Thursday, March 10, 2011

Fast

3:39 PM Posted by Patrick 3 comments
Lenten fasts are an excellent practice, not only as a preparation, but as an opportunity to take advantage of one's own self-conscious piety as a tool for moderation and discipline. The knowledge that it is a Lenten fast lends so much more weight than just a regular attempt at self-moderation. When I select my fasts, I always go with an aspect of my life that I know requires a bit of reining in.

I always try to augment specific Lenten fasts, giving up a particular vice, with a general moderating of all my frivolous pleasures. I will not drink any of my beloved desert/coffee items from Starbucks during this time. This is an item that I will not miss for the most part, but it is a greatly immoderate favorite use of my funds. So also, I will not buy any new clothing during this period. This is another thing that I will not miss terribly, but it is a favorite method of tending my vanity.

My point in fasting is not to cast myself into physical discomfort so much as it is to make me realize that, nice though these things might be, they do not make me content, nor are they where I find my happiness. On the contrary, the more I indulge the more I desire, and the less content I become with that which is mine.

I do not think that I am alone in this. The more I feed my vices the stronger they become, and worse I am at managing them. It becomes an addiction.

We have gone chasing happiness in the guise of a thousand petty drugs, but when the first sensation passes we are left with an empty hunger; a desire for more. We know it has killed others, but we have it under control. We understand what we are doing, we only stray from God in moderation; a little bit of sin, easily inoculated by the boundless grace of God.

Lent is stern stern call, and in our addiction it is jarring: repent.

There are no safe sins, no gray areas, and all sin is corrosive to faith and leads only to death. We take the good things God has given out of his divine providence and mercy and we pervert them. We look to goods and pleasures for lasting pleasure, identity, and meaning, as if we could draw these things from material possessions.

Worse, we grow frustrated at our inability to derive meaning and happiness from the worldly goods he has given, and chase after things which we have not been given. We are so sure that God is holding out on the best things--the ones that would finally make us happy. Or, more likely, God never enters our minds as the provider of our worldly goods, and we chase after our desires counting everything we obtain as our due.

And if it is our due that we desire, then it is our due that we shall receive.

There is a just rebuke in Ash Wednesday. We are dust, and to dust we shall return; a point we are all too quick to forget. Our Lord does not tell us this in order to throw us into despair. He reminds us of who we are, that we might remember who he is.

Ash Wednesday is a reminder: stop looking to the things of this world for happiness and meaning, it is all dust, as are we. Where your treasure is, there also your heart will be. Stop trying to join yourself to the dust of this world; it leads only to death.

It is a strange irony that it is in dust that we find our hope. Not all dust is dead. In the midst of trials and trepidations, dead family, false friends, bad drivers, and empty coffeepots, there is but one dust in which our trust is well-placed.

Our Lord, Jesus Christ, dust of our dust, bore our form, fell lifeless to the earth, and rose triumphant, in order that he might draw our dust to him. We are dust, and yet he put on our dust that we might be his bride. We are dust, and to dust shalt we return; to the risen dust of Our Lord in heaven.

The fast will not be comfortable, but rejoice, even as we fast in this world we know that we shall never fast in the next. Discipline yourselves, my brothers. Trust not in the dust of this world, nor in your own dust, but in the promise of Him who took on dust for us.

We are heirs to the Kingdom of God, spotless and pure, the Blood of God running plenteously down our lips and in our veins. Let this be our pleasure, identity, and trust.

Rejoice my brothers, and fast. For our treasure is infinitely greater and more precious than all those things from which we now abstain.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

...So How Did You Spend Spring Break?

8:17 PM Posted by Patrick 2 comments
I just finished with The Wise Man's Fear, by Patrick Rothfuss. I now have the pleasure of waiting years for the next.

Over the course of 1100 hundred pages I was never left to wonder where it was going, or whether it might have been done in fewer pages. It is compelling, clever, fun, and leaves me regretting that it is not longer.

Given a deeper reading and examination, I might be able to give account for its excellence. At present, I merely say that the story departs from the familiar pattern. The hero is excellent, but he makes human mistakes, loses more often than he wins, and you know that, when the story ends, there will be something that destroyed his excellence and left him--seemingly--a normal man.

This story begins where the last one left oft, with a three part silence, the deepest of which is the brooding silence of a man who is waiting to die. The colorful story of the young life of a legendary hero unfolds against that backdrop. The odd part is that it is not an old man waiting to die, the hero telling the story is still young, and you are left to read with the curiosity of how this came to be, and why he is so far fallen.

The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man's Fear are a pair of the best told stories I have come across, and I love stories.

Now I get to deal with the lag that comes after finishing an excellent book. These are always harder to get over when it is good fantasy, which is so very rare and enjoyable.

There is also something remarkably regenerative about reading a good piece of fiction. When you rise out of stale textbooks and ponderous philosophy into the pleasure of a good story, it is like like leaving a vegan world for a paradise of ice-cream and umami. Veggies are nice, and they are very good for you, but a body begins to hunger for other things.

