A Sojourn Among Jesuits

A Journey with Jesuits

I live near a highway. I have been watching the ebb and flow of traffic while struggling to put into words my experience of the past months. Traffic, for all its technology and pollution, mirrors the natural progression of seasons here in the small tourist community where I live. The arrival of a carnival or vacationers over a holiday weekend affects us, disrupting the sleepy norm, leaving the town rattled, transformed and richer when the tourist tide recedes. My life was once like this.

Like any person with a lively intellect, my worldview is informed both by everyday events and the broader perspective on culture afforded by an internet connection. The tide rises and the news is absorbed, disrupting my sleepy norm. But lately, this tide has left me rattled and transformed but no richer.

The struggle for civilization is, like the struggle for self-actualization, an effort to tame the animal within. In this, our society increasingly resembles a zoo with its cages left open. The rush to assign blame for this state of affairs leads us into a wilderness of pointing fingers. Discussion of political differences, always passionate, has transformed into an ugly debate appropriating moral language. In an environment where political differences are shaded with religious overtones of good and evil, I felt the need to withdraw and reconsider some fundamental questions. And so on July 1st I undertook a thirty-one day period of spiritual reflection.

The 31 Days of St. Ignatius is a month-long course of prayer and contemplation during which participants are invited to consider a series of topics related to the Gospel and Jesuit spirituality. Classes are provided online and supplemented with additional material by e-mail. There was also an online forum and priestly counsel made available. Also, my ex-wife and neighbor Becky was also taking the course and she provided hours of lively conversation and reflection. I have always appreciated the intellectual symmetry of Jesuitical thought, taking solace in their scholarship and commentaries, their disciplined approach to faith and later, through personal acquaintance with Daniel Berrigan and John Dear, their activism. The Jesuits always seem able to strike a meaningful balance between engagement with the inner and outer worlds. With this goal in mind, I undertook the discipline. It proved a rigorous journey of self-examination, prayerful reflection and discussion.

I distilled many of my thoughts into journal form, offered for any lost in that wilderness of pointing fingers, perhaps overwhelmed by those beasts prowling once-civilized precincts.

REFLECTION ON EVIL

One of the most pervasive and commonplace evils of our time is the ease with which we attribute evil to others. Extreme demonstrations of human evil, driven by forces as disparate as greed, nationalism, egotism, ideological fervor should prompt a passionate response. But when we mistake passion for the response – where we are too swift to alarm, we will be swift to ascribe evil to others and dehumanize them. Much of the extremism I have experienced within myself occurred when I demonized those with whom I disagreed while remaining reluctant to examine my own ideological and activist excesses. The violent arguments convulsing society are informed at least partially by this truth: you cannot confront the evil in the world effectively until you confront the evil within oneself. My own failure to do so has invariably led to a lack of reflection and humility. With much cultural commentary larded with blame, there is very little left over to encourage self-reflection about personal shortcomings. Sadly, established religion often serves to cloud the waters and muddle discourse. Those who invoke religion as cover for inexcusable and inhumane policies would do well to consult their faith’s scriptures and look within. Some others of us might do well to check our righteous anger while also checking our privilege. Acknowledging one’s own flaws brings humility. Reflexively attributing evil to others can be a way to avoid that acknowledgement.

REFLECTION ON TRUTH

An honest examination of truth leads to an awareness that the truth can wound people. Indeed, it can kill. This might explain the human reluctance to face truth and a demonstrated preference to traffic in its direct opposite. Of course, we all know the sensation of being asked for our honest opinion when we know that obliging will inflict injury. We avoid speaking the truth to spare others pain. Perhaps this explains the visible absence of the Divine in our lives. To those who cry, “Where is God?” the answer: Be careful what you ask for. We can get a scale of the potential discomfort when we apply the standards of truth we have for others to ourselves. Try it sometime. Hold yourself to the same standard of truth and fairness to which you hold someone you don’t particularly like and see how you stack up. We not only spare others the truth – we often spare ourselves. This is an act of charity because to learn too much about ourselves too quickly can be a shattering experience. To be in the presence of God is to be exposed to the absolute truth about ourselves. His absence is an act of charity. Because being in the presence of absolute truth will shatter anyone.

