28 September 2014

September rituals




That pile is 1 1/2 trailer loads.  Last winter we gave up after 9 trailer loads, and heated with gas the last 5 or so weeks.  This time of year I hate wood.

23 September 2014

making hay



Scrapes and cuts,
neck, hands, face, and dammit arms,
no thanks to the flannel sleeves buttoned at the ends.

Sweat sick so much I'm dizzy.
Sore, sting.

Insulted.

The old man cusses us
Put your goddamn backs into it boys!
My daddy woulda whooped my ass if I worked that slow!!

After it all, four hours to a damn fine hayrick
he might give us five bucks, we were told.

Some kinsman of Tommy's.  Morgans are always cheap and angry Tommy says.

Tommy's mom told us this would be done.
So there we were.  With Bradley and the youngest Wilkens boy.
She had somethin' on all of us.

Debt and fear sucks.

Each lift of the arms is a small disappointing miracle,
damn, they worked, again.
The back slices the body a little deeper
as each bale gets thrown.
Every blink scrapes dust against the eye.
Every other deep breath followed by a cough-up of grass shit slime.

Last one goes up,
that Napoleonic triumph follows the
adolescents' end to a not so complex routine task.
Oh how we suffered.
Oh how majestic the work we had done.

But no thank you,
not even a nod of respect.

This jackass crank is too damn old, too brittle to keep his farm up
and the impious bastard won't even venerate his saviors.

Being good enough slightly god-fearing boys we're appalled by the sacrilege.

Things do turn for the better though,
sometimes.

Old Morgan rounds up a couple of pink filled mason jars.
Tommy's maw-maw's strawberry wine.
Under his other arm, the one with the curled up hand,
a bottle of Jim Beam.

We sit on a log, top end of the pasture
and pass our jars.
Sugar and fire never felt so good on the throat.
Old man and bottle walk down to a tree, right near the creek.
Long swigs.

His wife is buried under that tree, Tommy says.
all our eyes are down the hill on him.

Well maybe that explains it, I think.
Has he always been so damn mean?
Oh hell yeah, Tommy says, the happiest moment of his wife's life was probly
that instant she came to know her heart just stopped.
Shit, Bradley says.  We all half laugh.

If he's always been like this, why does your mom make us help him?
Tommy shrugs,
Mom says if we can work for him we can work for anyone.
Plus, she loves that tree.
She loves that tree?
We all look down the hill, now intently.
She cries every time she sees that tree.
Why?
I don't know.  There's some story there,
I'd guess.

Sun's hittin' the hills so as to cast long shadows now.
We've got showers and girlfriends to get back to.
But that kind of tired makes it easier to just sit.

Old Morgan walks up the hill,
more deliberately than he had walked down it.
You boys aren't the worst, he says.
He's on to bein' lit up now.
Five bucks each.
Give those jars back to your mama Tommy.
Yes sir.





*the photo above is of my father and my middler daughter, taken a few weeks ago. My father is the polar opposite, insofar as any of us are, of Old Morgan.  But seeing him recently brought back some old memories.




20 September 2014

10 questions - Daniel Nichols



Daniel Nichols.  Writer.  Painter.  Iconographer.  Postman.  Daniel blogs at Caelum Et Terra (he will hit his 10 year mark in January!).  Prior to that he edited and wrote for the physical Caelum et Terra journal, which is where I first encountered his work.  I was working at Loome Theological Booksellers in the 90s, and my good friend Chris Lentz, a manager there, had every copy of Caelum, all of which I devoured, cover to cover, over the course of a few months.

