Monthly Archives: April 2006

Third Sunday of Easter

I often refer to the first reading on Sundays as the OT reading. Today, again, it’s from Acts, which is in the NT, of course. So I’m going to have to stop referring to it as OT. Maybe 1R? Let’s give it a try.

The 1R is from Acts, Peter speaking. Amazingly, he says of Jesus, you handed him over and denied him. You! As if Peter himself had not famously denied Christ three times. The nerve of this guy!

Okay, I’m being a bit cheeky here. And I appreciate Peter articulating the theology that Christ died for all of us, for our sins, Peter’s included. But his phrasing here is all in the second person, not first or first plural even. So he’s right, but he’s not being especially nice about it.

The 2R is from John, who starts out with some second person, but then moves to first plural, and then ends in the third. So he’s all over the map. But again with the same thing: “He is expiation for our sins.”

The Gospel is from St. Luke, apparently just after the breaking of the bread at Emmaus. I love the Caravaggio depiction, with the disciple on the left leaping up from his chair and the disciple on the right with his hands flung out in shock and wonder. And then in today’s reading, the two disciples are back with the rest, describing what’s happened when Christ again appears in their midst. And then, what’s now got to be one of my favorite lines in all of Scripture, the risen Lord, having gone through the Passion and having risen from the dead, asks:

Have you anything here to eat?

And so they give him a piece of baked fish, and he eats it. How awesome is that? In the one sense, he’s proving to the disciples, and to us, that he really has come back from the dead. A ghost doesn’t have flesh and bones, he tells them. Ghosts don’t eat. On the other hand, it’s just so great a little human drama moment, a little slice of life. Just sets the scene so well for me, like when St. John’s Gospel mentions the time of day or has Jesus doodle in the dirt.

Then Christ opens their minds to understand the Scriptures. So I guess that’s why Peter can be so bold then, later in Acts, like we heard earlier. He has seen and believed and had this mind opening, and will later receive the Holy Spirit at Pentacost. So I guess I can forgive him his nerve.

Battlefield and Lumber Yard

Up early, but not for working out, not today. I drop off Dawn and then head south to pick up Dad for a boys’ day. I choose the HOV lanes by the Pentagon, even though it’s Saturday morning, feeling like the last time I passed up the chance to use them I ended up stuck in horrible traffic. And just a couple miles down I see that traffic in the regular lanes is stopped. Completely stopped. I’m really glad I took the HOV lanes.

Some ways up they’re letting cars go one by one through a break in the guard rail from the regular lanes into the HOV lanes. That’s going to take a while. Interstate 395 south is then completely closed and empty past this. I sail on by, wondering what the deal is. A little further down are a ton of cops, both county and state. Then, finally, off to the left, against the guard rail, is a charter bus. There’s a sheet covering the front left corner, but you can still see a great deal of blood splashed down the side. God, it looks like the bus hit somebody.

There’s a lot of that going around lately, people getting hit by cars. A lot of immigrants in the area are from places without a lot of traffic, or if there’s a lot of traffic it isn’t particularly regulated, so they’re crossing like Route 50 in Seven Corners not at the lights or crosswalks but just anywhere in between. And they’re getting hit. Lately there are ads on billboards and the sides of buses reminding pedestrians to look both ways and be aware of traffic. So I figure that the bus has hit someone who was, dangerously, trying to cross the interstate.

(Later I find out that something happened to the driver of the bus, something bizarre, that it was he himself who was the accident victim.)

I get to Dad’s about 9:30 and have a cup of coffee with Sharon while Dad gets some pants on and finds various gear for our outing today. We leave about 10:00 and get to Manassas National Battlefield Park about 10:30. Rob’s supposed to have been meeting us here between 10:00 and 10:30, so I’m sheepish when we arrive that maybe we’ve kept him waiting. But he’s nowhere to be found. Finally I call him on his cell, and I find that he’s still at home. He says he’s leaving and on his way, but it takes him like forty-five minutes to arrive. Dad’s quite antsy as we sit on the Jetta tailgate until Rob finally pulls up.

We walk the Henry Hill Loop Trail, about a mile long, which starts and ends at the Visitor Center. This gives us a fairly good sense of the first battle; the second battle was apparently much bigger and is better seen with a driving tour. The first battle started with some diversion type deal down at the Stone Bridge, which we can’t see from here, and then there was the main attack over to our north on Matthews Hill. The Confederate lines broke down and they retreated to Henry Hill. It was on Henry Hill, as the southern forces rallied, that Gen. Barnard Bee shouted out the thing about Gen. Thomas Jackson standing like a stone wall, before Bee was mortally wounded.

The trail starts at the line of cannon from Capt. Rickett’s battery into the face of which the South’s rally began. Dad and I had time before Rob arrived to see the exhibit in the Visitor’s Center about how guns like these were manned and moved and set up during battle. We argue over what’s a caisson and what’s a limber. Rob’s been playing some computer game that’s some sort of simulation game of the First Battle of Manassas, so he tells us how deadly guns like these were. They look so funny to my modern eyes, so small compared to like the giant howitzers of nowadays, or like the 16-inch guns on battleships that shoot shells the size of VW Bugs. But Rob says that these cannons have a range of about 200 yards. Every time he gets off a shot in the game with one of these he kills about 90 guys. Call them the weapons of mass destruction of their day.

Next to the north is the actual Henry House itself, which Judith Henry refused to leave, and then where she was shot and killed. The house that we see is some sort of recreation and is itself being restored somehow. We see inside all sorts of construction and equipment; it looks like my house some weekends.

We go next a little further north to see Matthews Hill in the distance. Then east downhill to some cut of water, some branch maybe of Bull Run or Catharpin Run, then back uphill to Robinson House. All that’s left of Robinson House is a rock foundation. I’ve been noticing the really rustic split rail fencing that’s all around, and here Dad and I grab and shake some fence to see how strong it is. And it’s really strong. There’s no mechanical fasteners at all. It’s all held together by the weight of the rails. It’s really cool. And the rails themselves look like split logs, hewn rather than ripped, although they’ve clearly been crosscut to length.

Back along the southeast of the battlefield are a length of Confederate cannon. We spend some time trying to figure out what part of the guns and assembly were originally made of wood and what was made of iron. Everything in the displays we see is metal, with some of it textured to look like wood. I guess real wood needs a lot more maintenance and attention than these iron reproductions. Even the wheels are metal.

Almost back to the Visitors Center there’s a marker that notes a point where some assemblage of Confederate soldiers were under bombardment and then made a charge at two guns about 100 yards away. Dad marks off and counts the steps/yards to the two cannon, declaring it to be about right despite having judged it much closer initially. I think it’s the way that it sort of crests a hill that way, makes it look shorter maybe. For some reason the Confederates were able to make the 100-yard dash without the cannons firing and ripping them apart. A marker at the guns notes that further investigations never could determine why the Union soldiers never fired.

Finally back at the Visitors Center we check out the bookstore/giftshop. I find a Marvel Comics series on Civil War battles and so check out the one on First Manassas. I show it to Rob and declare the comic book format a great way to display information about events like this. Pictures are the best, I say. Pictures and maps. Rob says maps do it for him. And they’re graphic novels, he says.

We head out together down 234 looking for a place to eat. The woman at the cash register had suggested Cracker Barrel, but I’ve never eaten at a Cracker Barrel, and now I don’t want to break my streak. Rob says there’s a Damons a little ways down. We ate at a Damons back in January when we went to the Air & Space Museum, so I declare that we’ll always go to a Damons, we’ll make it our place, and so we go there. When we get there it’s closed.

So Rob says there’s a Mikes further down, and Dad says he loves Mikes so we go looking for Mikes. But we never find Mikes. Rob says that if we get to the hospital we’ve gone too far, and then we get to the hospital and we still haven’t found it. Finally we get to a shopping center where a sign says they’ve got a sports bar, so Dad and I decide that we’re eating there. And so we do.

But it also turns out that Rob’s played here in his band. And the one time I saw the band they played at the Roadhouse and then Rob & Chris & I came to eat here, at the Clubhouse Sports Bar. I order a Yuengling on draft to go with the pulled pork barbecue sandwich they’ve got on special, Dad gets a can of Guinness and the special as well, and Rob gets a Coke and chicken wings and fries.

I had been planning to go to a lumber yard if I had time, beforehand, but now we’re actually only a couple blocks away now that we’ve come so far south for lunch, so we all go there after finishing eating. The place is called Northland Forest Products. I’d been trying to get to Vienna Hardwoods the last couple weeks and just haven’t found the time, but I’m glad now to go to NFP since they and/or what they sell is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. The FSC was set up after the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio to establish standards for sustainable harvesting of forests. The cabinet maker I had met last year, Curt Barger, had recommended NFP because of their certification.

I was a little nervous about how things would work, but I feel like I do okay. When we first walk in there’s all the wood to the left and like a little office building to the right, all of this inside a small warehouse, and I wasn’t sure if I should check in at the office. But then I thought that maybe they were conducting some business in there and I should wait outside until someone came out. We wandered around looking at and for wood for a little while, since there wasn’t like anywhere we could disappear to and you can’t exactly boost boards by slipping them in your jacket or pocket or anything. I was looking for about eight board feet of 6/4 southern yellow pine and about 3 board feet of a 3/4 softish hardwood like aspen or butternut. It seemed like the wood was labeled in actual thickness rather than nominal. I found 1/2″ S2S poplar, which was perfect, and I set aside a straight board of that.

About that time a guy comes out of the office. I introduce myself, as does he, name of Warren, and I explain that I’m not sure how things work, and he’s very helpful. He only has eastern white pine in 5/4″, but he suggests that will work better than southern yellow pine anyway. And he helpfully suggests two of the 7′ boards, when I think that I could probably get away with one. (When I get home and do some better measuring of the wood, I figure that I can get from the boards 20 spindles, when I need 18. Only one board clearly would have left me way short.)

Warren goes into the office to write up the order after telling me that I can crosscut the boards myself to fit them in the car. I do so using this nifty Ryobi 8 1/2″ sliding miter saw. The pine boards are ten inches wide, but with the sliding saw it’s fun and easy to cut them. I put the boards aside and follow Warren into the office. In there, while he’s processing my credit card, he invites me to look through a photo album of furniture and other projects that customers have made with wood from here. Lots of stuff that’s way beyond what I’ll ever be able to do, but he tells me that everybody has to start somewhere. He also suggests classes taught by the local counties.

When I tell him that I’ve taken classes at Woodcraft in Springfield, he notes that they get all the wood that they sell from him. I say that I haven’t taken the plunge yet to joining the club there, what with the initial and monthly fees. He suggests the Reston Community Center woodshop, where non-residents can use the shop for seven bucks. He gives me a flyer.

Make the Cut at RCC’s Open Woodshop

Do you want to do woodworking projects,but have no place to work or lack essential woodworking tools? RCC has the answer! You are invited to use RCC’s open woodshop. The woodshop offers ample workspace and has equipment such as table saws, sanders, drills, worktables and a lathe.

In addition to a large and well-lit workspace and access to professional tools, the open woodshop enables crafters at all levels of skill to draw inspiration and advice from their fellow woodworkers.

The woodshop is located at the Reston Community Center, Hunters Woods. The woodshop fee is $5 for people who live or work in Reston and $7 for all others. Woodshop hours are Tuesday, 6-10 p.m. and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Registration is not required for this program.

It sounds too good to be true, but I’m definitely giving them a call.

Pancho Villa

Honestly, I pretty much knew nothing about Pancho Villa when I wrote the earlier post, except his name. Or I guess I knew that he maybe was in a Hollywood movie once, that like maybe somebody filmed him attacking a train or something and used that in a movie. But that’s about it. And I mentioned as well Emiliano Zapato, about whom I know even less, except that he’s evidently where the Zapatistas get their name.

Pancho Villa apparently was somewhat vaguely Marxist, in his own way. I love though the description of him from his Wikipedia entry: “Villa’s revolutionary aims (other than military goals), unlike those of Emiliano Zapata’s Plan de Ayala, were never clearly defined. Villa spoke vaguely of creating communal military colonies for his ex-soldiers…” I don’t know how committed a Marxist he was, then, other than speaking vaguely. And he apparently really was in the movies, four of them. All told, he sounds to me more like a bandit than anything else. Probably would have loved to have been dictator himself. Was in fact provisional governor (dictator) of Guadalajara for a while.

