Away in a Manger?

The holidays are a time for getting together. At a friend’s house over the weekend, we were talking about nativity scenes. I mentioned a story about how a nativity scene had been missing the infant Jesus and he said he’d be right back with a solution. I have to admit that I’ve never seen Sweet Baby Jesus porter before. “Place that in your manger,” he said. I assume this is a seasonal brew, intended to draw the semi-religious toward a kind of holiday cheer. Now, blasphemy in a bottle is nothing new. In fact it’s quite common, I expect. Nevertheless, a bottle that says “One sip and you’ll claim the name” might be offering a salvation that it simply can’t deliver.

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Growing up, Christmas never had any connection with drinking. My father was an alcoholic, and inviting this particular spirit to the holidays seemed misguided. Still, I recognize that in many cultures tipples were a way of coping with the excessive periods of darkness. Even in these days of ubiquitous artificial lights, I find that the darkness just outside bears a considerable weight. We festoon our houses with colorful lights to ward off the night. We prepare special foods to take our minds from the bleakness outside the window. And yes, some turn to Sweet Baby Jesus to offer its own kind of shine.

The holidays mean many things to many people. The commercial aspects appeal less and less as the years go by, but having some time off work to be with family and collect my thoughts grows more important each year. What makes a day holy, I expect, is that you have things that are otherwise difficult to find. Life, for many, is a long series of denials of what they really want. When the holidays come, they indulge. Who am I to begrudge someone else of what makes their ordinary days sacred? Who indeed?


Looking Ahead

HistoryFutureA History of the Future is a great title for a book. Classified, I suppose, as a dystopia, James Howard Kunstler’s novel is set in upstate New York, not too far from now. A war in Israel has led to the destruction of major US cities and our electronic, consumptive way of life suddenly comes to an end. Small pockets of people, such as those in Union Grove, try to reconstruct a way of life where executives now have to become farmers and those who were used to having plenty still can’t manage without thinking of others as servants. It is a quiet and disquieting world. Perhaps the most striking thing about Kunstler’s vision is how prevalent religion is within it. An entire swath of the middle of the country has followed a former televangelist back to pre-Civil War ideals and seeks to make white supremacy national policy. Other pockets of governments resist the growing strength of this backlash, but most people are just trying to get by, uninvolved in large-scale politics.

The most sympathetic group in the novel, at least in my reading of it, is the New Faith Covenant Brotherhood Church of Jesus, run by Brother Jobe, himself a former southerner. This church moves, lock, stock, and barrel, into Union Grove and begins to build a commune that, unlike those of the local Presbyterians and secular rulers, manages to thrive. Brother Jobe has mystical abilities and his heart is in the right place. As things continue their decline amidst the everyone for him/herself attempts to restore order, this fellowship manages to pull itself together through common belief and perhaps a bit of divine intervention. In the future these aren’t so easily teased apart.

Not a typical action-packed dystopia with raging violence, Kunstler sketches a more gentle apocalypse. It’s not a final disaster and big government has not yet reemerged to stamp its will on a malleable people. Women and men relearn what it means to work by hand and to live with less. In some ways the vision is comforting. Still, those who will have been patrician in the past manage to become feudal lords, of a sort, in this new world. Not everyone can fit into that pattern. The overall picture in what seems to be a parable is that pre-industrial society did, in fact, work. It wasn’t perfect, of course. Monasteries and lords embodied different values where no one could truly claim to know what this was all about. The future, it turns out, is mostly the past.


Holiday Fervor

AmericaFavHoliTime comes in different varieties. In temperate regions where the changing seasons keep the time of year for us, we tend to have seasonal holidays. Christmas and other December holidays mark the shortest days of the year with the hope that light will soon become more abundant. Spring rituals, near the time of the vernal equinox, encourage the return of fertility to the earth. Autumnal holidays mark the approach of darkness once again as the world twirls endlessly on. Summer, bright and warm, doesn’t really lend itself to so many holidays. These thoughts came back to me as I read Bruce David Forbes’s America’s Favorite Holidays: Candid Histories. Forbes doesn’t cover all the special days, but focuses on Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter, Halloween, and Thanksgiving. These are five holidays marked, in some sense, by spending. They are often, although Forbes doesn’t really spend too much time on it, the focal point of cultural wars where various Christian groups wish to reclaim a certain day for its “rightful heritage.”

