Sunday, July 29, 2012

When NCB meets NCG

In the last few months since I subscribed to Auntie Seraphic,* I have repeatedly seen the acronyms "NCB" and "NCG" plastered all over the single young adult Catholic blogosphere. I was mystified at first until slowly,  by examining the context and by repetition, I learned that they stand for "Nice Catholic Boy" and "Nice Catholic Girl" respectively. Once I learned this, it all became so clear, and a whole new social dimension was opened to my wondering eyes. Apparently, all around the Internet there are millions of NCG's who want to marry an NCB. Alas, NCB's are in short supply, or are just not that into you, so the NCG's pine in vain.

Oddly enough the real world is sort of like the Internet in that respect. In the real world you meet a significant number of NCG's, at Mass usually, or at Bible study, or perhaps (like me) you are related to all the best ones. If you pay attention you usually figure out that, sure enough, just like the Internet said, most of them would be quite happy to meet an NCG, settle down and get married. Or perhaps just get married, as they tend to be already a pretty settled down bunch on the whole.

The trouble is, however, that if you look around the venues in which one is likely to meet an NCG, you are likely to find that there is a decided shortage of NCB's. In other words, the girls outnumber the boys. The NCB's on their part, generally fall into three categories:
1) The Seminarians. Definitely the smallest category, and correlatively the most awesome.
2) The Taken Guys. These are either married (almost as rare as the seminarians. They tend to get whisked off to other realms.) Or the guys with girlfriends.
3) The unattached. These are the guys who are the enigma of the group. They seem to be NCB's. At least they are showing up to Mass or Bible study, or that Catholic group (or maybe they are only showing up to Mass and leaving immediately afterwards. But that's something isn't it?) They aren't running around with loose women or doing drugs. They seem to enjoy themselves when someone (and by someone I mean the girls) organizes some party or get-together. But they don't do  anything! There are all those NCG's just waiting for some guy to make a move so we can get on with the whole courtship/dating, engagement, marriage thing. And these guys aren't doing anything. Great guys, but what on earth can be keeping them?

It is a just question, but unfortunately one that can hardly be answered in the context in which it is asked. There is the easy answer, of course. Men just aren't as anxious as women usually are to get married and start a family, but in other ages this didn't seem to be much of an obstacle. If the only way a young man is going to have sex is to marry, this becomes a powerful incentive towards marriage. But in our present age we have the phenomenon of a whole generation of men who are (apparently) living the Church's teaching in this regard, but without the incentive to seek out a Catholic woman to marry. Why?

The answers are certainly many and varied. The preference for interacting on the Internet rather than in real life is one factor. (One can accomplish a great many things on the Internet. Procreation is not one of those things.) A general lack of maturity is certainly another (video games: all the fun of adventure, none of the risk). The amount of time, energy and money it takes to get a career started in our society accounts for some of the more motivated ones. Some have invested themselves in other work, or in hobbies, or (oh Horrors!) ministries! When your life is full of deeply rewarding work that eats up 90 hours of every week, while paying for only about 30 of those hours, it's not surprising that there might be no room for a relationship.

I humbly suggest, however, that the answer really comes down to a question of wisdom. I define wisdom very simply as the virtue of knowing and choosing the most valuable. This hobby is all very well and good. This job certainly sucks up much of my time and energy, but how valuable is it, really? What is its value in the transcendent realm? Will it make me holy and happy? Will it help anyone else become holy and happy? If not, then why should I waste any more of myself on it? When I am fifty, which will be more important to me? The ladder's I have climbed at work, or the relationships I have built?

Yes, the Church is full of NCB's. Not so full as she might be, unfortunately, but they are there. And yes, they are nice, and they are Catholic, but they are boys. What the NCG's are waiting for is for these NCB's to stand up and turn into GCM's. (That's Good Catholic Men. You see what I did there?)

But then, I humbly submit, we might just find the shoe on the other foot. Suddenly we might find that the NCG's had gotten more than they bargained for. I wonder sometimes, have you ever stopped to think what a GCM would really look like? I can tell you, he won't be a thing like your girlfriends, and that has nothing to do with whether or not he enjoys shopping. He will be a man. Male. Masculine. Other than you. The pursuit of holiness does not make men and women more similar. It certainly makes them more understanding, but in my experience it makes them unmistakeably more different. A holy man is more manly than a secular one. A holy woman is more feminine than a secular one. Have you ever really considered what a life completely dedicated to God would look like in the lay world? Have you ever pictured the intensity, the single-mindedness with which a man (as opposed to a boy) pursues that which he has chosen? A true GCM is never going to belong entirely to his wife. He will have another life outside. He will have a vocation that is not you, and it will be his life's work. That is a reality that you will have to deal with, on top of the other realities that go along with any man/woman relationship.