Trying to make the Leftist sentiments I was raised with fit into a "faithful to the magisterium" American Catholic ideological framework, I looked to Catholic agrarianism as a potential way out of the godawfulness I saw in those camps influenced by the likes of Neuhaus, Fr. Fessio, and Tom Monaghan.  I had gone to the occasional Chesterton Society meetings, and had met a lot of self-proclaimed distributists via my position at Loome's, but it was very obvious that none of those folks had a damn clue what farming life or even working American life was like.  Most of them were very poorly read as well.  Hell, the head of the Chesterton Society in the U.S. was there in MN, a frequent visitor of ours at the store, and I still chuckle when thinking about this guy who lived smack dab in the middle of the suburb that is home to the Mall of America, and made his very much not untypical middle class life work by being a lawyer for some super rich rancher who was suing the U.S. govt because the Air Force flew over his ranch, this Chestertonian guru having on the side (and later as his bread and butter, thanks EWTN) a hobby preaching to American Catholics about the wonders of guilds and the agrarian life.  But that sort of thing was not at all anomalous -- I heard so many times in those circles men who had zero working class life experience wax on regarding how guilds needed to replace unions and how Social Security and all the apparatus of the nanny state was actually hurting the working classes, and so forth.

But with Daniel I found a voice that wasn't like these.  Someone who actually knew something about actual work, and actual farming.  He wanted that agrarian dream to work too, and the history of the in print Caelum could be said, among other things, to be a maturing realization that agrarianisms and the like were simply not going to provide a way out of our late modern, late capitalist existential and religious and social predicaments.  Daniel laid it all on the table.  He still does.

Daniel, on his blog and others, and on social media, serves as a prick to the consciences of middle class (and wealthier) American Catholics who want to rest in their petty and determinedly ignorant addictions to movement conservative Paul Ryan / Raymond Arroyo and/or libertarian Acton Instituteish patronizing tropes regarding what working people in America need to do and have done for them in order to thrive.  He is that rarest of birds - an actual working class person who has lived the life he was supposed to (big batch of kids, etc.) by conservative and trad Cath standards, someone who understands First Things / EWTN neo-Catholicism, and can speak that language, but yet has the real working class knowledge and life experience to speak to the bullshit that is that aggregate of "believing" American Catholic answers to social ills and political and economic policy postures.  And the integrity of his life and his writing is not as easily dismissed as it is ignored.

One of the most compelling, interesting, and exemplary posts that brings out the milieu that Daniel is great at cultivating is his now famous (and in some circles infamous) NFP post and thread.  It might take you some days to read all (as of this writing) 770 comments, but it is worth the read if you are at all interested in American Catholic ideology and experience regarding birth control.  All sides and all sorts of experiences present their cases and their stories and their arguments, and the result is such that anyone who comes away from it feeling triumphant and confident about their beliefs about ABC and NFP and the like must be either a blazing idiot or demon possessed.

Daniel has been a thorn in my side on occasion, and I in his on perhaps more occasions.  I tend to be sympathetic, in principle if not in immediate advocacy (for tactical reasons) to old Leftist "solutions" to certain problems.  Daniel tends to stress mercy and non-violence and all that jazz.   I suppose we are good for each other in any number of ways.  Daniel has become a friend, one I trust, and one whose life narrative and writing I hold in very high regard.

And that he is a postman gives him all the more charm, especially as he so often writes of his working life, particularly the walks and conversations he has.  I like to think of Daniel as a radical, working class Trollope (who worked for the Royal Mail as a bureaucrat and inspector) for our generation.

Here are Daniel'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?

DN:  Family legend says that before my father's family were in Ireland, when the name was 'Nicol' they had come from the Isle of Skye, in the Scottish Hebrides. Irish genealogy generally hits a dead end in the 18th century, but there is a Nicolson clan on Skye and I generally trust oral tradition. The place has always seemed magical to me, so Skye beginning in very early Spring.

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?

DN:  I am not aware of a novel that formed me in any great way. I would suggest instead to read the gospel of John.

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?

DN:  Are Fleet Foxes still together? If so, that would be great, and the venue would be my friend Will Hoyt's farm in the eastern Ohio hills. Before they are all fracked up.

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?

DN:  I would paint, as I do now, except make a living at it. And I once sculpted in stone, and loved it, though I would want to use sharper chisels than I did.

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

DN:  Five minutes from my house there is a state nature preserve, the Jackson Bog, around 90 acres of fine woodland and ponds and fen, which has been a source of sanity for me through the years.

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.

DN:  I would do what I do now, stop at the Wooster Brewery for an IPA after work and strike up a conversation with whoever is sitting next to me. The clientele is so diverse there that it is nearly always fascinating.