One of the real values of books like America’s Favorite Holidays is that it is clear that these claims of “keeping Christ in Christmas” and its kin are samples of collective amnesia. Many “Christmas” traditions predated Christianity. Others developed concurrent with it, but in “pagan” contexts. Christmas trees, for example, didn’t originate in the latitudes of Bethlehem. The same may be said for just about any holiday. Valentine’s Day and Thanksgiving, of the five explored, are the lone exceptions. These are fairly recent holidays and neither one marks a solstice or equinox. They celebrate aspects of life we value, making them sacred time. Don’t expect to get Valentine’s Day off of work, however. Capitalism never makes room for love.

Christmas, of course, is the holiday most under dispute. All holidays may be commercialized, but for Christmas spending is central. Forbes insightfully shows that Christmas is, and may always have been, both a cultural holiday and a religious holiday. The cultural aspect of the season is the one that most people celebrate. The birth of Jesus—which we are fairly certain was not in December—was a latter add-on. A baptism, if you will, of a pre-existing holiday. The winter solstice holiday is a staple of cultures in climes where the difference in available light and warmth is appreciable. It marks the point of the year when things start getting better. Yes, the real cold of winter has not yet set in, and there will be months of snow and ice. Still, once the solstice is passed, there is more light to help us cope. Celebrating sacred time, whether secular or not, is the natural reaction of people who crave light over darkness.


Only Hummus

I remember the moment well. I was in Jerusalem on my own. Although in my early twenties, I really didn’t know much. The man at the vending cart didn’t speak English, but I was hungry. My first experience of falafel would certainly not be my last. After I married a few years later, I introduced my wife to the various Middle Eastern foods I’d tried. Hummus became a personal favorite, especially after I became a vegetarian. There are plenty of things for vegetarians to enjoy, and many cuisines of the world have less meat-heavy options than many restaurants I’ve experienced in the States. Hummus, to get to my point, can be rather bland. It is generally inoffensive, and people of many dietary and religious restrictions can eat it. The Christian Century ran a blurb recently about a hummus restaurant in Netanya, Israel. This eatery offers a fifty percent discount to Jewish and Arabic customers who sit together. Here is a workable idea for peace.

We all have to eat. Half the trick to world peace is getting people who dislike each other to sit down and do it together. Those of imperialist bent may not realize, or even be able to see, that we have more in common than most agitators think. Human needs are the same, and often, very easily provided. You like hummus? I like hummus! We must not be so different, after all. If instead of weaponizing themselves, radical believers armed themselves with food to share, not nearly so many warplanes would have to take to the air. I admit I’m an idealist. I don’t think peace is impossible. We can choose to focus on what divides us, or on what we have in common.

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Perhaps if I’d never traveled to Jerusalem I would never have tried hummus. I didn’t travel for the food, but travel led me to a kind of serenity. Both falafel and hummus are made primarily of chickpeas, a versatile vegetable that has a verisimilitude of peace. If we could learn to eat together we would find it harder to hate each other after that. Sharing our mutual needs sometimes, as the restaurant owner in Netanya understands, requires a financial incentive. Although it may be lucre that lures those who are different to the same table, it is the peace itself that, I believe, will keep them coming back.


O Come Let Us

During the height of the zombie craze a meme went around the internet proclaiming “zombie Jesus.”  It was funny because the salient feature of zombies is that they come back from the dead.  Noting the resurrection and the easily annoyed trigger finger of Fundamentalist Christians, some wag brought Jesus and the undead together.  We had a good laugh and forgot about it.  A guy in Ohio with a sense of humor, took the zombie Jesus meme and constructed it into a zombie nativity scene in his yard.  None of us knew about it, of course, until it caught the attention of the news.  A story in the Washington Post notes that the man was required to take the scene down for violating zoning laws.
 