On top of that, you have the fact that any GCM is a person, an individual, unlike any other. He alone is the only one of him in all of history. His strengths and weaknesses, virtues and vices, are his alone. His preferences are his alone. The fact that he is striving to be a true man of God does not guarantee that he won't leave the toilet seat up. It does not mean that he won't find fart jokes hilarious. Some interpersonal drama that upsets your entire day may seem comically petty to him.

The problem with a GCM (as with any Man) is that he is another creature. He is unpredictable, untameable, himself. Not you. (This is something that men already know about women. We are more than prepared to shrug our shoulders and say, "She's in one of her moods," or "Women! Guess you never really understand them." We don't need to be encouraged not to worry our heads about it.)

So our NCG, upon finding that her long awaited NCB has up and decided to become a GCM, finds herself faced with the necessity of herself becoming a GCW. (Yes. That just happened. You're welcome.) Maturity calls for maturity, strength for strength, passion for passion, humor for humor, goofiness for goofiness. Imitate what you would admire. You will not regret it, whether or not that GCM ever does show up.

*I don't want anyone to think I am making fun of Auntie Seraphic. I'm not even making fun of her commenter's (which is a lot easier to do.) If you have never read any of her blogs, you should check her out. She is a wise, warm, witty and loving writer with a pen of steel and a heart of gold.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

On the Rocks

Last week I started a Military Mountaineering course. The first week was mostly individual skills, knots, ropes, systems, etc. but on Friday we went out to the rocks in a canyon to practice placing protection and building anchors. It involved no real climbing, but lots of scrambling around some class 4 terrain. (Class 4 terrain is considered the highest non-technical terrain. After that it is classified in 5's: 5:1 being like a rather rough, broken staircase to 5:15 which is more like a wall of glass at vertical or greater.)

So I was scrambling my way up these slopes which a few weeks ago would have scared me a bit, but after a week in Oregon doing actual climbing, these slopes were just fun. I wasn't wearing any gear, hiking boots instead of climbing shoes, no ropes. I was just friction smearing my way up the rock like spiderman, running on up that thing like it was my job. We did a run through the canyon earlier in the week, and I was flying up some fairly technical terrain in nothing but shorts, t-shirt and vibram five-finger shoes. One of the guys spent his lunch hour bouldering without gear.

And suddenly, despite my fear of heights, I could understand why people climb for fun. I have only spent six or seven days on the rocks in my life, training up for this course, and although I was terrified half the time, just touching the rock again was exciting. After climbing 5:7's and 5:8's (and top roping 9's and 10's just to look like an idiot) that little 5:0 scramble was nothing. It was fun. Rock climbing has given me an awareness of my body that is unlike anything else I've ever done. I have done weightlifting, martial arts, running, swimming, hiking and kettlebelling for years, and each one has heightened my physical awareness in its own way. At the peak of that awareness, for instance when pulling off a smooth transition to the mount, or throwing in an armbar, or snatching a kettlebell with absolutely perfect form, there is a feeling of quietness within the storm of energy and movement all around. In a way it is analagous to the love I have for really, really tough mental problems. If the problem is tough enough it takes up my entire brain, so for that time when I am working on it my mind is quiet.

Rock climbing is like that. It is utterly focusing, physically and mentally. The feel of everything is enhanced. The sound of birds, the smell of the dust and wind, and especially the feel of the rock under my hands. I have always been an extremely tactile person. I love the feel of things.

Then there is the internal awareness of my body's strength, flexibility, weight, balance, movement. The physical knowledge my body has of how to shift my weight, keeping pressure on the hand or foot that has traction, while flowing steadily into the next move is amazing.

And I am not even a good climber. I am strong but I am also heavy, 215lbs most days. I am not tall so I lack the reach that might balance out the weight. But when I climb an easy route, well within my ability level and just flow up it like water, I can see why the real climbers, the guys who weigh 140 or less, keep on doing it over and over, every day. It makes you feel alive.

