Sunday, August 30, 2015


I have survived eight weeks all told this summer in Palm Springs, mean temp. probably around 110. It does not cool off at night more than a few degrees.

Still, I would usually wait till the sun was thinking about going down to set out on my daily walk, often trolling the relatively untravelled residential streets bordered by Racquet Club Road, Palm Canyon, and Indian Canyon.

The sunsets were almost invariably spectacular.

I'm grateful for my time there, though am glad to be back among my people (such as they are) in L.A.

Now I can really start preparing for my trip to Rome, first two weeks of October.


Saturday, August 29, 2015


The subject of this week's arts and culture column is a pratfall of a bird walk I took recently in Pasadena.

I had a blast anyway.

It begins like this:

"Last week I took a bird walk I learned of from the organization Bird LA in conjunction with Pasadena Audubon. Both have a field trip calendar and a website.

I am second to none in my emotional response to birdsong, though my identification skills leave something to be desired. If the leader was any indication, birdwatchers are a laconic lot, not given to poetic effusions about their hobby.

One introductory exchange ran:

“So were you raised in Pasadena?”


I soon learned that August is the absolute slowest, i.e. worst, month for bird watching. (May is the best month for migrants going north). In addition, we were in the middle of an epic drought and a Southern California heat wave. And on Sundays, Eaton Canyon is overrun with people.

This is just the type of thing I love, for about an hour. We tramped through the brush: seven heads covered with sensible hats against the blazing sun, then me"...


Tuesday, August 25, 2015


FYI, here's a new webzine called Mind & Spirit, launched by Angelo Matera of the late, great GODSPY

An excerpt from their mission statement:

As we advance into the third millennium, it’s clear that people today are more confused than ever about the meaning of life, and how to find true happiness.

There are many explanations for why this is happening. But at Mind & Spirit, we’re convinced that the main cause is humanity’s flight from God.

This process began centuries ago, but has accelerated since the 1960s. It’s evident today not only in the increasing number of people who call themselves atheists, but also in the many more who limit their faith to the one day a week they attend worship services. The problem is not just unbelief, but that the divine presence is missing from modern life. God just doesn’t matter anymore.

Yes, religious fundamentalism is on the rise, especially in the Third World. But that’s mostly a last-gasp reaction against the powerful secular forces who dominate our globalized world and dictate the rules and values of our culture.

But there is good news. A small but growing number of people are discovering that life without God doesn’t make sense. They’ve discovered that our culture’s dominant philosophy, called “nihilism” – the idea that there is no universal, transcendent source of meaning and truth—leads to broken lives, and ultimately, a broken world. And they’ve discovered that it’s possible to combine strong religious faith—faith in a personal, loving God who is Father—with a total openness to reason and science, and the latest, proven practices in psychology, psychiatry and neuroscience.

I have a piece in there. It has "sex" in the title. Check it out!

pix from last summer's stay at eastern point retreat house in
gloucester, ma.
I didn't go home this summer!
and am homesick. 


This just in from Rachel Ellis of Clerical Shirts UK:


We are a small family business selling clergy shirts to Catholic priests, we are located in London - United Kingdom. I have just come across your blog and thought this might be really relevant to your readers. We were hoping you would be so kind as to link to our website,

We would really appreciate this and would be happy to send you a 100% cotton clergy shirt at no cost. We can also send you a dedicated discount code for your readers to use.

Thanks very much for your time.


Speaking of time, the other late afternoon I had occasion to walk to a nearby park, lie down on the  grass, and regard the branches of the dear jacaranda tree whose branches were shading me.

A halcyon twenty minutes that made my week--if not the summer.

Sunday, August 23, 2015


Here's the beginning of this week's arts and culture piece, which necessitated a trip to a land far, far away...the Westside of L.A...

In the 25 years I’ve lived in L.A., up until a few weeks ago, I’d never visited the Venice Canals: the brainchild, as you may know, of developer Abbot Kinney, who, back in 1905, thought to recreate a slice of Italy on the shores of the Pacific.

With the traffic on the 10, a trip from my perch near downtown to the Westside always requires a bit of mental preparation.

And Venice Beach, of course, is a world unto itself.

I grew up near the beach — granted, in New Hampshire — but even there, an air of thrillingly low adventure prevailed: drugs, clandestine sex, petty crime. Venice Beach features as well chalk-faced Midwestern families on vacation; man-bunned hipsters weaving through impossible traffic on expensive bikes and a caliber of female beauty not generally seen — or at least not quite so fully displayed — in New England.

