Random Conjectures

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Stating the Obvious

My mother died last Sunday. On Christmas Eve. While I was at church.

I suppose I shall have to talk more of this. When I’m ready to do so. Not now.

I’d rather just change the subject, thank you.

And so, for the benefit of my three or four readers, I will instead expatiate on a subject near and dear to my heart: the Divine Liturgy.

I suppose I’ve been pondering on this for the last two score years, when, after being raised indifferently by my parents and my church in the faith, I became a nasty little atheist at the age of thirteen, and a not-so-virtuous pagan thereafter until I was twenty-four, when I accepted my Lord Christ in my heart, and sought for His Church in the world.

The day that I returned was what the West calls Maundy Thursday, and what the East calls Great and Holy Thursday. The couple that led me the rest of the way back to the faith invited me to their evening service, which commemorated the Last or Mystical Supper, when my Lord Christ founded the first service of the Divine Liturgy.

I suppose that that has affected me ever since. Both in my search for Christ’s Church, and in pondering over the true worship of that Church.

That search led me to return to the Roman Catholic church, which was the church of my youth. This was prompted because, after much study, I came to the conclusion that both that church and the Orthodox church comprised the center of the Church founded by my Lord Christ. And I decided that it was best to return to that part of Christ’s church in which I had been born and baptized.

Alas, between the time that I had renounced and apostatized from that church, some things had happened. The Second Vatican Council was one of them.

And, in point of fact, that Council was influential in occasioning my return to Roman Catholicism. In the course of my studies, I had read all the documents of that Council. And I was drawn to everything that was said in them. That the Church should engage with the world, in order to draw all toward Christ. That the Church should recognize that which is true in all religions, and to use that commonality in conversing with those religions. That there should be a reform in the education of the clergy, so that they might engage more effectively with the scientific, literary, and philosophical leadership of the world, and have better knowledge of those three fonts of the Holy Spirit: Scripture, Tradition, and Church Authority. And most important, that the Divine Liturgy should be reformed, so that it might more truly be ‘the summit of human existence’ and ‘a foretaste of the Kingdom of Heaven’.

So, I returned to the Roman Catholic Church. Stayed there for as long as I could, too.

But it seemed to me that few, if any, of its people or clergy had actually ‘gotten the memo’ that Vatican II offered. I felt the same way toward that Council that Mohandas Gandhi felt toward Western Civilization: both would be a good idea.

So, after seven years of experiencing the most painful and tedious liturgies to which humankind could be expected to endure (this was in the Archdiocese of LaLa Land, during the reign of His Eminence, Roger Cardinal Mahony), I happened to find a cassette tape of Russian Monastic Vespers, sung by the monks of Chevetogne. I was so taken by the beauty of that music that I taught myself German, just to read the liner notes, so that I could understand what was being prayed for and in that service.

And I found the most beautiful prayer and worship that I had ever experienced in my life.  I prayed to God for a solid month that I might be led to a church that prayed like that.

And I was led, a bit more than thirty years ago, to St. Andrew Russian Catholic Church, on the very week that my pastor and spiritual father, Fr. Alexei Smith, was ordained to serve the Divine Liturgy there.

I’ve been there ever since.  I’ve learned a few things since then.

One thing I’ve learned is that the culture wars mean very little in the long run. Yes, you can hold grievances about the stupid liturgy tricks that you have yourself experienced, or read about in The Wanderer or The Remnant, or that lot, or that you have heard about on ‘teh webz’ or have watched on YouTube.

But it does nothing to help to heal your soul of its ills. In fact, it does rather the opposite.

Another thing I’ve learned is that it does little good to continue religious feuds that have been going on for a long time. Like whether Latin is or is not a good thing to use in a mass. Or whether it is better to put thumb, forefinger, and middle finger together when making the Sign of the Cross. Or the direction in which you cross yourself. Or, finally, with whether you say or do not say that tricksy little ‘filioque’ in the Creed.

It matters a whole lot more whether you love God, and whether you love the lot who live right next to you, who are made in the image and likeness of that God. It matters if that love is expressed in loving God with your whole being, including your mind and your pocketbook, and whether that love is also expressed in helping and loving those around you. Even if they are not particularly lovable.