“WHO DO YOU SAY THAT I AM?”

Labeling others, rightly or wrongly, according to their merit or dismissing people based on popular opinion or the say-so of others is common in human society. My own reluctance to embrace the traditional faith of my culture rests mostly in the evils done in its name. But working within the Jesuit tradition required me to approach the eminence of God-in-Christ, one outside my accustomed spiritual framework. I determined to try. We are enjoined to see the God within people, I told myself, so why not God as person? What began as an acceptance of Jesus as an subject of contemplation grew, given the norms of the faith, into a relationship with the idea of Christ. This proved an object lesson for me about things said about or done in others’ name. When asked if he is the King of the Jews, Christ responds: “You say that I am.” The statement refracts perfectly into the very problems of identity, culture and truth present in that moment. It also forces a distinction between the individual and what others say of him in a time and place of legal judgment. What I bring from this aspect of the retreat into my own life is a determination to spend more time sojourning and counseling with others and less time considering what is said or done in their name. I would like to think I would answer Christ’s words: “No, you tell me.” So I owe at least that much to others.

FINISHING THE JOURNEY/TELLING THE STORY

Many is the time I felt tempted to share some new thought or insight prompted by the course, but the 31 Days format discouraged it, and for this I am glad. My early thoughts were refined in contemplation and my understanding broadened as a result. This in a contrast with our culture of “hot takes” and opinion pieces crafted within an hour of a major news event. During the period of contemplation, it struck me how impoverished this new norm has left the marketplace of ideas. The pressures of a 24-hour news cycle, a global marketplace and instant global communication have combined to create a militantly non-reflective culture in which commentators do not so much think as react. The fastest to file the story owns that day’s news cycle. But how many individual mental journeys, I wondered, have been cut short by this phenomenon? My 31 Days reinforced for me the importance of contemplation and reflection. One need not necessarily unplug – just be a little quicker to reflect and slower to respond. Finish the journey before telling the story.

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Cigarettes & Spotter Cards (Dad’s war, 2)

When the Nazi air attacks began in earnest, every aspect of life in Britain became channeled into the war effort. Theirs was a small island nation with limited resources facing a military/industrial colossus with the entire provender of conquered Europe at its disposal. Desperate measures would be called for in order to survive. Brits were encouraged to grow their own food, re-use everything and build bomb shelters in their backyards. The government sponsored a war bond drive, collected scrap metal for use in fabricating weapons and carefully rationed consumer goods. The talents of the advertising industry turned to creating posters reminding people that loose lips sink ships and even the space on cigarette packages that normally advertised tea, tinned cakes and beer was used to reinforce the information everyday Brits needed to survive.

I remember one thing about my father that always struck me: his uncanny ability to identify aircraft. We would be sitting on the couch watching a TV show set during the war and he would immediately identify any plane that appeared onscreen: Corsair, Mustang P-4, Spitfire. These were fairly common allied planes known to most people, but dad could name them at the briefest glance. This was impressive enough, but it was the German aircraft he knew best: the Heinkel, the Junker-88, the Stuka, the Messerschmitt 109. He could identify these by silhouette, tell you each one’s effective operational range, crew complement, armament and the kind of engine it used. I assumed he knew these things because he liked aircraft and had studied them for fun as a boy. But I later realized that, as a Blitz kid, my father’s motives for learning about German planes had nothing to do with enjoyment. It was a matter of survival.

My Grandpa Joe, who worked in the shipyards, smoked. A lot of men did back then, but the war took a toll on the tobacco supply so Grandpa took to storing tobacco and old butts in the pocket of the coat he would wear to work each day then hang on a coat tree by the door upon his return home. My father confessed to me that he would occasionally raid that pocket for half-smoked cigarettes and scraps of tobacco that he and his friends could roll and share. Like a lot of Blitz kids, dad started smoking early.

