Thursday, July 31, 2014

Digging out some older writing efforts - with optimism.

In light of the novel conundrum, I thought it would be good to dig up some of my plays and shorts stories.

The plays have been saved on a disc - my computer crashed a few years ago and the ply files had been wiped out. 

The include:

The Beau Ideal (produced by a local theater company)
Stone Soup (Lakeside School production)
Robin Hood (Lakeside School production)
The Sick King (Lakeside School production)
A Memphis King in Camelot (unproduced)
The Vain King and the Dragon (unproduced)

And notes/some scenes for a play about Ismene.

Of the plays, Beau, Stone, Sick King, Memphis, and Vain King are still good enough to revise a bit and submit. I'm not sure how the Ismene play will turn out.

I also dug out some of my short stories - though I had to go searching for the disc (the computer crash had also wiped out the story files). With relief, I found it, and found some stories I'd even forgotten about. A mixed group overall, and they all need a bit of work, but a couple of them have potential.

As for poetry, I keep getting a few published each year. Not a lot, but a few. I just sent out a batch of haiku - one or two of them might have a chance. There are some clerihews I'll be sending out. We'll see.

So even if the novel never sees print, there are still outlets for me.

Pax et bonum

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

That novel I've been working on forever

I glanced at the novel I'd been working on forever (it seems).

It was not good.

Actually, it was disheartening .

The concept is fine. Some of the action sequences work well, as do some of the sections of dialogue. But parts of the story are dated - not surprising because I started it so long ago. The transitions and descriptive details are often weak. It's too preachy - dwelling too much on the ideas and not developed as a story. Sort of like those bad but sincere Christian movies.

It may still see the light of day, but boy, would it need work. Perhaps I need to take it to a workshop for guidance.

I've had far more success with poetry and plays. Maybe those are what I need to focus more on.

I certainly seem to have the attention span for shorter works; I get bored when dealing with long pieces or sustained efforts. Perhaps that's one reason why I was successful as a journalist.  

Pax et bonum

Summer work

My summer's work has not followed the path I set.

I simply could not figure out how to post to Hubpages site - and haven't put the extra work in to do so. People do figure it out, but I am not very computer savvy, and I simply gave up. It's still out there, but for now not a priority.

There was work around the house to do. I've gotten some done; rain interfered with my big project of the summer, painting the back fence. Still time for that one - if I get some dry weather.

My school reading has not gone as far as I would like as I've allowed myself to get distracted too easily. Plus, I still don't know all the courses I'm teaching this fall. The uncertainty is due to growing enrollment and a new employee yet to be hired; my classes depend on what that new person can teach. I know three of my classes for certain, and I'm in good shape for them. But I may have one or two other courses, with all the necessary preparation and reading. I've read books for both; but there are other books I may or may not have to read, so I've stumbled. Do I read this book, or don't I need to?

At least I have a job. But given the craziness and uncertainty of this past spring, I feel unsettled. I keep wondering if somehow things will fall apart before the school year begins and I'll end up out of work.

There was also that issue at church, leaving me with a sense of not fitting in there any more.

To be honest, I feel kind of adrift in life.

I need to pray more.

Pax et bonum

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Good Bye Fox News

There were a couple of Fox News shows I used to to watch some times - Fox and Friends in the morning while getting ready for Mass or work, and The Five while preparing/eating dinner. I didn't watch much of the other programming; too much of the same, and constant, sometime ludicrous, bashing of anything the Obama administration was doing (even though I strongly object to much of what that administration is doing!). I used to like Huckabee, but the timing of his show is not always convenient.

But last week a Fox reporter used the Lord's Name in vain. On camera. Yes, it was a stressful situation, but still, he used it.

Now he could have immediately apologized, said it was said in a moment of stress, and it would have been over. Given the situation, it would have been easy to move on. But either he did not, or he did and Fox News chose not to run it.

Now the Fox News anchors could have said something to apologize. They did not. .Even worse, Fox News kept running the clip. Blasphemy repeated.

I wrote immediately to the news department and some of news shows and anchors/commentators. I did so every day for a week.

Never got a response.

Meanwhile, being annoyed, I checked out other news sources. CNN was already a site I went to regularly, so I increased my watching of it. I also started watching BBC and Al Jazeera more. And in the car I tend to listen to NPR when not listening to EWTN or sports programming.

My news needs have been met.