And, quite frankly, it also involves seeking God, by studying His two creations: the Universe, and His Scriptures. It involves trying to find His beauty and His wisdom, and expressing it in one’s lives, and in one’s worship.

If you try to do otherwise, you are likely to wind up with a golden calf, or with the sacrifice of Cain, who offered only what he wanted to offer, rather than what God had asked for. In both cases, the results would appear to be unsatisfactory.

For my part, I worship at a church where we believe that when the priest chants, “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”, and when we respond by saying, “Amen,” that Kingdom, for that short but vital time, is actually made manifest then and there.

And I have seen, heard, and felt myriad proofs of that Kingdom, in the thirty years I have worshiped at St. Andrews. Many others have told me the same thing.

It expresses itself to those others usually in this way: at the end of the Divine Liturgy, I and the three other members of our little choir descend the stair from the choir loft and receive our blessing from the priest or priests down there. Newcomers to our church will frequently exclaim: “But there are so few of you here! It sounded like there were many more of you upstairs!”

Those of us who have been there for much longer, particularly those who are or who have been in the choir, will just smile quietly and say, “Yes, you’re right. It does sound like there are more upstairs.”

But it is different upstairs. In part, it sounds like more are there because those of us in the choir get to hear all of the people downstairs singing along with us. You see, we have the rather odd idea at St. Andrews’ that the choir are the leaders of the people in prayer. Not their replacement. And the choir downstairs, for the most part, are really good at what they do.

In part, too, it is in the nature of what we are doing when our small choir sings. The four of us have each been singing for a long time, and have long been studying or living in the faith of our church. Our director is an alumnus of the New England Conservatory of Music, where his majors were piano and composition, and has had decades of experience in choral direction. Our only instrument is a tuning fork in middle C. And the nature of the Orthodox Divine Liturgy is that it is a solid hour and a half to two hours of singing forty or more connected pieces of music, and not, as in the West, an Ordinary of five settings, (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Agnus Dei) and Propers of five or six more.

I am told that those who have studied humans when they sing chorally have found that more of their brains are involved when they sing than at any other time. I have found that to be my experience as well. I have never felt so alive in my life, and seldom more fulfilled, than when I sing in the choir, attentive to the words and the music (which I have long since memorized), to my other choir members, to the director, to the voice of the priest (and occasionally, of the deacon, when one is present), and most importantly, to the meaning of the prayers which we sing.

But there is something more going on here. And I blush to mention it. But there are times, when I am most attentive to the words and music and meaning, when I begin to hear and to feel the presence of the others:  those members of the choir who have fallen asleep in the Lord, who are no longer present in body, but who nonetheless sing with us. Frank Ryan, my first choir director there. My first wife, Carolyn. Her brother, Charlie. John Roshay. Roger Lund. Michael Cervanek. My second wife, Beth. And the many angels who sing with them as well. I think it is these, more than anyone else, that people are hearing when they think the choir to be so large.

And, on Christmas Day, I felt behind me, several times, the presence of someone who loved me, and who was very proud of me. I hope it may have been my mother.

And that hope is the only thing right now that is keeping me from despair.


Musings on Thanksgiving

Well, here I am of a Thanksgiving weekend, ensconced once again in my little hermit’s duplex in Pedro town, slowly drinking a breakfast Cafe Napoleon, courtesy of the corner mini-mart that has provided the filtered water and the two little bottles of E & J brandy.  The rest of the ingredients are at hand at my little domicile. My efforts at following the St. Philips’ Fast (starting Nov. 15th) have been shot straight to Hell by the previous week’s festivities, so I think that I shall just wait until the Feast of St. Andrew (starting November 30th), which is also my church’s patronal feast day, to get down to the nitty-gritty of the Nativity Fast. So it goes.

Still and all, it was an altogether wonderful time, this past week or so. Allow me to share with my three or four readers all of the details. Read the rest of this entry »

Sooper Genius!

sooper genius

I have a terrible confession to make: I have a high intelligence quotient. Worse than that, it is not just Mensa level. It is, quite frankly, Albert Einstein or Stephen Hawking level. My mother tells me that I started speaking when I was three months old. She also tells me that, after she had been reading to me for about a year, starting almost from birth, I started speaking the words of the book myself along with her. By the time I was two, I was quite happily reading by myself.