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

DN:  The Annunciation by Fra Angelico, at San Marco's in Florence. This mural is at the top of the stairs, and the serenity and the purity of color is breathtaking, not captured at all in reproductions.




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?

DN:  'The Waking' by Theodore Roethke, the second poem with this title that he wrote, the one that begins 'I wake to sleeping and take my waking slow'.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.   
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.   
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?   
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.   
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?   
God bless the Ground!   I shall walk softly there,   
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?   
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;   
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do   
To you and me; so take the lively air,   
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.   
What falls away is always. And is near.   
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.   
I learn by going where I have to go.

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

DN:  A quiet evening, uninterrupted, with my bride. With eight kids this pretty much never happens.

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?

DN:  Dear God.

19 September 2014

10 questions - Jonathan Tobias


Fr. Jonathan Tobias.  Master wordsmith.  For many years (ten in June, wow) blogging at Second Terrace.  ACROD priest (still my favorite Orthodox jurisdiction). Professor of Pastoral Theology at Christ the Savior Seminary.  Psychologist, with that particular long view that comes from spending years in the trenches of a broken system with broken people.  Poet.  Shape note singer (along with his father).  An Arkansan in childhood, like my father.  Friend.  He is decidedly American, and he will know that in this instance I mean that word as a complement, as the word ought to be meant.  Read this post, for instance, which I still cannot get through without weeping because it reminds me of my grandfather.  When I think of Fr. Jonathan, aside from my benefit earned from his long affair with words, I think of two things primarily - his tenderness toward the small things, and his appreciation of the two lonelinesses --- his regard for that loneliness that brings life, the loneliness of those that remember, and his compassion regarding that loneliness, so ubiquitous in our time, that is the natural result of a society bent on the consumption of everything, and everyone, remembering nothing.

Here are Fr. Jonathan'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? 

FJT:  I am not well-traveled, so my choice cannot help but be pedestrian and bourgeois. For three months I’d like a nice rental house lakeside — just about anywhere that would be encircled by forested hills. It is important that the three months would be September through November, which is my favorite season. The house should have enough rooms and porches to harbor my family and to host friends who will come by every so often dinner and long talks into the wine-dark night, seasoned by the reading of good poems and a read-through of some plays. We will move from merlots to cold grigio. 

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? 

FJT:  I am sorry, but I will surely disappoint by admitting that LOTR is the only novel I could honestly recommend in these circumstances. I was mulling over the appeal of answering with Thomas Mann, or Borges, or Murakami, or Pynchon, or David Foster Wallace, or even Dahlgren. But in this extremity, posturing would be so outré. LOTR is the only novel that continues to make me happy: there, I’ve said it and I’m glad. Perhaps it could offer the same to one who suffers so. 

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? 

FJT:  The Academy of St Martin in the Fields, performing Ralph Vaughan Williams “The Lark Ascending.” I wish that they could play in the stand of timothy grass abutting the old Civil War cemetery at Mt Union in Somerset County, where I’d like to be buried (next to the vet from the Mexican-American War). But alas, I do not think that the orchestra — despite its name — ever plays much in fields. So I’ll put them in Heinz Hall in Pittsburgh’s homey bright culture district by the Allegheny River. On a cold January night. I’ll take a mezzanine seat close to the wine bar. No coughing or texting or old mink ladies kvetching about their beautician’s romantic entanglements, and no one will be there who doesn’t really want to be there. 

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? 

FJT:  My paternal grandfather, Edward Tobias, was a fine cabinetmaker with his own set of block planes and handsaws and many other tools from a better toolmaking age. When the Depression centralized wealth (i.e., taking wealth away from workers and farmers who were learning how to bargain collectively), my grandfather had to dispose of his toolbox and roam the country for carpentry work, farming out his seven mother-less children to various relatives — not all of whom were the best-tempered. I am hereby requesting that this very toolbox appear magically on my doorstep, and my hands miraculously become adept at scrollwork and joining, finishing and sawing, thereby granting good maple, oak and cherry a proper telos, so that my grandfather need not wander anymore. 

