand come through that sliver of door, grasp it, and slowly push it open. There in the doorway stood my grandfather. I came unglued, screamed, and ran through him to my parents’ bedroom. He vanished.

I suspect that I was more asleep than awake in this encounter, but dream or vision, it’s never left me. Make of it what you will.

The other story comes from when I was a teen, working in my home church, St. Agnes, in Clark, New Jersey.

I locked up every night around nine before going home. This was usually done in semi-dark, and was always a somewhat unsettling experience. An empty church at night in the dark has a peculiar power to it, which is why, again, I’m not sure I trust my own senses.

I was locking the side doors when an elderly lady came in to pray, walking with a four-footed cane in her right hand. She had on a hat and tweed coat. I can see her now as clearly as I can see the dog sleeping next to me as I write this.

I didn’t want to bother her, so I finished locking the side doors and waited for her at the front, leaving only one door unlocked for her to get out.

Time passed, and I decided I would have to move her along so I could get home. I went back to the sanctuary, and the church was empty.

There was no other way out except past me.

I searched for that old lady for a while, even looking under pews in case she fainted. She was just gone.

Thus, I can’t really discount the possibility of ghosts. I think I may have seen a couple myself.

So, yes, I think I may believe in ghosts, sometimes.

Do you?

The complete series can be found here.

Seven Quick Takes: Things I Saw On Vacation

7_quick_takes_sm1We don’t vacate much here, and when we do we try keep it to driveable locations where there’s something to do. The beach vacation is simply a mystery to me. I don’t understand the appeal of flying somewhere to sit on a beach and work on my melanoma. I don’t even like beaches. These criteria make DC/Virginia our go-to region for a little light family frolic.

— 1 —

Mount Vernon

I’m in the middle of listening to the Audible version of Ron Chernow’s epic, 1000-page George Washington: A Life, and already consider it the best biography I’ve ever read. The writing is wonderful, the research is strong, the insights into Washington’s character are always illuminating, and Chernow is obviously admiring while also being scrupulously balanced in his judgments of the flaws in the great man’s character. It’s also thoroughly depressing how far we’ve fallen from Washington to the Current Occupant.

Prompted by this, I’m visiting Washington sites in my area. I had not been to Mount Vernon in 25 years, and it really is worth the trip. The exhibits (one devoted to the telling the life of Washington and one with artifacts) are quite good, the house and grounds are kept in meticulous conditions, and the whole experience makes for a pleasant afternoon.

My kids watched the National Treasure movies, so we opted for the National Treasure Tour, which got us into the basement where scenes in the second movie took place. I’m not sure I’d recommend the tour, since it’s a little long and overly detailed about movie production, but it’s the only way you can see under the house. This astonishing giant head is at the entrance to the museum, and a picture can’t really capture the effect of the optical illusion. The head appears to turn to stare at you no matter where you view it from. My son said it should be installed in the Oval Office to glare disapprovingly at his successors and remind them how much better our presidents used to be.

2014-08-28 16.35.54

George is very disappointed in you.

— 2 —

The International Spy Museum

I didn’t quite know what to expect from this, but it’s a good museum that tells the story of espionage in both fact and fiction. There are a lot of interactive exhibits, so I imagine the experience would be a lot less appealing on a crowded day. We went in the morning late in summer (after DC area kids had already gone back to school), so there were few people there and we enjoyed it. Afterwards, we went around the corner and popped into Ford Theater, which my kids had never seen. More giant president heads were inside.

Honestly, the museum could just exist for this display and it would be worth it.

Honestly, the museum could just exist for this display and it would be worth it.

— 3 —

The American Shakespeare Center

I’d been wanting to visit this reconstruction of Shakespeare’s “city” theater, Blackfriars, for years, but never had a chance. My wife got tickets for us to see Macbeth and A Comedy of Errors for my birthday.  The theater is the only reproduction of Blackfriars in the world, and uses original staging techniques: no sets, only house lights, rapid pacing, people seated on the stage on “gallants stools,” and some audience interaction (more for the comedy than the tragedy).

