Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Tom and Dorothy

"What can we gain by sailing to the moon if we are not able to cross the abyss that separates us from ourselves? This is the most important of all voyages of discovery, and without it, all the rest are not only useless, but disastrous."
Thomas Merton
"Don't call me a saint. I don't want to be dismissed so easily."
Dorothy Day
To the best of my knowledge, Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day never met. There is no mention of their meeting in Michael Mott's seven-hundred page biography of Merton, nor does Day mention anything about their paths crossing in her memoirs. This is not terribly surprising; With very few exceptions, Merton rarely ventured outside the gates of Our Lady of Gethsemami monastery between the years 1941 and 1968, and only twice during that period of years did he leave the state of Kentucky. Although they did exchange letters, their correspondence apparently was not voluminous.
But it is kind of strange to think that these two extraordinary people - who more than anyone else personified progressive Catholicism in the twentieth century - were virtual strangers to each other.
Pope Francis
While watching Pope Francis address a joint session of Congress on Thursday, I almost fell out of my chair when he mentioned Merton and Day as two of the four Americans he admired most (the other two being Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King). I've been an admirer of Merton and Day for decades and have written separate pieces about them on this site. So little has been written about Dorothy Day in recent years that, after the pope mentioned her and thousands of people across America commenced to google her name, the piece I wrote on July 10, 2006 was one of the first things that they saw. I got a lot of hits on that day thanks to his holiness. I would have much preferred if he had mentioned The Rant by name, but we must be satisfied with what we get.

Dorothy back in the day
Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day - and Pope Francis - are radical reminders that progressive policies and Christianity are not, by any means, mutually exclusive. If you want a clearer understanding of what I'm talking about, do a google search of Jesus Christ's Sermon on the Mount. There is not a word in there that has a thing to do with the platform of the modern-day conservative movement - Nada. Blessed are the meek? In case you've failed to take notice, under right wing governance the meek haven't done very well at all. Although the middle class has done a bit better under Obama, it is still in danger of extinction in this country. It is in the so-called "red states" of this nation where they struggle the hardest. The most progressive country on this planet is arguably Norway. The happiest people on this planet are the Norwegians. Countless studies have proven this. Someday maybe America will put two-and-two together - but I'm not going to hold my breath.

Merton in the fifties
As my friend Annette Fedor Lemma remarked the other day on her Facebook page, "I've always thought converts make the best Catholics." She was referring to Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day, both of whom were baptized on the other side of the faith. Both of their conversions were earth-shattering in their personal lives. Although the two of them experienced brief flirtations with Communism in their youths, the similarities end there:

She went out into the world as an activist; he withdrew into the walls of a monastery; she founded the Catholic Worker Newspaper, a publication dedicated to economic justice for the poor and the homeless (the meek) which, eighty-two years after its founding, still sells for a penny per copy; he wrote Seven Story Mountain, a 1948 autobiography which was a tonic for many in the post war era who had become spiritually jaded in the aftermath of the most barbaric war in the history of the human race; she smoked cigarettes; he loved beer. What they had in common - whether they realized it or not - was that they were two of the last century's great spiritual guides. Both of them hungered and thirsted for righteousness.

FUN FACT: Both Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day had files in J. Edgar Hoover's FBI. I love it!. To be perfectly blunt with you, I'm suspicious of anyone of note who lived in that era that wasn't on Hoover's shit list. Think about it: Martin Luther King, Charlie Chaplin, Eleanor Roosevelt, John Lennon - Tom and Dorothy are in pretty good company!

January 31 of this year marked the centennial of Merton's birth. He died on December 10, 1968 in Bangkok, Thailand, where he was attending an interfaith conference of Christian and non-Christian monks. He was electrocuted when he touched an electric fan with faulty wiring. He was fifty-three years old.

Dorothy Day died peacefully in her old age on November 29, 1980, at the age of eighty-three. The world press barely took notice of either of them when they passed into eternity.

On September 24, 2015, Pope Francis gently forced America and the world to take notice.

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY


The Long Loneliness
by Dorothy Day

Seven Storey Mountain
by Thomas Merton

Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker


Thomas Merton 1915-1968


The last two are by yours truly. Not to toot my own horn but....

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Here Comes Francis!

