The Sarabite: Towards an Aesthetic Christianity

There is a continuous attraction, beginning with God, going to the world, and ending at last with God, an attraction which returns to the same place where it began as though in a kind of circle. -Marsilio Ficino

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Three Disjointed Posts

Don't you hate those blogs on which people reflect on insignificant personal details as if the whole world cared about what they do in their dull, monotonous lives? I mean, isn't there enough useless information we have to sort through every day in our technocratic society? Do we really have the time to be voyeurs into each other's lives, to be titillated by humiliating moments, pet-peeves, and minor work-place dramas? I must register a serious protest against this cheapening of societal discourse, and affirm that my aim is to uplift and challenge my readers, not to entertain with insignificant details of my monotonous life.....

Just kidding. That's a lot of pompous crap, isn't it?

A few days ago, I was peacefully shelving in the Main Stacks of the library here in Berkeley, contently listening to my serene music on my MP3 player:

"Things just ain't the same for gangstas,

But I'm a little too famous to shoot these prankstas...."

Suddenly an old gentleman came up to me in a huff asking why a particular computer terminal wasn't working. Now, I should have known better. After all, I am a Christian, and I need to exercise patience at every opportunity. But his manners were so condescending that I really wanted to give it to him. I mean, if I knew something about computers, I wouldn't be doing this job that a trained monkey could do, would I? Also, being Mexican-American, my "race-paranoia" kicked in, with an internal dialogue that went something like this:

Look, viejo gabacho, do I look like your Mexican? Did you pick me up in front of a Home Depot and promise me $20, a taco, and a bottle of Corona to fix your patio? No. (Although that would have greased the wheels a bit...) So... un poco de respeto, por favor....

In spite of all of this, I responded politely like a civilized human being:

"I'm sorry, sir. There are more terminals available over there."

He huffed again and walked off. I went back to shelving those books on Haitian history and put my earphones back on:

Say he wanna be

Shorty's gonna be a Thug

Said he wanna be

One day he's gonna be

Said he's wanna be

Shorty's gonna be's a Thug.....

The next day, I was pulling long unread French books to make space for volumes that people will read. (I swear, if I see one more copy of Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du Mal, I am going to start a book burning club here on campus.) I was on the bottom shelf on my knees when the shelf in front of me began moving toward me as if I were in an Indiana Jones movie. For those of you unfamiliar with our library, we have so many books that we have special moveable shelves that squeeze into each other so we can fit them all. This saves space, but it can also be a real hassle if you need to get a book quickly but someone is looking for book a couple of shelves over. If you wanted a book, for example, about the toiletry habits of Ludwig Wittgenstein (and I assure you that such a book probably exists), but there is another patron contemplating all of the books on Baruch Spinoza a couple of shelves over, you are going to have to wait for this wannabe pantheist to be finished before you can search for your book. And of course, before you start cranking a shelf in order to get to your book, you should make sure coast is clear or else you might crush someone to death between two shelves.

This is what was happening to me. I saw my life flash before my eyes, but I decided to play it off cool. Instead of shouting like a scared little girl, I started to push back on the shelf. I figured if my would-be executioner felt some pressure pushing against the crank, she would stop immediately and see if something was in the way of her getting her book on the pet preferences of Emile Zola.

This did not happen. To my rather firm pushing she responded with even harder cranking. She was not going to give up without a fight. She cranked even harder because, darnit', she really needed to know if Zola had a cat, a dog, or a goldfish. So I pushed back harder, but to no avail. She would not be defeated by this rusty, broken crank. She would press on in her endeavor to get that book that will enable her to write her doctoral thesis that will make her the next Jacques Derrida, the next Michel Foucault, the next.....

I decided to give up. My brute strength was not strong enough to stop a thirty foot wall of books from squeezing me into a human tortilla.

"Hello!", I meekly cried.

The wall kept squeezing in on me.

"Hello," I said a little more loudly.

The cranking stopped. A woman turned the corner.

"Oh, I'm sorry! I didn't see you there."


A little later, I let her get her precious book. I put my earphones back on and continued listening to Selena:

Pero hoy por fin me he decidido de veras

todo mi amor a confesarle

Toco su puerta y se me enchina la piel

Y me contesta una guera

y mi corazon se quiebra

Yes, I listen to Selena. I am confident enough about my masculinity to admit it. Besides, every Mexican-American male of my generation still has a huge crush on her even if she was taken from us twelve years ago now. (She was the type of girl you could take home to Mama.)


Well, many of you missed it, but the fundraiser last night for the St. Anthony of Padua Institute went off quite well. The conversation was fascinating, the company pleasant, and the wine abundant. I really enjoyed the "deconstructed haggis" (I think it had pieces of Derrida's Of Grammatology in it) and the evening was quite enjoyable in spite of the dreary weather.

Dr. Chalberg's performance as G.K. Chesterton was both flawless and captivating. The endless series of quips, poems, and anecdotes kept my undivided attention for an hour and a half, and filled the small church basement with an air of enchantment . This performance is truly one that must be seen for oneself, so check out Dr. Chalberg's website again here.

