01 September 2014

10 questions - Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig



Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig.  Let's face it, political theology desperately needed a new media sensation and Stoker Bruenig is it.  Her excellent blog consistently includes posts that make you think, "damn, I'm glad someone finally said that in a public forum."  She also writes for Salon, and Ethika Politika and just about everywhere else.

I had read several posts and essays by ESB and then one day saw her comment on Gabriel Sanchez's blog (one of them, I can't remember which now), which caused me to have an "interesting, she reads Gabriel's blog" moment.  Later I would find out she has a foot in that world too, in addition to being friends with Corey Robin, whose work I greatly admire.

Elizabeth is that most dazzling of combinations - a Christian leftist from Texas.  Please God, increase that tribe.  She is currently in Brown University’s PhD program in Religion and Critical Thought.   She got her MPhil in Christian Theology at the University of Cambridge.

Elizabeth's work is some of the sharpest, crispest, material out there today.  If you are going to spend time on the internet, make sure you are reading her.

Here are Elizabeth's answers to my 10 questions:

1. A friend offers to make all social/vocational/financial arrangements in order that you may spend 3 months in the location of your choosing. Anywhere in the world. Where would you go, and during what season?

ESB:  Texas, Christian high school, from September to November. Had my druthers, Prestonwood Christian Academy in Plano. I never went there. But I did go to public school in Texas, and I had the sense that the faith of Christian schools is thickly interwoven into their high school football traditions. I’d want to go observe, spend time with the coaches and the boys and the cheer teams, go to games, go to the following church services, listen to their prayers in the locker room, interview them after wins and losses in a spiritual capacity. There are two reasons. One, I think it’s anthropologically interesting how football becomes a mode of witness/worship/discerning God’s favor – it takes on such an intense communal gravity. Second, being a dweeb I was obviously on the wrong side of all this when I was in high school, when I was very cynical and critical about it all. I want to go back and see if I could be romanced by it now. (I’d write about all this!)

2. A friend who has suffered considerably in recent years asks you to recommend a novel that you found moving, and/or which helped frame how you view human life. Which novel would you recommend?

ESB:  Crime and Punishment, Dostoevsky. People make mistakes, they’re imperfect, things go wrong, quite terribly wrong. Sometimes, things go irreversibly wrong. The people behind the events are still in many cases redeemable even when the situations are not. Reversing course is therefore usually not the answer. Love is the light forward. Raskolnikov is this tremendous figure of redemption for me, and I’ve felt that way about Crime since I read it in high school.

3. You may have any (living) musician or group of musicians in the world come perform a concert at the location of your choosing for you and your friends and whomever else you would invite. What musician(s)at what venue would you choose?

ESB:  The Smashing Pumpkins, the 1995 lineup. I think I’d want a small venue. I know I’d want to take my dad – nobody else in the family gets the Pumpkins but me and my dad. There was a time in the late 90s when my dad’s career really took off, which was a great and fortunate thing that afforded us a lot of security, but it still meant he wasn’t around as much. But before that time I can remember him always playing Pumpkins albums in the car and at home when it was just me and him, even though I was really little. Always brings back good memories.

4. If you had to work with your hands in order to make a living(trade, craft, manual work of some sort) what tactile vocation would you like to do?


ESB:  I could mend things, so like a seamstress, but only if my only job was to repair clothing or textiles that have been damaged. I’m not good enough to make things on my own yet. But I really like mending! There’s a real satisfaction to restoring something to functionality and beauty.

5. Describe a garden, or a field, or a forest that was or is important or notable in your life.

ESB:  On my walk home from school suburbia broke for a moment to this vast stretch of prairie fenced in by a very old wooden rail fence. In the autumn the sun would set over it brilliantly and the dead yellow grass almost glowed amber. Then in the winter the sun would set pinkish blue and I can remember watching the black silhouettes of the birds that rose up from the grass when I passed by. In springtime buttercups and bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush covered it; it was fragrant and beautiful, and a local church had Easter egg hunts there. You could still find some missed eggs for a while after. It was a really lovely pasture, I did a lot of thinking as I walked by that place.

6. You may have a meal and drinks with any living person on earth with whom you have never had a conversation. Name the meal, the drinks, and the person.

ESB:  Pope Francis for sure! I’d like to cook for him. I make mean shrimp n’ grits – with sweet iced tea.

7. Name a painting that has moved you (and perhaps tell us why).

ESB:  Wheatfield with Crows, Van Gogh’s last before his suicide. It’s so beautiful, so vibrant, and still there’s a sense of defeat about it…the black crows coalescing at the corners do that, I think. It makes me wonder if this is what all life comes to in times of suffering: diverging paths, a lonesome sky, the plains and the viewer.

8. A student tells you that she plans on memorizing one poem, and intends to recite that poem at least once a week for the rest of her life. She asks you for your recommendation for said poem. What poem do you recommend?

ESB:  October, by Louise Glück. If she’s going to recite it forever, she’s going to need a poem that will help her cope with the passage of time.

9. Describe your ideal quotidian evening? [Nothing special, but as you like things to go.]

ESB:  My husband and I walk and pick something cheap and good up, probably Ethiopian, and bring it home. We eat, we talk. Something gets clarified. I am gratified by the clarity. Something good is on TV, it’s autumn, so it’s either football or, if I’m lucky, The Great Pumpkin. We put it on at low volume and both get our writing done for the evening, talking in between. When it’s cool enough I light all the candles. (I have a metric ton of candles.)

10. You are on a nose-diving plane that is obviously going to crash, bringing about your certain death. You intuit that you have between 30 and 60 seconds before you lose consciousness. What words come to mind during this last bit of time you are alive?


ESB:  Something probably like: “Christ, I love you. Forgive me. Please make this easy on my mom.” I would want someone to convince her I hadn’t been afraid or in pain. Friends, take note: if I die unexpectedly in a plane crash, you’re obligated to convince my mom I regularly get completely hammered on planes and that I was totally unconscious and content for the whole thing. 

