You’re Not From Jerusalem, Are You?

+JMJ+

When I moved here in 1997, I was told that I would have to have been here for 6 months before anyone would believe I was staying. Until I hit six months, even with a job, I was just a tourist. In no time at all, it was evident that there were a lot of tourists here. It had not been 10 years since the Loma Prieta earthquake had scared the world during the World Series. After that tremblor, all the Bay Area ingenues pulled up stakes and hied hence to other coasts where plate tectonics are more constipated making room here for my new generation of not quite hippies and cultural creatives. Once, working at a bookstore, I met the rarest of gems: a native. Larry worked parttime at Borders and full time for the City. Born and raised in this 49 square miles woven of urban posh, temperate clime, natural beauty, and sex he was always game to admit he was the last native. No, everyone else is gone. It’s a line I’ve heard several times now.

Then when I began working in higher ed and tech support, I was again surrounded by out-of-towners and transients. The California Institute of Integral Studies is a classic SF institution: catering as it does to upper-middle-class folks from everywhere but here. Then I moved into working in the Tech community, and if there is anywhere not-from-here it’s Tech. Yes, the industry was practically invented here on an afternoon commuter train over cocktails with a banker, but the workers are from somewhere else. Orthodoxy was no change: the cradle-born are mostly (not all but mostly…) from elsewhere. The converts are – like me – transients who may have found a home, but we keep moving. We are a city of immigrants, transients, and rootless cosmopolitans. And, apart from Larry, all the natives are gone.

Then I joined the Catholic Church. It feels as though all the clergy in this archdiocese were introduced to each other in pre-school. The social structure of this Archdiocese is, across all ethnic lines, local and native. Yes, there are some folks from elsewhere. We would not be a living city if that were not the case. Some even work in tech or higher ed, but did I mention Larry is Catholic? Generations of families buried in the cemeteries of Colma. Decades – if not centuries – of history in family names that link back to the first folks on boats watching shores warily.

At the consecration of Bishop Robert last year, we sang “The Holy City” as a communion hymn. It may seem an odd choice, true, but have you ever watched the movie San Francisco? At a crucial point, in a Catholic Church a beautiful and young… mmmmmm. Wait, don’t tell me… *checks notes*

Jeanette MacDonald (that’s right) sings this:

It was never clear until that day in a Cathedral filled with folks from here, but while the rest of the world may think of this city as the Capitol City of Neo-Liberal and Capitalist Hedonism, the reality is this is a holy city in our self-conception. The city is filled with Holy Ground. Saints have walked here from “both lungs” of the Church: St Tikhon the Patriarch of Moscow and St Peter the Martyr of Alaska, St John of San Francisco and St Raphael of Brooklyn, St Sebastian and Fr Seraphim Rose in “The East”; St Junipero Serra, St Theresa of Calcutta, Ven Fulton Sheen, Pope St John Paul II, Dorothy Day, and others in “The West”. This is a city of Saints worthy of the name. The natives know this very well. This self-image is parodied in a New Age dream of some secret Atlantis calling all the crystal folks back to the sea, the foundations of several occult movements, the People’s Temple, and one of the wealthiest lodges in the State, but where there is much that is holy, the other side will shout all the louder.

That other side has deeper roots than just the 60s as well: yes our city was built by Missionaries, but the Gold Rush made it rowdy, the Railroad made it racy, the Silver Boom built mansions and ballrooms. 1906 tore it all down and we built up even better: a pre-Disney Land of the American Dream for the Panama–Pacific Exhibition in the Marina and the World’s Fair on Treasure Island. The Beatnicks, the Hippies, and then the sexual revolution, and the fiscal booms of Banking, Real Estate, and Tech. It’s one long chain of that energy. It’s not all evil, no. But it’s rowdy and it’s the other side. it’s an economic engine that drives both Jerusalem and the Barbary Coast.

Like all Cities, not everyone who is rooted here was born here, but everyone who is rooted here can’t seem to get away: God knows I’ve tried several times. But something here keeps calling me home, deeper and deeper.  In someplace there must one day be an icon of the Synaxis of the Saints of San Francisco. It will show this holy slice of the Kingdom, the Eucharist, a bread made from the grain on many hillsides into one loaf, the Body of God, this is home.

