Collect

Collect for the Seventh Sunday after Trinity

Lord of all power and might, who art the author and giver of all good things: graft in our hearts the love of thy Name; increase in us true religion, nourish us with all goodness, and of thy great mercy keep us in the same; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Five Quick Takes

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I got back from a five-day visit to the Adirondacks this past weekend. It was gorgeous, it always is, but I cannot say I’m sorry to be back in the land of air conditioning and cell phone reception. The insects were especially bad this year: I brought a canister of Off and so did several other people, and I’m still covered in bites from deerflies and mosquitoes.

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The McCarrick scandal, especially when set beside the corruption and incompetence of the Archdiocese of Baltimore—the squalid matter of The Keepers, though hopefully the worst of it, is yet only a part of it—it’s all stuff I am unfilially glad I’ve escaped by being incardinated into the Ordinariate back in 2013. But all the same, I am perfectly sure that the reason the Ordinariate has not been rocked by any scandals of that magnitude is that we’ve only existed for six years. We are as full of people as any other diocese, and we will necessarily bring all the same human problems with us into the one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church.

The first evangelist was a prostitute1; the first Pope was an apostate; the mind behind most of the New Testament was a judicial murderer. I worry about anyone whose faith is at all grounded in the misguided belief that Catholics are generally better than other people. They’ll have to face a harsh morning, and so much the harsher if they hit the snooze button.


This is not to deny the magnificent witness of the saints. Our Lord the Spirit has made quite ordinary human beings into miracles of wisdom, joy, self-mastery, courage, and compassion, and several of them (Joan of Arc, Thomas More, John of the Cross, Mother Teresa) were instrumental in my own conversion, as ruthlessly intellectual as I told myself it was. But there is a very great difference between observing, in an individual life, the diagrammatized exposition of the Glory, and attributing the Glory to the diagram. You might just as well suppose that a good novel must necessarily have been written on a nice computer.

1I am aware that there is debate over whether St Mary Magdalene was the same person as the (euphemistically so called) ‘sinful woman’ of Luke 7. I personally think that they were the same person, for a few reasons; but whether I’m correct or not, the popular accusation that this was a smear campaign against the Magdalene is patently ridiculous from a Christian perspective. There is no past that could constitute a smear campaign. Even if there were, all of the Apostles would still have to be ranked lower than she on the social hierarchy.

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I am nearly always reading something by Charles Williams, and last week, one of the few books I brought with me into the mountains was a single-volume copy of Taliessin Through Logres and The Region of the Summer Stars, his two enchanting books of Arthurian poetry. In both, Williams writes on multiple allegorical levels—the first author, perhaps, to successfully bend Dante’s bow in six hundred years. Thus the Byzantine Empire (more exactly, the Roman Empire as seated at Byzantium; Williams’ picture is deliberately anachronistic in several respects) is itself at one level of interpretation; but at another level it is the human body, and at another it is all human society, and at another still it is the kingdom of heaven.

What I find so fascinating about this is, it’s such a tightly constructed allegory that it’s almost self-exploiting. There were many more poems that Williams intended to write, before his untimely death in 1945, and between the poems as written, his uncompleted work The Figure of Arthur, and C. S. Lewis’ commentary on both, it’s possible to plausibly reconstruct substantial areas of the mythos that Williams never had an opportunity to touch on. As I’ve often wanted to write an adaptation of the Matter of Britain, this is really exciting for me.

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If I weren’t so tired of hearing it, it’d crack me up that so many Christians are so firmly convinced LGBT people are locked inside identity-label-cages. Talk to us! We’re not! Or just watch this adorable vlogger on the subject.

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I’m trying to get back into the habit of saying a daily rosary, and I did hit on a great trick: I can’t go on Facebook until I’ve said my rosary. I’ve been applying that rule for two or three weeks, and so far I’ve only forgotten once!

What’s harder is being present in the prayers. Not, I don’t think, because they’re formulas: I do as poorly if not worse when I try to pray spontaneously. But attending mentally to a person who is not present to my senses, even artificially as an e-mail or a social media post or something, is difficult. Everything reminds me of something, which means there’s a lot of noise in my brain. Probably I should learn some concentration techniques, or mind-clearing techniques or whatever. And, obviously, pray about it.

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Monday, June 25, 2018

The Fall of Uncle Ted

ITHAMORE. Look, look, master; here come two religious caterpillars.
BARABAS. I smelt ‘em ere they came.
ITHAMORE. God-a-mercy, nose! Come, let’s begone. …
FRIAR BARNARDINE. Thou hast committed—
BARABAS. Fornication: but that was in another country; and besides, the wench is dead.

