Apr 27, 2014

Brief Reflections on Today's Dual Canonizations

Good Pope John

I just finished watching Reuter's short clip on the canonizations of John XXIII and John Paul II today. It made me feel more sad and alienated than anything else. Given my own prejudices, it seemed like an elaborate PR move on the part of the Church, rather than a holy event worthy of celebration. I was gratified to hear the Reuters narrator say, "John Paul's canonization has not been without controversy. Some say he was canonized too soon, nine years after his death, and that he didn't properly address the sex abuse scandal in the church." That is a terse understatement.  Coupled with this fact, is the reality that he did all in his power to undermine the fruits of Vatican II convened by John XXIII. 

Wiser heads than I have given some excellent commentary, so I won't engage in a rant at this time. 

You can read them here at Bilgrimage and Enlightened Catholicism and Creative Advance.

At first, when I heard the news some months ago about the dual canonizations, I was angry and upset. I considered co-joining John Paul with the beloved John XXIII an insult to the latter's holy memory and yet another offense committed against the survivors of clerical sex abuse. Today, however, watching a few clips, I just felt sad that John XXIII didn't get the honor and respect he truly deserved. But I also felt that putting the two popes together  relativizes the canonization of John Paul II as well, and diminishes some of the glitter and glory that would have surrounded him had he had the whole day entirely to himself. So now I can see a glimmer of wisdom to the whole affair. I don't begrudge Pope Francis for going ahead with his canonization. Given the powerful momentum behind it, I don't see how he could have stopped it - barring a supreme act of courage.  But putting the two together, while it does diminish the respect due to John XXIII,  also tones down the reverential excesses that I fear would have been on display if John Paul II were the sole focus of attention. So in that way today was a grace. Still, it is a sad day for the Church, as we witness a ceremony - in my opinion - that is more smoke and mirrors than spiritual substance and that is designed to serve hidden agendas that are not at all holy. 

Since John XXIII was a beacon of hope for a whole generation of Catholics inspired by the breakthroughs of Vatican II, today's ceremony was a poignant visual display of how far we have come from those heady days of the 1960's, when hope was in the air, and how very little has really changed. Behind the contradictions and the paradoxes, however, lies a subliminal message - that our hope and our trust cannot be placed in the institutional church any longer, at least in its outmoded form. It has had its day and today was a dramatic example of the dragon in its death throes. The Catholic tradition will live on, new creative forms of community will spring up, but Rome has become a sideshow for the barkers, drawing us in with false and distorting mirrors. Yet high above the clouds, the white bird soars and sings, calling calling calling. Let us heed her call and let her lead us where she may - away from all pomp and glory.

And who has been forgotten in all the fanfare of today's PR event?

Pope John Paul I

The following reflections are for myself alone - of no real interest to anyone but myself:)

On another trivial note, continuing my search for future residences, I found this charming little flat in Barcelona that is similar to so many  residences I've had over the years. It's only 33 square meters, has no trappings or trimmings, it's balcony looks onto the back of another building and it's 'only' 85,000 Euros (expensive by Prague standards). But I could live here and be content. The only problem is that it's not quite big enough for my books, of which I have quite a few. But I like it. Simple and serene (well, maybe not serene. I hear Barcelona is very noisy night and day).

However, this beautiful little flat right on the beach is more appropriate for my needs and has two 'bedrooms,' one of which I'd convert into a sitting room/study. And to be able to sit on that little balcony and write would be ideal. Yes, that is the beach and the water in the distance beyond the palmtrees. A short five minute walk. 

The asking price is 185,000 Euros, which is indeed expensive by Prague standards - but not by San Francisco standards, not by a long shot. An apartment like this near the beach would sell for a minimum of $350,000 in San Francisco. Ouch!

The first little apartment makes me feel more comfortable because of its simplicity. We do not live in times where extravagance can be justified any longer. But the second flat is probably much more conducive to the life of a writer, which I am pursuing. And so my search continues as I plug away on my novel here in Prague in a little studio apartment by the river with a lovely terrace facing a hill. 