10 questions - Adam DeVille





Adam DeVille is known to just about everybody who tries to remain current on academic work dealing with Eastern Christianity and East-West ecclesial relations. His excellent blog Eastern Christian Books is a clearinghouse of bibliographic knowledge and leads concerning both of those subjects.  Adam is also the author of the important work Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy: Ut Unum Sint and the Prospects of East-West Unity, which has been widely reviewed and provoked much discussion.

In addition to all of that, Adam is the editor of Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies; is a tenured associate professor and chairman of the Dept. of Theology and Philosophy at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and is a subdeacon of the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church (UGCC).

I first interacted with Adam via blogs a few years back, and have since learned that we have several mutual friends, and so our pixel paths cross now and again.  I have long found his thought to be fair minded, stimulating, and well articulated.

Here are Adam's responses to my 10 questions:

1. A friend offers to make all social/vocational/financial arrangements in order that you may spend 3 months in the location of your choosing. Anywhere in the world. Where would you go, and during what season? 

AD:  I'd go back to Italy, likely to the north. I loved Florence when I was there last too briefly, and would happily spend much more time anywhere in between Sienna (also very charming) and Florence, and likely in the autumn. I was there in October and it was perfect--lower heat, fewer tourists, great food and wine, and a pace of life I envy. Also, my Italian (albeit southern Italian--Calabrian) wife would love to spend time there again. Incidentally, I never liked coffee until my late 20s when a Franciscan friar in Italy (near Orvieto I think?) made me espresso one cool night, and I was hooked ever after. 

2. A friend who has suffered considerably in recent years asks you to recommend a novel that you found moving, and/or which helped frame how you view human life. Which novel would you recommend? 

AD:  I feel lazy in saying this because I often revert to Evelyn Waugh (about the only novelist whose entire opus I've read--I have a hard time reading fiction normally), but I really do think that Brideshead Revisited would be good here. It shows that good looks and wealth do not protect you from suffering and that grace heals nature without necessarily removing all the scars and sources of suffering. This is clear, it seems to me, in the alcoholic homosexual Sebastian--the charming, attractive son of enormous English wealth who winds up drunk half-in, half-out a North African monastery, his life and potential squandered in the eyes of most--though his sister Cordelia thinks him very holy because of his being "maimed as he is--no dignity, no power of will. No one is ever holy without suffering. It's taken that form with him." His otherwise oafish brother Bridey also says that "God prefers drunkards to a lot of respectable people," a bracing point which I think is also confirmed in many of the uproarious stories of Flannery O'Connor. 

3. You may have any (living) musician or group of musicians in the world come perform a concert at the location of your choosing for you and your friends and whomever else you would invite. What musician(s) at what venue would you choose? 

AD:  Again, I feel rather unimaginative in saying this, because I've listened to them since childhood, but I'd invite the choir of King's College, Cambridge to come do Choral Evensong for Easter or Ascension. 

4. If you had to work with your hands in order to make a living (trade, craft, manual work of some sort) what tactile vocation would you like to do? 

AD:  Cooking. I do most of the cooking now, having had to learn how to do it to survive when I was 12, and I love it. Failing that, I wish I had kept up wood-working lessons I started when young. I'd love to able to make a table or build a shelf or a bed or furniture like that. I was at a very moving funeral last month and helped my carpenter friend fasten the lid on the simple coffin he made for a very dear mutual friend who died too young of cancer. Then we and the other men carried her to a hand-dug grave, and filled in the grave ourselves with shovels. It was hot, heavy, dirty work but--strange though this may sound--I found it "rewarding" in a way I'd never expected. So maybe I should add grave-digging to this list? As one who spends his life in the often intangible, ethereal world of the academy, things like cooking (or, I assume, woodworking) are satisfying in a very immediate, visible way not just for the reward of their tastes and their nutritional benefits, but, for me, very much as a means by which to give joy to others. (I do want, however, to check my propensity towards romanticism here by also recalling that my very first job, at 14, was as bus-boy in a restaurant, and I saw the hot, greasy, smelly, very tiring side of cooking: long and exhausting days, high pressure, constant injuries--little joy and lots of drudgery for low pay.) 

5. Describe a garden, or a field, or a forest that was or is important or notable in your life. 

AD:  I think of the large vegetable garden my paternal grandfather grew, along with a huge compost pile. I spent time alone with him out there helping him look after that as well as later cutting the grass, shoveling the snow, raking the leaves, etc. This was back in the 70s and 80s when I was a small child, and well before "being green" was trendy. Gardening and composting were just what you did to survive the Great Depression and wartime economies in Britain and Canada. Other than that, I often think of the pictures of the Scottish countryside from my maternal grandparents and mother. I've never been there (though I hope to some day, if only to tour the single-malt distilleries!) but somehow those melancholy pictures of hills, heather, grey skies, and craggy rocks around the Firth of Clyde have long haunted my imagination for reasons I've never quite understood. 

6. You may have a meal and drinks with any living person on earth with whom you have never had a conversation. Name the meal, the drinks, and the person.

AD:  Again, this feels too easy, but my go-to person for a lot of reading the past decade has been Winston Churchill. From what I know of him, we'd have to start off with scotch, move to champagne for dinner (Pol Rogers was his favourite I think), and end with brandy, all of which are more than fine with me. Food would no doubt be rich too--soup, beef, vegetables, cheese, chocolate, cigars. (I think I read somewhere to my surprise that he smoked Romeo y Julietas from Cuba, which is the first and only cigar I tried many years ago and enjoyed more than I expected.) I'd want to verify with him things my Glaswegian grandparents told me about surviving the Battle of Britain, and then also ask him some questions about the Yalta settlement, including why he didn't fight harder to spare Poland and Ukraine from the Soviet yoke. 

7. Name a painting that has moved you (and perhaps tell us why). 

AD:  Hmm. You'd think, being married to an artist, I'd have a better appreciation for art and know more works. My wife has done a large streetscape she calls "Roman Street" (based on a picture she took not in Italy but Spain actually) that I really love for its architecture and its evocation of medieval Spain. Other than that, I don't want to sound pious, which I'm not, in opting for an icon: either Rublev's Trinity or a modern Coptic icon I have of the Theotokos, which was given to me when I was in hospital for three months back in 1996 and has remained very dear to me. 