So ... I not going to bother with Fox News on a regular basis. Oh, if something big breaks I might check out their reports - they cover things other American networks tend to ignore. But no more regular watching.

Pax et bonum

Monday, July 21, 2014

Blasphemy at Fox News prompts boycott

I was watching a Fox News report from Gaza during the beginning of the Israeli assault. There was the sound of a loud explosion and the reporter ducked and yelled out, "Jesus Christ," not as a prayer, but like an expletive.

That is blasphemy. A violation of the Second Commandment: Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.

Now given the circumstances, I can sympathize with someone reacting unthinkingly out of fear, so while what he did was wrong, at least there were mitigating circumstances. What he should have done at that point is apologize for his language. It's possible he may have later and Fox did not carry it.

The larger fault lies with Fox News. They broadcast the comment, and did nothing to apologize for it. Again, as a live report it might have slipped through - but they should have then said something about it. They did not. Moreover, they broadcast the comment again later - unedited, unapologized for. There they clearly had some control. They seemed not to care.

There's no excuse for that.

It may be that they are totally oblivious as to the wrongness of the comment. Let's put it in a way the Fox folks might understand: Imagine if someone had similarly used the name of Mohamed. There would be an outcry, and maybe even a death threat against the person. The network would likely have said something. The reporter might even have faced suspension - or loss of job.

But since it was Jesus Christ, and it's a swear a lot of people use without thinking, it seems not to matter. Not to the folks at Fox, anyway.

Well it does to me.

Call me a crank. Accuse me of blowing it out of proportion.

I don't care.

I expect an apology.

Until I hear something, Fox News has joined MSNBC on my "Do Not Watch" list.

Pax et bonum

Sunday, July 20, 2014

No more lay preaching in the Diocese of Rochester

As I expected, our new Bishop, Salvatore Matano, has made it clear lay people (including women religious) should not be preaching during the time for the homily.

This has been an ongoing abuse in this diocese. The most blatant examples included lay people speaking the entire homily time - that was partly curtailed by our previous Bishop. But priests tried to get around it (with diocesan "acceptance," or least lack of enforcement) by having the priest or deacon speak for a minute or two, giving the "homily," then letting the lay person speak the rest of the time.

The abuse has always bugged me. I got caught in one situation last year where I was asked to lector, and then the priest engaged in a "dialogue homily" with a seminarian residing at the parish. The seminarian - not yet a deacon - was asked questions, and spent most of the homily time responding to the questions. A fudging of the rules, and, to my mind, a clear violation. That was the last time I agreed to lector.

I wonder what other changes/corrections are coming? I know at my parish the priest wants us to stand during the Eucharistic Prayer. The national norm is to kneel unless there's a good pastoral reason to stand - such as lack of kneelers, or Masses in places like gyms (we had to do that while our church building was being repaired). The other weekday the priest stopped the Mass and told those of us who were kneeling to stand. I did, but I have not been back since.

I play with the contemporary music group at that parish, but we'll only play once a month. I'll show up for that, but I will not rejoin the regular choir or attend that church until the kneeling is instituted. I'm hoping the Bishop will instruct the priest to do that; the Bishop is scheduled to say Mass at the parish in August, and if he sees people standing he might say something. I hope.

Meanwhile, I'm hoping the Bishop will join us for one of our pro-life events. 40 Days for Life this fall would be good!

Pax et bonum

Saturday, July 19, 2014

"Weird Al" Yankovic - Word Crimes - He's back!

I might be able to use this one in school.

Pax et bonum

Monday, July 14, 2014

Haiku and Franciscan Spirituality

I've noted this before, but it remains true: There would seem to be a natural link between haiku and Franciscan Spirituality.

The sense of something more, something deeper, something that flows through all and connects us all.

The love of nature.

A feeling of compassion for others.



I could go on.

Yesterday, I experienced that link again.

Our local haiku group had scheduled a ginko - a gathering in a natural setting where, hopefully, we would be inspired to write haiku. The ginko was to take place in a city park - the Maplewood Rose Garden, which, as the name suggests, is full of different varieties of roses (and other flowers).

We arrived to be greeted by ... rain. At times, the rain was heavy, accompanied by strong winds. The larger gazebos were all full of people, including some of the local homeless who use the park as a campground, and, we suspect based on the reputation of the park, entrepreneurs carrying on their drug trade. There was one small gazebo that was unoccupied, and we used that one as a base, jamming in to escape the rain and to write.