But, then, I did in fact call Pancho Villa “pal” in the earlier post, specifically as in being one of “our pals,” as if he were my pal, without actually knowing anything about him. So for that I apologize. I didn’t mean anything by it though. I mean, he never did anything against me personally, so I got nothing against him. But he wasn’t especially a nice guy either, so I got nothing for him then neither.

Or what I know of him is that he was some sort of outlaw. And we all love the outlaw archetype, don’t we? Whether Jesse James or Pancho Villa or Pretty Boy Floyd. Dig deep down and you’ll most likely find a real thug, a pig of a person, a killer, but the legend is the thing that we love, not so much the person. So that’s about all I was going for, with the “pal,” I suppose.

But then again, no, not just that, but maybe a little bit more, a Robin Hood type figure, rich/poor/robbing from/giving to type deal. Always fun.

But, Pancho Villa was a pro-American outlaw before he was an anti-American outlaw. To wit, here’s a link to a picture of Villa and Pershing, a picture from 1914, back when they were in fact pals, back when the US supported Villa, before they cut off aid to him and then in 1916 Villa in a pique of revenge attacked Columbus NM and killed US soldiers and civilians so then Pershing led the Punitive Expedition into Mexico after him.

But I’m not all hung up about all this. It’s all war and realpolitik and deals with the devil and backstabbing and betrayal. Whatever. That’s just war. And like I said before, this whole Mexican Revolution thing is really beyond my ability to grasp, way beyond my ken anyway.

But, bottom line, Pancho Villa is not really my pal.


Rob wrote in to chastise me about my comment about the US “meddling” in Mexican affairs, specifically with respect to Pancho Villa. He apparently thought I was referring the Punitive Expedition, in 1916, where General Blackjack Pershing led US troops into Mexico, after Pancho Villa attacked Columbus NM and killed US soldiers and civilians.

But I was specifically referring to US ambassador to Mexico Henry Lane Wilson, who helped Victoriano Huerta overthrow, capture and assassinate Francisco Madero during the Decena Tragica in 1913. But, anyway, in this particular case, it’s not like Madero himself was a nice guy or anything. Neither was Porfiro Diaz, for that matter, the guy Madero replaced.

But, frankly, it’s not like a secret or anything that the US was involved. Heck, it was official US policy to meddle in the affairs of our southern neighbors. President Theodore Roosevelt unapologetically articulated as such in his annual message to the Congress in 1904. In the section Policy Toward Other Nations of the Western Hemisphere, he specifically announced that the United States, in the case of “wrongdoing” or “impotence” by another country, the United States would be “forced” to the “exercise of an international police power.” We then proceeded to invade and occupy Cuba, Nicaragua (three times), Haiti , and the Dominican Republic in the next thirty years, before the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine was replaced by FDR’s Good Neighbor Policy.

Honestly, Rob totally surprised me. I didn’t imagine that I was saying anything even remotely controversial.

Meddling, it’s just what we do.


My lovely bride and I today celebrate three years together as husband and wife. We were married at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, April 26, 2003, by the Rev. Msgr. W. Ronald Jameson, in the St. Anthony of Padua Chapel, in the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, in Washington DC.

Well, I suppose the Mass started at 10:00 a.m.; what time the actual moment of “I now pronounce you husband and wife” occurred, I can’t tell you. Or whenever it is in the Catholic wedding Mass that the actual moment of marriage occurs. The procession itself, such as it was, started at ten o’clock, with the wedding party of our sisters and Dawn and I each brought in by our parents, and Paul playing the organ and Jenny our cantor leading the processional hymn. The cathedral was undergoing major renovations at the time, and the back of the nave where we gathered was filled with scaffolding, kind of a cool effect, like a tunnel or cave, from which we emerged to go up the steps into the chapel.

Writing that just now, not having thought about it quite that way before, it strikes me that that imagery mirrors of course what we celebrate at Easter. And so I like that, the idea that marrying is not just changing our lives, but truly starting a new life, a rebirth into something completely different and special and wonderful. Not to mention that her very name is Dawn.

And a lot of days it is that, different and special and wonderful, and but then naturally some days it takes a lot of effort for me to try to be agreeable and not cranky or in a funk, to be somebody loveable and worth staying with, but really most days it’s not even something we have to think much about, it’s just so easy. And that’s what surprises me the most, how easy it is most days, the vast majority of days.

And for some reason this, and thinking all this week about Dawn and how crazy in love I am with her, it all makes me think of some of my favorite poems, by Amy Lowell. First, from Venus Transiens:

Tell me,
Was Venus more beautiful
Than you are,
When she topped
The crinkled waves,
Drifting shoreward
On her plaited shell?

On our honeymoon we went to the Uffizi and together saw the Botticelli that Amy Lowell is talking about, even more so then for me it made this poem all about Dawn. And I love Dawn’s cute little feet, and Venus has funny little cartoon feet in the painting. My wife is beautiful, my goddess of love.

Then there’s Decade:

When you came, you were like red wine and honey,
And the taste of you burnt my mouth with its sweetness.
Now you are like morning bread,
Smooth and pleasant.
I hardly taste you at all for I know your savour,
But I am completely nourished.

And that of course is the easy part. Hopefully I’m not taking it for granted surely, but then not so much tasting as savoring.

Finally, this, from Interlude:

You shine, Beloved,
You and the moon.
But which is the reflection?
The clock is striking eleven.
I think, when we have shut and barred the door,
The night will be dark

I love that, that sexy sort of aside that ends the poem. Saying it ain’t dark in here, baby. It’s going to shine. It’ll be hot.

Being married to Dawn is all of these.

Save Our Land, Save Our Towns

Dawn leaves work early Monday night to go to Catholic University to some library science class. She’s not taking the class; rather, she’s one of three members of a panel of some sort presenting to a class. My understanding is that some co-worker of hers was supposed to do it but had to back out at the last minute, and Dawn is filling in for her. Things go late so Dawn doesn’t get out until like 7:30, and then she doesn’t get to the Brookland CUA Metro stop until almost 8:00. I pick her up at Union Station at 8:20.

So anyway we get home late and have dinner late, too late to start an episode of Horatio or The Forsyte Saga that we’ve been watching. But we end up finding on PBS a documentary called Save Our Land, Save Our Towns, about suburban sprawl and land use planning. It’s utterly and thoroughly compelling.

It first makes me think how my brother every chance he gets reminds me that he thinks that DC is a special corner of Hell. And that makes me so fucking mad every time he spews that shit. First of all because it’s just gone beyond rude at this point, that he has to keep saying it. But then also because he lives out Route 7 in Loudon County in fucking grotesque suburban sprawl. And that sprawl is killing him and killing America.

The part we saw in Save Our Land, Save Our Towns talked about the postwar development of suburbs, and the decay of cities, as being a byproduct of fractured zoning laws among too many municipalities, as well as great subsidization of highways, and everything devoted to the automobile, at the expense of public transportation. Nowadays, of course, so many states and counties are realizing that suburbs are ugly and polluting and isolating places, and are not at all a good model. Hence the renewal of cities, as witnessed by the astonishing real estate market in my city, as well as the idea of mixed use, town-like development rather than awful Levittowns and strip malls.

And today I hear that Jane Jacobs has died. She apparently was the author of The Death and Life of Great American Cities. And I immediately like how that title has it, first death and then life. I really feel that, living in a city as I do, that life. My neighborhood is getting better, with fewer and fewer boarded up abandoned buildings. (The once abandoned and now grossly expanding house next door to me notwithstanding.)

And I really felt it today when Dawn and I were walking to work. We said hello to Rob a couple doors down as he was leaving for work. Around the corner we said hello to Tiffany, as she was getting on her bike and leaving for work. We said hello to the two dogs that we know, Simon and Rose, and we petted Rose’s head, and chatted with their owner, whom we know only as Mr. Simon or sometimes Mr. Rose.

We waved at the Jack Russel terrier who’s always in the upstairs window at 1347 Mass and whom we call Jack, and he gave us a friendly bark. We said hello to the guy at the bus stop at Independence and Massachusetts, whom we learned today is named Peter. We waved to the woman who jogs in Lincoln Park with her yellow lab. We saw our ballet friend Renee walking her two dogs. We chatted for half a block with the woman who owns the three English Sheepdogs that we think, and she agreed, look like pandas.

We waved at Ann in her minivan (okay, driving her kids to school); we see them and exchange waves a lot of mornings on D Street. And I chatted briefly with my friend from St. Matt’s on Connecticut Avenue on my walk from Farragut North to my building.

Meanwhile, millions of people in the suburbs got in their cars and drove to work, spending hours in the car alone, spewing pollution, without a kind word to or from anybody. Oh, except for Howard Stern on the radio, if he counts for kind words. Now, admittedly, we don’t see all those people every morning, but we do see somebody, one or two of them, every morning. Or we see and chat with Tiger the Yorkshire terrier and his owner. Or wave to the old white gentleman who buys the morning paper at the market at 4th and Mass. Or the old black gentleman who lives in the building next to the old Red River Grill. Or the homeless woman outside the Catholic Charities John L. Young Center. Our commute is really friendly.

But of course I don’t really know much about urban planning and land use, or know just a little, just enough to think maybe I know something, which is usually worse than knowing nothing, so I want to learn more. The Save our Land, Save our Towns website lists books to read for further reference. And I even know one of them, Edge City by Joel Garreau, having read a bit of it. I even met Joel Garreau when he came into the Crown Books at 22nd and M when I was working one weekend, when I worked for Tony Bell as a floating manager. I got Mr. Garreau to sign a copy for me, mostly because the book had these great photos comparing Tysons Corner in like 1940 to Tysons Corner today (or then, in 1990 or so). But I don’t think I ever finished the book. I’m pretty sure I didn’t, although it was a long time ago, so who knows. I’m sure I don’t have that signed copy anymore. The website recommends Crabgrass Frontier by Kenneth T. Jackson as the definitive history of suburban sprawl.

Of course I want to read more about St. Paul, and more woodworking books and magazines, and keep up with my New Yorker subscription. And more about the Mexican Revolution and the Cristeros. More about land use planning? Then it’ll have to be in my spare time, my other spare time, the spare time from my spare time.

But my point here, I suppose, if I ever really have a point, is that living in the city is good for me. It’s good for my physical health. It’s good for my mental health, my psychic health, my cultural health. And it’s apparently good for the environment. Gosh darn it, it’s good for America.


So I was only semi-serious yesterday when I mentioned that maybe Marx had something to do with the trouble between the Catholic Church and the government of Mexico in the 1920s. I’ve done a little Wikipedia reading, and boy is the situation a whole lot more complicated that that.

When mentioning Marx, I was imagining that, since the 1920s was soon after the 1917 revolution in Russia, that maybe there was some sort of spillover into Mexico. And didn’t Trotsky end up in Mexico? And I was thinking that the Catholic Church was probably involved somehow on the wrong side, on the side of landowners and the oligarchy. That was about all I figured, and mostly all wrong.

Well, the Mexican Revolution started a bit earlier, and is sometimes known as the Mexican Revolution of 1910. So it pre-dates the Bolsheviks, and but anyway was more of a popular uprising against dictatorship, in this case Porfirio Diaz, when he jailed Francisco Madero on election day. There was various back and forth, revolution and counter-revolution, and our pals Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata, and of course the United States meddled in things as we always do.

The thing about the Church was a lot more serious than I imagined. The Mexican Constitution of 1917 specifically outlawed monastic vows and orders, nationalized all Church property, prevented worship outside of Church buildings, and denied voting, property holding, or even the right to comment publicly, by Church officials. All this in the land of the Virgin of Guadalupe.

And this wasn’t just idle stuff, laws on the books only, as the government violently enforced these laws too, especially President Calles starting in 1924. And so all this led to the Cristero War, beginning on New Year’s Day 1927. Imagine, revolutionaries naming themselves after Christ himself.

So it’s like at first it was the Church on the side of the oligarchy, but then the revolutionaries oppressed the Church, so then the Church became counter-revolutionary, and then peasants revolted in support of the Church, or something like that. I can’t even begin to figure this out.

