Frederick P. Kaffenberger III's Blog

February 29, 2016

"The sinner belongs to Christianity. A sinner can make the best prayer […] The sinner is an integral portion, an integral part of the Christian mechanism. The sinner lies at the heart of Christianity.
[….]
The sinner, together with the saint, enters into the system, is of the system of Christianity. 
He who does not enter the system, who does not hold out a hand, he it is who is not a Christian. It is he who has no competence whatever in matters of Christianity. It is he who is a stranger. The sinner holds out a hand to the saint, gives a hand to the saint, since the saint gives a hand to the sinner. And all together, one by means of the other, one pulling up the other, they ascend to Jesus, they form a chain which ascends to Jesus, a chain of fingers which cannot be unlinked. He who is not a Christian is he who does not hold out a hand. It matters little what next he does with this hand. When a man can accomplish the loftiest action in the world without being steeped in grace, this man is a Stoic, he is not a Christian. When a man can commit the lowest action in the world precisely without committing a sin [Himmler, for example, boasted of "remaining decent"], this man is not a Christian. A Christian is not defined by a low water mark, but by communion. 
[…Christianity] is a city. A bad citizen belongs to the city. A good stranger does not." 
(Basic Verities, Charles Péguy, Rendered into English by Ann and Julian Green, p 179-183. New York: Pantheon Books, 1943). 
Congratulations to everyone involved with Spotlight for winning Best Picture at the Oscars. I would like to watch it, but I see few movies at the theaters these days. I did catch an episode of Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting: Glare of the spotlight. This hour-long radio program has three sections on sexual abuse in the Catholic Church: 1. the original story in The Boston Globe; 2. the cover up of abuse in the Twin Cities of Minnesota; and 3. the problem of international relocation of priests who have been credibly accused. I received confirmation in the Catholic Church by a pastor who was guilty, but (fortunately) I switched to public schools after 4th grade because of the failure of my teachers to give me an education. I had been ostracized at school and my dad witnessed a lay teacher telling my classmates to punch me in the arm on the way out of class. I also grew up across the street from a teenager who was angry and menacing as a result of his abuse at the hands of priests. May all those involved find the face of mercy in the end.
When the abuse scandal first broke, I realized that abuse in the Church was only the tip of the iceberg of abuse in society. In the horizon of family and friends, I have known abusive atheists, unbelievers, family members, teachers, and others who abused trust. I am glad that the Boy Scouts and the Catholic Church now train lay people to identify and prevent child sexual abuse. And I am glad to have participated in a prayer service of reparation at my childhood parish. I have no final statement on this because I feel it is better to keep open a wound than to seal up an infection prematurely.*It is in the context of this open wound, that I would like to mention a couple of books that I've read recently. The first novel, A Land Without Sin by Paula Huston, is a great adventure into the jungles of southern Mexico, into the role of sacrifice in religions, and into the painful human history of sin and brutality. It's a deeply intimate descent into the darkness of family secrets and the sinfulness that we magnify through self-justification and evasion. This book was also my most significant introduction to the dynamics of the thought of René Girard. I had come across Girard in the theology of Balthasar, and he has a certain currency among his populizers. I see a kind of a glib talk of scapegoating and a way of making his ideas serve various apologetic purposes. Reading A Land Without Sin was the first time that I have found myself implicated by the dynamics of the scapegoat and not justified. As a result, I've ordered myself an interlibrary loan of Girard's I See Satan Fall Like Lightning
The second book, a novella by John Scalzi, is called The God Engines. Like Wolfe's A Sorcerer's House, this book has some pretty divided reactions. A number of readers consider it fantasy because it has a scientistic mechanism for religious belief (not unlike Gaiman's American Gods, and like AG also classified as horror). Some also feel the book is making some polemical point about religion, although from reading the reviews I am not sure what parties are offended (evangelicals, Catholics, atheists?). The conceit of the story is a world where spaceships are powered by captive gods, also called 'The Defiled," who are literally whipped into obedience. Suffice it to say that when I read this book, I felt a strong examination of conscience in my own religiosity, and I feel that it couldn't have been written if Scalzi were not doing likewise. Here's a photo of a part that reminds me of the need for a New Evangelization in Christianity: 
*I began this post with a quote from Péguy. At its heart, Christianity is not a religion of self justification, of escape from the evil of life, of a grand system for achieving virtue and for preventing sin, but a relationship with Jesus Christ who embraces my nothing, my evil, my sin. And in this embrace, he draws us all to the perfection of life eternal. 
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Published on February 29, 2016 11:57 • 25 views

February 23, 2016

The Sorcerer's House by Gene Wolfe,
dedicated to Neil Gaiman, 2010. Stardust by Neil Gaiman, dedicated to
Gene & Rosemary Wolfe, 1999.




















