Advanced review for our novel, Brother Cobweb (Catherine Swan Reimer Ed.D., Counseling Psychologist, PhD)

“Terrorists, usually thought of as enemies of a country, can also be found within families who have access to terrorize a helpless child daily. A child is defenseless and depends on family members for their very survival for emotional, physical, and spiritual needs in their human development. Sometimes it takes a lifetime to integrate these abuses that cause post-traumatic shock, similar to what veterans suffer. Alfred Eaker describes how abuses caused by one of his primary caregivers, learns to survive. In his book Brother Cobweb, Eaker describes Calvin’s daily trauma and how he chooses creative means to escape the horrendous abuse on a young psyche. The book is full of surprises, intrigue, and courage of a young boy who despite odds of becoming like his abusers ascends above cruelty and allows his artistic gifts to become the saving grace that touches the integrity within to lead the way to his wholeness and inner growth. His book is a gift to not only the reader but to the one who shares his beautiful soul evolving in the light.”
— Catherine Swan Reimer Ed.D., Counseling Psychologist, PhD

*Chapter 8 illustation Todd M. Coe

Novena News’ advance review for our novel, Brother Cobweb

I first encountered Alfred Eaker’s work through his contemporary Catholic paintings.  They undoubtedly set my expectations up for some sort of direct, colorful explosiveness in his writing from his debut novel, Brother Cobweb; a novel that he has worked on for over twenty-five years. Instead, I was blown away by a naked prose, devoid of superfluous ornamentation, that submerges the reader into the darkest of themes. Make no mistake, though; as a gifted artist, Eaker knows how to use boldness and tone to weave a claustrophobic, violent reality that will trap you in a cast almost exclusively populated by increasingly sinister characters from a Midwestern Pentecostal church. He masterfully portrays the spiritual disintegration of evangelical abusers in a way that will lead you to offer them heartfelt absolution and forgiveness. Sublimely, Eaker takes you where he needs you to be. As the horrors intensify, a ripping epiphany begins to unfold against the canvas of the story: what doesn’t lead to breaking the cycle of violence will only perpetuate it. And here’s where the real talent of his artistry shines as Eaker draws a very personal spirituality of individual liberation and redemption through responsibility, which includes accountability of across the board religious abuses-from Mormonism to Pentecostalism and Catholicism.  He shows us how, even in the most horrendous physical and emotional situations, we can all tap into our inner self, and find within ourselves the means to stop spraying our poison onto others or punishing them for the pain we feel. His words contain such a direct and brutal message that it’s impossible to remain indifferent; you’ll feel the same raw energy and transforming power as a gaze from any of his painted portraits. Art at its best.

Novena News, Mada Jurado

Early Review for our novel, Brother Cobweb by Jason Pannone

Alfred Eaker’s story is a harrowing tale of violence, abuse, lies, and conflict — yet it ends in hope. There is redemption: in art, beauty, friendship, love, and God, where, in the midst of sin and the wreckage of life, the light of grace pours abundantly through the cracks and crevices. Eaker’s control of the language and emotional power carries the reader through to the place where the peace that surpasses all understanding dwells. Highly recommended.

Jason Pannone, Reference & Cultural Assets Manager, East Hartford Public Library, art curator.

Early review for our novel “Brother Cobweb,” by Fr. Justin Belitz OFM

Artists have the uncanny ability to recognize the beauty in challenging and difficult life experiences. This is exactly what Alfred Eaker has done with this novel. Calvin is raised by a dysfunctional and abusive family.  His lone confidant is his grandfather, the only member of his family to understand and support him, and the one who passes on an appreciation of art and music. It is Calvin’s skill and understanding of the fine arts that gives him the strength to move into a stable and productive adult life.  

Interwoven into the story are psychological, theological, ethical, and religious dimensions that call organized religion as well as social and moral structures to accountability. These deeper aspects of the story will challenge readers to reflect on their own lives and to develop the empathy we all need to make our lives ever better and better.

