Haunted by Resonance: A review of General Escobar’s War.

general-escobars-war

 

As I write this, it is the eve of the 2016 election. And I am haunted.

Imagine a time when a nation is being pulled apart by hostile agendas, uncompromising political forces demonize one another and there seems to be no clear choice for people who value the rule of law, their faith, and honor.

Imagine a time when secular “isms” demand a dogmatic, unquestioning loyalty that matches and even exceeds religious zealotry.

Imagine a time when households are divided by political fury.

It sounds alarmingly recent, but it is the stage for General Escobar’s War  a novel by Jose Luis Olaizola, written not in 2016 but in 1983 concerning events of the Spanish Civil War occurring in 1936-39. A historical novel based on the papers of Antonio Escobar Huerta. A true story.

It might seem the most manipulative hyperbole to compare the events of the Spanish CIvil War to the dissonance of the current American political dynamic. Yet, the events of that struggle would probably have seemed like hyperbole had they been suggested ten or fifteen years before they occurred

Reading this novel created an all too unnerving echo of what we can see happening around us today. The situation today may not be as complicated or dire, just yet, as the events of 1936-39, but the resonance is there. It is not at this time as harsh, but it is distressing to see the growing tension not just between political agendas, but the schism from that tension infecting families.

There is a weight of fatalistic sorrow in General Escobar’s War that would soon become oppressive were it not for the title character’s steadfast nature. Antonio Escobar Huerta is no cardboard hero. He worries. He frets. He experiences dread, fear, hope, anger and uncertainty. But, through it all he holds fast to faith and honor. In short he is a man who senses a reality beyond the immediate. The good General Escobar realizes that surrendering what is moral and honorable is to lose anything that truly matters.

Such a realization is beyond inconvenient. As readers it might be disquieting for us to contemplate. For General Escobar it was a doom. So read this book. Ponder if you would ever dare bring down such a doom upon yourself for the sake of those virtues that are the mortar of our “sure and certain hope.”  I believe that you too will be grateful that there have been men and women like Antonio Escobar Huerta scattered throughout our history..

You might also find yourself praying that they are among us still.

 

 

The Esotericism of the Hooded Merganser

hooded_merganser_lophodytes_cucullatus_1

 

My friend, Steven, had a jackdaw mind for the quirky.  He was to the quirky as the family Corvidae is to bright, shiny objects. Cars, entertainment, humor and even names, he liked them quirky. He collected the knowledge of them and stored them in his mind for later recollection.

 

His love of quirky names still stands out for me in how he latched on to dwarf nandina and hooded merganser. Every unknown plant was granted the appellation dwarf nandina, and every unknown waterfowl was a hooded merganser.  An actual hood was not required.

 

I was reading Michael D. O’Brien’s The Fool of New York City when my own memories of my friend were stirred. Some elements of the fabric of the relationship between the two protagonists reminded me in a vibrant, if very tenuous manner of my relationship with Steven . In fact, that connection was so tenuous in so many ways that it would be too esoteric to explain in a concise manner. Except the hooded merganser.

 

It reminds me of how what we enjoy watching or reading, or listening to is tightly tied to where we have been and where we are in our lives. A book we read when we are 15 might well not have the same effect at 50, or it might have more. All the strands of our experience are tied to where we are, as each new experience arises. Previous experiences modify the new, and the new experience modifies the previous.

 

My favorite movie is Terrence Malick’s Tree of Live. A brilliant, moody, moving, astounding work of art, and yet I hesitate to recommend it to others. It is problematic, given its nonlinear narrative, the visual symbolism and the use of nearly whispered voice overs to convey important themes. For me, all the strands in the film pulled together; my love of science, history, philosophy and theology converged with a time line closely aligned to my own life. It was a staggering experience and moves me still each time I watch it.

 

I would have enjoyed and appreciated The Fool of New York CIty even if it had not echoed my relationship with a lost friend. The prose was clear and masterful, the story moving and well told. It was all there. Then came the hooded merganser. I laughed out loud while reading when the bird made its first appearance. Then, I actually shed some tears when it made its last.

 

I think my heart would have burst if a dwarf nandina had crossed the stage. As it was, The Fool of New York City was a gift to me. Many would see the pulling together of all those strands as mere coincidence. I can see where they might. For me? No, there was more at work than chance. It was a gift given to me by God, I can feel it in a transcendent manner. A gift from God by way of O’Brien’s words. Mr. O’Brien did not mean to give me a gift. I suspect he would be happy to know he did, but what he intended was to be a channel through which God’s love flowed.
Every book, every movie, every song, every piece of artwork is a chance. A chance that we might be edified in an act of sub-creation. Those gifts make life well worth living.

Classic Catholic Fiction Book Club To Feature Tobit’s Dog

 

photoimg_90f68c19f5a165cef1aafa74d9bd999d

St. Paul The Apostle Catholic Church, Corner of Columbus Avenue & West 60th Street, New York, NY  will be having a discussion of Tobit’s Dog on October 24th from 6:30 to 8:30 PM in the Parish center.