People take their religion very seriously and have a hard time laughing about it.  Religion is under constant fire from angry atheists and it already suffers a complex from having so many liberals pointing out the historical and logical faux pas from within the tradition.  Some people take advantage of American gun laws to stock up against the day when they’ll step over the line and join those who shoot up offices where they think Mohammad is being mocked.  Then we’ll sit around and wonder if we should classify them as terrorists or just deranged.  And we’ll post a take-down order, just in case any zombies remain.

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As an academic (at least erstwhile) I noted how little religion scholars reveled in the humor of their traditions.  There’s funny stuff in the Bible, believe it or not, and many religious traditions allow for a Mona Lisa smile every now and again.  A far more common stance, however, is that of taking offense.  Something that most critics just don’t realize is how much religions mean to those who believe.  I chuckle once in a while, but I never belittle the beliefs of others.  I have been in this religion thing since I can remember, and I know what it can mean to people.  The best way to avoid offending, I think, is to keep our jokes among the crowd of those who have a sense of humor.  Of course, the undead obey no rules and the media (and its unruly accomplice, the internet) can’t resist spreading memes that might earn a buck or two of advertising revenue.


Factor Fiction

An article on CBS that my wife sent me tells how Costco mistakenly labelled a shipment of Bibles as fiction, setting off a tweet-storm. Some offended, some applauding, a 140-character barrage ensued as Costco apologized. What was the fuss about? As a person who has experience with both fact and fiction, it has become clear to me over the years that these categories are not nearly as sharply defined as they might appear. We make labels to help us categorize a confusing reality. Our brains, nevertheless, easily accept fiction as fact, at least for purposes of getting along in the world. The earth is spinning, right now, at over 1,000 miles per hour. We don’t perceive it, and in fact, it took not a few deaths and apologetic clerics before it was admitted that evidence we don’t feel proved the case. Each day we choose to believe the fiction that we are holding still and the sun goes overhead. Is anybody tweeting about that?

One of the angry bird calls pointed out that Costco (which apparently now has an imprimatur) doesn’t label their Qurans as fiction. How many Christians have read the Rig Veda and not wondered whether its proper label fell on that side of the pricing gun? The matter of fact or fiction is one of opinion. Even those books bearing the label of non-fiction are interpretations of evidence. When it comes down to ultimate truth, where it lies is always a matter of faith. Who buys a Bible at Costco anyway?

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When I was a child and Amazon did not exist, buying a Bible was itself a kind of sacred act. You wouldn’t think of going to Wal-Mart to do such a thing. You went to the Christian bookstore (or, I suppose, if you grew up in a city, a secular bookstore might do). You talked to clerks who knew the differences between versions. The place smelled of leather and velvet. It was a place dedicated to the truth. Costco is a big box store. Buying in bulk implies something. Ironically, those who angrily tweet about the Bible’s label don’t seem to realize that Bible selling is big business. You won’t find much in the way of small publishers’ literature in such a store. Next to your giant cartons of cereal and immense packages of diapers, why not tuck in a Bible as well? When you get home you can tweet about how much money you saved buying eternal salvation in bulk.


Things Being Equal

Gun violence is out of control. While experts dither and bicker about whether this or that act was done by “terrorists” they choose to ignore that gun violence is terror, no matter who’s pulling the trigger. The world in which bearing arms was declared an amended constitutional right was a world of muzzle-loaders. Like in those movies where someone took their shot, missed, and has to reload, feverishly pouring gunpowder down the barrel while the enemy closes in. Firearms were obviously deadly, but limited in their capabilities. All things being equal, it is easy to understand why such a right would be granted. Almost nothing is equal any more, however.

Consider this: weapons are now sold that can rapidly and repeatedly fire rounds that, in the wrong hands, can kill many people before anyone even has the time to react. These guns are useless for hunting, and their only purpose is to kill other human beings. We have been manufacturing them and selling them for many years and laws are such that most people could, if they choose to participate in the insanity, stockpile such weapons against a day when they will actually be used for their intended purposes. Consider also that the government, strapped for money to funnel to military causes, has shifted and narrowed the definition of mental illness so as to “normalize” people who would have, under other circumstances, been in institutional care. Add to this the increasing globalization that has effects that psychologists and sociologists are only now coming to see build stresses and strains in brains that evolved to be among their own “kind” and to distrust the “stranger.” And these stressed minds have easy access to powerful firearms. Who has the right?