The performance ended with a paen by the faux Chesterton to the stark contrast between travel and home. In a truly poetic discourse that I will not defile here by imitation, our Chesterton reflected on how no matter how much we travel, it is home and hearth that is truly the most exotic and fascinating place we will ever visit. Far off sites may be interesting, but when we come home, we realize how much was really there all along that we simply did not see.

I could not help but think on my beloved Hollister, and this post I wrote some months back. Everytime I go home now, I realize how much smaller it is compared to when I was a child. But every corner, every tree, and every crack in the sidewalk have a story to tell. It is only at home that we realize that it is our own heart that is the most unexplored place, that when we stop looking at the mountains of far away lands, ambitions, and fame, we see a vast plain at our feet that is memory, solitude, and love......

Anyway, you can still donate to the St. Anthony Institute by going to its website. It is for a good cause, namely, the education and formation of the Catholic community in the Bay Area. A dream of creating a Catholic liberal arts college here is also flying about, so pray for its success. (I know all of the readers of this blog have lots of money, otherwise why would you spend your time reading such frivolous stuff instead of doing something productive?)

I don't like the idea of making money off of blogs. Others do it, and I don't judge them, but I don't feel that my thoughts are worth money. Like cold hard cash? No way! But you can always donate to good causes that I like.


Traditional Anglican churches are very safe places. Everytime I go into one, I always feel welcome and I am assured that no one is going to bite my head off for doing the wrong thing. They are comfortable, and the people there are good and decent.

Orthodox churches feel like heaven. When I walk into one I am just floored by it all. It's like being absorbed into a marvellous book of fairy-tales. Every picture tells a story, every corner is a universe unto itself, and the world makes so much sense when you there

Roman Catholic Churches, the real traditional ones, are scary places. The most ingrained images that I have of them are always dark, dank, and almost haunted. I remember when I was very young, my mother used to sit us down in the cry room in the church in Gilroy, and we watched the Mass through what seemed to be a barrier of lace. I also remember when my mother took me to confession for the first time when I was seven. The whole church was so dark, and the old wood creaked and cried out in the cold spring night. Even the stained glass windows filled with light were engraved with such odd things, and to this day I cannot decipher all of those symbols that I gazed at every Sunday Mass as a child.

Terribilis est locus iste. It is our own humanity, both consoling and frightening.

I like going to all three types of churches, but only one is home.


At 9:50 AM, Blogger D. I. Dalrymple said...

Damn it, Arturo. It's enough to make me wish I was a Mexican American sometimes.

At 7:23 PM, Blogger Arturo Vasquez said...

Yeah, it is pretty cool: the best food, the world's most beautiful women, being able to cuss people out in two languages and sound equally threatening in both.... it's pretty sweet. Except when you get stopped by the cops. Now, I have a shaved head and a moustache, so if I get stopped, it's all over. But here is the Mexican American defense mechanism to survive an encounter with an officer of the law:

When you see the lights and siren flash in back of you, act calm. Say a quick Hail Mary in Spanish and try to think white.... really white. Like Leave It To Beaver on Anglo-Saxon steroids. If they think you are white enough, you might not end up eating pavement while the officer calls for back-up.

As the officer approaches, have your licence and registration ready, and greet the good policeman like this:

"Howdy, sir! Golly, what nice weather we're having on this glorious day. How can I help you officer?"

At this point, he is probably reaching for his handcuffs, but at least he might not rough you up too bad when he throws you against the hood of your car. This would be a good time to start thinking about who to call to spring you out of jail:

"Chemo, nah, that fool's at work. Chuy, I think that vato is still in the clinka.... I could always call Pepe, but he's probably high at this time of day...."

Anyway, that's probably way more than you needed to know. But if you want to be more informed, you can always look at these useful videos which I post only for their informational value:

At 9:10 AM, Blogger D. I. Dalrymple said...

Yes, I suppose I could do without the roughing up by the cops and all that...

But the food, and, yes, the world's most beautiful women... Ah....

But perhaps it's the statuary. When I was a kid living on the south side of Tracy, CA in the early 80s, I was in a bilingual classroom. When I would hang out at my friends' houses, I always loved the Catholic statuary in the front yards. I always wondered why we couldn't have stuff like that.

Really, though, I think I'm just missing the Roman Catholic Mexican American mother and grandmother I never had... The other day I was listening to Terry Gross interview Guillermo del Toro and he told this story about how his devout Roman Catholic grandmother used to put bottle caps upside down in his shoes and send him walking off to school, so that he could learn to mortify his flesh.

I was jealous!

At 9:21 AM, Blogger Arturo Vasquez said...

Damn, that's almost sadistic!

All my grandmother ever did was beat me like a red-headed step child.

At 10:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Zola had a cat? Thanks, now I can attend the 19th century Symposium of the Creation of the Writing of the Proletarian Metanarative and the oppression of the Romantic Overeducated Bohemenian type. I may also win that fellowship where I get to be a professor's serf for another year.
Gotta play that race card Carnal, it is the only thing we have. We ain't asking for s&^%, we taking it!!!! Blast their ass, homey!!!

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