This story has motivated me to review again the Mahler Symphonies!

Fr. Justin Belitz OFM

Early Review for the novel Brother Cobweb by author Cheryl Townsend

Opening with the ranting of a Pentecostal preacher into the mind of seven-year old Calvin Elkan, who in lieu of attention, creates art in a drawing pad as his derrière numbs atop a hard pew. A caricature of near monster features, Brother Cobweb is born, a minister of pseudo-satanic lunacy.

 

Growing up in a blue collar home with a younger, innocent brother, his over-worked, typical father, religiously crazed mother, and beacon of sanity and hilarity great-grandfather, Calvin is juxtaposed to creativity and suppression as the mother battles for his sinking soul against anything not in praise of God. Might I add that those battles were truly such. Abusive, spiteful and manipulative, mother Nancy was “Carrie’s” mother to the nth degree.

 

Needless to say, great-grandfather “Pop” (an atheistic Jew) is the comic relief in this drama. Calvin, still grappling with what to believe, is steadily leaning alee from the absurd. The ensuing disgust of his my-way-only mother is simmering like the fires of Hades. Bonding through music and creative imagination, Pop and Calvin sequester solitude in a bedroom off limits to the tyrannical mother.

 

When Pop passes, there is no safe place for Calvin. The abuse intensifies, as even his passive father defers to Nancy’s rages. But there is music. Sweet movements to quell. Savage beasts be damned!

Making it to art school, with scholarships, Calvin is instructed to study the predecessors of his preferred era. Professor Hillcrest nurtures. Calvin learns and flourishes. After a final attack from his mother, he moves out, barely surviving on meager wages. Life feels hopeless, he succumbs to despair.

 

Finally finding his niche with a group of artistic friends, Calvin gets into a gallery and begins a new phase of life. There is a woman whom he begins to hang out with and eventually relents to marrying her out of her bad home life. But it’s not for him. She is not the one.

 

Always there are men of religious beliefs that filter in, good or bad, to steer him. A life of subjugation renders him easily persuaded, but he does hold fast to his anti-stance against any holy rolling, tongues spewing ravers, welcoming the company of two Catholic priests.

 

Revelations surface, secrets expose themselves, attempts to rectify are extended. Calvin finds his soulmate, his place, and his release. As happy as such a life can be expected, there is a resolved ending. A hip hip hurray with even a resounding amen!

 

Snips of theological insight, musical and artistic education are an added bonus to an engaging read that should assuredly make you think hard on your own spiritual path. When and if Calvin creates his own church, I hope one comes nearby.

 

Cheryl A Townsend is a poet, photographer, and previous editor/publisher of Impetus/Implosion Press and owner of cat’s Impetuous Books. 

*Early unused cover art for the novel by Todd M Coe

Early Review for Brother Cobweb by artist/author Michelle Moore

Alfred Eaker’s Brother Cobweb is a unique coming-of-age story that explores religious fanaticism, childhood powerlessness, the reverberating effects of abuse, and other influences that shape the adults we ultimately become. A tale of resiliency, reconciliation, and redemption, with plenty of ass-kicking and comeuppance along the way, Brother Cobweb is a powerful account of self-discovery that will resonate with readers long after the final pages . . .

 

Michelle Moore, Artist and author of two poetry chapbooks: The Deepest Blue (Rager Media) and Longing for Lightness: Selected Poems of Antonia Pozzi Translated from the Italian (Poetry Miscellany Press). My poems, interviews, and reviews have appeared in many publications, including Commonweal, Heavy Bear, Apalachee Review, Black Dirt, Rattle, Penguin Review, and White Ink: Poems on Mothers and Motherhood published by Demeter Press.