—Christopher Marlowe, The Jew of Malta

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I just heard the news that Cardinal Theodore McCarrick has been removed from public ministry on the instructions of the Holy See. Two allegations of abuse of a minor, and three allegations of sexual misconduct with adults, have been advanced.

The original child abuse scandal that the Boston Globe broke turns sixteen this year. The Catholic Church seems to have learnt something, though perhaps not much, in that time. Cardinal DiNardo, the current president of the USCCB, stated that ‘As clergy in God’s Church, we have made a solemn promise to protect children and young people from all harm. This sacred charge applies to all who minister in the Church, no matter the person’s high standing or long service. This morning was a painful reminder of how only through continued vigilance can we keep that promise.’ Too little, too late? Possibly. The issue of the canonical trial of Cardinal McCarrick remains to be seen, as does any reformatory work—including, among other things, whatever reparations to victims are possible—that the Catholic Church in this country undertakes.


But why, why, why the lies and evasion and backroom squalor, the hypocritical concealment of hypocritical perversion? Rod Dreher (about whom I have mixed feelings [1]) expresses it very well at The American Conservative:
McCarrick was a major bone in my throat. Take a look at this story from the Boston Globe
‘Prominent church opinion-makers, including two cardinals, have suggested that the clergy sexual abuse crisis is a relatively minor phenomenon that is being turned into a major scandal by the media and others with an ax to grind. Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington, for example, told The Washington Post this week that some newspapers are having a “heyday” with the issue. “Elements in our society who are very opposed to the Church’s stand on life, the Church’s stand on family, the Church’s stand on education … see in this an opportunity to destroy the credibility of the Church.’” 
Imagine seeing and hearing things like that from the likes of McCarrick, knowing that he was a serial abuser of priests and seminarians—and knowing, obviously, that he knows it. He was playing a role. The stories about Uncle Ted were rampant on the East Coast, among priests. I know this because they told me. These weren’t just rumors … 
Some bishops were part of a gay cabal who looked out for each other, and made sure their secrets stayed safe. Many other bishops were neither gay nor sexually active, but had a strong sense that the Church’s image must be protected at all costs. This is how a dysfunctional family works. Nobody notice that Uncle Ted has his hands down Cousin Bobby’s pants. If we don’t talk about it, maybe it’s not happening … 
Which brings us to the laity. [A] reader wrote, with admirable self-recognition, that ‘we’d fooled ourselves into thinking’ that the crisis was over. This is why actual sex abuse victims remained silent about their abuse: because they knew that people wouldn’t believe them, because they didn’t want to believe them. … When I blew the whistle on a priest in my own parish in 2005, a friend of mine who was on the parish council reproached me bitterly. Of course we all knew what Father had been accused of, and that he wasn’t supposed to be in ministry, he said. But we kept it from the parishioners for their own good.
‘We kept it from them for their own good’: the plausible, Satanic mantra of the gaslighting abuser. Is the Catholic Church as obsessed with image as Hollywood and the White House? I wouldn’t have thought so, but maybe I was naïve; not that I ever thought the Church was perfect—my acquaintance with Christian history and my Calvinist upbringing prevented me from falling for that idea—but I had supposed that she was better than this.

This is what happens when the ikon is allowed to calcify into the idol. In ordinary language, an ikon [2] is a depiction of God, Christ, or a saint, and ritual veneration of the ikon is an act of reverence to the person it depicts, rather like kissing a loved one’s photo while separated from them. More broadly, the function of an ikon is to establish contact between ourselves and the persons, mysteries, and archetypes of the heavenly realms, and in this way practically every thing is an ikon: each woman and man is an ikon of God, Christ is the ikon of the Father, every word is an ikon of an idea, every love-affair is the veneration of an ikon. That which transcends the senses must nevertheless be presented to us in terms of the senses, because that’s how human beings learn. I think it is in this light that we must understand the profession of the Second Council of Nicæa, that reverence for ikons is not only licit but necessary in Christian worship; even if we were to ban wood and paint, sculpture and tapestry, from the liturgy (which is a good deal more austere than the instructions for the Tabernacle), it would still be true that the incomprehensible God can only be approached through images—poetic if not pictorial, and perhaps no less crude for being conceptual.

