August 19, 2008

Note: This was passed along to me a while ago by a fellow co-worker (and Thomas Merton fan); thought it would be an appropriate item to post ahead of time for a day when I’m well ensconsed here with the Maronite monks on my retreat. But appropriate for any day, I think…

The Violence of Modern Life

The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by the multitude of conficting concerns, to surrender to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence. More than that, it is cooperation in violence. The frenzy of the activist neutralizes one’s work for peace. It destroys one’s inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of one’s work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.

Pretty amazing stuff that makes you think. Have a blessed day, everyone. Dona nobis pacem

Filed in: Religion & Culture by The Great White Shank at 01:52 | Comments Off on The Violence Of Modern Life
August 18, 2008

monk Today I’m heading out to lovely Petersham, Massachusetts for a two-night retreat at the Maronite Monks of Adoration monastery. It’s been many a year since I did a monastic retreat; actually I used to do them fairly regularly – at least once or twice a year; usually for two or three nights. Having not done one for quite a while I’ve got that mix of anticipation, joy, and apprehension. It’ll be interesting, that’s for certain.

Back then, it was Holy Cross Monastery in West Park, NY or the Society of St. John the Evangelist monastery in Cambridge, MA. Those two monasteries, both Episcopal in the Benedictine tradition (yes, Virginia, there is such a thing as monateries in the Episcopal Church!), remain wonderful places to get away from the world and explore one’s desire for intimacy with God. However, given my current inclination towards the Roman Catholic tradition, I thought it important to not only try something different, but a Roman Catholic order where Eucharistic adoration is at the core of its spirituality. So, we’ll give it a try.

Has anyone ever blogged during a monastic retreat? I’m sure, but I kinda think that defeats the whole purpose of the retreat to begin with. I mean, for God’s sake (really!), why bother then to even get away? But don’t worry, I’ve still prepared a couple of posts in the spirit of the time I’m retreating.

I’m looking forward to removing myself from the world for a little while and will try and tell you all about it when I emerge – hopefully rested in body and spirit. But retreats can be kind of funny; you never know what will happen when it’s just you, your conscience and thoughts, and a quiet place filled with spiritual energy. I’ve discovered that every retreat is different; you just have to run with it and let them take their own unique course. So we’ll see what happens.

If you’re so inclined please keep me in your prayers, and I’ll be happy to do likewise.

Filed in: Religion & Culture by The Great White Shank at 01:54 | Comments Off on Entering The Silence
August 17, 2008

While reading Thomas Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain several weeks ago I came upon this passage. It was written by Merton reflecting on his decision to leave a teaching post at St. Bonaventure’s for the monastic life at the Abbey at Gethsemani, the Trappist monastery where he would stay more than four decades, but it could easily have been written about my own decision – actually Tracey’s and my decision – to leave Massachusetts five years ago for Arizona. Merton wrote:

…I could no longer doubt that St. Bonaventure’s had outlived its usefulness in my spititual life. I did not belong there anymore. It was too tame, too safe, too sheltered. It demanded nothing of me. It had no particular cross. It left me to myself, belonging to myself, in full possession of my own will, in full command of all that God had given me that I might give it back to Him. As long as I remained there, I still had given up nothing, or very little, no matter how poor I happended to be.

Now it’s true I didn’t come out to Arizona searching for a closer relationship with God or my own particular cross. At least not to my knowledge. But that’s the way life is most often, I think – God gives each of us the opportunity to choose or reject our own crosses whenever that particular defining moment comes. Sometimes we never even recognize that moment or that cross until long after our choice was made. Or made for us.

Me, I never bought that nonsense that God only gives you what you can handle. But what I think God does give us out of our own personal choices and those things that happen to us simply out of the sheer randomness of life and our flawed and fallen natures is a cross of our own – a cross we can choose to accept or reject. Accepting that cross doesn’t make one better or braver or holier; but I think it does open one’s heart and soul to God’s redeeming and bountiful mercy and grace.

If I had never come out to Arizona, I would probably never have learned what it felt like to be truly lost, lonely, spiritually empty, and rejected by God; it was out of these very depths that I came to understand and accept my cross, and through God’s grace began the long road back to wherever it is I’m being called to be or do or whatever it is I’m on this journey for or to.

