Saturday, December 2, 2017

LUX AETERNA: THE CENTENNIAL LIGHT BULB

THIS BULB, IN FIRE STATION #6 IN LIVERMORE, CA,
HAS BEEN BURNING CONTINUOUSLY FOR OVER 100 YEARS!

This week's arts and culture piece concerns the marketing phenomenon known as planned obsolescence.

Here's how it begins:

High up near the ceiling at Fire Station #6 in Livermore, California, burns an electric bulb that has continuously thrown light for more than 100 years.

Known as the Centennial Light Bulb, this small object — approximately 2 ½ inches in diameter and 4 inches long — has been the subject of the late, great Huell Howser’s TV show “California Gold,” a story by NPR’s Terry Gross and countless articles, essays and word-of-mouth stories.

A short Vimeo documentary called “Mysteries at the Museum Centennial Bulb” is one place to start.

In December 1971, Jack Baird — who at the time had been the paid Livermore fire chief for 13 years — noticed that the light had always been on. (Unexplained is whether the light had ever been turned off.) For years the firemen considered the bulb a kind of talisman and developed the tradition of gently tapping it on their way out of the station when responding to a call.

Since a typical lightbulb lasts only about 1,000 hours, Baird set out to discover how long the lightbulb had been on. Where did it come from? he wondered. Who was the manufacturer? He contacted local reporter Mike Dunstan, at that time a young man, and asked him to help investigate.


READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.

VIGILS, ON THE EVE OF THE FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT




"Vigils, sleep, agony, death--God shares all of these states of the human condition with us because He was also a man, but a man present everywhere because He was God. He is present first of all in the Church; he is present by His grace within us as He is present in the Sacrament on the Altar; He is present wherever two more three are gathered together in His name as He is present in each one of our brothers. There is no encounter in which we do not encounter Him; no solitude in which He does not join us; no silence where His voice is not heard deepening, rather than troubling, our silence.

What a grace! But a grace we do not have the right to keep for ourselves. Let us not be like Nicodemus who conversed with the Lord only in the secret of the night. Our hidden life with Christ ought to have some bearing on our lives as citizens. We cannot approve or practice publicly in the name of Caesar what the Lord condemns, disapproves, or curses--whether it be failure to honor our word, exploitation of the poor, police torture, or regimes of terror. If, according to the promise made to us on the Mount, we had been meek, we would have possessed the land."

--François MauriacThe Son of Man, from the chapter "The Executioners of Christ"





Sunday, November 26, 2017

A GUN IS AN ANTI-SACRAMENT


MORE AND MORE, I SENSE TREES HOLD THE ANSWERS


"The Church is the one thing that saves a man from the degrading servitude of being a child of his time."
-- G.K. Chesterton

This post was first published in September, 2013. A reader remembered it and recently requested that I run it again. Thanks, Robert.

You might also want to check out this recent op-ed called "Why Christians Must Support Gun Control." 

As one commenter succinctly noted, "In what cosmos would Christ carry a gun?"

A sacrament is that which brings into being what it signifies. A handshake signifies friendship and it brings into being more friendship. An embrace signifies warmth, and it brings into being more warmth. The Sacrament of Reconciliation signifies forgiveness and it brings into being more forgiveness. The Eucharist signifies sacrificial love and it brings into being more sacrifice, more love.

A gun is an anti-sacrament. It signifies hatred and fear and shooting one, or practicing shooting one, brings into being more hatred, more fear, and always, always, more guns.
I'm not talking about those who hunt food to eat: our neighbors who would of course be the first to call for responsible gun control. But beyond that, clearly, the time has long since passed, if it ever existed, when private citizens could amass enough weapons to rise up against the tyranny of the government.  Clearly, the principal and overriding purpose of gun ownership is to arm ourselves against each other.

Which wouldn't be necessary in the first place if our lack of sane thinking and laws hadn't led to so many people owning so truly insane many guns. (See the recent NYT article "What Explains U.S. Mass Shootings? International Comparisons Suggest An Answer").