Here’s more context…

Stanley & Becoming a (Lay) Dominican (Tertiary)

+JMJ+

I’m too old. Roman Catholic orders want young men. They all seem to max out at guys 15 years younger than me. Some don’t want guys more than 20 years younger than me. This is a sad reality for me. For while my experience in a monastery proved to me I wanted to try in another community rather quickly, it also proved to me that I was not yet at home. When Coming Home to Rome, as they say, a community, a rule of life, a structure of prayer and study was also needed. But I’m too old to be welcomed in the religious orders that I might like. So it was that when – last year – I thought I’d found one that might be a fit, after sniffing around the edges for a while I realized they made Fr James Martin look very conservative. And decided that wasn’t a good match. All this by way of back story…


When I was moving back to SF in 2016 I asked Twitter for Church recommendations. Given my home and my job my only concern was that I should be able to get between house, Mass, and work rather easily. So there was this tweet. It posted moments after Fr Thomas Petri had tweeted something, if I remember correctly, about reading his Midday Office on California’s famous Hwy 1, overlooking the Pacific while on a drive away from San Francisco.  Someone pointed out this coincidence and said, “Go to St Dominic’s”.  Looking on a map, St D’s was one bus ride away from both work and home. I had also heard of St Dom’s in two very different contexts prior to that – but both were good, prayerful connections. St Dominic’s had a daily mass and also had daily morning and evening prayer. And so it seemed as though it was good to the Holy Spirit, to Twitter, and me at the same time. I arrived at St Dominic’s on the Saturday before the 2nd Sunday of Advent, 2016. And, I’ve been told, 3 days later I moved in.


There have been places that felt like home before but somehow this is home in ways beyond description. In time past I’ve needed to be invited, to wait. It felt as if hesitation was proper until something was needed; on;y then putting myself forward. (This is the case in most of my world, to be honest.) At St Dom’s though, I had put my hand to the plough and there was no looking back. This is a sign of growing up, perhaps. Also “Convert glee”. It’s also a sign of dealing with internal demons. But something at St Dominic’s keeps not only calling me out, but also giving me the courage to act.


So it was that when it was announced there was a chapter forming at St Dominic’s I craved admission. (There are many names: Dominican Laity, Lay Dominicans, Dominican Tertiaries, Third Order Dominicans, Lay Fraternity.) The Dominican charism of Preaching, based on a foundation of Prayer, Community, and Study, of Contemplation and taking the fruits of the Contemplation to the World… these all resonated with my journey, my blogging, my teaching… there was connection here that begged for exploration and deeper digging.


Discernment is a process, an action verb. To begin this there was first required an entrance (there are a total of at least five years of formation). Except to be admitted as an Inquirer, one needed to have been a practicing Catholic for two years. It had only been 6 months since swimming the Tiber. But I asked for a dispensation: the reason is because Orthodox are considered Catholics – a favor not returned, usually – so by Church teaching I had been a curious form of Catholic since my Chrismation in 2002, albeit a cranky, anti-western one for a large part of that time. The Church moving slowly, the dispensation did not arrive until about 2/3 of the way through the first year. But it did come through and so, lo, there’s a Dominican Journey happening.


And now there’s another step: candidacy. In terms of monastic parallels, it is candidacy rather than inquirer that is like my time as a novice at St Laurence’s. One is a Candidate for at least a year and also there’s a new name. I’ve had so many new names in my life… although the last one – Dunstan – I gave back. Any saint is ok, but if there is not a Dominican connection, there also needs to be a Dominican name picked. 


