Soliloquy in an International Cloister

Watch your step as Brother Lawrence takes you inside the monastery walls of a five hundred year-old international order. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll wish you had ignored your hormones and joined the monastery.

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Location: Rome, Italy

29 April 2006

Economics 101

Yesterday was the last straw. I received the umpteenth e-mail message urging me to boycott Exxon/Mobil for the next year in order to force it and all the other petroleum companies to reduce their prices. What really got me this time was that the message came from the director of our Justice, Peace and Ecology office. Don't get me wrong; I'm not a fan of Exxon/Mobil or any other oil company. I don't buy gas (petrol, benzina, whatever) from Exxon anyway because they don't have stations around here. It annoys me, however, that people are so blinded by consumerism that they blissfully ignore simple economics.

Here is how I responded to JPE brother:

First of all, this is not a new idea. This e-mail was sent around in 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005. Did you notice any effect on gas prices those years? E-mail is not a very effective tool for starting boycotts. If every recipient of this e-mail joined the Exxon boycott, I doubt it would even notice the effect.

Secondly, let's say Exxon did notice a drop in sales. They might respond by lowering the price of their gas by a few cents so that it would be cheaper than BP, Conoco, Shell and all the other major companies. Will everyone continue to buy the more expensive gas? I doubt it. Furthermore, those who might have bought from other companies before the boycott would then start to buy from Exxon. Even if that did not happen, the other companies, now faced with greater demand, would have to find additional sources of gasoline. Exxon/Mobil would happily sell their surplus gasoline to these other companies. The net effect on Exxon would be negligible.

I agree that Exxon's executives are overpaid, as are the execs of almost all of America's corporations. I just don't think boycotting one company is going to change that. American cities have been designed to require the use of a car to do the most basic tasks, such as shopping, banking, etc. Public transportation has been downplayed in favor of more and larger roads. This problem has been fifty years or more in the making; there is no quick, easy solution to it. The only effective way to bring down energy costs is conservation. Drive less. Buy more fuel-efficient automobiles. Turn out unnecessary lights. Wear sweaters and turn down the thermostat in the winter. Use fans and turn up the thermostat in the summer. On the whole, I think our province wastes a lot of energy. Why should we complain about the high cost of gas when we share responsibility for raising it! We hurt ourselves by being wasteful, but we also hurt the poor, who can afford the increased cost of energy even less than we can.

26 April 2006

Mutatis mutandi

Back in the good ol' days when the good sisters did the brothers' laundry, one of the brothers put his athletic supporter in with his dirty laundry. The newly-arrived German schwester had never seen such a thing before, and assumed that the poor brother had worn his knickers to shreds. When his clean laundry came back, he found that his athletic supporter had been neatly mended with some spare cloth that the sister had at hand...

from a pretty, lacey liturgical vestment that had been discarded.

24 April 2006

Sex in the celle

Well, that got your attention.
Yes, today BroLo will answer make-believe questions sent in by make-believe readers from around the world about sex, specifically the lack of it, in a cloistered environment.

Q: How do the brothers manage to live celibate lives?
A: I cannot answer for anyone else, but personally, I would have to say badly. Occasionally, one of my married friends will try to console me by pointing out that, really, sex is not all that it's cracked up to be. Yes, that would explain the mad rush toward celibacy we're seeing. And those 500 million or so condoms sold in the U.S. each year? Probably filled with rice and thrown at weddings. Another friend told me, "You can be married and still be lonely." Perhaps true, but there's nothing like sex to take your mind off loneliness, is there?
Q: Yes, but...
A: Forget it. I will not be consoled.
Q: You're all gay, aren't you?
A: I know at least one of us is not. Trust me, our sexual orientation is not something we talk about amongst ourselves. The thought that one of the brothers could be evaluating my posterior as I walk down the corridor would freak me out. I can say, however, that I have never been propositioned by another brother of the Order, although I was propositioned by other men on a few occasions. In fact, I have been propositioned more often by men than by women. This signifies one of three things: 1) Women do not find me attractive; 2) women have more respect than men for the vows I have taken; or 3) I need to change my cologne (George Michael Signature Collection. Marketing slogan: Take a long, hard whiff of this).
Q: That is more information than I wanted to know.
A: Then why are you still reading?
Q: Do you still build tunnels to convents of women in order to facilitate secret trysts?
A: This is absolutely false. We now hire cheap, immigrant labor to build the tunnels.
Q: You're joking, right?
A: Maybe. Why? Does your convent lack a tunnel?
Q: Is it true that celibacy is easier for women than for men?
A: I would seem so. A survey taken about ten years ago indicated that among the three vows taken by religious—poverty, chastity and obedience—women rated obedience as the most difficult vow and chastity as the easiest. Men, on the other hand, rated chastity as the most difficult and obedience as the easiest. This corresponds with my personal experience, in which women have had no difficulty in refraining from having sex with me. In that sense, I guess celibacy has been easy for me.
Q: This celibacy business sounds difficult. How can I help?
A: To paraphrase the lion in the Wizard of Oz, I only want you to do one thing for me....
Talk me out of it!

