Friday, September 26, 2008

Get Back to Where You Once Belonged

I am spinning the wheel and going back to the beginning. That's what they told me to do: to solve this you have to go back to the beginning. Join us won't you at the New Old Catholic Ragemonkey. And tell your friends.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Who Will Leave the Island?

Hello, all.
I have potentially good news. It however could be deeply frustrating news. I just don't know.

After fiddling with the Blogger interface, I figured out how to get access to the original Ragemonkey site. It filled me with a guilty little thrill to find myself back in the dusty corridors. Also, the asset is if Fr. Hamilton were to be tempted to come back, I wouldn't have to reconfigure a bunch of stuff. Here's the problem though. I am not sure Blogger will let me change some of the settings, specifically the email address. I am just barely keeping up with one email much less two.

So, here's the vote. Either stay here or go back to the original Island. Which should I do? You let me know while I try to send some posts over to Ragemonkey Prime and see what happens. It may all be moot, but it will be worth the effort.

Leave your thoughts please.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Things That Make Me Go "Yawn!"

Saw this in the morning e-news pile. I call it "news" in the technical sense of the word in that a news service had to type something up and send it out. Otherwise, not a real surprise to ... well, anyone. Frankly, if the news services want to take my mind off of the global economy meltdown, they are going to have to try much harder. How hard? A story about a monkey, dressed as a jockey, riding a Saint Bernard winning the Kentucky Derby would be about right.

Leslie Gornstein, who writes for E!, had an interesting take on the impact of coming out of the closet. The hestitation, she claims, stems in part from the fact that people don't like feeling as though they are being lied to. As she put it, just sing me your song, but don't lie to me. Given the way that some fans have reacted, I think she may be right.

Personally, the instant he took part in the recent fertilization fiasco with his female friend, I knew something was up.

Battle Front

Okay, kids, here's the situation. I blew it. Threw myself under the bus. Behaved in a way that was both ghetto and bush league all at once. Total rank amateur.

I weighed in on Tuesday evening before the evening Holy Hour. I was horrified that I had gone up three pounds! How did that happen? I had stuck to program except for a couple of days. Part of me that that I landed on the scale funny but be that as it may, I posted a gain and wasn't happy about it.

Now, as I headed home because I had done otherwise so well, I decided to treat myself to pizza. Big Mistake. Let's just say we have a fight on our hands.

So, I am not expecting a loss this Monday. It's just not in the cards. But I am going to give myself a small penance. I don't think this will help erase the gain, but it will help erase the attitude (hopefully) that leads to these moments. I am consciously not going to eat my activity points. For some of you, you are thinking that isn't going to be a big deal, but for me, it's huge. It's a matter of learning to live with what I have and not using exercise to indulge in bad habits. So regardless of weight, I am going to win this fight!

And I went to Pilates this morning.

Time is of the Essence

I shared this observation with my parents and RE teachers recently and it was very well received. I then passed this same observation on to some of my religious education friends and they loved it. So, I am sharing it here for the sake of everyone else.

What do these numbers have to do with each other?
40, 35, 40, 10, 2, 1.67, 5, 168, 56, 10.5, 10, 7.5, 2221-2226
(First you don't have to worry about the Island releasing a EM pulse if you get it wrong. Just give it a thought.)

The answer is ... they relate to everything folks do in the course of a week.
168 = Total Number of Hours in the Week
40 = Hours at Work
35 = Hours at School (that's for the kids)
40 = Hours of "Screen Time" (that's time in front of tv, internet, IPod; call it entertainment time.)
10 = hours at afterschool activities
1.67 = hours of homework on avg. for K-2
5 = hours of homework on avg. for 3-5
7.5 = hours of homework on avg. for Middle School
10 = hours of homework on avg. for High School
10.5 = hours for meals
56 = hours of sleep

There's only one number I have left off, that pesky "2." Whatever could that "2" stand for?

On average, most people spend only 2 hours on public religious practice: 1 hour for religious ed. for the kids and 1 hour for Sunday service. This means that 1.19% of the week goes to the goods of God and half as much for the average adult. Given my experience with encouraging adults to learn more about their faith, you can safely assume that most Catholics haven't done much in the way of continuing formation.

This leads to a follow up question: who is responsible for making sure that one's child knows the Catholic Faith? If you think it's the pastor's job, you better think again. The pastor's job is to make sure that adequate formation programs are offered and that his homilies are bursting with good content. But one or two hours a week cannot make up for the vast stretches of time spent in other environments. Nope, the primary educators of children in the Catholic Faith are their parents.

Don't believe me? Try the Catechism on for size. Paragraphs 2221-2226 cover the subject. (You see, this is like Lost. You thought I had forgotten about that but here it is right back in the plot.)
2221 The fecundity of conjugal love cannot be reduced solely to the procreation of children, but must extend to their moral education and their spiritual formation. "The role of parents in education is of such importance that it is almost impossible to provide an adequate substitute." The right and the duty of parents to educate their children are primordial and inalienable.

2222 Parents must regard their children as children of God and respect them as human persons. Showing themselves obedient to the will of the Father in heaven, they educate their children to fulfill God's law.