So, my Dominican saint is Robert: for Blessed Robert Nutter, a Dominican Martyr under the English Crown. A devotion to the English martyrs began while I was at St Laurence’s Monastery. As I cleaned I would listen to the life of St Edmund Campion, and the other stories of that time – including R.H. Benson’s brilliant Come Rack! Come Rope! Considering how much Anglicans – and thus a certain species of WR Orthodox – lionize the English Reformation and the English Monarchs, it’s really an embarrassment to realize their greatest gift to the western Church was a huge passel of martyrs and some good hymnody. Also furthering this devotion an ancestor, Blessed William Richardson, is another of the English Martyrs. So, Robert Nutter: who may or may not have been an actual Dominican Friar. But was attached to the Order in some way – possibly as a priest received in, or as a member of the priestly fraternity which would make him a tertiary. This is purported to be a holy card… but although the hagiographic elements are correct, the time is all wrong. I’ve seen the same image linked with other Dominican Martyrs. But  ok:



Stanley, however, for Blessed Stanley Rother, is the name I’m picking. The first time I saw this image of Stanley Rother, at his beatification, something reached out and touched my heart.



Both Stanley and Robert received martyr crowns via the hands of people we tend to lionize: Robert was slain under Elizabeth I. And Stanley was martyred by right-wing hit squads in Guatemala, enjoying the patronage of the School of the Americas and Our Glorious Leader, Ronald Reagan. Both men are one of several martyrs created by the same politician. Both men seem models (along with Blessed William) of the sort of Catholic men we need today: willing to go the extra mile, to endure rough life consequences, to live in bad political situations standing athwart the accepted leaders’ intentions, and, in the end, to die for the faith if needed.  Both men knew that when the leader goes bad, the Church must stand with the people. Both men knew the dignity of the human person stood above the secular government, and that human rights proceed from God – not from Caesar. Both men knew the Church’s ministry to her people must continue at any cost. Since Reagan, we’ve continued to have some pretty bad leaders in this country and I can’t imagine them getting better. That’s not the way the political landscape works. We need men like this to guide us in our prayers and to intercede for us in heaven.

This seems like a good fit. In term of Signal Graces and Peace of Mind, and even mad passionate love, this feels like the right thing. Yes: post-conversion bliss, and also a few other things, but also, peace. Also: the age thing is not important.

I’ve a personal reason to pick this name as well: Stanley is the middle name of my stepfather and his father also. The Church needs more men like them also: faithful, loving, caring, generous to a fault, strong, centered in Christ, and good at raising kids (who are anything but good, most of the time). While Richardson is from my Mom’s side, Stanley is from Dad’s side.  This Candidacy Year begins on the 10th of November at the 5:30 Mass, if you’re around (or about and about) I welcome your prayers.

Update: This showed up, a new video about Blessed Stanley Rother.

Pie in the Sky By and By When You Die

Today’s readings:

Beati pauperes, quia vestrum est regnum Dei.
Blessed are you who are poor, for the Kingdom of God is yours.
Luke 6:20b
It seems entirely possible to read this and other passages as if God likes poor people and hates the rich, as if there are so many ways that the poor are blessed in the afterlife – and the rich are damned – that it must be quite easy to “buy your way into heaven” by getting rid of all your stuff. That reading can work really well for a certain sort of activist who wants to overthrow the system and make everyone “equal”, whatever that might mean. It also works equally well for another sort of activist who wants to condemn all religion as the opiate of the masses.

It is not so: there is no state on this life that will “fix” us in this problem. St Basil says (emphasis added):

Not every one oppressed with poverty is blessed, but he who has preferred the commandment of Christ to worldly riches. For many are poor in their possessions, yet most covetous in their disposition; these poverty does not save, but their affections condemn. For nothing involuntary deserves a blessing, because all virtue is characterized by the freedom of the will. Blessed then is the poor man as being the disciple of Christ, Who endured poverty for us. For the Lord Himself has fulfilled every work which leads to happiness, leaving Himself an example for us to follow.

You are not virtuous simply because you are poor. Wealth, per se, is not listed among the sins, but pride and envy are, both.

In the Gospel, however, we have a huge problem with those sorts of activism. Because we know God wants to save everyone: rich and poor, men and women, all races, all religions, all tribes, nations, and tongues. God doesn’t have time to care about our political squabbles.

