Being ‘childlike’

I’m sharing Saturday’s Gospel reading, and Bishop Robert Barron’s reflection on it, because it’s not only a beautiful reflection on what Christ means when he tells us to be “childlike,” but it’s also a good way to return to C.S. Lewis’s trilemma to figure out who Christ is:

Bishop Robert Barron, Daily Gospel Reflections
Luke 10:17-24

Friends, in today’s Gospel Jesus calls his disciples and us “childlike”: “Although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike”. How so? Children don’t know how to dissemble, how to be one way and act another. “Kids say the darndest things,” because they don’t know how to hide the truth of their reactions.

In this, they are like stars or flowers or animals, things that are what they are, unambiguously. The challenge of the spiritual life is to realize what God wants us to be and thereby come to the same simplicity and directness in our existence. To find out what is in line with the deepest grain of our being.

Let me put this another way: children haven’t yet learned how to look at themselves. Why can a child immerse himself so eagerly and thoroughly in what he is doing? Because he can lose himself; because he is not looking at himself, conscious of the reactions, expectations, and approval of those around him. The best moments in life occur when we lose the ego, lose ourselves in the world and just are as God wants us to be.

Children “don’t know how to hide the truth of their reactions …are like stars or flowers or animals, things that are what they are. … The best moments in life occur when we lose the ego…”

Luke’s Gospel is great for returning to C.S. Lewis’s trilemma, because it provides insight into Christ that makes it impossible to consider him merely a “great moral teacher” or some sort of spiritual philosopher. Christ tells his disciples, “I have given you the power ‘to tread upon serpents’ and scorpions and upon the full force of the enemy.” Christ instructs his disciples to “rejoice because your names are written in heaven.” And most startlingly, he literally shares that “I have observed Satan fall like lightning from the sky.”

“Christ either deceived mankind by conscious fraud, or He was Himself deluded and self-deceived, or He was Divine. There is no getting out of this trilemma…”

SKOAL: Short Film

I’ve written about John Shakely, my grandfather, through his obituary and a later tribute. I’ve started working on his 1950s sailing manuscript, with an eventual goal to release that manuscript as a book through Nittany Valley Press in the next year or so. What I haven’t shared yet is a short film of his Pacific sailing adventures:


