Monday, February 27, 2006

Scarcity

I'll be scarce this week. We're making final preparations for our move this weekend. It'll be nice to live in our own home again, but we have A LOT of work to do.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Wallace and Grommit

We watched some shorts of Wallace and Gromit last night with our Friday evening dinner. We typically have a substantial vegetarian or seafood dinner on Fridays because Gina and I fast until the evening, so Friday dinner is always a family event. Anyway, as we watched, I recalled the first person who ever brought Wallace and Gromit to my attention. Her name was Kelli, and she worked with me at a technical communications/localization company here in Boise.

Kelli was an intelligent woman, but she didn't have a lot of faith in herself. She was very talented in a number of areas (a fact I didn't learn until her funeral), but she hid many of her talents from the people with whom she worked. What I found ever present in Kelli was her child-like joy in sci-fi, cartoons, medieval folklore, and fantasy fiction. When Wallace and Gromit videos started popping up in the video stores, she was the first who mentioned them to me.

She also loved animals. She had a horse (rode English), at least one dog, probably a few cats, and no doubt other critters. In that way, she reminds me of my stepdaughters. They cannot say no to a new pet. Of course, I can, but occasionally they bring home something I have a hard time saying no, too. (Hannah just recently brought home her Christmas present from her twin sister, a chihuahua puppy. As much as I dislike chihuahuas, this puppy is a real sweetheart.)

As I mentioned, Kelli didn't have a lot of faith in herself, and she hid a lot of her anxiety and pain from us and from her family. She'd had at least one break we knew about. I recall one project on which she was working with a new technology, and I was the lead. I checked on her frequently, but for some reason, she never felt comfortable asking for my help. When time came for delivery, the files wouldn't compile, and I had to sift through and fix the errors. When we did the project postmortem, I wasn't happy, and I let her know. She left the meeting in tears, and the managers and supervisors made a point of teasing me about the meeting. As her manager pointed out, the project was my responsibility, and that was why I was angry with her. I couldn't address problems about which I had no knowledge. I still don't think I was inappropriately hard on her, but I still revisit that moment in context and wish I had done something different.

So this story doesn't end well. She called in sick one day at the end of one of her projects. I had been wanting to give her some encouragement because of a recent project on which she had worked. I called and left a message with her that day to tell her that she'd done a great job and that she was showing so much improvement.

The next day, I arrived at work and was informed that Kelli had committed suicide (an overdose of aspirin or ibuprofen). I was stunned as anyone would be at that time. I worked with the rest of the management staff to inform the others about what had happened. The company gave us all the day off to come to terms with the situation . On the day of Kelli's funeral, they sent out a grief counselor. During our team huddle, we were each asked to describe how we felt. When it came to my turn, I mentioned that I was angry at Kelli for doing this to herself and her family and friends. One of my friends and coworkers, Vicki (a gifted musician who has since died from of breast cancer)* got angry with me for voicing my anger. The counselor indicated that both reactions were common. We left and headed off to attend Kelli's modest funeral.

We arrived at the funeral home, and various former coworkers were there as well. What struck me were the photos of Kelli, the paintings and poems she had done, and the other memorabilia that was present. In that hour, I got a greater glimpse of Kelli than I'd ever had.

So here's to Kelli. Please pray for her soul.

* I think Vicki believed in the postmodern heroic vision of determining one's own fate. To her credit, when Vicki's time came, she stayed until it was over. I understand that she had a devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe. Regardless of what the website says, I did the design (HTML coding). Nicole Lefavour did the photography, and Dartboard Interactive did the image processing. Please pray for Vicki's soul as well.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

White House Hires UAE Firm to Spy on Catholic Worker Volunteers

I can always count on Maureen Martin to have the scoop on this administration.

Bless you, dear lady.

Light Blogging This Week

I'm in San Diego for some analysis work this week, so blogging will be light. I've been reading Brideshead Revisited and am thoroughly enjoying it. I think I prefer Waugh to Chesterton. However, there's a line that Cordelia mentions from Father Brown that I find an apt description of God's mercy and grace:

with an unseen hook and an invisible line which is long enough to let him wander to the ends of the world and still to bring him back with the twitch upon the thread.

Monday, February 20, 2006

A Wayward Catholic Comes Home

If you haven't yet visited Jenn's blog, Confessions of a Wayward Catholic, do check it out. She describes her journey through atheism, paganism, prostitution, and finally back to the arms of Our Lord and Savior.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Whad'ya Know?

Had a moment today as I was running around doing errands. It was a busy Saturday. I had a special class in hsing i, then had to go tear the carpet out of the new house (closed yesterday, moving in two weeks). Anyhoo, I went to Home Depot to pick up some additional supplies, "accidentally" wandered into CompUSA and wound up with a copy of Brothers in Arms: Earned in Blood in my hands as I walked out, and I drove back to finish up some work at the new place.

I sometimes get tired of listening to the same play lists on the three Christian radio stations I have programmed in my stereo, so I switched briefly to NPR to see if Prarie Home Companion was on yet. Whad'ya Know? was still on. If you haven't heard this show, it begins when the host says, "Whad'ya know?"

The audience responds, "Not much, you?" Noting that customary exchange, I really shouldn't have been too surprised by what transpired. I listened long enough to hear a woman comment that when "Bill Clinton was president, nobody died."

If I had been drinking something, it would've sprayed instantly out of my nose, covered the dash and windshield, and likely caused a bit of a commotion (as I would've been swerving into on coming traffic and trying to find my way to a box of tissue somewhere).

Thank God I wasn't working on my computer!

I think that might've been one of the most ludicrous over-generalizations I've ever heard in my life. It used to be, "When Clinton lied, no one died." Okay, simple enough. His lie about his activities with a woman who was not his wife didn't have dramatic repercussions that caused people to die. His actions might've had other dire consequences, but it's likely they did not result in people's deaths.

So that's now evolved to "When Bill Clinton was president, no one died." Oh really?

Okay, so let's dismiss the patent silliness of the idea that for eight years no one on earth passed away. We "know" that's not what the caller meant. Surely she couldn't have been that daft.

So no one died in

- Somalia in 1992 to 1995?

- In Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1995 and later?

- In Operation Infinite Reach (Strikes on Sudan and Afghanistan) in 1998?

- In Kosovo in 1999?

Clearly, people did die—innocent people even. This is just how "facts" evolve in the world-wide rumor mill. As a Catholic, I'm quite familiar with how it works. First, someone writes a book about, say, the Spanish Inquisition. That phrase is too cumbersome, so people reduce it to "the Inquisition." All of the evils of the former become attached to an office of the Church responsible for various inquisitions, and we have a much bigger "Inquisition." Or a crusade, which we all acknowledge were awful horrible imperial incursions into the Middle East by the Roman Catholic Church... until we understand that Muslims invaded and conquered Christian territories first.