It gets worse. My parents told me, later, that when I was six, and they had gone to my parent-teacher conference, the teacher told them that I was at that time reading at an eighth grade level. She told them this because she wanted their help in getting me to stop reading. She felt that I was embarrassing the other kids. And she thought that eventually, I would get to be ‘normal’, anyway.

I don’t know about the other kids, but she was definitely wrong about my becoming ‘normal’. It seemed that I always remained about eight years ahead of the other kids, in terms of both knowledge and reading interests. But fortunately, my father and mother had a large library, and I could pursue my own education at home, after enduring school during the day. And fortunately also, by third grade I had discovered the California public library, which in the days of my youth was once pretty good.

But unfortunately, I was stuck in classes where just about everything they taught was inexpressibly boring, because I had already learned it years ago. Read the rest of this entry »

This and That

La metro

Well, I’ve woken up, managed to make a strawberry croissant and a killer cup of coffee (roasted a week ago, ground a few second before using, perfectly brewed, and with a 1/4 tsp vanilla extract, two tsp white sugar, and some Trader Joe’s thick cream). Delicious.

I’m playing hooky from my studies today, and will be leaving my house soon, because it’s now nearly 9 a.m., and it’s 76° F. already. By noon, it will have reached 91°. My little cottage by the beach has many good qualities among it. Air conditioning, alas, is not one of them.

So, when I’m done with this little screed, which should be by the next hour or so, I shall be taking the air conditioned bus down to the air conditioned light rail train, which will in turn take me to the air-conditioned Barnes & Noble, which I will be infesting until about 5 pm, by which time the temp will have declined to an acceptable 82°.

And, in the mean time, I will be writing about this and that: idle thoughts worth examining further. Read the rest of this entry »

More Notes from the First Circle of Hell

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I’ve recently read something that has stirred up something vaguely resembling thought in me, and I’ve decided to put down those thoughts. Bad thoughts! Bad!

Seriously, though, the first of the writings in question is this one entitled Hikikomore and the Politics of Despair. The writer examines the lives of a growing sector of people in Japan who are described with the name in the above title. The name means ‘shut-in’, and refers to a large and growing group in Japan who have pretty much given up on Japanese society, and are living in their parents’ homes, or alone. They seldom go out of their rooms, and are pretty much bound to their computers, their televisions, or their video games.

The ultimate result of this way of life is called kodoyushi. It means lonely death, which is being experienced by more and more of the hikikomore, either as they age, or as they decide to give up. It is indeed a lonely death, because what often happens is that these people die alone, and their bodies are not found until days to weeks later.

The writer suggests that these hikikomore are the inevitable result of our modern society, that they are canaries in the coal mine: outliers who are showing the way that more and more people in the U.S. will be living in the not-too-distant future.

I hate to be the one to tell the writer, but it is unlikely to be as good in the U.S. as in Japan. It seems that in Japan, there is a much better social support network, in which people who can no longer cope are still taken care of. Not so in the U.S.

No, we have had our hikikomore for a long time now. We call them the homeless. Read the rest of this entry »

Cowboys Drank Better Coffee Than Most Hipsters Do Now

cowboy chuck wagon

Yeah. And I can prove it, too.

Ever since my favorite nephew gifted me with a copy of Modernist Cuisine, I’ve been making considerable use of it. This book, in case I haven’t told you, and I believe I actually have, is a graduate level course in food science, and discusses deeply, intelligently, and luminously, the physics, chemistry, and biology of food. While it gets a just a bit deeper in what some have called ‘molecular gastronomy’, and what I call ‘inorganic gastronomy’, than I at present particularly like, I don’t plan on kicking it out of my library any time soon. In fact, I can not recall when I ever in my life received a better gift. Thank you, John.