8. A student tells you that she plans on memorizing one poem, and intends to recite that poem at least once a week for the rest of her life. She asks you for your recommendation for said poem. What poem do you recommend? 

AD:  If she wanted something brief, then I'd probably go with Adrienne Rich's "At a Bach Concert." If she wanted something long, I'd go with the fourth of T.S. Eliot's "Four Quartets" entitled "Little Gidding." Or, come to think of it, every year about this time, I re-read Emily Dickinson's elegy for summer, "As Imperceptibly as Grief." 

9. Describe your ideal quotidian evening? [Nothing special, but as you like things to go.] 

AD:  I have two. In the more formal adult category: Drinks, dinner, conversation with a few close friends and family followed by sitting around outside or in front of a fire. It makes me happy to be able to cook for people and to sit and have wide-ranging conversations as the evening meanders on. 

In a more informal category, I look forward to Friday nights with my kids, when we all have a "camp-out" on the sofabed in front of the TV watching a movie and eating junk food. 

10. You are on a nose-diving plane that is obviously going to crash, bringing about your certain death. You intuit that you have between 30 and 60 seconds before you lose consciousness. What words come to mind during this last bit of time you are alive? 

AD:  Any of the old stand-byes: the Lord's Prayer, Hail Mary, or Jesus prayer.

10 questions - Stacy Shipman



I first met Stacy Shipman 11 or 12 years ago.  Stacy was getting a masters degree at the U of Memphis, I was coppersmithing, and we met in that very small pond of eccentrics that is(was?) Eastern Orthodoxy in Memphis.  Later Stacy would leave to spend several years teaching in Uganda, but over the years we've run into each other again an several occasions, and whenever that happens we have a good conversation.

Stacy is a native Kansan, with degrees from Tabor College and Friends University.  Her background is in psychology and education, and she has spent her career working as a teacher and a therapist, vocations which are reflected in her personality.  Stacy is currently working on a PhD in Education and Social Change from Bellarmine University in Louisville, KY. Her dissertation is on Global Competence, investigating personal and social communication processes in identity development, which she tells me is the "easier version" of describing what her dissertation is about.

There are those people you run into in life that have an integrity that seems thoroughly comprehensive - a decency in character, a prevailing compassion, an interesting personality, a serious intellect.  When my wife and I talk about those sorts of people, people who we have encountered that give us some hope in humanity and gratitude for the wonder that is the human person, Stacy is always on the short list of folks we mention.

Here are Stacy's answers to my 10 questions:


1. A friend offers to make all social/vocational/financial arrangements in order that you may spend 3 months in the location of your choosing. Anywhere in the world. Where would you go, and during what season?

SS:  I feel like this question stumped me longer than it should have. Three months is a long time to be somewhere without some kind of intention for being there. I’d want to learn something while I was there, and since I imagine you can learn most things just about anywhere, I guess I’d be looking for something and somewhere to push my comfort zone enough to challenge my constructs of the world. I really want to learn auto mechanics. Cuba seems like a good place to go for that. So, for three months I want to go to Cuba, and I want to build an engine while I’m there. Any season is a good time. Let's say February, just to escape the polar vortex here.

2. A friend who has suffered considerably in recent years asks you to recommend a novel that you found moving, and/or which helped frame how you view human life. Which novel would you recommend?

SS:  ‘Gilead’ has been used, already. That would have been my first choice. Reading as a means of dealing with suffering hasn't ever really worked for me. In times when my heart is in angst, I find that writing and prayer are most soothing, so nothing strikes me as something I would recommend. However, there are books that I've read during less turbulent times of my life that have come to me in times of suffering – “Father Arseny” and “The Ascetic of Love” come to mind.


3. You may have any (living) musician or group of musicians in the world come perform a concert at the location of your choosing for you and your friends and whomever else you would invite. What musician(s)at what venue would you choose?

SS:  Tallis Scholars in Hagia Sophia.

4. If you had to work with your hands in order to make a living (trade, craft, manual work of some sort) what tactile vocation would you like to do?

SS:  I’d make furniture, and build houses. I’ve built a few pieces of furniture for my home. I get a lot of satisfaction from building. I have no education in this so I use the wrong tools and make mistakes that I have to correct or figure out how to cover up. When I was growing up my dad was a teacher so he was home with us in the summers. In the mornings we had to work. One summer we built a fence, and during another summer we painted all the trim on our 2-story farm house. In the afternoons he’d pack us up and take us to the beach, or something else fun. But in the mornings, we always worked. I liked building things the most.


5. Describe a garden, or a field, or a forest that was or is important or notable in your life.

SS:  My best friend came to visit me in East Africa. We were in Bukoba, Tanzania and were walking to a hospital nearby to see the progress being made on its construction. We took a route through a ‘forest’ of banana trees. It was about an hour’s walk. We were trekking along singing Paul Simon’s “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes,” when we came upon a small clearing. About thirty minutes into this jungle there was a bar. The only way to it was on foot or bicycle. It was a small hut with a straw roof, and beer. Tusker beer. The best beer on the planet. Any forest that hides secret bars in them is alright with me. It’s like Narnia for adults.


6. You may have a meal and drinks with any living person on earth with whom you have never had a conversation. Name the meal, the drinks, and the person.

SS:  Catherine Samba-Panza. She’s the interim president of Central Africa Republic, a small country experiencing a bloody internal war. Throughout Africa, particularly the C.A.R. region, women are incredibly oppressed, which is really the kindest word for what many women there experience. Yet, women have a high representation in government. For example, Rwanda has more women in federal government than any other country. Places like America and Western Europe espouse gender equality, yet women are still underrepresented in government and board rooms. That seeming contradiction begs for an answer in my mind. In the midst of crises Catherine Samba-Panza was brought in to lead the nation. That fascinates me. For the meal I'd have whatever is indigenous to C.A.R.   Africa has good food.