These days, we have Dan Brown and the whole New-Age Gnostic movement. Suddenly, Albino Opus-Dei monks lurk behind every corner. (Wait, scratch that—Jesuit agents. I don't want to get Jack Chick on my case.)

A lie repeated often enough becomes the truth.

I used to be a liberal. Parenthood, reversion to the faith of my childhood, and some professional success cured me of it (the first two more than the last). Now that I've been clean and sober (so to speak) for a few years, I'm struck by a few things regarding the voices I hear on the left:

- For all the claims liberals make to being enlightened, they seem to dispense with reason with alarming frequency. The case above is a prime example.

- For all the complaints about dialogue by sound byte, they seem far too willing to engage in such reductive debates (for example, the so-called right to choose).

- For all the claims to tolerance and compassion, they seem to be more willing to dispense with both when confronted with someone (or some group) they don't like.

I like the old liberalism—the idea that one should listen to new ideas and be willing to reform institutions that need reform; the respect for liberal education and its deep approach to method rather than a superficial approach to immediate concerns; the affirmation of equality in human dignity as opposed to sameness.

When I listen to the voices on the left these days, I have to wonder under what delusions I was operating when I gave them creedence?

Friday, February 17, 2006

No Christian is an Island

Enbrethiliel has posted this excellent reflection using the conceit of the Reformation as theological shipwreck.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Anesthesia (for Donnah)

Donnah, an old friend of my ex-wife, is an anaesthesiologist back in West Virginia or Ohio. She visited us once with her husband, and we had some interesting conversations. At some point, she mentioned that the hardest thing for her in her profession was when she had to anaesthetize diabetic seniors for amputation. Donnah didn't strike me as a particularly emotional person, but her comments that night did reveal a heart that she didn't open up often for people to see.

==============

Those toes—she thinks—
Those black, gnarled toes
once tiny and pink,
kissed lightly and counted
so long ago.

She shudders and checks
tank, tube, and syringe
while the nurse stains skin
with Betadine.

The time comes.
She presses amnesia
into the saline drip
clouding the mind
of the one-time infant.

“Let me know before
you use the loud thing,”
she says.

The surgeon nods.
She folds the pillow
over the patient’s ears
and hopes he’ll not recall
the whining blade.

W D Burns

So much for blank spaces.

I seem to have broken out of my self-imposed silence since I wrote Why I Don't Write over the weekend. I won't be renaming the blog anytime soon, although I probably will change the layout at some point.

You're not likely to get a lot of political commentary or current news from me. So many others do a better job at that (Amy W., Mark S., the Anchoress). I've always preferred to go where others don't seem to be going, which is why I play bass instead of lead guitar and why I wanted to jump to SGML while all the other technical writers were still learning how to produce HTML without having to learn how to code.

Anyway, I'd love to hear your comments.

Growing up Catholic?

I'm surprised at how few stories I've found in the blogosphere detailing the workings of the Catholic child's mind. I hear a lot about people's kids—which is great, not complaining—but I don't see a lot of stories by bloggers about how their faith came out when they were kids.

Heck, my ex-wife wasn't even Catholic, and she made habits, wimples, and scapulars for her Barbies.

So I guess since I've opened my big virtual mouth, I get to go first.

Prior to moving to Fairchild AFB, Washington, my childhood memories are spotty. I recall a few events in Aurora, Colorado, but nothing more than some standout incidents (a garbage truck crunching my mom's VW bug, a neighbor kid riding a bike into the back of a truck, getting a swirley and a forced dryer ride from a friend's teenage sisters). Okay, maybe I actively blocked out the rest. The stuff I remember doesn't sound like all that much fun.

Anyway, my earliest memories of my faith come from Fairchild AFB. The base chapel was across the street from the elementary school, and we used the school for religious-ed classes, which we called Sunday School or CCD back then. I think the term "religious education" came in with all of the non-Catholic influences. Until I attended a Unitarian-Universalist church during my agnostic days, I had never heard the term "religious education."

So, in comes "religious education," out goes religious doctrine.

Anyway, the CCD teachers and priests were not soft-pedaling anything back then. I knew about Heaven, Hell, mortal sin, and much of what is surreptitiously jettisoned these days by the time I was ready for first communion. Women and girls still wore head coverings, we still went to the communion rail and knelt, and if there was any guitar playing, it was a children's Mass with no clowns involved, thank you very much. Priests wore their clericals every day. Sisters still mostly wore habits (although we saw very few sisters on base).

I loved the ritual of the Church. I loved the vestments, the chalices, the censers, the candles. There was something about all of the trappings that lent an aura of mystery to worship. And priests were not just ordinary Joes. They were people I feared and respected. I recall liking a few and being mortified by others. But they were men apart, no doubt about it.

So naturally I imitated them. What else would a Catholic boy aspire to? I lived on a military base, with a doctor for a father, and with bomber pilots and other military officers. So when I played with my LDS and Protestant neighbors, we imitated our human fathers. When I played on my own, I imitated our spiritual father.

I happened to have a great blanket that my grandmother made for me, an off-white quilted field with burgundy edges, and gold with burgundy Baroque designs—perfect for a chasuble. (It also served quite well as a royal cloak when I felt like being the King. It is good to be king.)

My parents had a sterling-silver candy dish from their wedding which served nicely as a platen (many of which were stemmed back then). I used a little flattened Wonder bread for my communion wafers. Now, before you get on my case about liturgical abuses (using silver for a platen and leavened bread), just remember that I was not as familiar with thr GIRM back then. I'm sure I would've followed the norms much more closely had I a copy of the Code of Canon Law and a decent pre-Vatican II sacramentary.

Besides, I was playing. Sheesh.

Anyway, usually the only communicants I had were my mom and my brother. I took care not to dispense the hosts to anyone who wasn't a professing Catholic, which wasn't difficult as none of my friends played this game with me.

There are many other stories and small memories from CCD and Mass—first reconciliation, the construction-paper renditions of Christ on the cross with a big smile on His face, the time I baptized two of my friends with a garden hose. (Given that their parents were nonbelievers and violently abusive, that just might've been a valid baptism.)

Oh yes, and the time I crucified myself on my grandma's front lawn.

More on that one later.

Sister Shirley

I was reading a post Amy Welborn's blog about her son, who deigned to point out the falsehood uttered by another "Catholic" clubber who said he didn't have time to go to church. One of the posters mentioned that taverns are a great place to witness. That reminded me of a sister that my family used to know when we attended St. Aloysius Church in Spokane on occasion.

The interior of St. Aloysius appears to be unchanged since I attended as a child and as a student at Gonzaga University. (I didn't attend very often. That was during the period in which I had fallen away from the Church.)