It is gratifying to get into good fiction, but this was good enough that I am sitting here with a simple, cheery, gratified, and contented feeling.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

*Insert O'Pat/O'Mike Noise Here*

5:05 PM Posted by Patrick No comments
I have made it through three tests, now I have one more to go. I have realized the insanity of combining as much work and school as I do, and will have to cut back a little next semester. I am very fond of school (and money), so it will not be an easy decision. But I have filled two bluebooks today, and written out 10 short answers and 3 brief essays on the test sheet for the other professor, so my wrist is snapping and popping, and my brain is trying to kill me...or so this headache would make it seem.

I am usually pretty good at absorbing information, but after this much work, I just do not have much left in the way of higher brain functionality. It would be easier if I hadn't had to pick up some hours after losing a pair of suits associates, then i would have had a little more time to mull. Mulling is the way I pass my tests. I do not cram, I do not even study in the way that most people do. I take long walks with a vacant expression on my face; this is my process. I think better when I am moving, and if I have sufficient time to ponder it, I do not need to hear most subject matter more than once. The problem comes when I have no time to walk, and when there is time for a walk it is nine o'clock at night and eight-hundred degrees below zero.

My first two tests went smashingly, I thought. The third either went well, or poorly, depending on the level of specificity required. I had difficulty remembering the exact dates on the medieval composers, even if I could remember what 20-40 year period they operated in. Everything else went well.

My last one is going to be another where I fill the bluebook, and then I will need a bionic hand, because this one has informed me that it is getting a divorce from my body if I put it through another test. He gave us sample questions to look at, and they are all crazy hard and require actual thinking. It remains to be seen whether I will be able to think tonight.

On the bright side, I understood everything in German today, though that is in sharp contrast with the hiccup that was my German midterm. So, whatever comes out of the midterm, and least my knowledge of the German language is better than it will reflect.

On the brightest side, when all of this obnoxious testing is over, I am going to go home and collapse into a chair and read The Wise Man's Fear, and will also do horrifying violences/death to any who try to oppose this course of action. Ya dig?

One month until the next 25 page batch of written is due at once, but I won't get the topics until after spring break, so I get to take a week to take a breath.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

To Every Hobo a Suit...or Not

4:24 PM Posted by Patrick 11 comments

A sad reality has struck me. I have known it for a long time, but only now do I actually feel the enormity of what it was I saw.

Men do not wear suits, and those few who can be found in a suit, really do not wear them very well. The suits I see have rolled collars, gaping necks, puckered backs, strained buttons. Men seldom make the mistake of choosing a suit that is too large; they but suits that cling to them in the hope that it will be slimming.

They don them in this shameless style because they do not understand the marvelous metamorphosing power of a decent suit; the power to broaden your shoulders and make your gut appear, not bloated, but as part and parcel of your steady, consequential, masculinity.

Last week I fitted at least four gentlemen of more than forty years who claimed never to have purchased a suit. All of them ultimately elected the cheapest available option. All seemed chagrined over having to buy a suit, and almost seemed to wear the fact that they had never worn a suit as a bizarre badge of honor; as emblematic of their freedom.

I could not begin to guess at how the suit became so thoroughly stigmatized, but in selling suits for a short week, I have already been exposed to every kind of dread, both real and affected, at the prospect of buying and wearing a suit. Most who are buying these suits console themselves with the fact that they only need to wear one once or twice a year.

Precious few of those who know nothing about suits put themselves in our hands; they seem almost mistrustful, as if they are convinced that we, the salesmen, cannot possibly have their best at heart. Never mind that no one has more interest in making our clientele look good. The opposite is true of those who are well versed in suit lore. Those who know suits generally listen to us, especially when it comes to fit.

JCPenney is the only major menswear tailor/retailer that saw an increase in sales last year. The market saw a 12% loss in net sales, but we had a 7% gain. We gained because sales are increasing exponentially in the cheaper suits we sell. Market share has been falling for our executive line, which is designed by Hart-Marx, and picking up in the synthetic suit area. I will not say that all of these suits are tasteless. Some of them are actually rather neat, but the cheapening trend is just illustrative of the loss of a suit's value in the estimation of the buyer.

Many men treat it as a wanton extravagance to spend anything on a suit. I go over to Macy's pretty regularly, and it is normally empty--or near it--in the suits department. They have a glut of suits that are on incredible sales. The problem is that there are few who would recognize that buying a decent Tallia that has been marked down from $600 to $250 as a good deal. A good deal has nothing to do with the amount of quality you get for the price, it is about how little you have to spend to outfit yourself for a given occasion. The $150 dollar polyester suit beats out the Tallia because the price difference is one whole Colts' ticket!

I don't know if there is much to be done. I think that all one can do is wear suits well and hope that others seek to emulate.