But there are two skewed ways of looking at ikons, and Iconoclasm is only one of them. The other error is the mental blending of the type with its archetype, the confusion of the ikon with the thing it communicates. This is when the ikon becomes the idol, usurping the reverence and loyalty due only to God, and issuing inevitably in monstrosity and corruption, and often in bloodshed. The lover who pretends that all his beloved’s real flaws are mere harmless quirks is an idolator; so, too, are the official who conceal the sexual predation of athletes to protect the college’s reputation, and the statesman who forces other peoples to bear the cost of the prosperity of his own nation.

Returning to Dreher:
I’m traveling right now in the Azores. One of my party is a faithful Southern Baptist layman. His confession is going through its own scandals right now. He and I were talking about Uncle Ted last night. He’s not gloating at all. Nobody should gloat. …  
Despite all that, I must tell you: this Uncle Ted story is all very good news. I mean that sincerely. Everything that was hidden, and foul, and corrupt, and that thrived in the darkness, is being exposed. My Catholic faith was not strong enough to withstand knowing that Uncle Ted, and those like him, were getting away with this injustice. I was a prideful, triumphalistic Catholic, and that set me up for a big fall. A Russian told me when I was coming into the Orthodox faith that there are so many scandals in the Orthodox Church that no Orthodox has the right to look down on Rome. If I had been the same kind of Orthodox Christian, my Orthodoxy would have been at risk. 

If you are committed to remaining a Catholic, I strongly urge you to remind yourself that God allows chastisement to fall upon his people for the sake of their repentance. Maybe you’ve fallen so in love with the institution that you’ve forgotten the One who is supposed to be at its center. That happened to me once. 
This is an opportunity to repent. This is what judgment means. This is what purification is. That same light will shine into the dark corners of your soul and mine, if we let it. 
… As a Catholic, I always imagined that one day I might have to suffer for the Church. I never imagined that I would have to suffer from the Church. Losing my Catholic faith was the most painful thing that ever happened to me, but honestly, I thank God for it. It broke me, and I needed breaking. I was ideological, I was triumphalist, I was sentimental—and I was much weaker in my faith than I realized. … 
This e-mail just came in. This is a perfect example of the role the laity has played in perpetuating the scandal: I simply don’t understand your eagerness with this prosecution of McCarrick. I support the legal ramifications, but not your public dancing on his grave. You have to understand the intense hatred the media have for Catholicism. We MUST protect our brand, our shield, our faith! I fully support Pope Francis and his softened tone, and even swipes at capitalism because the media love him. And image is everything. … In short, we must handle these issues swiftly, legally, but privately! As a successful advertising executive in NYC I am looked up like an alien because I am a weekly Mass attender … Image is everything, and when it comes to the One True Church we MUST protect her!
The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters, Francisco de Goya, 1799

Dreher’s correspondent happens to be a layman, but the attitude this person evinces is plentiful among clergy too. And in mere justice, we must concede to Caiaphas that it is expedient that one man should die for the people. Although even Caiaphas did not sink to the grotesque slogan ‘We must protect our brand.’

No matter what degree it occurs in—pope, cardinal, bishop, priest, deacon, religious, or pew-warmer—the worship of the Church is one of the wickedest and most disastrous forms of idolatry possible. The better and more plausible the idol (which is almost the same as saying: the nobler and more important the ikon that has been turned into an idol), the more loathsome and horrifying its corruption, for much the same reason that a character with lousy powers makes an unsatisfying supervillain, but a good supervillain is of the same stuff as a good superhero. The Church is a beautiful and sacred ikon; she is accordingly an ugly and powerful idol, as capable of devouring children as Ashtoreth or Tlaloc or Kālī. [3] And insofar as she is an idol the Church deserves to be smashed. Such smashing will not hurt the Church-as-ikon, the Body of Christ; for that identity is of heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal. Nor is it any kindness to the Church (or to one’s neighbor) to let her be an idol to others; there is no virtue in protecting the Church’s ‘brand’; the Church’s one job is to be an ikon, and those who try to keep the popular image of Catholicism squeaky clean, by any means other than trying to keep actual Catholicism squeaky clean, are as guilty of corrupting and breaking the Church as those who blatantly attack her.

If not guiltier. For the Iconoclast may be a heretic but at least he is not a hypocrite; and our Lord was far gentler with the Samaritans than he was with the Pharisees.