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

FJT:  The Laurel Highlands Ridge Trail is seventy miles long, stretching from Seward PA near Johnstown all the way down south to the great falls at Ohiopyle. Save for several meadows and fields traversed by the route, the trail is almost always bowered by a canopy of whispering leaves and, in winter, the melancholy bright sighs of evergreen boughs. I first visited the trail in 1975. Since then I’ve managed to hike its entirety, though never all at once. I return, frequently, to this forested way over the ridges of the Alleghenies. My memory is framed by this course. I hiked the middle section of the trail a week before I asked my wife for her hand. I hiked the northern part with my brother when I turned fifty, in a vain attempt to prove my continued feasibility. I will go again, because there’s nothing like this long hard landscape traverse to pull me out of nothing, and set my heart on something. 

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. 

FJT:  Again, I am sorry. I’m afraid that I've been much too difficult. I cannot manage a meal and drinks with any living person that I do not know. This is a deficiency on my part, I know. I’d much rather meet with philosophical friends who are driven, even unwillingly, to poetry. We’ll have the long oak table by the fire, a nice roast of beef (maybe from that same fire), merlot, the feast of reason and flow of soul, the pipe and various other and clearer libations, and the Joshuan stopping of the moon and sun to allow us to get to the point of it all, the mot juste that eludes most talk in this world. Wait. I’ll answer simply. What person is there with whom I’ve never had a conversation, and with whom I’d want to? A friend. Simply because in this fallen space-time, we just never get to the point. Something’s always left out, left unsaid. 

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

FJT:  Sandro Botticelli’s Primavera. Beauty. Dance. Transcendence. A possible association with the Purgatorio. And an urgent zephyr. What more could you want? 



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? 

FJT:  John Keats’ “To Autumn.” Solid, sensual, meaningfully material and symbolic. So non-gnostic, anti-virtual. So late. 

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

FJT:  A clear September evening, started by a cookout on my Weber grill with one or two friendly metal caps keyed off already, and dinner with the strains of Villa-Lobos wafting on pleasant story-telling. The soft chanting of the evening’s kathisma from the Coverdale translation. Then, long reading on the porch, a little writing. 

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? 

FJT:  The Jesus Prayer, and very quick prayers for my family and my friends, and the world. I really hope this would be true of me in such a moment, that’d I’d be so composed.

16 September 2014

10 questions - Michael Yates


Michael D. Yates.  First off, the man has a Wiki page.  Doctorate in economics from the University of Pittsburgh.  Associate editor of Monthly Review.  Long time union activist, and educator of workers and union members - one of the top labor educators alive today.  Many books and many, many articles under his belt.  His Wisconsin Uprising is the best account to be read concerning the protests in Madison that I was fortunate to be able to take witness and take part in.  Why Unions Matter is essential labor reading.  In and Out of the Working Class is the probably the best parsing of the psychological toll that current class pressures take on working class people -- you must read it if you haven't already.  Lucid, direct, poignant, serious.  Michael's work has been and continues to be an inspiration to me and to many people who have been involved in anti-capitalist and labor struggles.

Here are Michael'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? 

MY:  Some pretty small town in the Dolomites in northern Italy, so that I could see the kinds of places from whence my mother’s family came. Lots of hiking, a nice house or apartment, and someone to cook for me! 

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? 

MY:  Without a doubt it would be John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. I have read it eight times. Moving beyond words. 

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? 

MY:  Flutist James Galway, playing with a string quartet of his choice at the concert venue in Springdale, Utah, against the backdrop of Zion National Park. 

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? 

MY:  A maker of fine furniture. 

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

MY:  The forest along the western shore of Lake Tahoe, with the gigantic trees. 

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. 

MY:  I would have red pepper and tomato bisque, wild salmon, fingerling potatoes, micro-greens salad, French bread, and chocolate cake for dessert. Grand Dame champagne throughout the meal. Fidel Castro for company. All food organic, if at all possible. 

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

MY:  Orozco’s Zapatistas. Love the lines, sharp and indicating motion and resolve. Better to die on your feet than to live on your knees. 



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? 