I parked off Washington and navigated on foot by feel, winding through a few blocks of residential streets till I found my way to Grand Canal. It didn’t look grand: it looked like an alley lined with Home Depot garage doors.


Tuesday, August 18, 2015


A year or so ago, I wrote about a priest who, as I was about to take Communion, chastised me for being inappropriately dressed for Mass.

I took the incident, and will forever take it, as a splendid learning opportunity. He was right.

Now L.A. is in the midst of another heat wave, at least as severe as the one last year when the incident occurred.

Last week I attended 5:30 p.m. Mass at the same parish. The same guest priest said Mass.  The other parishioners were mostly women, many of whom appeared to be housekeepers, grandmothers, caretakers--at Mass after a long day at work, Some were shepherding small children. I recognized many faces of the daily faithful, both men and women, from the many times I'd attended Mass at the church over the years.  The temperature was 95. The sanctuary isn't air conditioned.  Many people frantically waved paper fans.

It was the memorial of St. Maximilian Kolbe and I'd made a special point to brave rush hour traffic and the heat after my own long day in order to honor him. It was the least I could do for a man who had offered himself up in place of a husband and father to starve to death in a bunker at Auschwitz, not to mention for Christ. I had on long pants and a long-sleeved shirt.

The priest's homily consisted of a 15-minute harangue berating us for dressing inappropriately at Mass. Scanning the crowd, I failed to spot so much as a bare arm. These were quietly patient old men in polo shirts and dress slacks, women in long cotton skirts and floral blouses, all of us wilting in the heat. I consider myself fairly hardy, but at one point I actually thought I might faint. On and on the priest droned (and how hot he must have been in his robes!) For the good of our souls, he told us. So we wouldn't go to hell. For the purity of Mary.

I thought, No wonder all my friends who attended Catholic school in the 50s and 60s left the Church.

I thought of a wonderful piece in this weeks's The Tidings about Fr. George Zabelka called "Catholic priest who blessed atomic bomb crews — and his conversion."

A couple of excerpts:

“ 'If a soldier came to me and asked if he could put a bullet through a child’s head, I would have told him absolutely not. That would be mortally sinful.' ”

"But in 1945 on Tinian Island in the South Pacific, where the atomic bomb group was based, planes took off around the clock, said Zabelka. 'Many of these planes went to Japan with the express purpose of killing not one child or one civilian but of slaughtering hundreds and thousands of children and civilians – and I said nothing.' "

" 'I was told the raids were necessary; told openly by the military and told implicitly by my Church’s leadership. To the best of my knowledge no American cardinals or bishops were opposing these mass air raids. Silence in such matters, especially by a public body like the American bishops, is a stamp of approval.""

“ 'Christians have been slaughtering each other, as well as non-Christians, for the past 1700 years, in large part because their priests, pastors and bishops have simply not told them that violence and homicide are incompatible with the teachings of Jesus. ' ”

I thought of how Mary's purity includes purity--consistency--of thought and ethics and action. I thought, That's fine if you want to tell us to dress appropriately, but show us the spectrum of purity so we know what we're dressing appropriately for--and for whom. 

Remind us that Mary is the Mother of the Trinitarian God, who took on human flesh, came to earth, and turned the cosmos upside down by telling us: Love thine enemies. Remind us of how very very far our war economy, our buffoonish politics, and our culture of acquisition and violence are from the Kingdom of God. Show us  Mary at the foot of the Cross on which the Prince of Peace was nailed. Inspire us to lay down our lives for each other, and for the poor. 

Remind us that is what it looks like to be for life, for truth, for purity, for love across the board. Remind us that to follow Christ is to live in exile: not because we know to dress appropriately but because we serve a very different Master than the master of fear and bondage and peer pressure and spiritual "good marks" and empty practices unconnected to the human heart that hold sway both outside, and often very unfortunately inside, the Church. 

When Christ saw a crowd wilting in the heat, he took pity on them. He invited them to pony up what little food they had and then he performed the miracle of the loaves and the fishes.

Before dismissing us, this priest felt called to berate us for another three or four minutes for our absymal lack of modesty. 

Afterward we said the prayer of St. Michael the Archangel.  

I dedicated it, in my heart, to Father.  