I grew up in a different world. Yes, the Vietnam War was going on, but those who returned were exhausted by and despised the violence to which they’d been subjected. The pointless killing of others was culturally and personally just that: pointless. Fast forward half a century. Now we live in a world where seeing violent death represented is a daily occurrence. Even in simulation it is realistic. Mass murderers make videos presenting themselves as so heroic as to inspire followers. We no longer trust religion. We no longer trust the government. We no longer trust the American Dream. Wealth is bottled up where it can’t be reached and guns are distributed like candy. Are all things equal? Hardly. And yet those running for the highest office in the land worm for ways to keep the gun lobbies pleased. If we could only go back to muzzle-loaders and the time it took to reload—time in which even an unbalanced person had to think about what he, or now she, was about to do. Equality has, unfortunately, become as much a fairy tale as the right to bear arms.

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Musical Mind

BrainOnMusicMusic is perhaps the most natural of human arts.  We are all, as Daniel J. Levitin says, expert listeners from an early age.  This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession is a fascinating study of neuroscience and music.  I began exploring this connection about a decade ago when studies on religion and neuroscience were only just beginning to appear.  Music, although closely related to religion in many ways, does not bear the stigma of “belief” and although music programs are often tragically cut from school budgets, we all value music because not to do so makes us less-than-human.  Levitin shows clearly how music accompanies the most important parts of our lives and how it forms and develops the brain.
 
Music is somewhat easier to define than religion.  Those who decry the humanities, I suggest, should be locked away with no access to music for a few years to see if they change their tune.  I suspect they would.  We need music, and music’s impact on the brain is an analog to that of religion.  More studies of religion and the brain have begun to appear, and one gets the sense that materialists are a little bit angry and disappointed that religion hasn’t disappeared the way that it was predicted to have done by now.  That’s because being human is more than being molecules and chemical reactions. It involves what we call the humanities.
 
Our brains are our gateways to all of human experience.  They are complex in ways that computer designers emulate, but there’s a messy something about biology that straightforward mechanics seems to have trouble replicating.  Our brains are part of one large, organic whole that encompasses life on this little planet.  While studying the brain to understand it is indeed a good idea, calling it a meat computer is not.  While software may be coded to compose music, of one thing we can be sure. Computers can’t enjoy music.  It takes a brain to appreciate music, and the brain that appreciates music is mere synaptic connections away from seeing why religion is still important.


From Solid to Gas

“Ignorance of the law is no excuse.” I couldn’t believe that the woman at the police station actually used that phrase on me. The only time I’d ever heard it uttered before was on Gilligan’s Island. After all, we were talking about a parking ticket. I’d arrived in Boston, after driving through four states, with a massive headache. I was moving into an apartment in Winthrop, and all the cars along the street were lined up with their left tires along the curb. I simply did what everyone else had done and went to bed to sleep off my debilitating pain. In the morning I had a ticket under my windshield wiper. I explained that I’d just moved to town from another state, I was a student, and that all the other cars were parked the same way. Then she said it.

IMG_2625Ignorance, it seems to me, is the only response in the face of laws far more complicated than they need to be. I always thought, for example, that it was against the law for churches to meet in public schools. I’m no lawyer and what with voucher programs and other legislation that has been approved by the Reagan-Bush empire, I’m just not sure any more. So when I drove past the local middle school I was surprised to see banners all over the place proclaiming Liquid Church was meeting there. Liquid Church? They have a slick website (advertised on the banners) and they had guys directing traffic in the local school lot, which was frighteningly full. When had this happened? When had the school which had refused to allow a robotics league, approved the meeting of an evangelical church in the building? I can’t guess about the legality.