MY:  Stars, I have seen them fall, by A.E. Houseman 

Stars, I have seen them fall, 
But when they drop and die 
No star is lost at all 
From all the star-sown sky. 
The toil of all that be 
Helps not the primal fault; 
It rains into the sea, 
And still the sea is salt. 

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

MY:  After a long day of hiking, come home, wherever that might be, shower, help fix dinner, talk about the day and plan for tomorrow. Watch a show on my laptop or a basketball game on television. Drift off to sleep about 11. 

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? 

MY:  I love you, Karen. Add kids and granddaughter too. Then probably, “what a bummer.”

15 September 2014

10 questions - Steve Robinson



I'm not sure where one even begins to describe Steve Robinson.  He is something akin to Orthoblogdom's wizard / zenmaster / anti-staretz / soft-hearted bad boy.  He does things I hate.  Like having a podcast on AFR.  And writing a book for AFR/Conciliar Press (with a co-author who, well, let's not go there).  But he is also one of those few Christians I know that gives me some impulse to remain a Christian.  It is a cliche to say that someone who writes frankly is "honest," but hell with it, Steve is honest.  He speaks from the experiences of his life, which, let's say, are the polar opposite of the stereotypical former Evangelical who ends up in Eastern Orthodoxy.  Steve was a naughty one, looking for a place of mercy and healing, and not somebody looking for an AncientFaith™ gloss for his, like, this time, really sure confidence that he has found the Truly True Church of Pure Fideistic Certainty and Triumph.  But then Steve didn't find a lot of mercy and healing, for a lot of years, in American Orthodoxy.  Perhaps having nowhere else to go, perhaps being too exhausted to look, perhaps whoknowswhat, after taking time to catch his breath, Steve is still at it, trying to make sense of an American Orthodox life, and making more sense of it that nearly all the other Orthopundits.  His blog Pithless Thoughts has chronicled much of this, and offers the reader a glimpse into the baring of a battered soul still standing.  This is a very odd sort of praise to ascribe to a friend, but if I ever found myself having suicidal urges that felt overwhelming, I think Steve might be the first person I would reach out to for help.

Steve also sent me a skull once.  Which allowed me to say to my wife just the other day, "shit Honey, I knocked down the skull."  Being able to say that gives me pleasure.

Here are Steve'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:  I have a visceral reaction to even the suggestion of travel because my Father was in the Navy and we moved every two-three years until I was in high school. I cannot pack an overnight bag without my stomach going in knots. While a lot of places interest me, I would choose to spend three months alone in a single room, isolated cabin (with cooking facilities, civilized amenities, a well stocked liquor cabinet, and fishing gear), on either a beach or creek front in the early fall, just crisp enough to need a sweater at night sitting on the shore. The country really wouldn’t matter to me.

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:  I never have been an avid literary fiction reader. In the early 80’s when I was a zealous evangelical twat and learning life isn’t so clean and neat, Joseph Heller’s “God Knows”, King David’s deathbed memoirs of his life, shaped my view of how we muddle through life within the mystery of Providence and the un-forthcomingness of divine answers. The last line of the book still resonates.

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:  Hm. Our Mission hosted the Valaam Choir at a small chapel, so I have that fantasy fulfilled.
My wife would love to have Josh Groban in our back yard for a barbeque.  I’d do that for her, but I think I’d choose Divna at Stonehenge, dusk.

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 do have to work with my hands to make a living. I didn’t pick up a tool until my 6th year of marriage when we bought a “fixer-upper” house. Three years later after being fired from my ministry job, I landed in construction doing sheetrock and have been doing manual labor for 33 years now. Of all the things I do now, I like carpentry the best. I consider myself blessed to work with my hands. There is something salvific about forming something with your hands out of the “dust of the earth” rather than just calling it up on a screen with a word.

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

SR:  My father’s garden (he is of farming stock and has always had one), in Millington TN, when I was in grade school. I recall him tending it in the evenings before supper. I would see his back from the back door screen, standing in front of it with a hose and watering it. It didn’t become notable until later in my life, when things were not going well, one evening before supper, I found myself standing in my back yard watering the grass with a hose.