"How can it be that it is not news when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points”?
Pope Francis
How indeed? On December 1,  2013, I tweeted the following message to the pope:
 "@Pontifex: Your Holiness, you are driving the right wing in America nuts. Thank you."
Sorry, but I just couldn't help myself. I'll be a bit more measured in my remarks this afternoon. It is indeed a screaming irony that both sides of the political conversation expect to gain points from the visit of the pontiff to the United States (the first of his long life). In this week's issue of Rolling Stone, a good point was made when it said that Pope Francis in many ways is to the left of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. How's that for irony?
But if progressives were expecting his holiness to embrace same-sex marriage and abortion, they ought not to hold their breath.
But while it is true that some of this incredible man's philosophy makes liberals somewhat uncomfortable, he has a habit of driving the right wing apoplectic - always a fun thing to behold. There is a serious conflict between the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth and the modern conservative movement, and Francis is not adverse to holding up a mirror to confront all of us with our hypocrisies.

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake,
for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.

Jesus Christ

The Sermon on the Mount
From the Gospel According To Matthew
Dick Gregory once theorized that if Christ came back today the American right wing would tie him to a giant peace sign and roll Him off of a cliff. There is a serious conflict between the teachings of Christianity and the modern right wing movement. If you are a devout "Christian" and are unable to see this eyesore of a conflict, my suggestion to you would be - for the time being at least - don't focus so much on the Old Testament and concentrate more on the New. That'll learn ya!

FULL DISCLOSURE: I'm not implying that those of us who lean leftward are theologically pure; there's always room for improvement.

Tomorrow the pope will be addressing a joint session of congress. These are indeed interesting times to be alive.

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY

Yogi Berra 1925-2015

"It ain't over till it's over."

It's over. I was never a sports fan. It is my belief that people  (American men in particular) waste so much of their precious lives obsessing over the topic of sports. Still, over half a century after his prime, it was hard not to notice - and love - Yogi Berra. I once read a book that was a compilation of Zen quotations. There was a whole chapter devoted to Yogi's famous "malapropisms". This is a man who will be sorely missed.

"When you arrive at a fork in the road, take it."

What was not to love?


Wednesday, September 16, 2015


You know, my heart and soul are with Bernie Sanders. I think the man is the best thing to come along in American politics since Eleanor Roosevelt. Defying all expectations, he's bringing into his campaign appearances the multitude of the disaffected, disenfranchised segment of the electorate - an number that comprises most Americans, I imagine. I saw a posting on Facebook this morning that quoted someone named John Fugelsang:
"They tell me that Bernie Sanders can't win because Americans will never vote for a socialist Jew. I tell them that America celebrates one every December 25."
Yeah, Bernie's quest for the White House may not be the impossible dream a lot of so-called "people-in-the-know" proclaim it to be. I can remember the condescension from some people - even liberals - when Barack Obama threw his hat into the ring in February 2007. At the time I wrote on this very site:  
"We live in desperate and extraordinary times and the American people, if only out of sheer desperation, might very well turn towards an extraordinary candidate. That very fact is enough to put the good senator over the top. We can only hope. Talk about audacity!"
Less than two years after I wrote that piece, Barack Obama was being sworn in as the forty-fourth president of the Unites States. No one should be foolish enough to dismiss the candidacy of Bernie Sanders outright. Still, politics being as unpredictable as it is, progressives need to have a back-up plan. My suggestion is a guy named "Joe".

Beau and Joe
For all the bitching and wailing I do regarding the president, I'll be the first to concede that he has been a pretty good at his job. In fact, some are arguing that, when one takes into consideration what he came to Washington to do, he's been one of the most successful presidents in modern history. If you're paying attention, it's hard to ague with that point. I like Barack Obama - I really do. But I LOVE Joe Biden. What's not to love? The Jolly disposition masking the serious inner man reminds me so much of FDR that I find it impossible not to love the guy. And while he may ebb and flow at times with respect to policy, Joe Biden is a true "progressive" in the best  and most literal sense of that word.

It's hard to begrudge a person who is able carry on after multiple personal tragedies as Joe Biden has. Losing his beloved son, Beau, this year was not the first time that this perpetually cheerful man has had to confront devastating personal tragedy. On December 18, 1972, one month after being elected to the senate, and one month before being sworn in, Biden's first wife, Neilia, and his infant daughter, Naomi, were killed in a traffic accident while shopping for a Christmas tree. His two sons, Beau and Hunter survived but were both seriously injured.

