Thursday, November 29, 2018

THE VIRTUE OF LAUGHTER


“If this is how You treat your friends, it is no wonder You have so few!”
--St Teresa of Avila, to God, allegedly after falling off her horse into the mud.

“In the age of social media, virtue is not defined by how compassionately you act. Virtue is defined by how vehemently you react to that which you find offensive. Virtue involves the self-display of a certain indignant sensibility, and anybody who doesn’t display that sensibility is morally suspect.”

--David Brooks from a NYT op-ed dated November 26, 2018

*****

"If there is a virtue, I repeat, that is desperately needed in the life and the work of the Church today--as it is needed in the world today--that virtue is joy. In one of the bleakest developments of modern times, Christians have suddenly become a people without humor. By a singularly unhappy chance, followers of Christ in particular have lost, please God only momentarily, the gift of laughter. The world is faced more and more--in routine daily life, in the mass media, in our leaders--with sarcastic people, stridently indignant people speaking in glib phrases with a certain acid cleverness; but people without humor...

Such joy in the Church is not at all inconsistent with full recognition of the suffering or privation that are the tragic aspects of the human condition. It does not render the devout insensible to these or unwilling to do their part in remedying them, but it does preserve them from the absurd air of personal offense which the reformers invariably bring to their reaction to evil in the universe or inadequacy in its inhabitants. The joy that the Church sings was the joy of Jesus Crucified."

--John Cardinal Wright, from the Foreword to Illustrissimi: Letters from Pope John Paul I


*****

“I see God’s hand so palpably in everything that almost—almost I fear they won’t kill me in these adventures.”

--Blessed Miguel Agustín Pro, Jesuit priest (1891-1927), before being  shot by a Mexican firing squad for his faith. 

Blessed Miguel comforted one of his quaking executioners,
refused a blindfold,
and died crying, "Viva Cristo Rey!"--Long live Christ the King.



Tuesday, November 27, 2018

ON VOLUNTARY (MORE OR LESS) CELIBACY




"Impossible--not even conceivable--that a Muslim, on making the mandatory, once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage to Mecca, could be disappointed. That is the essential difference between religious and secular pilgrimage: the latter always has the potential to disappoint."

--Geoff Dyer, White Sands, from the chapter, "Where? What? Where?" p.15

"Maybe men like [builder of the Watt Towers Simon] Rodia have to exist in a state of something like sustained desperation, to be devoid of other options, even the most common one of all: the support of a marriage, happy or otherwise. 'Those with "something to fall back on" invariably fall back on it,' writes David Mamet. 'They intended to all along. That is why they provided themselves with it. But those with no alternative see the world differently.'."

--Geoff Dyer, White Sands, from the chapter, "The Ballad of Jimmy Garrison," p.199


A PILGRIMAGE THROUGH HUNTINGTON GARDENS

Sunday, November 25, 2018

YOSEMITE PEOPLE: PHOTOS BY JONAS KULIKAUSKAS


CURRY VILLAGE AMPHITHEATHER 7/2014
copyright Jonas Kulikauskas

Here's how this weeks's arts and culture piece begins:

Jonas Kulikauskas’ black and white photographs strike a delicate balance between ‘nature’ and man

“Yosemite People” (A Thousand Words Press, $55), is the work of award-winning LA photographer and artist Jonas Kulikauskas.

“My parents were Lithuanian refugees from World War II. Both of them lived in displaced persons’ camps in Germany for four years. They often had to uproot and move from one location to another. So that’s deep in my genes.

“For years I’ve set aside the first week of the new year as a time of special reflection, partly because January 4 is my sobriety date.”

For Y2K, he went to Zion in Utah.

Zion is packed in summer and relatively empty in winter.

He liked the phenomenon. He liked mingling with the locals. He liked that after he’d gone a few times, he had a sense of belonging.

He went to Zion every January for the next 13 years.

But in 2014 he was ready for a change. So on New Year’s Day he ended up at the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite Valley.

He was struck one morning by the sight of a dining hall server carefully shaking out, laying in place, and smoothing the creases of a white tablecloth. He got a perfectly framed shot of her back with a view through the opposite 16-foot window of filigreed trees.