The cigarettes my grandfather could buy when they were available included cards, similar to modern-day baseball and hockey cards. In pre-war days, these contained images of sailing ships, sports personalities or historical figures. But with the war, cards were repurposed to convey reminders and tips about the skills necessary to survive bombardments and gas attacks. Cigarette cards showed the average Brit how to turn his living room into a bomb shelter, help a child put on a gas-mask or extinguish an incendiary bomb with a garden hose. These cards were intended to convey as much information as could possibly be fitted into a tiny space. They also contained images of planes.

Airplane cards often featured an attractive illustration of the airship in question on one side and a list of specs on the reverse: engine make, top speed, crew complement, ordnance – the works. Men who smoked would sometimes keep these cards. Grandpa Joe gave his to my dad. Too bad we lost track of them, because they’re worth a fortune today on e-Bay.

I imagine my father collecting and studying these cards, trading them with friends, one-upping each other on how well they knew their facts. In such times, a boy’s natural fascination with machinery and war would have been tempered with the knowledge that some of those beautiful machines he admired were being sent to kill him. Some ‘spotter cards’ (for so were cigarette cards of airplanes called) featured silhouette charts, enabling an observer to tell whether the plane above was a fighter or a bomber. Deciding what to do with such knowledge meant the difference between life and death in an air raid. Such was the brutal calculus of war and the basis of my father’s impressive knowledge of Nazi airplanes.

Unfortunately, my father’s career as a big-time tobacco thief had one built-in problem: getting a light. Grandpa used a lighter, which my dad could not very well pinch. “And your grandmother watched every wooden match in the place,” he complained to me once.

“So how did you get a light?”

Dad smirked. “Gas street-lamps. We’d roll a smoke and then send one of the kids up to light it from the gas jet.”

I had to laugh. Life during war-time. Kids always find a way.

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My Father’s War

My father never spoke much about the war. He was born and grew up in Leith, an exurb of northern Edinburgh on the Firth of Forth. When the Battle of Britain began, a great many middle- and upper-class children were evacuated from the cities and sent to live in places in the country. But my father’s family was solidly working class and poor. Grandpa Joe labored in the shipyards on the Firth of Forth as a blacksmith. When war came, the family stayed because that’s where work could be found.

Grandpa balanced with his forge and tongs on the great scaffolding that rose around the ships, pouring and cooling bolts that would be used to tighten the hull-plating, screwed in by riveters while still slightly warm so they would contract as they cooled and so tighten the seal. The men at the dockyards worked incredibly hard. Over the course of the war, the shipyards on the Firth built 42 vessels for the Royal Navy, 14 merchant ships and repaired or refit nearly 3,000 war and merchant vessels. On average, a ship was repaired every day and a new ship launched every six weeks.

Leith’s importance to the war effort is best illustrated in the fact that it was the target of the first Luftwaffe airstrike on Britain. On the 16 October 1939, British fighters engaged a bomber squadron in an action now known as the Battle of the River Forth. The Battle of Britain would officially began the following summer, but it came early for my father and the residents of Leith. From that point forward, bomb shelters and night air raids became an everyday fact of life. Leith was critical to the British war effort and so the Luftwaffe showed it no mercy.

As my father got older, he waxed nostalgic. Not for the war, but for the memories of his boyhood. I suppose that was when I first began to catch glimpses of the world he knew growing up. There were two films in particular that he loved. One was Empire of the Sun, which recounts the experiences of a young Brit held prisoner along with his family in a Japanese internment camp in the Far East. I could see my father’s absolute veneration of all things American mirrored in the young protagonist’s worship of the Americans in the film. But it was Hope and Glory, the story of an urban child, that perhaps gave me the clearest view of what life was like for Blitz kids.

