LONDON, ONTARIO – Perhaps providentially, my propensity for racking up unmanageable debt emerged early in life, via the Capitol Record Club which I rashly joined at the age of 14, suckered in by a magazine ad featuring a photo of a winking Frank Sinatra inviting me to help myself to 12 free LPs and then, in considerably smaller print, mentioning that I’d have to buy 12 more LPs over the following year at seriously inflated prices, plus an exorbitant shipping fee. Beneath Frank’s devilishly smiling visage were pseudo-postage stamp reproductions of album jackets by one and two-hit wonders like Freddie and The Dreamers, The Outsiders and Sam the Sham and The Pharaohs. You carefully tore out pictures of the albums you wanted along perforated lines, licked the backs and stuck them on the membership application.
LONDON, ONTARIO – “That all those affected by the tragedy in Humboldt, Saskatchewan be comforted by the prayers and support of those across our country – we pray to the Lord.”
As the second reader at the 10:30 Mass this Sunday at St. Peter’s Cathedral, it fell to me to read out the prayers and intentions at that service. There was a slight catch in my voice as I declared those words (perhaps my wife caught it; I doubt anyone else did) because like millions of other Canadians I’ve been suffused with feelings of pity and helplessness for the bereaved families who are struggling to find a way to carry on after sixteen (so far) members of that community’s junior hockey team died following the collision of their touring bus with a tractor trailer.
LONDON, ONTARIO – It has long been recognized what a nuisance photography has become at weddings. Yes, it’s important to record such an event for posterity but the amount of time and focus that’s ripped out of the most important day of many young couple’s lives while they get everyone in attendance to stand around in different configurations and blandly smile is nothing short of criminal.
Equally widespread and longstanding is our derision for a certain class of tourist so preoccupied with recording foreign vistas that you wonder if they even see the place they’re supposedly visiting until they get back home and fire up the slide projector. It’s like the perceived need to capture some fleeting experience in pictorial form, precludes experiencing the experience.
LONDON, ONTARIO – About six months ago through a link that came up (I think) on the Small Dead Animals blog, I answered a Liberal Party of Canada questionnaire about what I felt were the really important issues that our federal government should be addressing as priorities.
Rejecting all of the usual concerns so beloved by that irredeemably squishy tribe – fiscal cesspits like diversity programs and anti-global warming strategies that are only good for the immolation of billions of nonexistent dollars – I made my way to the bottom of each proffered list to that little box marked ‘other’ and wrote in helpful suggestions and imprecations of my own.
LONDON, ONTARIO – In my stash of Christmas books I received Lessons in Hope: My Unexpected Life with St. John Paul II, by Baltimore-born biographer and Catholic apologist, George Weigel, who reflects in a highly personal way on the 15 years he devoted to chronicling the life and times and impact of John Paul II in his two hefty and insight-packed volumes, Witness to Hope (1999) and The End and the Beginning (2010). Weigel’s account of both his own intellectual and spiritual formation and how he came to be invited by the Pope to take on the literary assignment of a lifetime is a tale that emphasizes, repeatedly and powerfully, the idea of providence.
LONDON, ONTARIO – Like most Canadians, I first heard of Jordan Peterson in September of 2016 and the first impression he made on me was very favourable indeed. Could it be that we finally have an academic with sufficient spine and wit to call out the spiralling inanity of our institutes of higher but narrower learning? A clinical psychologist and a very popular University of Toronto psychology professor as well as a researcher in the psychology of religious and ideological belief, Peterson shot to national prominence by putting down his foot. By the simple act of saying ‘no’ to governmental bullying dressed up as compassion and accommodation for those of untraditional sexual identities, Peterson suddenly became headline fodder right across the country.
LONDON, ONTARIO - It’s a little known fact that I attended university for a grand total of two days; just long enough to earn a profound Degree of Distaste. It’s not the kind of accomplishment that I’ve ever been able to list on a CV when applying for jobs. But those two days did constitute an education of sorts and have provided an effective inoculation against the kind of regret I’ve often heard older, self-made people express when they look back over their lives and say that they wish they’d been able to spend more time in school. It also probably explains my uncontrollable sneer reflex whenever I’m in the company of someone who identifies herself (except for the late Roy McDonald, it always seems to be a woman) as a lifelong learner.
LONDON, ONTARIO - I’ve been invited by Justin Press in Ottawa to submit an essay for a collection to come out later this year in which an assortment of writers will recount how they made their way into the Roman Catholic Church. That publisher’s first collection of Canadian Converts came out in 2009 and included essays by such worthies as Conrad Black, Douglas Farrow, Ian Hunter, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, Fr. Jonathan Robinson and David Warren, so I’m thrilled to have been asked to contribute to this second gathering of such stories.
As that little project is monopolizing my attention right now, I’ve gone rooting through the tickle trunk to put up something relevant or timely for this week’s Hermaneutics post and realizing that we’re now at the midway point of Lent, I’ve pulled out this 2001 interview I did with Fr. Michael Prieur (whose The Art of the Confessor we reviewed here a couple of weeks ago) then the Professor of Moral and Sacramental Theology at St. Peter's Seminary, in which he talked about the challenges of his job and reflected on the traditions and significance of this season of repentance and renewal.
LONDON, ONTARIO – It’s been a melancholy week with the announcement of Roy McDonald’s death last Wednesday. The first reports suggested that he may have been dead for as long as three or four weeks before his body was discovered tucked up in bed in the house where he lived for all of his 80 years but that got walked back considerably and it is now believed that he’d been dead for only a couple of days. (Or maybe they’re just saying this, so we won’t go, “Eww.”) With no phone or internet connection he wasn’t the easiest guy to keep tabs on.
Until fairly recently I usually managed to bump into him a couple times a year. Always at the Home County Folk Festival where he presided for all three days at the back of the mainstage crowd as a sort of non-musical attraction. And then, less dependably, I’d meet him standing outside of Joe Kool’s or the Starbucks at Dundas and Richmond where he’d plant himself and hold court with whoever passed by. In any of those situations, you’d have to hang around for about an hour to get in ten minutes worth of fractured conversation with Roy because he’d always pull in passersby and do the full introductions and bring everybody up to date and then that person would wander away and, “Ah, where were we? Yes, I’ve been reading this wonderful book about the holistic powers of organic cashews but the thing is you’ve got to eat them at a time when you’re . . . Oh, just a minute, Herman, have you ever met Ernest Forepaw?” And off we’d go again.
LONDON, ONTARIO - When I was accepted into the Roman Catholic Church, I heard from a number of lifelong Catholics who told me they envied me my fresh apprehensions of the glories of a Church which, through long habituation, they feared they sometimes took for granted. And there certainly were times during my months of study and preparation when I was all but overwhelmed by the blessings and the significance and the implications of the relationship I was entering into.
Nothing stands out quite so vividly from the many impressions of that time as the memory of my first marathon confession when, shaking like the proverbial leaf as butterflies waged thermonuclear war in my guts, I was able to set down nearly 32 years’ worth of regrets and remorse at the feet of Our Lord and receive His absolution. The buildup to my first participation in that Sacrament had been a knotted tangle of fear and self-recrimination and I anticipated that once I got through it, I would want to drag myself off to some dark corner and go to sleep for a week. Instead, I practically levitated out of that confession room, infused with an energy and hope and sense of gratitude that I hadn’t felt in years.