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[1] On the one hand, I was and remain extremely unimpressed with his attitude toward poverty, his willingness to tolerate or even defend the President’s ugly utterances, his paranoid view of Pope Francis, and a soupçon of apparent homophobia exhibited in this very article. On the other, this article displays some of his best qualities, too: honesty about the flaws of churches, frank refusal to take pleasure in scandal, and willingness to confess his own faults (this last being a quality that many people whom I agree with far more fail to display).
[2] I use this spelling to differentiate the religious object from other uses of the word icon. The theology and spirituality of ikons is much more characteristic of the East, but it is also part of the proper heritage of the West. The peculiar heresy of Iconoclasm that shaped the East in the eighth and ninth centuries had little influence in the West, until the Protestant Reformation; and even then, the Anglican and Lutheran traditions were mostly tolerant of ikons—both retained the use of crucifixes, for instance.
[3] Many people are familiar with Ashtoreth (or more properly Ashtart) as an ancient Canaanite goddess, to whom babies were sometimes offered. Tlaloc was an Aztec deity who also received child sacrifices (many Aztec gods received human sacrifice in one form or another); apparently, because Tlaloc was a deity of fertility and rain, the children were injured before being actually killed, in order to make them cry, their tears being considered a form of sympathetic magic that would prompt Tlaloc to send rain. Kālī is a severe and terrifying Hindu goddess, normally considered a destroyer of evil and a protectress, who has often been associated with human sacrifice.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

An Open Letter to Douglas Wilson

Professor Wilson,

Peace be with you in our Lord Jesus Christ.

I have little reason to think you’ll read this letter—that is the way of open letters published on blogs, and if you write in a chimney then I write in a flue—but I write nonetheless: partly in the hope that you may after all stumble upon it somehow, and partly to address sentiments you expressed, which have had a good many other advocates in Reformed circles. The inner politics of the Reformed are no longer of grave importance to me, since I left the PCA ten years ago to become a Roman Catholic; all the same, I retain an irrational fondness for the Presbyterian tradition: my mother is still PCA, and the Reformed were the first to teach me the love of God and reverence for sacred Scripture. Moreover, my topic is your remarks on the upcoming Revoice Conference, which is being hosted at a Reformed church, and that gathering has garnered criticism principally from Presbyterian sources (that I’m aware of).

Now then, to brass tacks. You invite the reader to read your collation of quotes from Eve Tushnet, Ron Belgau, Greg Coles, and Nate Collins, ‘and try to tell me there isn’t a whole world of compromise nestled in some of those words and phrases. If this isn’t the thin end of the wedge, then I’m a Hottentot.’ I feel obliged to inform you that you are, in hunc effectum, a Hottentot. We mean precisely what we say; that’s why we say it. If we wanted a church with more compromises, they can be got two a penny at CVS, so why would we waste our energy and time with all this? This, aside from the fact that assuming bad intent on the part of an opponent is an ad hominem, which, as I’m sure you know, thanks to your admirable championing of classical learning, is a fallacy—an assault on motive worthier of Ezekiel Bulver than of yourself. And all this is without touching on St Paul’s dictum that charity thinketh no evil and hopeth all things.

But linger with me, please, over one of the images you’ve chosen as an analogue for Revoice.
There is absolutely no way that this is the whole program. … To change the image, the PCA is pregnant with some bastard children, and is only three months along, barely starting to pooch out a bit, and is busy arguing that her confessional standards don’t say anything about pooching out a bit. So we’re all good.
Well, if the PCA, or any church, is pregnant with bastard children, am I to gather from your analogy that you believe they should be aborted? That, taking one of your key-words, is as obvious from your words as our mauvaise foi is from ours. As for that, it is your ill opinion of bastards rather than of Revoice that principally troubles me, insofar as neither hath this man sinned, that he was born blind. But I feel sure that is not quite what you meant. In any case, we can return to the topic at hand, which is this.

I claim the title of God’s bastard child. I am no heretic; a sinner, yes, but Catholic; and that divine Love which elected Rahab, Ruth, Tamar, and Bathsheba as his foremothers has embraced this bastard too. Or art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?


Nothus Dei Natus

Your accent on shame seems to me profoundly misguided. One thing that I absorbed during my time as a Reformed Christian was the utmost importance of letting the Scriptures speak, on the grounds that all human interpreters are fallible; and without prejudice to the Biblical passages you cite, I shall venture to point out that of those texts, only one addresses homosexuality per se, and it is (I dare to say) reasonably plain that it is a summary of the human condition apart from divine grace, since there were plenty of people in the ancient Mediterranean who didn’t exhibit the behaviors St Paul here condemns. Or, if we insist that the Apostle is making a categorical and logical statement here, rather than a homiletic and rhetorical one, are we not bound to assert that all people other than Christians are secretly homosexual? In any case, I should have thought that the doctrinal statement ‘homosexual intercourse is wrong’ was a more important area of agreement among Christians than the severity of the adjectives chosen to describe it.

