A Christian by Heritage

Once an Insider, Always an Insider

I grew up in a Christian tradition. My education, all the way up to my Master’s Degree, was at Catholic institutions. I was steeped in Catholic liturgy, studied for the priesthood, wanted to become a Trappist monk.

Even though I have formally left the Catholic Church and its theistic tradition, I still think of myself as a cultural Christian—I discuss Christianity, I participate in dialogues about Catholicism, I make references to classical Christian music, I often refer to the role of Christianity in Western history. I do all of this with the inherited legitimacy of an insider.

I say all of this by way of an introduction to prepare my readers for the voice I purposely take on in this essay. It is the voice of a kind of  “Mother Jones” writer who sees himself as a guerilla-journalist camping out in the hills far enough away from a  foreign institution, not to be re-intoxicated.  But close enough to come down from the hills to engage in a serious insider’s critique.

I must also make it very clear that, when I question some of the outdated theology and dogmas of the Catholic Church, I do so as someone still culturally and intellectually connected to my Catholic heritage, even though I have officially left the Church. I also think it is important for my readers to know that I continue to be positively affected by so many of the nurturing and loving clerical servants within the Catholic Church who taught me so much about the need for self-examination and service. These humble and poorly-paid servants will always be in my heart. Continue reading

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Soldiers Returning From Iraq

They had learned
From desert stars
That nothing matters.
Now they are asked
By ancient mothers
Trained in doubt,
To turn their heads
From the arbitrary dark,
Once dripping in shadows
And fresh blood,
To turn towards
Unsuspecting love,
The dusty marriage-vow world,
Before the clanking war
Danced its death-beats
Against the sifted ground
Of mangled bodies
Like slim, pale puppets.

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Infinities by John Banville

Infinities
John Banville
Alfred A. Knopf, 2010
273 pp

“….the gods love to eavesdrop on the secret lives of others.” So says the novel’s narrator and mythological character, Hermes, son of Zeus and Maia, the cave woman.

If we’ve forgotten our mythology 101, Hermes is also the messenger. And does he have a story to tell, a very modern story about ordinary human interactions and relationships and a story in the ancient classical tradition about love, larger-than-life genius, death, destiny, unrequited love. Continue reading

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Resentments

It is still etched deep in my memory.  I was once tail-gated by a woman in an SUV. As I looked at her face through the rear-view mirror, I could see the I-wanna-get-there-now look—squinting deep-set brown eyes glaring straight ahead, fingers of both hands gripping the left and right curves of the wheel, jaw jutting forward like the prow of a racing yacht, her entire face angled to the right as she appeared to bite off a thin slice of skin from the inside corner of her lower lip.

In that jet-stream moment, as I approached the red light, I was ready. My thoughts shifted into first, the power gear. She’s gonna slide into the inside lane. She’s gonna rev her monster tank-of-a-gas-guzzler. She’s gonna roll down her window for the duel, pin her hair back, tighten her seat belt, light a cigarette. Continue reading

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Anti-Big-Government Movement in America

(I would ask my readers to please keep in mind that my analysis of the anti-big-government movement in the U.S. is only an analysis. In general, I do not reach the same conclusions that many of these sometimes disparate anti-big-government groups come to).

In a densely-packed essay in The Nation, Eric Alterman outlined his reasons why Obama and the Dems will never be able to get an untainted progressive agenda through the hollowed halls of Congress.

Alterman sees the problem as structurally rigged against such any progressive agenda: the media-controlled narratives; the filibuster threat; the supermajority rule; the ability of any one Senator to put a “hold” on legislation; the corporate/lobbyist money running Washington and now the media with a recent Supreme Court decision. Continue reading

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Trust

I remember the day. It was fifteen years ago. I was standing outside my father’s apartment. We were engaged in a conversation about Mary, my stepmother, who had just been diagnosed with esophageal cancer.

My dad made a vain attempt at telling me that he wasn’t bothered by my stepmother’s inability to travel. I didn’t believe him. Continue reading

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One Man’s Odyssey

Many of my friends are believers. They have faith in a personal, creationist God. They go to Church regularly. They have families who wed and die in these churches. And they see this life as a preparation for an eternal one. Some believe that only a select few will reap the benefits of their good lives. Others believe that everybody will have a shot at it.

Their deep faiths continue to nurture me, even though I have gently moved away from all theistic traditions. Continue reading

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“Big Machine” by Victor LaValle

Big Machine
Victor LaValle
Spiegel & Grau Trade Paperbacks
New York, 2010
370 pp

In all of the reviewing I have done over the years, I don’t ever recall using a statement from an author’s acknowledgment page.

When I read the last paragraph and then went back to look at the last page of the narrative itself, there appeared to be some covert, even tendentious wrapping up, some moral statement LaValle seemed to be making in this part allegory, part fantasy, part gothic, part magic-realism, part gruesome, grim-reality novel. Continue reading

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Addiction, Another World

(This is another blog post on addiction and may help non-addicts understand the many-layered world of addiction, a world I once inhabited and continue to recover from. Because addiction is an equal-opportunity emotional and physical derailment, I purposely shift between the pronouns, “he” and “she” to avoid the impression that men have a monopoly on the world of addiction).

My drug of choice was booze. But the behavior and emotional patterns I exhibited could apply to all addicts. Each addiction obviously has its own uniqueness, but, in working with cross-addicted individuals, I have found many of the emotional and psychological traits to be the same. Continue reading

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Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon

Michael Haneke’s films are never easy to watch. I believe it would be safe to say the Haneke tends to assault his viewers out of their complacencies.

If you like your films to have a soft-edged, feel-good resolution, you should definitely save your ten bucks—twenty-five with popcorn and a beverage– and wait for Hollywood’s romantic-comedy summer fare.

Haneke is not your man.

That said, let me begin by saying that “The White Ribbon,” Haneke’s latest, is a tour de force. It is no wonder that Cannes gave the film its prestigious Palme d’Or award. It was well-deserved Continue reading

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