We are Community.


The author is neither a medical professional nor a data scientist: he is a social observer asking questions.

Dirt, especially clay and that rich, dark soil called humus, is composed of decayed biological material. This can be made of shells and composted plants or animals. Not to put too fine a point on it, while there is some mineral and volcanic content, good dirt is largely corpses and crap.

And kids love to play in it.

The dirt in front of the house where I lived as a child turned a rich red after the rain (because of Georgia clay). Combined in a proper ratio with the sand that was still present from the construction of our home one could make something reminiscent of a certain candy. One called it “cinnamon.” One (ok, me) could mix it for one’s younger sister who liked it for making mud pies. All the corpses and crap never were a factor in our eyes, nor on our fingers, even our mouths from time to time. (I tried Sis’ mudpies once. I think we all did, really.)

This fond memory arises because it seems kids do not make mudpies anymore out of actual mud – made from corpses and crap, although they do use a sort of sanitized sands (of differing colors) located in isolated play boxes. As adults now these previously unmuddied kids use hand towels to touch handrails on mass transit and wash their hands more than Lady Macbeth. Your host wonders if this is at all healthy.

As a child hands and face (and sometimes feet – especially in the case of mud) were washed most days. But a bath came up only once a week. This was true of my grandparents as well as my parents. We were not particularly poor, but no one bathed all the time. My brother, sister, and I had a bath on Saturdays (before Sunday School the next day) and I think the adults bathed on Sunday nights before work. I also remember folks bathing before important events. However, I don’t think daily showers became a part of my grandfather’s life until he moved to the Gulf Coast and swam every day. He showered to rinse the salt off his body. Now, however, we bathe every day. Some bathe more than once a day – especially if there’s a workout involved. And we wash hands constantly. I find myself wondering if washing all the time, every day, might actually be making us more susceptible to illness.

Our soaps are no longer just soaps, but rather are detergents that remove our protective oils from our skins. We are of body oils, yet these are our first line of immune defenses. They even work in clothes: yet we’re terrified of clothing that might smell like humans wear it. (More on smells in a minute.) We use alcohol-based products which also remove our oils. Both soap and alcohol, as we use them, disrupt the biome on our skin surface by removing the friendly germs that run around on our bodies killing other things. Each time we wash or sanitize, we not only kill bad things, but we wipe the surface fully clear of any possible defense for the next attack.

On top of this bathing, we use scented supplies to smell like whatever is popular at the current time, to smell like anything but the particular smells of our bodies. (As a child, I remember how different homes smelled: the whole family of occupants as identifiable by smell as by surname.)

A droplet of moisture from the person standing next to you lands on your skin, devoid of oils, perfectly dry, undefended, and all your pores open to suck up the much-needed moisture… yep. Perfect.

Perfect for transmission.

We say we want to be healthy and clean, when, in fact, what we mean is we want to be antiseptic.

The human body has evolved by divine light to be the exact opposite of antiseptic. We are a universe in microcosm. We share this flesh and blood, these pores and all our orifices, with thousands (millions? billions?) of other organisms that move through and with us in our daily lives. We were dirty (literally) for millennia, that’s what has allowed this to evolve. Every creature that (rightly) shares our body with us is dedicated to doing its microscopic part in defending our life which is also its own life. Upsetting this human-sized universe is a sure recipe for failure. We are a community – a human-and-other perichoresis of life. When we act as if we “own” this body, we end up denying the body itself. Soap and sanitizer become gnostic salves that destroy us.

Mind you: This is not saying Doctors shouldn’t wash their hands, or that there are not places where an antiseptic process is needed for safety. Cutting open the flesh for surgery, for example, is a prime example of where we would want a clean field exactly because we are destroying the main defensive shield, the human flesh.

Our obsession, however, with “being clean” & “smelling nice” seems to have basically set us up for the very danger we seek to avoid. We have forgotten we are made of corpses and crap. And that will probably return us to dust even faster than remembering anything.

