View from the choir

I am a Catholic layperson and Secular Franciscan with a sense of humor. After years in the back pew watching, I have moved into the choir. It's nice to see faces instead of the backs of heads. But I still maintain God has a sense of humor - and that we are created in God's image.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Porn in the library - and the ACLU

The local public library has found itself in the middle of an First Amendment/porn/government funding battle.

The policy at the central branch library in Rochester is that all computers are filtered to keep young people away from objectionable material. But you can get the computer unfiltered if you are above a certain age and ask for it to be done.

A local television station did a report showing that some people are doing this to watch porn on the library computers, and that these computers are within view of other patrons, including children.

When our county executive (Maggie Brooks) heard this, she threatened to pull all county funding – the bulk of the library’s budget – unless the library blocks the computers so that people can’t view porn where children and other patrons can see what they are watching.

As you might guess, the ACLU galloped in to defend 1st Amendment rights.

As far as I know, Brooks is not obliged to support the library, so she does have the power to withdraw county funding. And I certainly agree with the notion of public funds not being used to pay to support something many people find morally objectionable (alas, there are some government actions I consider morally objectionable that I do have to pay for).

I think what we may end up with is the libraries can't completely block porn where there can be reasonable limits (ACLU side) and the county does not have to pay.

Such an outcome could hurt the library - and all of us.

That gets me to my main point. If this leads to funding cuts, we all end up getting screwed.

But that is just another example of how pornography is NOT a victimless crime - ooops, sorry, a victimless 1st Amendment protected activity.

Pornography distorts our view of sexuality and relationships. It turns people into objects. It debases and exploits the people involved in the industry. And don't give me that crap about they choose to be involved. So many of those people are addicted, used, and so on.

Look at someone like Anna Nicole Smith and tell me porn is victimless.

Even if we don't use porn ourselves, we are all affected by it. We are all victims of it.

Under our Constitution, porn is permitted. But some folks - including me - think there are higher moral and ethical laws.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday -
the check-out girl looks up
and wipes her forehead

Heresy's kiss

We are having a parish retreat with Father Simeon Gallagher this week.

He is using as the basis of the retreat Mathew 2: 1-11 – the story of the Magi.

Last night he talked about evil – Herod in the story. He pointed out that Herod/evil is with us still, putting on a pious, positive face to conceal his true actions and intentions.

Fr. Gallagher said we can’t/won’t confront evil because of what he called the three “P’s” – Passivity, Privacy and Peace (at all coasts).

Good stuff, all. Lots to think about. I’ve been thinking of the privacy problem.

We have made a false god of privacy. Whatever you do in the privacy of your home is your own business – drugs, sex, porn, etc.

But by allowing privacy to become such a sacred value we have allowed the degradation of other values.

And it did not take a frontal assault by evil (ala Lord of the Rings). It has crept in disguised as being progressive, open, nonjudgmental, and so on.

Take sex. Sex, once at least ideally reserved for marriage - I’m not naïve enough to say that was the practice in many cases, but it was at least the ideal – is now accepted as a part of dating. So are living together. My wife commented on a co-worker who is a “devout” churchgoer with God forever on her lips, yet she is living with her boyfriend and sees no conflict.

But while some of us might dismiss sex as just a small thing, and not really evil if we love each other or we’re “engaged,” it is one of the tools used by evil to open us to greater evils and to ultimate corruption (think Screwtape).

Sexual immorality begets broken families, dysfunction, crime, and violence – even terrorism (would Osama Bin Laden be able to argue about the corruption of Western Society if there weren’t some truth in his claims?).

G. K. Chesterton (as usual) foresaw this.

In a 1926 essay called “The Next Heresy” he wrote:

For the next great heresy in going to be simply an attack on morality; and especially on sexual morality. And it is coming, not from a few Socialists surviving from the Fabian Society, but from the living exultant energy of the rich resolved to enjoy themselves at last, with neither Popery nor Puritanism nor Socialism to hold them back … The madness of tomorrow is not in Moscow, but much more in Manhattan.

It’s not coming, G. K. It’s here.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Spring cleaning

Okay, so it's not spring yet.

Still, I'm doing tidying up here.

A couple of links have been dropped because they no longer work.

I'm also gradually adding some more.

And I've asked to join the B Team.

I hope to do more with this blog this year.

Ah Lent.

By the way, no word yet from the canon lawyer about the diaconate. I'm gathering all the needed documents anyway.

At the parish, meanwhile, another actor/director and I are putting together a Living Stations with the youth of the parish. The first rehearsal with the kids will be this Saturday. I have hopes that this might develop into something more, a "theater group" to serve the parish. We'll see.

We are having a great retreat at the parish this week with Father Simeon Gallagher. Anyone else had a retreat with him in recent years?