The anachronistic elements were minimal: prior to the show some actors performed acoustic versions of modern songs. The acting was uniformly excellent and the entire experience crackles with the kind of vivacity only possible in small venues. I can’t recommend it strongly enough. It was just entertaining, and you were able to leave behind the weight and pretension of feeling like I Am Watching Shakespeare Now and just enjoy a piece of popular entertainment. blackfriars-stage

— 4 —

National Zoo

Hot. Damn hot. And no capybaras, although we did see a baby panda in a tree and this tiny version of Gamera. It’s a good zoo and we always enjoy it, but really: MOR CAPYS!

Gamera is friend to all children!

Gamera is friend to all children!

— 5 —

Hard Times Cafe

Best chilis ever? I’m willing to make that case.

— 6 —

Fishing

My wife caught a large catfish with a child’s small Snoopy fishing pole.

The rest of us, equipped with real poles, were catching things like this: 2014-09-01 17.03.25

— 7 —

This and This

 

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Five Years of Patheos, Two Years of Me: #Patheos5yrs

I wasn’t a Catholic blogger when Elizabeth Scalia asked me to join team Patheos Catholic a few years ago. I was a game blogger, as in video games, board games, puzzles: the sort of thing I do in my day job as a tech journalist and an editor of a game magazine. Elizabeth saw my writing on tech and games in a Catholic publication, and thought it would be neat to have a Catholic techie-gamer guy on the channel. It was as simple as that. That’s the kind of weird visionary wisdom the Anchoress brings to the party.

I left behind the game blog and started God and the Machine. The blog has taken off in unexpected directions as I pursued my interests where they led. That meant I started posting about history and archaeology on a blog that, nominally at least, was primarily supposed to be about being a Catholic in a media- and internet-saturated world. Over time, however, even though I never meant for this to be a “personal” (ie, confessional) blog, the topics and views wind up being a kind of snapshot of my brain, which is what blogging should be.

Here are a few links for posts that either got a lot of traffic and social media shares, or which were personal favorties.

Instagram, Vine, and Porn: What Parents Should Know: This is by far my most viewed piece, partly for the simple yet depressing reason that men will click on anything that says “porn.” But with 50,000 social shares, it was also circulated quite a bit, showing that the point of this blog–providing a Catholic perspective on the good and evil of modern technology–resonates with some.

The Mysterious Joy of Matthew Warren is a personal favorite because it generated so much response. People contacted me privately to say how it important it is to address mental illness from a Christian perspective, and how much work we have left to do as Christians to help those who suffer.

A Dishonest Cosmos: Controversy drives hits. Well, controversy and sex. When I saw the Seth MacFarland cartoon that pretended to tell the “history” of the Giordano Bruno trial, I know it was in desperate need of a fact check.

Archaeology is a long-standing passion of mine. If I could have been anyone, I would have been Indiana Jones. I was serious enough about it to begin my undergrad work in Anthropology, until I ran into a sad reality of the 1980s: the discipline of Anthropology, of which Archaeology is a subdiscipline, was hopelessly compromised by political correctness and intellectual fatuity. I gave up on it, but never lost my interest in the subject.

I got to go deep on the subject of Burial in Ancient Israel during research I did for my Masters degree, and I’m still pretty pleased with that series.

Another series that got a lot attention was an expanded version of research I did for a Games Magazine feature on the real history of Tarot cards. Some Christians hated it because they just KNEW that Tarot is evil. Occultists hated it because they just KNEW Tarot was an ancient pathway to hidden wisdom. Both were wrong, and I liked it because it’s what a historian should do: clear the fact from the myth.

Those are some highlights from my two years here: years that have also seen me through a number of personal trials and small triumphs. Just this weekend, I received my Masters degree in theology, with a concentration in Church history: something I’ve been working on for about three years.