Against False Union

I was struggling my way through the Rosary this morning before Mass, thinking of someone I’d met recently, who will let no one tell him no. All of the world is wrong and he is right. Even science is wrong. And I was wrestling with that concept, through the mystery of the Assumption of Our Lady, Soul and Body, into heaven. And it dawned on me: division is the world’s answer. Wars keep nations apart; racism, classism, envy, etc, keep peoples apart. Modern ideology and envy keeps the sexes apart, and rip apart families. The drive for a successful climb up the corporate ladder keep workers at each the other’s throat – even while “working together”. What’s left? Easy. The Self. And so it is that there is a drive now to disunify the self. Your body is not you… it’s just a machine. You’re the “Spirit” or “Mind” inside of your body. You are who you feel like. Be a horse, be a 12 year old girl, be a different race. Just go with the feelings. Meanwhile, as you look at your body, you’re invited to tear it up: to destroy it, to remake it in your own image of yourself.

Compartmentalize your friends and your life: keep work and home apart (but in balance) and don’t let religion in there either. Feel disjointed as you move between friend-circles, and but enjoy the fact you have so many different ones. Be diverse! Avoid commitment. Monogamy is boring, but the boredom that is many partners and no content is fine. Balance your play with, oh, I don’t know: Passions. Be what you want to be, you can do anything!
In Strangers in a Strange Land Archbishop Charles Chaput points to tendencies within democracy itself to help explain the challenges which we Catholics face. He says, 

…To protect the sovereignty of individuals, democracy separates them from one another. And to achieve that, the state sooner or later seeks to break down any relationship or entity that stands in its way. That includes every kind of mediating institution, from fraternal organizations, to synagogues and churches, to the family itself. This is why Alexis de Tocqueville observed in Democracy in America that ‘despotism, which is dangerous at all times, [is] particularly to be feared in democratic centuries’…
Tocqueville saw that the strength of American society, the force that kept the tyrannical logic of democracy in creative check, was the prevalence and intensity of religious belief. Religion is to democracy as a bridle to a horse. Religion moderates democracy because it appeals to an authority higher than democracy itself.

Thing is, that tearing down of any relationship that “stands in the way” leaves us all open to a totalitarian state that seeks to be all in all. Totalitarian is a description of how much power the state has in an individual’s life. It can be “benevolent” or “malevolent” according to one’s judgment, but it is still totalitarian. Like or dislike either one, Obama and Trump are driving to equally secular and equally totalitarian ends.
There is this disturbing scene in Benson’s The Lord of the World: the Antichrist has just been on a hovercraft over the streets of London and spoken in what was once St Paul’s Cathedral. As he hovered over the streets the crowd watched in rapt silence. Flying by, every eye locked upon him, every head upturned, the narrator reports that there was a sigh and a gasp as he came into view and then a groan as he flew away. And he turned and came back again, eliciting the same reaction, over and over. When at last he left, the crowd was emotionally drained. Hypnotized.

The next morning, the Times carried this:

Of his actual words we have nothing to say. So far as we are aware no reporter made notes at the moment; but the speech, delivered in Esperanto, was a very simple one, and very short. It consisted of a brief announcement of the great fact of Universal Brotherhood, a congratulation to all who were yet alive to witness this consummation of history; and, at the end, an ascription of praise to that Spirit of the World whose incarnation was now accomplished.
So much we can say; but we can say nothing as to the impression of the personality who stood there. In appearance the man seemed to be about thirty-three years of age, clean-shaven, upright, with white hair and dark eyes and brows; he stood motionless with his hands on the rail, he made but one gesture that drew a kind of sob from the crowd, he spoke these words slowly, distinctly, and in a clear voice; then he stood waiting.
There was no response but a sigh which sounded in the ears of at least one who heard it as if the whole world drew breath for the first time; and then that strange heart-shaking silence fell again. Many were weeping silently, the lips of thousands moved without a sound, and all faces were turned to that simple figure, as if the hope of every soul were centred there…
…Of what took place outside we have received the following account from an eye-witness. The white volor, so well known now to all who were in London that night, had remained stationary outside the little south door of the Old Choir aisle, poised about twenty feet above the ground. Gradually it became known to the crowd, in those few minutes, who it was who had arrived in it, and upon Mr. Felsenburgh reappearance that same strange groan sounded through the whole length of Paul’s Churchyard, followed by the same silence. The volor descended; the master stepped on board, and once more the vessel rose to a height of twenty feet. It was thought at first that some speech would be made, but none was necessary; and after a moment’s pause, the volor began that wonderful parade which London will never forget. Four times during the night Mr. Felsenburgh went round the enormous metropolis, speaking no word; and everywhere the groan preceded and followed him, while silence accompanied his actual passage. Two hours after sunrise the white ship rose over Hampstead and disappeared towards the North; and since then he, whom we call, in truth, the Saviour of the world, has not been seen.