*This is early, unused cover art for the novel by Todd M. Coe

Early Review for Brother Cobweb by Keith Banner (Author: “The Life I Lead,” “The Smallest People Alive”)

Alfred Eaker’s Brother Cobweb is a great example of a whole-hearted Bildungsroman – a novel that finds humor and a little horror in the coming-of-age story of Calvin, an artist living in an evangelical universe that constantly enthralls and disgusts him.  Eaker writes about Calvin’s journey with up-close panache, and a sort of Pop Art irony fused with newfound faith.  By the end of Brother Cobweb, you have insight not only into what it means to be free of a religion you don’t need, but also what it feels like to find an actual spirituality that can carry you through.

 

Keith Banner is the co-founder of Visionaries + Voices and Thunder-Sky, Inc., two non-profit arts organizations in Cincinnati.  He is a social worker for people with developmental disabilities full-time and has taught creative writing part-time at Miami University (Oxford, Ohio) for over 20 years.  He has published three works of fiction, The Life I Lead, a novel (Knopf, 1999), The Smallest People Alive (Carnegie Mellon Press, 2004), a book of short stories, and Next to Nothing (Lethe Press, 2014), his second collection of stories.  He has published numerous short stories and essays in magazines and journals, including American Folk Art Messenger, Other Voices, Washington Square, Kenyon Review, and Third Coast.  He received an O. Henry prize for his short story, “The Smallest People Alive,” and an Ohio Arts Council individual artist fellowship for fiction.  The Smallest People Alive was named one of the best books of the year by Publisher’s WeeklyNext to Nothingwas nominated for the Lambda Literary Award in 2015.

 

*This is Todd M. Coe’s early, unused cover art for the novel

Ealy review for the novel “Brother Cobweb” by Jonathan Montaldo (co-editor of “Soul-Searching: The Thomas Merton Story”)

Alfred Eaker’s Brother Cobweb is a portrait of Pentecostal crazies that could populate a short story by Flannery O’Conner. The book’s main character, Calvin, survives religious hypocrisy and a mother’s physical abuse with the help of a tolerant, benevolent great-grandfather, the real hero of this tale of crooked lines whom “God” fails to make straight. The novel is a roller-coaster of highs that drop forward and lower quicker than they ascended. No easy, happy endings to this well-told, fast-paced story about the role of “God” in freakish human experience. Eaker’s novel draws a complex picture of religion in which the Weird is graphically made flesh.

Jonathan Montaldo, co-editor with Morgan Atkinson, Soul-Searching: The Thomas Merton Story

(note: this is an early, unused cover art of the novel by Todd M. Coe)

 

BROTHER COBWEB, The Novel by Alfred Eaker (April 12, 2020 Open Books Press)

http://openbookspress.com/books/brother-cobweb.php

Brother Cobweb

Alfred Eaker

All Calvin Elkan has ever wanted to do is escape his mother and her Pentecostal church, the Lighthouse. Calvin is eternally at odds with the brutal abuses and ignorance of his upbringing in a right-wing evangelical sect in Ohio. Under the guidance of his great-grandfather, he turns to art and music to escape his mother’s blows and the grip of the Lighthouse. He spins the dark world around him into a satirical comic called The Brother Cobweb Chronicles. After high school, Calvin moves out and enrolls in art school, finally free of his oppressive childhood home.

But after a brush with death, Calvin realizes escape isn’t enough.

Through his artwork and a newfound sense of spirituality, Calvin works through the emotional trauma and distances himself from his past only to uncover yet another ugly secret from the Lighthouse—a secret that makes him question everything.

Brother Cobweb is a coming-of-age saga with a misfit, paradoxical artist at its center. Alfred Eaker’s debut novel seeks to change perspectives through innovative language, dark humor, and marginalized subculture. A surreal and provocative odyssey, it is sure to strike a nerve as it exposes the abuses and hypocrisy of an all-too-familiar Midwestern evangelical church.