So although I know next week and the weeks following when I am climbing serious rocks again, back up in the 5:7's and 8's, hundreds of feet up with exposure that would make an eagle woozy, I will be terrified. I will get halfway up and the only thing I will be able to think will be, "I want to go home." I know I will have to force my mind away from pointlessly dwelling on how much I don't want to be up there, and that I will want to quit. But God willing I won't quit. On the other side I will be more alive than I am now. Even if I plummet to my death. ;-)

The glory of God is man fully alive.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Holiness Misconception

Recently I received a comment on one of my blog posts from an anonymous fellow Catholic, asking me when I was going to receive the sacrament of Holy Orders (for non-Catholics, that is the sacrament whereby a man becomes a priest in the Catholic Church.) It's not the first time I've heard that sort of question from a Catholic, but the first time I had heard it from a total stranger.

Oddly enough, it is a question I have also gotten more than a few times from protestants, agnostics, and even atheists in the Army. Sometimes it comes with the tone of, "Hey, instead of getting out, have you ever thought of becoming a chaplain?" (Little knowing what is entailed in becoming a chaplain on the Catholic side of the house.) More often it comes as simple curiosity, "So if you're all into religion, why don't you just become a priest or a preacher or something?" Sometimes (not very often) it has been with a slightly sarcastic tone, "Why don't you just go be a chaplain?"

Let's start out by saying that this is not a blog about discernment. That is my own business. Instead, this is a blog about the misconception that both sets of questioners have in common. Actually, there are two misconceptions. The first has to do with what holiness is. The second has to do with what that misconception of holiness means.

The first misconception is, simply speaking, an error in judgment. People judge others as holy or not holy, good or bad, moral or immoral, on purely exterior factors, whether or not they go to Church, whether or not they swear, or have tattoos, or drink alcohol, or a whole host of other factors. None of these are holiness. So a person who fits the picture of what they think holiness looks like is labeled as "religious" or "a straight arrow" or even "good" or "holy." (It may not even be a complimentary picture, by the way. For instance, how many people consider a lack of humor to be a quintessential part of holiness?)

But all of these exteriors are misleading. Holiness, however, is something interior. It comes from the same root as "whole," "holistic," "wholesome." The connotation of that root has to do with the healing of something fractured, repairing something that was damaged. It has to do with putting something into right relation with itself and everything else. The quality of holiness, then, is something that is always becoming for most people on this earth. In that sense total "wholeness" cannot be certainly claimed of any human being in this life. Even Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa were still becoming throughout their lives.

With this concept of holiness, the second misconception becomes clear. In both camps there is an unspoken assumption that holiness is something that only a few people are supposed to attain. There are a few priests and nuns who are maybe just a little strange, but they are the ones who are pursuing holiness, so good for them. We'll be respectful of them as kind of an insurance policy while we go on living our lives much the same as we ever did. This misconception takes different shapes depending on the atmosphere. In Catholic circles it can take the form of friends, family and religious ed teachers gently (or not so gently) nudging that nice boy who looks so pious on the altar, and that good girl who is such a little angel in choir, towards the priesthood or religious life. In the largely pagan world of the Army there is a general assumption that religion makes you slightly suspect as a soldier. It's all right to have religion on sundays, but it isn't supposed to be something that you drag into the mission or off duty hours. It doesn't belong in the barracks or the team room. I remember a soldier I knew, upon finding out that I was going to Daily Mass on lunch hour, exclaiming in disbelief, "No! I can't believe it. I can't believe you're one of those wimpy Christians." (A bold statement coming from him, since he and I both knew that I would utterly crush him at any test of strength or skill he could name (except maybe bench press.))

The truth is that this is a lie. There is no priveleged minority called to be holy, while everyone else is can scrape by with mediocre. Remember, the pursuit of holiness is not a step by step thing. Life is not paint by numbers. Holiness has nothing to do with checking a list of arbitrary rules to follow, and there is no cosmic schoolmaster who runs the scantron of our lives and deems us holy or unholy based on the percentage of correctly filled bubbles. We really are fragmented, broken, damaged creatures, and we really do have the opportunity to become whole, healthy, wholesome creatures. This is the universal vocation of all human beings, to bring themselves into right relation with the God who created them, because then, and only then, will they be in right relation with themselves and each other.