23 April 2006

Legenda Fratrum, Pars II

Brother X introduces himself to a busy, new parish volunteer....

Bro. X: Hi, I'm Brother X.
Mrs. Y: Hi, Brother. I'm Mrs. Y. I'm copulating this evening.
Bro. X: {cough cough} Umm... I... umm.... What?
Mrs. Y: Copulating. I'm copulating this evening.
Bro. X: That's umm.... Well, I mean, umm.... Oh.
Mrs. Y (more slowly): You know, on children's religious education night, one of us is in charge of making photocopies for the teachers. I am copy lady this evening.

22 April 2006

The Retreat, 2006

He heard his future today.
Squealing hearing aids releasing
demons abandoned into those ears
by victims of history's mischief.
Shooshing tanks of oxygen blowing
air into lungs that breathed out
sighs for other loves left behind.
Whirring electric scooters unburdening
legs worn by a double weight of sin.
Playful laughter like wind through the cottonwoods
not knowing whether they are old or young
only that they still stand.

16 April 2006

Happy Easter

Frohe Ostern!
Buona Pasqua, con chi vuoi!

I was invited to Easter dinner at the home of some friends. They have five children, ages 5 to 15. It's not a competition, Waffle, so don't get annoyed. The two oldest children have by now figured out that I am a mere mortal, but the three youngest still treat me as a godhead. They must immediately show me their latest artwork and games. J, the middle child, showed me his latest video game.

J: Shall I be a good guy or a terrorist?
Me: You seem more like the terrorist type to me.
J: To tell the truth, it's more fun being a terrorist. You get to blow things up.
Me (thinking): That would explain a lot.

Soliloquy will be on hiatus this week as Brother Lawrence makes his annual retreat. If he does not return feeling that this is all somehow a work of the Horned Beast, the blog will continue next week.

14 April 2006

Blogspot, you're on notice!

I am not an impulsive type. Before starting this blog, I researched various blog hosting sites. I had only one criteria—it had to be free. Beyond that, the best was good enough for me. PC Magazine, my unfailing source for all things computer related, gave Blogspot very high marks. Besides, it is owned by Google, current wunderkind of the technology world. 20six also looked good to me, but I was put off by the number of former 20-sixers who have jumped ship. I chose Blogspot.
Well, PC Magazine is no longer an unfailing source. I have been quite disappointed with Blogspot. It has no provision for categories so how am I to provide some order to my blog with interests that cover so vast a range of topics? (Don't worry, my eyes were downcast as I wrote that last line, indicating modesty.) If you post a GIF file to your site, Blogspot helpfully converts it into a JPEG. So much for transparent bits. This apparently began happening after a recent "upgrade". On top of it all, Blogspot can be horribly slow at times.
They're darn lucky that I'm too cheap to get my own domain!

13 April 2006

Legenda Fratrum, Part I

Overheard while passing the cloister's toilet:
"You beast! When I was young, you ruined my soul. Now that I'm old, you're ruining my shoes!"

Please notice my pretty, new background. Pretty, new and pilfered. Bless me father, for I have sinned....

Also, today marks the beginning of a new feature on Soliloquy: Spammer Name-of-the-Day. Enjoy.

12 April 2006

Hey, you, get off of my cloud

I know it's hard to believe, but I was a very naive and self-righteous person in my college days. I suppose it was partially the result of growing up in a small town where, to borrow a phrase from Garrison Keillor, all the children were above average. Add to that the fact that I attended only Catholic schools, where I was instilled with the belief that most of the world's ills were caused by dirty thoughts. This knowledge did little to stop me from having them, however. {To hell with the starving kids in China, would you look at those knockers!} But I digress.
Then I met Ms. Reality Check.
Reality worked at the campus bookstore where I took a part-time job. She was only a few years older than I was, but she had much more experience of the world. Despite the fact that she was a really decent person, she had had more than her share of tragedy. We became friends, and my outlook on life changed forever. No subject was taboo for her, and she made it her personal mission to cure me of my naivete. I blushed so much that year that the capillaries in my face were permanently enlarged. More importantly, she knocked holes in my belief that bad things only happened to bad people, which I hope has made me a more compassionate person.
After college, I kept in touch with Reality for a little while, but lost contact with her after she moved to Florida, got married and had a child. That was almost 27 years ago. Still, I thought of her often, and even tried, unsuccessfully, googling her several times to see if I could find an address.
Yesterday evening, just before turning off my computer for the night, I had an email from Ms Reality Check. She had found an old letter of mine (she kept my letters!), and decided to look me up. I am walking on air today.

