Once upon a time there was a man who was alive.

Location: Hattiesburg, Mississippi, United States
St. Cuthbert and Disciples in a Boat



I survived. We were pounded all day Monday, with the most intense winds- up to a 110 miles an hour- between 12:00 and 3:00 or so (this a hundred odd miles from the coast). It was awful- I have never been through a genuine hurricane before, so I have nothing to gauge it against, but let me tell you it was no fun. There were trees splintering and crashing all around our house. There was of course no power or telephones; no cell phone service, and our battery powered radio was little good because no local station was on the air. We have been getting news in tiny snippets; word of mouth, the occasional radio bulletin that concerns our area. Not having even basic communication technology is maddening. Being stuck in a hot, humid house with four other people in the midst of a raging storm is no fun. Talk about stress... The next day we got up and saw the damage. Our yard was- is- like a war zone, tree trunks splintered ten feet up, the grass invisible beneath a carpet of pine limbs. Our power line is curled up in the ditch, snapped. The road in front of our house was clogged with tree after tree after tree. Our neighbor down the road had every last one of his ten or twenty fifty-plus year old pines leveled.

One of the nice things about Mississippi, however, is that there are lots of guys with pick-up trucks, ATV's, and chainsaws, so our roads were cleared by Tuesday evening. We drove into Ellisville, our little town, after driving under dangling power masts and lines, and around great old oak trees and pecans. It was awful. I nearly cried. Century-old trees toppled, houses with holes in them, roofs crumpled like tin foil. People just walking around or sitting on their porches looking out into space. It's hot. If you've never lived down here you don't know what it's like. You lose the AC and life quickly gets miserable. You think you're under stress; try it when it's a hundred degrees outside. Our house lacked water for part of Tuesday; some parts of the county still don't have water. But we're fortunate; at least seven people died in our county, where there were no evacuation orders or anything. Seven more died in Forrest County just south of us; I'm afraid more people will die due to heat and contaminated water. A lot of people just have nowhere to go; in Mississippi so many of us have all of our kinfolk right around us. There are a lot of people whose family lived on the Coast or in New Orleans; they certainly aren't going back there.

Tonight I'm at a relative's house in Winston County, MS, a hundred or so miles north of Jones County, where they now have power again. We're going to stay here for a few days, then go back and clean up and wait I guess. I have no idea when I'll be able to go back to school; Hattiesburg was hammered even worse than Jones County from what I've been able to gather. We have no idea when we might get electricity again. Meanwhile I'm still in a sort of state of shock. I feel like I have jet-lag or something, only more intense. I feel selfish- the coast and NO are far worse; I can't imagine now what it must have been like- still is like- for people in Southeast Asia. I was reading St. Bernard of Clairvaux before the hurricane hit, in which he talks about us only knowing what the sick or hungry feel when we have been there; only then can we truly love them and 'share in their sufferings'. I think I have a faint glimmer of what he was talking about. I would like to say I've had further epiphanies and bursts of compassion, but I haven't. I've felt miserable; angry, tired, so on. I feel terrible- selfish, nasty, tired, incapable of doing anything. I'm tired of rammen noodles (I had spaghetti tonight at my grandmother's; it was great); my parents' and brotherd' nerves are as shot as mine, and it shows! But we'll survive; we're alive and our house is undamaged. Our kinfolk are all safe and accounted for; so many people still don't know what has happened to their family members. We have a place to go back to. There are so many in my state that don't. There are people in my county who don't. South Mississippi is an open wound tonight. Please pray for us.


Hurricane Warning

Well, we're bracing for a little excitment in the next few days. We had been expecting some rain, maybe some wind, off of the hurricane; we were not expecting what is now transpiring. A little after I got up this morning one of our dorm RAs came by and informed me of the situation, and that classes were canceled until further notice- who knows when that will be. So I packed up and headed home for Jones County, instead of staying in Hattiesburg as I had planned to, and went to morning services in my parents' church, and came out to the house. We've been busy moving stuff off of the porch and getting supplies, water, and gas ready. We're more than a little nervous; the way the weather people are talking this is going to be big. At this moment the sky is bright and blue outside; it's insanely hot and humid. It'll be a different picture in a few more hours...


Culture of Death

The editor of a medical journal that published an article this week saying fetuses likely don't feel pain until late in pregnancy said Thursday she has received dozens of angry e-mails from abortion opponents.

Dr. Catherine DeAngelis, editor in chief of The Journal of the American Medical Association, said she had to take a walk around the block after receiving dozens of "horrible, vindictive" messages.

"One woman said she would pray for my soul," DeAngelis said. "I could use all the prayers I can get." DeAngelis said she is a staunch Roman Catholic and strongly opposes abortion, though she also supports women's right to choose.

