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Travel day today and, yesterday, Amy and I walked through Chicago. Happy to be home, but wish we could’ve brought the tree-lined streets and lovely houses /churches/brick buildings-of-any-kind of Evanston, IL home with us. Our church buildings in Phoenix are tragedies. Thank God the living stones are of such high quality here. 

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Chicago SkylineThat not very clear image is of the Chicago skyline as seen from a private beach on Northwestern University’s campus. Amy and I are here picking our daughter Sophia up from an intensive summer drama program for high school students. She has had an amazing experience and has really enjoyed herself. She has also become beloved by everyone who has met her.
What a blessing to have someone you love so much be recognized as lovely. What a joy to share in someone else’s great joy.
While we were here, we took advantage of the opportunity to take a tour of the university. We were very impressed. Our tour guide Eli was fantastic. He was exactly the kind of confident, well-spoken, charming young man you want representing your organization. He spoke to us like we were people, not prospects. He made us feel like this massive research university was a tight-knit community of friends. They are doing something right at Northwestern.
They are not a classical liberal arts school, but they do emphasize the liberal arts. If I wasn’t so lazy, I’d elaborate on that, but long story short, if Sophia decided to go here, we’d be thrilled. It seems like a great fit for a kid who loves drama and is naturally and broadly curious. Plus, like Amy’s and my alma mater, they’re Wildcats.
One last thing about what I said earlier. The recent news of Father Jacques Hamel’s martyrdom in France was so shocking, but how beautiful that the Lord he loved and served is drawing his murderers’ co-religionists to him?

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p.s. If any of you are keeping track, I wrote and attempted to post this entry last night, but I’m having issues with the WordPress interface. It’s can be pretty frustrating.

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Shortly after I started working as Dean of Academics at the greatest Catholic high school in the universe I attended a presentation on disruptive innovations that was supposed to till the soil for a diocesan-wide push towards adopting some non-traditional educational models (e.g. online classes, flipped classrooms, hybrid courses). The Catholic Schools Office felt that these educational approaches were worth pursuing because they deemed them the best way to meet the needs and expectations of both students and parents. 

The presentation basically argued that the times they are a’changing and, if we wanted to keep pace with other schools, we would accept that the field of education was being disrupted and start making the switch to the new way of doing things. If you don’t know what it means to say an industry or field is being disrupted, I’ll explain. 

In any given field conventional wisdom and standard operating procedures work together to maintain the status quo. So for example, before transistor radios, the status quo in the radio industry was R2-D2-sized radios powered by vacuum tubes. Naturally, industry leaders like RCA and Magnavox poured all their R&D money into creating better, more efficient vacuum tubes. 

When the first transistor radios came on the scene, they were utterly dismissable. They had crappy reception, tinny sound, and zero aesthetic appeal. BUT they were cheap and portable, which meant that Joanie and Chachi could neck to their rock-n-roll music without Mrs. Cunningham walking in on them. These cheap radios sold like crazy which allowed their manufacturers to produce more of them and improve their quality. Eventually, the upstart radios surpassed the industry leaders in both sound quality and market share.The industry had been disrupted. Sic transit vacuum tube radios. 

I find this idea of disruption fascinating, but I think the Catholic Schools Office has misread the signs of the times. 

Last week I had the privilege of attending the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education’s annual conference with a few of my colleagues. Hearing about all the good work that is going on in Catholic classical schools around the country was inspiring. For those few days, I felt like I had climbed up out of a smoggy valley and my reward was the clarity that comes with being in an atmosphere of fresh, pure air. From that vantage point it was clear to me that the real disruptive force in Catholic education is not going to come from the future; it’s going to come from the past. 
Chesterton says that sometimes to make progress you have to go in reverse (like when you’re running toward a cliff). I think this why I–and any Catholic who cares about their children–need to work without ceasing to return Catholic education to its classical roots. Otherwise, all of our efforts will simply be more efficient vacuum tubes. 

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When I was in college, one of my roommates had the old Nintendo Entertainment System. The game that we played the most was Punch Out. In that game, the first opponent you face is named Glass Joe. He’s pretty easy to defeat once you figure out that there’s a certain pattern of left crosses or right hooks or whatever that you have to do in order to hit him on the chin and knock him out. He has a glass jaw after all. 

What has always stuck with me about the game is how it relates to the real world. The next opponent you face after Glass Joe is a guy (I don’t remember his name) who is immune to the attacks that worked against Joe. A person still giddy with victory after shattering Glass Joe inevitably employs the same punching pattern on his new opponent and he promptly has the win knocked out of him. 

It seems to me that in our world we make the same mistake quite often.We need new approaches to the problems that we face.  Things that used to work, don’t anymore. 

Earlier today I read an article by R. R. Reno explaining why Ted Cruz’s Reagan-esque speech at the RNC didn’t resonate with the people. He argued that what we need right now politically is not a politic of freedom, but rather one of solidarity. Freedom rhetoric worked for Reagan, but doesn’t work now. Reno goes on to claim that only Trump is aware of this need for solidarity and so his rhetoric is really appealing to the American people at the moment. He claims Trump’s rhetoric is unifying because it creates solidarity among the Americans who are becoming more and more afraid of foreigners and “takers.” 

I think what Reno said about freedom vs. solidarity  is probably insightful and true, but I’m not sure that what conclusions you should draw from this. 

Personally, I think  Trump is an asshat and that the kind of unity he engenders and inspires is akin to that of Nazi Germany. I know it’s a foul to say things like that on the Internet, but I really don’t think he’s a good guy. I don’t think that America will be better off with him. I’m not really interested in debating whether America will be better off with Hillary. I don’t think she’s any good either, but I do think we live in a particularly troubling time. I don’t think the solution that we used to rely on (voting for the lesser of two evils) will work anymore. Consequently I think we need something new. Something along the lines of Nineveh’s response to Jonah’s message of repentance.  