…a brief announcement of the great fact of Universal Brotherhood, a congratulation to all who were yet alive to witness this consummation of history…

If you read the story, though, there is no such thing. Everyone is shunted alone. If one becomes seriously injured (physically) one is literally killed by a doctor. It’s seen as an act of mercy to put you out of your misery. One who becomes too old to be productive, but does not go to a doctor to be killed is seen as hopelessly selfish. If one becomes emotionally tired, unwilling to go on, one can just go off to a retreat center and kill oneself. One is left alone to do this.

A character who does this in the book does so because she suddenly realizes that “universal brotherhood” is a sham. Everyone hates everyone and is out for “getting their own”. She had imagined that universal brotherhood would mean everyone loved each other. In fact, what it means is everyone who agrees with the plan gets to hate everyone else. And this appalls her. But she can’t bring herself to imagine the alternative (that God is real and love is Jesus Christ). So she kills herself.

Democracy, at its worst, calls all to demand our rights and posits the state as the only granter and guarantor of those rights. Democracy, on its own, demands individuals orbit around each other and around the state, like so many planetoids around a star, without ever colliding or touching. Love, contrariwise, demand self-emptying, self sacrifice, and a willing of the Good of the other (with explicit definitions of what Good is). Love, too, demands respect, toleration, and diversity. But only as conditions of more sacrifice and willing of the Good of the other.

This is the path of the individual, the one who seeks to avoid all entanglements, and all obligations to a Divine Authority: all other authority is human.

It is this Human Unity that is so dysfunctional. We don’t know “unity” but only hegemony. We only know totalitarianism. There’s no way for us to be united in love apart from Love himself. Sex, by the way, Toleration, and Diversity are not love. These are as scary as Felsenburgh’s declaration of “universal brotherhood”. Such does not exist. There is Agape love (God is Agape) and there is not-love. If it is without God, it is not-love.

Back to my Rosary this morning at Mass. It came to me, praying through the Mystery of the Assumption, that God is unifying us. In our fallen first parents, we are all divided one from the other, and each from God. In Christ, God founded anew our humanity. Christ is the new Adam, the Father of All Mankind, drawing us back together into one. Any force that works against that unity is of the Evil One. Unity, itself (a la Lord of the World) is not the answer: only Unity with God and Neighbor in Agape is the right path.

In Christ, God is reconciling the world to himself. We are drawn to the healing of our divisions, to the healing of our brokenness, to the restoration of our unity in Charity with God and Each Other, in Christ. God’s plan is deceptively simple and made clear on Epiphany as the Magi – representing all of Mankind, bow before the Christ child. The King of the Jews is the King of All Space and Time, of All Places and Peoples. Who does not sow with him does not harvest. Who does not gather in with him, scatters. Who unifies in him, through him, and with him, is healing the world.

In the Catholic Church, all are brought into union – across nations, peoples, class, and political boundaries. We are united in Christ, through his Vicar on Earth, to God the Father. And all are put under subjection to Christ. And when, at last, all is subject to him, he will turn it over to his Father and God shall be all in all.

But it starts, truly, in your heart: in my heart. We cannot divide ourselves. Our soul and body, heart and mind, are one person in God’s image. Our marriage, two becoming one, is one flesh, indivisible and not put asunder by any man. Our parish, united in one around a common table and cup, is one. Our Diocese, united in one around our Bishop is the Church in this place. The Bishops united in one around the Pope are one, the Church in the world. We are one Body of one Christ, one Church: One for the healing of the world, as the Soul is in the Body. We are called to be the leaven in the loaf, the salt, the light: what Christ is to the world so his Church, his body is called to be as well. And in union with Christ, we stand in union with the Father and the Spirit; God and Man united in the act of healing in love.

And all outside are to be loved into this Union with Love Himself.

Anything else, anything less, anything other, any union without this is a missing of the mark.