    • Our Price: $18.99 + $3 S+H for one or more copies in continental US. Contact us for school and book club discounts.
    • Print ISBN: 978-1-941799-74-1
    • eBook ISBN: 978-1-941799-75-8
    • 310 pgs – 6 in. x 9 in. matte paperback
    • Publication Date: April 12, 2020
    • Pre-Order your copy today!
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About the Author

Alfred Eaker, author

Alfred Eaker has been obsessively working on his first novel, Brother Cobweb, for the last five years and, off and on, for a quarter of a century. Additionally, his first eighteen years were spent in a ho-de-ho, backwoods, sawdust on the floor, wooden pews Pentecostal Church in the Midwest. In other words, Eaker’s been working toward this novel his whole damned life.

In his career as an artist, Eaker’s work has been paradoxically labeled as degenerate, orthodox, heterodox, modernist, mystical theology, provocative, academic, and blasphemous. Indeed, blasphemy is a language that Eaker seems to speak fluently, even when he doesn’t mean to, and he’s been doing it through painting, performance art, independent film, and film criticism for three decades.

Oh, and he has a few degrees in theology and art.

ON THE ANNIVERSARY OF MOZART’S DEATH: WHY CATHOLIC?

I frequently get asked “Why Catholic?” by diverse self-proclaimed demographics; Evangelical Protestants, Rad Trads, and that sector of atheists who can be just as either/or in thinking as religious fundamentalists.  I can think of no more apt and meaningful a symbol than Mozart as an initial gateway as a response to that question, although there is more to it than that.

My introduction to artmusic was at a young age and while I started off with the standards (i.e. Beethoven and Wagner), by my late teens and early twenties, I was venturing into the more modern terrain of Bruckner, Mahler, Debussy, Schoenberg, Berg, Webern, Bartok, Boulez, Xenakis, Feldman, and Nono. At 55, I’ve gone back primarily to the one constant throughout my life; Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. I have no greater love in music than Mozart, but he is merely music to the degree that the Grand Canyon is merely a rock. It’s no accident that theologians Karl Barth and Hans Kung, along with the Trappist monk Thomas Merton, wrote extensively on Mozart. The famous film on Mozart seems to pooh pooh his religiosity. It’s an excellent film that otherwise drops the ball on that and errs in denying us a vital and profound dimension to Mozart and his art. Barth, a Protestant, struggled and was baffled by Mozart’s passionate Catholicism and disdain for Protestantism (a disdain that Michelangelo shared), which prompted a loving and respectful laugh from Merton and Kung. Perhaps the film (and the play it was based off) failed to look at Mozart’s devotion due to being sidetracked by his excesses and surface immorality (the composer of Don Giovanni did know of what he wrote). Yet, despite his personal shortcomings, what we find in Mozart’s music and letters is a deeply ethical voice (ethics ((the Golden Rule)) being different than morals). He was consistently frustrated by his inability to financially provide for his children and wife, who he loved and was devoted to sacramentally, but through it all he did what he was here to do in his brief life; There has never been a more aesthetically Catholic composer. Mozart was Catholic in that he was stubbornly focused, despite the ugliness in people and life that threatened to engulf him, to create a world of immeasurably profound beauty. I relate or aspire to that, which is perhaps why, as I am middle-aged, I spend much time with the beauty of Mozart. He had the authentic pulse of Catholicism in that he could not penetrate the status quo and a deeper Catholicism is radically removed from bourgeoisie precepts. Rad Trads tend to speak through a dualistic model rather than a unitive model, which is what Catholicism actually is. Like super patriots (another cult) and extremist right-wingers (btw, non-religious radical right are even worse than the religious right), they will inevitably suggest leaving the Church when not in agreement with them. No, because to do so would inevitably confirm that it is their Church alone.