My father would sometimes mention the fires, the ruined buildings. The Luftwaffe were fond of dropping these incendiary devices that would simmer fitfully for a while before exploding and blasting a fiery, napalm-like substance in all directions. Incendiaries were devilishly hard to extinguish, requiring use of a specialized hand-pump and an air warden like Grandpa Joe who was willing to stand out and brave the bombing to water the ordnance with the necessary patience extinguish it. The bullet-shaped nacelles were set atop a brass base embossed with a swastika. My father and his friends used to collect and trade these like hockey cards. Gutted buildings, freshly pummeled by air raids, afforded a playground containing a wonderland of things to smash and shatter (always an intoxicating prospect for young boys). I’m sure that my father and his friends, like the protagonists of Hope and Glory, busted up their share of wardrobe mirrors, crockery, porcelain sinks and toilets in the wreckage of displaced peoples’ homes.

But aside from the occasional allusion or reference to a scene in one of those two films, my father said very little about those years. Until one day aboard an airplane we were taking somewhere. I forget where or when or on which airline, but I remember you could still smoke. My father asked me for a cigarette and I lit one for him, then waved out the match before lighting my own.

“Not two on one match,” he said. “You remembered.”

“Yeah. You taught me that. A World War II thing, wasn’t it?”

He nodded, smoked and said nothing for a minute. Then:

“You know they used to make us sing?”

“Who?”

“The grown-ups. In the bomb shelter.” He turned and looked me directly in the face, something he rarely did. “When the air raid sirens would sound, we’d break like hell for the shelters. You had to get in there right away before they filled up. We’d close the door and then we’d sit and wait. You could hear the bombers approach. A low drone. It was horrible. The bombers cave in waves. So when we heard the drone, the adults would make us start singing.”

“Singing what?”

“Oh, anything. Football songs. Christmas Carols. ‘God Save the Queen.’ Anything. They did it to keep us from getting scared.”

“Oh, sure!” My mind went back to every World War II movie I’d ever seen. “You mean the sound of the bombs, right? They whistle as they drop.”

“No. Not the whistling. The silence. The whistling meant the bomb was going wide and wasn’t going to hit you. It was the sound of the air against its spoilers. But if it was coming straight down right on top of you, there’d be complete silence. Silence was frightening. We never knew if it was the end of the raid, a pause between waves or curtains. So they made us sing.”

“So you couldn’t tell if a bomb was ever coming on top of you.”

“Sure. What difference would knowing make anyway?”

It was the first unique memory he ever shared with me about the war.

I have been thinking about World War II a lot lately. The nationalist upheaval in the United States bears a frightening resemblance to the growth of Nazism in Hitler’s Germany. Much is being written in periodicals and discussed on social media regarding this unexpected development. A great many concerned, politically-active people from across the social spectrum are uniting to oppose it and I, for one, thank them – particularly the young people. For as the son of a Blitz survivor and all that entails, I can never hear the word Nazi without picturing shattered buildings and fires, and imagining my father wandering the wreckage. For me, there is no separation between the idea of Nazism and the inevitable destruction it wreaks. In the absence of any coherent ideology or logical goals, fascism inevitably leads to social violence which, in turn, leads to war. Those opposing the Nazi movement in America today are involved in taking the necessary preventative steps to deflect that possible future for us all.

I have written elsewhere about the thread of history connecting us to World War II. The Holocaust Survivors were crucial in reminding us all of the importance of continuity and memory. As their generation passes, along with that of the veterans of the war, I find myself in the unaccustomed position of being a custodian of our family’s connective thread to World War II. Since my father’s death, I am the only one left with these memories. So I will share them as time and opportunity allow. Please know that I am only a steward of these tales; they are not my own, but rather come down to me through my family. I think there is value in sharing them here. Because I think it’s important to underline that, no matter how desperate things got during the Blitz and no matter how invincible they seemed, the Nazis lost in the end. If you had told my father that as he played in the wreckage he would not have believed you, just as there are those today who are convinced that white nationalism’s emergence as an enduring political force in America is assured. But we know from history that wherever such movements emerge, good men and women inevitably rise to oppose it. It’s never easy, but it’s absolutely necessary. Because somewhere, children are singing in the bomb shelter.