My thanks again go out to Elizabeth and all my fellow writers here: members of a small community of writing Catholics who have gathered to support each other in prayer. Thanks for the chance to be counted among you. God bless.

PS: Chickens!

7 Quick Takes: Personal Edition

Regular readers know that I’m not really a confessional blogger. I don’t talk about my personal life or use this is space as a kind of public diary. So, in the interest of slightly correcting that, I’m using Jen’s 7 Quick Takes format to share 7 things about me, personally.

–1–

During the period when I was lapsed, I took part in a pagan naming ritual for a friend’s baby.

It was just like this.

It’s not something I’d do today (nor, I think, would the friend), but we entered into the spirit of the event and felt honored to be included. Well, honored and faintly embarrassed. I don’t know how pagans do even half of what they do without dissolving into giggles. Since I was functionally (though not actually) pagan myself at the point, it really wasn’t that much of a stretch.

–2–


I have had mystical experiences, and have spent much of my adult life trying to understand them. My time in the spiritual wilderness was an attempt to make sense of these experiences from outside the faith of my childhood. Only upon returning to the Church did I realize that the fullness of truth and the answers to my questions were here all along. I do not write about these experiences because they lay beyond words, and I feel they should stay there. They have, however, removed any doubt whatsoever about the existence of God and the invisible world of mystery and magnificence that surrounds us.

–3–

Yep, I wrote for this.

I do not regret my time in the wilderness immersed in (at various times) Neoplatonism, agnosticism, gnosticism, Jung, shamanism, and general New Agey foolishness. It broadened my perspective and gave me an infallible BS detector that serves me well in my role as a Catechist and Catholic writer.

–4–

My natural tendency is toward uncharity and nastiness. I made a career of it as a reviewer who was known for being cutting. (One author knocked me out of a chair at a convention of horror writers. Another sent me gay pornography in the mail. A company refused to pay one of my magazines $15,000 they owed for ads because of something I’d written. And so on.)

“Hated it.”

I know I hurt people under the cover of “Just being honest” or “Just doing my job.” Since I began blogging, I’ve made an effort not to do that, but it is a mighty struggle. I still read people and think, “What a frigging idiot.” That the person actually IS a frigging idiot isn’t the point. The point is: he’s also human, and thus deserving of at least a measure of charity. I’m not naturally inclined to dole out that kind of charity, so it’s a struggle to read certain people without drawing a bead on them and unleashing a stream of withering contempt. I’m still working on that one.

–5–

I consider myself a traditionalist and, indeed, a medievalist, but much of old-school Marian piety leaves me cold. I’ve made valiant attempts to fall in love with the Rosary, with middling results. My commitment to the 54-Day Rosary Novena seemed like a Herculean task at times. The first thing I had to do was strip away the cloying verbiage slathered all over the devotion like inch-thick icing on a cake made entirely of fondant:

Hail, Queen of the Most Holy Rosary, my Mother Mary, hail! At thy feet I humbly kneel to offer thee a Crown of Roses, snow white buds to remind thee of thy joys!, each bud recalling to thee a holy mystery; each ten bound together with my petition for a particular grace. O Holy Queen, dispenser of God’s graces, and Mother of all who invoke thee! thou canst not look upon my gift and fail to see its binding. As thou receivest my gift, so wilt thou receive my petition; from thy bounty thou wilt give me the favor I so earnestly and trustingly seek. I despair of nothing that I ask of thee. Show thyself my Mother!

Who writes this stuff? Why does so much Marian art and devotion look and sound like it sprang from the mind of a fifteen-year-old 18th century French girl?

St Louis de Montfort makes my teeth hurt. I’ve never really cared about the dreaded secrets of Fatima, and I think Medjugorje was a hoax. My primary personal devotion is the Liturgy of the Hours and daily readings. This is not to downplay the role of the Blessed Mother in my prayer life (I pray the Angelus every day), but few of the devotions as they’ve developed really speak to me. I understand some of this is my own failing.