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:  Frederick Buechner, grilled steaks, BBQ’d corn, my wife’s maple-bacon baked beans, a couple-three bottles of good red wine, home made ice-cream, then retire around the kitchen table with a bottle of Laphroaig and pipes.

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

SR:  As a former art major this is tough. But my go-to since grade school has always been Van Gogh’s Starry Night.  The roiling sky and the church with no doors have always kicked me in the gut.

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:  Dr. Seuss “One Fish, Two Fish…” No matter how serious life seems, it is best to stay grounded in play.  That, and since that is an easy one to remember, add the Sonnet to the Portuguese, “How Do I Love Thee”. We all fall in love and need words, or fall out of love and need to remember.


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

SR:  I just spent that evening. Me grilling our supper. The Wifey putters around the back yard watering her plants. She sits on the patio with her wine cooler and crossword puzzle while I finish in the BBQ. She quarters the fresh peaches and sets the table while I finish in the kitchen.
We eat slowly, chat about nothing in particular with sometimes long and comfortable silences. Then we do the dishes. I will go to bed early, she will slip into bed after midnight, a reversal of the first 15 years of our marriage. Maybe she will wake me up and we’ll make slow, lazy love.

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?


SR:  If there was time, I’d call a friend and tell him to tell my wife and kids I loved them. The other thought would be “Yes, finally.” I might pray, but I don’t think I see death as a desperate moment between God and I. 

14 September 2014

10 questions - Peter Bouteneff



Peter Bouteneff teaches courses in theology, patristics, and spirituality at St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, where he is Associate Professor in Systematic Theology.

Peter got his undergrad from the New England Conservatory of Music, then lived and worked in Japan, and traveled widely in Asia and Greece. From there he went on to get an M.Div. from  St. Vlad's and a doctorate from Oxford, where he studied under Bishop Kallistos Ware.

Peter has served as the Executive Secretary for Faith and Order at the World Council of Churches, and has participated in many ecumenical activities.

He conceived of and edits the popular "Foundations" series for SVS Press, in which his own volume is Sweeter than Honey: Orthodox Thinking on Dogma and Truth. His most recent book is Beginnings: Ancient Christian Readings of the Biblical Creation Narratives.

Peter is now co-directing the sublime and superb Arvo Pärt Project.

Peter also has a podcast, Sweeter than Honey.

You can check out Peter's website here

Peter was subject to some of my most vicious ire when I was writing the previous incarnation of the Ochlophobist.  For that I am truly sorry.  Following that episode I had several friends politely tell me what an ignoramus I was, and what a genuine and decent soul Peter is.

I have since learned that Peter and I share a love of jazz.

Here are Peter'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?

PB:  Probably just outside Kyoto. In the autumn. I lived near there for two years in the mid-80’s and visited again more recently. It has a wonderful rhythm to its life, especially in its backstreets: relaxed and urban at the same time. I would visit gardens regularly, early in the morning before the tourists (see #5 below). Autumn is a glorious climate, and the leaves and the moss change color. Walking, reading, writing, ramen’ing.

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? 

PB:  I read War and Peace last year, was moved by its evocation of love and loss, and have been struck lately by its fundamental observation about the forces that move history. That said, especially in view of the friend’s suffering, The Brothers Karamazov would be the book I’d recommend. Both books are evocative on suffering and evil, neither treatment is in the slightest bit facile. But the Bros. K knows about redemption, transfiguration. It is truer.

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? 

PB:  If living, Keith Jarrett trio, with Jack DeJohnette and Gary Peacock. At the Village Vanguard. If no longer living, then Bill Evans, Scott LaFaro, and Paul Motian, same place.

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? 

PB:  If being a bass player counts as working with the hands, that would absolutely be it. If it doesn’t, then, book binding?

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

PB:  Very easy. Ryoanji, 15th century temple in Kyoto. There is the rock garden. Then there is the adjacent lake with its trees. Transfiguration.

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. 

PB:  I have had several conversations with Arvo Pärt, but I’d always want to have another. Otherwise, a pub meal, with hand-pulled ales, with Nick Lowe.

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

PB:  The Glykophilousa icon of the Theotokos at Philotheou monastery on Mount Athos. I 
spent an important two weeks of my life there some decades ago, and the icon is simultaneously deeply warm and just a bit scary.