*

My first book by Gaiman was American Gods. A while back, I watched Stardust on Netflix and noticed that the film was based on this novel by Gaiman. I was a bit intrigued by the story because the central event is remarkably Christian. A being in heaven (a star) descends to earth to live among people. As a "fairy tale for adults", the book has plenty of sex and violence. At the heart of the book, is something like a richly imaginative engagement with and critique of the notion of the Incarnation. As a star in heaven, Yvaine looked upon the struggles and sorrows of the world with sympathy until human lust for power knocks her to earth. She lands on the other side of the wall in the human town of Wall, England. She can only live on the fairy side of the wall, for if she had fallen on the other side, she would have burned up.

I just read The Sorcerer's House by Gene Wolfe. It's my first book by Wolfe, and I picked it up almost at random from the handful of books by Wolfe at my library. I was pleasantly to see that it was dedicated to Neil Gaiman. This novel is also a kind of fairy tale for adults, and it also has no shortage of sex and violence (moralists can go hang!). Unlike Stardust, there is no figure of Incarnation, and the main character, Bax, is no Christian either, but a genial, amoral guy who yet has a yearning for something more: expressed in his doctorates in Ancient History and 19th Century Literature and his memory of childhood, but also expressed in treasure map cons. I should mention, by the way, that the hermeneutics of The Sorcerer's House are controversial: many believe that the whole fantastic story could be a fabrication of Bax; others take the supernatural elements as given. In short, the book comes down to the classic trilemma of Christian apologetics: Bax is either lying, crazy, or (mostly) telling the truth. For me, the greatness of the story is not in any particularly religious idea, but in the spaciousness of its humanity. It's a house, a universe, that expands to accommodate those who dwell there, and it's a dramatic, intense, and vertiginous Reality which cannot be diminished to profit and avarice.
*Babylon Candles and the Triannulus with Longlight

A sidenote about magical devices.

In Stardust, Babylon candles are candles that take you where you want to go, burning up as they do so.

In The Sorcerer's House, a triannulus is a device with 3 rings (with Bax writing letters on lined loose leaf paper, it's almost a PUN!). It's flat, and the 3 rings have images of items to be desired. You line up  symbols on the three rings to specify what it is you want. Then you light a candle called a longlight, being careful to extinguish it when you get what you want. I found this device to be quite cool. By aligning the glyphs, the user apparently binds the natural world with symbols, but this is tied to the desire of the user. 'Longlight' is a word coined by Wolfe in the novel, and it would seem to be an archaic term for candle, but Old English already had the words 'candle' and 'light'. In my estimation, 'longlight' means longing-light, an objective correlative for the desire of the user. What's fascinating about the longlight is that to get what you want, the desire has to be co-terminal with the item wanted. If it is extinguished before or burns long after the item, then the numen (divinity, power) of the user grows.  With the limitations of the device, I cannot imagine it would be a serious tool for a sorcerer, but instead a device for apprentices to learn about the power of desire, especially when it does not coincide with discrete objects.
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Published on February 23, 2016 12:04 • 13 views

February 22, 2016

I'm Fred Kaffenberger III. Welcome! Mom asked me to say a few words about dad, Fred Kaffenberger Jr.

     When I was perhaps 9 or 10 I recognized Dad's goodness as a sign of the closeness of Christ to me, the tangible sign of God's nearness. A few weeks ago, I asked mom how she became Christian. She answered that she had known that Jesus loved her all of her life, but that when she met Dad, she encountered Christ. He took us on road trips every summer: camping, watching shooting stars, visiting extended family, going to Christian Family Movement conventions. As a father, he never treated the kids the same but always worked to provide what each one needed, always picking us up or dropping us off from events, even at great inconvenience to himself (a giving that has continued long past our childhoods and including the grandchildren). He lived the corporal and spiritual works of mercy: from counseling inmates and winterizing homes to teaching students and praying for the living and the dead.