Apr 26, 2014

Ressurection in Prague from Death to Life

From Death to Life in Prague

St. Cyril and Methodius Czech Orthodox Church
A wedding is going on in the background. 

Spent this morning in prayer before the Eucharist in my home, then felt called by the Spirits to venture out into the glorious spring morning. Didn't quite know where I was going, took a tram up to our wonderful Saturday Farmer's Market, everyone out and about, street performers and musicians entertaining us all, fresh foods for sale and immediate enjoyment and consumption. A great way to spend a Saturday morning/afternoon, with some freshly made pasta and a glass of wine, sitting on a fragile metal chair at a rickety table looking out over the Vltava River and the Castle. 

I didn't feel like the Farmer's Market was 'it' for me this morning, so I kept walking down a side street and quite by surprise came to the beautiful Czech Orthodox Church of St. Cyril and Methodius. Hard to believe that in the twelve years or so I've been living and coming here, I never visited this landmark - site of the hiding place of the Czech patriots and martyrs who engineered the assassination of the infamous Nazi commander of Prague forces, Reinhard Heydrich in 1942. They were betrayed by one of their own number. Knowing they had been betrayed, surrounded by Nazi stormtroopers, most of them took their own lives, shooting themselves in the temple.  A few others were assassinated in the crypt of the church. Outside on the wall, you can still see the bullet holes. There are candles and flowers in the niche, and streams of visitors all day.  This is a sacred place holy to all Czechs of whatever religious persuasion. And here I was standing here on this morning.

The Church was so beautiful and profound. Spent some minutes in prayer, then lit two candles, before icons of the Crucified and Mother and Child, asking for light about my present situation, above all the interior calls that seem to be leading me to Barcelona and to a return to my boyhood home of Marin County. Asking for light as to how these interior calls are to be harmonized. 

Then I went outside and  downstairs into the Crypt. What an experience. You have to enter through a very difficult door, which has been intentionally designed to frighten visitors, in order to give you some sense of the isolation and claustrophobia these men experienced living down here for months. But as I stood inside the crypt and looked back at the door, I felt it was a metaphor for my whole life of the past thirty years or more. Trapped in a dark but holy place, looking for a way out - facing a door that is closed, but with glimmers of mystical light around it's edges. And is this not a metaphor for the life of the Catholic Church ever since the death of Pope John Paul I? Many of us feel trapped in a dark and dank underground dungeon with little light and 'no way out' for the moment, yet with glimmers of light around the edges. A metaphor for the spiritual journey itself for many of us. 

I felt the whole experience was a profound confirmation of my vocation to Prague and the Czech lands, and that it wasn't simply going to end just like that. Some how it will be harmonized with everything else.

Spent twenty minutes down here in prayer. Most of the young men who died down here were only in their twenties. Betrayed by an informer among them. How very Christlike.

Here is the description at the entrance to the door:

The underlying design of the crypt's entrance is an emphasis on the experience of passage. This symbolizes a boundary, and for anyone crossing a border this is quite a definitive experience, a point of no return. The decision of all the people who helped in the assassination was irreversible. It was a conscious decision - crossing the dividing line from safety to deadly dangers.

The door to the crypt is a steel prism consisting of pyramids separated by a mobile diagonal - a jammed wing that divides the whole space into sections of 'darkness and light,' 'death and life.' To enter, one need only gently push the wing, the streamlined shape of which was inspired by the Spitfire fighter aircraft. The wing and the walls of the passage have a black steel surface similar to that of the paratroopers' weapons.

When entering, one should remember the way back to freedom.

The men in the crypt stayed in almost total darkness. The only difference between the world here and the one outside was the light penetrating a crack (in the upper wall). When trying to get out, a person is drawn by light, which illuminates an illusory path of escape. However, the world outside is a trap. The direction offered by that ray of light should be rejected; the wing should be swung away from the wall, and one should leave the space in the opposite direction to the wing's curve. 