I speak from experience when I say that shaming people—that is, scolding and humiliating them (or what else do you mean? by all means tell me)—is not a healthy or productive technique even when it is combined with others. I was raised in Reformed circles where the practice of shame and the doctrine of grace were both standard currency, and I hated and despised myself so much that I cut up my skin and considered suicide for years. That is what being shamed naturally does to a person.

Nor does your enthusiasm for it seem to me to reflect the actual practice of the Lord Jesus or his Apostles. A bruised reed shall He not break, and smoking flax shall He not quench; He is meek and lowly in heart; the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance, and against such there is no law. Or, you might simply recall that the title 'Accuser' is not an epithet of our Lord.

You pass from here to complaints that, in your collection of quotes, no one is told ‘simply to repent, simply to stop being that way’. Well, given that Revoice is primarily about how believers gay or straight can support their LGBT brethren in Christ, we tend rather to take repentance of sin as a given. I would also add that a collation of quotes, however extensive, is not the same thing as reading our words in their full context: you might pick up a copy of Eve Tushnet’s Gay and Catholic, Melinda Selmys’ Sexual Authenticity, or Greg Coles’ Single, Gay, Christian (that is, in toto) for a more complete picture. As for the advice to ‘stop being that way,’ has that ever worked for you? Have you heeded the Bible’s constant warnings against slander and gossip in your decision to believe the worst about us? Or tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither your fathers nor ye were able to bear?

Moreover, do you mean ‘stop surrendering to gay lust,’ or ‘stop feeling gay attractions’? In your own book Fidelity, if I recall accurately, you point out quite correctly that some scrupulous men fear that they are guilty of lust merely because they notice that a woman is attractive. Surely that means that the simple experience of attraction is not in itself a sin—which would likewise mean that (as you also said in Fidelity) there is no obligation to be attracted to the opposite sex, and accordingly no imperative to stop feeling gay attractions, which as it happens we can’t do anyway?

Of course, if you mean ‘Stop surrendering to gay lust,’ then the command remains theologically sound if rather oddly worded. In that case, I would only present myself as a far more suitable target for censure than women like Eve Tushnet or men like Ron Belgau, who unlike me actually practice the chastity they profess. I cling to my orthodoxy not out of moral consistency, but because I have little else.

Image result for hey fancy boy

Passing to your patriarchal halakhah on communication and on the gentleman in the photo you selected, who is (as far as I can tell) being judged effeminate because he wears a suit, combs his hair, and jumps, I have this to say. You are of course perfectly correct that gestures, clothing, facial expressions, and mannerisms are elements of communication. However, they are also gestures, clothing, facial expressions, and mannerisms. (I would apologize for the implication that you do not understand the obvious, save that you show by your article that you don't mind stating that those who disagree with you, even on a point as trivial and changeful as proper dress, do not understand the obvious; and, as I’m sure you’ll agree, with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.) Persons sometimes adopt all these things not because they wish to convey a message, but because they happen to like them. The flaw in the shrewd cartoon you mention is that neither the mother nor the reader can say with justice that they know whether the extravagantly dressed person wants to be stared at, or merely has unusual tastes and is not afraid of being stared at. Given that fear of being stared at does not seem like a common motive among Reformed theologians, and was not a recognizably common trait among the Reformers, I would not have assumed you thought so highly of it.

That aside, given your confident condemnation of the picture, would you indulge us by stating what about it is effeminate? If this people who knoweth not the law are cursed, a patriarch, author, and professor should be ready to teach. And, more important (given the sole infallible authority you profess), on what Biblical texts you base this conviction? Not the conviction that effeminacy in men is wrong, you understand; but that the picture in question is effeminate. That it offends the Lord. For surely you would not issue moral censure based on your own likings or mislikings; and I certainly hope you have a better basis for your conviction than the ‘Obvious’ Fallacy.