Filed in: Religion & Culture by The Great White Shank at 01:36 | Comments Off on No Particular Cross
August 16, 2008

…courtesy of Lisa Renee, at Associated Content:

The sun is setting;
Glowing through darkened clouds;
The song of a nightingale;
Rings through early evening;
Warm breezes blow eastward;
Carries the scent of cut grass;
And late summer roses;
Wet with the promise of rain;
As Black-eyed Susans grow;
Tiny branches litter the sidewalk;
Reminders of a previous storm;
The brilliant colors of summer;
Run and fade together;
Along with the August sun

Lovely, eh?

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 01:31 | Comments Off on An August Poem
August 15, 2008

Not much to say today except by the time you are reading this, I’ll hopefully be on a jet enroute back home to Massachusetts by way of Cleveland. But don’t worry, here at Goodboys Nation weblog there’s no rest for the weary – we’ll still be posting away.

BTW, today is the final day of the WEEI / Jimmy Fund Radio-Telethon to raise money for the fight against cancer in children. The people at the Jimmy Fund, supporting the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, do a marvelous job treating children with cancer. Won’t you consider making a donation? I’ve already made mine, I hope you will as well.

See y’all in the Eastern Daylight Time zone.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 01:23 | Comments Off on Heading East
August 13, 2008

“I looked into [Putin’s] eyes and got a sense of his soul.”
— President George W. Bush

“I looked into his eyes and saw three letters: a K, a G, and a B”
— Senator John McCain

“Not just in Cuba, but I think [meeting foreign leaders without precondition] applies generally. I recall what John F. Kennedy once said: We should never negotiate out of fear, but we should never fear to negotiate.”
— Senator Barack Obama

Judge: “Your names, please, and state your professions.”
Barker: “Bernard Barker, anti-communist.”
Judge: “Anti-communist? That, sir, is not your average profession.”

— “All The President’s Men

The world is once more an interesting place these days. First of all, you have the Russian bear showing its fangs for the first time in a long while. While no one is predicting a return to the Cold War anytime soon (too bad, there were some pretty good movies made out of the fear and paranoia of those times!), why should anyone be surprised that after years of being poked and prodded by former Soviet bloc countries feeling their oats and making goo-goo eyes at NATO and the West, ol’ Vladimir is saying fuhgeddaboutit – enough is enough.

In fact, were I any country that was once part of the old Soviet Union or within the Soviet sphere of influence back in those post-WWII days, I’d be paying very close attention to my south and east right now.

Which means, of course, that in this election year, the race for the White House has suddenly become more interesting. Thus far, domestic issues have held the upper hand (rightly so), but all of a sudden the Russia-Georgia conflict has introduced more than a little foreign political reality into the race. And this will not work to Barack Obama’s advantage by any means.

Ed Morrissey, as usual, hits the nail on the head today when he (and the New York Times, believe it or not) says that history appears to have proven John McCain right when it comes to Russia:

John McCain took a lot of criticism for his hard line on Vladimir Putin’s Russia over the last few years from end-of-history believers and other optimists in the punditry. Now that McCain’s assessment of Russia has proven accurate, the New York Times recognizes that his long-held positions suddenly have a lot more credibility.

This shows why experience matters in the White House. Getting these issues wrong costs lives and risks freedom for entire nations. The strange, ahistorical, and naïve idea that talk alone — without some threat of consequences, be they economic or otherwise — can defend freedom has the charm of never having worked once in the history of human civilization. Even worse, misjudging one’s opponents on the world stage means that “engagement” without strategic insight will always redound to the benefit of the opponent.

No one wants war with Russia, but we could have and should have realized the nature of Vladimir Putin and his efforts to create a new Russian Empire years ago. We could have responded by cutting off Western financial support to Putin’s new regime when it mattered and isolated them diplomatically by inviting the free nations of Georgia and Ukraine to join NATO. John McCain wanted just that, and almost no one listened. Now, the Georgians have to pay the price for Western credulity.

Read the whole thing.

