fragments of an attempted writing.

spatiamentum, and other fragments, in slight payment of an old debt. Part I.

I guess I'm on a religion role.  Forgive me, or read something else, whichever you prefer.

That said, the narratives of returning to Rome that I've read (whether from Orthodoxy or Protestantism) involve a kind of visceral, emotional bond that I know I'll never really comprehend.

- Samn!, from the comment thread below.

I've been thinking a lot about Samn!'s comment.

I developed an emotional bond to Orthodoxy when visiting Russia in my late teens during the summer of 1992.  Y'all that have read me for years now know that.  

That comes with quirks in the narrative I didn't mention when streaminlining my story for Orthodox apologia purposes in the past.  The elderly translator for my mission team in Russia, whom we called Baba, an intellectual woman from Moscow, told me to go home and look into Catholicism, though she was Orthodox.  When I got home and started looking for literature on Orthodoxy, it was some Catholics I knew (from my days in the pro-life movement) who first gave me the copies of Franky Schaeffer's The Christian Activist that contained some summary articles on Orthodoxy, and it was Catholics who gave me my first copies of The Orthodox Way and The Orthodox Church by Ware, and it was Catholics who introduced me to the first Orthodox I met in the States.  It was only after that that I went through the 'Eastern Orthodox' listings in the phone book (then living in the suburbs of Detroit) and made calls until I got someone to answer the phone in English.

I didn't have a Catholic childhood, as most or all of you know.  But Catholicism was always around.  I always had Catholic friends.  In late high school I worked as a weekend janitor at a Knights of Columbus Hall (best job ever, my buddy Eric and I were unsupervised when cleaning the place out on Sunday afternoons, and there was a well stocked bar - we had 5 hours to clean it, so we flew around working our asses off for 3 hours and then drank free beer and booze for 2 - and in the spirit of Catholic Social Teaching we were very well paid - $75 a piece for 5, really 3, hours work, and this was in the early '90s).  Years before all that my mother was just about to throw the towel in on Christianity (she had grown up being dropped off at the local fundy Baptist church) when a RC priest and Navy chaplain she met on Guam (one of the places my mom did a stint as a Navy nurse during Vietnam) brought her back to faith, though mom went back to Protestantism and not to Catholicism.  And of course mom had grown up in an Ohio steel town wherein her nominally Protestant family felt keen solidarity with the Catholic families they lived next to come strikes, a solidarity that ran so deep that my mother, despite her strong Prot religious convinctions, would hardly utter a word of criticism towards Catholicism.  My dad has any number of stories to tell of the anti-war and civil rights Catholic priests he knew and was friends with in the 60s and 70s (including one in Cleveland who had a poster in his restroom which stated "Fighting for Peace is like Fucking for Chastity"), and dad even had a poster of John XXIII on the wall in his bedroom back in those days, his tension between radical politics and a desire to find religious solace one which would eventually carry on at least a generation.  In the ecumenical clergy group my dad belonged to in that suburb of Detroit, his best friend by far was the local Catholic priest, much to the chagrin of a couple of old dour Baptists in our congregation.  Dad was the one who excitedly told me that in Michael Collins' first IRA brigade there many Baptists, and Baptists and Catholics fought and died side by side against their Anglican and Presbyterian English oppressors.  My mother once sternly corrected me, when I was in late elementary school, for using the term "Hail Mary" in reference to a football play I had seen on TV.  Mind you, my very low church Protestant mother does not have an ounce of Marian devotion in her, but she had, and has, great respect for Catholics and was not going to allow me to use a phrase which made light of their religion.  The summer I was in Guatemala, which was the summer before my Russia trip, I was greatly interested in the local Catholicism but the leaders of that trip, being something of Nazarene fundamentalists, were not keen on us spending much time in Catholic Churches so my exposure was limited.  During my few years of pro-life activity I met all sorts of Catholics, and went to Mass with them on occasion, and it seemed perfectly natural a thing to do given my parents posture towards Catholicism.

But despite all that I had nothing close to a "visceral, emotional bond" with Catholicism.

That would come a few years later.