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Elegy

My mother died two days ago. Possibly three. We were estranged for twenty years, so I’m getting conflicting stories from different relatives. What is certain is that she is gone and, regardless of how our relationship as mother and son played out, the pain I now feel is keen and deep. Having some sense of the how, when and where of her passing would provide some comfort, but it seemed more important to my relatives to immediately send me a form to sign relinquishing all claims to her estate and personal property before telling me anything. Additional info would presumably be furnished upon compliance. This should tell you a great deal about my family.

Each life is like a small voice. Even before it begins to speak, this voice contains within it a story all its own: a story complete with its own unique nature, desires and impulses. Childhood is like that voice whispering, testing out its story on the world. Parents are always quick to demonstrate how their child is like them. But most I’ve encountered are just as quick to harken to that voice and celebrate its uniqueness. In my ten years as a teacher, I saw countless parents labor to nurture their child’s identity, listening to and encouraging that voice to find its adult volume. It’s an amazing process to witness. In my experience, as a child grows and assumes his own sure identity, his voice invariably falls into harmony with the world’s.

Or not.

My mother took a different view. My voice was less important, she was convinced, than the song she would train it to sing. It did not matter that that voice had no interest in singing, any more than I had an interest in attending an all boy’s school. At every turn, my mother sought to shape, influence and direct that voice into a tone and timbre of her choosing. Much of this had to do with her own class ambitions. Seeking to discover my story was less important than my learning to ape the manners and cultural forms of the upper classes to whose ranks she aspired. My being subjected – unprepared and unsupported – to the whimsical cruelties of their education and training practices was more important than remaining true to my own nature and becoming who I was meant to be.

At every turn, my voice was shouted down. It would be decades before I understood what was happening to me. By the time I reached adolescence – that period of preparing to launch into adult life – my voice, barely above a whisper, was spewing word salad. I had been taught to so thoroughly distrust my own intuition and impulses that my voice no longer even recognized its own story.

I eventually rebelled, but only at great cost. When I resisted the path laid out for me as completely incongruous with my own shattered nature (what was left of it that I could recognize, anyway) I was met with screams, threats, violence. When those failed, they were replaced with coercion and manipulation. I refused to go into the family business (the one that resulted in my parents’ arrest and indictment by a Federal grand jury). No matter what violence I encountered, I resisted. The need to discover my own voice had grown impossible to ignore.

I left.

In the years that followed, much happened. The aforementioned indictment and arrest, my father’s death, the dissolution of everything they had built: all this I watched from afar. Sadly, I missed whatever people do in their twenties to  individuate as circumstances forced me to struggle for survival. But, when the smoke had cleared, I picked my way through the wreckage back toward my mother. She was all I had left, and I hoped to re-establish a relationship within a framework more solidly grounded in reality. Yet it soon became obvious that she had learned nothing. She quickly fell into old patterns. When she was confident that I wasn’t going anywhere, the efforts to shape, manipulate and mould my life, to steal my voice – one that had just begun telling its unique story, and at great cost – returned. It infiltrated my private and professional life. I tried very hard, for many years, to maintain contact despite the negative effect it was having on my well-being. But only after she chased away the second very serious girlfriend of my thirties did I realize that as long as I was in her orbit, it would be impossible for me to self-actualize. That voice I was struggling to find and project would always be shouted down, by any means available.

I wanted love. I wanted a family of my own.

So I left again.

Two decades passed.

No one who lives as my mother did develops in a vacuum. Throughout my life I had been treated to the her birth family’s follies: the endless interpersonal squabbles, the constantly shifting alliances, the long-held grudges and scenes of dramatic confrontation. Long-stored resentments could be whipped out at a moment’s notice to refute an argument with its roots in the deep past. The only way to survive, it seemed, was for family members to gang up on each other and (you guessed it) shout each other down. Whoever lost was expected to calmly sit and accept the family narrative as imposed, regardless of how poorly they fared within its storyline. Theirs is a remarkable fantasy world, as richly-imagined as Tolkien, and every bit as untethered from reality.