I recall once that an armed man hid in the church and shot it up a bit, damaging some of the statuary. I used to look around the walls for bullet holes on Sundays.

Sister Shirley must've worked in various ministries or might even have been involved with St. Aloysius school. I wasn't really old enough to catch onto those details (much more into the bullet holes and donuts after Mass), and we weren't regular parishioners. We actually belonged to the parish on Fairchild Air Force Base where we shared the chapels with the Protestants. She wore a veil but otherwise dressed in business attire.

Sister Shirley used to come to our home frequently for dinner, and she even came camping with us on a few occasions. She once told my mother that she disliked restaurants and preferred taverns because you could have a conversation with someone and really witness to them. Restaurants are too busy, and you're constantly being interrupted.

Sister Shirley also loved to tell us stories about the saints. One time in particular, we were camped close to Camp Chinook, a Boy Scout camp on Lake Pend Oreille. The wasps were particularly bad that year and pestered us when we played in the campground. I must've been complaining about the wasps when Sister Shirley heard me. She called me over and told me the story of St. Francis, how Francis loved nature, and how he referred to all creatures as his brothers and sisters.

At seven, I had a very literal sense of faith, so I took her at her word. I started to call the wasps "Brother Wasp" and such. I have to say that it worked rather well for a while. That is until I decided to pet Brother Wasp. Or maybe I was just trying to give him a wet willy. I don't remember, but I'm sure it was typical brother stuff.

Whatever it was, Brere Wasp didn't care for it, and he stung me. And I did exactly what I did when my human brother hit me or pestered me. I ran crying to my mother about how unjust the whole situation was. (Yeah, I was the younger of the two of us. Why do you ask?)

Anyway, I think I learned something about figurative language that day. Thanks, Sister, wherever you are.

**Forgot to mention that Gonzaga U. was Bing Crosby's alma mater. His family home was just a few blocks from campus. Bob Newhart's son was there at the same time I was (1983-84). I think he might've been in one of my literature classes.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Real Ultimate Catholic Power

Okay, so I was hoping that all stealthy like a Ninja and sneak my way onto Der Tommissar's blog roll, but I really couldn't think of any way to work "like a Ninja" into a blog post. Anyhoo, make sure to vote for for Donegal Express in the 2006 Catholic Blog Awards.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Ever wonder....

what happened to Lot's wife?

The answer might be here.

Watching a Man Die

I have been watching a man die slowly, over a period of 14 years. His name is Phil, and he's homeless. I think he's had places to live and employment off and on over the years, but he always winds up at the exit of the same Albertsons with his bike, a bike trailer, and his sign.

He first caught everyone's attention about when he was much younger. It was about the time that homeless folks really became noticeable in Boise. Whereas others help up signs that said, "Will work for food," or "Need gas to get to new job," his sign said, "Why lie? I need a beer." I don't recall if I contributed to his beer fund, but I might've bought him lunch once or twice.

I found it humorous at the time and refreshingly honest. Chalk that up to my own naiveté. He kept using the sign and kept panhandling. he's disappear for a while, or I simply wouldn't have any reason to be on this side of town, but eventually he'd pop up again.

Well, now I live on this side of town. I see him walking to and from the various places he panhandles, or from the homes of his remaining family. (Yep, his brothers and sisters live in the area.) I've gotten to know him a lot better since the days when he used to hold the beer sign. Now, the sign on his trailer says, "Homeless. Need help. God bless."

Phil has cancer, and he looks more gaunt everytime I see him. His grandfather and father both died of lung cancer, and that's apparently what's going to do him in as well. Well, that and years of drug and alcohol abuse. He has a cold right now, and he mistook me for someone who gave hime some Advil. Or he just mentioned the Advil because he doesn't really engage with folks according to the norms of social discourse. As Paul Grice would say, he violated the cooperative principle of conversational implicature. Maybe he has a cold, or maybe it's the cancer.

He still smokes.

I remember when my mother-in-law was diagnosed with oat-cell carcinoma of the lungs. After she finished a round of chemotherapy and learned that the spread of cancer showed few signs of abating, she decided to accept the inevitable, swear off further chemo, and get ready to die. She started to smoke again, figuring that it was pointless to give it up if it had already done the deed and couldn't be undone. (A poem about that experience from the imagined perspective of my ex-wife is here.)

I think Phil is at that phase. He doesn't much think about being miserable or not being miserable. He's so used to it that he doesn't complain. I spoke to another guy, Mike, who was standing on the very same spot last Sunday. He was perfectly willing to say that things could be better. He wanted to be inside watching the Super Bowl. He was still alive. I think Phil resigned himself to death a long time ago.

Please pray for Phil and for his conversion.

Prayers for My Wife's Coworker

My wife just called to tell me about her coworker, Julie, whose husband was killed in a skiing accident this weekend. Please pray for Julie and for the soul of her husband.

Have mercy on us, Lord, and on all souls of those who have left us.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Why I Don't Write

I've been puzzling over some matters of talent and treasure over the last... oh, say... several years. I have written songs, poems, short stories, and way too many essays, but I've found over the last few years that I have little I want to say that someone else hasn’t said better. Or maybe a better way to put it is that I have little in way of opinion that I want to inflict on the world—even my little sliver of it.

As early as eighth grade I thought about being a writer. I wrote short stories in school and out, enjoyed coming up with witty comments on my reading assignments, and actually liked doing research papers. Well, sort of. I kept journals throughout my undergraduate studies. I wrote "poems" of various stripes, most of which I now just consider typical adolescent indulgence in self-expression for its own sake.

Every once in a while, I’ll go back through what I wrote in eighth grade, high school, or undergraduate school, and I can see that I had something—a voice, some wit, or maybe just audacity. I do think it’s audacious to think that something I write is worthy of an audience. That audacity fit my personality 20 years ago, back when I was a nightclub rock musician, back when I had the nerve to be arrogant and cocky. It doesn’t suit me now.

I never intended to be a technical writer. I fell into it after I finished my MA in English. I had hoped to work in academia, but after two semesters of teaching English composition, I knew I couldn’t support a family on an adjunct’s pay. (I wasn‘t even on staff full time, which made the $18,800 per year of a fulltime adjunct look like a fortune.)

I took a temporary position as a technical writer while I finished a semester with three sections of comp. My daughter was probably 3 weeks old when I started. I worked 40 hours per week around my class schedule. By June, the company hired me full time. I had averaged a 70-hour work week for three months. I started teaching lower-division literature courses that following semester and managed to publish an essay in the Rocky Mountain Review of Literature.

After two years in the corporate world, I still fully intended to continue on to a Ph.D. and had begun the application process at several universities, but that dream ended when my then-wife said she wouldn’t force her son to move away from his father, nor would she leave him behind. I don’t blame her for making that decision, but it was a bitter pill to swallow at the time. I had also given up performing music at her insistence, and I felt as if that I was giving up everything that had ever defined me.