To own a gun is to live your whole life on high alert for a moment that, unless you’re a gang member, run a meth lab, work in organized crime, or have enlisted in the military, the overwhelming odds are will never come. It’s to stand eternally in front of the mirror like Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver and sneer at an imaginary foe, “Are you talking to me?”

To walk through the world quietly, peacefully, unarmed, is to live your whole life in freedom. Sure, someone may come along and randomly shoot you but a building might fall on you, a drunk driver might plow into your car, or you might be struck by lightning, too.

Sure, the violence our culture worships will continue to erupt in ever more berserk violence, most of it committed with guns. Meanwhile, though, you get to enjoy each moment to its fullest, secure in the knowledge that you will never, ever, either accidentally or intentionally, shoot someone else.

If we want to live in a world where guns are not needed, we get to act as if we live in that world already.

That's how we bring into being the Kingdom of God.

That's how we begin to answer the call of Pope Francis: "No more war. War no more."






Tuesday, November 21, 2017

"LA RAZA" AT THE AUTRY

 Young families join La Marcha de la Reconquista
along a dusty highway through the farm land of Southern California.
photo: Daniel Zapata, 1971.

Here's how this week's arts and culture column begins:

Unless you’ve been in a coma these past few months, you’re most likely aware of the “far-reaching and ambitious exploration of Latin American and Latino art in dialogue with Los Angeles” sponsored by the Getty and known as “Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA.”

Through January 2018, there will be photography, video art, performance art, sculpture, painting, workshops, screenings, lectures and concerts. Participants will include more than 70 institutions throughout greater L.A.

In Palm Springs, for example, you could take in, among other exhibits, “Carved Narrative: Los Hermanos Chávez Morado” at Sunnylands Center & Gardens (through June 3, 2018).

In Claremont, you could visit, say, “Revolution and Ritual: The Photographs of Sara Castrejón, Graciela Iturbide and Tatiana Parcero” at Scripps College (through Jan. 7).


READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.

Friday, November 17, 2017

THE PARKING LOT OF HUNTINGTON GARDENS






Lately I've been hanging out lots at Huntington Gardens, mainly because I scored treasured readership privileges at their Library. It's a lovely place to write as everyone is intent on their work, and the grounds...Lord God, the beauty.

One recent morning I went to 8:15 Mass at Sts. Felicitas and Perpetua, then motored on over. Before going in, I parked at the far end of the lot and sat in my car savoring an almond croissant and listening to the birds.

This is some of what I gazed out over from my humble perch.


















Tree, ever at the centre
Of whatever it surrounds.

--Rilke

Monday, November 13, 2017

VISAS AND VIRTUE: THE HEROISM OF CHIUNE SUGIHARA




This week's arts and culture column begins like this:

L.A. has Universal Studios, Hollywood Boulevard, the Venice Beach Boardwalk.

On a busy corner of downtown’s Central Avenue, we also have a sculpture of a modest man whose achievement, in its way, was perhaps greater than those represented by all those other monuments combined.

Chiune (Sempo) Sugihara (1900-1986) was known as the Japanese Schindler. By most accounts, he helped 6,000 or more Jews to escape the Holocaust.

In this day when the title “activist” is often claimed by those sitting in air-conditioned offices firing off Facebook rants, it’s instructive to consider the risks undertaken by a real activist.

Sugihara was born to a middle-class family in Kozuchi Town, Mugi District, now known as Mino City in Gifu Prefecture. As a young diplomat in Manchuria, he married for the first time and converted to Christianity in the Russian Orthodox Church. He divorced his wife in 1935. That same year, he quit his post in protest over the Japanese maltreatment of the native Chinese.

READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE. 

SUGIHARA SIGNING VISAS.
HELP ME TO BE MORE LIKE HIM.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

RESISTING



"In fact, it is through our small sufferings that we are given a marvelous means of putting the vast expanse of suffering in the world to good use and making it fruitful. Nothing at a time like this is so sad as seeing the whole world going through such exceptional sufferings and going through it blindly.