I received news of mom’s cancer bare weeks before she died. Poverty spared me the task of wrestling with my conscience. A passport? A plane ticket? Out of the question. And anyway, by then the family was beginning to circle …

I’m doing my best right now to cope with the abusive e-mails I am receiving. Despite my bereavement, apparently I live in a family where it’s acceptable to send missives containing words like “despicable” and “sickening” and heartfelt wishes for destruction upon someone whose mother has just died. Apparently the stories are circulating that I am seeking to “cash in” (presumably because I refused to immediately sign over my rights to anything of hers). The speed with which their long-held contempt for me has become unleashed has been chilling. The process of shouting Jamie down – again – has begun.

But these constant attacks on my voice and my story have had an unintended result: namely, that my need to assume control of the narrative of my own life and tell my own story assumed an importance as overriding as that of three meals a day or sleep.

I became a writer.

Not a big-shot by any means. But I have achieved a certain level of visibility. I have a small but dedicated readership, a number of whom have become close friends. And a welcome circle of people who know me through my work – editors, publishers, supportive colleagues. People capable of understanding the importance of my writing to me, who understand that it is, literally, a matter of psychic survival.

At long last (and I am not convinced the process is entirely complete) I have found my voice.

And as I watch the flaming denouement of my mother’s family, as I see them age and disintegrate, I realize how many decades I wasted believing they were anything but an impediment to my becoming who I am. Even now they continue to rehearse decades-old dramas. People who live artificial lives must always dwell in the past because, having constructed their identities on a lie, they must be endlessly self-referential, shouting down any voice that disagrees. As they are doing now. The same family that was only too happy to belly up to the hog trough and snuffle down their share of the wealth while my parents were riding high (pre-grand jury) now accuse me of greed. They’re busily fabricating new patches for the family quilt – ones in which, no doubt, I will feature as a timeless villain. But it doesn’t matter.

Because I won.

My voice is stronger.

And I’m telling the story now.

Rest in peace, mom. In spite of everything, I love you. May you find peace in the Nightland.

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CERTAIN FURY & the Birth of the Storm Rhino

5113jbvzJpL[1]Like most crazy ideas, this one started over a conversation that involved alcohol. Sean Smith and I were bemoaning the state of the union, as one does these days, but when two post-apocalyptic writers have that conversation it gets dark really  fast (remember: we do research). Scenarios ranging from foreign invasion to civil insurgency to nuclear Armageddon were tossed back and forth. Then I mentioned an exchange I had with my old mentor Dr. Tom Lincoln of RAND Corporation.

To say Tom was eccentric would be an understatement. Before medical school, Tom earned a degree in cryptozoology. He was one of Carl Jung’s graduate students. He drank expensive scotch and wore tennis shoes everywhere, even to Congressional briefings. And he had this penchant for collecting weird things, which he sometimes showed me: a photograph album of the human body viewed as a series of 300 cross sections, medical files of Ebola patients, notes from meetings with Norman Schwarzkopf in which they war-gamed Desert Storm and a draft contingency plan to remove the President from office by force should the need arise.

Back in the bland days of Bill Clinton, the very idea was ridiculous – far-fetched X-files stuff. But the US military being what it is, they have plans for everything, including occupation of Canada by extraterrestrials. I have no idea how Tom got his hands on it. But a draft contingency designed by some low-level military wonk back in the Seventies (probably in response to Watergate), now long declassified and replaced, made for interesting reading at the time. Sean thought it might make for interesting writing in the here and now.

“Goddamn!” he cried with the unabashed exuberance that makes me love the guy. “Let’s write that story! Let’s write it now!”

So we did.

With the same momentum that I imagine must have carried Crosby, Stills, Nash and 6561757-M[1]Young through recording and releasing of Ohio  within three weeks of Kent State, Sean and I produced Certain Fury  in a fever. E-mailing pages back and forth between Vancouver Island and Florida, we built a fast-paced, character-driven thriller novella in (what I hope is) the vein of Fletcher Knebel or Richard Rohmer, and had a blast doing it. Our easy friendship made the collaboration a joy and along the way I rekindled my romance with writing straight-ahead thrillers. My friendship with writers like Alex Shaw, Steve Konkoly, Jamie Mason (no, the other Jamie Mason) and Ali Karim often pulls me into that very distinct orbit of publishing, and I have written two novellas for Steve’s Perseid Collapse series that remain some of my most well-received work to date. It was good to be back in familiar terrain.