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? 

PB:  I’ve a tin ear for poetry, I’m afraid. Shorter is better, so no surprise that several 17th century haiku have moved me very much. (I’m interested to see how much Japan is showing up in my responses.) This also would be minimally taxing on the woman’s weekly recitations.

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

PB:  Weekly ritual of making pizza from scratch, sharing it with family around a movie. Followed by conversation. Ending up with just two of us on the sofa. And into comfortable silence.

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?


PB:  They are words to Jesus in praise and gratitude, asking mercy.

10 questions - Richard Barrett


Richard Barrett.  Longtime Orthodox blogger, and a longtime interlocutor of mine.  He blogs at Leitourgeia kai Qurbana: Contra den Zeitgeist.  He is a solid writer with a lot of insight into what we might generously call the ups and downs of American Orthodox life.  Richard is also the Artistic Director of the St. John of Damascus Society, an Orthodox liturgical music organization.  Richard is currently ABD from Indiana University and now living at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Theological Seminary where he is a scholar in residence, writing his dissertation, and studying Byzantine chant.  He is also famously a gourmand of nacho concoctions. 

Richard is a great guy to know when you have questions about things Greek, or Byzantine liturgy and history, or music in general. 

Here are Richard'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?

RB:  I’m of two minds here; my first inclination is to say Greece I spent a summer there five years ago but was by necessity tied pretty tightly to Athens and didn’t get to see as much as I would have liked.  I’d go during fall/early winter – summer there was pretty uncomfortable for this person of Scandinavian heritage, although I lost twenty pounds by walking everywhere and having to drink enough water to drown an elephant.  Also, rebetiko (Greek urban folk music) clubs are closed during the summer. 3 months (say, October through December) would be ample time to see the countryside, the islands, and Thessaloniki (with a side trip to Constantinople), while also getting to do some of the stuff that only happens when it isn’t tourist season.

My other inclination is to say Denmark; it’s the old ancestral homeland, and I’ve only been able to spend two and a half days there or so. I loved the day I got to spend in Copenhagen and on one of the islands and would dearly love to have the time and money to explore it some more.

So, there you go, the conflicted answer of one who is Danish by heritage and a Byzantinist by choice. I like to joke that perhaps my ancestors could have been part of the Varangian Guard.

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?

RB:  The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. It’s a deceptively simple book that wants you to think it’s a children’s book because it’s told from the point of view of a child, and as a result it gets away with dealing with some extremely complex issues  related to surviving trauma, except that it’s not a children’s book, and it’s not told from the point of view of a child. Yes, I’m aware that’s a “Sorry, what language are you writing in?” sentence, but there we are; that’s Neil Gaiman for you.

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?

RB:  Again, of two minds – one part of me wants to say that I’d force Oingo Boingo to put on a reunion concert and do it against the backdrop of the stunning natural beauty of the Gorge Amphitheatre in George, WA; another part of me wants to say that I’d have the Greek Byzantine Choir (with Ioannis Arvanitis standing in for the recently-reposed Lycourgos Angelopoulos) perform at St. James Cathedral in Seattle, WA.

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?

RB:  I’d be an auto mechanic. I consider cars an unfortunately-necessary evil to be minimized and marginalized at all costs, but I find the way the machinery works to be very interesting, and even better, there’s reasonably a well-proportioned interest to remuneration ratio.

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

RB:  That would be the forested Sehome Hill arboretum behind Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington. There’s a great short hike through the forest up the hill to an observation tower that looks over the town. My now-wife Megan and I made an evening of that hike many times when we first met.

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.

RB:  If the “living” qualification weren’t there, I’d say Carl Sagan. Since that doesn’t work – oh, I don’t know, let’s say the electronic composer Vangelis; we’d drink ouzo, eat roast lamb, and I’d force him to tell me why he’s been so weird about releasing the recordings of his Blade Runner score commercially.

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

RB:  I don’t know that it has a name, but I have an uncle who has done a lot of painting; we had one of his in our house(s) throughout my childhood, a night scene of a steel foundry in action, a lot of bright orange against black. The starkness of the image has always stuck with me, and it was always on our walls even when the walls themselves changed.