He ended up returning more than 20 times in the next two years — “to bring his street photography to the wilderness,” as he puts it.

READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.


LOWER YOSEMITE FALL 7/2014
copyright Jonas Kulikauskas

Thursday, November 22, 2018

THANKSGIVING: ON OPENING THE DOOR

THE KITCHEN WINDOW
THROUGH WHICH I PEER FOR GUESTS:
IS THAT JESUS COMING UP THE DRIVE!?

COME ON IN!


AND THE BACK GARDEN--RABBONI! 

 Excerpts from the liturgy for Tuesday, November 20:

"Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, then I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me."

-Revelation 3:20

When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said, "Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house." And he came down quickly, and received him with joy.

-Luke 19:5-6


Reflecting on the readings in the pre-dawn dark of my apartment earlier this week, I thought of how I kind of love household chores, and keeping my little space cozy and ship-shape, and how I have always wanted to keep a place set for the uninvited guest.

In the twenty-odd years I've been a Catholic, I could count on one hand the times an uninvited guest has come. But no matter--because in a way I keep my house prepared for Christ.

Thus, if he did come and knock, he would know instantly he was in the "right" place. The little throne in the corner (a seat on the sofa: my prayer corner that I'd immediately cede), with a candle, incense, a book of the Psalms he loved and of stories about him, his teachings, his life, death, and resurrection.

There are pictures of him and his mother all over the place--a statue of him pointing to his Sacred Heart on my desk--carvings of him nailed to the Cross where his love for mankind was consummated.

There are prayer cards above the lintels of some of his favorite friends--Sister Benedicta of the Cross, St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Oscar Romero, St. Dymphna, patron saint of the mentally ill. There's music, again by some of his dearest friends: Beethoven, Bach, Glenn Gould, Billie Holiday.

There are books about different aspects of his life, and about our lives as we try to follow him. There are books by David Sedaris and Betty MacDonald, in case he needed a laugh, Raymond Chandler, Charles Dickens, Dostoevsky, Paul Elie, Robert Bresson, Flannery O'Connor, Georges Bernanos, and tons of others

There's food and drink in the fridge, plenty of coffee, ice, first aid cream, Band-Aids, a hot water bottle, an extra toothbrush, a new cake of soap, fresh towels.

There's a phone charger and a laptop, in case he wanted to catch up on his email. There are envelopes, stamps, pens and cards in case he felt like writing thank-you notes.

I'd of course sleep on the couch and give him my bed. There he would have a nice down comforter, a good reading light, a rosary of purple glass beads, a print of his treasured intimate St. Martin de Porres, tending the sick and feeding the mice, fairy lights strung around the ceiling to remind him of the moon and the stars which he arranged, a painting of the Brooklyn skyline by another of his (and my) friends, Matthew Kirby, who is still on his earthly journey,  over the headboard. 

There are Post-Its in case he came upon a passage in a book he wanted to mark and copy out later, Benadryl in case he was suffering from hay fever or insomnia, cherry cough drops.

Outside, there's a west-facing balcony with a table and two chairs, shaded by bamboo blinds, strung with gold Chinese lantern lights, and overflowing with agaves, succulents, and homemade mobiles of seedpods,and pebbles where he could sit and watch the sunset.

There's a garden! For no-one responds to a garden like Christ. He observed the mustard seed, the lilies of the field, the mulberry tree, the fig tree, the olive. He wept tears of blood  the night before he died in the Garden at Gethsemane. He met Mary Magdalene in a garden after his Resurrection: "Mary." "Rabboni!"

In a way, I have tended my garden, lost in thought and prayer, for the last three years simply so that, should Christ come to visit, I could welcome him there; could invite him to sit beneath the Joseph's Coat climbing rose trellis; could share with him how I, too, love the plants and bushes and flowers and trees and butterflies and bees that the Father created.

There are a number of ways to experience Thanksgiving You can say it's a secular, essentially commercial, holiday so who cares? You can say it's just another day, so why participate?