The particular ways in which we acheive this are as various as we are. Everyone, regardless of their state in life, married, single, consecrated religious, ordained priest or bishop; soldier, sailor, tinker, farmer, lawyer; father, mother, child, sibling; rich or poor; homeless or secure; drug-dealers, tweakers, pimps, prostitutes, alcoholics, addicts of all stripes; murderers, adulterers, rapists and child molesters. ALL are called to be holy, to be made whole.

So I don't think of myself as being out of the ordinary. I am just another human being trying to do waht all human beings throughout history should try to do. I just happen to be doing it this particular way, following the gifts and inclinations and leadings God has given to me. You should be doing the same thing, but in the way the God has for you. Whatever love I have for my God and my Faith (how much or little is not really your concern) has nothing to do with my particular vocation. It is just where I happen to be at this moment, and regardless of what work I am doing or how God is using me, I must grow in holiness or end up fading away into spiritual death. Those are really the only two alternatives.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Run Harder, not Smarter

Today I started a course in Mountaineering. The very first event of this course was a timed four mile ruckmarch with a 45 pound ruck, dryweight. (Dryweight means the ruck is weighed before you add water, snacks etc.)

The stepoff time was at 6:00 A.M. and the altitude is about 6400 feet above sea level. The instructor pointed out the course for us, "You're just going to start off down this hill, and follow this dirt trail until you come to a 'T' intersection. There you are going to take a left and follow the fenceline until you hit a hardball road. That will take you up the first of those two hills over there. You will go across that first ridgeline, down the saddle and back up the other ridge. Follow that hill down the spurr until you come to another hardball road. That will take you back to this dirt trail, which will bring you back around here and you'll finish up over there. There will be vans at all the intersections to point out which way to go. The course is 4 miles, you have an hour and fifteen minutes. We are giving you that extra fifteen minutes because we know some of you come from sea level, and you'll be surprised how bad the elevation will hit you. Ready? Begin."

So I started. Straight out of the gate I had a Forrest Gump moment. I just felt like running. So I took off down the first hill, planning on using the downhill to warm up and make up some time. I hit a semi 'T' shaped intersection (it really looked more like a "Y") and I took the left, and ran around a couple of small hills until I came to a wide open spot with a fence right in front of me. There was no van in sight, but the trail went to the right and followed the fenceline, so I headed that way at a pretty blistering trot.

It was a pleasent running trail, and I followed it for about a mile, walking up a pretty decent hill before I decided to turn and look to see how far behind everyone was.

There was no one in sight. I ran back around the bend and still there was no one in sight. I could see almost a mile along the trail, and there was no way I was that far ahead. Must have missed a turn somewhere, so I turned and ran back down that hill as fast as I could. When I got to the place where the trail turned right along the fence, sure enough, there was a van out in the distance along the left hand side. I found out later that the van hadn't even arrived until after a couple of guys had already passed that spot. It wasn't really a running trail to the left, just some old tire tracks, and now a whole bunch of boot prints. And way off in the distance, about a mile and a half away, I could see the main group of guys just cresting the top of the second hill.


Nothing to do but run for it.

So I ran. I followed the tire tracks until I found a road (a dirt road, not a hardball.) I passed the van with the cadre member sitting silent and stoic in the driver's seat. I walked the up slope, which was pretty stiff, ran the ridge and tried to control the fall down the other side. Walked up one more hill, and then after that it was just straight running. No road, no trail, not even bootprints any more, just me running for all I am worth along the top of this ridgeline and down the spur on the otherside of the hill. I could see the next van off in the distance with one tiny figure just barely arriving. I pushed it out and caught up with him, and hit a hardball road (a real hardball road this time.) A bunch of regular army guys was running up behind me in shorts and t-shirts and I raced them for about a quarter of a mile (stupid move. Burned too much energy.)

I hit the trail again and ran until I hit the last little uphill stretch into the compound. The latter half of the main group was barely 200 meters ahead of me now. When I broke over the hill they were just walking away from the finish line. I stretched out into a nice, easy lope, down the last hill to the finish, with a final time of one hour and two minutes.

Dead last.