Somewhere in there, I lost the desire to write for enjoyment or exploration. I still wrote for work and published reviews and chapters for third-party books. I revised many of the poems I had written as an undergraduate. I eked out a few poems during those years, so few I could count them on two hands. Oddly, they were better than anything I’d written during my more prolific times. Something about the simplicity of technical writing helped me to clear away the clutter with which I’d previously expressed myself. Even the literary criticism I published improved. (One of the peer reviewers actually noted my essay’s clarity in his comments. Clarity and concision are not hallmarks of academic writing.)

I had a burst of creativity a few years ago when my civil marriage was failing. I wrote probably 10 to 12 poems in a six-week period, as well as a few songs. The difference was that I wanted to say something specific to someone specific. I didn’t sustain that activity for long.

Today, when I consider why I don’t write, why I don’t compose music, why I don’t do these self-expressive activities, I can’t help but think of that cocky 22 year old who thought he had the world by the ass and how little I want to be like him now. I don’t think so highly of myself, but I feel much better about myself now than I do about that arrogant kid. I think that what I have to say could be said better by others.

But why, then, did God give me an ability to express ideas clearly? Why did He give me a voice with which to sing, an ear to hear tonalities, and an ability to play instruments? And why am I wasting these gifts?

I seem to have a Pharisee and a tax collector at war in me. One looks at the 22 year old and says, “Thank you, God, that I’m not that person anymore.” The other looks at that 22 year old and says, “God forgive me for my selfishness and sinfulness.” I’m not really sure what to do with that conflict right now.

I tried to explain my ambivalence to my wife the other night as I started this entry. She reminded from where such defeatist attitudes come, the same place from which those hypercritical thoughts about the sins and errors of my past. God gave me gifts to use. If some other voice is discouraging me from using those gifts, that voice can’t be coming from God’s contingent.

So now I’ll engage in a little bit of that pomo literary criticism that I used to love so much as a graduate student. I chose for the name of this blog a clause that finds its way into many a technical manual. It’s meant to indicate that a page is not arbitrarily blank—that no content is missing. By putting the clause on the page, the factualness of the blank page is subverted. The page is no longer blank. The irony of this post, and the irony of this blog, is that answering the question of why I don’t write forces me to do the thing I wasn’t doing, just as every time I post an entry, the page is no longer blank.

Friday, February 10, 2006

St. Thomas Aquinas, Natural Science, and the Incarnation

“The aim of natural science is not simply to accept the statements of others, but to investigate the causes that are at work in nature.”


St. Albertus Magnus
1



In Aristotle’s epistemology, the goal of scientific enquiry is knowledge of the human person. This epistemology and the natural science that springs from it point beyond the material world to a realm of essences. Unlike Plato’s epistemology, Aristotle’s synthesis of material and spiritual realities allows theologians a greater framework in which to practice their discipline, interpreting revelation in light of the full range of human experience. St. Thomas Aquinas, the Angelic Doctor, took full advantage of this synthesis and of natural science in his Christology.
Natural science, as practiced by Aristotle, aids theology in its ends; it provides a necessary foundation and allows reasonable abstractions from that foundation. As the Philosopher explains in Physics,

The natural way of doing this is to start from the things which are more knowable and clear to us and to proceed towards those which are clearer and more knowable by nature; for the same things are not knowable relatively to us and knowable without qualification. So we must follow this method and advance from what is more obscure by nature, but clearer to us, towards what is more clear and more knowable by nature.2


The Angelic Doctor refers to the same process as the “order of determination.” As McInerny and O’Callaghan explain,

The first purchase on natural things is via “physical object” or “natural thing.” The “order of demonstration” involves finding the properties of things as known through this general concept. Then, specifying the subject further, one seeks properties of things known through the less common concepts.3


The scientist asks general questions, then increasingly more specific questions about the object of inquiry. He starts by asking whether something exists, then what that thing is, then what properties it possesses, and finally why it possesses those properties.

St. Thomas puts this method to use in his proofs of God’s existence. Before he attempts to determine what God is, he determines that God exists and notes as proof the changing condition of the material universe, the notion of efficient cause or material being, the difference between possibility and necessity in being, the gradation of qualities in things, and the governance or design of things in the material world.4 While the third and fourth are more abstract proofs, the first, second, and fifth proofs are clearly based on sensory experience of the material world. This foundation is critical for all other arguments he makes concerning the qualities of God, including the Triune nature of God and the Incarnation.

St. Thomas’s Christology continues with his discussion of the fitness of the Incarnation. His initial affirmation is, if nothing else, a Christian recasting of Aristotelian epistemology:

On the contrary, It[sic] would seem most fitting that by visible things the invisible things of God should be known, for to this end the whole world was made, as is clear from the word of the Apostle (Rom. I. 20): “For the invisible things of God… are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made.”5


In other words, through our sensory experience, we come to know about the material world and, by analyzing our experience with our intellect, come to understand those things that are immaterial. St. Thomas then addresses the relationship of human and divine natures in the hypostasis.

According to Aquinas’s third proof, God is a necessary being, while man and other material entities are contingent beings. We can imagine the possibility for a man or any other material being not to exist. The very possibility of imagining it means that at one point the being did not exist. If this premise is true, then it would follow that at some point nothing existed. If nothing existed at one time, nothing could have come to exist and be in existence now. Therefore, there must be some being in whom essence (nature) and existence are the same, in which existence is necessary.6 This being is that Being whom we call God.

In the Incarnation, we have a Divine hypostasis,7 the Son. The concept of the Divine hypostasis, or Divine person, is analogous to the human person. Personhood is that combination of a rational nature and existence, or as Aquinas describes, “a subsistent individual of a rational nature.”8 However, the human person, as a contingent being, has essence and separate existence; whereas with God, we have three Divine persons, all of whom are one necessary being and in whom essence is not distinct from existence. In Summa Theologica, St. Thomas repeatedly uses such analogical arguments from the material world to describe the qualities of God or the relationships among the three persons of the Godhead. As with all analogies, the similarities among the entities compared are as important as the differences.

Divine Being is necessary and, as such, immutable.9 One of the arguments St. Thomas counters in Summa Theologica is the idea that the Divine and human natures became a single nature. He notes, on the contrary, that combining two dissimilar things results in changes to both. However, the immutability of Christ’s Divine nature renders such a change impossible. St. Thomas necessarily concludes that the union of natures must occur in the person of Christ rather than the natures.10 From here, the Divinity of that person must follow. The Divine essence (nature) and existence of Christ are inseparable and immutable. Because the “nature… designates the species,”11 it follows that the hypostasis, the person of Christ, is Divine. The human nature, being separate and distinct from its existence, has the same subsistence in the Divine person.