      One of the great lessons Dad taught us was how to say goodbye. When I cried at losing a helium balloon as a child, he taught me to say "bye, bye balloon," a lesson he repeated through the years. When I lost my grandfather, Fred Kaffenberger Sr, Dad took me to the grave and told me to say goodbye. It was a difficult lesson, but Dad knew from personal experience that the glory of this world is passing.

     Yes, the glory of this world is passing, but a greater glory reaches His hand out to us even now. Msgr. Luigi Giussani said to a dear friend of his who had lost his father: "The more the symbols that have been taken away are big, the more the reality comes close, intrusively. Look at its face, the Reality, Him: Lord Jesus. Oh, only He exists! Look at Him in His face as you've never looked before; His gaze has never been so demanding before; so fixed, so scrutinizing."

     In this moment, I feel that Dad's presence teaching me again: To say goodbye to the man who taught me so much, but to embrace in a more profound way the Infinite Mystery, "that Father, from whom every fatherhood in heaven and on earth is named."
   
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Published on February 22, 2016 13:24 • 9 views
By Brian Burnes
The Kansas City Star
Kansas City, Missouri
December 19, 2015

Warm weather drew a much larger crowd than usual to take part in the annual Wreaths Across America event Saturday at Arlington National Cemetery, where more than 241,000 wreaths were placed at the graves of the fallen. Even with high threat level, wreath-laying events still a go

When Wreaths Across America founder Morrill Worcester turned on the radio Friday morning, he heard news that the U.S. terrorist threat levels were the highest they've been since 9/11. "How ironic," he said after arriving at the Pentagon to lay 184 wreaths in honor of those who died at the Arlington site 14 years ago. Community joins in wreath-laying ceremony

Kansas City has lost a patriot.

Fred Kaffenberger Jr., 80, a member of the Sons of the American Revolution, while wearing the colonial attire and tri-corner hat of society members, died last week in Leavenworth National Cemetery while laying Christmas wreaths at the graves of veterans.

The details of Kaffenberger's death, which have since gone viral, strike friends and family members as fitting.

"He went exactly the way he would have chosen to go," said daughter Amber DiGiovanni.

The Sons of the American Revolution is a "lineage" society whose members have traced their family trees back to an ancestor who "supported the cause of American independence" during the Revolutionary War.


A video screen grab shows Fred Kaffenberger Jr., dressed in Colonial-era garb. Kaffenberger died Dec. 12, 2015, while taking part in a Wreaths Across America event at Leavenworth National Cemetery, Kansas, while laying Christmas wreaths at the graves of veterans.
As a member, Kaffenberger personified patriotism for the benefit of any group that asked him to appear. He participated in full uniform in parades and naturalization ceremonies and often gave programs on American flag history.

"When he walked into a room wearing that uniform, he looked like George Washington," DiGiovanni said.

He had always been patriotic. As a fourth-grader in Lebanon, Mo., Kaffenberger won an American Legion poetry contest for a poem written for Poppy Day, an annual remembrance of veterans.

"There goes a soldier walking down the street, but there are many many soldiers without any feet, so buy a poppy on Poppy Day and help a soldier on his way," the poem read in part.

"That is indicative of an old soul at a very young age," DiGiovanni said.

He went on to a life of serving others. Despite later developing vision problems, Kaffenberger, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, subscribed to at least eight magazines just so he could donate them to veterans programs.

"He didn't have time to read them anyway," said Wanda Kaffenberger, his widow.

He was busy, she said, donating blood or washing dishes during Lent at the Knights of Columbus fish fries. Neighbors knew him for his almost daily walk from the family's Waldo home to early Mass at St. Elizabeth Catholic Church.

As a Kansas City Public Schools history and civics teacher for 33 years, Kaffenberger exhibited fierce devotion to his work, sometimes to the dismay of family members.

"Every time I would have a child on a school day, which seemed to happen a lot with me, he would only be at the hospital for a little while," said Wanda Kaffenberger. "And then he would say, 'I'm going back to school; if I can find a reason to skip class, my students will find a reason to skip,' and out he would go.

"I would be mad, but if he wasn't doing anything at the hospital he was not going to stay. He was so wonderfully unusual."