However, these sufferings, just like our own, are divided up and apportioned to each person. So, it ias a great joy for us to know that by 'willing" each part of our small allotment of suffering we become the seeing eyes of the grieving, groping world.

Sometimes a single colored vase in a room can bring out all the objects of the same color that up to that moment went unnoticed. I find myself thinking that as he looks upon the world, God sees some small act of good will shining, and for its sake find the dreary passivity of the whole enterprise a sacrifice worthy of acceptance.

A small suffering freely accepted gives meaning and value to untold volumes of vast suffering throughout the world. Through it we help the world perform a valid penance. 

Has it ever occurred to us--so fond of news as we are and so swift at interpreting it whether with joy or gloom--have we ever thought that the fact of botching a small amount of our daily suffering--whether it be by getting up with bad grace in the morning, by turning up our noses at insipid food, or simply by cursing the numbing cold--is of greater significance to thh real history of the world than the current disaster or victory reported over the radio?"

--Madeleine Delbrêl

AND for the love of God, can we get some "gun safety" laws passed so the rest of us are not held hostage to fear, insanity,  denial, and hate? 

AND thank you Virginia and New Jersey for the first good news I, for one, have read in a newspaper in quite some time. 


MADELEINE DELBRÊL

Madeleine Delbrêl (1904-1964) was a French convert and mystic who founded an experimental lay community dedicated to social justice and the works of mercy.

In her youth Delbrêl, an only child, was resolutely atheistic. After converting in 1924, she became engaged to a man who broke off their relationship to join the Dominicans. Then her father went blind. The experiences devastated her.

In 1933, she accepted the offer from a priest of a two-bedroom house in the largely Communist Paris suburb of Ivry-sur-Seine. Along with two other women, she moved in shortly thereafter. Raspail, as their house was known, became a hub of social and political activism with an emphasis on treating Christ in “the least of these” with humility, verve, and humor.

The community befriended the Communists among whom they lived. Over the years, Raspail sheltered incorrigible drunks, borderline personalities, and families spilling over with children. Delbrê was dazzled by the notion that authentic freedom is grounded in Christ, and she also wrote of the Church’s failure to adequately love the outcast and the prisoner.

Though she resisted what she called “literature,” she constantly scribbled pamphlets, letters-to-the-editor, and tracts.   

Her books include We, the Ordinary People of the Streets, The Little Monk, and The Joy of Believing.  “When you finally discover that you are just one of the little people, don't conclude that this makes you special.” “The Gospel is not meant to be read by us, but to be received within us.”

She worked indefatigably during WWII to welcome refugees, arrange housing, console the traumatized. All the while she smoked like a fiend, wore salvaged pillbox hats decorated with fake flowers, and took abysmal care of her health.

In time, she traveled to Switzerland, Scotland, Africa, Poland, and Rome. She resisted organizing Raspail as a “Pious Institute” with fixed rules and regulations, as was decreed by the Vatican for lay organizations in 1947. She believed in “people without categories” and in a life without boundaries.   

Pope Francis has called the laity to “the outskirts of existence.” At the same time, “[The layperson] is to create and sow hope, to proclaim the faith, not from a pulpit but from his everyday life.Delbrêl is a wonderful exemplar. We, too, are called to “the outskirts” by living among people who have turned their backs on God. We, too, are called to sow hope in the alien and the stranger, whether or not they share our faith. 

On October 13, 1964, Delbrêl was working, as usual, at the battered desk from which she ministered to her “tiny multitude.” A community member found her lifeless body late that afternoon.

She wrote: “Each time that we are torn apart because we choose to be faithful to God’s faithfulness to us, we become as it were breaches in the world’s resistance.” 



THESE ARE FROM A FOLDER ENTITLED "SURFLINER"
AND I BELIEVE WERE TAKEN IN SAN DIEGO'S BALBOA PARK
LAST JULY

Friday, November 3, 2017

ALL SOULS: L.A. COUNTY'S ANNUAL BURIAL OF THE UNCLAIMED DEAD

LA COUNTY CREMATORIUM/CEMETERY

This week's arts and culture column begins like this:

Every year, around the beginning of December, always on a Wednesday, Los Angeles County holds a burial of the unclaimed dead.