2223 Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children. They bear witness to this responsibility first by creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service are the rule. the home is well suited for education in the virtues. This requires an apprenticeship in self-denial, sound judgment, and self-mastery - the preconditions of all true freedom. Parents should teach their children to subordinate the "material and instinctual dimensions to interior and spiritual ones." Parents have a grave responsibility to give good example to their children. By knowing how to acknowledge their own failings to their children, parents will be better able to guide and correct them:
He who loves his son will not spare the rod.... He who disciplines his son will profit by him. Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

2224 The home is the natural environment for initiating a human being into solidarity and communal responsibilities. Parents should teach children to avoid the compromising and degrading influences which threaten human societies.

2225 Through the grace of the sacrament of marriage, parents receive the responsibility and privilege of evangelizing their children. Parents should initiate their children at an early age into the mysteries of the faith of which they are the "first heralds" for their children. They should associate them from their tenderest years with the life of the Church. A wholesome family life can foster interior dispositions that are a genuine preparation for a living faith and remain a support for it throughout one's life.

2226 Education in the faith by the parents should begin in the child's earliest years. This already happens when family members help one another to grow in faith by the witness of a Christian life in keeping with the Gospel. Family catechesis precedes, accompanies, and enriches other forms of instruction in the faith. Parents have the mission of teaching their children to pray and to discover their vocation as children of God. The parish is the Eucharistic community and the heart of the liturgical life of Christian families; it is a privileged place for the catechesis of children and parents.

Now, did some of you get a knot in your stomach? Let me guess: you thought to yourself, "Well, I don't know the Catholic Faith all that well. How am I suppose to pass it on to my kids?" Believe me, I have sympathy. Why do you think that I write articles, offer classes, get on radio shows, and am writing a book? (Look for it in January.) As the Catechism points out in that last paragraph, the parental component sets the stage for everything else. The parish is the privileged place where this can happen, but clearly it is not the only place that it can happen. For effective education and formation to happen in a parish, it must begin at home. If you are a parent and you need some suggestions for where to start, leave a request in the combox. I'll add books and suggested reading. Then go and bug your local DRE (director of religious education). Or better go bug your pastor and encourage him to offer more stuff for adults. Here at the parish and national shrine we offer a wide assortment of formation opportunities that are generally not well responded to. To be fair, though, I want everyone there so take that last sentence with a grain of salt.

All of this was brought on by a witness to the Faith I encountered last night. Last night, we had the second night of our 40 Hours Devotion leading up to our parish's feast day on Sunday. As part of these, at the conclusion of the day, we have a solemn, preached, Holy Hour. Well, last night I saw a gentleman with his son who had come at some distance to help my little flock cover the hours for adoration. His son is on the youngish side, perhaps 5 or 6. As I watched out of the corner of my eye, I saw this gent encourage his son, embrace his son, and most importantly, explain to his son what Adoration meant. I was particularly moved when after a reading from Sirach that covered family relationships, I looked up at the conclusion of the reading to find him, clasping his son, close to his chest. I thought he's understood. From this point forward, that relationship has changed. Our friend from afar figured out that his boy wasn't just his boy; his son belongs to God and that this father received a great commission to ensure that his son learned all that he would need to come to salvation.

So, people, time is of the essence. What will you do with the portion of the 168 hours awaiting you this week?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Sound of Silence

Hey, everyone. Sorry about not posting but things here have been a bit out of sorts. I have some post ideas that I am bringing out including one which will explain the appropriateness of the Ragemonkey moniker. It can't be missed. That doesn't really answer the question: what have I been up to?

Well, you see, I have always considered myself an up and coming Bond villian. Admit it; you know and I know that if people just listened to me more often, things would be a lot jollier. This blog already has two followers. That's a good start to a global army, isn't it? So, I have been trolling the internets for secret bases. You would be amazed at how affordable they have become since the housing bubble burst. I have my eye on one of those volcano bases - the geothermal energy is very green, but when the secret agent shows up, it's a bit too easy to destroy. We don't need another Krakatoa. Mainly I am looking for a place with good communications equipment, a pool to store vicious, or ravenous, or ill-tempered mutated sea creatures (head-mounted lasers are optional), and all utilities paid. If you see anything, let me know. Till next time...

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Mistaken Identity

Evening, All. It's been a very full day but I had to share a couple of stories of mistaken identity that took place.

I was asked to cover a funeral for a neighboring parish. The pastor is suffering from a chronic illness and therefore couldn't be there. So, dutifully, I zipped over and celebrated the funeral and then went to the cemetary for the burial. Before the funeral began, a woman in the congregation waved me over. Frankly, I didn't expect anybody to know me at this parish; that's the nature of rural Oklahoma parishes. You don't really rub shoulders with folks more than 30 miles away. I would suspect that is true in city parishes, but I digress. This woman looked me in the face and asked my name. I gave it and she looked at me and said, "You can't be you." I was worried about onset of stroke in that moment - mine or hers, I couldn't say. She stammered, "You look so different." Ah, there it was. She had seen me last October about 70 pounds ago. I quickly explained what had changed and then slipped away.

At the place of burial, the server (who was a older gentleman) and I got to talking and he asked where I went to school. I told him Edmond (shout out for the mighty and original Bulldogs!) and he asked, "Did you wrestle for Edmond?" Now, gentle reader, I have NEVER in my life been mistaken for an athlete. A trivia dork, sure, but an athlete, ah, no. I am still flattered by the question and lamented that I was not.