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?

RB:  e.e. cummings, somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond

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

RB:  I get home in time to cook a decent meal for my wife and son with a reasonable bottle of wine, possibly (or possibly not) with 1-3 guests, cocktails to follow afterward. Binge-watching of something after Theodore goes to bed.

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?

RB:  “Megan and Theodore, forgive me; I love you both tremendously. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”

10 questions - Dom Benedict Andersen


Dom Benedict is a monk at the fascinating and beautiful Silverstream Priory, which is near Stamullen, in County Meath, Ireland.  You can watch a short video of Dom Benedict's recent ordination to the Diaconate here.  Dom Benedict has his M.Div. from St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary and his B.Phil. from St. John Vianney Theological Seminary.  Dom Benedict used to blog at the now gone Occidentalis, as well as at Eirenikon, where I used to be something of a thorn in his side (do I sense a theme developing here?). 

Dom Benedict is now a part of that small but significant neo-trad movement which uses a traditional Latin liturgical life, but is not, well, crazy, as in preaching against heliocentrism and railing against the Freemasons and Jews crazy.  He is extremely erudite, open to modern theological expressions (particularly the Benedict XVI side of Nouvelle Théologie), and an all around interesting and gentlemanly fellow. 

Here are Dom Benedict'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?

DB:  I’ve been wanting for some time to take a sabbatical in Dublin to study medieval Irish chant manuscripts.  It’s been my dream to “resurrect” the old medieval Offices of Irish Saints such as St Patrick, Brigid, and Columba, for use in our monastery.  It would be nice to do it in the summer, so that it would be easier to walk around Dublin and see the sights.

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?

DB:  I’m not much of a fiction reader, but I would recommend “Silence” by Shûsaku Endô, a heart-rending, deeply Catholic novel about suffering and the (apparent) silence and inaction of God  which at the same time manages not to be overtly pious or preachy.  I can’t wait to see the Scorsese adaptation/interpretation.

Another would be Michael Chabon’s “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union”, a very entertaining and funny book, a murder mystery involving a troubled Messiah set in an “alternative history” in which the Jews have been given the state of Alaska as a homeland following WW2.  I read this book during a particularly difficult time in my life, and it really helped me to stay in good spirits.

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?

DB:  I would have Marcel Pérès and his Ensemble Organum performing Old Roman Chant at San Miniato al Monte, the gorgeous Romanesque basilica and monastery overlooking Florence.  That, or Sigur Ros performing somewhere in their native Iceland.

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?

DB:  Bookbinding, without a doubt.  That, or vestment making.

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

DB:  Rocky Mountain National Park in my native Colorado.  Heaven on earth.

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.

DB:  What I wouldn’t give to have a nice, leisurely chat with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, over Bavarian potato ravioli with pancake strips (his favourite meal), and a nice Bavarian brew (and of course some Fanta).

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

DB:  Seeing, in person, the Transfiguration of Christ of Blessed (Fra’) Angelico just last week in Florence was, I have to say, something of a religious experience (and I’m not a person given to such experiences).  I can’t put my finger on just what’s going on in that painting; it’s just, to me, the most transcendently beautiful depiction of the Transfiguration ever made.  I went away from the Museo San Marco (where Angelico’s famous paintings are) thinking of the quote by Ratzinger, to the effect that the only real, convincing apologia the Church has to offer the world are her Saints and the beauty that she has produced.

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?

DB: 
Batter my heart, three-person'd God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp'd town to another due,
Labor to admit you, but oh, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captiv'd, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be lov'd fain,
But am betroth'd unto your enemy;
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.
(John Donne, Holy Sonnet 14)

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

DB:  Vespers, with Benediction; a nice light meal with beer and something sweet at the end; recreation with my community and Hilda the dog; Compline; and a bit of reading, writing, or chant transcription before bed.

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?

DB:  “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  “Suscipe me, Domine, secundum eloquium tuum, et vivam, et non confundas me ab expectatione mea.”  “Into thy hands I commend my spirit.”  “Forgive me, Lord.”