Now, let’s talk about China. Far be it from me saying I told you so, but I’ve said before that I don’t trust anything about the Chinese and their handling of the Olympics in Beijing. First you had the issue of the fake fireworks shown during the opening ceremony; now it turns out that the cute little girl who sang the Chinese national anthem was nothing but a Milli Vanilli clone lip-syncing her performance while another girl actually did the singing (my boldings):

The little girl who starred at the Olympic opening ceremony was miming and only put on stage because the real singer was not considered attractive enough, the show’s musical director has revealed.

Pigtailed Lin Miaoke was selected to appear because of her cute appearance and did not sing a note, Chen Qigang, the general music designer of the ceremony, said in an interview with a state broadcaster aired Tuesday.

“The reason why little Yang was not chosen to appear was because we wanted to project the right image, we were thinking about what was best for the nation,” Chen said in an interview that appeared briefly on the news website Sina.com before it was apparently wiped from the Internet in China.

And like Deep Throat says in “All The President’s Men”, everyone’s involved…

He said the final decision to stage the event with Lin lip-synching to another girl’s voice was taken after a senior member of China’s ruling Communist Party politburo attended a rehearsal.

“He told us there was a problem that we needed to fix it, so we did,” he said, without disclosing further details of the order.

The ceremony directed by China’s Oscar-nominated filmmaker Zhang Yimou and featuring more than 15,000 performers won high praise in China and overseas for its breadth, scope and flawless execution.

However criticism began to build after it emerged that another part of the opening ceremony had been faked.

Supposedly live pictures of fireworks depicting footprints moving from central Beijing’s Tiananmen Square to the Olympic stadium in the north of the capital were actually partly computer-generated or pre-recorded for TV, organisers have admitted.

“This illustrates an important aspect of these Olympic Games,” said Xiao Qiang, the director of the China Internet project at the University of California at Berkeley and former dissident.

“It is all about projecting the right image of China with no respect for honesty or for the audience.

Look, I’m not saying this is a huge deal – after all, this, and this, I think, would certainly trump that when it comes to suspicions about the Chinese and the way they operate. All I’m saying is that the only thing the Chinese care about is the Chinese and asserting their position in the world. As do the Russians. As should the U.S., for that matter.

The point I’m making here is just this: anyone who knows the history of these particular peoples and nations ought to understand they can’t be trusted, and the idea that we can or should meet with leaders of nations having (at least in our view) less-than-honorable intentions and/or behaving badly without precondition is to look at the world through rose-colored glasses.

They say all is fair in love and war – I would extend that to politics as well. If Obama doesn’t understand that, he’s not as bright as I think he is.

Filed in: Politics & World Events by The Great White Shank at 01:44 | Comments Off on Red Political Meat
August 12, 2008

Even though the heat is still very much here to stay for a while – that break everyone around here is so much looking forward to is still nearly two months away – you can still still tell August is here. Almost imperceptably, the seasons are changing, even here in the Valley of the Sun where there are only two seasons, hot and “not”.

(Of course, you wouldn’t know the seasons are getting ready to change if you’re working outside during the day. 106 degrees is still hot, no matter how you slice it. And this time of year, it only feels more so because there is a slight amount of humidity in the air this time of year.)

Back home in New England, August typically brings lots of sticky, cloudy days where all the trees seemed to sag under the weight of their heavy deep-green foliage. But here, all seems business as usual, even amidst the appearance of small signs that indicate the year is flying by.

For one thing, it’s not quite as bright when the classical music comes on at 6:30 AM.

…And it was only a couple of weeks ago that I noticed when I begin my workday the sun is still behind my neighbors house, which is nice – the shady green of the lime tree outside my window makes for a calming, pretty scene. And even when it does appear, the angle is lower, allowing me to keep my blinds fully open without it getting too bright, which makes for a nice change.

…And those pretty little flowers my neighbor planted in pots along his walkway – primarily to make his front more attractive to hopefully make his house sell faster (it didn’t) – are now getting long and leggy. Whatever variety he chose I think it was the wrong one.

The pool temperature appears to have maxed out at 96 this year. Last year it got up to 100. So much for global warming…

I know Rob likes August because it means football season is once again here. Which means baseball is in that strange interlude between the All-Star Game in late July and when the pennant races really get cooking at the beginning of September. It was yesterday watching the Sox game in Chicago that I saw for the first time the kind of late-afternoon shadows creeping across the playing field that tell you it’s time to start watching the out-of-town scoreboard.