I ask, because I am bold to consider myself traveled, having lived on three continents, spent time in nine countries, and visited twenty-five states (my attendance at Revoice will make twenty-six); and I can count on the fingers of no hands the number of people I’ve met who say or even think that that gentlemen is obviously effeminate, whether in gesture, clothing, facial expression, mannerism, or anything else. Since social conventions change over time and the culture of ancient Rome, Greece, Asia, and Palestine was radically different from our own, I trust you are not claiming that the social standards and conventional signals of the Idaho chimney represent God’s final say on matters of human, or even merely masculine, style. Regardless, since we’ve apparently gone full Footloose here, I’d remind you that He does not despise dancing in his heart.

I'd point out also that the archetypes of masculinity you cite with approval, ‘lumberjack’ and ‘long-haul trucker,’ are conspicuous by their absence when one peruses Scripture—even using the extended edition employed by Catholic and Orthodox Christians. Given the Reformed principles of Total Depravity and semper reformanda, I don’t think it’s presumptuous to advance, as a possibility at least, that your idea of masculinity is unduly influenced by your culture; or, in Scriptural terminology, by the World. And given that your mode of defending it is evidently to insult those who don’t see it the same way, calling them culturally illiterate or willfully stupid—rather than explain what precisely you are objecting to (is it the posture? the hairstyle? the colors? in all seriousness, what is it?) and why—I am the less convinced that your standard is a love that vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, is not easily provoked, and thinketh no evil.

All joking aside, Professor Wilson, please stop and take thought. If something other than stated fidelity to the teaching of Scripture and the constant tradition of the Church is to be required of us (a hedge around the law, as it were?) to be in your good books, say what and say why. I have no plans to bother about your good books myself, though as Edmund Pevensie said, ‘If there’s a wasp in the room I like to be able to see it.’ But there are fellow believers in your own tradition, striving after godliness on an often lonely and difficult path, who endure mockery and misunderstanding from Christians and non-Christians alike; have you considered the effect your words are likely to have on them? I tell you plainly that it is not one of joyful encouragement in virtue. I know that from my own scars. Have you really nothing better to do with your time than insult and shame fellow believers who have the temerity to profess orthodoxy, attempt chastity, and differ with you on points that are not mentioned in Scripture at all?

I hope that, in spite of my anger, I have maintained justice and charity in writing this; if I have sinned, I beg the Lord’s pardon and yours. May the grace of God, the love of Christ Jesus, and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost be with you and with all who read this.

Gabriel Blanchard, NDN

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

A Letter to the UMMC

This isn't an ordinary MC post, but I couldn't resist sharing it out of vanity.

This past April I was obliged to visit the emergency room. A month later, I received a bill for somewhat less than $700; naturally, since I haven't yet taken up hustling, I applied for financial aid. I have since received a letter in reply, and penned a reply in turn, which I haven't yet decided whether I will actually send.

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To the financial offices of the University of Maryland Medical Center:

I filled out an application for financial assistance on account of the $675.07 bill I received for my emergency room visit back in April. Today, I received a letter saying ‘Insufficient documentation—get real and try again,’ or words to that effect. While admitting that more time to either amass the sum or get it reduced is very welcome to me, since the aforesaid bill is nearly as much as I make in a month, I pray you will indulge me in a review of the process to date.

First, with respect to the billing itself. The engagingly mysterious summary of costs includes the items ‘Laboratory,’ ‘ER/EMTALA,’ ‘ER/Beyond EMTALA,’ and ‘Pharmacy.’ I gather that the first of these charges indicates the two blood tests and one urine test, all inconclusive, that were done on the night of the 24th; but, since those tests cost approximately $12 apiece (including the cost of the work itself and a profit margin of about a fifth for the hospital), I am intrigued—not to say disconcerted—that they sum up at $478.89.

Having, to a very limited extent, familiarized myself with EMTALA, ie. the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, I remain mildly uncertain about its presence on my bill. I can only assume that ‘EMTALA’ and ‘Beyond EMTALA’ are cryptic allusions to the two saline drips that I received, couched no doubt in the language of medical ritual. This, however, again results in a puzzle, since a saline drip costs something like a dollar, whereas the EMTALA-related charges come out to $1,371.39, which strikes me as rather a lavish (not to say intemperate) expense for a bag of water, even when divided in half in justice to the fact that there were two; although, if the UMMC is experiencing difficulty in acquiring water, I would be happy to donate almost any amount of it from my own home, since I receive it gratis through the taps.

Of the semi-anonymous billing under ‘Pharmacy,’ it may well be for all I know that the medicine to treat a patient for four hours costs $69.05. Given the previous items, I must confess to skepticism on that point; but perhaps I am only cynical.