The moral of this story is, you don't need to know where you are going, you just need to RUN AS FAST AS YOU CAN. You're bound to end up somewhere eventually.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Desert Evening

Over the last week I was doing a training event in New Mexico. Since I was not one of the primary players being trained, I got to spend most of that time pulling security, which involves sitting in the turret of a gun truck and watching the desert for hours on end. With temperatures topping out in more than the usual number of digits, and sun that hot on me pate, I felt a lot like a piece of meat in a broiler. In a strange way, though, I enjoyed it. The desert is so huge. It is open and arid and inhospitable, and that makes it beautiful. (It wasn’t designed with white people in mind, I can tell you that.) There is something about the emptiness that encourages emptiness of soul, or at least some emptying of the soul, which is a step in the right direction.

The silence is good for me. The heat is good for me. The discomfort is good for me. SPF-50 sunscreen is also good for me. My Irish/German heritage is highly evidenced by the fact that after three weeks out here I am only a half a shade darker than I was in rainy Washington.

The last night in the desert God put on a bit of a show for us. The sky started clouding over around six, and then right about sunset it started to get cool and windy. I could see the thunder storms raging miles away around the mountains. The clouds seemed to be bigger than the mountains themselves, and underneath the clouds were great gray sheets of rain. And then, the wind changed direction, and started sweeping the storm clouds away from the mountains to the north, driving them south across the desert. The next thing I knew I was being pelted with raindrops the size of Chihuahuas, and as thick as thieves. If you can imagine a crowd of soaking wet thieving Chihuahuas freefalling on your head, you will get the idea.

The first thing to do, obviously, was save the gear. So I jumped out, ran around to the cargo area on the back and grabbed out my med bag and our three-day bags (nope, not waterproofed. I mean, this is the desert, right?) Then I ripped the tarp out from behind the radios and bungee cords from the back and quick as a flash rigged up a little cover over the turret. It was large enough to cover the whole turret, tight enough so that it didn’t flap in the gale force winds, and still allowed me to see out over the gun and rotate the turret 360 degrees or more. And there I stood, a little damp and chilly, but none the worse for wear. I turned the truck on, turned on the heater (never thought I’d use that on this trip) and listened to the drumming of the rain on a synthetic canvas roof.

Presently, the rain ceased. The cloud ceiling stayed, but it wasn’t dropping more than the occasional sprinkle. The wind was soft, now. Not just soft as in no longer ripping the hat off my head and trying to snap bungee cords. It felt not simply gentle, but soft like a woman’s hand. There was a tangible quality of softness, like velvet, or felt, or mullein leaves, brushing across my face as if that was its sole reason for existence. There is an intention in the wind, a purpose. It has meaning, and the meaning of that wind was a caress. The sun was behind the clouds, but I could see the rays of light stabbing through to the earth. “God’s Eyelashes,” I used to call them when I was younger, because to the ten-year old me they looked like the eyelashes of a half-closed eye. I don’t see the resemblance that much anymore, but I still call them that, because I haven’t thought of a better name.

As the sun sank lower and lower behind the clouds and the sky grew darker and darker, those rays of light slanted wider, and their fingers reached closer to me. Someone rolled up on the dirt bike asking if I wanted to be relieved, but I said no, I would prefer to stay and watch the sunset.

The sky at this point was almost completely clouded over. It looked, for all the world, like a gray bowl overturned on top of the earth. I imagine if you lived inside a snow globe and had really bad breath it would look much the same. There were still storms carrying on in the distance on all sides, except to the west, hanging down in gray, amorphous sheets like a curtain from the edge of the cloud bowl. On the west side, though, just where the sun was going to set, there was an opening. As the sun began to dip below the edge of the bowl it was as if the whole world was transformed right before my eyes. The underside of all the clouds nearest to the sun was shot through with red. Pinks and lavenders stretched around the edges of the bowl, almost meeting in the back, fading into the deep blue slate of the clouds. The rain storms flushed and then glowed bright rose red. From twenty to fifty miles away I could see them embraced by the light and shifting with the wind, like a slow, graceful love dance. Behind me, on the eastern side there was a pair of rainbows arching off the scrubby pastureland below the mountains to the northeast, disappearing into the clouds, and then descending in parallel curve to the ground to the southeast. Two rainbows, one inside the other, perfectly parallel with each other, forming a double arch exactly over that point on the eastern horizon where the sun would rise the next day.

The whole brilliant display lasted only three minutes, and then faded to purple, and then deep, bluish black, and for the few minutes I was trapped inside that glorious ceiling of cloud, I felt as if the whole thing was for me; I felt very small, and very young, as if the clouds were the arms of God, wrapping around me for a brief moment in a gesture of love. Not simply love, but specifically affection, the humble, earthy, human feeling of familiarity and comfortableness. Like when you are a little kid and your Dad hugs you and says, “It’ll be okay.”