Panama to Galapagos

  • 00:00—SKOAL docked at Panama Canal Yacht Club, Canal Zone (Atlantic entrance to Canal).
  • 00:12—John Shakely on deck adjusting mooring lines.
  • 00:44—General view of yachts at PCYC, shoeing SKOAL. Many yachts on deep-water cruises stop here before heading on to the Caribbean or through the Canal to the Pacific.
  • 01:07—Dianne, Tahitian girl who is sister-in-law of American Canal Zone policeman we knew, dancing a hula.
  • 01:34—English yacht leaving for England, escorted out of harbor by several yachts of friends.
  • 02:56—Checking list of food stores and loading aboard SKOAL. 1,476 cans were dipped in hot paraffin to inhibit rust.
  • 03:23—Menace, the cat, our mascot given to us by a “friend.”
  • 03:33—Pablo at helm, Gatun Lake during Canal transit. Transit took about eight hours and cost $4.72 in tonnage fees.
  • 04:17—SKOAL at sea—we had to cross the doldrums causing a 26-day passage to make less than 1,000 miles.
  • 05:03—Birds on water.
  • 05:11—Menace the cat had a propensity for actions that roused my ire so we gave the beast to a farmer at Academy Bay in the Galapagos.
  • 05:31—Sea turtle on deck—about midway between Panama and the Galapagos we came upon fifty or more turtles. We roped one and pulled it aboard for photos, then turned it loose. After two days the turtles left us as abruptly as they had come.
  • 05:47—Pablo swimming—we saw no sharks so when the wind died it was perfectly safe to swim.
  • 05:57—Sunset near the Galapagos—the sunsets and dawns on the sea are quite sudden and dramatic. The color film cannot do full justice to all the subtle hues.
  • 06:24—Approaching northern islands of Galapagos, clouds.
  • 06:57—Coming into Sullivan’s Bay, San Salvador, Galapagos. This was our first stop in the Pacific. The island and its neighbor, San Bartoleme, have no human inhabitants.
  • 07:12—Landscape of San Bartoleme and San Salvador showing jumble of cinder and ash and sparse, stunted vegetation.
  • 07:47—SKOAL at anchor in Sullivan’s Bay.
  • 07:53—Seal (this required stealthy creeping and wading on my part, but I think the animal knew of my presence all the time and was playing with me.)
  • 08:16—Sea iguana, indigenous to the Galapagos—Darwin came here in the ship Beagle to gather data for his “Origin of Species.”
  • 08:35—Bird. Heron.
  • 09:17—Red crabs on rocks.
  • 09:45—John Shakely chasing crabs. (We eventually caught enough to make a meal—they had not much taste.)
  • 10:05—Porpoises.
  • 10:19—After four days at Sullivan’s Bay we headed south for Academy Bay, Santa Cruz. On arriba trail to farms, Santa Cruz. Agriculture is possible in the highlands (arriba) of some of the islands where the “garua” (drizzle) provides sufficient moisture. Many types of common and tropical vegetables are grown with some coffee and potatoes for export to Ecuador.
  • 10:32—Schoolhouse, arriba, Santa Cruz. Class was stopped while the teachers—husband and wife—made us feel at home.
  • 10:45—Birds. Pelican Bay, Santa Cruz. This is separated from the settlement at Academy Bay and so lots of wildlife gathers here.
  • 11:20—Pelican, surf on rocks, landscape, iguana—all at Pelican Bay.
  • 11:48—Goats, Academy Bay, Santa Cruz. These have been domesticated from the wild goats of the island—goats were originally left on these islands by pirates, whalers, etc.
  • 11:55—Hawk, Barrington Island. (From Santa Cruz we sailed east and anchored overnight at this uninhabited island.)
  • 12:05—Sea-lions, Barrington Island. Hundreds of these are seen in the islands, and occasionally penguins are found. The cold waters of the Humboldt Current sweeping up from the Antarctic make these equatorial islands unexpectedly cold.
  • 13:51—SKOAL anchored at Post Office Bay, Floreana Island and John Shakely coming ashore to mail a card. (The Bay got its name from the practice of old-time whalers who, on outbound voyages left letters here to be picked up by home-bound vessels. The practice is perpetuated by yachtsmen.)
  • 14:46—Nailing “SKOAL” sign to mailbox post. This is the custom of all visiting yachtsmen.
  • 14:53—Landscape of Floreana on way to Black Beach.
  • 15:10—Guide who directed us to the Wittmer farm, arriba.