For whatever reason, sports weren't in the cards for me. I tried basketball in eighth grade and made a TOTAL ass of myself. I give myself credit, though, as I did go beyond my self-expectations. I sorta wish I would have stuck with it. But who knows? I wanted to belong to that world. It just wasn't in the cards.

If I had stuck with sports (which along with an absence of athletic ability and the sports fanatic gene sequence) I would have missed out on all the interesting things I did do. You see, I was a dancer. Ok, stop sniggering. Truthfully, those who are migrating over here from Facebook who knew me in High School can tell you that what I did in show choir was only dancing in the technical sense of the words. Think of it as lumbering to the music. Still that experience in front of a crowd helped prepare me for priesthood. After doing Joseph and Bye Bye Birdie, I am pretty hard to embarass. I can recover from almost any flub. I still sort of wish I had stuck it out on South Pacific, but that's another story for another tie.

I guess that's part of growing up, isn't it. You try on a bunch of hats, trying to find the one that fits. If you are lucky, you never stop trying on new things. It's what keeps life interesting. Most people I meet are a quilt of all those experiences, good and bad, failures and successes.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Beefing Up Ratings

Morning, All. Got back from Pilates and I am running a bit of laundry before I skip over to the office. I wanted to share some that crossed my mind, and I offer it for your consideration because it impacts how we partake of media.

Now, stop that thought right now. I am not the sort of believer who immediately assumes that everything on TV or Radio is evil and immoral and therefore must be banished to the department of the Ninth Circle. However, I am no one's fool either; I recognize that the products of any culture at any time in history enshrine particular beliefs as good and worthy of imitation. Spike Lee's Bamboozled comes to mind as a demonstration how Step'n Fetchit was a riot in one time and is the symbol (rightly so) of oppression and hatred in the next. The point is, we all have brains and brain stems and that means we need to use them and evaluate what goes into said brain and brain stems vis a vis the media.

Here's the second part of the shameful confessions. I really like Reality Television. Let me focus that thought: I like reality competition shows. I am a huge fan of Project Runway because I can't figure out how a bolt of cloth becomes a dress, or a jacket, or whatever else pops out of their muy creative minds. That show spurred my interest in fashion and trying to understand that industry, given that fashion is (say it with me) an expression of what a culture finds attractive and important. See it all comes back to the philosophical transcendentals: the true, the good, the beautiful. There is another show that I obcessed over and still kinda do -- I have the soundtrack. Since ditching cable at the rectory, and living an hour from OKC means no reception, I haven't seen the premiere but I am curious anyway. I want to see Biggest Loser - Family Edition.

That show, at one time, was four shades of awesome. The main reason I loved it was the fact that you had to accomplish something to win. That by itself made it great to watch. Granted, the twists were often times weird, and let's face it, there is a cruel, snickering-in-the-back-of-the-bus-at-the-fatty-boom-be-latey quality to the show given that morbidly obese folks are expected to weigh in on a LIVESTOCK scale and go about without a shirt. When I was the contestants' size, and yes, I started on Weight Watchers at 375.6 lbs., I couldn't tolerate people looking at me, much less without a shirt. But all told, it was a good bit of inspirational television. You had the sense that you could do something to make you feel proud.

After my own work on Weight Watchers, though, my attitude has shifted. First, I watched the show with a clear understanding that there was no way to post those kinds of losses without dedicating major time and effort. I recall, overhearing last season, that the contestants were on about 1250 calories and were exercising 4-6 hours A DAY. It doesn't take a nutritional counselor to know that's messed up. I had to put into terms I could understand.

On program, you can exchange exercise for food. You don't have to, it's an option (In the interest of full disclosure, I have to eat my activity or I don't lose. It's akin to having a slow metabolism but a high caloric need.) It's exchanged one for one depending on duration, intensity, and your body weight. So, at my heaviest, the program allotted 44 daily points and since I generally used all of my 35 bonus points durinng the week, let's just estimate that on average, I was eating 50 points per day without adding anything for exercise. If I did the same exercise as those folks do on the show while on program, even at the lowest intensity, I would get back 31 points! Since the folks on the show are sweating and dropping like the Battan Death March, I would suspect the intensity in MUCH higher. At high intensity, it would be 109 points. So, simply put, if I had done that, I could have eaten threefold what I was and probably still would have lost. Those contestants must be going into shock.

Second, Valerie Frankel's book reminded me that since it is too easy, it won't last. I was thinking about contestant Matt. He is one of those guys who is a nice guy, but because our society sends the message that nice guys should be crapped on, he projects the image of burly defender of all. It's like an armor pack so that people can't hurt him. As you watched the show, the way the producers portrayed him, you just knew there were some emotional and mental issues that needed working as much as, or more than, the exercise and eating issues. Sadly, but unsurprisingly, he put much of the weight back on, at least according to Frankel. (It's a long shot but if you are reading this, Matt, or if anybody reading this knows Matt, pass on a good word from one former heavy guy to another. You can do it, sir. Don't get thin; get healthy.) For me, ninety percent of this is mental. I had to compel myself to drive to Shawnee for Pilates and it was worth it. The hard part was reminding myself of why it is a good thing to do.