In between heavy downpours, we wandered among the roses. They had a variety of names, like Golden Showers (appropriate yesterday), Gemini (to my amusement, just a single plant), and those of famous people, including a spot for Dolly Parton roses (which, I noted with a chuckle, was bereft of rose bushes and hence "flat").

The was a fountain, dedicated 18 years before, that was empty of water (except for that provided by the rain) and not working. That inspired me to write:

rose garden fountain
empty except for babbling
haiku poets

When the wind and rain and thunder drove us into the gazebo for shelter and to write, I watched some of the other park visitors. There was one group that huddled in one shelter, looking at us occasionally and keeping their backs to us. In another shelter, several people were sleeping. Three young men were laughing and throwing a football in the pouring rain. There were several people who eyed us nervously - haiku poets inspiring unease? - and wandered from tree to tree. There was one woman who was dressed in mismatched clothes. She stopped periodically, talking to herself, gesturing, even dancing. I wondered if she was troubled, perhaps mentally ill, possibly even on drugs. I said a prayer for her.

On of our poets noted. laughing at herself, that here she was a haiku poet who seeks inspiration in nature, yet she is sensitive to the sun, allergic to bees, and nervous about ticks. She had on wrist and ankle bands to keep insects away, and rummaged through her bag for something lotion to rub on as she watched the bees floating in and out of the gazebo also seeking shelter from the rain.

nature poet
intently searching bag for
insect repellent

We shared haiku the ginko inspired - I had none (the two that I included above were written later); I was just enjoying the moment and the others' creations.

I also thought of St. Francis. I could imagine him sitting there listening to the others, enjoying and celebrating their efforts, chuckling, wondering about the other park denizens. Caring about them. I could imagine him wandering over to some of the others  - like that dancing woman - sharing God's love. Maybe he would have danced with her.

I was not so brave or full of love.

Would Francis have written haiku if that form had been invented centuries earlier than it was and if it had reached Italy? I'd like to imagine he would have.

in the rose garden
St. Francis praises the rain
embraces the thorns

Pax et bonum

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Saturday morning Mass

Many of our local parishes used to have Saturday morning Mass (my old home parish didn't). As the number of priests decreased, parishes began to give up on the Masses.

Near me, there's only one parish within a reasonable drive (about 15 minutes in good weather) that has a Saturday morning Mass, so I go there. I've noticed a number of people from other parishes, and from the other Franciscan fraternity, there. (There were four Franciscans there this morning!) It's nice to have that contact.

I know daily Mass is not required of lay people, but it's a nice spiritual practice. During summers I try to get to daily Mass; during the school year, I can't get to weekday Masses, but I can make it on Saturdays. So this parish is an oasis for me year round. It's also where they have a Saturday morning (7 a.m.) men's group I attend; breakfast, prayer, discussion, followed by Mass. Nice.

Maybe some day there will be more priests and more Masses available on Saturday morning. For now, I'm content.

Pax et bonum

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Stand. That's an order.

I went to morning Mass at my home parish. I don't always go to daily Mass there during the summer (as a teacher, I have the time to go). Part of it is the time - the Mass is a bit later than one at another nearby parish. But there's also the problem of an older retired priest who sometimes goes off on tangents during his homilies and criticizes the Church. Rather than taking a chance of getting upset I go elsewhere when I think he might be saying the Mass.

But today the pastor was saying the Mass.

He and I have had a few disagreements over liturgical practices. One of them is over standing during the Eucharistic prayers. The parish had begun the practice during a construction project when Masses were celebrated in the former school gym. Standing made sense in that situation. But when we went back to the church, even though there were kneelers available, the practice continued.

I respectfully spoke to him about this, pointing out that the norm in the U.S. is to kneel (aware, however that this is not the case in Europe, for example), but he said we would continue to stand. I wrote to our former bishop - he's since retired - seeking guidance. He wrote back to say it was up to the pastor and to follow his directions. In the spirit of obedience I did so at Sunday Masses.

At daily Masses, though, I noticed some people knelt, including some old-timers and active members of the parish. I did so in conjunction with them, figuring it was okay. This has been going on for a couple of summers.

This morning, though, when several of us knelt at the beginning of the prayer he suddenly stopped and instructed us to stand as that is the practice at the parish and as a sign of unity.

I stood. But I felt troubled. Why did he have to stop the Mass to say that? Why did he have to single us out? We were not trying to be disrespectful.