I came out into glorious sunshine, took a right turn and walked down the cobblestone street, not really knowing where it ended up. After five minutes, there on the corner was one of my favorite Thai restaurants, the Lemon Leaf. As soon as I saw it, I knew this was 'it'. Went inside and had their 3 course  'degustation' lunch menu, plus a 'basil mojito.' Fabulous. But just as I was sitting down, before my posterior reached the chair, I had a sudden flash of myself sitting on the open air terrace of one of the restaurants in Tiburon, enjoying a glass of white wine and gazing across the bay to SF. So there it all was, everything in one morning - Thailand, Prague, Barcelona, Marin, destinations on my own spiritual journey. What does it all mean? Don't ask, said my spiritual director in Taiwan many years ago,  Father Yves Raguin. 

a selection of appetizers

Prawn curry

Mango sticky rice and fresh fruit salad.
That's a basil mojito I'm drinking in the background! 

Lastly, here is a picture of three of my most naughty boy students, all 6th graders, 11 year olds teetering on the edge of puberty. I had been showing them photos of properties I was interested in 'buying' in Marin County (with absolutely no money to do so), as conversation topics. I showed them photos of a condo in Tiburon and a beach cottage in San Quentin right next to the notorious State Penitentiary, the only place in California where executions are still carried out. A very dark place, but a wonderful little village next to it, and property values in the village are at least a third cheaper than anywhere else in Marin. A peaceful quiet village, until the prison holds one of its controversial executions, when the media rent out the villagers' parking spaces to park their vans and protesters line the street outside the front gate.   I  asked the boys  which one of these two beach side properties I should buy. They absolutely loved being asked. And all three of them said without hesitation - the house in San Quentin. I said, "but it's next to a very famous prison." Tomas, the best English speaker, said, "But it's very nice. Can you see the prison from the house?" And I said, "No, you can't because of the trees." And he said, "Well, then, that's ok." And they all nodded their heads up and down solemnly with a mischievous glint in their eyes, as if to say, "There, that's settled then." 

Kuba, Tomas, and Albert -trying to look well behaved for the camera!

The beach cottage in San Quentin, which I could only afford by living on oatmeal the rest of my life. 

Apr 20, 2014

He is Risen and I am Moving

Beautiful lithograph drawing of Kutna Hora by Czech artist, Marie Brožová

A glorious Easter day today in Prague, sunny, crisp, clear and a little cool (ooops it just started to rain). Yesterday, I took a bus ride to one of my favorite spots  nearby, the historic town of Kutna Hora, a Unesco World Heritage Site. It's a one hour and forty minute bumpy ride on the local bus, free for me because of my 70+ age, and it stops at every little village on the 60 kilometer country road to what is (for myself at least) the most mystical town in the Czech Republic. The area around its grand cathedral, Jesuit college and silver mine breathes a spiritual atmosphere of profound peace and presence. It is a palpable presence that invades the soul, but only if you are receptive to receiving it. If you come in 'tourist mode,' determined to rush about and see this and that, checking off that and this on your list of must see sites, then most probably the mystical bride will not reveal her face to you.  But if you are in a romantic and contemplative mode, then most likely the mystery will reveal herself. Above all, she reveals her countenance at night, when the cathedral is illuminated and the ancient lamps on the crooked cobblestone lanes of Old Town are turned on - and one stops for an exoctic drink at the San Barbara Pub or a jazz concert at the local Blues Cafe down the street. I can't explain the powerful spiritual presence here, but others have been caught up in it's spell as well, so I'm not alone.

                                Cathedral of Santa Barbara, Kutna Hora, Czech Republic

Most of the tourists feel obligated to visit the famous Ossuary, with piles of bones arranged in bizarre formations and decorations, including a glimmering, goulish candelabra = testifying to the wacky sense of humor of some medieval monks. 

The Sedlec Ossuary, Kutna Hora

But my advice is to skip it. While it's a bizarre and curious site, it gives off an aura of ancient dust and emptiness, and is not at all inspiring to the soul. Instead head for the cathedral, but at a quiet, leisurely pace, inhaling the deep peace and calm. Walk around the Cathedral, sit on one of the benches gazing at the wooded hill and park across the valley, listen to the hooting of the little train that scoots along the riverside down below, then take a quick look inside the church. Afterwards, take the meandering path behind the church walls down into the valley itself and walk along the stream to the stone bridge that crosses over into two lovely community parks. Turn around and gaze back at the cathedral on the hill and say a pray to St. Barbara, the patron saint of miners. 