So it seemed fitting, family members said, that Kaffenberger died Dec. 12 while distributing Christmas wreaths for Wreaths Across America, a holiday program honoring veterans, at the national cemetery in Leavenworth.

Each volunteer received one wreath he could lay on the grave of his choosing.

When the wreath placing was almost complete, Kaffenberger took two wreaths, one for the grave of a nonrelated veteran and the other for the grave of John DiGiovanni, his daughter Amber's late husband. His ashes had been interred there for four years.

"When he didn't come back, the other gentlemen went looking for him," his daughter said.

"One of the those who found Pop later picked up the fallen wreath and placed it on John's grave for him."

The way her father died while in service to others has been inspirational, said daughter Shannon Kaffenberger.

"He somehow found a way to raise us up, to elevate us, even in his passing," she said.

Doctors said Kaffenberger died of natural causes.

"It was a blessing," Wanda Kaffenberger said.

"Jesus said, 'Fred, supper's ready.' Had he not died so beautifully it would be hard, but every step he ever had taken had been toward the kingdom of God. He had loved his neighbor as himself."

There even was some room for levity at the hospital where doctors declared him dead, she added.

"His son Fred said, 'It's just like Dad to drop dead in the middle of the cemetery and cut out the middleman.' We laughed and cried, and we all were of one spirit.

"When we left that hospital room, it was like water pouring out of a cup."

via: Stars & Stripes
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Published on February 22, 2016 10:32 • 8 views

August 23, 2014

Even in a Nation, Christopher Leitch 2005.
Chalk on vintage map mounted on cloth.  Sprint Nextel Art CollectionI work as a data analyst, extracting data from systems and using it to support decision making. When I interviewed for my current position, and after we had discussed the basics of background and position, my manager looked down at my resume and then at me and asked, "An English major?!" I laughed and confessed that I love to read and that's why I majored in English. At a previous interview, the decision maker was provoked in a similar way, but he told me that his brother-in-law was also an English major, and is currently the VP of a major hotel chain. My response to him was that the rise of social media has made verbal communication skills an essential skill in today's business world.

A while back, a dear friend told me that he saw a certain dynamic tension in my life between poetry and technology. He felt that my love of poetry and my sense for the whole clashed in an interesting way with my work in the field of technology. For me, however, text and technology have always been together in my life like twins. As a child, I immersed myself in The Book of Knowledge encyclopedia, where articles of industry and science were interlaced with Victorian poetry and folk tales. My formative high school years were spent skipping boring classes and hanging out in the computer lab where I played the text adventure Zork on the school district mainframe, or wrote programs in Basic to manipulate text strings: count syllables in words, or extract first and last name from a full name.

In college, I was especially fascinated by a short story by Ernest J. Gaines, "Just Like a Tree." The story uses multiple narrators, similar to Faulkner's  novel As I Lay Dying, but in a compact, elegant, and even symmetrical way. Before graphic organizers were commonplace, I diagrammed the various roles in the story: young boy, adult woman, adult man, old woman. I found that the story neatly divides into two sections, like a two act play. The first begins with a young boy and ends with a young boy; the second begins with an old woman and ends with an old woman. I also found it fascinating that the main characters in the story never narrate but are only described by others: Emmanuel and Aunt Fe.

And now I read databases in addition to poems and novels (adding pivot tables and vlookups to complement grammar and rhetoric). A database is like a massive novel by Faulkner or Thomas Mann, easy to get lost in, but also a place where one can notice patterns and themes, and discover the fascinating connections and unexpected relationships. By naming the dynamic tensions, my friend was helping me become aware that I am living at one end of the tension by working in technology, and that eventually I will need to do justice to poetry in my life. Technology and text, text and technology have ever been interwoven in my life, so when that time comes, I expect it would mean that the independent clause and the subordinate clause will exchange places. The dominant and secondary themes will trade off.
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Published on August 23, 2014 11:47 • 5 views
Even in a Nation, Christopher Leitch 2005.
Chalk on vintage map mounted on cloth.  Sprint Nextel Art CollectionI work as a data analyst, extracting data from systems and using it to support decision making. When I interviewed for my current position, and after we had discussed the basics of background and position, my manager looked down at my resume and then at me and asked, "An English major?!" I laughed and confessed that I love to read and that's why I majored in English. At a previous interview, the decision maker was provoked in a similar way, but he told me that his brother-in-law was also an English major, and is currently the VP of a major hotel chain. My response to him was that the rise of social media has made verbal communication skills an essential skill in today's business world.