St Ambrose of Milan notes (emphasis again added):

But although in the abundance of wealth many are the allurements to crime, yet many also are the incitements to virtue. Although virtue requires no support, and the offering of the poor man is more commendable than the liberality of the rich, still it is not those who possess riches, but those who know not how to use them, that are condemned by the authority of the heavenly sentence. For as that poor man is more praiseworthy who gives without grudging, so is the rich man more guilty, who ought to return thanks for what he has received, and not to hide without using it the sum which was given him for the common good. It is not therefore the money, but the heart of the possessor which is in fault. And though there be no heavier punishment than to be preserving with anxious fear what is to serve for the advantage of successors, yet since the covetous desires are fed by a certain pleasure of amassing, they who have had their consolation in the present life, have lost an eternal reward. 

St John Chrysostom would warn that all of us are in danger of condemnation:

The sins of the rich, such as greed and selfishness, are obvious for all to see. The sins of the poor are less conspicuous, yet equally corrosive of the soul. Some poor people are tempted to envy the rich; indeed this is a form of vicarious greed, because the poor person wanting great wealth is in spirit no different from the rich person amassing great wealth. Many poor people are gripped by fear: their hearts are caught in a chain of anxiety, worrying whether they will have food on their plates tomorrow or clothes on their backs. Some poor people are constantly formulating in their minds devious plans to cheat the rich to obtain their Wealth; this is no different in spirit from the rich making plans to exploit the poor by paying low wages. The art of being poor is to trust in God for everything, to demand nothing-and to be grateful for all that is given.

I’ve noted, often, a desire to care for the poor in abstract, but not in specifics. A desire to run charities, while at the same time a fear of the poor procreating; a desire to educate, but not to evangelize (cuz, why would they want to come to our church?). There are people who smell out there. The first time I heard Christians not wanting to let “them” into “our” church was not with Joel Osteen was worried about Hurricane Harvey, but rather back at the turn of the century when a nice Episcopal congregation was afraid that feeding the homeless on Friday would mess things up too much for liturgy Sunday.

We’re really scared of the lower classes in this country: see how easily a populist political movement that, a few years ago, would have been called part of the 99%, is now called “deplorables”. We’re ok with poverty in the abstract, but not in the particular.

Jesus was, I think, mostly poor and perhaps often homeless. But not always. But he was always from among the laboring class: lower class, smelly, sweaty. Pious. But not always the “best class”. God has no preferential option for the poor in terms of salvation. And, even if there was such a thing, here in the first world, with you reading my essays on the internet, neither of us qualify. We’re rich.

And condemned. We can all be equally warned by the words of St Paul, Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry.

Jesus wants to draw us all into his Kingdom. With man – and our political aspirations – this is not possible. But with God, all things are possible. We’re left holding the bag of junk and our job is to give the junk away to those who have none and then offer all of it to Christ. 

Seven Storey Mountain – reading along

At the tweeted suggestion of Steve, aka Steve the Missionary, as part of my post-RCIA Catechesis (Adult Reading for the Catholic N00b) I’ve been reading Thomas Merton’s Seven Storey Mountain: An Autobiography of Faith (from which edition all the page numbers are cited below). I very much dislike autobiography, to be honest, as of course would anyone like me who spends hours a week blogging a real-time autobiography. My ego is too big to make room for another’s… but I first met Thomas in high school, reading The Sign of Jonas, and although the meaning of that book escaped my young self, this one punches in the gut from nearly every page, and not occasionally takes away breath, rips out tears, and stuns with phasers aimed at the heart.