Interior of St. Barbara's Cathedral, Kutna Hora

Construction on the great cathedral was begun in 1388, but because of many interruptions, among them war, pestilence, numerous changes of religion (sigh) and lack of money St. Barbara's wasn't actually completed until 1905. And even then, it wasn't really 'completed,' only half completed. The town folks decided they had had enough after 500 plus years of delay, so they stopped construction when the building was half its projected length, slapped on a superb organ in the loft, a final wall with a grand doorway and left the rest of the property as a park. This is why the building looks so weirdly truncated. But the peace of the place is undeniable and testifies to a spiritual presence capable of renewing the soul, a peace that transcends and ignores all the petty scandals of official Catholicism, leaving them far behind in the wake of its serenity. It was a perfect place for me to spend Easter Eve in the year 2014.

Famed Jesuit College, Kutna Hora

Yesterday, I was fortunate enough to stumble upon a free organ and trumpet concert in the little nearby church of St. John Nepomok, the famous Czech martyr who (if you believe the legends, since the Protestants think he is a Jesuit made concoction without historical foundation), was drowned in the river Vltava by King Wenceslaus for refusing to divulge the secrets of the confessional of the Queen. The King was eager to hear any tales of infidelity. The concert was magnificent, trumpets and organ and vibrations ascending into the heavens. I floated out of the little church, wandered over to St. Barbara's, sat for a while on a bench gazing at the green wooded hill beyond, then said a rosary and took the return bus home. Holy Easter Eve.

St. John Nepomok's Church, Kutna Hora

Today, I've been looking (again) at properties in the San Francisco Bay Area, because I'm feeling the call of the spirit to make a return home at some point in the near future. This has been an ongoing call for some months now, and after many hours of prayer and reflection, I'm starting to take it seriously. However, it's coupled with a corresponding interior movement to Barcelona, leaving me to believe I will be traveling back and forth between both places - or three places, if we include Prague, or four places, if I included Chiang Mai, Thailand.

1770 Pacific Avenue, San Francisco, one block from Van Ness

At the moment, I'm looking at a condo in the Pacific Heights area at 1770 Pacific Avenue, one block from my boyhood home, but probably not as a primary residence. Pacific Heights - further down the street - is the most exclusive area of  San Francisco, with mansions and estates and sweeping views of San Francisco Bay. But like all areas of the super rich, it has a certain stuffy, sterile, closed-in atmosphere, not at all like the colorful neighborhoods of Fillmore, the Haight or Union Street, which have a 'lived in' feel to them. As a boy, I always found the Heights to be terribly stilted and boring, whereas my own neighborhood right on the doorstep of the Heights was fun and interesting, as well as being a short walk to the very lively Polk Street and its two movie theaters, The Polk and the Alhambra. The property I'm looking at, however, is in the 'middle class' area of Pacific Avenue, one block from my boyhood home at 1855 Pacific Avenue. My parents rented a one bedroom apartment in this building, apartment 303 on the top floor. If memory serves me right, they first rented it before I was born at the outrageous rental price of $150 per month, or was it $300, I can't recall. Here is a photo of the building today, and it delights my soul to see that the little neighborhood market is still in operation, still with the same white and black tiles at the entrance way with the words, "Avenue Food Market." 

Boyhood Home 1855 Pacific Avenue, San Francisco

My father was always so irritated when going into this market, because the lady owner was always shortchanging him. It became something of a contest between the two of them, and my mother and I had to listen to Father's rants time after time, over a few pennies. It was a bit funny all the same. And there is the market still in operation, where I used to run in after school to help myself to raspberry popsicles.

I attended St. Brigid's Grammar School two blocks away on the corner of Jackson and Broadway, adjoining St. Brigid's Parish Church. The Grammar School is  running to this day, still run by the wonderful BVM nuns, but without their classic boxcar wimples and habits.