7. Name a painting that has moved you (and perhaps tell us why).

SS:  Yeah, I have nothing for this one. I’m far more moved by photography than paintings. This is likely a character flaw of mine. I like Tinga Tinga painting, but that’s because it amuses me. There’s nothing particularly moving about it.


8. A student tells you that she plans on memorizing one poem, and intends to recite that poem at least once a week for the rest of her life. She asks you for your recommendation for said poem. What poem do you recommend?

SS:  Scott Cairns’ poem, “Taking Off Our Clothes.” There is an intimacy in this poem that speaks to me. I grew up in Evangelical Protestantism which has a tendency to over-spiritualize everything, especially relationships. It’s all very gnostic. Cairns’ poem cuts through all of that for me. If a student stayed grounded in the beauty of the mundane, and in the lure of intimacy that laughs and lacks self-consciousness, I feel like they’d be doing ok.

Let's pretend for now that there is no such thing 

as metaphor. You know--waking up will just 
be waking up; darkness will no longer have to be 
anything but dark; this could all 
be happening in Kansas. We could lie back 
upon a simple bed that is a mattress 
at the corner of a floor. We'd have clean, blue 
sheets and a wool blanket for later. 
I could be the man, and you could be the woman. 
We'd talk about real things, casually 
and easily taking off our clothes. We would 
be naked, and would hold onto each other 
a long time, talking, saying things that would make us 
grin. We'd laugh off and on, all the time 
unconcerned with things like breath, or salty skin, 
or the way our gums show when we really smile big. 
After a little while, I fetch you a glass of water.


9. Describe your ideal quotidian evening? [Nothing special, but as you like things to go.]

SS:  Um, yeah, so I had to look up ‘quotidian.’ An ideal evening is a Fall evening when the leaves are changing and there’s a crispness to the air. Candles are burning in the house. I’ve worked most of the day, but it was good work. Productive. I’m tired but energized by a cup of tea. I have time to cook a full, pleasant meal. Good friends are visiting and there are drinks to be had on the porch. I like gin and tonic, or a nice malbec. Laughing comes easy. Conversations are lively. My husband holds me tight as we wave goodbye.

10. You are on a nose-diving plane that is obviously going to crash,bringing about your certain death. You intuit that you have between 30 and 60 seconds before you lose consciousness. What words come to mind during this last bit of time you are alive?

SS:  I’m afraid to fly, so there’s a good chance I’m fairly inebriated as this plane is sending me to my doom. I would hope I’d say I love you to my family and that the Jesus Prayer would be on my lips. However, I’d probably swig the little mini wine bottle and scream as I imploded.

10 questions - Sam Rocha


Sam Rocha.  Where to begin?  Currently an assistant professor of philosophy of education in the educational studies department at the University of British Columbia.  President of the Society for the Philosophical Study of Education.  Former Vox Nova blogger, now blogging via Patheos here.  Sam is the author of A Primer for Philosophy & Education, and Sam has a few books forthcoming: Liturgy as Mystagogy: An Introduction to a Curriculum of Life (press pending), Folk Phenomenology: Education, Study, and the Human Person (Atropos Press), and Abortion Without Politics (Patheos Press).  Oh, yeah, and in addition to fitting all that in with his family life (wife, two sons, and a daughter), Sam is also a musician.  Find his latest album, Late to Love, here.  Late to Love is reviewed by the amicably interminable Artur Rosman (who introduced me to Sam's work) here.

Here are Sam's answers to my 10 questions: 


1. A friend offers to make all social/vocational/financial arrangements in order that you may spend 3 months in the location of your choosing. Anywhere in the world. Where would you go, and during what season?

SR:  Vienna, during late spring and early summer. Hopefully I would not have terrible allergies there during that season, but even if I did it would be an ideal place to write—beautiful, but not too distracting.


2. A friend who has suffered considerably in recent years asks you to recommend a novel that you found moving, and/or which helped frame how you view human life. Which novel would you recommend?

SR:  Since Tolstoy’s novella, The Death of Ivan Ilych, and the Book of Job wouldn't technically qualify, I’d recommend reading Don Quixote. But the book that is not a novel that I might recommend most is Ray Monk’s biography of Ludwig Wittgenstein, The Duty of Genius.


3. You may have any (living) musician or group of musicians in the world come perform a concert at the location of your choosing for you and your friends and whomever else you would invite. What musician(s)at what venue would you choose?

SR:  Brian Blade and the Fellowship, at The Artists’ Quarter in St. Paul, Minnesota, on a cold winter night (but not too cold to enjoy a cigarette during the break).

4. If you had to work with your hands in order to make a living (trade, craft, manual work of some sort) what tactile vocation would you like to do?

SR:  I would be a luthier, making and repairing guitars. I many times consider becoming a barber or a fishing guide as well.

5. Describe a garden, or a field, or a forest that was or is important or notable in your life.

SR:  A block away is Pacific Spirit Regional Park, a temperate rainforest we take walks in almost daily; but for me the forests of the Southwest Rockies—stretching from Chama, New Mexico to Dolores, Colorado—bears special significance to and for me. My maternal grandfather was born and raised in the sheep camps of those forests and I fished near some of them with him as a boy. My ancestral spirits live there.

6. You may have a meal and drinks with any living person on earth with whom you have never had a conversation. Name the meal, the drinks, and the person.

SR:  I’d have steak frites and beers with Pope Francis, with a cappuccino to end. I’d insist on picking up the tab at the end, mainly because I expect he wouldn’t break the bank.

7. Name a painting that has moved you (and perhaps tell us why).

SR:  I struggle with the visual arts, especially with paintings. My eyes are fairly stupid and unsophisticated. At the same time, I can be moved by most anything, because I am hopelessly sentimental. Add to that the fact that I’ve seen very few great paintings or galleries. So the “painting” that moved me most was not a painting at all. It was a gallery of sketches done in ballpoint pen, in the basement of a convent in Poland, just outside Auschwitz. These drawings were crucial to wandering through the emotional process of seeing the remains of the Shoah, and it was striking to see Maximilian Kolbe appear in them at regular, striking intervals. The story I recall is that the man who drew them was a survivor who never spoke about it. Then had a stroke that left him dumb and regretful of his silence. So he drew these jarring memories.