The times we live in are troubling–who would have ever dreamed that an 80-something-year-old priest would be beheaded at mass in France?–but they are the times we live in. I am heartened  by Saint Thomas More who said “the times are never so bad that a good man can’t live in them.” I pray that I’ll be such a man and that whether a long, boring life or a sudden dramatic death is in store for me, I’ll be ready to go. 

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Sometime last year my friend Ryan and I started talking about doing something suggested by what I had read in my morning devotional reading. In that day’s passage the author of In Conversation with God suggested that when Catholic men greet each other they should ask one another, “How goes the watch?” He said this was how Roman soldiers used to greet a fellow soldier while he was on guard duty. The suggestion was that someone in one’s group of men should always be standing guard–praying and fasting–defending the others in the circle of friends. This idea resonated with me and with my friend. 

We talked for a while about initiating this project, launching  it here at the school where I work, St. Mary’s Catholic High School  (the greatest High School in the universe) but we never really seemed to be able to get it off the ground. 

Just before Lent started this year, I decided that I would do it on my own, and, since then,  I have dedicated Mondays to praying and fasting for the men in my life. I made a list of all the men at the school, which expanded and eventually became all the men in my life, including my sons and my father and their friends. 

I haven’t been exactly perfect at it for a while. I’ve been out of town and with my new dietary restrictions, I’ve been a little bit hesitant to fast for too long, but for the most part, I have been able to do this and have been happy to stand guard. 

Of course, one has to be careful not to make others suffer while you’re mortifying yourself. It took me a few weeks to figure out that my kids weren’t being especially annoying on Monday nights. I was. 

In case you’re wondering, Uncle Screwtape’s recipe for headless children is one part low blood sugar + a very long day. 

Be on guard when you’re on guard!

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‚ÄčThis morning I was talking to a friend about how I’ve been feeling old recently.  My whitened beard, weakened eyes, and creaking bones were not unexpected developments, but I never imagined that I’d find myself in possession of a hoary old soul.  That’s just not me.

Or at least, I thought it wasn’t me, but for months lately, I wasn’t just tired, I was weary.  And not just me–the whole world was worn out, exhausted.  Things seemed grayer, colder, less themselves. I plodded on (what else could I do?), but this uncharacteristic weariness was worrisome.

I’ve always thought of myself as a young man–Chestertonians don’t grow old; they grow merry, but I was slowly turning into a grouchy old grump.  Needless to say, this was a disorienting experience for me.

I’ve been following God for a long time. I have had countless, dramatic, first-hand  experiences of His fidelity; I’ve learned to rely on Him for daily bread (literally), to  trust Him for one step’s worth of light, and to walk by faith not sight. In my many years of following Jesus, I’ve experienced my fair share of dark days (and “dark nights”), but nothing prepared me for the Gray–the entropic “meh” that filled my waking hours.

I’m improving now–this is what I was telling my friend–my strength is being renewed, thanks be to God.  It turns out most of my malaise was rooted in my poor physical health (more on this in a later post–this one has already taken more time than it was worth).  Anyway, I’m finally taking care of myself and I’m already reaping the benefits.  I’ve lost 11 pounds or so in the past week and a half, I’m eating better, and sleep has once again become refreshing.  The best benefit so far is that I seem to be less anxious–in spite of having all the same financial woes and worldly worries.  This is weird, but welcome.  Tomorrow I may go back to being an anxious, muddle-headed mess, but for now, I’m doing alright.

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Today’s act of self-sabotage is brought to you by Pepsi,  makers of the diet beverage I overindulged in late in the day yesterday. I know better than to drink caffeine past 4pm if I want to sleep at night and I still did it anyway. What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with us? Why, like Saint Paul, do we do the things we don’t want to do and neglect to do the things we want to do (and should do)? 

I’m not going to get to the bottom of this today, but it’s a huge problem for me. I’m far and away my worst enemy. I think I’m addicted to self-loathing and regret. It doesn’t make any sense, I know, and, on one level, I can gaze impartially upon the folly of my ways, but on another, I feel utterly powerless against my self-destructive, self-fulfilling-prophecy-making behavior. This is the mystery of sin, right? It makes you feel like it’s inevitable, like holiness and wholeness are impossible–at least for you. 

Them saints that’s lived so long ago had it easy–sin was much less “sinny” back then. Now we know that we don’t stand a chance because of our biological / psychological / poltical / financial / paradigmatical predispositions.  Why even bother? Failure and disappointment crouch like lions to devour you if even for a second you entertain the uncynical proposition that, as a beloved child of God, Somebody thinks you’re worth perfecting. 

Dear God, please let me see myself through your eyes of love. I want to know the future, I want to know that it all turns out okay, that I’m a good man, that my kids don’t grow up to be serial killers, that I’ve touched a few lives for the better, that I did more good than harm in my 70 or so trips around the sun, but if I can’t know all those things now, give me enough light for the steps I take today, give a day’s worth of courage, give me daily bread. 

-RDD

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A few months ago, I decided I needed to get back in the habit of writing every day. I had been feeling listless and a little bit foggy and I thought that regular writing might be just the thing to get me back on track. So I decided to spend a little money to host a WordPress blog on this vanity Web address and, voila, I’m a blogger.

I’ll explain the title of this site more in-depth later, but the idea is that I want to be as assiduous as the donkey whose daily fidelity at the water wheel pours life and beauty to the community he serves.

So, the challenge I’ve set for myself is daily trips to the inkwell. It’s taken me a couple of months to pump out this initial post, but moving forward: one a day. It may be short: it may be long; it may be late; it may be early but God-willing, it will be.

-RDD