I remember this schoolyard so well, and here it is as alive as always in 2014.

Friends of mine and myself would stand in the schoolyard in the mornings before school, starring mischievously up at the convent windows hoping for a glimpse of one of the nuns without her boxcar headdress. One morning we were rewarded by a quick shot of Sister Mary Bernadette with only a tight white cap of some sort around her head, completely hiding her hair. That was a shocking and scandalous moment for us. Oh, those Catholic grammar school days long ago.

I had to search far and wide to find these images of the BVM  classic habit.

St. Brigid's Parish Church, alas, was closed some years ago in 1994 because of cutbacks by the Archdiocese, and just sits there on the corner of Broadway and Van Ness, like some grand neglected Empress Dowager. In 2005, the Archdiocese sold it to the Academy of Arts University. A spirited and committed group of parishioners, after failing to reverse the Archdiocese decision to close the church, did succeed in getting the Church designated as a protected city landmark. (I remembered the 'trashy' disco scene in the movie, Basic Instinct, held in a deconsecrated former Catholic Church, with all of its stain glass windows intact.) St, Brigid's Church witnessed the beginnings of my faith as a boy of ten, when my mother decided to return to her childhood faith and brought my Protestant father and myself along with her. I remember sitting in these pews as a small boy of six or seven, accompanying my mother to 'secret' Sunday Mass, without my father knowing, he assuming we had gone for a day at Aquatic Park near Fisherman's Wharf.

Now, here I am some sixty years later looking at property down the street, but not for myself alone. A long time gay friend from my Jesuit days might also occupy one of the bedrooms on his frequent trips in and out of the Bay Area from Thailand. He is currently a practicing psychotherapist in SF, but thinking of returning to Thailand for a teaching post. We will see. If my friend is unable to join me in the deal, then I will have to look for something very small and inexpensive, since I'm not one of the upper class with their pied-à-terre for weekend living. 

New Residence ? At 1770 Pacific Avenue, San Francisco

Besides the condo in SF, however, I'm also feeling drawn to a condo in Tiburon on the water across the bay as a primary residence, but at the moment this is just wishful thinking. However, because of some recurrent problems with double vision (after a few glasses of wine, my vision goes a bit blurry), I'd be unable to drive back to Tiburon after an evening in SF with friends for dinner or a concert. Hence, I would need someplace in SF itself to stay. That means I would simply hop on the ferry from Tiburon and cross over, simple as pie. Of course, I have no idea how I would finance all of this, but the Lord provides and on this Easter Day it feels like he is about to do just that. None of this is of any interest to anyone but myself, of course, but this blog serves a useful purpose sometimes in helping me to clarify issues.

Shoreline Park, Tiburon, CA

Saving the best for last. I'm looking at apartments in Barcelona in the center of town, rentals, however, as I can't do everything and Barcelona definitely feels like the next stop on the journey of life for this old pensioner. Prague has been wonderful, full of grace, as attested to by yesterday's visit to Kutna Hora, but the Spirit breathes where she will - and the winds seem to be taking me to a city on the sea and/or possibly a township on the bay, water water everywhere. In time, the situation will be clarified. For the moment, I am carried in the peace and glow of Easter. Alleluia. 

Seashore in Barcelona
And finally -
The Ping River, Chiang Mai, seen from the terrace of the grand Chedi Hotel. 
(Thanks to John for this photo.)

Peace to everyone on this glorious Easter Day. 