Second Sunday of Easter

I’m thankful that Easter isn’t just one day; rather, it’s a season. And even Easter the day is an octave, it’s eight days, so today’s readings are Easter readings still. So this is like re-doing last week, having the big day again but with and among the people who want to be here, rather than the crowds who for some reason had to be here.

And I know I’m being snotty and judgemental and awful. And I’m sorry. It’s something I need to work on.

But the readings are great and so is the music and we’ve got incense and sprinkling of holy water. It’s a beautiful Mass, although the choir is somewhat rearranged. Bill has put Ellen over on the right, next to Jenny who was the cantor at our wedding.

And the first reading is from Acts, and it’s of a similar piece to my favorite in Acts. In fact, today’s reading is the specific one for Year B, but the Worship book lists an alternate reading for any year, from the second chapter of Acts, my total favorite: “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need.” The Year B reading, the one today, has the similar:

There was no needy person among them,
for those who owned property or houses would sell them,
bring the proceeds of the sale,
and put them at the feet of the apostles,
and they were distributed to each according to need.

Either way I love the total c.f. with one Karl Marx and his “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” Okay, so everything doesn’t especially square with his “religion is the opiate of the masses,” but we can’t have everything. I like to tell people that the Democratic Party is too conservative for me, that I myself am somewhere to the left of Fidel Castro. Or, I like to remember the story Peter Case told when I saw him at the old 9:30 Club. The Berlin Wall had recently fallen, and a friend of his had remarked that with the fall of Communism, he was now awaiting the fall of Capitalism. “What’re you, an anarchist?” someone asked. “No,” the friend replied, “I’m a Christian.”

And that helps me some, because I certainly haven’t sold my house and given the proceeds to the Church. And I still want more stuff, much beyond what I need. And so that’s more to work on too.

And then there are the relics. The Knights of Columbus are sponsoring a pilgrimage of relics of six priests who were martyred in Mexico during the persecution of the Church in the 1920s. They’re in a beautiful silver reliquary that’s stationed just inside the sanctuary. Father Caulfield invites us to venerate them after Mass, and he urges us to pray for their intercession. I wrote recently about the unlikely event of ever having my life threatened for my faith, and how I failed even in the abstract to demonstrate even a minimal amount of strength. And so here now are six martyrs, and we’re not talking like ancient Rome or anything, but in recent history, within the lifetime of my grandfather, himself a Knight of Columbus and after whom I am named. And so after Mass we kneel at the communion rail and I pray for the strength of faith.

And so now I think about maybe finding out more about what the heck was going on in Mexico in the 1920s. Some sort of revolution, I guess. Probably influenced by that Marx fellow.

W/R/T Benedict

So, what happened was, my wife tried to comment on the post this week about His Holiness Benedict XVI, and wanted to know what I thought of him in the context of having approved the Instruction, of seeming to personally take such a hard line against gay priests. But she posted the comment to the wrong blog entry, one about helping my mother pack. So I didn’t understand that she was asking about the Instruction in the context of the Holy Father.

So, yes, I do really like Benedict XVI, and, no, he’s not especially progressive on the gay rights front.

His Holiness is actually a lot more progressive generally, or, rather, a lot less conservative, than was expected at first. As Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for almost the entirety of His Holiness John Paul II’s reign, then Bishop and later Cardinal Ratzinger was nicknamed “God’s Rottweiler” for his conservative zeal. And then upon his installation to the papacy, he was expected to be much the same way. So he has apparently surprised some quarters with his general amiability and with so far having made few changes to the curiate. And, heck, he appointed, as his successor to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, William Cardinal Levada, the Archbishop of San Francisco. Yes, Cardinal Levada is apparently a fairly conservative guy himself. But, c’mon. He’s the Archbishop of San Francisco.

And but anyway, we have to note that we’re operating here still under the sexual abuse scandals of the past decade. Yes, it’s a scandal of pedophile priests, not gay priests, but I still think the Instruction addresses the scandal. And I hope that a lot of things in the Church will continue to be influenced by the scandal. While I think in many ways the Church’s reactions to individual cases of sexual abuse, especially say in the forties and fifities, simply reflects what generally American society’s reaction would be, as something not discussed, as something to be dealt with discreetly for all involved especially the victim, is somewhat understandable. And also the Church is in something of a bind in that ordination is a sacrament, not something to be given lightly sure but then also not something to be taken away easily either. The Church’s actions as to the issue of sexual abuse, however, the Church’s very inability to protect innocents from predatory priests, agents of the Church herself, is nothing short of breathtakingly wrong, an utter tragedy, as well as being legally tortious and surely criminally negligent on quite a few folk’s part.

And I can only admire the courage of those who have come forward to testify to what happened and bravely face their abusers.

So then what to do now, how to go forward from here, is to comfort those victims and make damn sure that it won’t happen again. And of course individual cases will happen again, but we need to make damn sure that we do all we can to prevent it from happening and then also own up to it when if does happen and try to help the victims, and deal with the guilty, when it happens. And, for goodness sake, dealing with it doesn’t just mean transferring the priest to another parish. This is first of all criminal behavior, so the first thing to do is to involve the civil authorities. Call the cops. Yes, it’s a Church matter, but it’s not just a Church matter. It’s not even primarily a Church matter. And that’s probably been the biggest problem all these years, thinking of it as and trying to keep it a Church matter. It’s not and it can’t be and it’s a tragedy that the Church thought so.

And so that’s the context of the Instruction. It can’t help but have come about because of the sexual abuse scandals. It’s not so much a product of Benedict XVI, as it’s a product of trying to protect the innocent and, yes, the Church itself. It’s wrongheaded, and misguided in that it seems to equate homosexuality with pedophilia, and it doesn’t attempt to even think about heterosexual abusive priests or celibacy in general although that’s another story for another day, but it’s the Church doing something at least. And so that’s how I think of it with respect to the Holy Father, as less to do with the Holy Father himself but with the Church as a whole.

And lastly I want to emphasize that the Church is not simply an institution or an entity separate from the people, from us, those who comprise the Church. The Church is the people in the Church. I am the Church and we are the Church. The Church is the people of the Church. And I sometimes say, “Don’t underestimate the ability of people to fuck things up.” By that I mean that we’re human. We’re fallible. So the Church has often gotten things wrong, Galileo and the sexual abuse scandals being merely the greatest examples. But on the whole I can only believe that the Church, that we, get more things right than wrong. And that we are working on it. That we are working on the Kingdom of God.

Instruction w/r/t Homosexuals

My wife writes in and asks what I think of the Instruction Concerning the Criteria for the Discernment of Vocations with regard to Persons with Homosexual Tendencies in view of their Admission to the Seminary and to Holy Orders.

I’m not sure why she writes in to ask about this. I immediately think her interest is somewhat suspect. That she’s being, well, let’s say mischievous, rather than snarky. Maybe I’m being paranoid, but she’s never mentioned this document to me or asked me about it before. However, I decide to treat her question seriously. And so I go and read the thing.

By way of background, the Instruction is a document of the Catholic Church, approved by the Holy Father on August 31, 2005, and formally published on November 4, 2005. Specifically, it is a document of and by the Congregation for Catholic Education, which itself is one of many congregations, and congregations are one department of many in the Roman Curia, the administrative apparatus of the Catholic Church. The Congregation for Catholic Education is ultimately responsible for what is taught, and how it is taught, in seminaries, universities and schools. My wife is herself something of a product of the Congregation, having received a number of graduate degrees from the Catholic University of America.

The particular Instruction at present, as its name attests, speaks to what to do with gay men who want to become priests. The Instruction first reiterates the Church’s position that homosexual acts are grave sins and it describes homosexual tendencies as a disorder. Therefore, “the Church … cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practise homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called ‘gay culture’.”

Okay, so I’m not real thrilled about this. And, frankly, I don’t have to be.

As I understand it, I’m required to believe in Jesus Christ to be a Christian. And I’m required to believe in a lot more things to be a Catholic. We recite the Creed at Mass most Sundays. And I just personally figure that I ought to believe these things that I say out loud every week that I believe. And then there are further Catholic dogmas that we have to believe that we don’t talk about every week, like the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption. And I love those, by the way, so, hey, no problem believing those.

And so then I can disagree with the Church on things beyond that. I’m not in charge, mind you, so I can’t directly change a lot of those things, but I can disagree. It’s kinda like living in America under the Bush regime. Just because it’s official United States policy that we attack Iraq doesn’t mean I have to like it, that I have to agree with it. And disagreeing with it doesn’t make me not an American. And disagreeing with certain doctrines of the Catholic Church doesn’t make me not a Catholic.

So I believe that someday we’ll have married priests, and women priests, and openly gay priests. And gay marriage. Probably not in my lifetime, but someday. And I’m okay with that. Vitally integral to my return to the Catholic Church was my realization that I don’t know everything, that I don’t have all the answers. And I suppose the opposite side of that coin is that nobody else knows everything or has all the answers either. I follow the Catholic Church because it is the faith of my parents and grandparents and goes way back. It’s a part of me. And I do believe. I believe in God, in Jesus Christ his only son our Lord, in the Holy Spirit, in one catholic and apostolic church, and the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come. Amen.

But the Church has been wrong before and likely is wrong about things now and will be wrong about things in the future. And it’s right about things too. And so too me. And we all work towards getting it right.


I’m a little sore today from playing kickball last night. I guess from madly dashing around the bases, since I play catcher and don’t otherwise run around much. And my face is a little banged up from taking a foul ball right in kisser, which jammed my glasses up into my eye socket.

And I went to the bar, the Irish Times, afterwards with the team. Well, I walked over with Malaika and everybody else either walked a whole lot slower or they drove or took Metro. Our walk took twenty minutes, and we talked about history. She used to be a tour guide at Mount Vernon and at the Air & Space Museum.

I used to be a young person who went out with the gang and drank at bars. I suppose it was as disgusting then as it is now, but I just didn’t know it. The kickball teams follow up at Irish Times with a competition downstairs called Flip Cup, where teams compete in a relay of drinking and then putting the plastic cup upside down on the edge of the table and flipping it until it comes to rest right side up. The table, players and floor become slick with beer. I watched one round and then had to leave.

Happy Anniversary to the Holy Father

His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, celebrates today the first anniversary of his installation as the 264th or so successor to the chair of St. Peter.

I like him.

And I hope he visits the US. Apparently His Eminence William Cardinal Keeler, the Archbishop of Baltimore, has announced that the Holy Father might visit in the fall of 2007. The General Assembly of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops is in Baltimore in November of 2007, so maybe he’ll address the assembly. And I’d hope he would preside at some big outdoor mass that I could go to.

The reason I like him, other than just because he’s the big cheese, is that I’ve been actually reading him. I read his first encyclical Deus Caritas Est and really liked it. I mean, I’ve never read any other encyclicals, so what do I know, but I found it not just readable but enjoyable. I talked about it with Michael Winters, who has written about the Catholic Church for the New Republic as well as other publications, and who helped run inquiry classes back in the summer of 2002 when I was an inquirer, and who most recently has been teaching classes at St. Matt’s on the history of the Church. He loved the encyclical as well, even noting that it contained the first ever joke in a papal encyclical. The joke was maybe a little highbrow, but it was a joke nonetheless, he said.

Should [man] aspire to be pure spirit and to reject the flesh as pertaining to his animal nature alone, then spirit and body would both lose their dignity. On the other hand, should he deny the spirit and consider matter, the body, as the only reality, he would likewise lose his greatness. The epicure Gassendi used to offer Descartes the humorous greeting: “O Soul!” And Descartes would reply: “O Flesh!”.

I suppose it’s not even his own joke, since he’s really just repeating Pierre Gassendi’s and René Descartes’s joke. But still. It’s a joke.

And during Lent I read the first section of Journey to Easter: Spiritual Reflections for the Lenten Season, adapted from then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s talks at a Lenten season 1983 retreat at the Vatican. It was pretty much like daily homilies through the first week of Lent, commenting on and explaining the readings for each day. Unfortunately the readings were from year C, and we’re in year B, but it was great to read and hear him preach this way anyway.

And I’ve discovered that the Holy See website posts his actual homilies, a few days later after translating them. That’s pretty cool.


I haven’t thought about it in a long time, and I suppose I never really thought that much about it anyway, but I guess I played a lot of organized sports as a kid.