St. Paul The Apostle is the Mother Church of the Paulist Fathers. RSVP information is available in the link below. Scroll down for announcement and RSVP link.

https://www.stpaultheapostle.org/events_saintpaul.php

Who is like God?

151da8085b9a6b694dc489a54712720e

Today is Michaelmas, or the feast of the archangels. As such, it is my own feast of naming day, as it were. The name, Michael, is translated as who is like God. As a relatively young man I was maybe a little peeved to discover that it is not a declarative sentence, but always understood to be a question, Who is like God? My understanding of that has evolved into a cornerstone of my faith. Through that question I began to comprehend an absolute from which all understanding must flow.

I will let the archangel Raphael explain it in the guise of Ace Redbone:

Finally Ace came to the confrontation at the dining table. He paused, as if to collect the memory. “I wish you could have seen it. You would have to imagine the great archangel arising from amidst the chaos of pride created by Satan and his angels. You would have to imagine the great battle cry, Who is like God? The question that can be answered in only one way, and thus bring clarity, reality itself, and casts out the confusion! Who is like God?”

It is the ground of reality upon which we stand. The War in Heaven was not swords, shields, spears or even B-2 bombers. It was ultimate reality against lies and delusion.

So, happy feast day to all you Michaels, Gabriels, Raphaels. . . and maybe Uriels, but that’s another story.

 

 

A Tale of Two Boys: Reviewing “Little Boy” and “The Confirmation”

I recently and coincidentally watched two films with plots that revolved around a boy’s relationship with his father. One I had heard so much about it I was looking forward to the experience,  the other I approached with more than a little apprehension.

Image result for Little BOy film

First up was Little Boy a nostalgic fable of faith. Set during WWII it is beautifully presented, with all the golden light of nostalgia. We have young bullies plucked from any of a half dozen sentimental film recollections of small town life. We have the outside world muscling its way harshly into the gentle idyll. We have the usual parade of idiosyncratic town characters perilously close to stereotype, but with just enough tweaking to lend some freshness.

Yet, in the midst of this fairly well crafted bit of work, there lies a what I believe to be a simplistic, perhaps even poisonous seed that all to often grows into something like the blasphemous  Prosperity Gospel. The notion that if you have faith all your troubles are over. That if you only have faith nothing is impossible.

What message does this send? Especially in light of Jesus having warned against the notion that would tie your fate in this world strictly to your faith? Can you imagine Christ shrugging to a young boy  whose father never returned from war and saying, “Guess you didn’t have enough faith.” Or telling grieving parents who have lost a child that it need not have happened if they only had sufficient faith?

I think this film is worth watching if we keep in mind what I believe was the unintended notion its fairy tale ending delivers. A worthy effort that in the end falls a bit short.

 

Image result for The Confirmation film

Next up was an very different creation. Gone was the golden hue nostalgia, replaced with a gritty reality. My cynicism meter buzzed a warning at the beginning of the film when an otherwise kind seeming priest hearing a first confession seems skeptical of the boy’s relative innocence. There was a world weary sense of the priest just wanting the kid to uphold his end of a tired ritual, even if the kid just made up something.

What follows is an adventure. The boy is sent to spend the weekend with his divorced father, a barely functional alcoholic. Clive Owen plays this unfortunate man perfectly. Flawed, but goodhearted.  Confused but determined in an avalanche of consequence.

Where the creators of Little Boy polished up the usual suspects in the background, the creators of The Confirmation pull us deeper into them so that they are not stereotypes, but real people whose own stories intersect that of the main protagonists.

The journey ends with the boy now feeling that he needs to confess his “sins” that might not be sins at all (the expression on the priest’s face as he does so is priceless and an example of fine, understated acting).  I believe the affirmation found in The Confirmation  greater than that found in Little Boy because it feels more organic and real.

The Confirmation is beyond worth watching. Much closer to a should watch.

 

 

 

 

Book Signing

I will be in Wilson, NC this Saturday (August 6th) for a book signing at the public library between 1 and 4 PM. I will have a few of the hardbacks ($20) available for sale, and a larger supply of the relatively new softcover books ($15). In this case, a softcover is basically a large format paperback with a sewn rather than glued binding.

Feel free to bring already purchased, gifted or stolen copies of Tobit’s Dog or Bogfoke  around for me to sign. In fact, I’ll sign just about any old book you bring by. I’m easy going like that.

There will be about 30 authors signing/selling their books so it will probably be worth checking out in any event.

I’ll probably look like this. . . except for the sports coat and tie, seeing as how it’s August and all.

12647492_1028360827220728_3265127801256455711_n

The Boys in the Boat

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics

 

Behind that really long title is a wonderful story that I don’t particularly have to encapsulate for you because the title does it for me. It is a nonfiction work, but with the narrative and descriptive drive of a novel. In that regards it reminds me of Thermopylae: Battle for the West, by Ernie Bradford, or The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson.

