Category: Religion

How to Think about the Cell Phone

Weapon of Self-Destruction or Tool of Self-Improvement:

The cell phone. Is it a great thing? A useful thing? An annoying thing? An addicting thing?

A ton of writers have condemned the cell phone on all sorts of grounds. They’re tired of rude talkers who use it in restaurants, parks, and churches, and they’re disgusted by the way cell phones seem to give people a sense of being: “I cell, therefore I am.”

At least one writer, though, decries all this decrying. Jeffrey Tucker, writing at the Ludwig von Mises Institute (http://www.mises.org/story/1849), cogently argued that it’s just more criticism of capitalism, of the Marxist sort. It’s an approach that’s been used repeatedly: Criticize a new technology as an extension of man’s alienation, pepper the essay with quotes from Nietzsche and Freud, and raise the specter of addiction. A few more such jeremiads and the psychiatric profession has a new mental illness to profit from, then maybe the government will get involved with funding.

Tucker also thinks it’s just fear of something new:

“Because our eyes see something new, something we haven’t been socialized to expect, and because the market is expanding and democratizing so rapidly, it creates the illusion of something having gone oddly wrong. Instead of seeking to understand it, the temptation is to reach into pop culture’s bag of ideological bromides and decry it as some sort of pathology.”

These are excellent points.

But he doesn’t address questions that any good disciple of Marshall McLuhan would ask: How does this technology affect the user? What is this need to be in constant touch with everyone, everywhere?… Read the rest

Federal Government Admits Catholicism is True

Well, not really, but indirectly, through PBS’ Flannery O’Connor documentary

I greatly enjoyed PBS documentary, American Masters: Flannery O’Connor, on PBS last night.

I thought the producers respected her intense Catholicism. I’m sure they could’ve found critics to say sacrilegious things like, “Her dark humor emanates from a religion based on a Jew who had a bad afternoon,” but they didn’t. Her Catholicism came up frequently but always as a fact, never as a jab.

There were two forays into her correspondence with a bisexual and a lesbian (couldn’t leave those things out), but I didn’t interpret either as an attempt to portray Flannery as a repressed lesbian, and I’m sure they could’ve found critics to say things like, “Her dark humor emanates from her nascent lesbianism birthed from her Catholicism,” but they didn’t.… 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. Rodriguez then went on tour in South Africa. He appeared on Letterman; 60 Minutes did a special on him. The documentary about the story (Searching … 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 his good luck and of all the gifts of God. It is also true that he sees more of the things themselves when he sees … 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 to what people thought. He would have received the acclaim without self-congratulation. He would have received the criticism without disillusion.


The Anti-Camus

When I was … Read the rest

Killing Trappist Beer

The Trappist brewers are getting old

This is one of the saddest drinking stories of the past few months: Trappist beers are declining due to a lack of new vocations.

The Trappists don’t screw around: The Authentic Trappist Product label is only given to beers that are

  • made in the immediate surroundings of an abbey,
  • produced under the supervision of monks and
  • sold to fund the monastery and for charitable works.

If you lack one of those things, like a brewer monk, you don’t get the label.

Monastic vocations have fallen off a cliff, especially in Belgium, the “spiritual home of Trappist beers.” There are still five or six Trappist breweries and 100 brewer monks in Belgium, but most of them are older (this article says at least one is in his early 30s). I gotta believe they’re going to start dropping like flies around the corn-mash vat.


We need an updated Seven Storey Mountain in Flemish. Merton published his autobiography in 1949. By 1950, monastic vocations were surging. From Wikipedia:

“The book has served as a powerful recruitment tool for the priestly life in general, and for the monastic orders in particular. In the 1950s, Gethsemani Abbey and the other Trappist monasteries experienced a surge in young men presenting themselves for the cenobitic life. It is a well-known bit of Catholic lore that, after the book’s publication, many priests entered monasteries or seminaries with a copy in their suitcase.”


From Belgianhappiness.com:

10 Trappist breweries worldwide

“Worldwide there are only 10 Trappist abbeys where Trappist beer is brewed. Six of them are Belgian Trappist breweries: AchelChimay, OrvalRochefortWestmalle and Westvleteren.

“In The Netherlands there are two Trappist breweries: La Trappe and Zundert. In Austria there is the Engelszell … Read the rest