Background: When I was the editor of Gilbert Magazine, I was responsible for the "Tremendous Trifles" column. It was occasionally hard to find a sufficient amount of interesting GKC material to fill the page, so John Peterson sent me a file full of Chesterton ancedotes. They were idiosyncratic, historical, and Chestertonian. He gave me permission to use them here. I hope y'all find them as interesting as I have over the years. Most of them have never been published.
According to historian Robert R. James, the days following the Boer ultimatum of October, 1895 found very few in England who were not solidly behind the idea of war. James quotes Chesterton on the solidarity of the British on the question, noting that Chesterton was one of the very few who did not share the pervasively optimistic, even cheerful assurance of victory. [The British Revolution: 1880-1939, New York: Knopf, 1977]
I read Thomas Woods' short Beyond Distributism earlier this year. It's a pretty good book, and well worth reading if one is unclear on the differences between libertarian economics and distributism.
He flays Belloc pretty harshly. Though I'm a Belloc fan, I never fully understood his economic arguments (or GKC's, for that matter). This passage in particular caught my attention:
Belloc points out [that] the family can nevertheless live on its own, even if buyers refuse to purchase its surplus goods. They can live on what they themselves produce. At heart, then, Belloc’s promise of security amounts to the distributist family’s ability in the last resort to retreat from the division of labor and live in a condition of self-sufficiency.
It's been years since I've read Belloc's economic ideas, but the passage strikes me as pretty accurate: Basically, what this world needs is a bunch of families with forty acres and a mule. It's not quite that simplistic, of course, but not terribly far off the mark.
The prospect reminded me of Thaddeus Russell's description of 1960s hippies who lived out their ideals in communities of self-sufficiency in the Renegade History.
Though professing to be radicals, many hippie women proudly recalled their lives as similar to the experiences of the paragon of American conservative virtue: the pioneer woman. Ayala Talpai, who lived off the land with her husband and five children, remembered that when it was “time for supper, I’d pick up a basket and go out to the garden, that’s how it started. . . . I just milked twice a day. So I was making cheese and butter and cottage cheese and yogurt and buttermilk and whipped cream and ice cream and everything. . . . But that was a major dent in my time, you know. I was cooking on a wood stove. So I was doing everything on this wood stove, and I was knitting my husband’s socks out of yarn that I’d spun and dyed myself, and he’d go off to work with his sandwiches of homemade bread and mayonnaise and homegrown lettuce and homemade cheese and a hand-knitted hat on his head and homemade shirts, and oh my God.” Nonie Gienger also lived “naturally” with her husband and children and gathered “seaweed and nettles, plantain and dandelion, berries and wild apples, too. . . . But we were even grinding our own flour to make bread. I was a pioneer housewife, and we were living off very little money. But it felt good because I knew where everything came from.”
I'm the unforgiving sort, I guess, at least when it comes to events. If I go to something three times, and all three times are as enjoyable as a genital-kicking contest, I don't go a fourth time.
This rule applies to retreats, especially Catholic ones. Over two decades ago, I attended a Detroit-diocese required retreat for engaged couples, which was led by a former priest and former nun who left their vocations and got married, in the "spirit" of Vatican II. They spouted all sorts of heresy and pretty much berated everything about Catholicism that pre-dates 1965. It was also vapid. I still remember being required--yes, required, on pangs of being denied the Sacrament of Marriage--to stare into Marie's eyes and rub her cheek for a long time. [A few years later, my brother (a Lutheran marrying a Catholic girl) had to take the same class. When they asked him to write down how often he thought they'd have intercourse, he wrote, "Hope to cut back to three or four times a week." It kills me to this day.]
Years later, I attended a retreat at my church that concluded with the priest giving everyone absolution, including, possibly, people who happened to be driving by at that moment outside and maybe those kids across the street smoking dope and listening to Pink Floyd. When I questioned him about it ("I didn't realize we were all getting ready to go into battle"), he barked at me and said I must be a Ratzinger fan.
And then a few years later I attended a retreat at which one of the presenters berated us about our ignorance of the Catholic faith and challenged me to name just a few commandments. When I rattled off all ten (a good Protestant convert, I), he seemed rattled but continued with his spiel about our collective ignorance.
That was the final straw and I vowed never to attend another retreat as long as I lived.
I now have pressure to attend another retreat, and I want to, but my abject fear at being gullible ("How many Catholic retreats are you going to attend before you figure out that they all suck, you moron!"), and my greater fear of wasting a ton of time, keeps be back. This last weekend, I had actual scheduling conflicts so that gave me an easy excuse, but another retreat session is coming around the corner. If I don't have scheduling conflicts (an unlikely occurrence, but possible), do I go?
It's the San Andreas School of the New Evangelization. If anyone has any experience with it, and you've read enough of TDE or my articles elsewhere to have a feel for my temperament and level of learning/ignorance, I'd appreciate input. Comments box is fine or you can email me at the link on your left (e j scheske @ yahoo . com).
A Random Passage
Oh, to be a king in medieval Ireland!
Críth Gablach, the major eighth-century tract on [Irish] social status, states: ‘There is, too, a weekly order in the duty of a king: Sunday for drinking ale . . . ; Monday for judgement, for the adjustment of túatha; Tuesday for playing fidchell [a board game]; Wednesday for watching deer-hounds hunting; Thursday for sexual intercourse; Friday for horse-racing; Saturday for judging cases.'
The Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages 400-1000, Christopher Wickham.
Another reason to embrace booze, at least moderately:
“Gloominess does great harm to us and to those around us. It is a harmful plant that we must uproot as soon as it appears.” Francis Fernandez
Alcohol is a crutch for those times when you must be with others but feel gloomy.
Catholic Men's Quarterly, a one-of-a-kind general interest men's magazine written by Catholic men for Catholic men. Makes a great Father's Day gift.
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