Apr 17, 2014

The Great Tribulation

Holy Thursday  Eve

Thanks to William Lindsey at Bilgrimage for the link to a profound meditation by Waldemar Boff,  the brother of Liberation Theologian, Leonardo Boff, entitled

As we enter into the sacred triduum of Holy Week, remembering the paschal mystery of the Lord, who descended into the nether depths of death, darkness and negation before rising to new life on Easter morn, these sobering words of the Boff brothers act as a prophetic call, alerting us to the fact that we on earth as an entire ecological community are heading into the darkness of trial and tribulation, and it is coming "soon." William Lindsey has written some prophetic words on this subject at his blog, with which I concur. There really is no way around this coming transition, in my opinion, given the state of the world, the plundering of human beings and the near universal denial we humans seem to be perpetuating, a simple refusal to see the consequences of our destructive behavior. Ecological, economically, politically, we are coming to the end of one way of life on this planet, and hopefully some of us will help to transition the community to a new way of life beyond catastrophe. Already, as Waldemar says, the seasons are in disarray and we can no longer be sure of summer or winter. Just three days ago here in Prague, after experiencing a significant heat wave for two weeks, Prague was plunged into near zero temperatures with snow in some parts and hail storms in others. My students were stupefied and stared out the window at the hail stones falling onto the playground, something very rarely seen here in the Czech Republic.  Three days later and we were returned to glorious spring weather. This is only a very tiny example of what promises to be major, catastrophic changes in store for us. As I read these prophetic warnings coming at us from prescient figures around the globe, my heart cries out for my very young students, so hopeful, enthusiastic, filled with life and promise and joy. And yet what kind of future awaits them? The deniers rebuke the prophets as negative, nihilistic fanatics and insist that things will continue more or less the same, but that is simply no longer believable. We are headed for a terrible crisis on a global scale unlike anything so far seen on this planet and now is the time for prayful but active preparation. 

Waldemar Boff's reflection on this coming trial is cautiously hopeful without denying the very real suffering that seems to be in store for the human community. 

His opening comments are chilling:

No one knows the day or the hour with certainty. That is because, almost without realizing it, we are already in its midst. But it is coming, with ever greater intensity and clarity. When the great catastrophe occurs, it will appear to be a surprise.
Not withstanding that well documented data point to the inevitability of global changes due to climate, with consequences that scientists are trying to fathom, and that surely will worsen, the economic interests of the great nations and their leaders’ lack of vision keep them from taking the measures necessary to mitigate its effects and adapt their way of living to the Earth’s feverish state.
But he goes on to offer some tentative words of hope and encouragement, not that the trial can be avoided, it cannot, but that remnants of humanity are already being prepared to help make the transition. The Boff brothers with their ecological concerns and movements, and community experiments in Brazil and elsewhere, are living examples of these pockets of wisdom and sanity preparing us for the great divide.
Waldemar again:

But will this be the end of the biosphere? No. For the just and sensible ones, God will make those days brief, and will not destroy all life on Earth, keeping the promise made to our father Noah. But it is necessary for humans to pass through that tribulation to awaken from their selfishness and recognize that the human being is part of the community of life, and is its main guardian.
What can we do to prepare ourselves for those times? First, we must recognize that we are already living in them. We no longer know when Spring or Fall will come. Nor can we count on the months of cold and warmth. We no longer know when there will be rain or sun. Also, it is important to remain silent, vigilant, and observant, watching for the signs that indicate the acceleration of the processes of change. And above all, it is essential to convert, to change our life habits, undergo personal change, profound and definitive. Only then will we have the moral conditions to ask others to do so. But, as in the time of the prophets, few will listen, some will ridicule and the majority will remain indifferent, allowing themselves all sorts of liberties, as in the times of Noah.
We should also return to our roots, to start over, as repentant humanity has done so many times before, recognizing that we are just creatures, and not the Creator, that we are comrades and not the lords of nature; that to be happy we must necessarily submit to the great laws of life and listen attentively to the voices of our consciences. If we obey those main laws, we will harvest the fruits of the Earth and the joy of the soul. If we disobey them, we will inherit a civilization like that in which we are living now, full of greed, war and sorrow.
Waldemar goes on to offer some simple wise suggestions for survival, which you can read at Leonardo Boff's blog here. But a friend of mine sent me a video recently (the link to which I've misplaced), outlining the worst places to be in the world for the coming upheaval. First on his list was the United States itself, secondly any large urban centers.  And on and on and on. Of course, most people view this stuff and consider it the ravings of lunatic fanatics, end of the world doomsday prophets. Yet these warnings resonate with myself because I've long been spiritually connected to the Marian apparitions of Garabandal and Medjugorje, which seem to be warning of similar trials to come. Waldemar Boff warns that the rich driving their Mercedes Benz' may one day be offering all of their wealth for a simple glass of dirty water. It's a simple image and a devastating symbol or metaphor for what may be upon us sooner than we think. The visionaries of Medjugorje reported seeing visions of human beings crying out from terrible, unquenchable thirst. All of this sounds so terribly depressing and despairing, but I've long believed that these apparitions have arrived precisely to offer some sort of comfort and support during an upcoming period of terrible trial and suffering. People can look back upon these visions and warnings and comfort themselves with the thought that "Heaven and the Spirits anticipated this trial and gave us the guidance to endure them." Which is why perhaps those most in need of this particular kind of comfort have been drawn to the apparitions in the first place. 
And the Boffs may be right. When it comes upon us, it will be sudden. Other wise observers, like former congressman Ron Paul, have been urging Americans to invest in precious metals, and when you listen to his analysis, it sounds quite reasonable, balanced, sane - not at all alarmist or extreme or fanatical, simply a sobering assessment of practical reality beyond denial and delusion. Whatever is coming, and however soon it arrives, now is the time for prayer, penance, sacrifice - and some sobering changes to our lifestyle. Above all, it is a time for the utmost faith and trust. As the Madonna of Medjugorje told the visionaries, "Be prepared to die at any moment, and have complete trust in the mercy of God."

