Monday, May 29, 2006

The Church moves forward on several fronts...

First, per Jimmy Akin, The US Bishops are moving forward (per instruction and insistence from the Vatican) to make accurate English translations of the Liturgy. Some of the current translations in use since the 60s aren't quite up to snuff. 'Tis about time.

Next, via EWTN, Pope B-16 is urging strong reform in the religious orders. 'Tis about time.

Third, another step forward in the potential reunion of the Eastern Church with the Western Church (Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox). This is very promising.

Finally, via First Things, the Guardian (UK) printed a story about a potential medical breakthrough. In several cases, patients who were considered to be in "a permanent vegetative state" have briefly re-awakened after being given doses of the commonly prescribed sleep aid Zolpidem (also known by the name Ambien). In a few of these cases, the patients were able to fully communicate with their loved ones for several hours before returning to their previously unconscious state. Score another one for the Culture of Life vs. the Culture of Death.

Monday, May 22, 2006

I'm back...

Thou hast returned!

I'll be posting in the upcoming days/weeks regarding my experiences visiting family and friends back east, as well as my thoughts and reflections on my time spent in Alabama (visiting EWTN and the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament).

In the meantime, here's my obligatory "DaVinci Code" post (seems everyone needs to post at least one these days):

The reason why I've never felt the need to read "The DaVinci Code" novel nor see the movie is the same reason why I haven't ever gotten the urge to peruse any of the "Left Behind" books/films. Why in heaven's name would I ever bother with third rate fiction based on seriously flawed theology???


Saturday, May 06, 2006

Another stroll along the Tri-Annual Ventura Artwalk...

Last weekend, I attended – a better phrase would be “strolled and perused” – the tri-annual Artwalk in downtown Ventura, CA. Three times a year Main Street and the surrounding downtown corridor becomes a showcase for the arts during a Saturday afternoon and evening. Anywhere from 60 to 80 local businesses – shops, restaurants, galleries, museums and studios – will display the works of various local and regional artists (mostly paintings and sculptures in various forms of media).

You pick up a free map, you grab a cup of coffee, and you scan the listings on the map. You circle a handful of “must-see” locations, leaving the option to see other locations by chance and tickled fancy. And you go for a stroll throughout the downtown area. Some locations are a bit out of the way, so you drive to those places first – usually at the far ends of the district.

I always check out several places at the far western end of town, including Pacific Stoneworks (always intriguing), Stoneworks Studio (always quirky), and the new Bell Art Factory where 25 artists are in residence.

At Pacific Stoneworks I met up with artists Scott & Pat Wynn (husband & wife). What a wonderful couple who were so affable and unpretentious. We ended up chatting for almost an hour on varied topics and experiences. Scott’s been painting for only four years and does simple oil landscapes. Pat's forte is small scale watercolors. Also displayed in the studio was the works of artist Tiger Huang – pencil, pen and charcoal drawings & sketches.

At Bell Art Factory, there were quite a few varied art works on display. What struck me the most was a series of paintings by Susan Cook. Dreamy and sepia-toned in appearance, her paintings can be seen here at her website.

There were two photographers who have an incredible eye: Robert Fields and Dan Holmes. Click on their names to link to their respective websites to view their beautiful visions captured on film.

You can spend several hours just walking around downtown, as many others do, poking your head into a trinket shop here, a clothing shop there, a restaurant across the street, an alley or nook with hidden treasures. Finally, before leaving downtown, I’ll visit two places on the map which I always make sure to visit: the small Buenaventura Art Galley at the corner of Thompson and Santa Clara, and another small studio/gallery on the opposite corner.

Some of Norman Kirk’s watercolors were on display at the former. He’s well known in these parts, and his paintings are masterful slices of life.

Across the street, Lee Hodges has her mixes media pieces on display at her studio. These works are strikingly spiritual and powerful when viewed in person. Viewing them on the computer does not do them justice. They’re mixtures of painting and collage in what she terms “The Cross Series.” Her website better describes her approach to each piece in the series. You can stare at one of her paintings and become lost in the mood and message it attempts to convey, always discovering something new or hidden. Deeply, deeply spiritual in a quiet and introspective way.