I was in a bowling league a couple years like around first and second grade, in Texas, and then again as a teenager in Illinois. I played football between fourth grade and fifth grade, in Fairfax County VA, then again between fifth and sixth grades in Norfolk VA, and then in the summer of 1976, between sixth and seventh grades, in Illinois.

I played soccer in Fairfax County as well. And basketball. And baseball. This was all through the county parks department, I think. Near us was Lee District Park, so I guess we were in Lee District. That’s what I seem to remember as organizing the leagues. But then I seem to remember having some sort of local business on our baseball jerseys.

I was utterly terrible at baseball. I was too afraid to swing at the ball, so I’d just sit there and hope for balls, to get a walk to get on base. And it was so much worse to strike out on called strikes, rather than go down swinging. I remember my teammates screaming in frustration, to just swing at the fucking thing, rather than standing there dumb like an idiot. But I couldn’t swing. I don’t know why. But I couldn’t.

I did get a hit once. The count was like 2-0 or 3-0, and I vaguely recalled my father having said to me that in such a situation one really had not a whole lot to lose by swinging. The pitcher was going to have to try to get something in the strike zone, rather than just let you walk. So I swung and connected with the bastard, popping it into centerfield. And I then just stood there with my mouth hanging open, astonished that such a thing had happened. I can’t remember now if somebody caught the fly ball or if I made it to first base or what.

I have some other memory of actually running around the bases and making it to home, but having the run not count for some reason. That may have been a different time, although you’d think I’d remember a second hit if that’s what it was. But I remember excitedly racing down the third base line, but the other team wasn’t paying much attention to me, walking around, or walking off the field I guess. I think there was some rule about only being able to score a certain number of runs per inning, so that we maybe had reached that number by the person ahead of me crossing home plate, so then that was the end of the inning, despite the fact that a play was kind of, you know, still going on.

I’m not sure how they organized players, by age or weight or what. I think football was by weight, because I was never on a team with my brother, but we were on the same baseball teams. And basketball. In fact one year our Dad was the basketball coach. I seem to remember that my Mom had coached my sister’s girls basketball team one year, and then Mom and Dad both coached teams the next year. Greg Francois, John Triggs, Chris Lynch and Larry Kane were all on the basketball team, I remember. We had blue shirts, but I think we named our team the Celtics. I was horribly sick with some staph infection around the time of team pictures. I looked terrible.

Katrina Radam’s dad coached soccer one year. Then Keith Wilson’s dad coached the next year. I remember Mr. Wilson had a rule that you had to wear a long-sleeved sweatshirt underneath the soccer jersey. I forgot for a game once, and he sent me home to get one.

I always loved playing football the best, probably because that’s the one I played the best. They must have organized the leagues by weight, because I dimly remember this one kid being all nervous about being too heavy at weigh-in. And that’s probably why I was any good at football, because we were all pretty much the same size. And I seemed to understand better than most of the other kids that one of the main objects of the game was to hit other people, and we were kids and we were used to throwing our bodies around and into each other with abandon, and here we were like totally encased in plastic and padding and there was no way any of this was gonna hurt. So I remember playing defense, playing linebacker, my first year. That was fun.

Greg Korn’s dad was our coach. Greg was a real little guy, but he played running back. Chris Burns was the other running back. I played fullback, too, now that I remember, because Mark Lynch was an offensive lineman, and I totally plowed right into his back during practice one day. He must have been standing in the hole I was supposed to go through.

I remember we had this offensive system where the plays were designated by numbers. Each back had a number, and each hole between the offensive lineman was numbered. So like Timmy Myers the quarterback was number one, and like maybe Greg was two, Chris was three, and I was four. Between the center and the right guard was hole #1, between the guard and tackle was #3, between the tackle and the end was #5, etc. And the left side was the even numbered holes. So like play #12 was Timmy running forward between the center and the left guard, and play #35 was Chris getting the handoff and running between the right tackle and right end. I suppose like maybe play #48 would be me sweeping around to the left, but I don’t remember what exactly sweeps were. I think play #10 was just a quarterback sneak straight over the center. Maybe I was two, and Greg and Chris were three and four, now that I think more about it. But whatever.

I thought it was a neat system, in that it allowed for a lot of plays but we dumb kids didn’t have to remember too much. I don’t recall much passing the ball though. I do remember that we did have one trick play, a double reverse. It always used to confuse me, though, because we didn’t ever learn or have a single reverse. I always wondered about that, why we’d have the double but not the single. Being that I played on offense and defense though was a bit helpful in practice, against that double reverse. Because normally Greg and Chris would line up behind the quarterback each on a certain side, except that the one time it would be different would be the double reverse. They’d switch sides. And being a linebacker, being a little more free to move side to side behind the defensive line, I could gravitate over to where I knew the offense was going to run. I’m sure I felt pretty smug about all this. Probably still do.

Our defensive coach was Mr. Ed Keightley. He also apparently repaired TVs, because we took one to him once. Or I think maybe he was taking a TV repair class or something. But this TV we took to him wouldn’t show a picture. You could switch channels and hear everything just fine, but no picture. I remember listening to Conquest of the Planet of the Apes one night, trying to figure out what was going on when nobody was talking. Mr. Keightley never did figure out what was wrong with that TV. We just had to get a new one.

Mr. Keightley taught us what to do in case of a trap play, if as a defensive lineman or blitzing linebacker your opposing offensive lineman pulls and just lets you through rather than blocking you. He said that we were supposed to drop to our knees and just grab legs, any legs that were nearby. I clearly remember this being in like these written instructions that we had, these xeroxed written playbooks that we had. And the specific instructions were written in like the hand printed version of italics, they were that important. I don’t think we ever faced a trap play in any game that we ever had, and we sure never had any on offense, so we never even practiced it. But I still sometimes think about Mr. Keightley when Washington runs that trap play that they’re kind of famous for, the one that John Riggins would get all kinds of yards with. I think it even has its own name, not just “trap play” or whatever.

Our team name was the Dolphins, although I don’t know that we ever won any game, and we certainly didn’t go the whole season undefeated, like I think the Miami Dolphins had the year before and was probably why we chose the name, even though our colors were green and gold. I had jersey #74. My next year in football was in Norfolk, and the jersey was one of those shiny fancy kind with a kind of mesh hole system in it and I was #81. Again with the green and gold my last year, with #15. Although you can see from the picture in the earlier post that the #15 is just printed on and is in white, whereas my #74 jersey had gold numbers that were sewn on.

In Norfolk my brother’s coach was Mr. Smith, and I think my Dad was an assistant coach. My team scrimmaged their team once, and they were bigger and totally wiped us out. But I remember my brother lining up on defense against me as the left end on one play, and I executed a nifty low crackback block on him that put him out of the game.

My last year in sports was on the eighth grade school team, on the JV soccer team, at Eisenhower Middle School in New Jersey. I wasn’t especially good and didn’t play much.

Oh, wait, I ran cross country in high school, in my junior year, again on the JV team, and again I wasn’t much good. I could run run run forever, but just not especially fast. And then I developed shin splints and didn’t much like to run very far after that. But like running ten miles was only for practice. Cross country meets were only three miles. I was the only player who smoked.

I’ve played on softball teams at various jobs I’ve had in Washington DC. I worked at the Office of Federal Tax Services for Arthur Andersen. Our team name was the Tax Dodgers, with our hats having the same “D” logo as the old Brooklyn Dodgers. Tax Dodgers was funny until Andersen got indicted. But I still love my Tax Dodgers jersey. When I worked at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, our team name was Orbital Debris. At Deloitte & Touche, I only went to a couple games. But I’ve been making up for my sins as a youngster, in that now I swing at fucking everything. I will never just watch a strike zip by me ever again.

I’m forty-one now, and I play league kickball with my work team. Our team name is the Ash Kickers.

Objet d’Art

 Found this gem while at Mom’s on Saturday.

We moved to Rock Island IL in January of 1976. I remember football practice starting in the blasting heat of summer, so this is sometime in the summer of 76. I’m twelve years old.

This picture looks to have been taken during an afternoon practice. I don’t remember our team name, but the colors are Green Bay Packers colors. When the coach was handing out jerseys, nobody else wanted number fifteen. I was shocked and pleased then that I was able to grab it, it of course being Bart Starr’s number. I didn’t play quarterback, though.

I remember riding around on somebody’s bicycle before practice one day, and somebody threw a helmet at the bike. I crashed in a heap on top of the bike, my face jamming into broken spokes of the front wheel, jabbing and cutting my cheek.

And I chipped a tooth, turned out. I discovered and spit out what I thought was a bit of rock or food or something, and then realized it was a chip off the tip of my left upper canine.

I scanned the picture and the resulting file was like a megabyte or something. I cropped it, reduced the color depth, and then saved the jpeg with high compression. This file now is all of 7K, which I think now is too small, although it does sort of have an antique-y quality to it. But I think I’ll work on it again and repost. In the meantime, though, enjoy.

Easter Sunday

We usually sleep in on Sundays, sometimes until 8:00 a.m., but today we’re going to 8:30 Mass to miss the crowds. So we’re up early early. But we’re having brunch after Mass, so not that early, not early enough to cook breakfast. Dawn drives, and traffic is light, and parking is easy. The day starts off well.

And there’s still plenty of room to sit. The section where we sit, up front but to the right, in the east transept, is practically empty. While we’re still kneeling and praying, Monsignor comes by to wish us Happy Easter. I’m a little surprised, since he’s not in any vestments and I thought he was going to be presiding at our Mass. “Who’s on for 8:30?,” I ask him. He tells me it’s Father Caulfield. Then I feel embarrassed that I asked who’s on, like it’s some kind of sports lineup or something.

Then Mass starts and but people are still arriving and cramming in. And the organ is too loud compared to the cantor Ellen, and all these people aren’t singing, and I can’t find a good voice to sing along with. We get three people who jam into our pew with us, so there’s five of us and it’s crowded. Deacon Rice’s microphone is hardly working during the Kyrie, so he sounds like a fuzzy radio underwater.

The first reading is from Acts, Peter quite simply and beautifully pretty much sums up Christianity. But there’s babies crying and I’m all distracted and now I’m starting to get cranky. But I don’t want to get cranky. It’s Easter and it’s the big day and I’ve been so looking forward to this. So then I start to develop a real downward spiral funk.

To him all the prophets bear witness,
that everyone who believes in
himwill receive forgiveness of sins through his name.

We try to sing this Easter Sequence, but it’s in Latin and I still can’t especially hear, and all these people here are for sure not singing this thing, so it’s beautiful but it doesn’t go very well. And more babies are crying.

Victimae paschali laudes immolent christiani.

The Gospel is from St. John, just the quick scene where they discover the empty tomb. I love ‘the other disciple whom Jesus loved.’ He shows up a lot. Or she, I guess. It’s probably St. John himself. But still.

During the Eucharistic Prayer, someone starts shouting in the back of the nave. I can’t make out what he’s saying, but I’m expecting at this point it to be Allahu Akbar and then he’ll pull the pin on his vest. Dawn says that it’s right at the intercessions of the prayer, so maybe he’s shouting out the name of someone who has died and gone before us marked with the sign of faith, for whom he is now praying. One or the other, I’m sure.

And then the lights go slowly dim during the doxology, coming back up right after the Great Amen. It’s a weird moment. And then during communion, none of these people knows where to go and line up and then how to get back to their pews. It’s a mess. And then they don’t sing the recessional hymn, and they start streaming out before the hymn is even over.

And I’m in a fierce, foul mood.

I slowly come back around, back to normal, on the drive home, and then eating the wonderfully rich and filling brunch that Dawn makes. We drink mimosas; booze in the morning is always a pick-me-up. Then I nap upstairs while Dawn wrestles with the Sunday sudoku. I help a little, happy to have my beloved sudoku back after having painfully given it up for Lent. I talk to Will next door, who has had something of a similar experience at his Easter service this morning, with all the people there who otherwise never come. We get out the ladder and explore the construction next door, trespassing guiltily. Kevin comes by and I go back up with him. Later Dawn works on the wainscoting while I cut and build some templates for the new stair railings. I’m glad Kevin suggested his electric miter saw, since I end up having to do some compound angles, both mitered and beveled. I couldn’t do that with my hand miter box. We go for a walk and hear & see a woodpecker going at it rat-a-tat way atop a tree. And Dawn makes a special risotto for dinner. It ends up being a lovely day.