Many of you longtime readers of my blogs know that I ended up at something of an odd Bible college, which had the especial goal of training missionaries.   It was there I met my wife, but, connoisseur of imprudent decisions that I am, I married someone else (my "first wife" as we say) - the girl whose passion for life and rebellion there was most on par with my own; separately we were legendary on that small campus, together we were epic.  And the thing is, epics end, often in a fury.  She was and is an extraordinary human being whom I am blessed to know - today she is married to one of the best guys I've ever known, an old roomate and drinking buddy of mine, and they have six sons, two of them adopted from China, one of them a special needs kid.  But as was apparent to damn near everyone who knew us, we weren't well suited to each other - we were both, as they say, larger than life individuals, each with a particular, and explosive, and quite different and ill suited, joie de vivre.  That said, I think both of us can say now that the world is a better place with the other in it.   In any event, our marriage pissed off both of our families, and was by any measure the embodiment of a "starter marriage."    It was, so RC canonists have told me, the most annulmentable of marriages - she had never been baptized, we we about as far from morally scrupulous as one might imagine, we almost called it off several times before the wedding, we went barefoot in the wedding (well, at least my mother thought that a proof of invalidity), we skipped out on the reception, I could go on.   But life is a mess, at least for many of us.  

We ended up going to Maine and working in the (Catholic Worker and Emmaus International affiliated) homeless shelter there, where the broken from the start marriage began to unravel, and upon coming back to Minnesota things just got worse.

But now I need to back up.

Shortly after getting married, when we were still in Bible college, I went into a period of crippling anxiety attacks.  Perhaps my intuition regarding that recent decision was expressing itself via my psyche.  With that came intense agoraphobia.  I was in the hospital for a short bit, and other than my two meetings a week with my (unbelievably competent, in hindsight) clinical psychologist, I never left campus, and rarely left my room.  This went on for months.  After a spell, my prof and intellectual mentor,  Tom Correll, the anthropologist and linguist (who for many reasons you would never expect to have found at a little bible college - he ended up there via something of a fluke) told me he was taking me on a trip.

That trip was to Loome Theological Booksellers in Stillwater, MN.  Maybe a 45 minute drive from my campus.  I gripped the door handle of Tom Correll's little truck the whole way there, and was my then usual anxiety ridden terrified.  Finally we pulled up to this late 19th century brick church building (built by Swedish Covenanters, later known as the Evangelical Covenant, as it turns out) on a hill in a picturesque river town.  We walked up the steps and went in.  Instantly the smell of books.  Later I would learn it was the smell of 350,000 books.  Books crammed the narthex.  We walked into what had been the sanctuary (in the Prot sense of the term, the nave in Orthodox/Catholic terminology) and there were books everywhere - above us was a large loft with many thousands of books.  In the old altar/pulpit area there was an enclosed office with stairs leading above that interior structure with thousands of books there.  Eventually we would venture into the back and discover more rooms, all crammed to the hilt with books.  There was also a lot of Catholic statuary (from small to 4' tall), there were framed medieval manuscripts on the wall, there were all sorts of copperplate engravings and other religious ephemera framed and on the wall, and crucifixes, and prayer cards, and what not - and not all of it Catholic, plenty was Prot and some of it Orthodox.   But don't take this as a mere religious bookstore.  There was a vast philosophy section with thousands of volumes, and a medieval studies section about half the size of my current home, and thousands of tomes on ancient Rome and Greece, and Victorian England, and frontier America, and so on.

We spent a few hours in there.  It was a healing salve.  I had grown up loving books.  My parents were book lovers and I was spending a substantial amount of my income on my books from my teens onward.  But this place, this Marian, if you will forgive a cheap comparison, womb and temple of books was nothing like I had encountered before.   There, for the first time in a long while, I could open a book and read with full attention; I could let my mind rest on words on pages.

Tom (Dr. Correll) then took me to the famous Brines bar and restaurant down the hill in Stillwater, we had beer cheese soup and talked about the books in the grocery sack I was taking home.  I still had anxiety in my nerves, but I also had an ability to focus which I hadn't had in months.  

Fast forward.

Back from Maine I worked part time at an art framing place (my buddy who ended up marrying my ex got me that job).  But that wasn't going to pan out long term and I needed more hours.  I had kept going to Loome's now and again before and after the Maine adventure, spending whatever spare cash I had there.  At some point I mustered up the courage to ask the guy taking my money if they were in need of any employees, and sure enough they had been talking about hiring a guy to handle their shipping - packing books up and all that jazz.   I expressed my desire for the job.  Not long after, I was hired.

- to be continued.


  1. Thank you for the paragraph about the bookstore. I felt as if I were there. I can still smell it.

  2. Replies
    1. Oh Matt.. funny seeing you here LOL. We'll have to get together again, I hope you have my email because I've left Facebook. -Josh

  3. So glad you're back. So sick of reading the stuff I usually read on the Internet. OK, this is my stop for lunchtime reading for the foreseeable future. Meaty and fascinating. Thanks!


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