In addition to the Divinity of Christ, St. Thomas also addresses the humanity of Christ. In Aristotle, we see that a person gains, through sensory perception and its analysis, not only a sense of the material world, but also a sense of some capability unique to humans that is distinct from or transcends the material, the soul. In explaining the immaterial nature of the soul, Aquinas disputes the belief that souls are bodies, holding up the distinction between animate and inanimate bodies, as well as the idea that a body requires something immaterial (the soul) to be its mover or principle of life. This soul is immaterial or incorporeal and it is also subsistent.12 Man comprises body (matter) and soul. Again, to make this argument, St. Thomas resorts to observable data and sensory experience to show that the soul cannot be material and that soul and body are united.

At this point, we are left with one problem: what to do with the human nature of Christ. If we see this as a leftover human nature, excluded from the hypostasis because of the union of essence and existence in the Son, then we have forgotten the important difference between the Divine person and the human person, the point at which the analogy of personhood breaks down: necessary as opposed to contingent being. As Jack Bonsor explains,
The distinction between essence and existence, between abstraction and judgment, makes it possible to grasp Thomas’ point. One must think of existence as “happening” or “occurring” as an event.13


Christ’s Divine nature is one and the same as His existence and is outside of time and space. It happened in the past, is happening now, and continues to happen. Christ’s human nature is distinct from His human existence, which is an event in fixed time and in location.

As Pope John Paul II stressed in Fides et Ratio, reason and faith are allies, not enemies. The philosophy of St. Thomas, with its reliance on Aristotelian epistemology and natural science, exemplify this alliance. The strength of Aristotle’s epistemology is its balance, its middle road, its golden mean. Aristotle and Aquinas both recognized the interplay and interdependence of material and immaterial reality. While Platonism might allow theologians to plumb the depths (or perhaps soar to the heights) of spiritual reality, it consigns the material world to a weak similitude of that reality and reduces sensory experience to shadow play on the wall of a dimly lit cave. The Angelic Doctor demonstrates that, through the use of natural science together with faith, one can illuminate the cave, the cistern, and all other recesses in which the Truth might be hidden.

---------------
Works Consulted

Aristotle. Physics. Trans. R. P. Hardie and R. K. Gaye, The Internet Classics Archive, Ed. Daniel C. Stevenson, 1994–2000, .

Aquinas, Thomas, Saint. Great Books of the Western World: The Summa Theologica of Saint Thomas Aquinas. Ed. Robert Maynard Hutchins. Vols. 19–20. Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 1952.

Bonsor, Jack A. Athens & Jerusalem: the Role of Philosophy in Theology. Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2003.

Kennedy, D. J. “Albertus Magnus.” Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company, 1907. Online Edition. K. Knight, 2005 .

McInerny, Ralph, and O’Callaghan, John. “Saint Thomas Aquinas,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Ed. Edward N. Zalta. Spring 2005 ed. .

Modern Science and Creation

This was paper 2 for the semester. I think I enjoyed writing this one more than the other two.

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When René Descartes penned the words, “Cogito, ego sum,” he intended to set out on a course that would preserve the link between faith and reason, believing that by positing his subjective existence he could then provide a solid argument for the existence of God.1 He did not foresee that the “turn to the subject” that enabled him to provide a subjective, rationalist argument for the existence of God would also provide a means for others to undermine that existence and call it into question. H.D. Lewis notes that many of the assumptions in Descartes’ argument for an infinite being are problematic: “[H]e imports into his premises, at every step in an elaborate argument, certain considerations derived from the notion of an infinite being which it is the aim of the argument to defend.”2 Descartes attempted to construct a system of metaphysics,3 but his approach of halting the tide of skepticism with a system based on doubt and tainted, apparently, by circular reasoning inevitably opened the way to more skepticism.

Descartes’ strict separation of mind from body reversed the realist synthesis of material and spiritual in Aristotelian epistemology. While Descartes chose an idealist orientation, looking to the inner subjective experience and “the clear and distinct idea as the criterion of truth,”4 others (the British empiricists) took a more materialistic approach. Idealism predominated on the European content, while empiricism held sway in Britain and North America.

What distinguishes empiricism and rational idealism from the materialism and spiritualism of the Greeks is the subjective focus. Like Descartes, Plato believed in innate ideas. However, whereas Plato believed in a realm where ideas existed as objects, Descartes did not. Like the materialists of Aristotle’s time (and like Aristotle himself), the empiricists believed that we learn from our experience with material reality. However, rather than knowing the physical realities themselves, the empiricists believed that we only know and learn from our sense impressions, which they saw as fainter versions of those material realities. For John Locke, the closest we could come to knowing material reality would be to know “the nominal essence.”5 For David Hume, senses are lively perceptions and ideas merely weaker ones.6 While Locke still held to a belief in some kind of first cause, the “One Infinite Mind,” Hume viewed the prospect of such a being more skeptically.7 Hume even went so far as to dispute our ability to determine causality, opting for a weaker notion, causation, which would go “beyond the evidence of our memory and sense.”8

While Descartes continued to trust in reason and in the inner subjective experience as the source of truth, the empiricists trusted facts and observations, albeit as mediated through our subjective sense impressions. Clearly, if we can only know our world in a nominal way through sense impressions, the possibilities for knowing a Creator outside of time and the material world recede quickly.

While the empiricists focused their attention on the sense impressions and what these impressions tell us about the world in which we live, Immanuel Kant developed a form of idealism that focused on how we come to formulate knowledge about the world. He proposed that we have categories in our mind that we project onto sense impressions to come to an understanding about our world. Like Plato, he used the terms phenomena and noumena to describe appearances of things and their essences respectively. However, he denied that we can ever know the noumena or essence and granted that we can only use phenomena to attain valid knowledge.9 With no ability to know essences, we are locked into a world of subjective sense impressions, one in which we can only “know” our world in an internally consistent, albeit relative, way and one in which certain knowledge of God isn’t possible. William Wallace explains:

[M]etaphysics is a ‘transcendental illusion’ and any consideration of God, immortality, and freewill can only lead to antimonies, that is, to ultimate contradiction. Legitimate knowledge of the real world is reached by ‘the secure path of science,’ the path already charted by a mathematical physics like that of Newton.10


Wallace notes that this principle resounds, predictably, with empiricists and positivists. On both extremes, the “turn to the subject” results in a science that is, at best, agnostic and incapable of addressing anything beyond material existence.

While the modern science of nature has given mankind greater insight into the mechanics of nature, it has no response to the question of first causes. Because matter is the focus of its enquiry, it cannot respond to the origin of matter. Its very foundations limit its application to that which can be known through the senses, which by definition are material realities. Any reality beyond matter or responsible for matter is already outside of its realm of study.