That is fatherhood. The love that I do not deserve, and could not exist without.

Saturday, July 14, 2012


I kneel and pray, a worn out listening prayer,
A prayer of silence, of quieting my mind,
Of laying out before Him all my care,
In quiet darkness, in soft close emptiness
Of midnight in this empty, holy place.
Gazing at the crucifix before my face,
And under it the tabernacle veiled
In purple. I kneel before it, resigned
To the ineptitude of language; words fail
Beneath the crushing weights that vaguely press
Upon my soul. I lay it at His feet,
Breathe and release all worry, fear and pain
The leaden weight of grief upon my chest,
The lump of tears unshed, my worst and best:
The love that sorrows, the pride that will not weep.
I have to let it go. I make no excuse,
You know it better than I. You know its worth,
Light of heaven, fumes of hell, dust of the earth
All tumbled in one heap, no earthly use
In my worrying about it all. One great big gnarly dump
Of human folly, sin, potential and Divine grace.
What is there for me to say? But let me hear.
There is a peace of soul in letting go,
In knowing I’m not you.

What Men Think (Language Warning)

These are real quotes from real men that I know and work with on a daily basis.
"I think England was where I saw yoga pants for the first time."
"Mmmm... Yoga pants!"
"Yep! Best invention ever."

"I hate all these hippie faggots out here. (There were a lot of hippies at the state park we were climbing in.) I know they can hear me, but I don't give a f---, cause I'll still stare at their hippie women all day long."

"Check it out. Six-o-clock, 500 meters, pink shirt across the canyon. Yep. I look over that way and all I see are pink boobs."

"Did you see that one at the camp site? So much potential, if only she would wash and do something about the dreadlocks."

(Me referring to a couple of highschool or college kids climbing next to us.) "Man, those kids could climb!"
"Yeah. They were pretty good. Of course both of them together weigh about as much as you do by yourself, but the chick had a nice ass. I know because I was staring at it the whole time she was going up the rock."

Different group of guys, this time at a fairly nice Italian restaurant:
"Dude, did you see her breasts?! She walked right in front of our table, dawg, that's like dragging a piece of meat in front of a den of lions."
"That one over there! You don't wear yellow pants unless you want to get spanked, that's all I'm saying."
"Oh, she looked over here! She wants it, dawg, you know she wants it."
"I heard her say she's divorced. You know how those over forty and divorced chicks get. Experienced and desperate."
"Dude, she would spread her legs so wide!"

I have, of course, carefully selected only the most PG-rated comments.

I'm not sure why I am posting this. It isn't my usual style to post about things like this, and I think afterwards I will try to write something beautiful to cleanse my palate. This post feels almost like vomitting. You know how it is when you throw up. It is hideous while it lasts, but afterwards you feel a hundred percent better.
The temptation for me is to despise the guys who look at women like this. I can't help but think about the women that I know, and care about. I imagine what these guys would say and think about them, and I get angry. And after all, these random women, climbers, hikers, hostesses, waitresses, fellow diners etc. are someone's sisters, or friends, or girlfriends. They are people that you could get to know. You could have a conversation with, you could listen to their stories, you could know them, love them, respect them. Instead they choose to reduce them to a possible sex fantasy.
I am tired of dealing with it. I am tired of being around them. But I can't despise them for it, because no matter how hard I try to see women differently, no matter how much I legitimately hate that way of looking at women, I still know exactly what they are talking about. I don't have to follow their eyes or their nods. I have already seen her, and I've already made my own decision on how to respond to that sight of her. I hate being around it because it drags me down, perilously close to half-thinking the same sort of thought. Even more I hate it becuase it reminds me of how little difference there is between me and them.
And I am supposed to be the witness in all of this!
Heaven help us all.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Ask Thugfang: Theology of the Body, Part II

His Right Dishonourable Loathsomeness, Master Thugfang, is a demon of great infamy among academic circles. He is a frequent columnist for “Tempter’s Times”, an assistant editor for “Wickedness Weekly” and current chair of Tempter’s Training College’s Department of Defense Against the White Arts, after the sudden disappearance of the most recent head under mysterious circumstances. Now, His Right Dishonourable Loathsomeness takes your questions. Having problems with a particularly troublesome patient? Meddlesome enemy agents stymieing you at every turn? Don’t wait, write immediately to “Ask Thugfang” C/O “Underworld Magazine."