Third, and this is the reason for the post. I was reading through my Entertainment Weekly and in the weekly TV roundup section, the writers mentioned the return of Biggest Loser. In the brief article they mention that one of the couples (spoiler alert!) loses 47 pounds this week. That is the equivalent of a negative energy intake of 164,500 calories. I can't begin to figure out how that is going to happen, but I'll tell you what it isn't. It's not sane or rational. How could anyone expect to keep that up? I lost 6 pounds last week (yah!) but I don't expect that this week. I messed up yesterday, and I am going to be working hard to post a loss of any kind, but if I don't, I know why I didn't. Even writing that makes me want to find a chocolate bar. (I know, all kinds of messed up.) Are those contestants being equipped to handle the failures as well as the successes? And that is when the creepy thought crossed my mind.

What if Biggest Loser is trying to really amp up ratings by inflating the losses? I am going to be happy with eight-tenths of a pound loss for next week. But with all the money going into a popular television show, you have to imagine the temptation is real and raw.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Shrine Newsletter

I mentioned that I am the rector of the National Shrine of the Infant Jesus of Prague in Prague, OK. Each month we send out a newsletter related to the events and activities of the Shrine. I thought I would share the October column, from yours truly, because it might be of interest to many readers.

Shrine Newsletter: October 2008

Recently, I have made some modifications in how we at the National Shrine observe both the Novena and the Pilgrimage Sunday. At every opportunity I have had, I have tried to explain what these changes are trying to achieve. It seems good to me, then, to spend my column this month explaining in a bit more detail the “why” behind the “what” of the devotion to the Infant Jesus of Prague.

In 2001, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments promulgated a document to clarify the relationship between popular piety and the liturgy. In the Catholic world, not all prayer is of the same significance. While all prayer is a lifting of the heart and mind to God, some forms of prayer are given to the Church as her public worship and some is at the discretion of the individual believer. One need not be devoted to the Infant of Prague to be a faithful Catholic; however one who does not participate in the Sunday Mass without a grave obstacle commits a serious sin. The Precepts of the Church, as well as the Third Commandment, direct us to attend Sunday Mass; they say nothing about the Rosary.
Hence, a rector of a shrine must always be careful to preserve the sanctity of the Church’s universal and public worship. One should not come to the National Shrine and say, “The Mass back home is different than the one at the Shrine,” except in the most superficial of ways, e.g. music selections. The Directory states it this way: “The faithful should be made conscious of the preeminence of the Liturgy over any other possible form of legitimate Christian prayer. While sacramental actions are necessary to life in Christ, the various forms of popular piety are properly optional” (Directory on Popular Piety #11). It should be clear to anyone attending the Novena or a Baptism or the Liturgy of the Hours or the Sunday Mass, where liturgy leave off and popular devotions begin. Paragraph 13 of the Directory states it forcefully: “…the formulae proper to pious exercises should not be commingled with the liturgical actions. Acts of devotion and piety are external to the celebration to the Holy Eucharist, and of the other sacraments.” For this reason, I have discontinued the novena prayers during Mass.

At the same time, we are a national Shrine dedicated to the Infant Jesus of Prague. Shouldn’t there be something unique in the way we show our devotion to the Little King? The Directory addresses this issue as well.

Popular piety, like devotions to the Infant Jesus of Prague, should be formed with four dimensions in mind (Directory on Popular Piety #12). First, the Sacred Scriptures should play some role. Second, the Church’s liturgy and liturgical year should influence the pious practice so that the pious practice leads us back to the Liturgy. Third, popular piety should be able to speak to all Christian traditions without losing its uniquely Catholic flavor. And, fourth, the pious practice should respect time honored symbols associated with it. The paragraph concludes with this solid advice: “To be successful, such a renewal must be imbued with a pedagogical awareness and realized gradually, always taking into consideration time and particular circumstances.” Put simply, to grow in our love for a pious practice we must also understand why we are devoted to this or that aspect of our Faith and slowly try new ways to make the devotion clearer and more plainly understood. This is what I have tried to achieve in taking the novena prayers from the celebration of Mass.

In the new form of the celebration of the novena, I have consciously added all of the four aspects mentioned. The novena now includes three readings from the Sacred Scripture as well as a reading about the history of the devotion. Further, the readings I incorporated are drawn from the Church’s liturgical calendar and feasts mentioned in the chaplet of the Little Infant. In addition, by using a time of reflection and explanation of Catholic practice, we have opened the door to our non-Catholic friends, so that they can understand how our devotion to God is expressed in the Infant. And lastly, because we are not praying the Novena during Mass, participants are able to be quiet and reflective and bring their own special needs before God.

This, I hope, will clarify what the recent changes in practice have attempted to accomplish. In the end, I must be faithful to the directives and liturgical laws of the Church. I would not be doing any member of the National Shrine a positive service by doing anything else. In the Holy Mass as in all the sacraments, we touch the frontiers of eternal life, not just those devoted to the Infant of Prague, but every soul won by Christ for His Father’s kingdom.

Solutions Found in Avoiding Asteroid Collisions

An anonymous reader asked about what to do about exercise when they have little time to themselves and no cash for a gym membership. Believe it or not, I achieved much of my success with nothing more than a treadmill or just walking out doors. Certainly, making time for a busy mom is tricky but there are still good ways. To my mind, it's exactly like what we would have to do if a major asteroid was hurtling toward earth. It takes a lot less effort to move it when it is far away rather than when it is near. So, what are the small steps that you can do to change course?