I'm not sure what to do. My ties to the parish are tenuous these days - I play with the contemporary liturgical group - which I love to do - and I was planning this fall to rejoin the regular choir after a year's break. Plus, the parish allows us to use meeting rooms for our Franciscan gatherings.

But now I'm feeling as if it might be time for me to move on.

I need to cool down, think, and pray.

Pax et bonum

One myth of homosexuality

Repeat a myth enough times and some people come to believe it – but that still does not make the myth true.  Such is the case with the myth that when it comes to homosexuality people are made that way. It makes for a catchy line in a Lady Gaga song, but it doesn’t make it true.

Indeed, researchers have been digging for years to find some physical cause for one to be “homosexual,” – a so-called “gay gene” in the popular shorthand – but have been unable to do so. The evidence, in fact, counters that theory (some of the studies of identical twins, for example).
While there seems to be within humans a range of sexual inclinations/predispositions, the evidence indicates that a variety of environmental factors play the main role in determining whether one identifies oneself as homosexual. Those factors include where one is raised, the home life, the models one has (or lack), societal and peer pressure, and so on. Again, studies of identical twins provide some strong support for this. Medical, psychological, anthropological studies all support this.
The norm in nature is to engage in heterosexual activities. While there are individuals in a number of species that engage in homosexual activities, such activities are not the norm – they are not “normal” – and are often linked to environmental factors.
Beyond environmental factors, whether one chooses to engage in homosexual activities is in the end just that, a choice. All sexual activity is a choice. One can choose to be celibate. One can chose to marry and engage in sexual activities with one’s husband/wife. One can choose to engage in sexual activities with as many partners as possible (the playboy/playgirl). One can choose to engage in homosexual activities. But it’s a matter of conscious choice. Surely you are not arguing that the individual who identifies himself/herself as homosexual is somehow less able to control his/her sexual activities?
And, one’s sexual activities do not define who one is. Indeed, defining oneself by sexual activities limits who one is. I am not a heterosexual – I am a human being.
To use an example: In my family there are a number of individuals who are addicted to alcohol and nicotine, and, to a lesser degree, other drugs. There seems to be in the family a predisposition toward addiction. But environment plays a role in shaping whether one engages in that behavior – pressures in the family, role models, availability, and so on. Alcohol and tobacco were legal and readily available, unlike illegal drugs, so those are the addictive substances of choice among most of my family members who have become addicts. But in the end the individual chooses whether or not to consume. Being aware of the tendencies in my family, I have always been careful about where I choose to go, with whom I choose to associate, how I choose to deal with pressures and difficulties, and what I choose to consume. I limit how much I drink. I chose early on not to smoke.
Right now, society is promoting/reinforcing various myths about homosexuality. People believe these myths because they are popular and accepted, they are cool, and so on.
But that does not make those myths any more true.
Pax et bonum

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Boycott Guinness and Samuel Adams

I like beer. I admit it. I've never been much of a fan of wine (except mead) or hard liquor (though sometimes I do enjoy tequila). Given a choice: It's beer.

And for a long time my two favorite regulars were Guinness Stout and several of the Samuel Adams brands.

No more.

Earlier this year, Samuel Adams withdrew its support of the St. Patrick's Day Parade in Boston (where the company is based) because parade organizers said homosexuals were welcome to march in the parade, but not as a distinctly homosexual group promoting homosexual organizations or lifestyle. Shortly after the Samuel Adams announcement, Guinness announced it was withdrawing support for the New York St. Patrick's Day parade for the same reason.

In both cases, the companies, and homosexual activists, declared that parade organizers had banned homosexuals from the parades. In neither case was that true. Homosexuals who were members of other groups - firefighters, Hibernians, Knights of Columbus, etc. - were more than welcome to march. The parades just did not want groups specifically promoting homosexual organizations and lifestyle. The parades were to celebrate being Irish.

But the homosexual groups threw a hissy fit , and the beer companies adopted the party line - a line that was false.

So, much as I like those beers, I can no longer support them. Not that my boycott would amount to much - I've been known to go weeks without a beer. I had one six pack that I bought at Christmas and didn't finish until March!

I've decided to buy more local beers instead - in keeping with Chestertonian views. Earlier today I went to a local beer store and picked up a selection of 6 beers from New York state breweries.

Tonight, after a hot day, I had a glass of Blueberry Ale from Blue Point Brewing Company, which, according the label, was brewed in either Patchogue or Rochester, both in New York. (I suspect my bottle came from Rochester.) I'm not a big ale drinker; I prefer darks and stouts. This particular beer was a little light for my taste. But it wasn't bad. My wife, who prefers ales, might like it.