8. A student tells you that she plans on memorizing one poem, and intends to recite that poem at least once a week for the rest of her life. She asks you for your recommendation for said poem. What poem do you recommend?

SR:  I would recommend to her that she find one herself and not let me or anyone else choose such a serious thing for her. If she insisted, then I’d have her memorize something from La Vita Nuova or the Psalms.


9. Describe your ideal quotidian evening? [Nothing special, but as you like things to go.]

SR:  It would be summer. We (my family and I) would eat a good simple meal, savoury meat with rice and flour tortillas. Iced tea or limeade. The boys would clean up and I’d hold my daughter until they’re done and we’d play our abbreviated form of soccer in the back yard, father against sons. I’d win. Afterward, we’d eat ice cream on the patio, boys would go clean up for bed, my wife, daughter, and I settle in the living room, where I begin my nightly writing routine.

10. You are on a nose-diving plane that is obviously going to crash,bringing about your certain death. You intuit that you have between 30and 60 seconds before you lose consciousness. What words come to mindduring this last bit of time you are alive?

SR:  Hopefully there are no words, only love.



10 questions - John Médaille



John Médaille is the author of 
Toward a Truly Free Market: A Distributist Perspective and The Vocation of Business: Social Justice in the Marketplace. He is also the editor of Economia Libertăţii: Renaşterea României Profunde (in Romanian.) Having spent many years as a businessman, he is now an Instructor in Theology at the University of Dallas and a columnist at The Remnant Newspaper.

I think it fairly safe to say that John is the leading Distributist intellectual writing, speaking, and thinking in the U.S. today.  I've been fairly critical of "third ways" in the past, and I have noted that some folks under the banner of Distributism stress localism and agrarianism to such an extent that they are essentially libertarians who really like Tolkien.  John is not that.  He tends to stress the distribution of wealth part of Distributism, and I find that I agree with John on economic matters considerably more than I disagree with him.  In any event, I find John to be a stimulating, fun, and learned conversation partner.  His Toward a Truly Free Market is a book that everyone interested in alternatives to America's dehumanizing economic machine should read.  


Here are John's answers to my 10 questions:

1. A friend offers to make all social/vocational/financial arrangements in order that you may spend 3 months in the location of your choosing. Anywhere in the world. Where would you go, and during what season?

JM:  I think I would like to go back to Vietnam, at any time but the monsoon. I served tours in both the delta and the highlands, so I would like to cruise the Mekong, past our old base at Dong Tam to see if anything is left of it, and the city down the road, My Tho. Maybe all the way to Cambodia. Then go up to the central highlands to Cheo Reo, our little “advisor’s” base and the center of Montagnard country, and see the villages we worked in. I would like to see the tunnels of Cu Chi, the Viet Cong headquarters, only 60 miles from our own headquarters. We knew it was there and we knew what it was, but we could do nothing about it. That’s got to be some kind of metaphor for the modern world. I would like to see the old capital at Hue. Perhaps study some oriental literature while I’m there, with someone who actually knows something about it.


2. A friend who has suffered considerably in recent years asks you to recommend a novel that you found moving, and/or which helped frame how you view human life. Which novel would you recommend? 

JM:  A novel I often return to is Walter Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz. I read it as a teen-ager, and it knocked the rather smug rationalism out of me, a rationalism that held reason alone as sufficient unto all things on heaven and earth. And it did it in one line. A group of vultures is circling the dessert over a dying poet. These were a patient flock of vultures, for “their philosophers had proved, by unaided reason alone, that all creation was made to serve the vultures.” I realized that was right; vulture philosophers could do that. You can rationalize anything, which is what makes rationalism so irrational.

3. You may have any (living) musician or group of musicians in the world come perform a concert at the location of your choosing for you and your friends and whomever else you would invite. What musician(s) at what venue would you choose? 

JM:  Hmm. It might be fun to have a concert from the Medieval Bæbes, one because they are bæbes, and two because they are medieval. I don’t know if the musicology is any good, but it is a lot of fun. A venue? How about the ruins of St. Augustine Monastery right near Canterbury Cathedral? That could give it the right spirit. We could venerate St. Thomas at the Cathedral, then listen to the concert in the open ruins and drink a lot of beer, and if I drink enough I might even dance.

4. If you had to work with your hands in order to make a living (trade, craft, manual work of some sort) what tactile vocation would you like to do? 

JM:  A carpenter. Absolutely. Make things. Beautiful and useful things.

5. Describe a garden, or a field, or a forest that was or is important or notable in your life.


JM:  My own garden and greenhouse. Because it’s mine and I built it myself, and it is amazingly fertile. That’s a real accomplishment for a life-long city boy.


6. You may have a meal and drinks with any living person on earth with whom you have never had a conversation. Name the meal, the drinks, and the person. 

JM:  I’d like to dine with Alasdair MacIntyre, though I suspect he might find me a bit dull. So the dinner will have to be good. Duck a l’orange, think. Done right, there is nothing better. I’ll leave the wine to the sommelier; I know too little about it.

7. Name a painting that has moved you (and perhaps tell us why).


JM:  The paintings of Hieronymus Bosch. They’re actually kind of ugly, and bleak, and depressing. That suits me fine. There’s never a lack of things to ponder and to puzzle out. And the work is so finely executed, down to the last detail.

8. A student tells you that she plans on memorizing one poem, and intends to recite that poem at least once a week for the rest of her life. She asks you for your recommendation for said poem. What poem do you recommend?


JM:  Jabberwocky, of course. No, I’d be a real asshat and say something pretentious like, “In life, you have to find your own poem. Live every day like it’s a new verse.” That should mess her up for life. Serves her right, too, for asking such a question.
9. Describe your ideal quotidian evening? [Nothing special, but as you like things to go.] 

JM:  It’s best if you have finished something that’s been hanging over your head: an article, a book, grading tests, whatever. Then open a bottle of beer and turn on a movie.