It’s not expected. More Merton is heard from Liberal Mainlines than one cares to note. Merton is the Liberal Mainline’s go-to Catholic. I had no idea at all that the warm, fluffy, nearly New Age Merton I keep hearing quoted by the Spiritual but Not Religious would ever rip a new one like this:

How did it ever happen that, when the dregs of the world had collected in western Europe, when Goth and Frank and Norman and Lombard had mingles with the rot of old Rome to form a patchwork of hybrid races, all of them notable for ferocity, hatred, stupidity, craftiness, lust and brutality — how did it happen that, form all this, there should come Gregorian chant, monasteries and cathedrals, the poems of Prudentius, the commentaries and histories of Bede, the Moralia of Gregory the Great, Augustine’s City of God, and his Trinity, the writings of St Anslem, S Bernard’s sermons on the Canticles, the poetry of Caedmon and Cynewulf and Langlad and Dante, St Thomas’ Summa, and the Oceniense of Duns Scotus?
How does it happen that event today a couple of ordinary French stonemasons, or a carpenter and his apprentice, and put a dovecote or a barn that has more architectural perfection than the piles of eclectic stupidity that grows up at the cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars on the campuses of American Universities? (7SM, p33)

Yet it is not cultural punches but the Spiritual Journey for which one goes to Merton. Journey is not the right word: Merton is not on a happy-go-lucky labyrinth-winding pilgrimage without possibility of failure here. Merton’s engaged in Jihad, a spiritual struggle, a Podvig as the Slavs would say.

Souls are like athletes, that need opponents worthy of them, if they are to be tried and extended and pushed to the full use of their powers, and rewarded according to their capacity. (7SM, p92)

He’s aware in hindsight (even though he was not in real-time) that he had lived on the edge of a precipice, that he needed only to stumble one way too far and all would have been lost. He knows, again in hindsight, that the world almost got him.

And so I became the complete twentieth-century man. I now belonged to the world in which I live. I became a true citizen of my own disgusting century: the century of poison gas and atomic bombs. A man living on the doorsill of the Apocalypse, a man with veins full of poison, living in death. (p94)

Then he quotes Baudelaire, but he’s talking to the reader… Hypocrite lecteur, mon semblable, mon frère… (??).  Thomas puts the reader in his own life: this is not the ego of the blogger who puts his own life before the reader to say “look at me” this is the kenotic love of a spiritual writer who says, “you are where I was and I’m worried, praying, holding a little light…”

There’s more anon… I’m 256 pages in already, but it’s so stunning that I have to take time to digest.

If Found: Send me Back to Barbary Lane

Sometimes there’s a sort of frisson around SF, that I belong here, that this is home in ways I can’t explain, that – as Anna Madrigal says to Mary Ann, “You’re one of us.”  She means Atlantean because it was a good HippieSF idea that when all the Atlantean souls reincarnate they will all move back here and the whole thing will fall into the Sea again.  But… ok.  One of us. This week, however… well, really, in the three weeks since the Easter Vigil, it’s been more like a whirlwind or earthquake, the latter being, perhaps, a better choice given the locale.

When I first visited SF in October of 1996, I craved to be here. It was love at first sight. In April 1997 I lived here, having quit a job of ten years and sold nearly everything I owned. I moved in with Patrick, a friend from college, and started to find a life. By May I had one: a job. An apartment followed shortly. And boom.

I left in 2003 for a number of reasons I won’t go into. But I had the blessing of my priest (Fr V) and thought I was done. But I wasn’t. When she came with me to SF on Easter 2010, Sarah said that all the things I make fun of Buffalonians for in Buffalo are true for me here. And I thought she was silly. Less than six months later, I was back. And two months after that I had a job and an apartment. Boombidy boom. As Jay pointed out being able to live on your own in SF is evidence of success. I’ve done it twice. I don’t credit that to myself, save that I have a low bar for where I’ll live. But it is a great thing to have.

When the Job ended in Jan of 2015, it felt as though I should do something else, and, although I won’t say I messed up – b/c a lot of things have been learned – I did make a wrong choice. Everything was sold or given away, and off to the Benedictines I went. And six months later, that ended. So… where to? Mom and Dad for a short while (and for a man over 50 that’s an odd place to be) and suddenly Sejal made it possible to come back here.

Then I decided I was going to say: that this time I was here for good, making my vow of Stability here. Am I the only person who loses a job and moves 3,000 miles? How about, the only person who does it repeatedly? And then things happened again. A job. Boom. A place to live. Boom. A church community. BOOM. (Bigger Boom.  A huge boom, really: an 8 megaton, Dominican BOOM.) And all kinds of Atlantean awesomeness.