Because we wanted to respond to shifting circumstances, engaging any of the traditional publishers with whom Sean and I have worked in the past simply wasn’t practical. We wanted to respond to the ongoing crisis in the American situation and put something out now, like a rock single. Fortunately, a variety of alternative, self-publishing platforms exist so we chose KDP and I took over the helm. Producing Certain Fury  forced me to polish off project management and production skills I haven’t used in a long time and I was surprised to find myself enjoying that side of the experience more than I expected. The project might be self-published, but I was determined to involve the same pro-level artists, editors and formatters Sean and I had both used for our house projects so I contacted them. To my great delight, they were willing to come onboard as sub-contractors. Felicia Sullivan performed her editorial magic under extreme time crunch, Christian Bentulan crafted a beautiful cover and the mighty  Kody Boye provided a timely, tasty e-book mark-up. Wrangling all this in the tight time-span we had required chops I’d left dormant since the old days. It sure felt like a professional endeavor, but of course …

We’re self-publishing, I thought – something I told myself I’d never do. But it’s for a good 51bs537ve6L.SX316[1]cause. We were responding to events – something artists often feel compelled to do.

Even the guys cranking out thrillers in the basement .

Right around this time, I found myself recalling the men’s adventure novels of the 1970s, the books that first inspired me to write: Don Pendleton’s Executioner books, Donovan’s Devils and the Malko series from France. I wondered whatever became of that whole strata of publishing. Men’s pulp adventure fiction with a strong military focus seems like an anachronism in our enlightened era of safe spaces, political correctness and ascendant feminism. And there’s nothing wrong with any of those things, as far as I’m concerned …

But there isn’t anything wrong with men’s pulp adventure novels, either.

61+un+dEWZL._SY346_[1]Meanwhile, I learned that The Executioner enjoys a robust afterlife in e-book. And it occurred to me, staring at an early edition of Certain Fury, that it might be worthwhile to make more of these things.

I’m not proposing opening my own publishing house. But I’d sure like to do more books like this and involve other writers, and use such projects to generate paying work for them as well as the artists, editors and formatters who will help us bring quality men’s adventure fiction to market. The totality of the enterprise is at a fuzzy stage just now. Call Certain Fury  a trial run. All my contacts are in place: the artists, copy-editors and other pros needed to see the work done right. I know at least one other writer (possibly two) willing to write a book. Perhaps others will read this and consider contacting me. I hope they do, but I’ll confess right now that I probably have more questions than answers. Will this beast be a micro-press? A publishing co-op? A small start-up? How will we sustain and extend our present funding? How will the novels be received? How will we grow our audience? How will our peers and mentors in the publishing world view our efforts?

Beats me. But I’m having fun and plan to continue. We will produce e-books and a few print editions of what I call “7-11 lunch” fiction: a sammich, an apple and a cookie. Nothing gourmet, but easy to swallow and just plain damn fun. Because isn’t that what this whole fiction thing is supposed to be?Rudy the Rhino

For now I am calling it Storm Rhino Press.

Fear the Rhino.

GRIST IN THE MILL OF JUSTICE: Notes on Spiritual Resistance

Allow me to begin by saying that this essay will not be of interest to everyone who reads it. This is because not everyone in our society engages in some form of spiritual practice. I take this opportunity to differentiate the spiritual from the religious: the latter is a series of procedures and observances, the former an attempt to enact religious principles in everyday life. The Republican Party of the United States is an excellent example of an organization that adheres to visible pieties while making no attempt to enact the religious principles of the tradition from which those pieties spring. In contrast to Jesus’s instructions to feed the hungry, for example, Republican politicians at all levels of US government routinely conspire to cut food stamp programs, criminalize homelessness and restrict healthcare options for women (with disproportionately negative repercussions upon families living in poverty). The lawmakers who do this can rightly claim to be religious “men of God” as they contribute to public charities and demonstrate the fundamental pieties of regular church attendance. However, in their failure to enact religious principles in everyday life, they abdicate any claim to spirituality.