But I digress somewhat. Included in Volume 4 of its five volumes is a chapter devoted to the subject of coffee. The author’s opinion is that most restaurants and coffee shops have little idea as how to prepare coffee correctly, which is a pity, because the science is simple, and the steps necessary are few, in order to make really good coffee. Read the rest of this entry »

Progress Report, October 2017, Month 2

Well, it’s been a month since I restarted my program of Remedial Education. Since then, I’ve made the following progress: Read the rest of this entry »

Uncle Boris’ Voodoo Saloon

Well, here I am again, peddling some more food porn. Part of the reason, I suppose, is some of the things I have been reading lately. One of those things has been a recent article from the Harvard Business Review. The take-away idea from that article is that only 10% of the American public likes to cook, while the other 90% is about equally divided in either actively loathing the process, or just being indifferent to it.

In typical Harvard Business School logic, what the author of this disquieting article wants his audience to conclude is that supermarkets and grocery stores should re-organize, and exclusively give the people what they want, and good and hard too: only pre-packaged crap that can be quickly reheated and put on plates. The author even goes so far as to praise this Reuters’ article, which in turn is an encomion of the latest food technology, in which packaged, sterilized food-like substances with unlimited shelf life will replace that nasty real stuff that tends to spoil and reduce market value. Even better, this stuff can be shipped by Amazon drones, and we can cut the middle-man of the local markets right out of the picture.

I dunno about you, but two images which immediately come to my mind are visions from that demented genius, Terry Gilliam, who turns his jaundiced eye toward the immediate future. The first is from his movie, Time Bandits, where one of the running gags in this delightful piece of mockery is The Moderna Wonder Major All-Automatic Convenience Center-ette”, an automatic kitchen which the young hero’s mum praises as being able to ‘turn a block of ice into Boeuf Bourgignon in eight seconds.’

The second image comes from Gilliam’s somewhat darker film, Brazil, where the only existing haute cuisine in that alternate future is several scoops of… No, I can’t bear to say it. You’ll just have to watch it for yourselves, all seven or eight of you. Read the rest of this entry »

Dinner for Sixty



-Boeuf Bourgignon (bacon free, gluten free) for 20;

-Coq au Vin (ditto) for 16;

-4 Quiches (9″, mushroom, onion, shallots, and bacon and shallots) for 16;

-Uzbeki lamb pilaf for 8;

-Basmati rice side dish for 60;

-Hand roasted, freshly ground Colombian coffee for 60.

It’s a long story.

For the past two years since my wife Beth died, my one live entertainment has been to listen to these guys, Simon and James, when they play the local pub at Pedro, about twice a year, in the summer and the winter.  It’s about a mile from where I live, so I usually get a reservation at the bar, tip the bartender a ten at the beginning of the affair, with the promise of another if the service is any good. It always is, for some reason.

So, between the food, which is okay, the beer, which is better but more expensive, the cover charge, and the tips to the musicians, it comes to quite a bit. As I am rather impecunious, I doubt that I could afford such more than twice a year. But Simon and James play a variety of trad music that I seldom hear in LaLa Land, so I find it to be worth it.

I’ve gotten to know Simon somewhat these last two years, and I wanted to buy some of his CDs before he performed the next time. So, I messaged him on Facebook to ask how I could do that. He told me that he would be in LA in early August, and we could meet at a mutual friend’s house to do the deal.

“Why can’t we do it when you’re at the local pub?” sez I.

“Because the pub hasn’t picked up my gig for this summer,” sez he. Read the rest of this entry »

The Blood is the Life: An essay regarding a diagnosis of the ills currently plaguing the Roman Catholic Church


Many of us have noted that not all is well with the Roman Catholic Church. Some are rejoicing over its supposed schism, heresy, or apostasy. Others of us sorrow over its sickness, as one would the illness of one’s mother. We wish there were some way it could be cured. Still others sorrow, but conclude that there is no cure: the only thing left now is to abandon ship, leave the impending shipwreck, and seek refuge in a Church which still lives, wherever that might be found.

Since I for my part believe that the Church of my youth both can and should be cured, I offer the following meditation. I would ask that those who read it consider what I have to say, accept it to the extent that it is true, and correct it where it is false. Read the rest of this entry »