Galapagos to Marquesas, Tuamotus, Tahiti, Pago Pago, Auckland, Sydney

  • 15:27—SKOAL at sea under fore-and-aft rig. We sailed generally southwest on this rig for about ten days, then changed to twin-jib rig.
  • 15:59—SKOAL at sea under twin-jib rig. Showing the sheet from bom to tiller arrangement which provided a form of self-steering so that we had to stand no watches, and could both sleep each night. This rig is usable only when sailing before the wind.
  • 16:46—John Shakely firing shot-gun in celebration of Independence Day.
  • 16:55—Dolphins swimming alongside SKOAL and dolphin I speared which Pablo cleaned and cooked. The meat is very good. We were followed by dolphins—at least one of them the same one—for almost three weeks while we were on the twin-jib. The number varied from two or three to several dozen. The dolphins frequently shot ahead of SKOAL to chase flying fish.
  • 17:36—Southern coast of Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas, and approaching Taiohae Bay, Nuku Hiva. We anchored in Taiohae Bay on the 38th day after leaving Black Beach, Floreana, Galapagos.
  • 17:58—Taiohae Bay. This is a large and beautiful bay protected on all sides except its opening to the south. The village of Taiohae is situated at the head of the bay and the official residence of the French administrator of the island is here.
  • 18:06—Taiohae Bay seen from near the pass on the trail to Taipi Vaii, the valley to the east of Taiohae.
  • 18:21—Wild horse on the trail to Taipi Vaii. In addition to wild horses there are wild cattle, goats and chickens on these islands.
  • 18:38—Landscape showing water-falls in valley of Taipi Vaii. This is the valley of “Typee” made famous by Melville in his book. These islands rise abruptly from sea-level to as high as 3,000 feet and rainfall is quite adequate so there are numerous impressive cascades and falls.
  • 18:48—Pablo and guide at site of the Tikis. These ancient stone gods are arranged in a rough circular pattern at the old location of religious ceremonies of the cannibals who lived in this valley. The site, several kilometers from the village, is now overgrown and the tikis are weathering away to total obscurity.
  • 19:08—Guide on horse and horses on way back to Taiohae. The saddles are carved from wood and often the horses are quite obstinate so I generally preferred to walk.
  • 19:33—Waterfall again, seen from valley floor.
  • 19:39—Taiohae Bay.
  • 20:10—Taiohae Bay, kids with outrigger canoe.
  • 20:41—Guide who took us to waterfall in Hakaui Valley. Here he is roasting the fresh-water shrimp which he caught in the stream, using a loop he made from a near-by leaf, and crushed coconut meat sprinkled on the water for bait.
  • 20:45—Hula-Hula, the traditional dance of the South Pacific, performed by the people of Taiohae as part of the Bastille Day observance. The “grass” skirt, or moré, is actually made from the inner bark of a tree that grows in the higher lands. The hula in its true form always tells a story—some incident from history or an anecdote. The gestures are stylized movements representing some everyday action such as paddling a dugout, grinding corn, etc. The same gesture may be used in different dances. The chief, in the green moré, is the dance director. In many of the dances a litany is included in which the chief leads, with a responsive chant by the dancers.
  • 26:23—SKOAL on the beach at Haveii Bay, Ua Huka. We had departed Taiohae after a two-week stay and headed south for other islands in the Marquesas, but a repair on the main-mast rigging necessitated putting into this bay. The parting of first one anchor cable and then the second resulted in SKOAL being swept onto the rocky beach where she was so battered and broken that repairs were not practical. Virtually all the able-bodied men of the island came to help in the salvage attempt.
  • 27:02—The hill on the north side of the bay is a nesting place for thousands of birds—this provided a ready supply of eggs (very similar to chicken eggs, but smaller) which, with the fish and lobsters caught by the islanders furnished ample food for us all. (I should mention the several hundred tins of food we had salvaged, many of them with the labels soaked off.)
  • 27:13—Finally, with the aid of eight 55-gallen drums, lashed to SKOAL for buoyancy, and M. Bazin’s government boat AORAI acting as a tug-boat, SKOAL—or her remains—was refloated and towed about a mile to Vai Paii, the next bay, where it was thought repairs might be effected. Examination, however, showed repairs not feasible. Whatever was usable was to be auctioned off and the returns to be put into a community fund. We had previously given the wreck to the islanders as community property. (Sometime later I received a letter from Bob MacKittrick informing me that the engine, new in Panama, had been put to use in the Catholic missionary’s boat, and the masts, sails, salvageable planking, etc. had been converted into a fishing boat for use by the people of Vaipaee. I guess you could say SKOAL lived on—body and soul.)
  • 27:28—After a six-week stay in Taiohae as guests of the Bazin’s, Pablo and I left to Tahiti as passengers aboard the VAITERE, a copra schooner that runs from Tahiti through the Tuamotus to the Marquesas and returns.
  • 27:47—Here the VAITERE is shown hoisting a sail as she leaves Taiohae Bay. She has sufficient diesel power to run without the aid of sail when necessary.
  • 28:12—Helmsman.
  • 28:26—Islanders with sacks of copra to be shipped to Tahiti.
  • 28:35—Takaroa, Tuamotus and view across the lagoon. Dozens of these coral atolls in the Tuamotus stretching far to the southeast. Only a few have a permanent population; many have a migrant populous which moves from island to island as the peral diving gets bad. In addition to copra is a major product of the Tuamotus is peral shell.
  • 28:40—Street scene, Takaroa. These islands average about seven feet above sea level, so damage and loss of life is very high when a hurricane strikes.
  • 29:09—Fish and spear-fishermen in lagoon at Takaroa.
  • 29:14—Children throwing stones—playfully, of course—at the fishermen, Takaroa.
  • 29:25—Goats on the VAITERE. These goats had the run of the place and not infrequently were chased by the cook when they ate the bananas. By the time we got to Papeete most of them had been eaten by crew and passengers.
  • 29:41—VAITERE passengers. The number of passengers fluctuated greatly as we came into the different islands. There are just four berths on the VAITERE so much of us slept on kapok mattresses on the cabin top. This was quite comfortable and, in fact, much cooler than sleeping below.
  • 29:54—Fishermen in lagoon at Papeete, Tahiti as we entered the harbor aboard the VAITERE.
  • 29:59—View of Papeete water-front from the VAITERE.
  • 30:22—Launch meeting the plane and bringing the governor of French Oceania ashore.
  • 30:38—Beach at Parae with Michele, my French teacher.
  • 30:56—Street scene, Papeete and boats tied up along quay.
  • 31:32—Hei (lei) sellers going down to meet incoming ship. When a ship comes in the whole town goes down to meet it.
  • 31:39—Road leading out of Papeete.
  • 31:52—Looking across lagoon of Papeete.
  • 31:58—SS SONOMA, the freighter on which I left Tahiti.
  • 32:10—Pago Pago Bay, Samoa, our first stop after leaving Tahiti.
  • 32:22—Unloading SONOMA, Pago Pago.
  • 32:37—School kids, street scene, Pago Pago.
  • 32:55—William Willis’ balsa raft on which he drifted and sailed from Peru. He made the voyage single-handed and traveled a thousand miles further than Kon Tiki.
  • 33:08—Auckland, New Zealand harbor. I stayed here only about six hours.
  • 33:17—Leaving Auckland aboard the MONOWAI, a passenger ship, headed for Sydney.
  • 33:45—Approaching Sydney, Australia and views of the city and harbor.
  • 34:24—Ferry boat on the Hawkesbury River north of Sydney.
  • 34:47—Motorboat and water-skiers on the Hawkesbury. (I was in Australia for about two weeks until the middle of December. I couldn’t travel much because I had to stay in Sydney ready to leave on very short notice for the job in the Philippines.)