One of New Jersey’s fastest growing churches, according to its website, Liquid Church is flashy and trendy. This is God for the twenty-teens. Like businesses these days, it has “core values” as well as beliefs. Those values? Grace wins. Truth is relevant. Church is fun. The beliefs are pretty basic evangelical standards. But what is it doing in my local school? Having attended churches where anything fun smacked of Satan, perhaps I’m just a little bit jealous. Maybe as a guy who tries always to obey the rules, who doesn’t speed, and who actually follows traffic conventions in parking lots, I’m just a little confused. I thought there used to be a wall here. Now there seems to be nothing but rules anyone is free to concoct. I miss Gilligan’s Island.


Naming Evil

WetikoBooks don’t tell us what is true; books tell us what could be true. When I was growing up, under the influence of the Bible, I thought that non-fiction books were the truth. I came to understand that people disagreed about the truth, but it took a long time before I realized that books were merely the attempts of their writers to argue their version of the truth. If someone knew the actual truth that person would be a god. These thoughts came to me as I read the fascinating and mystical Dispelling Wetiko: Breaking the Curse of Evil, by Paul Levy. In many ways this is a mind-altering book. For one thing, Levy has made me reconsider how real evil is. Looking at what’s going on in the world it is increasingly difficult to deny the reality of objective evil. Levy’s book gives it a name and even attempts to analyze whence it comes. He calls it “wetiko.”

For several years now I have tried to find information on the monster known as the wendigo. Wetiko is a version of the same word, and it was this that drew me to Levy’s book. The wendigo is a shape-shifting creature that preys on humans. It is mentioned or featured in a few fictional books, and most recently featured in an episode of Sleepy Hollow. Since most academics don’t treat monsters seriously, it is difficult to find accounts of the beast. It is often discussed as a fictionalized version of cannibalism. It is a monster always hungry. The more it eats, the hungrier it becomes. It is this aspect that leads Levy to use it as his main metaphor for evil.

The evil that Dispelling Wetiko focuses on is the extreme selfishness our society has come to embrace. For example, our entire economic system is a fiction propagated by the ultra-wealthy. By defining a fiction as valuable and making it available to everyone else by a system of debt, the one-percenters keep everyone else, literally, in thrall to them. There is no gold to back up the fictional value they claim they have, and yet they consume others constantly in their evil greed. In a nuanced argument Levy suggests that this evil is real. Becoming conscious is the only way to combat it. There’s so much going on in this book that it has to be read several times, I’m sure, to get it all figured out. As I finished this one, however, I thought I had read a book that may actually be true.


Star Lords

Things are done differently in the UK. I suppose that’s obvious, but I have always noticed on my trips between our respective countries that some things that go without saying here or there receive the opposite treatment overseas. We are, however, united by a common religious heritage that sometimes goes unrecognized. A recent opinion piece by Giles Fraser in the Guardian discusses the banning of a commercial featuring the Lord’s Prayer in cinemas. The first difference that came to mind is that advertisements for something like the Lord’s Prayer seem unlikely in the United States. We are a biblically-based, biblically illiterate society, and if someone is willing to put up the money, advertisements are a no-brainer. A second difference is, as Fraser points out, there is fear that the Lord’s Prayer might offend people. Surely there are those who will take offense, but Fraser points out that there is nothing offensive in this prayer. It isn’t an attempt to convert. It is reflective, irenic, peaceful.

The point of this opinion piece, apt when Christmas wars are in the air, is that freedom of religion requires a dose of common sense. Yes, many atheists are offended by religious practices, but the question is whether we can ever completely avoid offending one another over belief. Beliefs differ. Not even everyone agrees with “live and let live.” The problem is that some offensive ideas lead to violence. We’ve forgotten how to talk with one another. In this world of uber-security, we find difference terrifying. Religious difference especially. So the angry atheists suggest religion should be driven indoors and rendered mute. Which violates what some religions are all about.

The British ad was to take place before the airing of the new Star Wars movie. One need not be a detective to discern the deep and inherent religious message in the original series of the franchise. Indeed, people were disappointed with the prequels because they had lost that sense of mythic grandeur that Joseph Campbell had been so helpful in instilling in the original trilogy. The films were made with religion in mind. Hidden behind a mask, perhaps, but clearly there. If Yoda had uttered something like the Lord’s Prayer, it would have been accepted as merely part of a movie. And as the reboot trilogy shows without doubt, movies have the power to offend.