How I digress. In any case, taking together the tests, the two (2) bags of water, the medicines, and the payment of the salaried professionals who in fact cared for me, I am finding it difficult to make the cost of service come out to more than about $300 at the absolute outside; and while I am perfectly happy to pay $300 to be well, I would venture to point out that the bill before the insurance contribution came out to $1,919.33—an arresting sum for most persons to consider even before choosing to be sick—and that the insurance company obligingly sent UMMC $1,244.26, thus apparently recouping your actual expenses, vis à vis materials and work, four times over with room to spare.

I understand, from the most elementary reading on the subject, that the standard practice of hospitals is to bill not so much for services actually rendered, as for whatever figure can be put to paper without provoking laughter, on the grounds that this must be the starting point for any discussion with insurance companies (who evidently do not mind provoking laughter). That of course is not my business in itself; but it does seem a little squalid and ridiculous to make it my business when the insurance company stops coughing up, given that the vast majority of these values are produced only for haggling and are, accordingly, entirely imaginary.

Nevertheless, perhaps you need $675.07 on some other grounds, and are too shy to say so; a beloved cat, doubtless, is suffering from ennui, and requires intensive aromatherapy and stress counseling. Let us, then, turn to the application you have provided for financial assistance.

My mother is far more devoted to mystery novels than I, but I dare say I derived as much pleasure from the obscurities of this document as she does from a delicious murder. Beginning at the beginning, as the custom is, the instructions say: ‘Return this application with the following required documentation: Income (including all of the following documents you currently receive): Copy of last 2 pay stubs or copy of W-2 form for most recent tax year. … If you are unable to supply any of the required documents above, please complete Form FAF 116 attached.’

Now, I hasten to admit in simple truthfulness that it was my own carelessness that destroyed my copy of my most recent W-2. Further, I do not ordinarily receive pay stubs, my paychecks being routed to my account via direct deposit. Accordingly, since the instructions directed those who lacked these documents to fill out FAF 116, I ventured to fill out FAF 116, on the grounds that I lacked those documents. Judging from the underlinings and highlightings of the letter that I received in reply to my application, this was the wrong thing to do. I trust you will not take a piece of stylistic advice amiss? If your intention was to require these documents from anyone who is employed, it would be as well to say so. The literal-minded like myself are apt to assume that, if they do not possess some document X, and are told to fill out form Y in consequence, they will not then be met with a reply that they failed to send document X—since their intimate knowledge of this fact was the reason for their earlier decision to fill out and mail form Y. But if applications for financial aid (when made by the employed) will certainly be refused when made without document X, it would again be as well to say so, and thus to save much paper, ink, and aspirin.

Turning to the aforesaid Form FAF 116, how wonderful is life! But that aside: FAF 116 requests only the patient’s signature; the letter I received in reply to my application requests ‘a letter of explanation of your housing situation, stating the amount paid each month, to whom, and have all parties sign as verification.’ Here again, the inveterate habit of the student of the Classics prompts a teacherly thought in me: surely it would be as well to require this at the beginning of the process, rather than while it is underway? It would admittedly be curious (even a kind of solecism) not to request such information and attestation at all, but I can testify from experience that life displays many curious tendencies, and as a rather scrupulous person I usually do not hand out personal information (my own or others’) when it has not been asked for.

Nevertheless, in response to that query which has now been made plain, this: I make somewhat more than $14k per year. I live in a house attached to my parish church, along with a few other impoverished parishioners. In an act of great generosity, my parish charges me very little in rent (while I provide board on my own initiative). My monthly rent consists in $100 cash, plus five hours of manual labor, principally janitorial, per week; ergo, about twenty hours or so per month (reaching an estimated $200 in labor); hence my estimate of $300 per month. Fr Albert Scharbach as head of the parish is my de facto landlord, while Michael Byrd, the church’s sexton and general factotum, usually receives and deposits the payment. You may find their signatures below as requested.

The letter’s final highlighted portion, seeking a proof of additional income, was in its way a welcome moment of levity. I do have one: namely, sponsorship on my blog, which comes out to a little more than $5o extra per month. Thus, even if you should elect to ruin me financially in pursuit of your ostensible $675.07, representing $1,619.26 of fees that remain sacrally veiled from the debtor, you need not trouble your consciences, since I will be able to sustain myself with a bag of water every day of the month and, two days out of three, a nutritious nut bar.