One piece which I saw displayed at the previous Artwalk event, entitled “Time of Decision” (here) really moved me in profound ways. Again, the website image does not compare to viewing it in person. It’s now on display in a studio in New Mexico. If I was independently wealthy I’d buy it without hesitation.

I’ve met Lee both times at her studio, and we always chat for a bit and discuss her works. Also displayed at her studio are various wood and marble sculptures by reclusive artist Mitch Mays. I have no link for you to click and view, but his religiously themed pieces are inspiring – including a life-sized wood sculpture of the hands of God and Adam taken from Michelangelo’s “The Creation” fresco in the Sistine Chapel.

Enjoy the links above and see for yourself the beauty, skill, power and grace of the various artists and their works of art.

P.S. This is will be last post for awhile as I’m heading off to visit family in a few days.

Monday, May 01, 2006

On Sheep, Wolves and Sheepdogs (and Shepherds, too)

I received a copy of the following via e-mail from one of my Bible Study buddies. It’s a fascinating read, but I wanted to verify the source before posting it here. Apparently, this has been posted in several places over the last year or so. I’m unsure as to whether or not the exchange between General Dula and the U. of Washington student is legit (though, I would suspect that it is given that it mentions Dula by name). But the lengthy article which Dula then quotes is legit. It’s a journal article written by retired LTC Dave Grossman (apparently along with Loren Christensen). The title of the article is listed on Grossman’s website under the publications section. With the background established, I hope that you will read the following and contemplate what Grossman has to say. It certainly needs to be said, and often repeated as a reminder in today's post-9/11 society.


In brief, Jill Edwards, a junior math major at the University of Washington, and a member of the UW student senate, opposed a memorial to UW grad "Pappy" Boyington. Boyington was a U.S. Marine aviator who earned the Medal of Honor in World War II. Edwards said that she didn't think it was appropriate to honor a person who killed other people. She also said that a member of the Marine Corps was NOT an example of the sort of person the University of Washington wanted to produce.

What follows is Gen. Dula's letter to the University of Washington student senate leader. Read and comprehend what is being said and decide if you want to be a "sheep".

To: Edwards, Jill (student, UW)
Subject: Sheep, Wolves and Sheepdogs

Miss Edwards, I read of your 'student activity' regarding the proposed memorial to Col Greg Boyington, USMC and a Medal of Honor winner. I suspect you will receive a bellyful of angry e-mails from conservative folks like me. You may be too young to appreciate fully the sacrifices of generations of servicemen and servicewomen on whose shoulders you and your fellow students stand. I forgive you for the untutored ways of youth and your naiveté.

It may be that you are, simply, a sheep. There's no dishonor in being a sheep - - as long as you know and accept what you are. Please take a couple of minutes to read the following. And be grateful for the thousands - millions - of American sheepdogs who permit you the freedom to express even bad ideas.

Brett Dula
Sheepdog, retired

By LTC (RET.) Dave Grossman, RANGER, Ph.D., author of "On Killing."

Honor never grows old, and honor rejoices the heart of age. It does so because honor is, finally, about defending those noble and worthy things that deserve defending, even if it comes at a high cost. In our time, that may mean social disapproval, public scorn, hardship, persecution, or as always, even death itself. The question remains: What is worth defending? What is worth dying for? What is worth living for? – William J. Bennett – in a lecture to the United States Naval Academy November 24, 1997

One Vietnam veteran, an old retired colonel, once said this to me: "Most of the people in our society are sheep. They are kind, gentle, productive creatures who can only hurt one another by accident." This is true. Remember, the murder rate is six per 100,000 per year, and the aggravated assault rate is four per 1,000 per year. What this means is that the vast majority of Americans are not inclined to hurt one another.

