I am reminded …

That there are moments of great beauty in being American; of living in this crazy wonderful country of America.

You know my political ‘leanings’ (it’s a wonder I don’t topple over) but watching and listening to West Wing sometimes brings a tightness of chest and stinging eyes. Regardless of your own political leanings, there are golden nuggets in WWing that make watching it worthwhile.

I’m listening (I’ve watched the series so many times that I just listen to it now while I do other things) to the episode regarding Thanksgiving. There’s a fun storyline about the Press Secretary having to decide which of two live turkeys gets to be pardoned, and the important storyline about a freight container of 83 escaped Chinese. A difficult situation to deal with as this fictional (?) administration has trade deals with China that it wants to maintain and not jeopardize. The container box Chinese claim they are persecuted Christians. The President decides he will interview one and decide whether or not they are Christians or are merely coached on what to say. It’s really quite touching to watch (or listen to) the exchange between the president and the Chinese gentleman.

The president decides that they are, indeed, Christian. The Chinese are being held in a camp under military guard. The president pulls some strings and it all works out the way we hope it would.

My America.

Our America.

I never cease to be moved by the promise this country holds.

 

A vulture in the wilderness

And so it begins! Quick now, while Nightmarish Evil Ogre is spell-bound, read the first of the horrible horror stories!

It was a dark and stormy night and the lights were flickering – well they were, somewhere, but not here and not this night. The sun was sinking slowly through a cloud formation that resembled an orange meringue imploding messily, and the ruined towers of Notre Dame glowed as with a reflection of the flames that had engulfed them just over a year ago. The cobblestones were still blackened and messy, there was an air of desolation. Yes, a dark and stormy night would have suited both the place and my mood.

Pierre was a typical Frenchman, I concluded to myself! He knew he was handsome, and the world knew he was rich and successful; I knew he was a bastard – lucky me! When your papa owned one of the biggest banks in Paris, and when you had finished top of your class at the Sorbonne and at Harvard Business School, Moab was your washpot; and girls, even pretty ones, were to be used like tissues – and discarded in the same manner; a plain Jane like me was fortunate to have such a man. I suddenly felt the chill; the sun had gone below the horizon; the Isle de France suddenly felt cold; there was an absence of company. Where the hell was Pierre?

“Meet me at Notre Dame”, he had said, “that little café on the right of the square, opposite the bridge. Be there for seven. Oh, and wear that green wrap-around dress I like.” It was the sort of thing he did, and the lasciviousness with which he said it reminded me that the tie allowed him to disrobe me speedily.. He thought it was “charmante”, and so, for the first month or so of our tempestuous affair, had I. Like many women, I quite liked “masterful”, even if my feminist principles told me that I ought not to. But with Pierre there were many of those things I ought not to have done that I had done; the devices and desires of my own heart led me by the nose; until I began to realise that was his thing.

Was that an owl I heard? Surely there were no owls in Paris? And where was Pierre? “Oui, maître”, I had said to him, hoping the sarcasm dripping from my lips would convey my growing irritation with his grand seigneurial manner.

“Are you Emily?” The waitress was a pretty girl in her late teens I would have said, probably of Algerian ancestry to judge by her skin tone. I admitted to the offence of being Emily. “M. Pierre said to meet him in the cathedral, he gave me this for you.” “This” was a police pass which said that I was permitted to enter the precincts of the ruins. Smiling, I gave her a generous tip and set off across the square. “Damn it!” I thought to myself, there I was again, just doing what he told me. No wonder he didn’t get the sarcasm. I suddenly realised that, in more than one sense, I was very far from home.

The guards at the gate smiled when they saw the pass. Their leer made me feel uneasy. Why did he want me to meet him here? Yes, there was no doubt about it, a dark and stormy night would have been a better backstop, but heck, I thought, he was worth it, and no doubt whatever he had in mind would, as he liked to put it “stretch my boundaries.”

The shiver that had gone through me when the sun dropped below the Seine intensified and doubled in intensity as I walked into the charred ruins. There was that owl, clear for the first time. Where the devil was the man? Then I wished I had not thought of the devil. The shadows cast by the lights of the building work took on the shape of demons; stop it, Emily, I thought.

I picked my way carefully. The lights gave just enough illumination to find my way, but my heels echoed in the darkling gloom. My irritation with Pierre still, just, outdistanced my growing unease, but it was a closer run thing than I was comfortable with. If I’d had the sense I was born with, I thought, I’d have turned on those heels and walked right on out. But if he was setting me a “dare” I was not going to back out and leave him with the last laugh.

I realised I was getting hungry. Life with Pierre was a roller-coaster. He never stopped, and that meant I never stopped. When was the last time I had talked with my friends, or my mother and sister? Time seemed to have been eaten up in frenetic activity. Suddenly I felt weary. The air had changed. How could it suddenly feel stuffy when most of the roof had gone?

It was then that I noticed it. There was a dripping sound. It was steady, like a leaking faucet, but softer. Then there was the smell. I could not quite identify it, though it seemed to me that it was familiar – but not as it usually was. I pulled my wrap closer around me. I could see the Cross and the high altar ahead. I crossed myself. “Lord, have mercy”, I thought. Those things I had done, and those I had left undone suddenly felt heavy on me; the weight of them was intolerable. It was sulphur, that smell. The owl hooted. I crossed myself again.

“Ma chérie”, came a familiar voice. It was him. He laughed. “It is so sweet the way you cross yourself, even at this moment.” I looked at him. Tall, handsome, and confident; that smile was a smirk. “I thought it would be the acme of wickedness to take you here, chérie, and that dress makes it easier for me! Untie it and come to me.”

For the third time, the owl hooted. I looked, and behind him, laid on a pyre of wood was a goat, dead, its blood dripping slowly on the floor. I saw the pentangles on the floor. He threw a light onto the pyre and pulled the cloak back. Paralysed, all I could think of was to say “Hail Mary, full of grace”, and he laughed, and in the flames, I saw him – a leper, white as snow – his bones seemed to show through his skin which was translucent. “Now, here and give yourself to me!” Out of the shadows, I saw three ghostly figures step forward. Automatically, doing what he said, as usual, I reached for the belt to loosen it, but found my hand in my pocket instead. I shivered, and not just with the cold. I felt myself pulled toward Pierre and the three figures.

Had I always had that Rosary in the pocket of my dress? I clutched it like a lifebelt. As I felt him drawing me into the circle formed by the pentangles, I pulled my Rosary out and clutched the Cross” “I believe in God, the Father Almighty,” the words came unbidden, though I had not said them for the last forty nights. The air crackled; the three ghostly figures seemed to flicker.

His eyes seemed to burn into me and suddenly, as on a screen, I saw laid out before me how life could be – luxurious and sumptuous: the mansions; the dresses; the exotic locations; the pleasures of the flesh; I knew, somehow, that if I would but do this one thing for him, all these things, and more, would be my portion in life.

“Ma chérie, give yourself to us now, you know you want to !” I felt utterly alone in the wilds of this place and of my heart. I could feel the unmistakable signs that my body was willing – except that my hand clutched the Rosary tight. “Mother of God, Our Lady of Walsingham, intercede for us!” The familiar words sprang forth as my mind and lips struggled with the flesh – and there she was.

There was a light which pierced the darkest recesses of the night, and suddenly I felt warm and no longer alone; my hands ceased to fumble with the tie. Pierre’s face, illuminated in the white light was set in a scowl which turned to fear; his ghostly companions faded. In the ruins and the hour of my terror, I saw her.

That was long ago now, but on this All Hallows’ Eve I set it down in writing as a warning. Pierre? I never saw him again. I remember following Our Lady out of her Cathedral and then hailing a taxi back to my apartment, and then nothing until, on the next Sunday I went to Mass at the Anglican Church of St Michael and when we reached the general confession I know only one thing, I had never meant it more. But it is late now, and the Mass of All Souls’ day is imminent, and my curate waits.

 

Sunday Funnies; 1st Debate

An Update. Outside Walter Reed Army Hospital last night.

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And so, Debate (sort of).

Teri Hatcher reminds us

Irony Alert

So that’s my problem, I thought I was supposed to tell her how pretty she is. Heavens, how stupid of me!

 

And, of course

Random Observations

If we are lucky – and realistic – we come to the conclusion that the way we are right now is not such a bad thing. We come to a kind of comfortable place with that person in the mirror.

I no longer worry if my butt “looks big in these jeans”; it has become completely irrelevant to me whether I have big boobs or members of the ‘itty bitty titty committee’; that a ‘bad hair day’ is going to ruin someone’s opinion of me; my very short fingernails are just fine without rainbows and glitter and junk embellishments pasted on; that I needn’t worry about how I look because nobody looks at a woman my age anyway (although I do have to admit, I try to look presentable whenever I go out – I strive to not be a Walmart shopper video). It’s a process. When we were babies, we had to learn to sit up (and stay up!), learn to eat, learn to talk, learn to walk. At the other end of that, we have to learn to edit what we eat, sitting up can sometimes be exercise, we need to stand for a moment to make sure everything is lined up properly before we take a step, we sometimes need to search for a word. It’s a process.

By and large, it ain’t all that bad. And neither am I. And neither are you. We’re still shakin’ it the best we can. What I used to do on a dance floor, I now do in a desk chair to certain music videos. I think a little more before I do anything so I don’t wind up looking ridiculous or hurting myself and thinking more is always a good thing. I have found more forgiveness – for myself and others. I have reached the conclusion that ‘they’ were right all along – material things don’t make you happy; they may make you more comfortable but not necessarily happier. ‘Happy’ is within you when you come to that point of realization that it wasn’t all about you after all. Who needs that kind of pressure? My work, it turns out, didn’t define me, it was simply what I did. What defines me is my kids and how they turned out; my siblings and the fact that we still all love and enjoy each other. That I have been able to share my faith journey and help others on theirs. That the best Thanksgiving dinner wasn’t the one that turned out perfectly but the one where I ruined the gravy – they still talk about that. I created the only gravy known to man that could be spread on bread. The simple joys are the best ones and it’s exactly because they are simple.