A while back, a dear friend told me that he saw a certain dynamic tension in my life between poetry and technology. He felt that my love of poetry and my sense for the whole clashed in an interesting way with my work in the field of technology. For me, however, text and technology have always been together in my life like twins. As a child, I immersed myself in The Book of Knowledge encyclopedia, where articles of industry and science were interlaced with Victorian poetry and folk tales. My formative high school years were spent skipping boring classes and hanging out in the computer lab where I played the text adventure Zork on the school district mainframe, or wrote programs in Basic to manipulate text strings: count syllables in words, or extract first and last name from a full name.

In college, I was especially fascinated by a short story by Ernest J. Gaines, "Just Like a Tree." The story uses multiple narrators, similar to Faulkner's  novel As I Lay Dying, but in a compact, elegant, and even symmetrical way. Before graphic organizers were commonplace, I diagrammed the various roles in the story: young boy, adult woman, adult man, old woman. I found that the story neatly divides into two sections, like a two act play. The first begins with a young boy and ends with a young boy; the second begins with an old woman and ends with an old woman. I also found it fascinating that the main characters in the story never narrate but are only described by others: Emmanuel and Aunt Fe.

And now I read databases in addition to poems and novels (adding pivot tables and vlookups to complement grammar and rhetoric). A database is like a massive novel by Faulkner or Thomas Mann, easy to get lost in, but also a place where one can notice patterns and themes, and discover the fascinating connections and unexpected relationships. By naming the dynamic tensions, my friend was helping me become aware that I am living at one end of the tension by working in technology, and that eventually I will need to do justice to poetry in my life. Technology and text, text and technology have ever been interwoven in my life, so when that time comes, I expect it would mean that the independent clause and the subordinate clause will exchange places. The dominant and secondary themes will trade off.
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Published on August 23, 2014 11:47 • 35 views

June 24, 2014

Black Mesa Poems, Auto-awesome by Google PlusI got this book when Baca read at Rockhurst University around 1991. These poems are conversational, descriptive, and tell of life with neighbors and friends. The tensions are vivid: a neighbor who blasts him with a shotgun for good reason; a drunk Indian arguing with the cinematic myth of the Old West; a friend who tired of struggling takes a job in a weapons lab and becomes an acquaintance. As a reader, I felt challenged to take sides: the memory of his father screwed by the government, the voices of immigrants fleeing oppression. Where do I stand? Do I embrace the poverty of existence, or do I sacrifice friendship to insulate myself from my needs? 
Many lines are consonant heavy, which tends to be my preference also, even if it makes reading them aloud difficult at times. The other thing I note is an avoidance of definite and indefinite articles, which I could go either way on. I appreciate the dense feel which this achieves, but I also feel that articles can make the lines flow better. 
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Published on June 24, 2014 19:05 • 5 views
Black Mesa Poems, Auto-awesome by Google PlusI got this book when Baca read at Rockhurst University around 1991. These poems are conversational, descriptive, and tell of life with neighbors and friends. The tensions are vivid: a neighbor who blasts him with a shotgun for good reason; a drunk Indian arguing with the cinematic myth of the Old West; a friend who tired of struggling takes a job in a weapons lab and becomes an acquaintance. As a reader, I felt challenged to take sides: the memory of his father screwed by the government, the voices of immigrants fleeing oppression. Where do I stand? Do I embrace the poverty of existence, or do I sacrifice friendship to insulate myself from my needs? 
Many lines are consonant heavy, which tends to be my preference also, even if it makes reading them aloud difficult at times. The other thing I note is an avoidance of definite and indefinite articles, which I could go either way on. I appreciate the dense feel which this achieves, but I also feel that articles can make the lines flow better. 
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Published on June 24, 2014 19:05 • 29 views

June 22, 2014


"Let decisions go!
Let them blow
like school children's papers
against the fence,
rattling in the afternoon wind.Jimmy Santiago Baca
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Published on June 22, 2014 12:25 • 19 views

"Let decisions go!
Let them blow
like school children's papers
against the fence,
rattling in the afternoon wind.Jimmy Santiago Baca
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Published on June 22, 2014 12:25 • 18 views