Some estimates say that two million Americans are victims of violent crimes every year, a tragic, staggering number, perhaps an all-time record rate of violent crime. But there are almost 300 million Americans, which means that the odds of being a victim of violent crime is considerably less than one in a hundred on any given year. Furthermore, since many violent crimes are committed by repeat offenders, the actual number of violent citizens is considerably less than two million.

Thus there is a paradox, and we must grasp both ends of the situation: We may well be in the most violent times in history, but violence is still remarkably rare. This is because most citizens are kind, decent people who are not capable of hurting each other, except by accident or under extreme provocation. They are sheep.

I mean nothing negative by calling them sheep. To me, it is like the pretty, blue robin's egg. Inside it is soft and gooey but someday it will grow into something wonderful. But the egg cannot survive without its hard blue shell.

Police officers, soldiers, and other warriors are like that shell, and someday the civilization they protect will grow into something wonderful. For now, though, they need warriors to protect them from the predators.

"Then there are the wolves," the old war veteran said, "and the wolves feed on the sheep without mercy." Do you believe there are wolves out there who will feed on the flock without mercy? You better believe it. There are evil men in this world and they are capable of evil deeds. The moment you forget that or pretend it is not so, you become a sheep. There is no safety in denial.

"Then there are sheepdogs," he went on, "and I'm a sheepdog. I live to protect the flock and confront the wolf."

If you have no capacity for violence then you are a healthy productive citizen, a sheep. If you have a capacity for violence and no empathy for your fellow citizens, then you have defined an aggressive sociopath, a wolf.

But what if you have a capacity for violence, and a deep love for your fellow citizens? What do you have then? A sheepdog, a warrior, someone who is walking the hero's path. Someone who can walk into the heart of darkness, into the universal human phobia, and walk out unscathed

Let me expand on this old soldier's excellent model of the sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs. We know that the sheep live in denial, that is what makes them sheep. They do not want to believe that there is evil in the world. They can accept the fact that fires can happen, which is why they want fire extinguishers, fire sprinklers, fire alarms and fire exits throughout their kids' schools.

But many of them are outraged at the idea of putting an armed police officer in their kid's school. Our children are thousands of times more likely to be killed or seriously injured by school violence than fire, but the sheep's only response to the possibility of violence is denial. The idea of someone coming to kill or harm their child is just too hard, and so they chose the path of denial.

The sheep generally do not like the sheepdog. He looks a lot like the wolf. He has fangs and the capacity for violence. The difference, though, is that the sheepdog must not, can not and will not ever harm the sheep. Any sheep dog who intentionally harms the lowliest little lamb will be punished and removed. The world cannot work any other way, at least not in a representative democracy or a republic such as ours.

Still, the sheepdog disturbs the sheep. He is a constant reminder that there are wolves in the land. They would prefer that he didn't tell them where to go, or give them traffic tickets, or stand at the ready in our airports, in camouflage fatigues, holding an M-16. The sheep would much rather have the sheepdog cash in his fangs, spray paint himself white, and go, "Baa." Until the wolf shows up. Then the entire flock tries desperately to hide behind one lonely sheepdog.

The students, the victims, at Columbine High School were big, tough high school students, and under ordinary circumstances they would not have had the time of day for a police officer. They were not bad kids; they just had nothing to say to a cop. When the school was under attack, however, and SWAT teams were clearing the rooms and hallways, the officers had to physically peel those clinging, sobbing kids off of them. This is how the little lambs feel about their sheepdog when the wolf is at the door.

Look at what happened after September 11, 2001 when the wolf pounded hard on the door. Remember how America, more than ever before, felt differently about their law enforcement officers and military personnel? Remember how many times you heard the word hero?

Understand that there is nothing morally superior about being a sheepdog; it is just what you choose to be. Also understand that a sheepdog is a funny critter: He is always sniffing around out on the perimeter, checking the breeze, barking at things that go bump in the night, and yearning for a righteous battle. That is, the young sheepdogs yearn for a righteous battle. The old sheepdogs are a little older and wiser, but they move to the sound of the guns when needed, right along with the young ones.