Some of the greatest Catholic artists were, in fact, renegades (Caravaggio, Paul Gauguin, Gustav Mahler, Gerard Manly Hopkins, and Flannery O’ Connor being examples) producing work of shattering beauty. Charlie Chaplin, Luis Bunuel, Pablo Picasso, and Pierre Boulez were self-proclaimed atheists. Yet, the Vatican declared Chaplin’s Tramp as the most religious of all cinematic figures. Neither Orson Welles nor Andrei Tarkovsky accepted Bunuel’s claim, and rightly assessed him as a deeply religious filmmaker. Belatedly, art historians are seeing the depth of Picasso’s religiosity in his work. Boulez was often at his most inspired in responses to his familial Catholicism (i.e. Rituel and Repons). It was these artists who left the earliest and most lasting impressions on me; impressions in which I found an identification point. Often, I have defensively stated that I am Catholic because I am an artist, not vice versa. Yet, I also recall a comment made by my late aunt Greta, who upon learning that I had converted, said (to my Father), “You won’t understand this, but your son was born Catholic.” She may have had a point because even though she took me to my first Catholic parish, my world was already filled with the artists above, because they were brothers and sisters to me.

The remainder of this amounts to an unpacking, in part, because my novel, Brother Cobweb is going to be published next April. When I first submitted the novel (which turned out to be a rough draft… many thanks to my editor) I attached the usual synopsis, along with intro and was frank in saying: “I took a pair of brass knuckles to the Midwestern religious right evangelical church.” One potential publisher wrote back (after reading), “no, not brass knuckles, you napalmed them.”

Of course, we all tend to make quick either/or assumptions and I’ve often found that the predictable dull assumption that I receive, from a quick glance at the novel synopsis or the Brother Cobweb character that I perform (at the House of Shadows) or some of my art, is that I’m an extreme leftist atheist.

No. Because both belief and unbelief are ultimately abstractions for me. I resist both words and the implications they are saddled with. Too, whether we admit it or not, most of us are both progressive and conservative in areas, so those categories are given to extremisms and are rendered hopelessly two-dimensional.

I refer to some of my art, although by no means all of it, as trench theology; a holding to accountability, akin to the statement made by the Catholic theologian Karl Rahner: “The number one cause of atheism is Christians. Those who proclaim Him with their mouths, but deny Him with their actions is what an unbelieving world finds unbelievable.” I repeatedly had that reaction myself long before I ever heard of Rahner. As an early teen, my mother’s evangelical church forced me to read the gospels and, with me, it was the biggest mistake they made because this man who people call Christ that I discovered in the Gospels; that was not them. Worse, through their actions, abuses, and verbiage, they had kept Him from me. Him, I am all about. I wasn’t at first, despising the hackneyed picture of Him as a thug whose followers I had to dumb down to in order to survive. Due to the intensity of their tactics and relentless hypocrisies, that caricature of him was ingrained, and even after plunging into the gospels myself, it took decades of struggling, which included a period of atheism, to eradicate the parody.

I recently read an article in which the writer took some bishops to task and he conjectured that they do know the words of Christ. Now, I am hardly a sola scriptura kind of guy and when you hear that phrase: “The Bible came out of the Church. The Church did not come out of the Bible,” it’s true and that’s a historical fact. Cardinal Newman added, “To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant.” That’s an authentic statement as well, but as Paul Harvey used to say, “And now the rest of the story.” Because even the Church came out of something and I’m not referring per se to our Semitic origins, although we should be astutely aware and respectful of that. Rather, I am referring to what the Gospel According to John says: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The Church sprang from Christ and Christ was Word.

Let’s divorce ourselves for a moment from all that redemption language because far too many use it as a crutch to justify not Living it and a Word has to be Living. In his short sojourn on this planet, Christ said a lot of Words and it is a scandal that those Words are not Living in the hearts, minds, and Spirit of so many who profess him, but He also predicted this. How can one profess Him and yet not abide by what He taught, or heed His warning? Matthew twenty five is clear: “I was hungry and you did not feed me, I was thirsty and you did not give me drink. I was an immigrant and you did not take me in. I was naked and you did not clothe me: sick and in prison and you did not give me medicine and visit me.’ And they asked Him, ‘when did we do this to thee?’ and he replied, ‘ Amen, I say to you, when you did it not to the least of these, neither did you do it to me.” Yet, over the years, I have heard alleged Christians attempt to spin doctor that with a vapid, “well, he meant members of the Church.” Mind you also, these tend to be Christians who mantle the facade of taking everything at face value… until it becomes a mirror. These self-professed Christians will go to any length in order to weasel out of Matthew 25 and, despite what they claim, they are far more atheistic in practice than any atheist.