I'll try a different brewery's beer tomorrow for the Fourth.

As for Samuel Adams and Guinness: I'll have nothing to do with them until they change their positions - other than drinking my alternative brews in my Samuel Adams glasses!

Pax et bonum

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Characteristics of Franciscan Servant Leadership

I have been reading The Handbook for Franciscan Servant Leadership (2010) as part of my spiritual reading. I came across the following early in the handbook:  

"Three essential characteristics when one assumes a Franciscan servant leadership role are:

1. that the call or commission is initiated by God;

2. that the response or commitment is wholehearted; and

3.that the leader has or is open to receiving the vision necessary to serve in a servant leadership capacity.

The vitality and growth of fraternal life is usually related to the absence or presence of these characteristics in its leaders."

I got to thinking.

The first one is an area I always question. I have so much ego and ambition that I always wonder if any "call" to leadership is more about me than a genuine call from God. But I have also often found myself in leadership positions, or mentioned by others as a potential leader. I got elected to the council because the  current minister sprang it on me - and she keeps touting me as a future minister.

The second one is a tough one. I always feel that I'm only half-hearted. I don't do everything with enthusiasm or energy. Instead, I have a tendency to get lazy. In that I fail as a leader. Does that mean I'm not being a true leader? Or Franciscan? Or even Christian?

The third characteristic I really don't have much to say about.

But one of the things that reading all this is making me think about is my desire to step down form the council at the next election, and to turn down any leadership position. Is that out of ego? Laziness? A rejection of God's call?

Things to think about as I read on.

Pax et bonum

Black Like Me - still powerful

My first book of the summer was Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin.

Although the events in the book are from 1959-60 (with the epilogue extending to the later 60s), the story remains powerful, and, sadly, still true to some degree.

For those not familiar with the book, in 1959 Griffin, a novelist, journalist and Catholic convert, decided to investigate the truth about race relations in the South by ingesting chemicals and using dyes to transform himself into a "Black" man. As a Black, he then traveled through Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, hitching, looking for work, and interacting with Blacks and whites.

It's all very personal, and troubling. The book revealed the fear - and anger - he felt as he encountered racism in its many forms. His life really was in danger.

The words and actions of outright bigots were no surprise, but what he discovered about supposed white supporters of civil rights was revealing. Their words and actions were also distorted by prejudice and ignorance. One of my "favorite" vignettes in the epilogue took place in my own city (Rochester, NY). After the story came out (originally in a magazine) he was invited to come to many cities to help address issues of prejudice. When he came to Rochester to meet with leaders of the community he pointed out that the assembled group was all white. It had never occurred to these leaders that in addressing race relations they should invite leaders of the Black community and seek Black views on the issues. And in other cities when Griffin and Black leaders met with city and community leaders, the whites tended to ask him what was going on in the Black community - ignoring the local Black leaders sitting right there.

The overt racism depicted in the book probably still exists, but certainly to a far less degree. We have a Black president. The mayor of my city is Black. My representative in the state Assembly is Black. There are many other Black social and political leaders across the country.

But ...

The Black community is still underrepresented in business, political and other leadership position.

Moreover, some of the issues raised in the book still exist, and in some cases have gotten worse. The broken families. Educational inequality. Employment inequality. Crime. Drug use. Subtler forms of prejudice - going both ways. And so on.

So while parts of the book are no longer completely true, much of it remains relevant.

It made me look at some of my own words and attitudes.

As for him going undercover, he took flak. Some people accused him of making things worse, of deceiving people. He also faced ostracism by his neighbors and death threats. His image was burned in effigy in his town. He finally fled to Mexico with his family for a while for safety reasons.

The book also reminded me of my one of my own experiences as a journalist.

I went undercover as a street beggar. I was afraid I might be attacked. I was bugged by the way some people reacted to me. I worried about how I might react if things got hairy. I took some flak for deceiving people when the paper printed my story. None of what I experienced was even close to what he experienced, but it helped me to understand a little why he did what he did and what happened to him.

I also thought of other undercover activities - like the Live Action efforts to expose Planned Parenthood. I think they are needed, but not everyone agrees.

My assessment: Good book, well written, and well worth the read.

Pax et bonum

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

St. Francis and Pope Francis's wheels

“It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.” - St. Francis of Assisi

Pax et bonum