Here is how the sheep and the sheepdog think differently. The sheep pretend the wolf will never come, but the sheepdog lives for that day. After the attacks on September 11, 2001, most of the sheep, that is, most citizens in America said, "Thank God I wasn't on one of those planes." The sheepdogs, the warriors, said, "Dear God, I wish I could have been on one of those planes. Maybe I could have made a difference." When you are truly transformed into a warrior and have truly invested yourself into warriorhood, you want to be there. You want to be able to make a difference.

There is nothing morally superior about the sheepdog, the warrior, but he does have one real advantage. Only one. And that is that he is able to survive and thrive in an environment that destroys 98 percent of the population.

There was research conducted a few years ago with individuals convicted of violent crimes. These cons were in prison for serious, predatory crimes of violence: assaults, murders and killing law enforcement officers. The vast majority said that they specifically targeted victims by body language: Slumped walk, passive behavior and lack of awareness. They chose their victims like big cats do in Africa, when they select one out of the herd that is least able to protect itself.

Some people may be destined to be sheep and others might be genetically primed to be wolves or sheepdogs. But I believe that most people can choose which one they want to be, and I'm proud to say that more and more Americans are choosing to become sheepdogs.

Seven months after the attack on September 11, 2001, Todd Beamer was honored in his hometown of Cranbury, New Jersey. Todd, as you recall, was the man on Flight 93 over Pennsylvania who called on his cell phone to alert an operator from United Airlines about the hijacking. When he learned of the other three passenger planes that had been used as weapons, Todd dropped his phone and uttered the words, "Let's roll," which authorities believe was a signal to the other passengers to confront the terrorist hijackers. In one hour, a transformation occurred among the passengers – athletes, business people and parents – from sheep to sheepdogs and together they fought the wolves, ultimately saving an unknown number of lives on the ground.

There is no safety for honest men except by believing all possible evil of evil men. – Edmund Burke

Here is the point I like to emphasize, especially to the thousands of police officers and soldiers I speak to each year. In nature the sheep, real sheep, are born as sheep. Sheepdogs are born that way, and so are wolves. They didn't have a choice. But you are not a critter. As a human being, you can be whatever you want to be. It is a conscious, moral decision.

If you want to be a sheep, then you can be a sheep and that is okay, but you must understand the price you pay. When the wolf comes, you and your loved ones are going to die if there is not a sheepdog there to protect you. If you want to be a wolf, you can be one, but the sheepdogs are going to hunt you down and you will never have rest, safety, trust or love. But if you want to be a sheepdog and walk the warrior's path, then you must make a conscious and moral decision every day to dedicate, equip and prepare yourself to thrive in that toxic, corrosive moment when the wolf comes knocking at the door.

For example, many officers carry their weapons in church. They are well concealed in ankle holsters, shoulder holsters or inside-the-belt holsters tucked into the small of their backs. Anytime you go to some form of religious service, there is a very good chance that a police officer in your congregation is carrying. You will never know if there is such an individual in your place of worship, until the wolf appears to massacre you and your loved ones.

I was training a group of police officers in Texas, and during the break, one officer asked his friend if he carried his weapon in church. The other cop replied, "I will never be caught without my gun in church." I asked why he felt so strongly about this, and he told me about a cop he knew who was at a church massacre in Ft. Worth, Texas in 1999. In that incident, a mentally deranged individual came into the church and opened fire, gunning down fourteen people. He said that officer believed he could have saved every life that day if he had been carrying his gun. His own son was shot, and all he could do was throw himself on the boy's body and wait to die. That cop looked me in the eye and said, "Do you have any idea how hard it would be to live with yourself after that?"