Modern philosophy, in itself, has little more to offer us if we wish to understand the Creator and His creation. In large, philosophy has been reduced from the overarching science of being as being to very specialized analyses of language. Poststructural criticism in particular (for example, deconstructionism) creates more questions than it answers about our ability to communicate meaning. The modern turn to the subject, then, has resulted in a philosophy of subjective isolation and a science of nature in which events can be predicted but for which acquisition of meaning is postponed.

The problem with modern philosophy is not with its consideration of the subject but with its abandonment of the object. While the Renaissance scientists were correct to reject the specifics of Aristotle’s science, they abandoned that which was critical for an integrated epistemology—trust in the ability of reason to analyze sense data, to come to an understanding of material existence, and to transcend existence to come to understand essence. If we have no means for finding the essence of material being, we cannot hope to attain knowledge of the One in whom existence and essence are the same.

Popes Leo XIII and John Paul II both recognized a need to turn back to the object and proposed the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas as the ideal starting point. This challenge has been taken up by theologians such as Karl Rahner, but other Catholic mystics and thinkers, such as St. Teresa of Avila, have recognized the need for a synthesis of idealism and materialism. We cannot dispense with science, but we must also understand that much valid knowledge is accepted on faith. Faith and reason cannot be in contradiction and are complementary in the work of theology. While only God’s grace can help us to have faith, reason (as demonstrated by St. Thomas’s five proofs) can help us to dispel doubt and open ourselves to the possibility of faith.

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Works Cited

Lewis, Hywel D. “History of Philosophy of Religion.” Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 8 Vols. New York: MacMillan Publishing, 1967.

Morris, William Edward. “David Hume.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Ed. Edward N. Zalta. Spring 2001 .

William A. Wallace, O.P. The Elements of Philosophy: A Compendium for Philosophers and Theologians. New York: Alba House, 1977.

William A. Wallace, O.P. The Modeling of Nature. Washington D.C.: Catholic University Press, 1996.

Reconciling Faith and Reason: Leo XIII and the Epistemology of Aristotle

This is the first of the papers I wrote last semester and the first I'd written since 1993. I didn't find the length difficult, but I found it a bit of a challenge to get the ideas to coalesce. Even after only 4 weeks of class, we had a great deal of material to synthesize. Anyway, this was the result. Philosophically, it's probably rather basic.

=================
In 1879, Leo XIII penned his encyclical Aeterni Patris. In this encyclical, he warns the leaders of the Church about the dangers of modern philosophical thought and the impact of that thought on current affairs:

Whoso turns his attention to the bitter strifes of these days and seeks a reason for the troubles that vex public and private life must come to the conclusion that a fruitful cause of the evils which now afflict, as well as those which threaten, us lies in this: that false conclusions concerning divine and human things, which originated in the schools of philosophy, have now crept into all the orders of the State, and have been accepted by the common consent of the masses. (par. 2)


Clearly, the increasing secularization of society starting with the Reformation and Enlightenment, the changing form of government in many European and North American countries, and the rise of socialist and atheist influences in the nineteenth century provided enough cause for concern to the hierarchy of the Church. Citing Saint Paul’s letter to the Colossians, he reminds the pastors of the Church of the tendency of the faithful “to be deceived and the integrity of the faith [to be] corrupted among men by philosophy and vain deceit” (par. 1). In response to the threat of modernism, Leo XIII proposes a return to the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas, the “Angelic Doctor.” What would be of principal importance to the efforts of Christian philosophers was the epistemology of Aristotle, which greatly informed Thomist philosophy.

Aristotle’s epistemology grew out of a dialogue of sorts between two opposing views of truth: spiritualism (particularly, Platonism) and materialism. Platonism held that reality exists in the world of thoughts or ideas rather than the physical world of things. The real world is the spiritual realm, and all things that find expression in the material world (phenomena) are simply reflections of perfect, innate ideas in this spiritual realm (noumena) (Turner sec. III, par. 1). For Plato, the soul has always existed and was once in the presence of “the Good” or “the One” (Bonsor 28). In this spiritual reality, the soul saw the whole truth. Through some twist of fate, souls have become trapped in the human body and have forgotten the realm of ideas or spiritual forms. Entombed as we are in this physical body, we see the material world, which is only a reflection of the spiritual reality that transcends it. To regain the truth, we must turn inward and, through introspection, recover our knowledge of the real.

The materialist view, in Democritus, predated Platonism (Gutberlet par. 1) but is reflected also in the thought of the Epicureans and the Stoics. Both schools arose following the death of Aristotle (Ryan par. 2). The materialists believe in the world known to us through the senses. To them, all knowledge of which we are capable comes to us through the senses. We process this sense data and come to understand our world. To the materialist, nothing else is necessary to know and understand ourselves and our world. Whereas truth to Plato exists in the realm of ideas, the materialists see truth more as a process of the brain. Materialism results in a mechanistic view of the universe, a view with which many empiricists today would feel comfortable.

Aristotle’s epistemology unifies the world of matter and the world of forms, thus reconciling the epistemological difference between the materialists and Platonists. He accomplishes this unification, in a sense, by taking from each view that which conforms to human experience. He agrees with the materialists that all knowledge begins with the senses. He does not accept Plato’s belief in innate ideas. Children are born with no concepts whatsoever in their minds. Through interaction with the world of the senses, children learn about the world.

Aristotle departs from the materialists in that he sees the intellect as being transcendent to the material world. Over time and through experience, children analyze sense data and form concepts. They come to understand that the thoughts and ideas they have, particularly imaginative thought and dreams, are somehow different than the material world. Aristotle also notes that the human capacity for language differs from the communication of animals. Whereas animals have a limited set of signals, human speech allows communication of complex ideas, ideas that are based on reality but can convey more precisely that which is essential versus that which is not. The intellectual capacity to differentiate between what is essential and what is irrelevant is what makes scientific thought possible.

By combining knowledge derived from sense data and the transcendent intellect, Aristotle’s thought bridges the dichotomy set up by the materialists and the Platonists and provides a unified epistemology in which both spiritual and material worlds exist and inform each other. St. Thomas Aquinas later took this “moderate realism” of Aristotle (De Wulf sec. II.a. par. 2) and applied it to Catholic theology, with some adjustments to render Aristotle’s thought compatible with the doctrine of the faith (for example, the coeternity of the First Mover and the material world, which conflicts with the Catholic doctrine of creation ex nihilo).