Daniel James Brown  draws you into a full sensory presentation by focusing most tightly on the story of rower Joe Rantz. However, the book is rich with back story for the people and events presented. It abounds with intriguing behind the scenes historical detail. These details never hinder the narrative, but rather serve to enhance it. I can’t imagine ever having the mental discipline to do the amount of quality research this book had to have demanded.

The only caveat, as relates to why I enjoyed it more than maybe some readers might: I love history, and I’ve always been fascinated by rowing. That said, I do not  believe this review can do justice to the sensory, spiritual and emotional impact The Boys in the Boat delivers.

 

https://www.amazon.com/Boys-Boat-Americans-Berlin-Olympics/dp/067002581X/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

All is well with my soul.

archokc.org

I recently was told the story of a toddler who had been so badly abused that the social worker, upon returning to her office could only sit down and cry for the child. While DSS removed the child from the home and placed it in a hospital it is unlikely to be placed in a foster home with a male for quite some time due to the issues surrounding the abuse.

This morning at Mass, as we moved from the liturgy of the Word to the liturgy of the Eucharist, I thought of that child. Sadness welled within me so intense I had to fight tears. Why do we do such things to one another?

Take this, all of you, and eat of it,
for this is my Body,
which will be given up for you.

I tried to  devour my own sadness as if doing so could alleviate some of the fear and hurt that child had borne. As if my soul could absorb the loneliness and betrayal. Why do we do such things to one another? Then I thought of the abuser. For a moment I wanted to be the avenger, but to what end? It burned to think that God loves that wretch as much as he does the innocent child. God can love only one way, absolutely.

Take this, all of you, and drink from it,
for this is the chalice of my Blood,
the Blood of the new and eternal covenant,
which will be poured out for you and for many
for the forgiveness of sins.
Do this in memory of me.

I know nothing of the abuser. He may have himself been abused. He may have been so damaged that he never recovered. Perhaps drugs fed on his anger, dragging him further and further into depravity. It was not for me to judge the worth of his soul.

The mystery of faith. . .

We proclaim your Death, O Lord,
and profess your Resurrection
until you come again.

When we eat this Bread and drink this Cup,
we proclaim your Death, O Lord,
until you come again.

Save us, Savior of the world,
for by your Cross and Resurrection
you have set us free.

The child, Lord. The child.

Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb. . .

Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.

The child, Lord. The child. Heal the child.

With that fey sadness like a yoke upon my shoulders I stand and proceed to the priest.

The Body of Christ. . . 

Amen.

Then to the deacon and the chalice.

The Blood of Christ. .  .

Amen.

Then back to my seat. I ponder the child, and over and again the Agnus Dei is repeated in my mind.

Lamb of God, You take away the sins of the world.

Have mercy on the child.

Lamb of God, You take away the sins of the world.

Have mercy on the child.

Lamb of God, You take away the sins of the world.

Grant that child peace.

Leaving Mass, I tell Mary, one of the three Massketeers I blogged about earlier, the story of the child and asked her to pray for this nameless victim of such depravity and betrayal that my mind reels from pondering it. If you are given to prayer, pray for that child and all like it. Difficult as it is, pray too for the abuser.

If you are uncertain in faith, just say, “God, if you are there, heal that child.” If you believe not at all, just do some small kindness for a child. If there is a God, then acts of kindness are the best of all prayers.

(Photo from Archdiocese of Kansas City)

The Last Ugly Person by Roger B. Thomas

My facebook timeline reminded me of this blog. I’ve decided to reblog it because it’s easier than writing a new blog. Also, it really is a very good anthology of short stories by an insightful author. . . even if he IS wrong about Flannery O’Connor, Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh.

MichaelNicholasRichard

I chanced upon the short story collection “The Last Ugly Person”  because the author wrote a favorable and insightful review of Tobit’s Dog. We traded some messages and emails that led to me sending him a copy of my earlier novel, Bogfoke, and him sending me a copy of his collection of short stories.

Short stories seem out of favor these days, and this collection proves that is too bad. This particular collection ranges from the prose-poem length “I Have Slaved For You” to the near novella length “Numaris.” Like C.S. Lewis or Charles Williams, they lean much on allegory.

The Last Ugly Person, from which the collection gets is name, is a particularly finely crafted story. I mean, it is jewel-like in its precision.  Of course, the problem with allegory is that it is very difficult to give many plot details for fear of revealing too much. I have mentioned…

View original post 303 more words

Just a rainy Sunday morning when I’ve gone to Mass on Saturday evening.

 


I love the sound of tires on a wet road. Even a major highway sounds better when it is wet, but I’m talking really about the random vehicle passing through a quiet neighborhood.

It is one of the few sounds of technology that can at times enhance a “pastoral” scene. I kinda like the distant sound of a solitary lawnmower on a sunny day as well.

Not a sound, but I also like walking around a neighborhood and passing through the scent of a clothes dryer.