Some individuals would be horrified if they knew this police officer was carrying a weapon in church. They might call him paranoid and would probably scorn him. Yet these same individuals would be enraged and would call for "heads to roll" if they found out that the airbags in their cars were defective, or that the fire extinguisher and fire sprinklers in their kids' school did not work. They can accept the fact that fires and traffic accidents can happen and that there must be safeguards against them.

Their only response to the wolf, though, is denial, and all too often their response to the sheepdog is scorn and disdain. But the sheepdog quietly asks himself, "Do you have any idea how hard it would be to live with yourself if your loved ones were attacked and killed, and you had to stand there helplessly because you were unprepared for that day?"

It is denial that turns people into sheep. Sheep are psychologically destroyed by combat because their only defense is denial, which is counterproductive and destructive, resulting in fear, helplessness and horror when the wolf shows up.

Denial kills you twice. It kills you once, at your moment of truth when you are not physically prepared: you didn't bring your gun, you didn't train. Your only defense was wishful thinking. Hope is not a strategy. Denial kills you a second time because even if you do physically survive, you are psychologically shattered by your fear, helplessness and horror at your moment of truth.

Gavin de Becker puts it like this in Fear Less, his superb post-9/11 book, which should be required reading for anyone trying to come to terms with our current world situation: "...denial can be seductive, but it has an insidious side effect. For all the peace of mind deniers think they get by saying it isn't so, the fall they take when faced with new violence is all the more unsettling."

Denial is a save-now-pay-later scheme, a contract written entirely in small print, for in the long run, the denying person knows the truth on some level. And so the warrior must strive to confront denial in all aspects of his life, and prepare himself for the day when evil comes.

If you are warrior who is legally authorized to carry a weapon and you step outside without that weapon, then you become a sheep, pretending that the bad man will not come today. No one can be "on" 24/7, for a lifetime. Everyone needs down time. But if you are authorized to carry a weapon, and you walk outside without it, just take a deep breath, and say this to yourself..."Baa."

This business of being a sheep or a sheep dog is not a yes-no dichotomy. It is not an all-or-nothing, either-or choice. It is a matter of degrees, a continuum. On one end is an abject, head-in-the-sand-sheep and on the other end is the ultimate warrior. Few people exist completely on one end or the other.

Most of us live somewhere in between. Since 9-11 almost everyone in America took a step up that continuum, away from denial. The sheep took a few steps toward accepting and appreciating their warriors, and the warriors started taking their job more seriously. The degree to which you move up that continuum, away from sheephood and denial, is the degree to which you and your loved ones will survive, physically and psychologically at your moment of truth.

I have a nephew who is a police officer, an old family friend whom we call “uncle” who’s a retired police officer, a brother who’s an EMT with his wife who’s an ER nurse. I have a brother-in-law who’s a Vietnam vet, several uncles who fought in WWII. And, of course, my Dad who served in the Navy during WWII and who was there at the Battle of Iwo Jima. Needless to say, I am well aware of the Sheepdogs in our midst.

If I were to add anything to this fine article it would be that Grossman left out one additional (and crucial) piece of this sobering parable of a commentary. And that is the role of the Shepherd. Our ultimate Shepherd is Jesus Christ, and He charges His disciples (from St. Peter and the Apostles all the way down to JPII & B16 and all of the priests and religious to the present day) to continue in this precious and important role as Shepherds of His Flock. For it is these Shepherds who watch over us, tend to our spiritual needs, nourish us with the Word of God and with the Eucharist, continue in their missionary work of feeding, clothing, tending to the sick and brokenhearted, and fervently praying while guiding us on our spiritual path.

So, to all of our Sheepdogs ~ thank you for your selfless service and sacrifice in diligently protecting us from those wolves in the physical realm.

To all of our faithful Shepherds ~ thank you for your selfless service and sacrifice in the name of God, protecting us from the wolves in the spiritual realm.

To all of you Sheep ~ WAKE THE FRELL UP!!!

And to all of you Wolves out there ~ our Sheepdogs will sniff you out and hunt you down ceaselessly. And our Shepherd, Jesus Christ, will prevail. You can count on it!