Category: Featured

How to Raise a Sane Child

Rule Number One: Don’t be a Nominalist

My three-year-old son Jack received a menagerie of thirty-some plastic animals at Christmas to go with the dozen or so he already owned. He played with his “anmuls” constantly, carrying them around in different containers (wagon, bag, box, hat) and setting them up in odd places, like the piano.

One night he came running to me, terribly excited, saying I had to see a surprise in his room. It turns out that he and his big sister, Abbie (5), had put the animals on the dresser. But not in a haphazard fashion. In Jack’s awe-filled words: (the “r” is soft in Jack’s pronunciation): “See, yions, tigus, cheeeetahs! El’phants, then hippos. Dogs. See, yitto (i.e., “little”) anmuls then big anmuls, see!”

In short, Jack, with Abbie’s help, had arranged all the animals close together based on species and roughly in order of size. The elephants and hippos were first, followed by the various big cats, then horses and zebras and similar animals like deer and antelopes, then dogs.

It was riveting stuff for ol’ Jack.

Gilson and the Problem of Universals

By chance, I had just come upstairs after reading from Etienne Gilson’s The Unity of Philosophical Experience. I had been reading Chapter III, “The Road to Skepticism,” which deals with the problem of universals.… Read the rest

Dostoyevsky and Flannery O’Connor Reveal Something Ironic about Our Modern World

Essences become meaningless in both a perfect and marred world.

In one of his last works before his masterpiece, The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote The Dream of a Ridiculous Man.

The Dream

In this story, the narrator goes to another solar system and lands on a planet where the inhabitants are people just like us, but untainted by the Fall in the Garden of Eden. They live, the narrator tells us:

“In the same paradise as that in which . . . our parents lived before they sinned.”

But the narrator, being a fallen man, corrupts the inhabitants:

“Like the germ of a plague infecting whole kingdoms, I corrupted them all.”

They then begin to act like us on earth. In the words of Russian literature professor Arthur Trace:

“They invent morality because now there was immorality; they make a virtue of shame, whereas before they had no need for shame; they invent the concept of honor because now there is such a thing as dishonor; they invent justice because now there is injustice; and they invent brotherhood and friendship because there is hatred.”

Arthur Trace, Furnace of Doubt (1988), 24.

In short, on the unfallen planet, there was no virtue or morality because there was no vice or immorality in contrast. There was no distinction between bad and good.

It was a morally-existentialist world: no essences; just existence.

I fear we’ve reached a similar point in our culture, where the moral essences, like bad and good, no longer carry meaning. But it’s not because we’re the perfect planet of the Ridiculous Man. I fear it’s because we’ve deviated so far from … Read the rest

Stop Being So Serious: Ten Hints

Shortly before he was martyred with others in 203, St. Saturus related a vision he had of heaven. He said he and the other martyrs were carried eastward to a garden, where a handful of angels started exclaiming, “Here they are! Here they are!” The martyrs were taken to a group of elders and an aged man with a youthful face. The martyrs kissed the aged man, and he touched their faces with his hand. Then the elders told them, “Go and play.”

Fr. James Schall understood why the martyrs were told to go and play.

On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs explores the unseriousness of serious human affairs and the seriousness of unserious human affairs. Yes, it is a paradoxical book, but that’s only to be expected from Schall — a devoted reader of G.K. Chesterton.


Schall’s book is a series of loosely-connected essays that revolve around a very basic question: How ought we to live our lives? He never tries to offer an answer to such a question, but he provides guidance in an array of areas, as evidenced by the book’s subtitle: “Teaching, Writing, Playing, Believing, Lecturing, Philosophizing, Singing, Dancing.” To these, I would add Writing and Receiving Letters, Watching Sporting Events, and Spending Time With Friends.… Read the rest

I Found C.S. Lewis Reincarnate in a Flimsy Paperback My Parish was Giving Away Free

Photo by K. Mitch Hodge on Unsplash

A few years ago, I stumbled across a video by some guy with an Australian accent. I listened for awhile and thought, “Man, this guy has a thorough grasp of what he’s talking about.” That guy, I learned later, was Matthew Kelly.

Whenever I pick up one of those flimsy Matthew Kelly paperback books that seem to proliferate and litter the back of churches, and read a few pages, I’m normally edified.

But I’ve never been a Matthew Kelly fan.

I guess I’ve never been able to get past the self-promotion, the pop “Dynamic Catholic!” trademark, those exclamation points, the relentless “be-the-best-version-of-yourself” admonition that sounds like it came from Tony Robbins.

To be honest, I have always kind of looked down my nose at his works, like they’re pablum.

