Thursday, September 14, 2006

A Morning with Dale Ahlquist (and G.K. Chesterton)...

Last Friday morning, I had the wonderful opportunity to hear Dale Ahlquist speak at the monthly meeting of the Catholic Professionals & Business Club of Ventura County. Dale is an author of two books on the voluminous writer G.K. Chesterton (“The Apostle of Common Sense” and “Common Sense 101”). He is also the host of the successful, informative and highly entertaining TV program, “G.K. Chesterton: The Apostle of Common Sense” which is broadcast on EWTN. [You can purchase copies of the series here.]

On a note of serendipity, a week before I even knew that Dale was coming to the area, I had officially become a member of the American Chesterton Society. So I was glad to have this unexpected opportunity to meet him face-to-face and to hear him recite some Chestertonian words of wisdom.

It was early (very early) on a foggy Friday morning at a banquet center near a Ventura golf course. Dale entered through a side door with his satchel briefcase slung over his shoulder, and I was able to shake his hand and tell him that I thoroughly enjoy watching his program.

Approximately 30+ people were in attendance - with a 6:30 mass to begin the event, then a buffet breakfast followed. Several people from my parish were in attendance, including Lee and Dick (both from my Wednesday morning bible study group), and Dick’s wife Judi. I was one of the last to go through the line for food, and I turned to walk toward the table where Dick & Judi were sitting. I place my plate on the table, pull out a chair, sit down, look up… and right across from me is Mr. Ahlquist himself. (!) I was just waiting for someone to tap me on the shoulder to tell me that the table was reserved for others. But that didn't happen, and we were able to banter about with some nice table conversation.

Dale mentioned his own strange case of serendipity on how he came about meeting John “Chuck” Chalberg (the actor who portrays Chesterton in the TV series). Dale told us that he had heard of this teacher in the Minnesota area who was known for coming into his classroom on occasion dressed as a particular historical figure and acting out certain dialogue or commentary (including G.K.C.). But Dale had never met the man.

When Dale was in Alabama for a taping of his appearance on the program “The Journey Home” (to speak about his conversion to the Catholic faith, as well as his fascination with G.K. Chesterton), he was approached by several people at EWTN who wanted to do a program on Chesterton. Dale said, “Sure. I’ll see if I can find someone who’d want to do it.” But they wanted him to do the program. He thought that maybe they wanted just one 1-hour program, not realizing that they wanted a whole series on G.K.C. Yet, they wanted something different for this new series. They didn’t want another “talking head” like all of their other series. They wanted something unique and entertaining.

They asked Dale if he knew about this Chalberg guy who was known for portraying Chesterton. He said he knew of him, but that was all. Upon his return to Minnesota, Dale went about finding him. It turns out that they lived just a few blocks away from each other. And the two have been good friends, doing the TV series ever since.

After breakfast, I hear a voice behind my left shoulder. I turn my head to see a wooden podium right in my face, with the head of the organization giving the chapter minutes (the podium was not there when I initially sat down at the table). Again, I started to feel reeeeeally small right at that point, wondering if I should have been at this table. But, again, no one said anything. (whew!). Then, after a few brief minutes, Dale was introduced to give his 30-minute talk. And, of course, Dale was in fine form.

He talked about how Chesterton was known as a deep thinker, but who was also humble and witty - wanting to be able to “explain the faith to a cab driver.” He respected his opponents as individuals; never getting personal in his criticisms. In a debate, G.K.C. would start with agreeing to a point given by his opposition… and then would proceed to poke holes in their philosophy.

Dale said that Chesterton believed that it was important to talk about the controversial issues of religion and politics because “religion is about the relationship between us and God, and politics is about the relationship between each other.” He went on to say that “Christianity is true. And if it is true, then everything is connected to it,” and education is [supposed to be] “truth in transmission.”

Relativism (as Pope B16 had also stated in his Papal Enclave homily in the spring of 2005) deals with “excepts instead of the rules,” and that the current state of news and media is “all about exceptions, not the norms.” (You read about the one person murdered rather than the millions who were not murdered, you hear about the one who scandaled rather than the many who did not engage in scandal, etc.)

G.K.C. also defended the foundation of family and marriage (which he considered a “dual to the death” where man and woman are "completely incompatible," and they "spend their entire married lives working out their incompatibilities").

Dale said that upon reading Chesterton (who wrote during the early portion of the 20th century) it unveiled the stunning fact that “he was very prophetic, yet also very life affirming and full of grace.”

Mr. Ahlquist took questions after his 30-minute talk, and the first was about whether there was a canonization process in the works for Chesterton. Dale said that he always felt (even when he was a Baptist before his own conversion to the Catholic Church) that it would be good to have a 300-lb cigar-smoking journalist as a saint. Upon his investigation, he found that after a brief period of interest at one point, there wasn’t anything officially in the works. He then contacted the Bishop of Northhampton in the UK (who would be in charge of any formalization of the process), and his recent successor, and the ball is finally rolling to get the cause moving forward. Although Dale certainly advocates the cause, he has absolutely no interest in being the Advocate for the cause (knowing the tremendous amount of work required).

I had the chance to shake Dale’s hand once more before leaving, buying a copy of his latest book “Common Sense 101: Lessons From G.K. Chesterton(which he graciously signed for me) as I headed out the door. I intend to start reading this book (and G.K.’s “Orthodoxy”) this coming weekend. And I highly recommend reading Chesterton as well as the books by Dale Ahlquist. Better yet, join the ACS!

I then spent the rest of the day down in Malibu at the newly-reopened Getty Villa (the original Getty museum off the coast). It had been closed for nearly a decade for renovations and expansion. The newer and much larger Getty Museum is off the 101 between L.A. and the Valley, but the Villa now houses mainly the Greek, Roman, and Etruscan antiquities. The statues, sculptures, pottery, jewelry, mosaics, etc. are amazing, and the architecture (with the garden and the inner and outer peristyles) are gorgeous.


I forgot to mention that The Anchoress has some great GKC quotes in her post here. You can also get a whole slew of Chesterton quotes from the ACS web site here. And you can even attempt to stump the GKC Quotemesiter here.

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