When I was growing up I used to hate August because that meant back-to-school was just weeks away. You tried to avoid thinking about it, but when the bus routes were published in the Merrimack Valley Advertiser you knew the jig was up. Here in Arizona, like in many places, the schools are already open and, in some cases, have been for more than a week.

One fond memory I have about this time of year when growing up was that August meant gladiolus season, the time of year when we would put up a little table roadside and sell the gladiolus my grandfather grew in our garden by the dozens. It’s been years since I’ve even seen a gladiolus; I wonder if people still grow them?

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 01:16 | Comments (2)
August 11, 2008

Another work week is upon us and I’m desperately trying to get ready for vacation starting this Friday. Hence, I need to empty out the virtual desk drawer…

I’m with Ed Morrissey on this – Russian forces bomb civilians in the Georgian city of Gori, but don’t hold your breath waiting for the international outcry. If it were the U.S. who was even remotely involved I guarantee the “Code Pinkos” and their syncophants on the Progressive Left would have their knickers in an uproar. But if it’s the Russians all you’ll hear is the sound of crickets chirping. I despise hypocrisy, and the Democrats and the Progressive Left are full of it these days.

That being said, I’m done with military intervention of any kind, anywhere – unless, of course, the U.S. were to be physically attacked. How can anyone read books like Robert Massie’s Dreadnought or John Toland’s No Man’s Land and not deeply decry the fat, rich, pompous politicians who never think twice about sending young men to die for nothing. I will pray for an end to the hostilities in that region, but as far as I’m concerned the Russians and the Georgians oght to be left to their own devices.

…As Iraq and Afghanistan ought to be.

Could it be true that some of the fireworks shown in the Olympic opening ceremony were faked for broadcast purposes? In this day and age, technology being what it is, nothing would surprise me anymore.

The Olympics are nothing but a huge public relations tool for a corrupt, oppressive, and authoritarian Chinese government bent on attracting investment dollars to China – nothing more. I’m sorry, but I don’t trust the Chinese or anything that happens over there and refuse to support the Olympics in any way. Just wake me when it’s over.

…And the fact that President Bush is over there supporting the Chinese and their Olympics is a travesty – I mean, either you stand for freedom or you don’t. But I’ve long given up expecting this President to do anything that is right in terms of principle. I voted for him twice and deeply regret both of my votes.

…Not that I think Al Gore or John Kerry could or would have done any better. Far from it. It just speaks to the state of things in this country that George W. Bush, Al Gore, John Kerry, Barack Obama, and John McCain are the best we can come up with as people our two-party system has chosen to lead our country. No more. I’m not voting this year and refuse to vote for clowns like these anymore.

I’m with Charles Krauthammer: drill, drill, drill.

R.I.P. Isaac Hayes and Bernie Mac. You’ll both be missed.

The Red Sox desperately need pitching. Look, I think Clay Buchholz has as much potential as anyone. But it’s August and the time for fooling around is over. Let’s get someone in there that knows how to pitch and isn’t afraid.

Of course, as long as the Yankees keep losing I’m more than satisfied. I hate the New York Yankees, and in this case, hate is not too strong a word. I just hope God understands.

People can stomp all over John Edwards and his situation as much as they want but I won’t be one of them. (Don’t get me wrong – what he did was wrong, and it’s something he and his family will unfortunately have to sort out between themselves. It must be incredibly difficult for his wife [who already has it tough, having to battle cancer] and his children, the sense of betrayal they must be undoubtedly feeling.) We all fall short of God’s hope for us, and the Edwards family should be in our prayers, not the subject of ridicule and condemnation. They’re already suffering enough, I think…

Congrats to Padraig Harrington for an exciting PGA victory. And nice final round 81 there, J.B. Holmes – that’s Michelle Wie territory…

Filed in: Golf & Sports,Politics & World Events by The Great White Shank at 01:33 | Comments (3)
August 10, 2008

What a lovely night and a lovely experience. Storms moved through south of here more than an hour ago, creating a brilliant lightning display without the feeling you could be turned to ash at any given moment and the atmosphere has been left thick and dark and weary from the energy wrung out of it. All that remains is the humidity and the occasional flash of dull lightning and grumbling thunder now far to the west, and me here under the dark, gray-brown clouds that hang heavily above.