–6–


Those who have read me for some time know that I write about mental illness more than most Catholic bloggers. Yes, this is based on experience. No, I don’t intend to talk about it.

–7–

Call for the Priest, baby!

I still listen to 1970s/80s heavy metal music from time to time, and I’m not ashamed.


Judas Priest predicted the age of drones and NSA overreach back in 1982. (I saw this show live.)

My Home Screens

Slacktacular August continues as I soak up some R&R following a harrowing month of personal tragedies and my annual Giant Project (the Games Magazine Games 100 guide). Today I have to break from my break to tackle some curriculum writing, but not wanting to leave a me-shaped hole in the blogosphere, and indulging the narcissism implicit in blogging, I give you these glimpses of my work space.

I’m oddly fascinated with what people put on their home screens, partly because most people don’t spend precious moments of life tuning their devices to a fare-thee-well and thus their home screens are offensively disorganized.

I know this will seem like a pointless post to some, but many people also are oddly fascinated by this kind of thing.

I work among three devices: laptop, iPad, and iPhone, with a desktop PC for gaming. Here’s the iPad : 

Left to right, top to bottom, I have:

  • Work Folder: Various text editors, scanners, cloud storage, etc.
  • Media Folder: Streaming media, photo and video editing, and media guides.
  • Words Folder: Book apps, social media, news, etc.
  • Board Games
  • Card Games
  • Settings
  • iAWriter: Plain text editor: very simple, very zen.
  • Dropbox: The heart of the system.
  • Notability: I use this for recording interviews and taking notes, as well as for marking up PDFs.
  • MagicalPad. Mind-mapping. I haven’t gotten in the habit of using it yet, but I keep it there as a prompt, and you can use it for straight-up outlining. 
  • Photogene: My preferred photo editing, for the moment.
  • Recorder Pro: Voice recording for notes.
  • 30/30: Time management software. It’s hugely effectively for getting things done in tiny slices. I keep settings for 15, 30, and 60 minutes and just rotate through them as I need.
  • Disqus: Comment management page in Safari, since Disqus has no app.
  • Instapaper: I push stories to Instapaper for reading later.
  • News360: A decent way to get a selection of stories on pre-set set topics.
  • IMDB: You know that guy who was in that thing? Yeah, what’s his name?
  • Verbum: Indispensable Bible software.
  • Universalis: My Liturgy of the Hours. 
  • Kindle: Obviously
  • Dock: Chrome, Mail, Newsify (the ONLY RSS reader), Evernote, Toodledo (task management), Drafts (text capture)
  • Wallpaper: Rotating. This is Gyro Gearloose. Because.

A note about Drafts: This has become key to my work. It’s not quite as good as iAwriter for long text writing, but I use it for taking quick notes, which I can enter using voice. (I gave up on Dragon after it crashed too many times with completely dictated article drafts left unsaved.) The beauty of Drafts is that you can push text anywhere: Dropbox, Evernote, Facebook: any place at all. It can append text to a file, create new files, and do all kinds of magic. I love it.

Here’s the iPhone:

This duplicates the iPad more or less, with a few iPhone-specific things:

  • gMusic: A really awful GooglePlay streamer that I have to use as I wait impatiently for Google’s native app.
  • CFSAC: Flashlight.
  • VSCOcam: Camera. I’m trying this out for a little while, but I’m not sure I’m keeping it. Camera+ is my standard goto for pictures.

And here’s the desktop:

PC taskbar, left to right:

  • Postbox: Mail software.
  • Chrome: Browser.
  • Open Office Word: I’m done with Microsoft Office products, but I still need to use Word.
  • Scrivener: I’ve been using this as my main word processor for almost a year. A sheer delight.
  • Evernote: Obviously.
  • Verbum: Bible software.
  • Folder: Root directory.
  • Corel Paint Shop Pro: My preferred photo editing for a long time now.
  • Kindle: For cutting and pasting citations.
  • Calculator
  • iTunes: I really, truly hate it.

Here’s my desk at the moment: