MariancoverA couple of years ago, when thoughts began forming in my head along certain lines – lines that have to do with human scale and pace, and what the requirements are for human flourishing in a way that aligns with the Gospel, with what has been penned in the West concerning The Good Life, &c.

Pope Francis’ encyclical lit a fire under me, and my fingers have been furiously flying over the keyboard because my mind is going like a gyro. I’m reframing the research I’ve been conducting on topics woven into fabric by intersecting threads of thought. Resilience and sustainability, human scale and pace, and things like that.

This process began when I was homeschooling my two oldest children, and did more studying than they.  John Taylor Gatto’s Underground History of American Education got the fire burning, but that quickly led by way of reference to John Senior’s “The Death of Christian Culture” and an appendix in which he lists “the thousand good books” which must be read before one can understand the content of the Great Books of the Western World, which believe it or not are more accessible today than at any other point in history, they’re free, and nobody wants to read them because we’re sinking into a new age of barbarism.

But I digress.

Reading Senior got me to reading more Senior, by way of sequel.  That is, “The Restoration of Christian Culture.”  I’ve worn out two copies with notes. The book isn’t very prescriptive, but I think we may be able to handle that for him.  He had a bunch of good ideas scattered throughout the book, but nothing like a program.  I began working on the Parva Project, but got sidetracked and let it hang there for awhile.  I’m thinking it might be time to resuscitate it.

Anyhow, back to the encyclical!

The encyclical may have opened up a portal, not in the space/time continuum, more important than that.  It may have opened up a portal into the grace/time continuum.  I’m hoping that it rips through the fabric that has kept otherwise good Catholics (I’m a bad Catholic, so I don’t count) from acting on the Church’s social doctrine.  It is going to suck for a lot of people, because it would mean that we have to actually start caring about other people and the harm that we’re doing to them by not promoting all aspects of the common good…by living it.

John Senior began his book “Restoration” with an opening salvo.  He said that we have no other recourse but to Mary, and I would agree.  It is in the spirit of that resignation that I propose a concerted effort to band together and live as if certain things mattered.  And so, I offer a means of doing that in the form of a wonderful version of the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary popular  a hundred and a quarter years ago.  If you want an easy way to pray through the day, maybe even if you’ve tried to pray the Liturgy of the Hours but found you didn’t have the time…you may love this solution.  The Little Office is an abbreviated version of the Liturgy of the Hours, otherwise known as the Divine Office (hence the Little Office of the BVM is a shortened devotion, not a room from which Mary used to work from home).

Click the picture above if you’re so inclined, and pray with me.

Laudato Si

Conservative disdain for the environmental movement, even among Catholics, is appalling. Once not long ago, being conservative included a such ideals as conservation, but it would appear that is rarely the case now. There, I said it. Of course, I’m painting with a broad stroke, but more often than not it is true. The current fad is to rail against climate change science, disregarding every other category to include pollution and the destruction of entire ecosystems.

While I am disheartened by commentary coming from some conservative authors who in the past I believed I could trust, this encyclical has caused a lot of them to show their true colors. They are good capitalists. They are good Republicans. Good Catholics? By their fruits you shall know them. The rampant consumerism card has been pulled from the deck and placed on the table face up, along with it’s four brothers, for a straight flush: Throw away society, neglect of the common good, pollution of the air, water, and soil, and outright selfishness. And some of my favorite writers over at Crisis magazine are squealing “Marxism! Marxism!” I expected more…

I fully plan to begin implementing as many of those things as possible that Francis asked for in this letter to all humanity. How many of you will come along for the wild ride?

I’m here alone.

Big city, lots to do, lots to see – a lot of time to occupy so I don’t slow down…

…and realize what a decision this is that I made.

As a little background, I was a factory worker.  For twenty years of my working life. I lifted seventy pound blocks of rubber onto a conveyor belt for a meager living.  Then became an autoworker at three times the pay and rammed my knuckles bloody putting seals in transmission bell housings, gauging parts that came off the lines, loaded the lines, unloaded the lines, jobsat (plural of jobsetter) a bank of three axis grinders, mills, and polishers.  The pay was okay, the benefits were good, and I was wasting away inside because it didn’t feel like that was who I was or what I was supposed to be doing.

The upside was that I was home every day.  Half of those twenty years were spent on second shift.  Some more of it was spent on midnights. When the kids were younger, second shift didn’t matter.  I spent more time with them than if I’d been on days.  But then they reached school age and I was there at home while they were at school, and when they got home from school, I was just going in to work.  I’d get home at eleven thirty and kiss their smooth foreheads and tell them I was home and I loved them and they’d smile and kiss me and instantly fall back to sleep.  Second shift is a family killer but we survived.

My first awakening to the idea that there was more than factory life for me was when my National Guard unit was mobilized for a port support mission and I was stationed at Fort Hood for all of 2004.  Tawnya and the kids ended up moving down there with me for most of that year.  The kids were in Texas schools for half the school year, and it caused them to be away from their friends for a few months but we moved back and put our life back together.  Except that every day I went back into the factory after that, I wanted to be somewhere else.

When the manufacturer I worked for started talking about offering to buy out some employees jobs, I jumped on the chance.  Tawnya and I talked about it, but I think that was more of me convincing her why it was right.  I bought out my job, cashed the check, and took a position with an ROTC program back in Texas.  The plan was that when the coming school year was over, the family would move down there to join me.  My oldest son wanted to finish high school with his friends.  Less than six months later, I was back in Indiana for reasons I won’t get into here, burning through the rest of the buyout money we hadn’t spend paying off some loans or put away into the 401k.

A few months after the boy graduated, I was offered a position at National Guard Bureau in the D.C. area and gratefully accepted.  Told my boss at the new insurance job I’d trained for, and started packing right before Christmas of 2008.  Then the phone call came that there was a problem with the funding and not to quit my job yet or anything drastic like that.

Ended up not being funded until the following summer, and I had to take another ROTC job in western Illinois until the orders came to keep the finances afloat.  I was away from home again, but was within driving distance for weekends so I’d jump in my car Friday afternoons and zip down US 24 to be home in time for a late dinner.

When my orders were cut for DC, we loaded up the truck and moved the family again.  This time it just about crushed both of my daughters.  The oldest was a senior and I took her away from graduating with her friends.  And the youngest daughter probably still hates me to this day because she had such a rough time of it. The youngest boy rode out both moves with seemingly no scars.  He adapts to everything.  When we were done with the gig in DC, we moved back to Indiana where I’d gotten my next military assignment at Camp Atterbury, settled down in Shelbyville and bought a house.  We got involved in the community and I started doing bicycle and health advocacy in my spare time.  I promised that I wouldn’t take the kids out of their schools and away from their friends again.

Then the Army announced that the military base I worked at was being retired as a mobilization platform.  Shortly after that they announced that the program I worked for was being moved to Fort Bliss, and all the Indiana employees were to look for other employment opportunities.

I had a years notice.  Made good use of it, too.  I put in applications in Indianapolis, Columbus, Shelbyville, Greensburg.  Sent resumes out for everything I was remotely qualified for.  In eight months, I got one bite that wasn’t a complete insult (by insult, I mean ten to twelve bucks per hour).  I made it to the final round of interviews for that position, but didn’t get the job.  At that point I told Tawnya I was going to apply for some emergency management jobs in D.C. just to see if I’d get any bites.

I had three offers of employment within a month, and accepted the most promising of them.

Now I’m back here again in D.C.  and Tawnya and the kids are in Indiana.  I don’t have a crystal ball and I don’t know how this is going to pan out and that is scary.  There are two things I know for sure.  Number one is that is easier for me than being unemployed and looking for work in Indiana.

The second is the more painful of the two, and that is…I know this is killing Tawnya.  And that is killing me.

That is the point of all of that rambling above.

I married a simple girl.  When she gave me her heart, it was her whole heart and it was forever.  All she wants is to be with me.  Some people don’t like to hear talk like that, because they think that everyone should be self actualized and maybe it isn’t healthy to be so intertwined with another person. They don’t realize that sometimes self-actualization is being devoted to another person so completely that no matter what else is going on, all you want is to be with them.   When you ask someone what they want to be, they usually answer with a job description.  When I ask Tawnya what she wants to be, her whole being says, “I just want to be with you.”  I don’t deserve that.

All she wants is to be with the jerk that I am.  And here I am again in D.C.  Hoping to get home as much as possible after my training is over.  But it won’t be enough.  I know that it won’t be enough.  Not for her. All she wants is to be with me. Do you get it? I didn’t. I live in a utopia somewhere in the future where we’re going to be together and we’re going to be happy.  She’s sitting in the living room babysitting to keep her mind off the fact I’m not there, and it isn’t working.

I can tell you that this job I got is great.  Its what I spent the past seven years training to do.  Its why I got my Certified Emergency Manager credential.  Its why I’m in the home stretch on my master’s degree in the same field with a 3.96 GPA.  But I have to be here in D.C. to do it.  And every day I do it, at least for now, is a day I’m not with her.

And all she wants is to be with me.

When we were teenagers we used to snuggle on her parents couch listening to Kenny Rodgers and Dolly Parton singing “Islands in the Stream.”

That is what I am today.  I’m an island in a stream.

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Martha’s driveway

I got to Alexandria yesterday afternoon and the homesickness hit me almost at once.  It was one of those “what were you thinking?” moments when the full weight of my decision came home to roost in my heart.  I’m well acquainted with that feeling of loneliness because this isn’t the first time I’ve had to make this kind of decision.  There was a time when I was a homebody slash factory worker who went to work and came home on a daily basis, and had a lot of weekend time.  But I haven’t experienced that sense of normality since 2007.  The new normal has some perks.  Being offered the chance to pursue my dream job affords me a heady feeling of euphoria.  But the crash is that I”m away from my wife and kids for extended periods of time, and that just sucks.  Big time.