I feel like Sally Field. I mean I know I have friends who love me, but I have a home too, a real home. That is SUCH a blessing for a man over 50 to have.

PS: The header shot is Mary Ann Singleton coming down the steps at Barbary Lane. Once there was a scavenger hunt at my office and I sent the entire company there. When I left here, in 2015, saying goodbye to those steps made me cry. So.

Thanks, God. Thanks. I really mean it.

The Dream

I was sitting in the second seat on a bus taking notes. Someone was in the first seat. The bus was stopped in a parking lot.

The driver got off the bus and the buss started to roll forward. I was not scared: the bus would stop from the little rise in front of us. But it didn’t. It crested the rise and rolled down the hill in front of us. I thought, that guy in the first seat should get up and stop the bus. But he did not.

Near the bottom of the hill was a curb or ledge of stone. I thought the bus will stop at that curb. We should brace for impact.

It broke the curb and left the road we had been on. And kept going. I should get up I thought, and hit the brakes. But I did not: I saw, ahead some train tracks and I thought we’d hit those and lose momentum. So I sat tight. We did not stop: instead we hit the tracks and turned to ride them! Now we were going quite fast. Ahead there was a fork in the track – and I was suddenly aware of a train behind us as well. We took the left fork, as the gold and white metro-liner veered right and sped off into the distance.

The left spur dead-ended in water and we splashed into it… floating down river.

I woke and instantly realized this is how temptations, especially lust, pornography and self-abuse, all work.

The Orthodox Western Rite in San Francisco

I’m a member of the OCA. We don’t have a Western Rite. In point of fact, we’ve been kinda opposed to it.  But I love it.  I’m so pleased with it that were a parish to form in San Francisco, I’d be hella supportive. The why of that is complex. I was Chrismated into the ER, I love Russian style chanting and I think our ER Holy Week is head-over-heels awesome.  I can chant our services well, I enjoy serving and I can  – with the help of our expert choir director and his “idiot books” as they are called – navigate our complex services.  
I miss, however, the simplicity of Low Mass, the starkness of Stations of the Cross, the richness of the daily office.  In the light of that last item, I am also a Novice Oblate of the Order of St Benedict, and I use a WR Daily Office as posted on a domain ironically called “Eastern Rite”.   I admit I’d like a WR parish with no pews… but the organ doesn’t scare me if it’s done right.  A “concert mass” isn’t a bad thing if it furthers devotion. The Rosary doesn’t need “Creative visualization” in order to “work”.  
As St John of San Francisco pointed out, the West was orthodox a long time before it wasn’t – and, unlike the East, the West never fell into heresy: which is why Maximus the Confessor took refuge with the Pope when the entire eastern Church fell away from the Faith.  The Western Liturgy is missing some of the “Correctives” added to the ER, because we never needed them in the West. Additionally, the “didactic hymnody” of the East is missing in the West because preaching the full faith was never outlawed here (at least not yet).
I’m not one of these people who imagines that the Western Rite is “better suited” to evangelizing Westerners. Most of the people I know couldn’t tell High Mass from Divine Liturgy or Deviled Eggs.  The unchurched, however, need missionaries and need priests.  There are enough ER communities in SF – some ROCOR Parishes are only blocks from each other.  What there are not: more than only and exactly one traditionalist WR anything.  What could hurt?
Let us pray to Pope St Gregory the great that someone will send us a new Augustine or a new Patrick. Let us pray that someone will send a new Cyril and Methodius.  Let us beg for a new St Innocent.  Let someone learn the language and reach out to us.
So if anyone is in SF and wants to pray the daily office, get with me: I do it almost daily.
And if any missionaries out there want to evangelize in SF, you should let me know. I’d love to help.

O God, who carest for Thy people with mercy and rulest them in love, through the intercession of Pope Saint Gregory, call, we pray thee, more labourers to the fields of San Francisco, white for harvest, that the flourishing of a holy flock may become the eternal joy of the shepherds; through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, who livest and reignest with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, one God, ever, world without end. Amen