Friday, August 14, 2015


Clarence Jordan, 1912-1969, Baptist visionary, founder of Koinonia Farm
--"Faith is not belief in spite of evidence but a life lived in scorn of the consequences."

"Following the Supreme Court's ruling on school desegregation, (Clarence) Jordan got into serious trouble with racists and members of the Ku Klux Klan when he tried to assist two African-American students in their application to a formerly segregated business college. This led to shooting, bombings, and vandalism against the Koinonia Farm. But Jordan steadfastly refused to leave. He spoke of these adversaries as people "with their personalities twisted and warped by prejudice and hate" . . .

[From Jordan himself]: "If there is any balm in Gilead; if there is any healing in God's wings; if there is any hope — shall we go off and leave people without hope? We have too many enemies to leave them. The redemptive love of God must somehow break through. If it costs us our lives, if we must be hung on the cross to redeem our brothers and sisters in the flesh, so let it be. It will be well worth it. To move away would be to deny the redemptive process of God."

--From Clarence Jordan, Essential Writings

"[T]here just isn’t any word in our vocabulary which adequately translates the Greek word for 'crucifixion.' Our crosses are so shined, so polished, so respectable that to be impaled on one of them would seem to be a blessed experience. We have thus emptied the term 'crucifixion' of its original content of terrific emotion, of violence, of indignity and stigma, of defeat. I have translated it as 'lynching,' well aware that this is not technically correct. Jesus was officially tried and legally condemned, elements generally lacking in a lynching. But having observed the operation of Southern 'justice,' and at times having been its victim, I can testify that more people have been lynched 'by judicial action' than by unofficial ropes. Pilate at least had the courage and the honesty to publicly wash his hands and disavow all legal responsibility. 'See to it yourselves,' he told the mob. And they did. They crucified him in Judea and they strung him up in Georgia, with a noose tied to a pine tree."

--Clarence Jordan, from wikipedia

Monday, August 10, 2015




 Doing a bit of research into "socially responsible investing" recently, I listened as a friend told of a company that, concerned with the release into the water supply of anti-depressant-laced human waste, is trying to develop a pill that doesn't break down in the human body.

I said, "How about working toward a world where we don't need anti-depressants at all?"

The same principle strikes me as being at work in those who justify the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on the grounds that destroying anywhere from 129,000 to 250,000 human lives (depending on how you count) somehow "saved" hundreds of thousands of others. 

Do I really want to incinerate an innocent man, woman or child so I can live?

How about working toward a world where we don't kill each other at all?

"Imaginary evil is romantic and varied; real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring. Imaginary good is boring; real good is always new, marvelous, intoxicating."

--Simone Weil,Gravity and Grace


Saturday, August 8, 2015


“Sierra at Edison” (2012 , chromogenic photograph on Kodak Professional Endura Metallic paper) © John Chiara 2014.8.4 (Credit: The J. Paul Getty Museum/John Chiara)

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

I first encountered the work of San Francisco-based photographer John Chiara at a current exhibition at the Getty: “Light, Paper, Process: Reinventing Photography.”

Chiara’s cameras are old-school: a box with a lens. They’re also huge. He makes them himself and transports them on a custom-made flatbed trailer.

“Basically I have to find someplace I can roll up, parallel park and somehow get the camera in a position to take a photograph.”

He literally climbs inside the camera, which he affectionately describes as a “suffocation box.” “I’ve kind of made photography as labor intensive as I think it could be.” He usually manages but one photo a day.

He uses no light meter, no stopwatch, no film. The images, printed directly onto photographic paper, leave serendipitous traces of the process: striations, spots, tiny messages from afar that could be rogue birds, random UFOs or lost mosquitoes that bumbled into the suffocation box.


Thursday, August 6, 2015



On August 6, 1945, seventy years ago today, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima.

Today as well, we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration. "This is my Son, in whom I am well pleased," said God that day. "Listen to him."

Three days later, on August 9, 1945, we dropped another atomic bomb, this time on Nagasaki. Between the two, 129,000 men, women and children were incinerated.

On those days, God must have hid His face, shuddered, keened.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015


A seminarian friend came to visit last week. In the course of our conversation, he asked: "What are you afraid of? What scares you?"

I said, "That I won't enter by the narrow gate. That I'l die without ever having truly trusted or truly surrendered."

Part of what I mean by that is I'm afraid I won't love enough! Embrace enough, praise enough, notice enough, enjoy enough.

But I'm doing my best.