Phos zoe cross. Via Gallery Byzantium.
Last Sunday, September 14, was the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. Since then, I have considered the many kinds of crosses there are. I mean literal crosses, those you wear around your neck or affix to your wall.
Crosses can be streamlined and blank. For Protestants, this is generally the default. Originally, all Christian crosses were this way. Writes Thomas Cahill in Desire of the Everlasting Hills: The World Before and After Jesus:
The early Christians, the original friends of Jesus, so sympathized with Jesus’ pain and had been so traumatized by it that they could not bring themselves to depict the stark reality of his suffering, except in words–that is, in the accounts of the four gospels, which are as clipped and precise as the four authors knew how to make them. Only in the fifth century, nearly a century after the Roman state had discontinued the practice of crucifixion and no one living had witnessed such a procedure, did Christians forget the shame and horror of the event sufficiently to begin to make pictures of it.
Of course, crosses also include those body-bearing crucifixes that are so familiar to us Catholics. But they need not be dead bodies. On some crosses, Jesus is not hanging in execution, but risen in glory. Continue reading
Is there anything that I can do, a lot of young people [from elite colleges and universities] have written to ask me, to avoid becoming an out-of-touch, entitled little shit? I don’t have a satisfying answer, short of telling them to transfer to a public university. You cannot cogitate your way to sympathy with people of different backgrounds, still less to knowledge of them. You need to interact with them directly, and it has to be on an equal footing: not in the context of “service,” and not in the spirit of “making an effort,” either—swooping down on a member of the college support staff and offering to “buy them a coffee,” as a former Yalie once suggested, in order to “ask them about themselves.”
Instead of service, how about service work? That’ll really give you insight into other people. How about waiting tables so that you can see how hard it is, physically and mentally? You really aren’t as smart as everyone has been telling you; you’re only smarter in a certain way. There are smart people who do not go to a prestigious college, or to any college—often precisely for reasons of class. There are smart people who are not “smart.”
–William Deresiewicz in “Don’t Send Your Kid to the Ivy League: The nation’s top colleges are turning our kids into zombies,” The New Republic, July 21, 2014
In 1833, the same year two hundred settlers organized the town of Chicago, another nucleus of settlers began gathering about thirty miles south. Their community grew into a miniature, parallel version of its northern neighbor: a Rust Belt boomtown with its own Louis Sullivan architecture and the nickname “Crossroads of America.”
In my latest post for the Read/Write Library tumblr, I pay homage to my hometown. To see the rest, follow this link. (Also, a PDF.)
I found my confirmation saint eighteen years and one month ago, on a hazy hot day full of cicada song, at a Polish shrine about forty minutes west of St. Louis, Missouri.
I was twelve and on vacation with my parents. We had traipsed through caves full of stalagmites and stalactites. My father had jumped up and down atop the Gateway Arch in St. Louis and caused it to shake, much to the laughing horror of our fellow tourists. And now we were at the Black Madonna Shrine and Grottoes outside of Eureka, not because of any pilgrimage motive, but because my mother is Polish and likes to look at Polish things.
We landed in the gift shop. We purchased an icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa as a present for my grandparents, who subsequently displayed it in their bedroom. And I, for my part, pawed through the saints’ medals. I wanted one because I’d never had one.
None of the medals drew me. They were indistinguishable from one another and they were sticky-sweet. Sacred Heart this. Immaculate Heart that. And St. Francis, with his happy squirrels and birds. The order that runs the place is Franciscan.
Then I stumbled over a St. Benedict medal. The name was unusual, Latin and crisp. The medal was stamped with weird, seemingly occult abbreviations (“C S S M L – N D S M D”) and words like “PAX.” I made Mom and Dad buy it. Continue reading
[Trigger warning: discussion of violence, sexual assault.]
About a month ago, I was traveling. Whenever I travel, I hunt for books. The title of one particular book screamed at me from a shelf in the Harvard Co-op: Men Explain Things to Me. I dove for my credit card.
Men Explain Things to Me is an anthology of essays by San Francisco journalist Rebecca Solnit. The title comes from the first essay, a 2008 Internet classic that I’ve referenced before, but hadn’t read in full until I bought the anthology. In it, Solnit relates how a resolutely clueless man cornered her at a party, pontificating to her about a book he had not read but that she herself had written, all the while ignoring a friend who kept saying, “That’s her book.”
Solnit observed: “Men explain things to me, and other women, whether or not they know what they’re talking about.” Her sentence inspired a neologism: “mansplaining.”
I added a new page to the masthead of the blog, entitled “The Portfolio: Greatest Hits.” After about 300 posts, it seemed like the time to make a selection of the best of the best, a kind of “clip file.”
This is, in fact, the 300th post. Yay! Go me.
And if you’re really a hard-core fan of the blog…well, first of all, that would be shocking and bizarre. But besides that, if you really do have a sentimental favorite that isn’t on the portfolio page, then tell me. I’ll add a link to it if I agree with you.
I like classic rock. I like the Moody Blues. To see the Moody Blues in concert, I must go to The Venue. That’s what it’s called. To go to The Venue, I must go to the casino, for The Venue is attached to the casino.
Before my first trip to The Venue, I had never been to a casino. My initial experiences, getting there and being there, play in my brain as a slow-motion video loop.
We drove into northwest Indiana via the main roads. We arrived in the part of Hammond anchored by Purdue University Calumet. We diverged onto the side streets.
I sensed the houses were ramshackle. Yet I couldn’t confirm it. Most windows and porches weren’t illuminated, though it was autumn and after 7 pm. Street lights were dim and far between.
We drove through the business zones expected of rust-belt towns that have suffered and gone sour. I saw odd hybrids like the New Age Tobacco and Shirt Store. A full-service mart offered not only “Food” and “Liquor,” but “T-Mobile” and “Cash For Gold.” Stores advertised their acceptance of electronic benefits transfer cards, the way other places enticed patronage with “buy one, get one free” or “local organic ingredients.” Continue reading
I tweeted this more than a week ago. It hasn’t gotten better.
To Israel and Gaza we added Michael Brown. To Michael Brown we added Robin Williams. To Robin Williams we added the Ferguson protests and the mindbogglingly brutal crackdowns on those protests. To that we added ISIS and a “humanitarian intervention” in Iraq. Ukraine is still erupting, has been the whole time. And last night, police shot another black man in St. Louis.
I tweeted because I was, even then, overwhelmed by words and images. I know when I say this I am speaking from a place of great privilege. Other people must live the horror. I get to sit at my laptop, talking about the sensory overload I am receiving there. Continue reading