The usual for Saturday, getting up around seven to be able to eat breakfast and get to Dupont Circle by nine for Dawn’s yoga class and my workout. On the step machine I watch the Bollywood segment of Darshan TV, and it’s unbelievably cool. It’s Raj Kapoor in Shree 420 from 1955. Then Shilpa and Ramesh discuss the US/India nuclear deal. But I generally cut my workout way back, having hauled stuff and broken up the shed last night, and looking forward to loading it all onto a truck and taking it to the dump today. We stop by Safeway on the way home, to get fixings for Easter brunch and dinner tomorrow. The place is jammed, and the liquor store is closed because they’ve lost power.

We wait in line a long time. I read Fine Homebuilding so I don’t notice how long really, but Dawn pegs it at forty minutes. We chat a little with the woman behind us. I ask her why she’s not reading, not catching up on celebrity gossip while she has the chance. She says that she reads celebrity gossip blogs and is up to the minute current. The magazines are all filled with old news for her. She specifically mentions Gawker and What Would Tyler Durden Do.

I go back to Mom’s for the trip to the dump. Mom’s ex-husband Glenn is there with his brother Carl. He’s buying pretty much all the furniture that Mom’s not taking to Florida. That’s awesome to hear, because I didn’t know what the hell we were going to do with it all. I guess let Purple Heart pick it up or something like that. Glenn is funny. I haven’t seen him in years, but he looks exactly the same except for being really gray. He’s grinning from ear to ear, in a good mood.

John and Rob and I fill up the van that John as rented from Rent-a-Wreck. Then John and Mom and I go in it to the dump. The van has two bucket seats in the front and is filled with debris in the back, so I crouch down up front between the two seats. I watch the clouds, is about all I can see. Mom narrates a little of the scenery to me too.

At the dump we get on the scale and the guy announces to us that we have 480 pounds of stuff and have to pay fifteen bucks. He says it somewhat hesitatingly, like we’re supposed to argue or bargain or something. John and I both think it’s a great deal, but it’s not like we’re the ones who have to pay. Mom’s actually paying, but she hands the guy the bucks without complaint. Up the hill where we unload we have to shuttle between the wood and metal areas, because the stuff is all mixed up in the truck. For the trip back, I start out in the back of the van. But there’s no windows so it’s beastly hot, so I make John stop so I can come up and crouch up front in the middle again.

Back at Mom’s I help Glenn load more furniture into his minivan as well as the big rented van. He’s taking two filing cabinets from the upstairs office. I pull the drawers out of one and carry them downstairs, then carry the empty cabinet after that. Glenn decides to use the hand truck to roll the other one down. I tell him that the cabinet is going to be tumbling down the stairs in a second. Sure enough, it is. It makes giant gouges in the drywall before getting jammed between the wall and the railing.

I get home and Dawn meets me at the door with a beer. I’ve made it through the harsh Lenten regime of no drinking during the week. And we traded away Good Friday back when Laura & Elizabeth visited. So this is my first drink all week. And oh my goodness is it good.

We have fondue for dinner and watch Good Night and Good Luck. It’s a fine movie, beautifully shot in a crisp black and white, and the clothes are gorgeous as well. I’m as familiar with the story as Dawn is not, so I enjoy it better than she does. But, then again, it’s also somewhat pointless in its bland retelling of what happened. It doesn’t for me evoke the paranoia enough, the danger of the times. It tries its best, but it just doesn’t do. But it’s a wonderful performance by David Strathairn. And they’re all great for just presenting this obvious parallel to our own times.

We go to bed and for the second week in a row I forget to tape Saturday Night Live. So this is why we need TiVo.

Helping at Mom’s

After we get home from church and change, we head south to Springfield, to help Mom pack. My sister Main and niece Erin are there, with Mom, surrounded by boxes. My specific job is to empty and take down the shed in the back yard. It’s a refreshingly discrete and concrete task, as opposed to all the ambiguities involved in deciding what to pack and what to throw away, decisions that require Mom or Main. So I don’t know how Dawn and Erin keep themselves busy without getting in trouble.

The shed was originally constructed with screws, but the screws are pretty much all rusted and just spin and don’t come out when I apply the power screwdriver to them. So I end up mostly kicking apart the shed. I use a hammer a little bit, but even better is a short length of two-by that I use as a battering ram. I have some tin snips that I use a couple times too.

The shed is full of dimensional lumber that apparently was once a deck off the back of the house. Glenn saved all the wood, like he saved everything else. There’s nails sticking out of the deck wood, and I try pounding them down, but give up after a while. There’s just too many boards. There are old lawnmower parts in there too. And two tires from Mom’s car three cars ago. And lots of plastic flower pots. Dog dishes. A big old folding sandwich-like sign. Fence parts. Just a lot of junk.

After I remove and separate all the junk and take down the shed I realize that I probably could have just dumped the shed over, over the stuff inside, without moving and separating everything, because the shed doesn’t have a floor. But I didn’t really know that until after I took stuff out. Then I knock apart the doghouse that none of Mom’s dogs would ever use. Then I join the gang inside for pizza.

Good Friday

When we get to church, not only have we missed the Hour of Reflection service, but there are no seats left now. Dawn woefully leads us to a spot in the St. Anthony Chapel, where we can sit on the marble steps, dwarfed beneath and behind one of the massive pillars that form the cathedral crossing. The four pillars each sport a Gospel author; the other side of this particular one depicts St. John. Our side in the chapel is blank marble, except for an audio speaker about a third of the way up it. So we can’t see anything, but we can hear just fine.

And we can at least sit. Unfortunately there’s also a lot of kneeling, and on the marble steps it’s pretty painful. But then I suppose it’s rather gauche to whine about pain when it’s the Liturgy of the Passion of the Lord.

The reading from Isaiah is utterly and overwhelmingly heartbreaking.

He was spurned and avoided by people,
a man of suffering, accustomed to infirmity,
one of those from whom people hide their faces,
spurned, and we held him in no esteem.

I think of this woman whom Dawn and I see most mornings on our walk to work. She is apparently homeless, or is semi-homeless, or is in some way a street person anyway. We see her when we walk by the Catholic Charities facility on D Street, the John L. Young Center. We say good morning to her whenever we pass by, or we exchange waves if she’s on the other side of the street. I love how excitedly she waves to us. She doesn’t seem inclined to talk to us, though. We were crossing the street together recently and I tried to initiate some type of conversation with her, but she just kind of wandered away. But anyway, she has this issue, some sort of compulsion, where she applies cream or balm or something to her lips and all around her mouth and nose around her face. I’m not sure if she has a rash or condition, something that requires this medicating, or if she has simply this compulsion that really now has made her face raw and rubbed and chafed and looks really painful. Sometimes her lips will be cracked open and it’ll be hard to look; it just seems so dreadfully painful.

This Isaiah reading makes me think of her, and how there’s nothing I can do for her, but that she seems to suffer so. And suffer in anonymity.

Yet it was our infirmities that he bore,
our sufferings that he endured,
while we thought of him as stricken,
as one smitten by God and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our offenses,
crushed for our sins;
upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole,
by his stripes we were healed.
We had all gone astray like sheep,
each following his own way;
but the Lord laid upon him
the guilt of us all.

And I love the strong verbs in the passage: pierced and crushed. It’s a great passage for Good Friday.

The gospel reading is two chapters from St. John, from Gethsemane to being laid in the tomb. Again with the “I AM,” what Christ says to the gang who have come to arrest him, echoing the name that God said to Moses. And I don’t know why but I like the odd little disagreement about the inscription on the cross.

“Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’
but that he said, ‘I am the King of the Jews’.”
Pilate answered,
“What I have written, I have written.”

Again, I have no idea why this sticks out to me. It’s a funny little moment. I wonder if that’s why it’s memorable enough for St. John to have included it. St. John is always harsh to my ears when he writes “the Jews” instead of “the Sanhedrin” or whatever. So this might be more of that, only this time a little more subtle, but anyhow St. John’s way of making the Jews more responsible than Pilate. Or it’s also not altogether dissimilar to the “I AM.” The grammatical construction is somewhat the same, declaring that something is simply what it is. The subtext is power, either the power of God or the power of the prefect. Power does not need to explain. Maybe it’s that parallelism that I like. Or maybe it’s just Pilate being snotty, and that’s kinda funny in so solemn a setting.

There’s veneration of the cross afterwards, but there’s such a long, long line of people waiting. And we have to go to my Mom’s to help pack for the move. So we don’t stay. But I think veneration of the cross is way cool. It’s way primitive or something, kissing the feet of the corpus on the crucifix. And I like the polite way that the altar server will wipe the feet after every kiss.

Day Off

We take the day off from work so that we can go to Good Friday services. We have toast for breakfast, then head out.

First we stop at the DMV so that I can renew my license. Apparently I can’t renew it online. I forget that you have to pass through metal detectors, and get bags x-rayed, to get into the DMV. What a pain. Same with the library. Life in DC, I guess. The DMV is especially bad, where I even had to take off my belt and shoes one time. This time I hurriedly gather up wallet and keys and phone and pocket change and everything I can find and stuff it all into my backpack, so as not to set off the metal detector. But of course I do set it off. But seems like everybody is setting it off and the guard is too busy to figure out why so he just waves us through.

I’m pleased that the line to get into the main room isn’t long at all. This is one of those setups they use nowadays, at least in DC and Maryland but I figure it’s pretty standard, where you first check in at a main counter and they make sure you’ve got all your paperwork in order before they give you a number and you wait to get service. My number is C41 and the estimated wait time says one hour and thirty-six minutes. We might not make it.

They also give me a form to fill out. It’s an application for a license and is confusing because I’m here for to renew. It says I need proof of residence. But isn’t my license proof of residence? But it doesn’t say so because this is an application for a license. And there’s also an application for voter registration. Dawn suggests that I use it to change my registration, so as to register as a Democrat, whereas now I’m not registered with any party. DC is very much a Democratic Party town, as in going for Kerry 90% vs. President Bush getting 9% in 2004. That’s right. Only nine percent. We would in fact have only Democrats on the city council except for the fact that that the city charter requires two members be from a different party. Yup, that’s right. Congress forces on us an affirmative action quota for Republicans.

So anyway pretty much local elections are decided by the race in the Democratic primary in September, not the general election in November. So Dawn tells me that, as much as I yack about politics, I should register as a Democrat. But I’m not a Democrat. Maybe I’ll register as a Green.

And Dawn thought that we’d be in and out of the DMV in twenty minutes, having come on a work day and not a Saturday. But that 1:36 estimate proves to be pretty much true. And we have to bail after an hour and a half because we have to get to church. We give our number to the young woman sitting next to us, who’s got like A60-something.

Holy Thursday – Mass of the Lord’s Supper

Dawn leaves work early, and I leave just after five, so that we can get to St. Matt’s and get a seat. I’m just into the pew and kneeling down when Dawn arrives. It’s not even quarter after, fifteen minutes before starting, and there’s still some room left. We’re in a pew generally meant to hold four people, but by Mass’s start we’ve got five squeezed in. Lots of other pews filled up like ours too. The choir sings Nos autem gloriari oportet, the Proper Introit, by Palestrina. “Let our glory be in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The booklet says it’ll be Cardinal McCarrick, and in fact it is this time. The processional hymn is At That First Eucharist. The booklet has the words, but I look it up in the Worship hymnal for the music as well. I can use what I learned about reading music, when I played the clarinet in grade school. I can at least tell quarter notes from half and full notes, know how long to hold a note, and whether the next one is higher or lower. About all I can do. I don’t really feel like I’m in especially good voice tonight, though. Some days I feel like, although I can’t sing, I can pretend like I can sing. I can imitate singing. Is partly why we sit so near to the choir.

The Gloria is of recent vintage, apparently by one Peter Jones. I think it’s a mess.

The first reading is from Exodus, God establishing the Passover with Aaron and Moses. My dashing young protege at work and I were talking about the Last Supper, about how it was a Passover meal. She said that the highlights were the bread and the wine, but I disagreed. Yes, that’s what we do now, those are our highlights. But at a proper Passover seder, it’s the lamb and the bitter herbs along with the bread and the wine and prayers and remembrance. Christianity takes a whole lot from it, most especially for us Catholics its establishment of the Eucharist. Christ declaring the bread his body and the wine his blood and giving it to his disciples, to us. But I like to think that it was also a proper seder, a proper order, as well. We learn from all of it.