The key is avoid all or nothing thinking. If you assume that you must join a gym and do Pilates to be healthy and that is the only way to get healthy, then yeah, you aren't going to do it. Instead, find a way to do just a bit more. If your babies are still young enough, could you go twice a week to a local park and walk with them for 10 minutes? Or better, if the kids are school aged, while they are at school, hit the park or the lake and walk. How about a great DVD? Or when you are grocery shopping, make three circuits of the store before loading up the cart. It adds a little bit of movement. Also, if you are working outside the home, why not use your work area to your advantage. Take the stairs instead of the elevator; or walk to the furthest copier and bathroom.

You'll find the exercise helps all sorts of things.

Gyms are helpful, but expensive. However, the Y is a great compromise because it tends to have lots of activities and is very kid friendly. You'll get yourself and your kids active all at once.

The key is making small managable adjustments that you can maintain for life. And good luck with whatever you choose to do.

The Multiform World of General Infidelity

I mentioned earlier that I gave a talk on John Paul II's Theology of the Body to the youth leadership of St. John's in Edmond. It was a good talk and from early reviews, the talk went over smashingly. One of the points I made was that infidelity can come in more forms that just the usual manner. (If you don't know what I am referring to, just flip on daytime soaps and you'll get my point.)

This morning, I found this piece for concerning the prevelance of Blackberry phones. I am thinking about upgrading to one of those bad boys in March, but I am not sure I need that much firepower to be honest with you. While being loaded with features, there is one added side effect no one anticipated: the phone apparently has more attraction for some than their spouses, family, and friends. Again, this is akin to my junk science post, but I have seen this sort of situation happen in relationships. The phone stands in for the larger issue which is that people love other things more than that the people in their lives. It could be job or power or connection or whatever. It comes down to de-valuing a person in favor of the object.

At that same talk, I mentioned to one of the younger girls in the group that if she suspects that the boy she is seeing treats her like a bucket of chicken she should run. She looked perplexed and then asked, "A bucket of chicken?" I replied, "What's in a bucket of chicken?" The light bulb clicked on at the same moment I was giving the answer: "Legs, Thighs, and Breasts." If the guy is looking for the best bucket, what's the chance of you being his forever bucket? I guess the Blackberry and the job will have to go on to the list as well.

Okay, I have research to do. I'll report back later.

Junk Science

Morning, Folks. Hope you had a pleasant Monday. I know I did. This morning, I am going to be taping a bit for Relevant Radio about the patron saint of my parish here in Prague, OK, Saint Wenceslaus. If the mood and urge hits, I'll post the essay here and elsewhere. But before I do that, I had to share with youse guys an article I found that chapped my fur.

According to the Times of India, exclusive vegetable consumption makes your brain shrink. However, when you read the article, you discover that the culprit of the brain mass loss (and researchers verified the dimutation of mass so there is something going on) is not the vegetables but the low levels of B-12. But that's not all. The study, which seems as though it was well constructed, focused on folks 61-87. Correct me if I'm wrong, but don't you normally get brain mass reduction, and general tissue reduction as you grow older? The article then concludes with comments about correlations between brain mass loss and other lifestyle habits such as drink and obesity.

Let me be perfectly frank. My problem with the article has nothing to do with the research on things what make you brain smaller. My problem is that it proceeds from the assumption that brain size has anything to do with intelligence, learned or native. This might be apocryphal, but Einstein has a sub par size brain and I think he did alright for himself. Granted he got lost quite often but I blame that on advanced math. Brain mass loss might have something to do with loss of intelligence and memory if you lose, oh, say, a hemisphere or a lobe or the corpus callosum.

This sort of article reminds me of two things: go beyond the headline and think things through once you are there.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Don't Ask The Cookie To Do Something It Can't

I have to get over to the office to complete preparations for RCIA tonight (those are the sessions through which we prepare people who are not Catholic to enter the Catholic Church - as a convert, they are big fun), but I wanted to share with everyone a book I literally (or literarily) just finished reading.

Before telling you about the book, let me tell you why the book caught my attention. After some 16 months, I have managed to lose 126 pounds and begin to implement a healthier lifestyle. I say "begin" because I know all too well how to regain as well as lose. At this point, I am about where I was when I began high school. For those poor in maths, that means I am at my lightest in perhaps 17 years. It has been an awesome, if tricky, journey along the way, but all the positive feedback I have received made it worth it. It's funny when people look at you and comment on how great you look, and of course, every landed kick in cardio kickboxing makes it all that much sweeter.

Valerie Frankel's new memoir, Thin is the New Happy, shed light on how she shed not just her weight, but bad body image and the pains of her past. While I recognize that how guys and gals deal with body issues are different, I understood her journey of self-realization. For Mrs. Frankel, the weight problem might have been set in motion by her mother but as an adult she had the power to take command of the situation. She does it by taking a counter-intuitive road: she stops dieting. Instead she works on the emotional well being side of the equation. This point really resonated with me. I am an emotional eater: I eat to feel better, I eat to feel good, and I eat to reward myself. Hell, I'll eat just to feel something other than what I am feeling right this second. Valerie's frank confrontation spans many years from early adolesence to the present. She masterfully combines humor and pathos to tell the story of her un-diet and the happiness it has brought.