No, we cannot dodge or spin doctor Matthew 25, the Beatitudes, the Good Samaritan, the Golden Rule, the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man, the story of the Rich young ruler, His discourses on turning the other cheek, paying taxes, the Prodigal Son, His encounters with the adulteress, the Samaritan woman at the well, the Centurion and his pais, the prostitute who washed His feet, or His Mother’s Magnificat and cling to a perverse and farcical prosperity gospel, bigotries, sexism, or judgments.

Now, the next paint-by-number spin doctoring would be to claim that such a critical tone is in itself judgmental. Perhaps, but we need to recall that Christ did not condemn the adulteress. The thief by his side was, theoretically speaking, the first Christian. As a matter of fact, the only sins that Christ consistently called out were hypocrisy and avarice and he judged judgmentalism. When reflecting on that, I am reminded of the deist philosopher Jacques Ellul and his assertion that morality is often seen today through a solely erroneous patristic filter because the lucid portrait we receive of the Gospel’s Christ is that he was as maternal as he was paternal. His Beatitudes read as if spoken by the offspring of the woman who authored the Magnificat. He was influenced by Her, obeyed Her at Cana, just as He obeyed His Father in the Garden, which renders some Protestant disrespect (and often contempt) for Her as tragic and nonsensical.  We can no more separate Christ from His Mother than we can separate Him from His Father. Christ is unique among religious figures in that He treated women on a plane equal to men. In the gospel narrative, Post-Resurrection, He chose to reveal Himself first to a woman. No First Testament figure, or even Buddha, viewed women as equals to men. How then did Christianity get this so wrong?

With the Reformation, Protestants, across the board, threw out the Mother in their diminishment of Her, along with the female saints, thus rendering the Holy Family a dysfunctional one. The argument might be (and is frequently) made that some Protestant sects do have women clergy. That is true and should be commended, but clergy come and go. Symbols remain and it’s far more important and influential to retain those symbols.

Even the Post-Vatican II Church has slipped in this to a degree. In the name of ecumenicism, it has subdued the Maternal images. It did so out of sensitivity to Protestantism because nothing is more provocative than the maternal, especially here in the States. However, that is sloppy ecumenicism; holstering one of our most defining and edifying spiritual colors. Far too many post-Vatican II churches have lost the identity of the maternal and without the pronounced maternal, it is an anemic temple. Indeed, one would be pressed to feel it a temple at all because in the place of that is something akin to a bland basketball court where one can no longer walk in on a given Sunday and behold a Sea of Rosaries. The Rosary is a prism of the Christ consciousness and without it, we lose a vital facet of Him.

Regarding Christ Himself; it is becoming increasingly common among fundamentalist atheists to deny even His historical existence. They will often point to narrative “errors” in the Gospels, along with vignettes that clearly utilized preexisting folklore symbology (i.e. the shepherd). My first response to that will echo the late (and vastly underrated) Fr. Andrew Greeley who, upon hearing the venerable biblical scholar Raymond E. Brown debating with Hans Kung over the historicity of a gospel passage, Greeley asked: “Who cares?” Greeley, like Thomas Merton and Cardinal Newman, had the pulse of the Catholic imagination. Too, we have to realize that the way people wrote then is not beholding to our rules of writing. For us, it is either historical or myth, non-fiction or fiction. It has to be an A-Z linear narrative. That is not the way ancient writers penned narratives. It was common to mix historical with folklore, myth, symbology, metaphors, and poetry into a single narrative. Yes, there are inconsistences in the light of face value literalness, despite what biblical inerrancy advocates dishonestly claim. Gospels will describe certain incidents differently. For instance, one describes two possessed men and a lake. Another describes one possessed man and a river. If anything, that actually lends credence to something historical behind it; like two witnesses to an auto accident recalling details differently. We’ve all heard the asinine response, “Sometimes, you just gotta believe,” followed by “It was Holy Spirit inspired.” Even the Spirit has to be filtered through human hands and those replies do not wash, especially (and understandably) with each succeeding generation, who is less apt to dumb down. Pat Robertson, of all people, warned his followers, “If you continue to deny evolution, you’re going to lose your children.” They will not heed his warning and will lose them. Yes, they are that ignorant.