"Your licence should be stripped," DeAngelis said, reading aloud from the 50 or so e-mails that came to her office. "You're hypocrisy," "You should get a real job," "Eternity will definitely bring justice for you," others wrote.

:: Read the rest (if you just really want to) ::


Good grief. Where does one start? That "I'm praying for you" is now "hate mail"? That the worse she could must was "Eternity will definitely bring justice for you"? A staunch Roman Catholic who "personally" opposes abortion but doesn't really? Language is also a casualty in the culture of death.


The Seed of the Church

Arrest First, Ask Questions Later: our friends in the CCP have been busy again banking on their guarantees of religious freedom and human rights. But don't worry, "Chinese lives are cheap"- leave the Americans alone and everyone's happy; torture Chinese believers to death and it will not provoke so much as a mention from the media. Chinese lives are not cheap, however, to Someone far greater than the American media or State Department, and He is neither deaf nor blind.

(The icon above- and in the corner of the blog header- is of a group of Chinese Orthodox martyrs from the Boxer Rebellion at the turn of the twentieth century. Through their prayers, with all the prayers of the martyrs down through the ages, may God have mercy upon us all.)


His Voice Is Love Itself

"After the Bridegroom has gazed on the soul with kindness and mercy, hid voice softly whispers the divine will. His voice is love itself, and love never rests but is continually urging the heart to do God's bidding. The spouse also hears the call to rise up in haste and take up the work of saving souls. The nature of true, pure contemplation is such that, while kindling the heart with divine love, it sometimes fills it with great zeal to win other souls for God. The heart gladly gives up the quiet of contemplation for the work of preaching. Once its desires are fulfilled, the heart quickly returns to contemplation, as to the source of good works. In the same way, once it has tasted anew the delights of contemplation, it joyfully dedicates itself to new works. Nevertheless, the soul fear the changing affections and fluctuating movements between contemplation and action. It is likewise wary of becoming overly attached to anything, lest it turn away, even slightly, from the divine will."

St. Bernard of Clairvaux, On The Song of Songs


The Dormition of the Theotokos

Today the life-giving treasury and abyss of charity (I know not how to trust my lips to speak of it) is hidden in immortal death. She meets it without fear, who conceived death’s destroyer, if indeed we may call her holy and vivifying departure by the name of death. For how could she, who brought life to all, be under the dominion of death? But she obeys the law of her own Son, and inherits this chastisement as a daughter of the first Adam, since her Son, who is the life, did not refuse it. As the Mother of the living God, she goes through death to Him. For if God said: “Unless the first man put out his hand to take and taste of the tree of life, he shall live for ever,” how shall she, who received the Life Himself, without beginning or end, or finite vicissitudes, not live for ever.

St. John of Damascus

That Explains It

Why I will never have a girlfriend, and a guide to Platonic friendship; very clever. Very true. Ahem.


The World's Tallest Man Is ... Chinese

Well, to be more accurate, he is from Inner Mongolia, which is a part of the PRC. It would be particularly interesting- and difficult- to be the world's tallest man anywhere, but particularly in China. Heck, I'm tall in China. I was always either the shortest or second shortest kid in elementary school. In China I stood out. It was quite an ego boost.


Unquiet in the Middle Kingdom

A man with terminal lung cancer blew himself up on a bus in Fuzhou today, and it made the news somehow, which is the remarkable part. While I was in Mengzi there was a suicide bomber; it however did not make the news and no one would talk about it.

It happened a couple weeks after our group's arrival. Two girls in our group came by the scene shortly after the incident; the bomber was scattered across the sidewalk and street, and the blast blew out the front of a bakery and gashed a tree up. As far as we could gather no one else was killed; but then we could gather very little. By the next day everything was scrubbed up and the bakery was already cleaned out and the window repaired. By the next week it was restocked and open for business. Only the gashed tree gave any evidence anything had happened.

I walked by the scene the day after, along with a couple of my Chinese friends. I paused to look at the tree, and then kept walking. My Chinese friends were clearly nervous, and muttered something about 'bad people,' 'many difficulties in society,' and the like, and then didn't seem to want to talk any more. They had nothing to say about it, and I didn't press them. It wasn't until we were a couple blocks away that they started talking again and lost the uncomfortable stance. Clearly the whole incident was meant to be ignored, as if it had not happened. Thus we had no idea who had done it or why.

It was not until several weeks later that we learned that the bomber was apparently engaged in bitter divorce proceedings, and blew himself up as a sort of last desperate statement. Presumably he did not mean to do it in front of the bakery; perhaps before a government building or some such. For it is quite likely, almost certain, that most of these incidents are not merely the result of desperate suicidal people, who could otherwise jump off a bridge. Someone willing to carry out such an extreme method of suicide has other grievances. The man in Fuzhou no doubt was attempting to make a statement: there are some fatally flawed things in the administration of China. People are beginning to voice their opinions, usually not, fortunately, in such an insane manner, but in other ways. Protests, even full-fledged riots, are increasing in China, even if they do not always get reported. The average Chinese person is increasingly aware of the lopsided nature of China's economic system, and the massive advantages vested towards the Party elite, who hold and control so much of the wealth in China.