Or you can think, How interesting that as we head into the dark, short days of winter, so many of us instinctively feel moved to gather around a table, with family or friends or, for that matter, strangers, and to light a lamp against the dark, and to remember, if even for a fleeting second, how lucky we are

I count myself among the latter group.

Because the fact is Christ knocked at my door a long time ago. I came down quickly and have received him with joy ever since.

SETTING SUN REFLECTED IN THE DOOR ON WHICH
PLEASE DO CONTINUE TO KNOCK

Monday, November 19, 2018

CEREMONIES AND CELEBRATIONS: TEXTILES AT THE USC PACIFIC ASIA MUSEUM


HERE'S THE HAT EDGED IN SEAL FUR











LOOK AT ALL THIS GORGEOUS STUFF!
THIS IS A QING DYNASTY CHINESE WEDDING JACKET AND SHIRT.
C. 1860. 

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

The USC Pacific Asia Museum, which includes representative examples of art from Asia and the Pacific Islands spanning more than 4,000 years, is just west of Old Town Pasadena.

To step into the courtyard, hard to do by busy Los Robles Avenue, is to step into a quieter, more ancient world. Green-glazed roof tiles, pagoda windows, decorative archways. The faint whiff of incense.

Through Jan. 6, 2019, the museum is featuring a splendid exhibit: “Ceremonies and Celebrations,” comprising textile treasures from its permanent collection. Because of their fragile nature, the treasures are displayed sparingly.

The exhibit is arranged by themes of identity and meaning rather than geography. So India mingles with Bhutan mingles with China mingles with India and beyond.

Upon entering, you’re greeted by a fantastic outfit that turns out to be a fireman’s jacket. Geometrically cut and styled out of a heavy mesh velvet fabric, the colors are indigo blue and taupe, and the back features a large insignia identifying the man’s brigade.

From pre-modern Japan, the jacket was worn with close-fitting trousers, gloves and a hood, marking the wearer out as a practitioner of his honorable livelihood. When fighting a fire, the jacket was worn inside out to reveal an unadorned side and first soaked to protect against embers and flame.

Once the fire was extinguished, the fireman again reversed the jacket as a sign of success.

Who doesn’t want to know such things! And who wouldn’t want to wear this jacket — sumptuous, stylish, classic, and classy — on, say, a Sunday morning while reading in bed?


READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.


THIS IS THE KOREAN FUNERAL GARMENT I PERSONALLY, IF GIVEN THE CHANCE,
 WOULD SEGUE RIGHT INTO THE COFFIN AND BE BURIED IN. 

Monday, November 12, 2018

WILL GEER'S THEATRICUM BOTANICUM

WOODY GUTHRIE

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

You know him as Grandpa Walton. What you may not know is that actor, activist, and gardener Will Geer has a major backstory.

In the midst of a successful New York stage, film, and radio career in the mid-1950s, he was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee and blacklisted.

He moved his wife and family to LA’s Topanga Canyon, began growing flowers, vegetables, and herbs, and founded a community theater known as Theatricum Botanicum (literally, “Garden Theater”), initially for other blacklisted actors, playwrights, and folk singers.

In 1973, Geer began his successful run with the popular TV series “The Waltons.” He and his wife, actor Herta Ware, established a nonprofit, expanded the theater, and became known, among other things, for their staging of Shakespeare plays.

Geer died in 1978, but his family has carried on. Under the artistic direction of his daughter, Ellen Geer, the theater now offers an annual summer season of five repertory plays, as well as year-round classes to actors of all ages. They host live music concerts, nurture fledgling playwrights, and reach out to schools and students across LA County.

And once a year they pay tribute to one of their dearest friends and greatest heroes: folk singer-songwriter Woody Guthrie.



READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.


WILL GEER PRE-GRANDPA WALTON
IN LUST FOR GOLD, 1949

TOPANGA CANYON'S THEATRICUM BOTANICUM

ON RETURNING TO LAX

Untitled, 1972
Included in ARRIVALS AND DEPARTURES:
THE AIRPORT  PICTURES OF GARRY WINOGRAND

"In any case, the 'baggage claim' scene at airports has an eternal value: after the death which to some small extent a flight always represents, everyone comes to pick up what belonged to them in a previous life. It is like the distribution of what each person will have the right to take with him into the hereafter. And by what miracle to you find the same cases, the same bags you had before you left?"