I staved of that feeling this morning after I awoke to find that the DC government is shut down today because of the snow storm that sneaked up behind me on my drive east.  So, I didn’t have an orientation to go to this morning.  Still, I was up and refreshed and lonely at 5:30.  I put on some snivel gear (cold weather clothing) and headed outside with shovel in hand and cleared off Martha’s driveway and un-buried my car.  The residential street was already plowed, as is Fort Hunt Road, so even though the gummint is shut down, the streets are open.  I will venture out later to pick up a few things I forgot at the store yesterday, find a gym with a free treadmill so I can get a good workout, and go to Costco with Martha to help her pick out a wireless printer.

I hope y’alls day is spectacular, and that you cherish all the little things in your life like the hugs from your loved ones.  I can’t right now, and that separation only intensifies how truly important they are.  Because you don’t miss things like that until you don’t have them.

2015-01-01 14.21.08First day of 2015, ten point six miles on the commute bike.  What can I say, I’m renewing a continuing resolution instead of enacting a new year’s resolution.  Since I’ll be heading to D.C. shortly to start with my new employer, I can use phrases like “continuing resolution” and get away with it.

What was special about today’s ride?  As usual, it didn’t use any gasoline, although that commodity is currently less than two dollars per gallon again.  It was moderately windy.  In the vicinity of 20 miles per hour windy, and since the wind was southwesterly, and I did a down-and-back north to south/south to north ride, the first half of it was in-my-face windy.  I loved it.  I love windy rides, because it adds to the challenge, like if you were at the gym on a treadmill, and the guy next to you was thumbing the incline button.  Or a drill sergeant sitting on your back while you’re knocking out push-ups.  That kind of love.  Love like the wording on the workout t-shirt I just bought.

Sweat dries; blood clots; bones heal; suck it up buttercup.

The weather during my ride was a bit chilly, if you consider thirty degrees Fahrenheit to be chilly.  I’m with Columbia sportswear company on that one though.

There is no such thing as bad weather, just improper clothing.

I told that one to my oldest son, who was stationed at Fort Wainwright and was deployed for a year to Afghanistan when he was in the Army, and he said, “no Dad, you’re wrong.  There is such a thing as bad weather.” I understand where he is coming from, but I think he is mistaken.

It was sunny during my whole ride, too.  I appreciated that, and for the fact that it wasn’t directly in my eyes.

90 or so more days until spring.  I’m going to ride on each one of them if I can.

Ride!

20141226_074109I’ve been telling my family and close friends that it is going to be weird not driving to Camp Atterbury for work now that I’m no longer employed there.  For the past fifty months or so, I have driven there, or ridden my bike, fifty miles round trip, five days per week.  No more.

I will miss taking the occasional “good morning” sunrise pictures on lonely winding country roads.  I’ll be trading that scene for sunrise-over-the-Potomac shots from the side of the Mount Vernon Trail, which isn’t a bad trade off at all.

Different can be good.

But now on to the next segment of my life, where work is just outside of D.C., and I’ll be using planes a lot more.

Another upside is the amount of bike trails at my disposal, and the amount of days off that I’ll have to be able to dedicate to riding and recording bike trails.

I’m stoked.

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Flagrantly lifted from yankeecandle.com in return for a link-back.

Whenever we go to the mall, or even just to some of them, you can find me in one of two places.  The bookstore or at Yankee Candle.  We love the Housewarmer candles at my place.  Even when Madame Wife and I were just starting our life together and working at fast food joints, we’d wait until there was a sale on votives, and then leave with a tray of them.  I bring this up because I’m starting a thoughtful reading of Dietrich von Hildebrand’s “Transformation in Christ” and his first chapter titled Readiness to Change is deftly illustrated by an image common in my home.

Here’s Dietrich: “Readiness to change, taken in this sense, is the first prerequisite for the transformation in Christ.  But, in addition thereto, more is needed:  a glowing desire to become a new man in Christ; a passionate will to give oneself over to Christ.  And this, again, presupposes a state of fluidity, as it were: that we should be like soft wax, ready to receive the imprint of the features of Christ.”

Wonderful thought.  If you have ever held wax in your hand until it was warm enough to become pliable, then you know what he is saying.  Solid, yet yielding, in that state you can leave the mold of your fingerprint on its surface.

But speaking further, von Hildebrand says, “the more one is transformed in Christ, the deeper and more unlimited his readiness to change beyond the point reached, the more he understands the dimension of depth in which that transformation must extend…”

What will the Beloved require of me?

When the wax is warm and able to hold a fingerprint, it isn’t far from cooling off and becoming hard again, or from being wiped smooth so to receive another imprint.  But what about the candle that has long been at the task of being burned?  When the flame is first set, the wick climbs high until its base comes in contact with the wax, and a small pool forms beneath.  As the flame mixes oxygen with wax, the pool spreads out in width and depth.  Leave it long enough, and you’ll find that all the wax has liquefied and the whole house is filled with the scent with which the wax has been infused.

If you would be a candle, that flame is the Holy Spirit and the wick is your willingness to change; your passion to completely surrender.  It should run straight through the center of you, down to the very depth of who you are.  That tiny tongue of hot light affixed to your constant will, shall dance until you consciously choose to blow it out.

I want to keep the flame burning until the whole jar is nothing but fragrant liquid.

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