There have been historical moments when the spiritual and the religious have operated in close parallel. An example of this would be in Medieval European village life wherein the regular cycle of confession, absolution, church attendance and spiritual observance was closely connected to the everyday life and yearly rhythms of the people as they could only be in a small village. There was, of course, an element of subjugation in all of this. The Church itself benefitted from the prevailing power structure, as it always has. But priests and bishops felt a real obligation to care for the people, and they did. On those occasions when members of the aristocracy abused their power and victimized the poor, the religious community threatened to embargo access to the offices of salvation in an effort to restore justice. This balance of power, precarious thought it was, served the interests of the people for centuries.

But increasingly, the Church (broadly defined) has chosen to maintain its allegiance to power in the face of demonstrated lawlessness and corruption. When the clergy abdicate their mandate to care for the people, then the Church – like the faithful – forfeits any claim to spiritual authority. Any religious leader, for example, who sided with Adolf Hitler conferred upon Hitler’s acts a tacit stamp of religious approval. Every religious establishment faces, in times of social crisis, a choice: whether to side with the people or with the powerful.

A striking response to this choice may be found in the Liberation Theology movement of the Catholic Church. As a pagan, I have studied the tenets of liberation theology, and I am strongly convinced they offer guidelines for future engagement on the political plane. The main idea and central thrust of Liberation Theology has nowhere been expressed more succinctly than in Richard McBrien’s CATHOLICISM:
“God is disclosed in the historical ‘praxis’ of liberation. It is the situation, and our passionate and reflective involvement in it, which mediates the Word of God. Today that Word is mediated through the cries of the poor and the oppressed.” – pp. 249-250

It seems opportune, at a moment when the world’s richest nation has elevated a billionaire to the highest political office in the land (and, arguably, the world), for religious people of all faiths to question their relationship to the structures of power. Be we Catholic, Wiccan, Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish or of any faith which posits a moral standard, we must question where we fall on said standard. Put simply: the best measure of an individual or a society lies in its relation to the Poor. At a time when the forces of oligarchy and brutality are in ascendance, people of all faiths would do well to examine their relationship to the poor, to the oppressed and the disadvantaged and ask: are we truly standing with them?

If we find ourselves wanting, we might want to take this moment to consider how best to re-engage in the work of charity and witness for the oppressed. So many politically active friends of mine are taking steps against the current wave of oligarchy and xenophobia by calling their representatives, contributing to charities and going to protests. All of these are excellent actions. But they are made even stronger by a commitment to endure, to stay the course and to remain focused on a moral compass. Faithful spiritual practice can work to reinforce this commitment.

A spiritual practice which meditates upon social justice is a spiritual practice built for the long run. A daily meditation, an immersion in prayer and communion with the divine will be fundamental to this effort. And our efforts, make no mistake, are of global importance. Put simply, we cannot – and must not – turn away from those who will be most ruthlessly victimized in the coming new order. We must practice love when dealing with the Other and we must fortify ourselves for the work ahead. I can think of no better preparation for people of faith than to sharpen the tools of spiritual resistance. We must pray together, break bread together and prepare to go to jail together in witness of our beliefs. For without that witness, spirituality becomes the empty observance of a dead religion. We are privileged to live in interesting times – times in which we are called to be grist in the mill of justice.

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“… before the world changes and the dark times come”

I’ve sold my house, quit my job and moved into this fifth-wheel at the far edge of a campground. It’s the tail end of the tourist season. There’s nobody around.

 

For the first time in my adult life, the wolf isn’t at the door. I have a little money put by – my reward for having made it to fifty without having kids. I’m going to take it easy and see what the world does in the next few weeks. I’ve updated my bibliography with my publications for the year, posted this and will now tinker with a new writing project until January.

One day, we’ll look back on this late autumn of 2016 and say: I remember the days before the mad-man came to power, before his grip closed around the world and darkened everything. I want to remember this season before the world changes and the dark times come.

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