The rise of empiricism and the general aura of skepticism in the seventeenth century led again to a sharp division in human thought, a divergence away from the reconciliation proposed by Aristotle. The extremes of this division are exemplified in the works of David Hume and Immanuel Kant. Hume’s materialist approach was to “‘reject every system…however subtle or ingenious, which is not founded on fact and observation’” (Morris sec. 3 par. 3), what he referred to as a “mitigated scepticism” [sic] (sec. 8 par. 7). Immanuel Kant, on the other hand, opted for a subjective idealism, claiming that the scientific theories we derive are not drawn from sense data but from categories in our mind and are projected on to sense data.
In hindsight, the developments that followed this renewed skepticism of the Enlightenment period were easy to predict: rejection of religious authority, moral standards, and ultimately, of God’s very existence.

Leo XIII could not fail to recognize the dangers posed by skeptical modern philosophy, and he pointed to its inevitability. In his encyclical Aeterni Patris, the Holy Father notes, “For, since it is in the very nature of man to follow the guide of reason in his actions, if his intellect sins at all his will soon follows; and thus it happens that false opinions, whose seat is in the understanding, influence human actions and pervert them” (par. 2). Behavior follows reason, however deficient that reason may be. The danger inherent in the “turn to the subject” in modern philosophy was its tendency toward isolation and solipsism, toward a belief in the individual as the sole determiner of truth.

At the same time, Leo XIII undoubtedly recognized the validity of science and the need to reconcile faith and scientific fact. Faith and science could not contradict each other. So he sought to reconcile the two epistemologies rather than raise one above the other. The modern empirical trust in sense data and the subjective application of the mind to its analysis hearken back to the beliefs of the materialists and their belief in the ability of the human mind to analyze sense data and come to know the truth about the world. This similarity of epistemologies, perhaps, was not lost on Leo XIII, who recommended to the Catholic faithful a return to the epistemology of the original reconciler of the materialist–spiritualist dichotomy, Aristotle, through the works of St. Thomas Aquinas. The Holy Father notes that “the assistance of the Greek philosophy maketh not the truth more powerful; but, inasmuch as it weakens the contrary arguments of the sophists and repels the veiled attacks against the truth, it has been fitly called the hedge and fence of the vine” (par. 7). He recognized in the idealism of Kant the hint of Sophism. He recognized in the empiricists the skepticism of the materialists. Once again seeking to reconcile the materialist and spiritualist epistemologies, he turned again to the “hedge and fence of the vine,” the epistemology of Aristotle as represented in Thomistic philosophy.
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Works Consulted

Allston, William P. “Problems of Philosophy of Religion.” Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 8 Vols. New York: MacMillan Publishing, 1967.

Bonsor, Jack A. Athens & Jerusalem: the Role of Philosophy in Theology. Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2003.

De Wulf, M. “Nominalism, Realism, Conceptualism.” The Catholic Encycolpedia. Robert Appleton Company, 1907. Online Edition. K. Knight, 2005. .

Gutberlet, Constantin. “Materialism.” The Catholic Encycolpedia. Robert Appleton Company, 1907. Online Edition. K. Knight, 2005 < http://www.newadvent.org/
cathen/10041b.htm>.

John Paul II. Fides et Ratio. 14 September 1998. ENG0216/_INDEX.HTM>.

Leo XIII. Aeterni Patris. 4 August 1879. L13CPH.HTM>.

Lewis, Hywel D. “History of Philosophy of Religion.” Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
8 Vols. New York: MacMillan Publishing, 1967.

Morris, William Edward. “David Hume.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Ed. Edward N. Zalta. Spring 2001 .

Ryan, M. J. “Epicureanism.” The Catholic Encycolpedia. Robert Appleton Company, 1907. Online Edition. K. Knight, 2005 < http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/
05500b.htm >.

Turner, William. “Sophists.” The Catholic Encycolpedia. Robert Appleton Company, 1907. Online Edition. K. Knight, 2005. 14145c.htm>.

----. “Plato and Platonism.” The Catholic Encycolpedia. Robert Appleton Company, 1907. Online Edition. K. Knight, 2005 cathen/12159a.htm>.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

A Not-so-beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

**Reposting due to Blogeger glitches last week.

I wrote this a long time ago, probably just out of high school. I'm reproducing it here, complete with grammatical errors, misspelling, poor phrasing, and historical glitches. I only have a first hand-written draft. Don't recall if I ever cleaned it up.

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The soft-white, synthetic light shone brightly down on The Land of Make-believe and all of the nylon and rubber citizens scurried about their daily business. Henrietta Pussycat purred quietly to herself as she watered her daffodils. Mr. Owl strutted around majestically in his Benjamin Franklin costume and cheerfully greeted Mr. McFeeley who strolled by as quickly as his hemorroids would permit. "Speedy delivery, Mr. Owl!" No one suspected the horror the horror soon to befall all of them.

Trolley made his round through Fred's living room, but moments before he exited through his tunnel, the tracked was strafed with machine-gun rounds. "Ding-ding!" he said in horror as his side panels were splintered with shot. He dashed hurriedly for the refuge of his tunnel, but was stopped short of his goal as he detonated the claymore anti-personal device which propelled backward, into the aquarium. The fish didn't mind; they had already been ruthlessly massacred.

"This way," said the squad leader in a brusque Russian tongue. "I've seen Fred go this way on the show."

King Friday's trumpeteer's flourished brashly as the infiltrators moved about the palace wall. The king made his grand appearance but stopped short, staring down the barrel of an AK-47. "Soviet shock troops I presume."

"Correct as always, you stinking capitalist pig!" screamed the gun-wielding bolshevik as he let loose with a blast from his automatic rifle, which promptly reduced King Friday to shredded rubber and cotton stuffing.

The Queen, annoyed by the ruckus, unknowingly walked out of the castle entrance and to her death. "What's happening Friday... Aaagh!" Her scream startled the troops, who quickly leveled their rifles on her and fired their deadly volley.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Apologetics with LDS Missionaries

Brad Haas is having some interesting discussions with a couple of Mormon (MoMo?) missionaries.

Being from Idaho, I've had a few encounters with LDS missionaries as well. I came on too string on the first attempt. On the second, I think I actually made an impact. Hard to say since I didn't hear from them again. I'm still waiting for the Jehovah's Witnesses to drop by.

When I first started delving into apologetics, I began posting on a few message boards. I quickly found that this is mostly just a good way to get into heated debates and to feel tempted toward uncharitable comments. I've since decided that message boards aren't the way to go for me. I do better face to face or in one-on-one interactions.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Wild-Assed Guess

I wrote this poem for a friend of mine who grew up in what most of us would consider unusual circumstances. She likes to tease me about my discomfort with the label "white trash," which is how she describes her childhood.

===========
I picture you running
through pine needles and moss
shouting back with hands on hips
and attitude all over that face
that face you show
and hide from us.
That hand so quick to clamp
over your mouth because
that was so not what you meant
and we laugh with you (no really)
with that infectious life
that you inspire.
This big heart of yours
that holds all of us within
I wonder where you found it
where it sprouted and grew.
If I took a wild-assed guess
I’d say you scooped yourself
out of earth and clay
and molded it with
the wear of your days.