Joe Biden had paid some dues. If he is concealing any inner-torment you wouldn't know it;  the son-of-a-bitch is still smiling.

The Democrats have a history of taking fine champagne and turning it into donkey piss. Handing the nomination to Hillary Clinton would be foolish. They ought to be really careful about what they wish for. She is not the foregone conclusion she seemed to be only a year ago - and she is becoming more unwinnable with each passing day. Don't go there, folks.

Would Biden be the ideal candidate? Hardly. There will be an issue made of his age no doubt. If Joe decides to go for it next year he'll be the oldest candidate elected in history; Older, even, than Reagan was when re-elected in 1984. The opposition will also point out the fact that he does at times tend to shoot from the hip. I view that as the man's insatiable honesty. It's something to admire in my view. I'm not going to insult your intelligence by implying that a guy who's been part of the Washington establishment for over forty years is "one of us", but Joe comes fairly close to the mark. This may be the ultimate in naiveté on my part; a part of me is somewhat embarrassed by it. But I like Joe Biden. I trust him. So sue me.

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY


Here's Joe Biden being interviewed last week by Stephen Colbert on CBS's The Late Show. It is as emotionally revealing (without being maudlin) as anything I've ever seen from as American politician:


Like I said: What's not to love?

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Craziness Continues....

The NRA likes me! They really like me!

 It was just one of those things
One of those crazy things
A trip to the moon on gossamer wings....
I'm sorry it's taken me so long to write. I believe that two weeks without a single posting on this site has got to be some kind of record. The last piece I wrote, on 27 August, put me in such a dismal rage that I couldn't get in the mood to write anything. The fact is, I've been mighty depressed about the whole affair. "Shit happens", as they say.

Alison Parker
A few days after writing the piece about the murders - on live television - of reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward, I got an envelope in the mail inviting me to take part in the "ALL NEW NRA SWEEPSTAKES". That's right, folks, in the wake of the tragedy of two weeks ago (and my reaction to it) some joker out there decided to put me on the mailing list of the National  Rifle Association! Whether this person was trying to be malicious or merely humorous is hard to say. If it's the latter I can tell you that I do get the joke and appreciate it. It it's the former, well, thank you nonetheless. I take my material wherever I can get it, and I imagine that a monthly update from the NRA ought to be oodles of laughs. I look forward to reading them.
The "sweepstakes" was, in reality, a fundraiser. It contained a letter from that organization's very own uber-doofus, Wayne LaPierre, telling me why my very life depended on me being stupid enough to send him cash for my membership fee:
Remember, we're fighting powerful gun-hating politicians in Washington, DC and state legislatures....anti-gun judges....U.N. global gun ban diplomats....anti-gun billionaires....and the freedom-hating media-elite.
Their agenda includes nothing less than GUN REGISTRATION, GUN-OWNER LICENSING, GUN BANS, and other restrictions that all but obliterate our Right to Keep and Bear Arms.
Would someone please name for me even one "U.N. global gun ban diplomat"?  He then goes on to plead for donations - anything from $25 to $100. The hideous old freak ends his little tirade by telling me,
Unless you and I stand together it's only a matter of time before we lose our freedom, our heritage and our American way of life....
PS: And please - even though joining NRA is not required to enter the sweepstakes -  urge you to become a member of NRA at this critical moment in the history of Our Right to Keep and Bear Arms.
The gun crazies hate it when I do this, but here it is in its entirety:
"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."
"....the right of the people to keep and bear arms" is less than half of a much larger sentence. Have you ever noticed that whenever poor old Wayne quotes that line of the Second Amendment, he always quotes it out of context? What the heck ever happened to that "well-regulated militia" bit? Just curious.

Of course, two weeks after the first shooting homicide on live TV since Lee Harvey Oswald fifty-two years ago, the cold-blooded murders of Alison Parker and Adam Ward are water under the bridge. No one's talking about legislation; no one is talking about righting this unspeakable wrong. It's like it never happened.

Go back to sleep, America.

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY


A Change Is Gonna Come
by Sam Cooke


About a year after Sam consigned this eternal little gem to wax, on December 11, 1964, he was shot and killed in Los Angeles, yet another victim of America's insatiable appetite for GUNZ, BABY!

Sadly, no change is coming. Sorry.