And the rain.

It’s late at night and all the lights are out; Tracey and the rabbits and the neighbors are all off to bed. The rain falls softly but steadily. It is quiet – very quiet. So I set down my glass of Pino Grigio, peel off my clothes, and step slowly into the pool and feel myself immediatey immersed in one of those truly special moments when everything around you is virtually identical in its nature – dark, warm, and wet. The air, thick with the musky aroma of damp vegetation, is 94 degrees. The pool water is 94 degrees. The rain falling from the sky is 94 degrees. And you quietly move about the water and nothing seems to change, not the warm, not the wet, not the atmosphere, not the feeling. It’s just you, the swishing of the water, the sound of raindrops hitting the water and everything around you, and the quite stirring of palm branches above.

What a marvelous moment in time to savor the sanctity of the moment! There’s a strange sense of out of place and out of time. I’m in Gilbert, Arizona, but I could be in a pool in Tahiti. Or a jungle river in the interior of Thailand. Or Key West. Or Belize. Or Panama. Yeah, I’m thinking, if it weren’t for the fact there are no mosquitoes out here, I could be in Panama.

And all of the things that preoccupy humankind so today, rightly or wrongly, like the John Edwards scandal, or Russia and Georgia being at war, or the Olympics, or the economy, or thousands of other things, all seem far away, indeed. I’m thinking this must be what it feel like in a mother’s womb months before one is born, it all feels so dark and wet and safe and comfortable.

Immersed in the moment, I allow myself to think of “August Rain”, a song by the surf band The Sandals from their “Spirit of Surf” CD, and I can’t help but think how much the song matches the spirit of the moment. I’m thinking the song’s composer John Blakely must have had for himself one of these kinds of moments as inspiration. Good for him – I think he captured it perfectly.

But more than anything else, it’s good for me, good for my soul, and good that God would allow one of his fallen creatures a sneak peak at something close to what heaven must feel like, at least in spirit. Or perhaps, on second thought, Purgatory – after all, there’s very little light out here to speak of, just a dark gray brown broken by distant street lamps, and I have little doubt that at some point, as wonderful as this all feels, I’d be starting to wonder when it all might end and get anxious to anticipate the heavenly light of dawn and the rays of sun to follow on its heels. So Purgatory it is, but let’s not worry so much about this kind of thing right now. Ahh, theology and religious doctrine – is there anywhere I can go where I don’t find you far behind?

It’s enough at this moment in time to simply allow myself to be immersed in the fatness and wetness of an August night, in the dark and the pool and the dampness and the dripping of the August rain.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 01:04 | Comments Off on August Rain
August 8, 2008

Anyone following this space knows how my surf music craze of the last couple of months has been tinged with a little of the sacred in its celebration of God’s creation. Turns out I’m not the only one who sees this connect, as this vacation Bible school program seems to be following The Great White Shank’s lead:

Yo, dude! Think Beach Boys meet Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

A special summer vacation Bible school called “Beach Bible: Surfin’ through Scripture” will be held Aug. 4 to 8 at Fairhaven United Methodist Church in Brookline.

While thoughts of surfing, playing in the sand and gathering seashells typically conjure up a trip to the ocean shore, those activities will be available to children who attend, coordinator Gina Kohley said.

Surfboards provided by the theatrical department of Brentwood High School will provide special atmosphere to other decorations that bring the shore to the city.

As part of the program, children will learn aspects of surfing and make and decorate their own smaller versions of surfboards out of foam. They will dig in sand pits for shells, make a prayer pail, decorate a fish ornament, make necklaces and receive a pair of sunglasses. Children also will paint a sand dollar and learn about the religious legend surrounding it.

Sounds a a great idea to me! Read the whole thing.

Hat tip: SmileySmile.Net

Filed in: Religion & Culture by The Great White Shank at 01:31 | Comments Off on And You Thought I Was Crazy

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