I found that one topic many students were willing to complain about was enironmental degredation, and the fact that the government seemed uninterested. One student told me that a river in his hometown had once held numerous fish when he was young; today you are lucky to find anything at all alive in it, thanks to unregulated industry. Another student complained to me about how the Chinese elite- who are almost entirely Party members- are able to manipulate the system in ways unavailable to the poorer masses. The son of a Party member with enough money, he said, can get access to any university he wants, regardless of examination scores. And so it goes: the elite rule and make money, while the mass of Chinese people must do their best in an ecnomic system titled towards the elite. One student told me, with a mixture of resignation and anger, that China is a 'feudal country.'

And then there are further grievances that would not be voiced to me as a foreigner, but still exist. They are being expressed though, more and more, through strikes, protests, and individual, sometimes inexplicable, acts, of the masses. This is particularly true among rural people: the very people who comprise the majority of China's population.

It is true that China is far more capitalist than it once was; it would probably not be innacurate to say communism is a dead letter there. However, the form of capitalism that operates there is not the same as American free-market capitalism. It is top-down government overseen capitalism. It will not be able to sustain itself forever. The Chinese people are not stupid, and though they have incredible patience and bear up under sufferings to an incredible degree, I do not think they will remain content with the flawed system they are forced to live under forever. There is unquiet and discontent in the Middle Kingdom, and it will eventually rise above the surface, one way or another.


Of Southerners and Chinese

I am a rural Southern American; I spent the first few years of my life in what could well be an archetypical Southern small town. I have since lived in rural areas up and down the South, and all my kith and kin live in rural areas or rural small towns. I think that being a native-born and raised Southerner is a great blessing when it comes to traveling in rural Southern China- and probably any other developing nation. We have a number of affinities: grown men walking about without shirts, spitting in public, an unfortunate tendency to litter, and chickens running about everywhere. If the Chinese could afford them, I am sure there would be many more junked cars up on blocks. And there are many rural Southern areas that not infrequently stink to high heaven, as we say, thanks to pulp wood production, hogs, or chickens (these in big long rural chicken factories). And many people are, shall we say, laid back to the extreme at times. Did I mention junked cars? The Chinese have substitutions.

Spitting in public is often noticed by foreigners- in China, I mean. There is a certain difference to Chinese public spitting and Southerner public spitting. In China, men and women engage in it, though I think men are more disposed to it. In the South men are usually the only ones. In China it is very public and straightforward. Southerners are usually somewhat more reserved when we spit in public. The Chinese tend to gurgle and draw it out; Southerners do it quickly.

We like to take it easy when we can; in Yunnan, and in other parts of China I would think, an important and vital custom is afternoon nap. (I understand it has faded away in some more industrialized parts of the country.) Southerners do not have this custom per se; I suspect we would take to it quite well if we were given the opportunity, particularly in the summer. In Mengzi afternoon siesta was the rule throughout. I recall one afternoon walking back through town during a rainstorm. I do not recall seeing anyone doing anything except for sleeping, playing mahjong, and watching TV- and a couple folks sweeping rainwater out of their shops (they are nearly all open-air or nearly so). On a rain-free day there would be a little activity, but not much. On campus everything shut down from lunch until 2:30 or 3:00. We Americans soon learned that our Chinese friends were simply not interested in doing anything during that time, so we eventually took it up ourselves. I found that your body adopts to such a rhythm quite naturally, and I found myself getting sleepy everyday after lunch.

In the South we generally do not like getting in a hurry. Shoot, two of the biggest means of recreation down here are hunting and fishing, both of which require a lot of doing nothing deliberately. We tend to eat food that, if it doesn't give you cardiac arrest at the moment, it will make you sleepy. Another important means of recreation is the venerable front porch and rocking chair.

Of course, both Southerners and Chinese also know the meaning of hard work. Agriculture is today is practiced by far fewer Southerners than it once was; in China it still claims nearly half of the workforce. Most of the students I got to know where sons and daughters of farmers. Today in the South most of us have an indirect connection to agriculture. My grandparents and great-grandparents farmed, though not my parents. My great-grandmother, who is still living, worked as a sharecropper, a life not terribly unlike many Chinese farmers today. She worked with her hands (heck, she still does even though the doctors forbid her!); the Chinese farmer knows what manual labour is.

Many people regard Mississippi and much of the rest of the South as 'backwards'; likewise much of China. I still love both places, even with- maybe because of- their idiosyncrasies and cultural habits. But y'all, please just be careful where you spit, and, are pig innards really all that good?