10. You are on a nose-diving plane that is obviously going to crash, bringing about your certain death. You intuit that you have between 30 and 60 seconds before you lose consciousness. What words come to mind during this last bit of time you are alive?


JM:  What I would probably do is scream all the way down. What I should do is pray, “Jesus have mercy on us; remember not our sins but welcome us to your Father’s house.” What I would like to do is to remember an old love right to the last second.

10 questions - Dave O'Neal



Dave O’Neal is a writer and editor who lives in Boston, Massachusetts. His essays and poetry can be found on his blog, Nonidiomatic.


I discovered Dave's writing only within the last year via mutual friend.  I suppose it is a cliche today to refer to a writer as having a unique voice.  So I will say that Dave's writing is different and refreshing.  Read his work.  As another mutual friend of ours has said to me recently, "when Dave O'Neal writes, I listen."


Here are Dave's answers to to my 10 questions:

1. A friend offers to make all social/vocational/financial arrangements in order that you may spend 3 months in the location of your choosing. Anywhere in the world. Where would you go, and during what season?


DO'N:  Istanbul.  Though I’ve been there five times previously, I’m disinclined to pick someplace new.  There’s something I like about going deeper into existing experiences, exploring what’s familiar. And I love that now only semi-familiar city and know that three more months wouldn’t come close to exhausting the possibilities for exploration. For season: Winter, since I’ve not been there then, and it’d be quieter. Hopefully with snow, which they sometimes get.

2. A friend who has suffered considerably in recent years asks you to recommend a novel that you found moving, and/or which helped frame how you view human life. Which novel would you recommend?

DO'N:  The Cairo Trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz.  First, just to let her take her mind off her suffering by losing herself in a compelling saga, but second, to allow her to encounter people who occupy a world so different from ours that it might as well be on another planet (Egypt in the 1920s and ‘30s) and to find empathy and identification with them, with the hope that this would be medicine for the feeling of separation that so often comes with suffering. And that the discovery of the lack of distinction between any of us would be revealed as the ultimate consolation.

3. You may have any (living) musician or group of musicians in the world come perform a concert at the location of your choosing for you and your friends and whomever else you would invite. What musician(s)at what venue would you choose?

DO'N:  Since a living musician doesn’t immediately come to mind, and you’ve not ruled out time-travel, I’ll zoom back to 1950 when she was still alive and pick the late English contralto Kathleen Ferrier, as her voice and artistry have moved me the last few years, through her recordings, more than almost any others.  Venue would be some English school or church such as she used to perform at during the war, and the program would have to include her heart-stopping interpretation of the last movement of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde.  Maybe some British folk songs to round it out.

4. If you had to work with your hands in order to make a living(trade, craft, manual work of some sort) what tactile vocation would you like to do?

DO'N:  Carpentry seems like it would be satisfying, though I’ve never tried it before.

5. Describe a garden, or a field, or a forest that was or is important or notable in your life.

DO'N:  The woods at the base of Barometer Mountain on Kodiak Island, Alaska. Because of a profound experience I once had there, and also because it’s a place I went back to many times when I lived there, and which became home-like for me. The theme of going deeper into the familiar—as with question #1—is strong for me.

6. You may have a meal and drinks with any living person on earth with whom you have never had a conversation. Name the meal, the drinks, and the person.

DO'N:  Grilled cheese sandwiches, red wine, and Joni Mitchell.  If she turned out to be too full of herself for me to bear, I’d bail out mid-meal and go with Shoshaku Okumura, author of Realizing Genjokoan. The meal and drink in that case though would have to be brown rice, tofu, vegetables, tea.

7. Name a painting that has moved you (and perhaps tell us why).

DO'N:  Oni Zazen by Shunso Shoju, a print of which I’ve had up in my office for years. This Zen brush painting from the 18th century, of a demon in meditation posture, moved me from the first time I saw it. I take it to be an icon of repentance.  The scary, horned demon seems to have just decided to take up meditation. He sits, sorry for his sins, trying very hard, next to a burning incense stick.  He’s done a lot of bad stuff, but at this moment, his intention is for the good, even if he’s just figuring out what that might be.  His frightening ugliness is turned into something like beauty by his intention. My heart goes out to him, and a wish arises to imitate him. I couldn’t find the whole image online, only this poorly reproduced detail, unfortunately: http://akashjaggi.blogspot.com/2013/12/japanese-art-and-dutch-and-management.html

8. A student tells you that she plans on memorizing one poem, and intends to recite that poem at least once a week for the rest of her life. She asks you for your recommendation for said poem. What poem do you recommend?

DO'N:  Shakespeare’s sonnet 116 (“Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments…”), so that those beautiful words could be like an island in the sea of them in which she swims; and so that throughout her life she could reflect on it as her understanding of what love is changes and expands.

9. Describe your ideal quotidian evening? [Nothing special, but as you like things to go.]

DO'N:  Sitting on the sofa with my partner watching a great film and not falling asleep before it’s over. Cup of tea. Cheese and crackers. If I’m still awake, reading for a while after.

10. You are on a nose-diving plane that is obviously going to crash,bringing about your certain death. You intuit that you have between 30 and 60 seconds before you lose consciousness. What words come to mind during this last bit of time you are alive?


DO'N:  God, have mercy on us all. We were learning as we went.