The psalm of the responsorial psalm is Psalm 116, but the response itself is from First Corinthians, Chapter 10. I wonder how many times we do that, mix them up like that. And then the epistle is from First Corinthians, Chapter 11. I think of it as a pretty straightforward recitation of the Last Supper from any one of the Gospels. But I’m reading it again from the New American Bible on the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website, and a footnote innocently notes that it is the “earliest written account of the institution of the Lord’s Supper in the New Testament.” And it’s like a light bulb going on for me, something that’s so obvious that it’s too obvious. It’s like, so, duh.

St. Paul’s letters were all written before any of the Gospels. He died in 67 A.D. or so, and St. Mark’s Gospel is dated around 70 A.D. So of course all of his letters pre-date the Gospels. But I never really thought about it before. Like I said, I took tonight’s epistle reading as a simple recitation of the Last Supper from the Gospels, but it’s so much more profoundly important than just that. And now I want to read a whole lot more about Paul. I’ve read Bokenkotter’s Concise History of the Catholic Church, and I swear I remember reading Hans Kung as well, although now I’m not so sure, but anyway, I should really know the timeline and understand Paul like way better than I do. So back to the books for me.

The Gospel is from St. John, where Christ washes the feet of the disciples. And His Eminence washes the feet of twelve parishoners as well. I recognize Kirse as one of the washees, and I feel for her. I was one of the washees in 2003. It was totally nerve-wracking, to have the Cardinal wash my foot. I mean, I certainly recognize the humbleness of him doing it. I appreciate that. But being up in front of the packed cathedral, with this poor old man bending down and pouring water over your foot and having to hand him a towel. Ack. Totally frightening. After Mass I ask Kirse how it was, and she says she wanted to pass out.

And in St. John, Christ not only washes their feet, but stops and takes time to let them, to let us, know how important this all is. “Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me,'” he tells Peter. “Do you realize what I have done for you?” he asks.

In so many places in the Gospels Christ speaks in parables, telling us the Kingdom of Heaven is like this or that. No parables here. No similies. Just action and straight talk. ” I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”

He slows down, speaks to us patiently, so that we really get it. No fooling around. Tonight he just flat out tell it to us. The bread is his body. The wine is his blood. Do this in remembrance.

You should also do, he says.

And then, while I try to sing the impossible Pange lingua gloriosi, the Blessed Sacrament is carried out of the Sanctuary, entombed in the St. Anthony Chapel until the Easter Vigil Mass. Dawn asks that we wait for a while. The we stay and witness this. This is her favorite part, when they strip the altar bare and turn out the lights.

Office Space

CPC wrote in wondering about Office Space.

I mentioned that Dawn didn’t think much of it and in fact had thought she was renting something else when she picked it on NetFlix. She said it certainly was no Office (British version). But I didn’t mention just how sublime I think it is. With certain reservations.

As a work of art, or more probably a work of satire, it’s just so generally perfect in tone. About the only performance that I think is a little too mannered is John C. McGinley as one of the Bobs. Or maybe it’s just the idea that the Bobs get all worked up in their admiration and willingness to promote Peter after he goes all slacker. That’s about the only note to me that’s wrong.

The rest is just so exactly on target. The soul-crushing boredom of the office work. The passive-aggressiveness of Lumbergh the boss. The nauseating fake perkiness of the waiter at Chotchkies. The geeky Michael Bolton and geekier Samir Nagheenanajar, computer nerds who use the word “fuck” and all its variations a refreshingly large amount of the time. The blue collar but realistic neighbor Lawrence. Looking up “money laundering” in the dictionary.

It surprises me sometimes that something coming out of Hollywood could understand the tiny details of so many of us out here in the real world. But apparently Mike Judge, the writer, as well as director, grew up in Albuquerque NM, got a BS in physics from UC San Diego and then did in fact work as some sort of electronics or computer or software engineer, so he lived in the cubes and knows of what he speaks.

I think I especially love when Peter, Samir and Michael discuss the guidance counseler’s trite little exercise about finding your true calling by asking yourself what you would do if you had a million dollars. Peter never really had an answer, and Michael understands that the “question is just bullshit to begin with.” Samir hilariously misses the point, and the scene ends with Michael raging at the malfunctioning printer. “PC load letter. What the fuck does that mean?” Structurally, the scene is great because it serves up this basically inane and unanswerable question, looks at it from the various sides, and then, because it’s unaswerable the scene turns left and ends with a sort of vulgar absurd segue. And furthermore, while these characters are much younger than I am, I still don’t especially feel like I have any sort of career path or goal in mind. I still don’t know what I want to grow up to be. And as little as I know now, I knew only a fraction when I was in high school, having to think about what I needed to grow up to be. And so probably the inane question is not only not helpful, but it’s maddeningly not helpful. So, therefore, PC load letter. What the fuck does that mean?

And but then again the whole movie really isn’t satire. The narrative is fairly conventional, not nearly at all subversive. The arc of the story itself is about redemption. Peter is lost at the beginning, but then he has a transformative experience. He therefore faces hardship as he seeks to live according to these newfound principles, such as they are. And in the end he finds a truer calling.

Good things happen in the end, says Tom Symkowski, bandaged and in a wheelchair. How can you not love that? And “PC load letter. What the fuck does that mean?” How can you not love that too?


But, also, what are we all whining about? While yes, it’s true, “[h]uman beings were not meant to sit in little cubicles staring at computer screens all day, filling out useless forms and listening to eight different bosses drone on about about mission statements.” But just what exactly were human beings meant to do? And staring at our compute screens, it’s a hell of a lot better than working in a coal mine, or a garment work sweatshop, or a sewer pipe manufacturing plant, or a chicken processing plant. Remember the Sago miners at the beginning of this year? How often do we face imminent violent death sitting in our little cubicles? Sometimes I feel like we dishonor the miners, dishoner the women of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, dishonor all those injured and killed at McWane, dishonor the workers at the Imperial Food Products plant in Hamlet NC. We dishonor them all when we mewl about how hard it is to sit in a warm, dry office, surrounded by modern safety and conveniences, drinking the free coffee, looking forward to the weekend or our vacations.

And not just workers here in America. How we whine so, when too many in the world are just trying to get by and find clean water and a living wage. When many in the world have no access to any sort of decent healthcare at all, much less health insurance. When too many are in the grip of famine or civil war, or both.

But I understand that I can’t let that paralyze me. I can’t mope all day, unable to enjoy anything, unable to laugh or smile, just because someone is suffering somewhere.

But I can’t forget them either.

Tuesday of Holy Week

At work we have these consultants with whom I meet every Tuesday. We start at ten a.m. and usually go past one, by which time I’m starving and achy and ready to bolt. Every other week we have a call at eleven with our customer service rep Suzi at TMAR.

Today though I announce that I’ve got a church thing at 12:15 and that we gotta be done by then. And magically enough we are. But then I get back to my office and check the Lent 2006 brochure, and it says it starts at 12:10, not 12:15. Ack! I’m late!

I get to St. Matt’s just barely before 12:10, dashing madly across Connecticut Avenue against the light. I’m huffing and puffing when I get to my pew and kneel, so it’s hard to calm down and pray and get settled before the service starts. We have a booklet to go by and, unusual for midday Mass, we sing a processional hymn. Ah, but this is a Holy Week service, not a Mass.

Specifically it’s a Communal Penance Service. I’ve come to this in lieu of going to confession during Lent, because confession is so scary. But then I notice, in the procession, instead of eucharistic ministers, there are priests. A lot of priests. I guess that they’re here because they’ve been hearing confessions all morning, and they all might as well join in and concelebrate Mass.

But wait, this isn’t Mass, remember. It’s a service. So I look in the back of the booklet and, sure enough, the confessions are going to be after the service. They weren’t before. And now there’s no reason whatsoever for me not to go to confession. I mean, I’m here already. I can’t now just not go, just not do it. I would now have to affirmatively walk out, reject it even.

I’m stuck! Wait! Stop! I’ve been tricked!

Now, now, calm down. How bad could it be?

Okay, first of all, I haven’t been in three years. And that’s like the first thing you’re supposed to say, “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It’s been three years since my last confession.” You’re supposed to go at least once a year. Even better if you go more often, but once a year is the minimum. So I’m in trouble right there.

And this is pretty much emblematic of my whole life, my whole level of organization, anyway. I don’t do something I’m supposed to do, and then the longer I go without doing it the worse it gets. And then I can’t do it after all this time because it’s been too long. So it gets worse. And then I really can’t do it, because it’s now been way, way too long. Lather, rinse, repeat.

And then I have to tell the priest actual sins. Like about the Internet porn. Yeah, that’s gonna go over well. And then the biggest sin, it’s easy to confess but much, much harder to actually do something about, much harder to stop. That’s the first and last commandments, having other gods and coveting my neighbor’s goods. I talked about this the other day, about worshipping the god of consumerism, about wanting more stuff, when people are starving in the world.

So I think about all this. And then I screw up my courage and deliberately go to Monsignor Jameson, rather than sneak off to any one of the many priests who don’t know me. And but then he’s so very kind to me, thankfully. He doesn’t yell at me, like I half expect him to do. He doesn’t stand up and denounce me to the assembly. I’m sure he’s heard much worse than poor little me. He does tell me to read Psalm 100, though. And I perk up, asking, “Isn’t that ‘Make a joyful noise.’ That one?” Indeed it is, he tells me. So I’m pretty pleased all around with the whole thing.

I get back to the office and read Psalm 100, but unfortunately the Catholic Bible has it simply as “Shout joyfully to the Lord.” Other translations have the ‘joyful noise,’ but not us. Sigh. But then I go to and compare, and there’s no substantive difference between our New American Bible and, say, the King James. But the King James is so much lovelier.

Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands.
Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing.
Know ye that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.
For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.

And actually, even back when I was not a practicing member of the faith, heck, even when I didn’t especially believe in God (although I was always a lapsed Catholic atheist, as in “There is definitely no God, but the God who doesn’t exist is the God of the Catholic Faith.”), whenever I stayed in a hotel room, when I checked out I would leave the tip for the maids in the Gideon Bible, lying open on the nightstand, opened to Psalm 100. This really used to annoy my girlfriend Erin.

The booklet had said that Cardinal McCarrick was to be the principal celebrant and homilist. But he apparently can’t make it, because Monsignor leads us and Father Greenfield gives the homily. He tells us that when he was in grade school, one nun had this particular grading system. There was c-plus, c-minus, and “see me.” (It’s a better joke when you hear it rather than read it.) And he relates that to the Gospel reading from today, the Prodigal Son from St. Luke. I may have noted before how I always feel for the older son, the good son, who doesn’t even get invited to the party for the no-good younger son returned from his wanderings. Father Greenfield talks about the words prodigal and prodigy, next to each other in his dictionary. How the tax collectors and the sinner are the prodigals, the c-minuses, and the Pharisees and the scribes are the prodigies, the c-plusses. And the story is for the prodigies. They’re the ones who need to hear it.

Listening to the parable today I’m struck anew by the language, about how we sinners are the prodigal sons, the ones who have returned to our father’s house after wanderings and sinning. Yes, that’s obviously why it’s the reading at this service. But Father Greenfield tells us that a lot of times we are also the prodigies, the older son, the Pharisees and scribes to whom the story is told. We expect things of God, we want things on our terms, forgetting that God is the one whose terms we need abide. And, hey, okay, now I have a lot less sympathy for the older son, that dolt, for forgetting that he’s had his father’s love all along, and then he’s whining about missing this little party that’s for someone else, that’s not for him. For me, the dolt, for wanting things on my terms and forgetting God’s terms.

And, so finally, the Act of Contrition is beautifully poetic too, although there are a number different of versions of that as well, but our booklet has this one.

O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins because of Thy just punishments, but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, who art all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to sin no more and to avoid the near occasions of sin.


Sometimes I Embarrass Even Myself

I get all excited today about office supplies.

Remember I mentioned stopping at Staples a while back and trying but failing to find those plastic strips that hold magazines in three-ring binders. So I looked online and found them everywhere, but they’re like only $4.29 for a dozen, but then I’d have to pay like $9.00 shipping, so that’s no good. So finally I found them in the catalog of the office supply place that we use at work. And I talked to Tamiko in accounting, and she said I could add them to our weekly order and then just reimburse ASH by check.