I want to recommend this book especially to the guys out there. Most men don't appreciate the chaos that negative body image wreaks upon women in our Western society. I mentioned this at a recent talk I was giving, and the women nodded in agreement and the men looked stunned. It goes back to the bucket o' chicken analogy. (More on that another time.) For women, I think you will find a lot of similar experiences and a lot of hope for finding and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

This book inspired me in a couple of ways, one of I'll share here. I have been looking for a final seal for when I achieve goal and lose all the weight I want to. Clearly, clothes will be part of it, but that didn't seem ... permanent enough. That's a functional issue - you got to have threads. (On that note, I am planning on buying one or two dynamite suits: a Dolce and Gabbana or an Armani.) I toyed with the idea of a tattoo, but let's face it, biker priest doesn't inspire a lot of confidence in folks. So that's out. I thought maybe a nice ring or really pricey piece of jewelry would work, but again, trendy priest is as bad as biker priest to my mind. But Valerie gave me the idea. She mentions in the book the fate of winning contestants from Biggest Loser. I find that show inspiring but I knew, instinctually, that it was too easy. All but one have put back on most, if not all, the weight they lost, except one. The first season runner up, Kellie, has managed to continue to lose and keep it off. Part of her strategy is she keeps a massive picture of herself at her heaviest in her office. In essence, it's a reminder, "Here what you could go back to." For me, and for Valerie, that's the wrong way to look at it. The best way to never go back is to find a reason to stay in the new place. So, I think I am going to have a series of professional photographs taken of myself, something very classy and high end. Then those pictures go in my bedroom, so that every morning, upon rising, the first thing I see it the man I have become, and not focus upon the man I was.

Either way, the book is a sprint of a read and the only hesitation is some naughty bits and a load of profanity. If that doesn't put you off, then enjoy.

The Grammar of Assent

I have the care of a mission parish 15 miles due west of me. As I was driving to today, I spotted a message posted at one of the local ecclesial communities that proves my obsession with grammar and its usage is not sick, but necessary. Fr. H gets a kick out of one of my favorite comments about disagreements I have with folks sometimes. The line, "I would like to agree with you, but if I apply the standard English definition for those words, then it just won't work" gets him roaring before I am done. That and "I understood what each of those words meant but when you strung them together in that order, you lost me."

Before I post about the sign, let me mention who diagnosed me. It was a book by Lynne Truss entitled Eats, Shoots, and Leaves. It is a hilarious examination of grammar and goes a long way to explain the significance of language in communication. It is a worthy and swift read, but you will not look at grammar the same way again. Back to the story...

I drove past the sign at low warp heading back to my principal parish. The sign read "That Love Your Neighbor Thing. I mean't it. Signed, God." Now, look closely at the sentence. You'll notice a misplaced apostrophe. I don't have an Oxford English Dictionary so I don't know if such a contraction could be formed. As I drove, I had to turn off the radio because I became fascinated with the error. After all, in standard English (there it is again), a contraction formed that way means "include not." Did the author mean to write, "That Love Your Neighbor Thing. I mean not it"? How one communicates is as important as what you are trying to say.

Now, don't misunderstand. I tried to call the place and no one answered. I am the king of typos. But it does remind me not in small part of the famous incident of the Murderers' Bible. In this early edition of the post-Gutenberg Bibles, a typesetter left out the "not" from "thou shall not kill." Please bask for a moment in the chaos this would cause.

You see, I'm not that crazy after all.

Welcome to the Junta!

Afternoon, all.

Remember when I mentioned that I quit blogging because it became to much work. One aspect of that comes from the comboxes. Some blogs managed just fine without comboxes. I personally always thought the combox was a good idea because it allows for immediate feedback and discussion; that and I am a full blown approval junkie and loved get those "great post" messages. However, many folks lack the ability to participate in a conversation online because the temptation to go scorched earth on someone begs resistance. So, the careful blogger must also monitor comments, which can take forever.

All of this goes to say, if you want to leave a comment, super. I look forward to readers putting in their two cents. When you do so, please place your thoughts in the most gracious, charitible, and understanding way. Make them sweet so that if you have to eat them later, they will go down all the easier.

If you don't, be advised, the comment will be erased. Period. I have enough negativity, as does the world, in my life, without commenters burning down the house while they are on it. I think you can argue a point without gutting the opposition. You may argue; you may not quarrel.

Okay, enough from me. After a speedy grilled cheese, I am headed to the gym. I need an energy boost.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Hometown Boy Makes Good

Hello, all. Just popping in before I get everything ready for Mass tonight. If I am particularly diligent, after 6:00 p.m. Mass, I intend to get three things done: 1.) clean out car, 2.) pack bag for Y, and 3.) post my homily notes for this weekend. The last part is muy importante as this year is dedicated to Saint Paul and to the role of the Bible in the life of the Church, so my homilies have been exclusively focused upon the second reading. It has been very helpful to my homilies and the response has been good.