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Let There Be

President Dwight D. Eisenhower was, as everyone knows, a military man. With the role of Commander in Chief, United States Presidents control a military that eats up an enormous amount of tax dollars. To keep us safe, we’re told. Even though he was a military man, in his farewell address Eisenhower warned the American people of the Industrial Military Complex, a group of companies that not only eat national budgets for breakfast, but also control the most dangerous technology in the world. Secrecy, we’re told, is key. We don’t want any other nation on earth knowing what we’re up to. In fact, most Americans have no idea of and no control over what we’re up to. When people like Edward Snowden come out, their tales are so extreme that it is fairly easy to dismiss them. Would a good government ever do that? Nah. We’re the good guys, right? These were the thoughts going through my head after I watched Star Trek Into Darkness. I always run a couple years behind, it seems, on major movies. This one disturbed me in a way uncharacteristic of the Enterprise and its crew.

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Since it’s been out a couple of years I don’t need to give spoiler alerts unless some readers are even further behind than me. Okay: here’s a spoiler alert.

As James T. Kirk gets busted down in rank for violating the prime directive to save Spock, he takes over the Enterprise when Admiral Pike is gunned down in a top-level Star Fleet meeting. Vowing revenge, he encounters Khan, the eponymous villain of the old series Wrath of Khan. As Admiral Marcus had made an alliance with Khan the parallels with the Bush family and Sadam Hussein became clear. And when Scotty finds a super starship on a moon of Jupiter, secretly developed by Star Fleet to go to war with the Klingons, more than a touch of the Black Ops came to mind. Here was a government that couldn’t be trusted and that didn’t trust its people to know its intentions. When Khan pilots this Black Ops starship into San Francisco, the shot of it falling out of the air so resembled classified military craft that I actually shuddered. The destruction was a parable of 9/11.

Throughout the movie there is a dialog of ethics. Is it right to kill a known criminal without trial? Is it permissible to start an unprovoked war? Does might make right? Khan, despite being evil, tells the truth. The movie disturbed me because I can’t remember the last time I could truly trust the government. I vote Democrat because they are the party that seem to do the least damage to the planet and actually care for the poor. I was born, however, after the Eisenhower administration. John F. Kennedy was assassinated after my first birthday. My reading since leaving college has convinced me that we will never get the full story. Star Trek, although set in the future, has always been a projection of the present day. Those few groaners of episodes from the late ‘60s that delved into popular culture proved that. As I watched the crew of the Enterprise battling an enemy under its own flag I realized little has changed in the final frontier.


Trench Warfare

Once something becomes socially acceptable, it is nearly impossible to change. I’m no prude, but I remember when “swearing” in public was considered bad taste. When I was a tween (and there was no such thing as tweens then) I heard a guy talking to a friend in a department store. They were on the other side of those kinds of shelves where you can see through to the other side. One of them cussed and his friend said, “Man, you shouldn’t say that when there’s a little kid just there.” I wasn’t shocked by the word; I’m more worldly than most people grant me credit for being. Still, the sentiment was appreciated. These days I dodge f-bombs all the way to work. It’s effing acceptable.

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The tragic multiple shooting in San Bernardino to which I opened the paper yesterday morning was completely dispiriting. The statistics showing more multiple shootings than there have been days in the past year while Republican hopefuls chain their wallets to their pockets backing the NRA should give anyone pause to reflect, no matter their party. Our gun madness has led to a collective deathwish for our country. The only acceptable solution, according to the GOP, and Texas, is to get more guns out on the streets. The Old West is called “Old” for a reason. We should’ve become more civilized by now. Instead we accept fantasy for reality.

In a land where politics is making love to gun lobbies, the surest investment is the casket industry. It has become socially acceptable to shoot lots of people and then kill yourself or get yourself shot. Hardly a day goes by when we don’t read about such an incident in the news. Swift, decisive action is called for but we’re mired down by politicians who need ever so much more money to campaign. Bread and circuses. I know responsible gun owners. It has become clear that the only real solution now is to do what is socially unacceptable. Give up our guns. If those who are responsible gun owners were willing to lead by example we might stand a chance against a socially acceptable plague that we’re unwilling to name. Even US citizens can be terrorists in their own country.