Perfect! And today they arrived, although they turn out to be a different brand. But they work just the same. I take them for a test drive on a couple magazines at work, and they’re great! And they were only $3.74 per dozen. Hooray!

But then I get home and I don’t have enough. I had gotten two dozen, but I figure now I could use maybe a dozen more right away and then have another dozen on hand for new magazines and catalogs. Maybe next month I’ll order another batch.

Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord

The Gospel is long. It’s two full chapters. The deacon and both lecters take turns reading it. (And we started the Mass with another Gospel reading as well.) Many things jump out at me.

First is the woman pouring the expensive oil over the Lord’s head. For some reason I’ve always remembered the line, “The poor you will always have with you,” even quoting it, during my life, most of which has been spent away from the Church. I always thought of it as a realistic sort of assessment of the state of things, that there will always be rich and there will always be poor. And while that’s true, there always will be, in the context of the Gospel here, the point is not that there will always be rich and poor, but that Jesus is facing death, and it’s really hard and frightening. That’s his point. Here’s someone doing something very kind to him. It helps in facing the terror about to happen.

And now I think also about the Kingdom of Heaven, about how it will not include rich and poor, that either such things won’t matter or that the rich will have to pass the camel through the eye of the needle first. And then I think about how most of the world lives on a dollar a day. And how utterly rich I am. But of course I don’t feel rich. Not comparatively, not here in America, not when I live in the neighborhood where I live. I still want so many things; I still want so much stuff.

And then I’ll never make it with my camel through that needle.

Then in today’s Gospel there’s Judas. And this week the National Geographic Society has made some headlines with an ancient work called the Gospel of Judas. And what to make of Judas, eh? On the one hand, Christ himself says in our reading today, “[W]oe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed. It would be better for that man if he had never been born.” And, although not in today’s reading, afterwards Judas immediately regrets his betrayal and hangs himself. But, on the other hand, and the Gospel of Judas apparently speaks to this, is the necessity of Judas, the necessity of a betrayal. Christ has come down from heaven to become the paschal sacrifice; that sacrifice has to be effected. He must somehow be handed over to the authorities. So somebody’s gotta do it.

In the Gospel of St. John, Jesus hands the morsel to Judas and says to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly,” sending him off to do his awful deed. Jesus knows who it is and when he’s doing it. But this Gospel of Judas adds this whole backstory where Jesus reveals all manner of mysteries to Judas. Okay. But in St. John, during this moment with the Lord and Judas, there’s this about Judas: “After he took the morsel, Satan entered him.” So how does that work, Judas as secret mystery of the kingdom guy, but also tool of Satan? How can he be both? I just can’t see how he can. (See the Wikipedia article for more on the whole Cainite heresey.) Apparently the Church fathers who codified the canon couldn’t either.

Then the Passover meal, the Last Supper, where the Lord gives us the Eucharist:

While they were eating,
he took bread, said the blessing,
broke it, and gave it to them, and said,
“Take it; this is my body.”
Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them,
and they all drank from it.
He said to them,
“This is my blood of the covenant,
which will be shed for many.

We hear and remember and re-enact these words at every Mass. So in one way they’re so familiar, almost rote. But then today we have them in context, and in such a context. In the hard and the frightening and the terror that’s coming.

And then there’s my man Peter. How he screws up so much, is why I like him so much. Here’s one of his biggest, denying Christ three times. And this makes me think of the recent thing in Afghanistan, with the convert from Islam to Christianity, and the trouble he got into. I was talking to Dawn about it, and just idly wondering what I would do if I were arrested, were facing death because of my faith. And without even having to think too hard about it, I knew immediately what I’d do.

I said that I would lie, of course. Like Bruce getting out of the draft, checking off that he was a communist, a homosexual, whatever. Tell ’em I was a Druid. Tell ’em I was a Muslim. Whatever. Just get me outta here man.

And then I immediately thereafter felt sad. Felt guilty. I mean, here we venerate the saints, the martyrs especially. My beloved St. Agnes, martyred for her faith, for her refusal to renounce her faith, and I without hesitation decide to lie? How awful is that? So I wonder where that comes from. I mentioned earlier, thinking partly about this too, that most of my life has been spent away from the Church. So I’ve developed many ways of doing things and thinking that I have to change. And believe me, lying is the very least of what I’ve done. Although lying is pretty bad, of course. Let’s not minimize it. But other stuff? Yikes. You don’t want to know.

And so anyway, the point is that I’m wanting to not do bad things, to live by certain values from now on. And I think I’m doing pretty well. I mean, I don’t feel like I’ve changed drastically since picking up the faith again. I can still have a beer, watch a movie, say “fuck” too much. All that. And then not steal, not kill, not covet my neighbor’s ass. Go to church. Pray. Those too. And but then in another sense I’ve undergone a profound conversion, giving up on the pride of thinking that I’ve got all the answers, that I’m going to figure it all out on my own, that I can do anything but hang my head and beg for God’s grace and mercy.

And, okay, that’s all great, all well and good. But, at the very least, I would like to think that I would at least consider not renouncing my faith if pressed. I’m not saying I’m ready for sainthood, for martyrdom. But just for a second, maybe, to think about it. Is all I’m saying.

And that I suppose is why I like Peter so much.

And the Lord at Gethsemane is so utterly heartbreaking. St. Mark describes him as troubled, as distressed. He says, “My soul is sorrowful even to death.” He says, “Abba, Father, all things are possible to you. Take this cup away from me … ”

So just for a second, maybe, he thinks … But he knows what he has to do, no matter how hard and frightening it is. “Abba, Father, all things are possible to you. Take this cup away from me, but not what I will but what you will.”

Thy will be done, is our standard prayer. Not my will, Lord, but yours.

And, later, the high priest asks him, “Are you the Christ?” I think of my first marriage, my mother- and father-in-law. They had this sort of Quaker notion, where they thought Jesus was a cool guy, a great philosopher even, but they just didn’t like the whole Christology business. I wasn’t much of anything at the time, just an estranged Catholic I guess, but even then that didn’t make much sense to me. And here the high priest asks, “Are you the Christ?” And Jesus replies, “I am.” And cross-reference here the burning bush in Exodus. Moses asks what he should call him and God says, “This is what you shall tell the Israelites: I AM sent me to you.” Jesus is equating himself with, and declaring that he is, God. There’s your Christology right there, from Jesus himself.

And I’m glad that the responsorial psalm is “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” It’s always struck me as such a strange line, such a strange thing for Christ to say. So at least here we see that he at least was quoting scripture, that he was quoting Psalm 22. Although I’m still not sure why he quotes it. I guess because the psalm is itself a cry for help. “[D]o not stay far off,” it says. “[C]ome quickly to help me.” He is in such pain. He is in agony. He’s dying.

At “Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last,” we all kneel for a short time, as per the instructions in our little booklet we’ve been given. I’m disappointed though that the short time is so short. It all has been so moving and upsetting. A little quiet prayer time would be nice, but I’m just getting started when everybody heaves back up. Ah well. Later.

Then Joseph of Arimathea bravely gets the Lord taken down and buried. And the women watch over the tomb.

And welcome to Holy Week, folks.

Saturday, the Pop Culture Edition

We get up for our usual Saturday morning routine. On the TV at the step machine at the gym I find surf quite a bit, trying to find something to watch. I find some B-movie noir thing that were I really a hipster I would totally dig, but I just find it lame. This scene set at a police station is so static, all exposition, and complicated at that. The camera moves all of once, panning to the left to show a suspect coming into the detective’s office. Then pan back to the right as suspect sits down. Then more yakking. I can’t stand it, so on I surf. (Turns out it’s Destination Murder, from 1950, with Joyce MacKenzie, Stanley Clements, and Hurd Hatfield, and directed by Edward L. Cahn.) On another channel I find the remake of Thomas Crown Affair, the one with Pierce Brosnan. Nah. Then I find Ben Affleck in what must be Reindeer Games. Ugh. Then some western with Gregory Peck and Richard Widmark, but I’m not in the mood. (That turns out to be Yellow Sky from 1948.)

I end up watching Darshan TV, on the MHz Network, the segment where Shilpa Hart and Ramesh Butani discuss current events n’ stuff. Ramesh says in thirty years the world won’t have religious differences. Shilpa declares this to be the most optimistic thing she’s ever heard from him, although she politely disagrees. I finish my twenty-two minutes on the stepper before the Bollywood video segment. And I don’t see Shanti Aranha, whom I’ve met, back when she also worked at our software vendor TMA Resources. Her sister Suzi is our customer service rep.

I feel better lifting weights than I did last week. Maybe it’s because this week I skip the chest press. Last week I did that first and was really tired doing everything else, although to be fair I was also still somewhat depressed. But I do the overhead press and then the regular pec fly and then the curls and then tricep curls and then the delt fly machines. I think I need to up the weight a little on the triceps; I forgot to stop at 15 during the second set. Must not be working hard enough then.

We take Rock Creek Parkway on the way home and end up driving by the cherry blossoms. Today’s the Cherry Blossom Parade. Sadly, the blossoms themselves have long since peaked and are gone. And it’s pissing down rain all day, so that’s not good for the parade either.

We drive to ballet rehearsal. Dawn does the actual driving. She’s thinking more about her driving now, now that she’s getting more comfortable doing it, rather than just sort of doing it and not thinking so much, so she overthinks her technique when we get to St. Mark’s and she has to parallel park. She ends up way on the curb. Then she’s all back & forth and back & forth trying to correct it, before pulling out and trying again. I start yelling “stop stop stop” when she hits the curb again, and she snaps at me not to yell at her. I just jump out of the car and stomp off and go up to the studio. Dawn follows a few minutes later. We kiss and make up before dancing.

On the way home from ballet we stop at the frame shop to get Dawn’s latest cross-stitch framed. It’s a lovely scene with the prayer of St. Francis on it: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And the wisdom to know the difference. I generally try to wander around and look at things, but Dawn makes me help choose the frame. I like the look of oak, so I suggest that, knowing that my ideas are always only indicative of my own bad taste and are summarily rejected. But oddly, this time, she agrees with me and goes with the oak. Then I get to go wandering and checking out the framers’ tools. They have them around the shop on magnetic bars, just like the one I have in my workshop at home. Except theirs aren’t as pretty as mine, but they are a lot heftier, stronger. There’s a cool Stanley scratch awl at each station, with a wooden handle, much nicer than my plastic handled Sears Craftsman. Dawn ends up choosing a pink linen matting. The total for the framing comes to an astonishing two-hundred dollars. I suddenly feel a whole lot better about the Ryobi saw I’ve been wanting. I’m grinning, and teasing Dawn, when we leave.

We go to the Saturday Vigil Mass, since the Cardinal is celebrating Palm Sunday the next morning at ten instead of our usual Novus Ordo. Traffic is bad and we’re only a little late, but for Palm Sunday Mass the procession starts in the back of the nave, right where we come in. Everybody’s turning around and holding up their palms, and I feel very very conspicuous coming in. We make our way up to our usual pews before it really starts though. (And more on the Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord tomorrow.)

We have fondue for dinner, since we had gone out to Tortilla Cafe last night. And we watched Office Space last night as well. Dawn had ordered it, thinking it was something else, although we can’t figure out what that something else was. I had seen bits and pieces of it on TV like a million times, but never the whole thing in one sitting. And I had never seen the very end after the building goes up in flames. Dawn is underwhelmed by Jennifer Aniston.

And tonight we watch another Horatio, this one about a mutiny. Except it’s only part one of two, so we’re left hanging. David Warner plays the legendary but evil Capt. James Sawyer. I think David Warner is really the poor man’s Michael Caine; like Michael Caine he is pretty much ubiquitous, but unlike him he’s always in lame stuff, rather than just sometimes. Dawn thinks David Warner is handsome. And Dawn is mighty pleased by Horatio’s nude scene, which I kindly rewind and freeze-frame for her.

(And later research reveals that that’s not the Prayer of St. Francis. It’s actually called the Serenity Prayer, written by one Reinhold Niebuhr and used & made famous by Alcoholics Anonymous.)