I then picked up I Heard God Laugh. It was lying on our kitchen counter, stained and wrinkled because my wife just grabbed it while walking out of church one day and tossed it in the backseat of her minivan, to be ravaged by the exigencies of being a housewife.

I read a few pages and liked what I read.

It then hit me. “This guy is C.S. Lewis for the 21st-century Catholic.”… Read the rest

Rodriguez, Mother Teresa, and the Garden

Art, Charity, Simplicity, and Detachment

I frequently experience a soft yet unequivocal intuition that tells me gardening is a monastic-like pursuit.

Indeed, it’s even a bit stronger than that:  the intuition tells me that gardening is a holiness-like pursuit.

I don’t know where the intuition comes from. I’m not convinced the intuition is right, but the intuition strikes me for two reasons: it’s undeniably there, and the reasons it’s there are undeniably murky, at best.

That intuition first became conscious for me nine years ago over the same weekend when I watched the documentary Searching for Sugar Man and started reading Mother Teresa: A Simple Path. Neither has anything to do with gardening, but upon reflection, I concluded they have everything to do with gardening.

Rodriguez

Searching for Sugar Man tells the story about Sixto Rodriquez, a folk singer (Bob Dylan knock-off) in the late 1960s.

He lived in downtown Detroit and spent his days doing manual labor and his nights performing in dives of dangerous neighborhoods. He got noticed and cut two albums, including one album in Los Angeles. The albums did nothing, and he went back to his life of manual labor.

He didn’t know that his music had caught fire in South Africa and sold hundreds of thousands of copies. When combined with bootleg sales, millions of copies proliferated through South Africa, where he was “Elvis popular.” In the 1990s, two “musicologist detectives” decided to track down information about the mysterious singer “Rodriquez,” who supposedly killed himself on stage twenty years earlier.

They found him in Detroit, living where he’d been living since the 1970s, in some run-down neighborhood of Detroit. … Read the rest

Jimmy Buffet: Hymnographer

How Jimmy Buffet can help cultivate the virtue of detachment

I started listening to Jimmy Buffet songs when I was in law school. Though I was ambitiously studying hard so I could get a job with a powerful law firm, I was drawn to Buffet’s music because it celebrates a radically carefree lifestyle.

As I later settled into my career as a lawyer, I increasingly enjoyed Buffet’s music as I was increasingly wrapped in the world’s snares. This irony has puzzled me, even as I walked around my house humming his tunes. I’ve concluded that it stems from the need for detachment, a need that Buffet counsels in his music. Music that, for this reason, resembles hymns.


Detachment 101: St. Francis of Assisi

The virtue of detachment is the rejection of the self-regarding cares that bounce us through life like a ball in a pinball machine. If a person is detached, the cares and concerns of the world don’t affect—attach to—him because he doesn’t care about himself.

The detached person doesn’t care about the things that drive most people—worldly status, money, security in the earth’s riches. As a result, the detached person is often poorer in monetary riches, but, in compensation, he receives an ample appreciation of the earth’s beauty as he sees the goodness of God’s creation without distorting it through the lens of his ego.

St. Francis of Assisi once said, “Blessed is he who expecteth nothing, for he shall enjoy everything.” G.K. Chesterton expounded on these words in his biography of St. Francis, writing, “It is not only true that the less a man thinks of himself, the more he thinks of … Read the rest

If You Meet the Buddha, Kill Him

J.D. Salinger hit the jackpot in 1951. At age 32, he published The Catcher in the Rye, a novel about an alienated teenager named “Holden Caulfield,” and it became an immediate bestseller. He was a success.

But the novel met with considerable resistance from parents who thought it was subversive. Perhaps more cutting, the literature establishment didn’t take the work seriously and leveled pointed criticism at it. Salinger grew bitter at the criticism, so bitter that biographers say it drove him into his famed reclusion in Cornish, New Hampshire.

I’ve always found Salinger’s bitterness odd. It’s almost like, through the alienated character of Holden Caulfield, he scorned the offerings of modern culture, but then became disillusioned when success within that modern culture didn’t yield up happiness.

It was an illogical response given Holden Caulfield’s perspective on life. Holden wouldn’t have cared about the haughty literature establishment.

It was also the exact opposite of Albert Camus’ advice in his 1942 book, The Myth of Sisyphus.

Sisyphus was condemned by the gods to roll a huge rock up a hill, only to have it roll back down, for eternity. But Camus said Sisyphus is happy because he understands his fate and understands he can’t avoid it, so he ceases to expect that he’ll ever succeed in getting the rock over the top. In other words, he negates all hope. It’s frustrated hope that makes the punishment hard, Camus says, so if hope is negated, the torture ceases. It might be absurd, Camus said, but it’s our lot in life.

If Salinger was like Sisyphus, or even like Holden, he would have written the novels without regard … Read the rest