To change tact a little bit and raise the mood as well, in my last posting I commented somewhat tongue in cheek about some of the beautiful homes available in Marin County, one of the most expensive places to live in the United States. What will happen to all of this wealth and all of these privileged folks living in these splendid homes if things go bottoms up in some drastic way? Hard to say, but I was raised in Marin County for most of my boyhood and these are mostly decent people who found themselves situated in this special place and made the most of it. I'm not speaking of the unspeakably rich on Belvedere Island, on their multi million dollar estates. But people like my parents, who were solidly middle class, and only just barely that. My mother was a middle school math teacher and my father, severely handicapped with only one lung, was self-employed. Through hard work and ingenuity, they managed to save and then build from scratch their dream home at 484 Hillside Avenue in Mill Valley. They drew up the plans, purchased the materials, hired the contractors and carpenters and within six months their home was built on a prime piece of real estate high up in the hills on a non country, unpaved dirt road. And yet it was a very simple home, with nothing particularly fancy or luxurious about it, except for the stone fireplace which extended all across one wall, and for its decks facing spectacular valley views. There is no way my parents could have afforded to purchase this house already built. They could only manage by doing it all themselves. Today this house is surrounded by other far more elaborate homes and is valued (assessed by the county of Marin for tax purposes) at $1,400,000, probably the cheapest house on the road. I'm shocked every time I think about this number, but in fact while this number may seem extravagant to anyone living outside the SF Bay  Area, for Marin County this is still 'only' middle class. Try and find any family home for sale in southern Marin for under $500,000. You won't find one. A condo or two, perhaps, for $350,000, but that's as low as it gets. One of the readers of this blog emailed me that in his home state of Kentucky, perfectly adequate 3 bedroom, 3,000 square foot homes can be purchased for  only $60,000. That means for the value of our family home in Mill Valley,  one could possibly buy 23 homes in places in Kentucky. Quite a shocking disparity. Does that make all of the people living in Marin greedy, selfish, capitalists, or corporate criminals and shady bankers, destined for the fires of gehenna when the 'great tribulation' arrives. Will they be selling off all of their assets for a simple glass of dirty water? I think not, though some of the people living in $18,000,000 mansions on Belvedere Island and the Tiburon peninsula probably need a shock and a wake up call. 
I know many of these people in Mill Valley, decent, kind, liberal in outlook, appalled by our foreign wars, alarmed by our abuse of the environment, voting for Obama with enthusiasm, only to feel bitterly betrayed, and doing their best  living  ordinary 'middle class' lives in family homes, whose price tag would both shock and appal Americans living in the Central states. In fact, I know the family living in the beautiful redwood forest home I featured in my previous posting (which is why I featured it, as it's up for sale). Both the mother and father are doctors, with some six children and two 'servants' living in the luxurious guest cottage (who manage the house and grounds). Yet this family has hosted many spiritual retreats and conferences in their expansive home and grounds, including seminars conducted by the renowned Czech psychologist, Stanislav Grof, one of the founders of Transpersonal Psychology and also a Mill Valley resident. They have generously shared these beautiful facilities for many worthwhile events. So one must be careful about rushing to pass judgement, even though sometimes harsh judgements are called for - especially against criminal bankers destroying peoples' lives and paying themselves multi million dollar bonuses, and then erecting gated communities to hide behind, protecting themselves from the wrath of their victims. 
Yet in the end, as the economy crumbles and the environment drastically alters, all of us, guilty and innocent and in between, will be called upon to pass through the great tribulation and suffer the consequences of humanity's irresponsible behavior. I just hope I won't live to see it, but given my parents' longevity (100 years), I've probably got at least another twenty years on this planet before my own transition to the world of the Spirit. Who knows what wonders may ensure in that time. What seems certain, however, is that it will be a time requiring the utmost faith, hope and ingenuity, as people like the Boff brothers in creative alternative communities across the globe prepare the rest of us for the transition to another, more simple, more just and more ecologically sound way of life on this suffering planet. 

Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus Come.
To end:

Here are some photos of the beautiful former residence in Sausalito, Marin County, of renowned Chilean writer, Isabel Allende, cousin to assassinated Chilean president, Salvador Allende, brought down in a US engineered coup on that other infamous 9/11, September 11, 1973.

Apr 7, 2014


A bit of whimsy for these dark days - thanks to one of my Czech students, 14 year old Honza.

Not much to cheer about in the Catholic Church these days (see here) or in the world at large, environmental disaster pending, the possibility of WWIII sparked by the crisis in the Ukraine, my own country USA behaving like a psychopathic madman out of control and seeking world hegemony. The Supreme Court puts into law unbridled monetary buying of elections (striking down limits to campaign spending). Victims of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continue to have their voices ignored, and US citizens targeted unconstitutionally by US drone attacks may not sue for compensation. But as Bill Moyers recently said in response to this SC campaign funds ruling (and referring to the initial rebellion that gave birth to the nation),

When injustice becomes  law, defiance becomes duty. 

That is a clarion call heard on many levels. 

So here in response is latest Justin Bieber look-a-like, Francis the Popus.

Meanwhile, I am looking for homes or condos to buy in the San Francisco Bay Area, even though I don't have the ready money for such a purchase. But here are a few selections that caught my fancy -



Mill Valley

The Tiburon Condo is probably my favorite because (a) its within walking distance of the Tiburon/San Francisco Ferry, Tiburon's famous Main Street, shops, markets and cinemas - perfect for a 70 year old who doesn't want to be completely dependant on a car, and (b) it's the cheapest :) and (c) it has a wonderful sea view alcove in the main bedroom that is perfect for a writer's office. And (d), it has a community pool, as well as two seafood restaurants on the water within five minute walk. OK, I'll take it. 

The two Belvedere Homes are for the snooty rich, but oh my the views.

The magnificent Mill Valley home with gardens is my favorite design, but with four bedrooms and four different living rooms and seven terraces and porches and a fully equipped luxurious guest cottage (and a super big jacuzzi), its a bit large for a single fruity gay grandfather who would only have occasional weekend guests. But Mill Valley is the beautiful Marin village where I grew up, and its become only more trendy and hip since those long ago days of innocence of mine, when I thought the world was good and my country's government protected us and the Catholic Church was only a channel of inestimable grace. My world view has become a bit more nuanced and jaundiced since then, but grace and beauty still prevail, I believe, and some of these fabulous homes for the highly privileged are true works of art. The Mill Valley home is a true hermitage away from the stresses of the world, a rare spiritual retreat. OK, I'll take that one two. Let me call up my broker.