‘Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century’

Beth Teitell reports on the stresses that result from material abundance:

Tell me about it. That sums up Boston parents’ reaction to new research by UCLA-affiliated social scientists concluding that American families are overwhelmed by clutter, too busy to go in their own backyards, rarely eat dinner together even though they claim family meals as a goal, and can’t park their cars in the garage because they’re crammed with non-vehicular stuff.

The team of anthropologists and archeologists spent four years studying 32 middle-class Los Angeles families in their natural habitat — their toy-littered homes — and came to conclusions so grim that the lead researcher used the word “disheartening” to describe the situation we have gotten ourselves

At first glance, the just-published, 171-page “Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century” looks like a coffee table book. But it contains very real-life photos of pantries, offices, and backyards, and details a generally Zen-free existence. Architectural Digest or Real Simple this is not. …

Arnold said she was bothered most by the lack of time study subjects spent enjoying the outdoors.

“Something like 50 of the 64 parents in our study never stepped outside in the course of about a week,” she said. “When they gave us tours of their house they’d say, ‘Here’s the backyard, I don’t have time to go there.’ They were working a lot at home. Leisure time was spent in front of the TV or at the computer.”

I think we have a culture of material but not psychological or spiritual abundance. I’ve heard it pointed out that we really can’t describe ourselves as “materialists,” because a true materialist would be someone with love and concern for all aspects of the material in his or her life. We don’t seem to value material things, in fact. We accumulate, we overspend, we live in empty-ish homes, and we feel this terrible remorse without escaping into a life of liberty and lightness that minimalist and truly materialist thinking might afford us.