It does not matter how much of a given gospel narrative really happened (which is one of the most sophomoric of questions). What matters is the point behind it, to see it contextually and as a part of the whole. All the time we see questionable characters using a passage, divorced from what came before or after, to justify their agenda. A good way to gauge a Christ passage is to ask oneself, does it coincide with his sayings, teachings, and themes elsewhere? If it does not, then we are forced to dive contextually deeper. We may find that Christ is indeed consistent, but he is no simpleton, despite claims made by some that the bible is easy to understand. That is called denial. No it is not an easy or satisfying read and even His apostles complained, asking Him to be more straightforward, less allegorical. He had none of that, chastised them their laziness, and made them work for it.

Still, we can debate for half of forever on how much is real or historicity. I went through periods where I did. However, a few things kept coming back; this Man Christ was conceived out of wedlock (a death sentence at the time), was born in poverty, never traveled (that we know of) more than 100 miles past the place of His birth, never wrote a word, died in poverty, in His thirties, and was executed as a criminal (the only major religious figure to be murdered). The odds that we would still be talking about him 2,000 years later are virtually impossible, unless there’s something to it. If we are honest, we have to admit, since we are not eyewitnesses, that we don’t fully know, but faith, so to speak, lies in recognizing that there has to be something to it.

Why hold onto it? Because He is the most remarkable of all models, inspiring the likes of such diverse mystics as Paul, Augustine, Francis, Julian of Norwich, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, the Little Flower, and Martin Luther King. In that phrase; fully man and fully God we find a connection to Christ’ two rules: Love God with all your heart, love your fellow man as yourself. They are inseparable. He had human complexities. We can turn to the man who spoke of The Least of These, the man who said, Leave her alone, the forgiver of the adulteress, His disregard for money, and, if we divorced all this from Him historically, we would likely label him a liberal today. However, we can also look at His discourses on the sanctity of Life and marriage, along with his ironclad rejection of divorce and would label him a conservative. The historical or gospel Christ never heard the terms liberal and conservative. Nor would he have wasted time on our silly labels. His law was consistent : unconditional Love and so, yes, He would be anti-guns (turn the other cheek), pro-immigration, anti-war, anti-divorce, anti-abortion, anti-narcissism, anti-unfettered Capitalism (Acts 2-5), pro-health care and he would reiterate, “for those who harm these little ones, it would be better had they never been born” and he would be consistent, as he was on this planet, in calling out the judges (plank meet splinter).

Again, people will take a passage out of context to dispute what He said, to pervert it in order to justify their failure to practice what they preach. Recall though that Paul’s attitude, when confronted by scripture thumpers of the period, was, “You can quote scripture all you want. I don’t care. I am about Christ.” Christ never said, “Worship Me.” He said : “Follow Me” AKA “Do as I Do.” Paul’s attitude is one to model, even in how we approach Paul, or at least the Paul of the first seven letters (I agree with modern biblical scholars that these are likely the only authentic Paul).

