Faking the News

I was born into a Catholic family. The Catholicism of my formative years was a totally different brand than the Catholic Worker-style practice of one’s faith (and life lived in accordance with the gospels) advocated by co-founder, Dorothy Day.

When I tried to capture (in an essay in my last book) some of the oddness of growing up Catholic in the house where I was born, it was met with considerable familial disapproval. I obviously failed in my attempt at being a poor man’s David Sedaris and mining family matters for writing material.

Today’s purpose isn’t revisiting family dysfunction, however.

Two Des Moines-based Catholic Workers, Jessica Reznicek and Ruby Montoya were arrested last week, having admitted to sabotaging the Dakota Access Pipeline section crossing the middle of the country and Iowa. Reznicek has a history of this type of activism, modeled after the Plowshares anti-nuclear activists of the 1980s. Both also are carrying on in the spirit of the organization co-founded by Day and Peter Maurin.

Dorothy Day, one of the 20th century’s activist giants.

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Politics Won’t Fix Us

[Yet another blog post hammered-out the night before and set-up to auto-publish the next day—jpb]

We’re waking up this morning to the political punditry reading the tea leaves and parsing the results of the anachronistic Iowa caucuses. Pre-caucus polling had Trump and Sanders holding substantial leads, with a snowstorm bearing down on the Hawkeye State Monday night, which may or may not have kept Iowan caucus-goers home and skewering the prognostications. It’s now high political season in America.

Once again, the half of America that pays any attention to the process is getting all huffy about why Bernie’s 1930s labor communism shtick is superior to Trump’s bluster about re-establishing American greatness. Whether you’re “feeling the Bern,” or Trump’s your man for turning America back to some perceived golden age, you’ll be just as disappointed as Obama supporters were back in 2008, falling for his hope and change rhetoric. But that’s exactly what politics has been reduced to in the 21st century.

I read Charles Murray’s Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 over the weekend. It’s a book I’d heard about back in 2012 when it came out. As happens a lot with me, I went to Curtis Memorial Library on Saturday looking for another book, came home with Murray’s, and plowed through it Saturday afternoon.

Not that one man has all the answers, but Murray’s explanation about what’s happened to America over my lifetime made some sense. The book resonated with me in much the same way George Packer’s book did, which I also made a big to do about here at the JBE. Continue reading

Fear and Hatred

Thirty years ago, I thought I had all the answers. At 21, life seemed simple in some ways. Economically, things sucked—I was working at a job that paid 25 cents above minimum wage and I had a newborn son and wife to take care of. I was 1,500 miles from my family and support system in a post-industrial part of the country where the unemployment rate was hovering around 15 percent. But I was okay because I was in the center of God’s will.

It’s interesting when you believe that the answers to life’s questions are contained in a book that was written by men who lived 2,000 years ago. Whenever things didn’t go right for Mary and me, the solution offered by our spiritual leaders was to pray, give more money to Jack Hyles, and drag a few more converts down the aisle to get baptized at First Baptist Church of Hammond. Continue reading

Time for Food

Real food takes time. Time to grow it. Time for the harvesting, or the fattening of livestock for those who don’t have an opposition to locally-grown meat.

Since convenience foods have come to predominate the American diet, the home cooked meal has become an endangered species. Families no longer commune around food, instead, everyone fends for themselves. If you have older children, think about the last time you had a family meal that wasn’t a special occasion, but just a normal weeknight. Continue reading

Birds and the Natural World

A few weeks ago, in this bleak winter of 2013-2014, the birds returned. I was out gathering some wood to keep my wood stove fed and the temperature in the house tolerable, when I heard them chirping, or better, making the “dee, dee, dee” verbalization characteristic of chickadees. I’m not a birder by nature, but this was a welcome sound.

A chickadee perched on my DIY feeder.

A chickadee perched on my DIY feeder.

Deciding that my newly-arrived guests might be hungry due to the tough winter, I made a note to pick up bird seed on a trip through Lewiston later in the day. Remembering a prior attempt with birds and feeders 20 years ago–the squirrels made short work of them, chewing through almost anything made of plastic–I decided on DIY feeders, reconstituted from used Poland Spring Water jugs. Continue reading

Hagiography, Civil Rights, and Martin Luther King Day

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a polarizing figure during his lifetime.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a polarizing figure during his lifetime.

This isn’t my regular posting day. I wanted to get something up, however, reflecting briefly on the day.

Today is the day when we mark the anniversary of the date of the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. The day, an American federal holiday, is one that has two sides to it—one that involves hagiography and a twisting of history—the other addresses the ongoing struggle, one that King was a foot soldier in; that being human emancipation. Continue reading