31 August 2014

10 questions - Adam Parsons

Adam Parsons is a doctoral candidate in Modern U.S. History at Syracuse University. He studies evangelical political radicalism from the 1960s through the 1990s and writes on topics touching that period more broadly. He was on the editorial board of the Red Egg Review. His work has appeared on various blogs, including U.S. Intellectual History and The Way of Improvement Leads Home. He and his wife have recently returned to their native Columbus, Ohio, where they are renovating a house originally built for employees of Samuel Prescott Bush's steel mill. For the moment, Adam's dissertation title is Everyday Apocalyptic: Radical Politics and Evangelical Society, 1969-2000.
As someone who grew up in the American Baptist Churches, an ecclesial environment in which radical politics and Evangelicalism sometimes met, I am fascinated with Adam's work. He has long been one of my go to sources for questions regarding American religious history. Adam is a socialist and an Orthodox Christian. Here are Adam's answers to my 10 questions:


1. A friend offers to make all social/vocational/financial arrangements in order that you may spend 3 months in the location of your choosing. Anywhere in the world. Where would you go, and during what season? AP: Am I going by myself or taking my family along? If alone, I'd go, no questions asked, to Nicaragua during the dry season. My wife and I spent a little while down there last spring, and I loved it. Murals everywhere, people friendlier to Americans than we have any right to expect, and posters in tourist areas recounting Jesse Helms's evil deeds. It's a country about the size of Ohio with mass transit, usually cooperatively operated, which goes just about everywhere. Almost as significantly, beer runs around $1.75 a liter. The one big problem - and it's a big one - is the country's particularly acute strain of machismo, which is aggressive enough that it became uncomfortable for my wife and the other women we were travelling with. With my wife? I love the western Yucatan: fewer tourists, more Mayan food, and fantastic architecture and plazas. But if it's all paid for, my inherited attraction to maximizing free rides would probably win out and I'd go somewhere more expensive and move around a lot. Brazil, maybe, or northern Europe. 2. A friend who has suffered considerably in recent years asks you to recommend a novel that you found moving, and/or which helped frame how you view human life. Which novel would you recommend? AP: After years of futile attempts to train myself to read literary fiction, I've started to resign myself to the fact that my weighty reading will usually be non-fiction, and my fiction reading will usually be speculative. Until recently, I would have offered A Canticle for Leibowitz here, but lately I've been taken with Dan Simmons's Hyperion, a novel about the evolution of God modeled on the Canterbury Tales and set in a future in which Teilhard de Chardin has been canonized. 3. You may have any (living) musician or group of musicians in the world come perform a concert at the location of your choosing for you and your friends and whomever else you would invite. What musician(s) at what venue would you choose? AP: I'm going to abandon pretense again here. The Hold Steady, with Franz Nicolay back, at Carabar, a beat-up little venue not too far from my house. 4. If you had to work with your hands in order to make a living (trade, craft, manual work of some sort) what tactile vocation would you like to do? AP: My wife and I are renovating a house right now, and I've spent a lot of time figuring out which tasks I like best. A few months ago I had no idea just how much I would come to enjoy rough plumbing. It's relatively easy to pick up the basics, with a huge store of interesting little things to learn - and there's just something about the satisfaction of supplying running water. 5. Describe a garden, or a field, or a forest that was or is important or notable in your life. AP: The town I grew up in had, for the first decade or so of my life, only one public park. It housed a shelterhouse, a ball diamond, a swimming pool, soccer fields, and volleyball courts, and was the site for fireworks and log-sawing competitions on the Fourth of July. It also had a walking trail through a relatively young forest, but no clear sign of where the park ended and bordering properties began. My brothers, our friends, and I would explore those woods, often pushing through until they ended – at first in unmown fields, but later in tract housing. Now there are barely 200 feet of woods between the soccer fields and someone's backyard swimming pool. 6. You may have a meal and drinks with any living person on earth with whom you have never had a conversation. Name the meal, the drinks, and the person. Oysters, in Paris, with... No, really: Columbus-style pizza and malty, high-gravity beer with Ta-Nehisi Coates. 7. Name a painting that has moved you (and perhaps tell us why). AP: Rico Lebrun, Crucifixion. It's not the single most impressive painting I've seen, and probably not in the top five, but it hangs in the lobby of the geology building at Syracuse University. I would pass it often on my way to teach. Larger than life, opposite displays of petrified wood and geological layers, it felt both inviting and subversive: the crucifixion as Guernica.


8. A student tells you that she plans on memorizing one poem, and intends to recite that poem at least once a week for the rest of her life. She asks you for your recommendation for said poem. What poem do you recommend? AP: At my alma mater, all freshmen were required to memorize John Donne's Holy Sonnet 10. I still think it's a pretty good choice. 9. Describe your ideal quotidian evening? [Nothing special, but as you like things to go.] AP: A little reading, the tail end of happy hour with friends, late dinner, then some time in my hammock on the front porch. 10. You are on a nose-diving plane that is obviously going to crash, bringing about your certain death. You intuit that you have between 30 and 60 seconds before you lose consciousness. What words come to mind during this last bit of time you are alive? AP: This is a testament to the value of forcing students to memorize poetry. Whenever I'm faced with the reality of death, the opening of Holy Sonnet 10 springs to mind: “Death be not proud, though some have called thee Mighty and dreadful, for, thou art not so, For, those, whom thou think'st, thou dost overthrow, Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill me.”

10 questions - Pater Edmund, O. Cist.





The second thinker kind enough to respond to my 10 questions is Pater Edmund, O.Cist.

Pater Edmund Waldstein is a monk at Heiligenkreuz Abbey, which, as Wiki states, is the "oldest continuously occupied Cistercian monastery in the world."

Pater Edmund also blogs at Sanencrusis, a blog that is consistently exceptional in its conveyance of beauty and thoughtfulness. As you might discover on the "about" page on said blog, Pater Edmund "is related to theologian Michael Waldstein, jurist Wolfgang Waldstein, political theorist James Burnham, and Hollywood actress Jane Wyatt." I try not to hold that pedigree against him.

Pater Edmund and I began interacting on blogs and later via email, and despite coming from radically different intellectual postures, I just can't stop reading the good father's words.  He, like one should (but unfortunately doesn't) expect from those reared in the Thomist tradition, is a careful and exact listener and reader, and so charitably interacts with his interlocutors that you might well consider him the polar opposite of yours truly.  He espouses integralism, but in a way that is infuriatingly dedicated to the workers and downtrodden of the world, and his Thomists Reading Marx forum on Facebook is one of the most insightful discussions of Marx's thought I have ever encountered.  Pater Edmund is sincerely willing to learn from and take what he considers baptizable from the Left, something I continually find surprising and refreshing.  He also reads widely, which lends itself to his being a talented conversationalist.  

Here are Pater Edmund's answers to my 10 questions:

1. A friend offers to make all social/vocational/financial
arrangements in order that you may spend 3 months in the location of
your choosing. Anywhere in the world. Where would you go, and during
what season?