I just got back from Edmond, and the talks went fine. There were points that took me forever to connect, although I am not sure of the source for that. I would suspect it was because I had not thought through the material enough times for me to be clear about the point. I treated marriage in the Sacred Scriptures, Marriage as a sacrament, and the Theology of the Body and its moral implications. I wish I had a chalkboard, but all in all, it was fine. The problem is now, I am totally beat. I need to get up and print off general intercessions and find the story I am going to use as the homily illustration. I think it was up over at Mark Shea's blog, but I can't recall when. It was this week because it came down like a Godsend. I am really fuzzy right now.

Like I said, I got there, I got back, and in two minutes, I'll be back on my feet.

Friday, September 12, 2008

No One Expects A Spiritual Inquisition

Evening, All. I just back from the gym and rocked it. 30 minutes of treadmill and 25 minutes of weights...hmmm, can't wait to hop into the shower before bed. But before bed, let me note something, somewhat obliquely, because it's one of those things. Priests have lots of experience with those things conversations. It happens often enough: I have a conversation with someone, I want to be helpful, think of something helpful and then forget to mention it. Of course, the thing I want to mention to the person isn't so unique to their circumstances that it can't be applied to other situations, but ... I have to be remarkably circumspect about the originating conversation so all of my bases are covered. I write all this for new readers who might wonder what all the secrecy is about. Now you know.

(By the way, don't even ask about confession unless you are looking to go - for my non-Catholic friends, that is major off limits territory.)

Okay, so, I was having lunch recently with a couple of friends and as much as I would like to say I was being bright and optimistic, I wasn't. For several silver linings I was able to leap across the room and dredge up an appropriate cloud. We all wanted to see the situation in question improve, but no clear signs of improvement were in the offing. So, I do the best to lighten the mood with a bit I stole from Shaun of the Dead (see previous blog for notes on that) and we set off. As I was tooling around in the Batmobile, I thought of the perfect solution for the situation. We had to make a spiritual inquisition.

Now, before you say it, I know where lots of minds just went. Mel Brooks might be funny but here is off the mark somewhat. The Inquisition, as a process, was often times more humane and respected than the civil courts. Prisoners would often find ways to get their case referred to the Inquisition so that they might get better treatment. But that's a story for another time. The point I am raising here is an inquistion is a careful examination. In the situation my cohorts and I were lamenting what is needed is a careful examination. The situation needs examining; the players in the situation need examining; the observers (that's me and my buds) need examining. There are few things as hard on the spiritual life than charging off full of righteous anger without examining one's own motives for the advance. I recently have been working through some of this and it's not pleasant, rest assured. Granted, being so close to the situation at hand, it took me a bit of time to gain enough perspective to arrive at the solution. Oh, let's not leave out the Holy Spirit sharing a wisdom moment with me.

The inquistion should happen in prayer, through prayer, and with prayer. In prayer, I can truly pour out my heart, my sorrow to God, my fear, all of it. Don't believe me? Grab your Bible and thumb through the psalms. The person who wrote/uttered the statement, "My one companion is darkness," is, at the very least, not a happy bunny. Prayer, the awesome sharing in God's life, anticipating the joy of Heaven, is a place where the Truth reigns. Therefore, if there is a situation where Truth needs to work, then prayer is the place to go.

Further, I am not suggesting that you pray only if you think it is going to solve the problem, in the way you want it solved. All discernment, deciding what God is calling us to do in a given situation, must be rooted in Love and Reality. That's why it must rest on Truth - I don't always have the greatest perspective. Therefore, the situation I am praying about / for might need solving and my hardness of heart might need solving. The most profound piece is, truth is not a something to be mastered, but a someone to be known and loved. Either way you slice it, placing yourself before God and hashing stuff out with Him is the best key to faithful service, IMHO.

So, to the guys I had lunch For myself, I am going to dedicate my chaplet of St. Dominic to the project we had discussed. Our favorite torchbearing, "Dog of the Lord" might be able to fetch us what we need.

It'll Be Worth the Round Trip

Tomorrow I head off to my home parish in Edmond, OK to do an inservice for the adult leadership of the youth program as well as some of the confirmation sponsors. I'm presenting on Theology of the Body as an introduction to the overall topic to set the stage for further development. I have spoken on this subject lots of times and I am doing something additional with the last bit which focuses on moral issues and how to present moral issues related to the Theology of the Body. Here's the dilemma. Should I go to the gym and cram in a workout after rocking Pilates this a.m. or should I tighten up my notes? Frankly, I can barely pull the focus to do either.

This might be famous last words, but I am going to hit the gym. When I get home there will be time sufficient to review, print and handwrite a few extra bits, and I think the exercise will clear my head.

Hopefully, after the round trip, I'll be a bit less, well, you get it...

Meanwhile, Back at the Beach...

Oh, man, I know I am going to regret this. I just know it. 16 months ago, I, with my esteemed fellow blogger, Fr. Stephen Hamilton, decided to shut down this blog's progenitor, Catholic Ragemonkey. We shut it down because I didn't have the time to get the stories that would serve as good fodder for the site. So, we closed up shop and moved on.

I'll be danged if it pulled me right back in. I guess I tried to depart the Island from the wrong bearing, because after all this sailing, I am right back where I started. Sort of...