Private Miracles

Despite rumors to the contrary, the Roman Catholic Church is skeptical of miracles. Quick to point out pareidolia where it occurs, looking like the Blessed Virgin in a tree stump or highway underpass, this is no credulous organization. Everyday miracles, doctrinal ones, of course are accepted. Transubstantiation is a quotidian miracle as the mass is no mere ritual. Flashier miracles—even some very impressive ones—are treated with suspicion and the rigor of Scotland Yard. When one of my regular readers pointed out the bleeding communion host in Kearns, Utah, I knew I had to check it out. As is to be expected in such cases, the Catholic Church does not disappoint. Some are calling it a miracle, but those who are do not speak for the Diocese.

Keeping in mind that my source for the story is Fox (Fox news seems more interested than most in this incident), apparently what happened is that a parishioner returned a host to the priest during communion. The priest put the host in a glass of water to dissolve it, but instead it began to “bleed.” Church officials were called in to investigate. There are several things odd here, although I’m no inquisitor, that make me wonder about the veracity of the story. First: Fox news. There are other outlets as well, so I’ll let that go at the moment. When a person was given a wafer at Nashotah House and for whatever reason turned it back in, the celebrant simply ate it. Priests, by definition believers in miracles, need not worry about germs. Protecting the host from desecration was the main thing. Putting it in a glass of water? I suppose that’s acceptable in some places, but even an Episcopalian would be shocked. And why was the host returned? Surely it wasn’t defective.

The Eucharist is the central rite of the liturgical churches, and it isn’t taken lightly. Although it is a miracle-laced event, it is expected that the transformation will follow the prescribed rite. I sometimes ponder what priests would do in the face of a genuine, unexplainable wonder. The side of the believer that yearns for validation would surely want to put it on Fox news for all the world to see. The private side would want to let it happen without any need to say anything about it. Keep it a private miracle. In a year when Starbucks red is a sign of an impending war, I wonder if a bleeding host is the most apt way to get the attention of the unfaithful when a simple cup of coffee will do.

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Forward Planning

Smallmindedness bothers me.  Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t claim any great intelligence for myself.  I’m just an average guy who thinks too much.  No, the smallmindedness that I despise comes in capitalist colors.  More specifically, it comes in the form of business-speak.  This is a language in which I make no claims of fluency, but in which I am forced to converse from time to time.  I believe there is a secret coven of businessmen hidden in a dark board room determined to make themselves sound intellectual by cobbling together polysyllables.  Business is, at the heart of it, really simple.  I want your money; how little can I give you for it?  They call economics the dismal science for a reason.  In any case, the other day I was confronted with the phrase “forward planning.”  It was like one of those moments when you walk into the wrong room and you’re disoriented for just a second or two because what you see is not what you expected through that door.  Forward planning.  What other kind of planning is there?  Backward planning?  Victims of time have no choice in the matter.
 
I’m bemused by the ubiquity of “best practices.”  No, thank you.  I prefer to use worst practices.  Of course we all want to do things the best way possible.  Putting insipid neologisms in the way is not how one achieves it.  What’s wrong with just saying what you mean?  Oh, I forgot—the guys in the shadowy boardroom.  There’s nothing like lingo to substitute for depth.
 
At a campus book sale a few weeks ago, I found a copy of the Compact Oxford Dictionary.  Fully aware that any word can be instantly searched online, I hefted the two, heavy volumes and for six dollars walked out with over a million words.  People on campus looked at me funny.  Someone even asked why in the world would I buy a dictionary?  There are plenty of answers I could give.  I could say that I like the feel of something solid in my hands when I practice scholarship.  I could say that it impresses people when you show them how small the type is.  I could say that I have some leaves I’d like to flatten effectively.  The truth, I suspect, you’ve already divined.  I bought these books because no matter how much you look, you won’t find “forward planning” listed anywhere as a legitimate concept.

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