They’re going to happen

John Roberts, Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, made headlines a few weeks ago for his commencement speech at his son’s New Hampshire boarding school. I’ve shared Antonin Scalia’s commencement remarks in the past, and some of Roberts’s remarks are worth sharing too:

Now the commencement speakers will typically also wish you good luck and extend good wishes to you. I will not do that, and I’ll tell you why. From time to time in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice. I hope that you will suffer betrayal because that will teach you the importance of loyalty. Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time so that you don’t take friends for granted. I wish you bad luck, again, from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life and understand that your success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either. And when you lose, as you will from time to time, I hope every now and then, your opponent will gloat over your failure. It is a way for you to understand the importance of sportsmanship. I hope you’ll be ignored so you know the importance of listening to others, and I hope you will have just enough pain to learn compassion. Whether I wish these things or not, they’re going to happen. And whether you benefit from them or not will depend upon your ability to see the message in your misfortunes.

Ancestry/genetic history

I first read about 23andMe years ago when it was fighting the FDA for government regulatory approval to exist. I’ve followed it on and off for years, and in early June decided to spend the ~$100 to get my ancestry results.

Thanks to family members who had already spent years accumulating genealogical records, I had a pretty good sense already what the 23andMe results would indicate, but it was fun nonetheless getting confirmation by way of genetics rather than purely genealogical information. Here’s the summary:


I found the Ancestry Timeline particularly impressive/interesting, because it matches very closely what we know from our family genealogical records:


I paid for only the Ancestry service, and opted out of the Health reports which are another ~$100. I might pay to unlock that data at some point (which is possible in my account now that I’ve already sent the saliva sample), but both the extra cost and the vague/potentially alarming nature of the information that might be there isn’t compelling for me at the moment. Knowing that I’m potentially predisposed toward certain disease might change my behavior in ways that don’t really make sense, and seem likely to ratchet up existential dread more than help me in any practical way.

When I sent off the saliva sample I figured it would take roughly the six weeks or so that was advertised, but was surprised to find a notice in my inbox yesterday that these results had arrived in just under four weeks.

Family processions

I excerpted the above from the Lannan Foundation’s November 10, 1999 Wendell Berry reading:

Wendell Berry is a poet, essayist, and novelist, who has been called the “prophet of rural America.” Mr. Berry, who pursues what he calls “an ethic and way of life based upon devotion to a place and devotion to a land,” lives and works on his farm in Port Royal, Kentucky. He has published more than 30 books, including The Wheel, Sabbaths, and Openings (poetry); The Wild Birds, Watch with Me, and Remembering (fiction); and Another Turn of the Crank, What Are People For?, and The Unsettling of America (nonfiction). He received a Lannan Literary Award for Nonfiction in 1989.


Newt Gingrich wrote almost ten years ago:

Adolescence was invented in the 19th century to enable middle-class families to keep their children out of sweatshops. But it has degenerated into a process of enforced boredom and age segregation that has produced one of the most destructive social arrangements in human history: consigning 13-year-old males to learning from 15-year-old males. …

The fact is, most young people want to be challenged and given real responsibility. They want to be treated like young men and women, not old children. So consider this simple proposal: High school students who can graduate a year early get the 12th year’s cost of schooling as an automatic scholarship to any college or technical school they want to attend. If they graduate two years early, they get two years of scholarships. At no added cost to taxpayers, we would give students an incentive to study as hard as they can and maximize the speed at which they learn.

Once we decide to engage young people in real life, doing real work, earning real money, and thereby acquiring real responsibility, we can transform being young in America. And our nation will become more competitive in the process.

Remove Gingrich’s politics and his tendency to be provocative for its own sake, and you’re still left with a worthwhile thought. Some people talk about the problem of “extended adolescence,” but why not help (emotionally, socially, and educationally well adjusted) kids avoid adolescence altogether? We have one life.