PE: I would go to Qom in Iran. I was actually hoping to go to a conference there earlier this month, but sadly I wasn’t able to make it in the end. A friend of mine was there, however, and read my paper. Now my friend is back, and is quite euphoric about the Islamic Republic, and its resistance to the hedonism, secularism and other evils. He says that Shi’ite clerics there were very learned, and had not only read Plato, but could actually claim to have implemented some Platonic thinking in real politics—the dream of all anti-liberal philosophers. I guess I would go in the winter time.
2. A friend who has suffered considerably in recent years asks you to
recommend a novel that you found moving, and/or which helped frame how
you view human life. Which novel would you recommend?


PE: It would depend a lot on the friend and the kind of suffering, as the effects of literature depend so much on the disposition of the reader. Books I have recommended recently are Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead, David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, P.G. Wodehouse’s Piccadilly Jim, and Maurice Baring’s The Puppet Show of Memory. The last name is strictly speaking an autobiography rather than a novel, but has many of the virtues of a good novel, and I have found it an eminently comforting book—if I only get to pick one, that’s the one.
3. You may have any (living) musician or group of musicians in the
world come perform a concert at the location of your choosing for you
and your friends and whomever else you would invite. What musician(s)
at what venue would you choose?


PE: I would have the Concentus Musicus and the Arnold Schönberg Choir under the direction of Nicolaus Harnoncourt do Monteverdi’s Vespers of the Blessed Virgin in St Mark’s in Venice, as actual vespers, not a concert.
4. If you had to work with your hands in order to make a living
(trade, craft, manual work of some sort) what tactile vocation would
you like to do?


PE: I would be what is called in German a Lackierer, that is someone who paints (as in, puts the paint on) machine parts (for cars I think it’s called an “auto body painter” in English). This is because I sometimes correspond about St Thomas Aquinas with a man in Germany who does this. He always meditates on an article of the Summa while spraying the paint on. I can imagine doing that.
5. Describe a garden, or a field, or a forest that was or is important
or notable in your life.


PE: As a teenager I lived about seven kilometers from Gaming in the Limestone Alps of Lower Austria. I used to walk down to Gaming through the woods and fields. I remember once there was fresh snow everywhere. The snow had stopped falling, but the wind would sometimes blow clouds of it off the trees. It was very still. On the hillside opposite me a herd of deer appeared, moving silently through the snow. I have never forgotten that moment.
6. You may have a meal and drinks with any living person on earth with
whom you have never had a conversation. Name the meal, the drinks, and
the person.


PE: Usually I don’t like meeting people for the first time. I would much prefer to have a meal with someone I already know. I was once at a three day conference with one of my favorite novelists (Marilynne Robinson), but was too shy to introduce myself. But OK, I’ll say Mary Karr, the American poet. Food: Marillenknödel. (I like the Austrian habit of having something sweet as the main dish). Drinks: White wine from the Wachau.
7. Name a painting that has moved you (and perhaps tell us why).

PE: Vermeer’s The Art of Painting. Again, I associated it with my teenage years. I used to go look at it, and was fascinated by the lack of self-consciousness that Clio shows (youth being an uncomfortably self-conscious age). I actually still have a paper I wrote about it in high school:
In one of the smaller rooms of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna there hangs a small painting by Vermeer. It shows an artist sitting with his back toward the viewer, painting a girl dressed as Clio, the muse of history. The left of the painting is dominated by a curtain, partly flung back, which gives the viewer the impression of a scene suddenly revealed. The figures have not yet noticed his presence. He holds his breath not wanting to break the spell. What is the spell? It is not the spell of the Rembrandt self-portraits in the last room which the viewer has already spent so much time looking at—those dark mysterious eyes like wells, those furrowed brows. No eyes look at the viewer from this painting. The girl, bathed in beautiful afternoon sunlight from a source obscured by the curtain, is looking dreamily down. She has lost all self-consciousness, as has the painter, completely absorbed in his task. The girl’s brow is completely smooth and unfurrowed—in contrast to the large map of the low-countries behind her, crumpled and creased as though by many wars. One Particularly large crease which juts out in the middle, about where the Spanish Netherlands meet the United Netherlands, throws the later into shadow—the shadow of Protestant error. This idea is emphasized by chandelier which hangs above the map. It is decorated with double-headed eagle of the house of Habsburg, but the candle sockets on it are empty. The light of the true faith, always protected and upheld by that venerable house, shines no more over Holland. The viewer can hold his breath no longer. He lets it out in a long sigh. “It’s like a picture!” he says. His companion snorts, “It is a picture, you silly ass!”
8. A student tells you that she plans on memorizing one poem, and
intends to recite that poem at least once a week for the rest of her
life. She asks you for your recommendation for said poem. What poem do
you recommend?


PE: Antigone’s penultimate speech in Antigone. No, just kidding. The Dies Irae.
9. Describe your ideal quotidian evening? [Nothing special, but as you like things to go.]

PE: Vespers at 6 in the Abbey Church of Heiligenkreuz. Followed by supper in our baroque refectory, one of my confreres reading out a 17th century diary of a priest fleeing from the Turks. After supper 20 minutes of e-mail. Then “recreation,” in which the brothers sit around and chat. An older brother, a good raconteur is telling stories of monastic life in the 50s. Another brother is solving the Saturday Die Presse crossword, and periodically interrupts to ask for help. Then the bell rings for a reading from the Holy Rule followed by Compline, which closes with the solemn Cistercian Salve Regina. Then Rosary in the infirmary chapel, and Benediction followed by a singing of the antiphon Mane nobiscum Domine, quoniam advesperascit. Then I go to bed. I read a few minutes in a book that is neither too exciting nor too difficult to follow (currently Maurice Baring’s R.F.C. H.Q., 1914-1918), and then fall asleep.
10. You are on a nose-diving plane that is obviously going to crash,
bringing about your certain death. You intuit that you have between 30
and 60 seconds before you lose consciousness. What words come to mind
during this last bit of time you are alive?

PE: Hail Mary.