Dear Master Thugfang: My patient has recently read The Polish Pope’s Theology of the Body, and now he is less accessible to porn temptations. What do I do? Sincerely, Needs Options.

My Dear Readers,

Since this particular questioner has thoughtlessly neglected to mention whether his patient is married or unmarried, I am forced to answer with a two part column, thus taking valuable time away from all of your other questions, of which there are many good ones. However, this issue is important enough that I think it better I address it thoroughly.

As you all know, my specialty is Defense Against the White Arts. Well, the Polish Pope’s Theology of the Body is undoubtedly a White Art, among the more dangerous I’ve seen. However, its very whiteness can be turned to our advantage. The Polish Pope presents a sublime and spiritual vision of what most humans have recently been considering something strictly physical, and also an earthy and physical vision of something that most humans consider very spiritual. Most humans think of things in two separate categories, material and spiritual. On the one hand they have food, money, clothing, bills, medicine, cars, traffic, and sex. On the other they have prayer, sacrifice, philosophy, theology, the sacraments and the virtues. If we do our job right, the two categories remain separated by an unbridgeable chasm in the human mind. Not only do they not intermingle, they don’t even exist in the same mind. Our job is to fracture the human person and disintegrate it. Spiritual schizophrenia, that’s what we want. Then it doesn’t much matter whether we make the human a materialist, or a spiritualist; a hedonist or an ascetic; an atheist or a pantheist. As long as he loves the one category and hates the other, it will do.

This, of course, is the danger of the Polish Pope’s work, not that it unites the two, exactly. Even a casual reading of the Enemy’s Book would have done that. No, the danger is that it unites the two particularly where we have been most successful in dividing them, i.e. the realm of human sexuality.

This is its greatest strength, but also our opportunity, because we can use that perception, that TOB is all about sex, to isolate it from the rest of the human’s life. This is especially easy with male humans, whose sex drives are already so thoroughly isolated from the rest of their lives thanks to the male habit of compartmentalization and the cultural work we’ve done in shaping that ability.

I wrote earlier that the way to pull the teeth of TOB for the married patient is to confine it to the bedroom. The principle is the same for the unmarried human, except that it is easier. Since our questioner’s patient was undergoing the standard pornography treatment and is now not responding to it, this tells me that he is at least aware that he is in trouble and on some level wants to change. Well, let him change. If he’s thoroughly addicted that’s easier said than done, but in any event, the TOB that he’s filling his mind with should be connected in his head only with his porn habit. I should encourage the connection if I were you. Hammer it home to him. Every time he tries to resist a specific temptation muddle his mind with trying to remember specific passages or quotes. (You’ll recognize a fairly standard approach here, that of encouraging the patient to try to resist by sheer will power alone. The more he focuses on his own efforts, the less likely he is to cry for help.) If he fails you now have reams and reams of new truths to bash him over the head with. He has, after all, failed again, even with this brave new strength in his heart. He must, therefore, be hopeless, beyond any help, if even TOB couldn’t save him. Remorse and self-condemnation are virtually assured, rather than sorrow and contrition.

 If he succeeds in resisting once or twice, well, that’s always disappointing, but you mustn’t waste time with disappointment. You need to start exploiting it right away. Pride, self-congratulation, confidence in his “new strength.” Encourage him to expect that victory to be a permanent one. Not on any conscious level of course, but subconsciously he ought to be surprised by the next temptation five minutes later. If he were paying attention he would be expecting it, but if all he is thinking about is his own “success”, it will catch him off guard.