The address is 3301 1st St., adjacent to the Evergreen Cemetery. The event is open to the public.

The date of this year’s service is Dec. 6, at 10 a.m. Last year’s, which I attended, took place on Nov. 30.

I’d arranged to meet a couple of friends there and parked a few blocks away. Along the cemetery side of 1st Street, starlings pecked at a patch of sere Bermuda grass. A mourning dove sat vigil on a grave marker. A pair of California quails, oblivious to death, flirted.

The main building is a crematorium, topped by rusting smokestacks. Attached is a west-facing chapel with bare-bones decor: a concrete floor, 10 or 12 battered wooden pews, a token black casket backed by a podium holding a Dickensian ledger — the County of Los Angeles Register of Cremations.

The entries went back several years and, amazingly in this day and age, are handwritten. My eyes ranged down the columns: name, sex, race, date of birth, date of death, place of death, date of permit to cremate, date of cremation.

The “place of death” column was a map of L.A.’s hospitals and institutions: St. Francis Medical Center, Olive View UCLA Medical Center, Pomona Valley Hospital, Harbor UCLA Medical Center, St. Vincent’s, St. Joseph’s, Hollywood Presbyterian, Good Samaritan.

READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.

You might also be interested in the youtube, "A Certain Kind of Death," which gives a behind-the-scenes look at some of the "unclaimed dead" in LA.




ST. DYMPHNA, MURDERED BY HER BENT-ON-INCEST FATHER,
PATRON SAINT OF THE MENTALLY ILL

Friday, October 27, 2017

STRANGE JOURNEY: HOW TWO HOMESICK PILGRIMS STUMBLED BACK INTO THE CATHOLIC CHURCH



This week's arts and culture column reflects on a wonderful new memoir.

Here's how the piece begins:

Pope Francis has observed: “The Church is a field hospital. Heal the wounded, heal the wounded, heal the wounded.”

Jessica Mesman Griffith and Jonathan Ryan head up an online community called Sick Pilgrim that takes the command seriously. Their Patheos blog and Wonder podcast explore “the edge of faith, reason and doubt,” and have attracted legions of followers who might otherwise feel themselves on the outskirts of the Church.

The Sick Pilgrim Facebook page lists interests such as, “Catholicism, art, publishing, media, culture, music, saints, sinners, pilgrims.”

Jessica is the author of four books, a nationwide speaker on faith and the arts and a stupendously gifted writer, both literary and Catholic in the widest sense of the word: deeply human, deeply funny. I first came across her work in “Love and Salt” (Loyola Press, 2013), a book of letters exchanged with a friend when they were both pregnant in prose that has been called “raw and intimate, humorous and poetic.”

A native of New Orleans whose mother died young of cancer, Jessica felt shunned by the people of her parish as a teenager, as if tragedy had tainted her. She and her sister tried to commune with their mother’s spirit through Ouija boards, call-in psychics and mirror divination.

Jessica dyed her hair purple, got a nose ring and listened to Pearl Jam in her bedroom, weeping and praying that Eddie Vedder would save her. She suffered panic attacks at parties. Her “holy roller” father tried to commit her to a mental institution.


READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE. 

I'M EMERGING FROM MY LAIR TOMORROW



I have two "events" tomorrow, if you happen to be wandering around LA:

October 28, Saturday, 2017 
10 a.m.
Talk and book signing
Pauline Books & Media
3908 Sepulveda Blvd
Culver City, CA 90230
310.397.8676
culvercity@paulinemedia.com

2 p.m.
Talk, panel participation, book signing
"Radically Loved, Radically Free: Jesus
The Dignity of Women/ENDOW Conference
Carmel of St. Teresa's Sacred Heart Retreat House
920 East Alhambra Road
Alhambra, CA 91801
626.289.1353
contact@sacredheartretreathouse.com

Then there will be the event of cramming down lunch as I drive madly from the West Side to Alhambra...I'm brining my own coffee!