Wishing you a pleasant summer, I beg to remain
Your obedient servant,

Gabriel Ian Matthew Blanchard

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

La Estrella del Mar, or, Mother of Exiles

Trucks rumble—the hustle and the hum
Of gears gas engine exhaust choke POTHOLE and there’s a cut on the forehead,
Red over the white frightened eyes in the dark.
She bends down over POTHOLE her baby
And she knows what’s coming next but it hasn’t happened yet,
So she cradles and coos and tries not to think
About the kennel they’ll put her son in
With the chainlink door and the concrete floor and the ugly foil blanket made for an alien.
And the dry road south is all sand sand sand POTHOLE sand,
Back down to Sinaloa, the land of the rattlesnake,
Sand in the hair the mouth the eyes, like an itching thirsting disease.


Turn your bodies against the drums, boys:
It’s the I.C.E., it’s the Committee of Public Saftey,
It’s Herod and he means it this time.


The trucks aren’t full of people.
They’re full of MS13 monsters like her,
They’re full of sluts who wouldn’t get an abortion like her,
They’re full of cost-benefit ratios like her,
They’re full of huddled masses like her,
They’re full of not our problems like her.
But her eyes are two thousand years old
And the message of the angel still shines out of them
The mystery the plea the glory the warning
That this is an ikon of the all-consuming Fire.
What will you do when that Fire falls on you?


Turn your bodies against the drums, boys:
It’s the I.C.E., it’s the Committee of Public Safety,
It’s Herod and he means it this time.


So pick up your ploughshares and your pruning hooks,
This is no time for passivity, it’s time for pacifisticuffs:
If what you want is peace then go be peace’s power,
Lift up your voice, your open hands toward that White Tower
And cover it with brown sand.
Hate burns white-hot—don’t be fooled by its easy appeal:
Love is brown like earth and wood and dried blood and Jewish skin
And the eyes of the baby that immigrant woman is holding for the last time.
Call on the mountains to fall on us, the hills to hide us,
For their earth is full of love
And perhaps thus we shall learn to love our brother.


Turn your bodies against the drums, boys:
It’s the I.C.E., it’s the Committee of Public Safety,
It’s Herod and he too will die.

✠     ✠ ✠

EDIT: Notes on the Text
Title. La Estrella del Mar. This is the Spanish form of the Latin title Stella Maris, 'Star of the Sea.' This title (derived from a fanciful etymology of the name Miriam or Mary) has been used for the Blessed Virgin Mary since at least the early Middle Ages, and has particular reference to the guiding stars used by sailors.
Mother of Exiles. This is an alternate name for the Statue of Liberty, believed to have been coined by Emma Lazarus in her famous sonnet, The New Colossus.
l.10. Sinaloa. The state of Sinaloa lies on the Pacific coast of Mexico, and is the principal center of the infamous Sinaloa Cartel, considered the single most powerful drug trafficking organization in the world by US intelligence. Cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamines are among their chief wares.
land of the rattlesnake. The Mexican flag and seal feature a rattlesnake being throttled by an eagle, in reference to an ancient Aztec legend. Though its bite is seldom fatal if treated promptly, the rattlesnake is the leading cause of snakebite injuries in the US, and ranges throughout the Americas.
l. 13. the Committee of Public Safety. This Orwellian title belonged to one of the institutions of the French Revolution, and oversaw the Reign of Terror in 1793-94.
l. 14. Herod. Cf. Matthew 2.1-18.
l. 16. MS13. Also known as Mara Salvatrucha, this extensive gang operates mostly in North and Central America, partly under the auspices of the Sinaloa Cartel. It is known for a multitude of crimes, including murder, human trafficking, and child prostitution. Most MS13 members are Salvadoran; the gang was originally founded to protect emigrants from El Salvador who had come to the US after the Central American civil wars of the 1980s.
l. 19. huddled masses. Cf. The New Colossus ll. 10ff.
ll. 21-22. But her eyes ... out of them. Cf. Luke 1.26-35.
l. 24. all-consuming Fire. Cf. Hebrews 12.28-29.
l. 25. What will you ... falls on you? Cf. Matthew 21.42-44; Acts 2.1-4, 15-21, 38.
l. 29. your ploughshares and your pruning hooks. Cf. Isaiah 2.1-5.
l. 32. White Tower. A mashing together of White House and Trump Tower.
l. 35. wood and dried blood and Jewish skin. In reference to the Crucifixion.
l. 37. Call on the ... to hide us. Cf. Revelation 6.12-17.
l. 42. he too will die. Cf. Matthew 2.19-20.