W D Burns

The Killing Blow

I wrote this poem when I was trying to come to terms with my ex-wife's painful relationship with her mother.

===============
The hiss of oxygen and breath I hear.
I wet your mouth with morphine
turn you and say
“Joy, can you hear me?”

The haze over your blue eyes clears
and that familiar distance appears.

Holding your weak hand
I ease myself into the chair
rest my tired back
adjust my squirming belly.

That look in your blue eyes chills
and that familiar glare appears.
I put aside the years
the time I took the wound
the times I put you to bed
the love I poured onto your ground
to watch it seep away.

“Joy, I love you.”

That roll of your ice blue eyes
and that weak toss of your nose.

You passed within the week
and I thought of the irony of your name
and the chill of that killing stab you left
in the wound you put in my heart.

W D Burns

The Great Muslim Cartoon Protest of 2006

Jimmy Akin has some sensible comments concerning the Muslim protests over the cartoons published in the Danish paper Jyllands-Posten. He has a link to an interesting video that Michelle Malkin put together.

I'm with Jimmy. The protests are completely out of proportion with the matter of the cartoons. That said, I agree that drawing caricatures of things people consider sacred is uncharitable. Yes, you can defend it as protected speech. However, I think a more important question is whether we can discuss Islam critically in more than what amounts to a visual sound byte. Do Muslims consider ALL critical discussion of Islam offensive, or just this particular form? Does it help matters to intentionally tweak the noses of radicals just to make a point? As much as I'm happy to see Europe finally throwing off some of their PC mentality, I wish it were in a less adolescent manner. Doing something "offensive" simply to flout one's freedom is a typically adolescent response. And just as it does with parents, it tends only to heighten conflict, not resolve anything.

UPDATE: Forgot to mention Secret Agent Man's commentary as well.

UPDATE #2: Jeff Miller, the Curt Jester, has this.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Because God is Mad at Seattle

Yep. That must be the explanation. I'm sure Mark Shea is struggling to understand what went so wrong. Hey, I like underdogs, too, and having grown up in Washington when the Seahawks came into existence, I have to say that I was pulling for 'em. But it's obvious why they lost—because God is mad at Seattle.

But you can rebuild. You can make a fishier, owlier, more anarchist Seattle. One that's evergreenier.

A Sack of Potatoes

I wrote this story some 16 years ago about my stepson, Jaron. He had an interesting few years early on, and I sometimes wondered if his mom's predictions about clown college were going to come to fruition (notwithstanding his dislike of clownfolk). He just recently turned 21, and I have to say that I'm very proud of him. He's currently in his second semester on exchange in Spain, has bankrolled most of his college education, and has a far clearer goal in life than I did at his age.

==============
Shhhewwwww! Pwuchhhhh! That’ll teach ya, Skeletor!” Skeletor backflips into the empty space behind him and crashes to the brownish pile carpet. “Oops. Sertaman lost his cape!” Jaron squeezes the small red cloth square around the overdeveloped neck of Superman.
“Skeletor’s dead, Jaron. He can’t get back up.” My lifeless animator, still weakly grasping an inert hunk of blue and violet plastic, remains pile ridden.
“But you gotta be the bad guy,” says Jaron with a hint of impatience in his voice. SuprJaron, a two and a half foot imitation of the chunk of plastic he calls “Sertaman.” His little red Jockeys are pulled over his blue and red pajamas. “Make Skeletor get up.”
“Doesn’t work that way. Dead is dead. Skeletor can’t get up anymore.” Jaron’s uncomprehending blue-eyed stare betrays his five-year-old conception of mortality. The little man of steel flies off leaving Skeletor’s inanimate non-biodegradeable mass on the living-room floor.
The boy/man of steel changes back into his mild-mannered alter ego, trading his pajamas for jeans, a sweatshirt, and burgundy penny loafers, pennied of course. He slides up to my side with one hand grasping an old cloth diaper and his other hand seeking some unidentifiable nasal objective. He notices me niticing him and ends his excavation. “Are you… are you… gonna go bowling with Mommy and me?”
“I can’t go bowling, but I’m going to try to meet you a little later. Hopefully, I’ll get there before you turn into a sack of potatoes.”
“A sack a’ p’tatoes?”
“Yeah. You turn into a sack of potatoes around 10:30.”
“I do not,” says Jaron, emphasizing each word with a giggle.
“Oh, yes, you do. I saw you turn into a sack of potatoes last week.”
“No way. I didn’t turn into p’tatoes.”
“Oh yeah. At 10:30 you turned into a sack of potatoes. Do you know how hard it is to put jammies on a sack of potatoes?”
“You’re funny!” Jaron’s laugh slips through a tiny space between his teeth and tongue. “P’tatoes.”
10:30 at B’n’B, Mommy holds a blissful sack of potatoes with its head resting on her shoulder. I help her wrestle a coat around its arms without disturbing its rest. Sleepily, the little sack of potatoes stirs. “My hat,” it calls as it once again takes on the stature of a little boy, then fades back into the overwhelming heaviness of youthful slumber.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Missy Umpstums

Wish you could
do a soft-shoe buffalo
across my floor
and show me that impish grin
you keep hidden,
to hear you,
Annie-esque, squawk
in mock earnest
and put Brian in stitches.
A toad-wielding terror
scattering prim mothers
happy as a bee
to make them scream.
That quiver in your Elvis lip
holds those arrows that pierce our hearts.
Oh, Miss Gina, do I wish
it were all mine to remember.

W D Burns

Fugly

Another slack-jawed mouth breather
thick-lensed glasses sliding
down the bridge of his nose
stands in the express lane.

Greasy, wilted curls twist
about a crown of eczema.
He scratches behind his ear
sets the basket on the counter.

Skin looks like it did
seventeen years ago in tenth grade
pimpled and oily, sparse beard
more broken vessels, blotched and cracked.

He reaches into K-Mart jeans
pulls a sheaf of ones
to pay for Flintstone vitamins,
apple juice and a neon yo-yo.

Drops his eight cents change
into his shirt pocket to mingle
with a broken roll of Tums
a handkerchief and some lint.

Some time later he walks
into a house to shrieks and giggles
lithe arms encircle his head
a voice calls him "Daddy."

W D Burns

Bab edh-Dhrá

Smooth white crystaline she
blocked on a hillcrest
against ashen clouds
Embers smolder on the plain—
a charred lust-ruin

Smokepillars slant
over brown rock
bulbous earth

Cattle, sheep
nibblesnipshufflenuzzle grass

A shifty breeze topples
the brown pillars
and herds push uphill

A grizzled, steel-wool goat
sniffs the base of the column

licks her foot

W D Burns