I had to create a whole new site because I can't access my old Ragemonkey blog due to the loss of my old email account. As with any good endeavor, I am setting up shop in a new place. I guess this is the Others version of Ragemonkey. I am back and rageier than ever. However, I don't anticipate Fr. Hamilton coming back to the blogosphere (I'm not sure I am staying for long), so don't bug him and don't ask him. Like all things Ragemonkey, this is a unilateral move on my part. Something tells me he'll offer fruitful commentary in the comboxes if we are lucky. With all that said, cue the voice over guy...

"Previously on Catholic Ragemonkey,"

When we last left out intrepid priest, I was working for the Kingdom in North-Central Oklahoma near the Kansas-Oklahoma border. That situation has changed. In June 2007, the Archbishop saw fit to move me three hours south and east to the town of Prague where I became Pastor of St. Wenceslaus and the Rector of the National Shrine of the Infant Jesus of Prague. I also have a mission parish, 15 miles west of me, St. Michael's in Meeker, OK. To say that the assignment has been fascinating understates the case immeasurably. It is an assignment I would never have guessed I was going to get or deserved. There was a plan for me to teach at our local Catholic university but that seems to be in abayance. The Academic Dean thought that without a doctorate, I wouldn't be a good addition to the faculty. As with all things of God's providence, I can't imagine now trying to juggle the university, the shrine, and two parishes. I can barely manage the two parishes and shrine bit.

Further, readers will recall that I undertook, thanks to Fr. H, a course correction for better health. I joined Weight Watchers and hit the gym. 16 months later, I can report some modest success. I have lost 126 pounds in that time. I go to the Y and participate in Pilates, Kickboxing (always perfecting my whirling spinkick of charity), and weight lifting. At this point in the game, I am trying to get myself aligned with an exercise program for life -- trying to find something I like. In that effort, I am trying everything. More on this later.

As if that weren't enough, I am now confident enough to say that my first book is going to be published, finally. I received an email this a.m. stating that editors were working over the text; that's good enough an indicator to me. There were a few snags and tight spots but all things have worked out. Emmaus Road will be bringing out the first 10 weeks of the first volume in January 2009. So, guess what else I will have on my plate? Revision, revision, revision. The plan is for a multivolume work, and yes, a later post will detail the story of the book.

That plan for a Chesterton Society more or less took off and we are steadily growing. Sorry, ladies, but this is a blokes-only group. If you want one, I recommend getting together, getting a copy of the Autobiography and get to it. If it is worth doing, it is worth doing badly, as the great man once said. I hope to have updates here. We are currently reading Orthodoxy and we had a gas.

In my personal life, things are improving. I have begun to reflect on two dynamics in my life that serve as the guiding lodestones: friendship and gratitude. Growing up in the situation I did, I found it hard to really connect with others. Don't get me wrong; I would reach out to folks but it never seemed like people reached back. That, to some extent, hasn't changed. Part of that is I can be a crashing bore. The other part is I have a tremendous need for community. In the last year, I have become convinced of the truth that my need for the good friendship, that authentic form of love, is not just something I have neglected, I have been starved for. So, I continue to strive to be a better friend. To all my friends who find their way here, if I have offended, don't just forgive me; call me on it. Just not in the comboxes.

As to gratitude, the story is similar. Growing up in the situation I did, it is very easy to focus upon what was lost. It's akin to a character in a book series I am reading (more on that later), who feels isolated and useless because he can't be the noble prince. When compared, though, to the common soldiers with whom he serves, he comes to see how even in the loss, he has gained more than many others will ever hope to gain. Gratitude, simply put, dispels anger, and that is a dark cloud that I want dispelled. I have been taking guitar lessons (doing okay) and I have begun writing poetry again. It's not good but I am not writing it because it is good or it is publication-worthy. I am writing it because it is who I am.

As to addiction to media, culture, and every geeklove topic, that hasn't changed. I met Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright recently; it was for ten seconds and that is not enough time. I have yet to meet Nick Frost but trust me, it's going to happen. Don't know how; perhaps Jacob might know. I recently watched all four seasons of Lost and am totally addicted. (That's what the title of this post and the title of the blog are alluding to.) I also see some pointed cultural pleadings coming up from the telly. That will be on display here. And yes, all of my crackpot theories will be submitted for your edification, because I bet I am right on all counts.

In closing, to the new readers, welcome aboard. To the old readers, welcome back. And the fact that I am staring at this blogger dashboard again after a year is because of three guys. Tony, Sean, and Marvin, I blame you completely for this latest debacle. I hope you are happy. And, Sean, I hope you are right; I hope blogging missed me.

In closing, what do I want the Phoenix Station to represent? It's a new beginning. That is what Christ offers to all: a new start and a new future. If you can taste ashes in your mouth, rinse them with baptismal grace and eat and drink of the sacrifice that welcomes you to the Kingdom. But don't think for an instant I have all the answers. I am just a little sparrow in the hand of God. I have a song to sing and a job to do. I am not the prince; I am the minstral, the jester. You see the jingly cap and I hope it makes the truth go down easier. But, don't get me wrong, it is a truth we all have to taste and be converted by. I'll put it to you this way.

In response to the question, posed in a major newspaper of the day, "What is wrong with the world?", G.K. Chesterton had the best reply. He wrote back,
"What is wrong with the world?
I am.

Sincerely Yours,
G.K. Chesterton."

What is wrong with the world, friends? I am. But I hope with Christ, it won't remain that way. Now, isn't that worth tuning in for?