I find that I am content. That’s quite a statement to make. There’s a lot to be said of contentment; it’s kind, warm, comfortable, and reassuring. I think it’s a reward for having made it this far. If it is, I’m all for it.

 

ooOOoo – BOO!

Like every child in America, we’re told there are no such things as ghosts. No werewolves, no vampires, no zombies. It’s greatly reassuring and helps us to be rational as we grow older and see and experience new things. We seem to go through a phase in our teens where we become overly interested in horror movies and wild science fiction movies and even scary literature like a lot of Edgar Allan Poe’s stories. A rite of passage, one might say. Part of the maturing process.

When we become Christian, there’s an adjustment to be made to the original dictates. If one accepts Christ, one also must accept the idea of the spiritual side of things; those things incorporeal. When we pray alone, we’re not really alone as all the host of heaven (the spirits in heaven) pray with us. We come to know the Holy Spirit (once called the Holy Ghost) and we learn that, among other things, there’s a ‘spirit of fear’. Depending upon your understanding, spirit of fear can mean we ourselves having a fearing nature, or, that there is a spirit that can bring fear into your life and cause great discord.

The Bible tells a story in Luke 16: 26 ” King James Bible And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.” I suspect this verse is why parents tell their children – or rather, the information is passed on from generation to generation – that there are no ghosts. The peace in heaven which ‘passeth understanding’ is, in part, because there is no going back and forth between heaven and earth.

How, then, do we explain ghosts? Over-active imagination? Hysterical nature? Hoax? If you want a good time, do a random sample of ghost ‘reaction’ videos. Honestly – the reactors get me laughing and it’s a great good time. But you can often come away, scratching your head and wondering. What IS going on in the barely-there world? The Bible has already assured us there’s no roundtrip ticket – once you’re there, you’re there. So we know it’s not Aunt Tilly or great Uncle Gus.

The other thing being a Christian does, is make us aware of demons. Ok, lots of psychological, as well as physical, illnesses were blamed on demons; we’ve learned a lot in two millennium. So then what is it people are experiencing? The short answer is – I don’t know. I’ve got some stories of my own that I can’t explain. I’m sure you do, as well. How do we account for the unaccountable?

What do you think the answer is?

The UK Report

In the Salisbury Review, Peter Mullen has some comments about the UK education establishment, they’re worth our time on either side of the pond.

For far too long our wonderful young people have been the victims of scandalous prejudice on the part of the educational establishment which inexplicably favours students who are intelligent, knowledgeable and industrious. This reactionary policy constantly discriminates against those of our wonderful young people who are ignorant, idle and thick. I have been gathering first-hand testimonies from some of these casualties: those vulnerable oiks and morons who, through no fault of their own, are being denied the opportunity to spend three years hanging around getting innocently pissed and stoned as a prelude to their achieving a pretty piece of parchment and years of debt. […]

But the rot starts even before our wonderful young people even leave school where they are obliged to do maths. Orion was hopping mad because he had been awarded a D. “So I mean like absolutely I said 7+ 5 = 41. An’ d’you know what they sed? They sed it’s 12. Well, it’s like it might be 12 for some people but uvvers cum from a community wot ‘as a different culture like and they ‘as their own like ideas dunt they?”

Orion’s teacher shared his disappointment: “The rigid system is class-based, sexist and racist. Underprivileged and vulnerable wonderful young people are being denied self-expression and their human right to say that 7 + 5 = whatever they say it is in their community and ethnic group. Cultural relativism. Know what I mean?” […]

Clotho was sitting next to her friend Vyella straight out of the RE [Religous Education, admin] exam: “It was horrible and my sister Ammonia was like well I’m gone, Clotho. I mean Ammonia’s a neo-vegan Zoroastrian with only slight cannibalistic tendencies. Then we got all this about God saying there’s stuff we shouldn’t do, commandments and that. Why is God so judgemental? And so up Himself with this like no other gods but me. Has He never like heard of diversity? He’s probably a She anyway. So Sexist. Incredible

STOP PRESS The Education Secretary has been put in detention.

Do read it all. If he hasn’t he certainly should have been. I was chatting recently with a friend who is the CEO of an English Educational Trust. She tells me that Boris’s girlfriend needs to get a grip on him. She says the phrase she and her colleagues are using “Omnishambles”. Not a very good look for a first world country. Meanwhile, the Universities are trying to make some sense of it all, and not have to lay people off. Omnishambles, indeed!

But then thanks to our teacher’s unions, we are not doing all that much better.

This is more of a coming attraction than an actual report, but Spiked Online UK has done an interview with Joseph Bottum the author of An Anxious Age: The Post-Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of America. It too speaks of both our countries and is fascinating. But it will take an article of its own, perhaps more than one to clarify what he seems to be saying to me. A hint is in his use of the word ‘Elect’ instead of ‘Elite’. I think he makes a fair amount of sense.

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