Encourage TOB? Yes, my darling demons, yes. Take it from an expert, the White Arts are best kept light-years away, but second best, pull them in close and keep them close. Manipulate the patient’s use of them. By encouraging him to think about it in connection with his porn habit only, you are subtly drawing him away from the real issues. Ironically, these issues are plain as a pikestaff to anyone who takes the TOB as a whole, but you are picking and choosing what he pays attention to, and in the grand scheme of things, his porn use is not the most important thing we have going on with him. It does us little good for him to struggle constantly with lust, if it is going to be a recurring occasion for repentance, a window of humility, an incentive to charity, and a constant reminder of his own helplessness. The TOB should have told him that his real issue here is the fact that he is longing for relationship, but is too frightened and cowardly and selfish for relationship. Porn is easier. If he thinks of porn as the root problem and wastes his energy fighting that, he will never seek out that so called “Communion of Persons” which would be his salvation. Friendships, an honest open relationship with a spiritual director, or (Hell forbid) a holy and happy marriage, all of these are death to us. In his mind, he is trying to overcome his “besetting sin” so that he can be worthy of these things. Not that he would put that into words, because then it would be too ridiculous to be believed, but it is there in his head and it is keeping him from the strongest natural medicine that might heal him. So let him hack away at the branches all he wants. We control the root and it will bear its rotten fruit in due season.

The other issue is that, if he paid attention, he would see that TOB has to do with everything, from the food he puts in his body, to the care he takes of it, to the woman he marries, the hands he shakes, the things he looks at and the books he reads. If he really took that message to heart he would start integrating his entire life into a single spiritual whole, enlightened by The Enemy and his “graces”. That is what we don’t want. We want him splintered and impotent. It is worth giving a little ground in one area to keep him that way. Trust me, if you can keep the rest of his life from being influenced by this new fad, any success he sees from it in this one area will be short lived, the relapse will be accompanied by even greater despair, and he will descend further into the pit than ever, with less desire of breaking free.

Just keep at it. Never slack off for an instant, because that will be the instant that “grace” will come flooding through and all your work will be undone. Damnation doesn’t just happen on its own.


Tuesday, July 3, 2012


I am learning patience. Slowly, little by little, I am learning real patience. There is a little bit of irony in that, because most people who know me would tell you that I am a very patient person. I never hurry for anything (except cookies). I stick to things for the long haul, regardless of how tough they become. I enjoy listening to people and I can take almost any kind of news without freaking out. I never freak out. I endure things calmly for long periods of time and absolutely refuse to give up.

The truth is, however, that that isn’t real patience. It bears a certain superficial resemblance to patience, but it really boils down to stubbornness. I don’t like to quit, I don’t like to seem not in control, I don’t like to be non-plussed or taken by surprise. So what seems like patience is really a long practiced habit of remaining level-headed and reasonable, no matter what happens. When other people are getting excited and losing their heads I like to be the one who can sit quietly and simply watch and listen to see what is really going on.

But this is not real patience. Real patience can only come through detachment. That’s why my habitual approach bears a superficial resemblance to real patience, because in order to practice it I have to detach from some things. In fact, I have to detach from most things. In order to maintain clearheadedness I have to let go of my expectations and desired outcomes. I need to be able to identify my own expectations and let go of them so that I can simply see what is and accept it. This is a good approach, and a good practice for real patience, but this natural level of detachment is not real patience, because the motivation is all wrong. I am detached from most things, but only because I am attached to something else. I am attached to my own level-headedness. I am stubbornly and fiercely devoted to my own ability to remain unfazed, to assess the situation and think my way out.

The truth, however, is that I cannot always do that. Sometimes even I get upset, or feel helpless or trapped. There are still some things that I really, truly desire with all my heart, so strongly that when they are threatened it can shake my self-absorbed calm.

But nothing that will not die can live. The false patience has to go away, to make room for the real patience, and in order to do that something must be threatened. Something I really, really want has to be taken away, maybe for a time, maybe permanently. The threat has to be real and serious or it will not break through the crust of self-sufficiency. I have covered over a great deal of selfishness with superficial calm, so the blade has to go deep, deep enough to expose the excuses, fears, insecurities.

Jesus will not hesitate to force the issue when He thinks it is time. The question is simple, “Will you trust me?”

“But I don’t ask for much. Why can’t you just let me have this one thing?”

“I’ve given up a lot of things in the past. Isn’t it time I got a little back in return?”

But He will not let up until all the excuses lie limp and wasted on the ground, and I am left with the naked truth, “I don’t want to. I want something other than what you are giving me.”

“Take this cup back. I don’t want to drink it.”

I have to be forced into this corner, kicking and screaming as it were, or I will never be able to learn the real patience that I need.

I already have the ability to wait for what I want, but that isn’t patience. That’s just an advanced form of delayed gratification. What I must learn now is to wait for what He wants, because only His work is guaranteed to be best for everyone involved. That is the only patience that is worth the name.

Now having described it to some extent, there remains only the task of doing it.