--Jean Baudrillard, Cool Memories

[Quote found in Geoff Dyer's The Street Philosophy of Garry Winogrand]

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

THE BOY IN THE MOON

AUTHOR IAN BROWN AND HIS
SEVERELY DISABLED SON WALKER


Here's a review of one of the best books I've read this year.

Some excerpts:

"It was only later, alone, at night, having battled for hours to get him to sleep, only to find myself sleepless, that I sometimes considered the cost of his life, and the alternatives. had the doctor been asking me if I wanted to let Walker's life end, as nature would have ended it on its own? I sat on the back steps of our little house in the heart of the city at 4 a.m., smoking and thinking the unthinkable. Criminal thoughts, or at least outlandish ones: what if we don't take extraordinary measures? What if he gets sick and we don't work so hard to get him better? Not murder, just nature. But even as I considered these grave plans, I knew I could never enact them. I'm not bragging; my hesitation wasn't ethical or moral. It was more a medieval urge, instinctual and physical; fear of a particular mode of failure, fear of retribution if I ignored the dull call of his flesh and his body and his need. In any event I felt like an ox slipping into its yoke. I could feel the heavy tragic years coming on ahead of me, as certain as bad weather; there were nights when I even welcomed them. At last a fate I didn't have to choose, a destiny I couldn't avoid. There was a tiny prick of light in that thought, the relief of submitting to the unavoidable. Otherwise, they were the worst nights of my life. I can't explain why I wouldn't change them." [pp 26-27].

"So you can perhaps forgive me for thinking, some days, that Walker has a purpose in our evolutionary project, that h is something more than an unsuccessful attempt at mutation and variation. For thinking, probably vainly that if his example is noted and copied and "selected," he might be one (very small) step toward the evolution of a more varied and resilient ethical sense in a few members of the human species. The purpose of intellectually disabled people like Walker might be to free thus from the stark emptiness of the survival of the fittest." [p. 234].

"Every time we meet someone who is severely handicapped, Jean Vanier [founder of L'Arche] believes, they ask two questions: Do you consider me human? Do you love me?...

In Vanier's last and highest stage of consciousness, 'we see the face of God within the disabled. Their presence is a sight of God, who has chosen 'the foolish in order to confound the strong, the proud and the so-called wise of our world'...

I wish I could believe in Vanier's God. But the truth is, I do not see the face of the Almighty in Walker. Instead I see the face of my boy; I see what is human, and lovely and flawed at once. Walker is no saint and neither am I...I have begun simply to love him as he is, because I've discovered I can' because we can be who we are, weary dad and broken boy, without alteration or apology, in the here and now."  [pp. 284-285].

Friday, November 2, 2018

MODEL BUILDER EXTRAORDINAIRE GREG KELLY


GREG KELLY WITH HIS
TITANIC GRAND STAIRCASE
Here's how this week's arts and culture column begins:


From Vikings Stadium to Watts Tower, Greg Kelly is rebuilding bits of history with his hands

For Greg Kelly, 67, model building is a form of meditation.

He was raised in Long Beach, the third in a family of 12. “My dad and older brother would build little balsa wood airplanes, I was probably 3 or 4, and they’d work on it on the kitchen table. I’d just sit and watch, curious. They learned to take it and put in top of the refrigerator to make sure it was away from me.”

As a kid Kelly never built a model. He was always in sports. He had 12 years of Catholic school. “I had some nuns who were saints, some not so much. But I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. It taught me with my projects that they weren’t going to be easy or simple. It was up to me to figure things out.”

He and his classmates were being groomed to be doctors and lawyers.

“When I graduated from high school, I started working in factories and I enjoyed it. I found I personally enjoyed working with my hands!”

The family had moved to Orange County. One day Kelly was walking past a discount chain store called Zodys, and in the window was a visible V-8 engine model. He bought it, ostensibly for his brothers. They weren’t interested. So he built it himself, and was hooked.

READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.