For those who complain about Pope Francis being political, one need only dive into scripture to refute those smoke screens because John the Baptist was political, Jesus of Nazareth was political (and he messed with the money system, which is what got Him killed), Paul was political. These were the original social justice warriors. Whoever thought that being an advocate of social justice would be considered a slur?  I call them smoke screens because that is what they are and accusations are used against this pope, usually with the yawn-inducing comment, “why isn’t he preaching Jesus instead of involving himself in politics and World affairs?” Of course, we never heard Francis’ critics complain when his two predecessors did the same. Because, like those models above, Francis is living it by being part of this world, aspiring to be a caretaker. The reason for those accusations are oh so diaphanous, except to the most dishonest. Most of what Francis teaches and speaks has been taught before, but his language is new and contemporary. It should be. At the end of John, we hear the phrase, “Go and spread the Good News.” News is always new and nothing provokes rad trads more than something new. It provokes them because they have put an ism (traditionalism) above the Word. They have made a cult of it and will usually quote Pius (not Christ) to justify their cultism. I belonged to a Facebook group that was overtaken by rad trads and they were (rightly) criticizing Pope Francis’ handling of the abuse crisis, but they were taking it to the point of labeling him a heretic. When I spoke up and reminded them that he inherited this mess from his predecessors, they became evasive and threw a blanket over it. Not appeasing them, I pressed on and directly asked why they had not criticized JPII and BXVI to the disrespectful degree they do Francis. I’ll give credit where credit is due I suppose because they were honest when they said that they let JPII and BXVI off the hook because they were traditional enough and therefore not heretics. They would not afford Francis this because he was (in their words) a modernist. So, I asked: “In other words, if a pope is traditional enough for you, you will sweep the abuse under the rug?” They flat out answered, “Yes.” I think I was booted out the same day (and put that on my resume of accomplishments).

So, Why then the Church?

Because the Word said: “Even the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.” Time and again, people have proclaimed the death of the Church, only to discover that is a premature obituary. We can (rightly) point to the abusers (God knows I have), but with the awareness that the gates of Hell often come from within and it has been that way from day one. All  Christ’ apostles denied Him and fell short. One betrayed Him. If we were to deny Christ, the religion, and the Church due to countless Judases, then the religion would not have survived the physical life of Christ. The Reformation would have been theoretically necessary, if the reformers had not merely repeated the same mistakes, even surpassing the mistakes of their models. We see it still today with 40,000 plus Protestant denominations and New Age groups (who tend to bandy about that vapid ‘we’re spiritual not religious trendy catchphrase) being as guilty of tribalism and ethical bankruptcy as those they have long criticized (perhaps even more so. Anne Rice, who did leave the Church, once said ‘The Catholic Church is the only church that strives for holiness, which is why it falls down so much.’) Although it will not look like it to those on the outside, there is an edifiying freedom in the structure of the Church, even when we, as individuals  and members of its body, find ourselves at odds with those who deem themselves our shepherds (and to them, I would counter that Beethoven’s Fidelio and Mozart’s sense of intimacy convey the importance of the individual over the structure while being children of the structure).

We must indeed hold the hypocrisy, the I, Me, Mine narcissism, and materialism to accountability and there is nothing hypocrites hate more than their hypocrisy exposed. They will, at best, ignore being called out. At worst, they will prepare the fire and stake. Yet, we are guilty ourselves if we do not hold them and ourselves accountable (as scripture says). When we fail to do so, we are complicit in creating prodigals through our neglect, indifference, and abuses. We keep Christ from them. We are seeing it more and more. Millennials are, to a broad degree, rejecting religion. A priest I once knew said that a Satanic theology transforms Christ into the quintessential Pharisee, making him so pedestaled, so pretty, so perfect that no one can touch him (or his Church). It is easy to be seduced by such false tinseled beauty. To a large degree, we were and our successors see and find our actions repugnant.

Rahner said: “the future Christian will be a mystic or he will not be Christian at all.” He was right and that is vital. So too is trench theology. Both are essential to an authentic Catholic path.

Hence, my contribution called Brother Cobweb and why I am Catholic.