We had our first kickball game last night. Our team is the Ash Kickers. We all work at the American Society of Hematology, known as ASH for short. Thus the name. Hematology, acoording to the OED, which actually has it as hæmatology, is “[t]hat branch of animal physiology which relates to the blood.” We are the professional society of hematologists. I had submitted the name “Home Platelet.”

I arrived at the fields before anyone else on our team, having had the day off and thus coming separately, just before six p.m. No other Ash Kickers being around, naturally then I assumed I had screwed up and gone to the wrong place. But then the gang arrived. It took awhile for WAKA to get everyone organized and shirts handed out. Ash Kickers, latecomers to the league as we were, got no shirts yet. They likely will be tan, when they come in.

While waiting, Kate and Stephanie and Elisa warmed up and tossed and kicked the ball around. Stephanie promptly kicked the ball wildly, hitting members of some other team just standing around, immediately earning herself nickname of Danger Mouse. Everyone should get a nickname. Smart people will find a way to make up their own nickname. Stephanie doesn’t like her nickname.

We finally found out we were on field four, on the other side of 7th Street, playing the Layups. There were as yet only 3 Layups; clearly they’re even latercomers than Ash Kickers. And they received no shirts either, although they will apparently be getting pink. We Ash Kickers went over to the field to warm up. Charlie the Ref arrived, assessed the situation, and then immediately wandered over to a different field. The Layups finally got together enough people to play. WAKA League rules require at least four men and four women. Four women finally arrived, but then two of them promptly left and never played.

The Ash Kickers played very decent defense, everyone catching the ball remarkably well, Julie especially making a spectacular catch. Tait was a dynamo at tagging runners. Kyra pitched very well. We made only one major defensive error, by Elisa “Buckner” Shea at first base. I played catcher, but in fact touched the ball exactly twice. I did, however, fulfill the vital role of politely asking each batter (kicker?) their name and announcing them as they arrived to kick. There were John, Jack, Patrick, Cam, Chris, Karen and Sarah, that I remember.

The Layups won 2-0. Dawn, Laura and Elizabeth were fabulous troopers, watching the game, and in fact they were the only fans in attendance, despite the bone-chilling cold and wind. I left with them to take Laura and Elizabeth to the airport, while most of the rest of the team went to Kelly’s Irish Times to play the Layups in a drinking game called Flip Cup. Once again, the Ash Kickers lost.

Visitors and a Trip to the Zoo

We have had out-of-town guests yesterday and today, Dawn’s sister Laura and Laura’s daughter, our niece, Elizabeth, visiting us from Georgia. Elizabeth is five-almost-six and on spring break this week, so mom and daughter took a little trip, leaving dad and brother at home.

I had walked to the Capitol South station with Dawn yesterday, who then rode the train to National Airport to meet Laura & Elizabeth. They then did stuff around town, having lunch on the roof deck where Dawn works, across the street from the Old Post Office Pavillion, and visiting the Natural History Museum. They were at home when I got home from work, just slightly late.

We drank wine before and during dinner. Dawn & I have given up alcohol during the week, Monday through Thursday, for Lent. So we’ve traded away now Good Friday, so that we could drink wine on a Wednesday. Dawn made lasagna for dinner, although Elizabeth had some pasta shells with butter and cheese that she didn’t especially eat. They watched Charlotte’s Web while I did the dishes. Whew, I’m not used to doing dishes for four.

Then I took today off so I could join them in frolics. Specifically, we were going to the zoo.

We got up early today for breakfast. Elizabeth didn’t eat much of her part of the omelette. Then after showers and dishes, we were off to the zoo. We got off the Metro at the Woodley Park stop at Dawn’s behest, rather than my suggestion of Cleveland Park, so we walked uphill instead of down, as well as into the wind. We hit the restrooms right away. As I was waiting for the gals, a young lad came out of mens room still zipping up. He needs to learn to take care of that before exiting.

First animal we saw was the cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus). We saw one pacing back and forth by a fence, on the other side of which a female human (zoo worker) was cleaning up what looked pretty much like a giant litter box. Around the corner we saw napping on like a front porch, in like a sandbox, a whole family of cheetah. Or cheetahs. Cheetae. Whatever. We saw a zebra (Equus grevyi) bashing around a tub, which we guessed was supposed to contain lunch, and the zebra was annoyed that it did not in fact contain lunch.We saw an emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae) but no kangaroo (Macropus fuliginosus).

Next up was a maned wolf (Chrysocyon brachyurus), snoring away in a little doghouse. We couldn’t help but notice the stench. A sign helpfully noted that the maned wolf has mighty powerful urine for marking territory. The scent followed us for a while, and later we knew where we were in the zoo, that we had returned to this point, when we smelled it again.

Then the star attraction, of course, the pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca). Mom and Butterstick (Mei Xiang and Tai Shan to you pandamaniacs) were in one area eating, while Dad (Tian Tian) was off by himself. Mom was generally concentrating on eating, while Butterstick was mostly concentrating on hijinks and antics. There was the climbing of the log, then the falling off same, then the rolling down the hill. The climbing of the Mom earned him an annoyed swat from her, to everyone’s amusement. We watched all this from the terrace of the Panda Cafe, which is totally the best place for panda action but is never nearly as crowded as the much inferior Panda Walk below.

Next to the Elephant House. There was one giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis rothschildi) outside, but inside a number of elephants (Elephas maximus) were getting fed. We got some good hippo (Hippopotamus amphibius) action too. We also saw two capybara (Hydrochaeris hydrochaeris); capybara evidently are the largest rodents in the world.

Lots of cute little things in the Small Mammal House. Around the Great Ape House we see no primates taking the O Line above our heads. I’ve never seen anyone ever traversing the thing. I think it’s fake, at this point. And it may sound like a joke, but it’s not: the taxonomy for gorilla is Gorilla gorilla gorilla. Isn’t that awesome? They’re all sleeping when we arrive, however. We see only one orangutan, but whether Bornean (Pongo pygmaeus) or Sumatran-Bornean (Pongo pygmaeus abelii) I don’t know. He’s awake but just kinda slumped sitting there.

We have lunch at the Mane Restaurant, burgers for the adults (veggie for us, cow for Laura) and a hotdog for the kid. And fries for all. And Elizabeth actually manages to eat most of her hotdog, although she skips on the applesauce. Laura suggests we leave the applesauce, but I stuff the package in my backpack for later.

We make our way by the Great Cats on our way back, but we see pretty much only the backs of a sleeping lion (Panthera leo leo) and a tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae). That’s about our only disappointment of the day. We also check out the komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis).

Lots of creepy crawly things in the Reptile Discovery Center, but the aldabra tortoise (Geochelone gigantea) is always a favorite. The Invertebrates Exhibit turns out to be totally surprisingly cool. Well, I’m a little creeped out by the cnidarians, but then the giant Pacific octopus (Enteroctopus dofleini) is stately, graceful, and beautiful, and I find hanging out with him an oddly moving experience. Then I go watch the terrarium packed with hissing cockroaches (Gramphadorina portentosa). Mostly they’re all hanging out and dormant, but for this one guy who seems to be silently grooving to music only he can hear. Nearby there’s a lobster (Panulirus argas) with this spectacularly enormous claw, almost like it’s some sort of prismatic trick of the thick glass or something.

Elizabeth and Laura buy stuff in the Panda Pavillion gift shop while Dawn and I sit and snuggle and snooze outside. Then we make our way back home. Downhill this time.

Papal Coffin Clarification

I want to emphasize that everyone agrees that the coffin was beautiful, that it was an example of remarkable craftsmanship. Frank Klausz, whom I quoted, was saying that it was obvious that no one measured, or used a gauge, because he himself is so accomplished as not to need to measure for dovetails. He just marks ’em and cuts ’em.

And no tiny dovetail saw for him. He uses a bow saw. Or maybe that’s Tage Frid. I’m often confused.

(Some quick research proves that it’s Tage Frid who uses the bow saw. There’s some amazing video on the Woodcraft site showing Frank Klausz just zipping through a drawer. I mean fast. He says that when he bids on a job he calculates about 10 minutes to make a drawer.)

Third Story

They had just started framing the third floor of the house next door at the end of last week. They seemed to have mostly finished today. Yup, it’s a third story all right.

They do seem to have pushed back just a tad from the façade on the front. That was about all we could hope for, I suppose. Still, it’s a travesty, what they’re doing. There was an Associated Press story about such things the other day, and you can find it, “Communities Fight ‘Tear-Down Phenomenon’,” on one of the many sites that carry the AP.

Pericope Adulteræ and Sola Scriptura

Later in the day I’m thinking for no particular reason about the story of Jesus and the adulterous woman and “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” I think of how Jesus sort of doodles in the dirt during the story. Remember Jesus and the dirt and spit last week with the curing of the blind man? So then I figure that this story must be from St. John as well, with the novelistic detail and such. So I look it up and re-read it and sure enough it’s from St. John.

But then my Oxford Study Edition Bible tells me a bit more. And this is why I love this edition of the Bible. They note that most original Greek manuscripts of the Gospel of John don’t contain this story, that it looks to have been added later. Other manuscripts have it in St. Luke. And they point out that it fits better, stylistically and thematically, there in St. Luke, right after where the Pharisees ask Jesus about the widow of the seven brothers.

And why I like my edition so much is because of that critical eye they have towards everything. That honesty. Yes, tradition holds that St. John wrote this particular Gospel, but generally the scholarship is that he himelf probably didn’t write it. And different extant texts of it differ. And it originally was written in Greek except apparently the parts that weren’t.

So it was written by a particular person or persons for a particular audience for a particular reason. (And then it was copied and re-copied and changed and so on and so on.) And this actually is something that I don’t like about St. John’s Gospel. This Gospel was written later than the other Synoptic Gospels, written specifically for a non-Jewish audience. And so its references to the Sanhedrin or Pharisees or Saducees or whoever simply as “The Jews” is to my ears rather jarring. (And to some ears it’s nakedly antisemitic.)

But the point of all this, I guess, if I could even think that I have a point here, is that I don’t believe that the Bible is the literal word of God. Or, rather, in my Catholicism I have been taught that the Bible is not the literal word of God, that it’s a text, that it’s divinely inspired and it’s part of what we believe and practice, but is not the beginning or end of what we practice. What we do and believe is made up of the scriptures but then also the life and practices of the church and the Church.


Today marks the first anniversary of the death of His Holiness Pope John Paul II.

I went to the Mass celebrated by the Holy Father on the Mall in Washington on October 7, 1979. I went with my friend Tom and his parents. I remember Tom’s mother was horrified at people smoking during the Mass. There were only a handful of worshippers who received communion from the Holy Father.

Monsignor Jameson told me recently that he there were far fewer people at that Mass than they expected, so they had tons of communion wafers left over. They farmed them out to parishes all over the archdiocese.

I remember hearing in math class that he had been shot. Dr. Zeleznock must have heard on the radio in the teachers lounge or something maybe, because he came rushing in all upset and told us what had happened. It was only a little over a month after President Reagan had been shot.

I remember feeling so bad for him, John Paul, as he got so old and frail. He had been so utterly strong and vibrant when he first became Pope. Especially after the Parkinsons got really bad, it was just heartbreaking sometimes to see him.

Dawn and I were planning to attend Mass on Saturday, April 2, 2005 anyway. We heard in the afternoon that John Paul had passed away, so we got extra dressed up and got to Mass early, thinking it might be a little more attended than usual. It was packed. We were lucky to get seats, in the St. Anthony Chapel, which we don’t normally like sitting in because it doesn’t really allow much in the way of views of the altar and is farther from the choir. But we did get married in that chapel, and it’s beautiful in there, so it’s not all that bad either. And Cardinal McCarrick showed up to preside. And then President and Mrs. Bush strolled in. There were secret service agents wandering all around, one stern-looking woman near us.

I’m into woodworking now, and there was this cool article in Popular Woodworking about his coffin. They quoted the legendary Frank Klausz, who built a replica of one corner of the coffin from pictures and who said about the big pins and tails of the dovetails: “It was easy to tell nobody measured or used angle gauges.” The author of the article Kara Gebhart Uhl followed up all sorts of leads in Rome but was unable to find out who built the coffin, beyond being “made by Vatican Museums’ restorers and conservators.” Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, the Holy Father’s personal secretary, maybe knew something but wouldn’t say.