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Lee Strong, Poet

I am a poet.

Anyone who has known me over the years knows that I write poetry, so the title is no surprise.

But this is official.

There is an organization called Poets & Writers (which publishes a magazine by the same name) that has a Directory of Writers. In order to qualify for listing as a poet in the directory, one must have published at least six poems “in a literary journal, anthology, or edited Web publication.”

I’ve done that. So, by their definition, I am a poet.


Don’t worry: I won’t suddenly start handing out business cards that say “Lee Strong, Poet,” nor will I start sporting a beret.

Still, I can now officially lay claim to the title.

I’m not a great poet. I’m not even a good poet. There are poets who publish more poems each year than I have in my entire life.

That doesn’t matter. Six poems or six hundred, we are all fellow poets.

Maybe I’ll reconsider those business cards.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Presidents and heroes

President's Day.
A holiday to honor great men - Lincoln and Washington.

Over the weekend we watched the DVD for Flags of Our Fathers. It raised questions about greatness and heroism.

Who gets honored? Heroes? Only some of the heroes? The people in the right place at the right time? The ones media manipulators and money-seeking marketeers want us to honor?

The three men they manipulated after the battle were heroes. So were the three others credited with helping to raise the flag over Iwo Jima (although one of them really didn't raise the flag) in that staged shot (the famous picture is not of the actual raising of the first flag). So was the man who actually did help to raise the flag but whose name got lost for a while in the push to exploit the flag-raisers.

So were the many others who died at Iwo Jima and other battles - a point the film makes.

So even were the Japanese - as the companion film Letter from Iwo Jima points out.

We honor Washington and Lincon today. They deserve it. But so do many other patriotic men and women over the years.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Happy Valentine's Day

There’s an event hovering over our heads tomorrow.

Valentine’s Day.

You know, that celebration that’s been manufactured by the greeting card, flower and jewelry industries to suck money out of us.

Oh, I have nothing against real romance.

The good-looking resident of my home and I started our Valentine’s Day celebrations early. Last night we started watching one of our favorite movies, The Quiet Man.

John Wayne. Maureen O’Hara. Ireland. A great fight. Lot’s of drinking

The movie also has some of my favorite lines in film.

Barry Fitzgerald says at one point, “It’s nice soft night, so I think I’ll join me comrades and talk a little treason.”

And Victor McLaglin says of Wayne, “He’ll regret it to his dying day, if he ever lives that long.”

But the classic line belongs to Fitzgerald.

He arrives at the cottage of Wayne and O’Hara the morning after their wedding night and goes into their bedroom where he sees the broken bed.

He studies the bed for a moment and intones, “Homeric.”

Now that’s romance.

We’ll finish watching it tonight.

Maybe I’ll enjoy another Guinness while she sips some wine, and we’ll both laugh.

(And yes, there’s a card and some gifts to be exchanged. I may be bemused by it all, but I’m no fool!)

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Deacon update (again)

I sent in my "story" to the canon lawyer. He wrote back to say he will read it and get back to me. He may ask for more details. He may say all is fine. Or he may say we've got problems.

So I wait - and pray.

I pray not just that this particular hurdle gets cleared or even that I get accepted into the program, but that I am able to clearly discern if this is the direction God wants me to take.

Why I'm not taking part in the blog awards

There are a number of reasons why I am not going to be involved with the Catholic Blog Awards this year.

One is simply recognizing reality.

I write for a group blog (Chesterton and Friends) once a week, and I write a town blog for my local daily newspaper 3-6 times a week. As a result, I have not been able to write for this blog as regularly as I used to. It's hard to keep up with talented writers who write on a daily basis for their Catholic blogs. And with all the other things I'm doing, it's hard to read all the other blogs to judge them fairly and nominate them.

Because I write so infrequently here these days, traffic has dropped off dramatically. You need to add new content on a regular basis to keep people coming, and to generate energy.

And quite frankly, there are a lot of talented writers out there. When I do get a chance to cruise through Catholic blogs, I'm impressed by the quality of so many blogs.

Moreover, there have been changes to the contest.

I was a finalist last year for a post, not for the overall blog. Individual posts are no longer included as categories.

The category I was a finalist in no longer exists - the awards folks cut down on the number of categories.

And because the categories are for blogs as a whole, an eclectic blog like mine doesn't stand a chance. I have funny posts, for example, but the overall blog is not funny. I have spiritual posts, political posts, personal posts - but because my blog does not focus more on one area, it doesn't have a chance against more focused blogs in those categories.

If they had a poetry category, I might have a chance in that, but they don't.

I'm not criticizing the organizers. The contest needed reform. But as the contest exists now, my blog simply does not fit in.

The story of my life!