09 April 2006

Sunday, sun day

Here's how I spent my day:
05.30 Got up, showered, shaved, etc.
06.15 Morning prayer with the community
07.00 Started the New York Times crossword puzzle over a cup of coffee
08.00 Attended Palm Sunday mass in our chapel (which is a story in itself)
08.30 Ate breakfast, continued working crossword
09.30 Went back to bed, where I alternated between finishing the crossword, working the Sudoku and sleeping
12.00 Ate lunch (two slices of salamino piccante pizza left over from last night)
13.15 Went for an 18 mile bike ride (that's 29 km for those who refuse to be assimilated into the American Collective)
15.00 Blogged

As I write this, Brother Chef and his assistant are filling the house with the wonderful aromas of this evening's dinner. In a few hours, we will have our evening prayer and eat dinner. Then I plan to veg for the rest of the evening.

Quo vadis?

As I'm sure you are all aware, a new English translation of prayers for the mass is being prepared. The original set of translators were all sacked, and replaced by a group that will be more faithful to the Latin text from which they are translating. They are bringing back a host of archaic words and expressions that were tossed after Vatican II--things like saying "And with your spirit," instead of "And also with you." This has upset a number of people, including a fair number of bishops. In a recent interview, the head of the translating committee responded to the criticism by saying: "But some Americans, instead of saying 'Come here,' will say, 'Get your butt over here,' to express impatience. When we speak of 'your spirit' we are using a similar device, but in this case to express respect for the priest as a temple of the Holy Spirit."

My question is, when exactly during the mass will the priest say, "Get your butt over here?" And to whom will it be said? And isn't this talk of butts a dangerous thing, given the recent scandals in the Church?

Good grief! Next thing you know, we'll be saying "thee" and "thou" again.

08 April 2006

Shameless promotion

One of the most useful websites I have ever visited is the Open Grove. Of course, I'm on its board of directors so I may be biased. Oh, and did I mention that I really like its website?

06 April 2006

Won't get fooled again

Whilst doing extensive (five minutes) research into appropriate websites for my previous post, I discovered that there are actually two websites for hell—Hell 1 and Hell 2, as it were. Who knew it could be such fun? Wish I had thought of snagging one of those url's.

05 April 2006

Hello, my name is....

After much nagging by a certain someone, I finally started my own blog. Then I discovered that you are expected to actually create your own entries. No one tells you that when they are describing the wonders of blogdom.

So, despite having nothing important to contribute to society, here I am. Let me start by telling you what this blog is and is not. First, Brother Lawrence is not my real name, and San Lorenzo Monastery is not where I live. Also, that is not a real picture of me. I am, however, a member of a religious order, and do live in a monastery of sorts. I have chosen to remain anonymous because it gives me more freedom to write about the dolts people I live and work with. Unfortunately, it also limits the number of people I can invite to read my blog. Most of my friends and colleagues are blabbermouths. Therefore, I am counting on you, my readers, to spread the word.

If you came to this site because you are trying to discern whether to join a religious order, you came to the wrong place. May I suggest you try this site? Ditto if you came to heap vitriol upon the Roman Catholic Church for past and present abuses, real or imagined. You may find some sympathy for your views, but mostly people will not take you seriously. Nothing personal. You may want to try this site instead. If you find my blog to be irreverent and unbecoming of a man of the cloth, you took a wrong turn at EWTN. For you, I would suggest this.

02 April 2006

The Chronicles of Friar Tuck

"Back in the cloister at last," sighed Brother Lawrence as the heavy wooden door leading from the monastery's orchard closed behind him with a thud. "I never thought I'd hear myself say that," he mused, while a bittersweet smile formed on his lips. He had always enjoyed traveling, and jumped at the chance to serve The Big Guy on the Lazy Jack Silver mission. Excitement had turned into anxiety, however, as he discovered the magnitude of the task he had been given. There had been too many risks, too much violence, too many ... compromises.

Closing his eyes, Brother Lawrence leaned back on the cool, stone wall of the monastery and let the cloister's viscous silence envelope him. How could people live like that? The Princess' constant soirees. The raucous, all-night parties of Princes Michael and Daniel. Heather's constant worries about one or the other Swiss bank account being discovered. He had newfound appreciation for the lifestyle of simplicity he had chosen. Yet, he had to admit that at times he felt a strong attraction to life outside the cloister walls. He loved the Princess' witty banter. Then there was Heather, who moved effortlessly between cold-crystal elegance and red-hot seductiveness. Her image was burned into Brother Lawrence's soul. How many hours of corporal mortification would it take to forget her? He wasn't even sure it was possible. One thing he did know, the discipline chains would be swinging tonight.

He opened his eyes and began moving toward his cell. Special Agent Waffle would want his report tomorrow. She could easily find the same information from other sources, but she would nonetheless insist on his personal report. She was very demanding in that respect. What would he tell her? Certainly, the mission had been an important one. LJS knew too much about the Vatican's plan to destroy all existing copies of Da Vinci's Last Supper and replace them with altered copies featuring Mary Magdalene with a beard and hair growing from her ears. But who had tipped off Norah and Bobble to the plot? And just who was Pog working for now? The questions swirled in his head until he became dizzy.

His musings were interrupted by the tolling of the Santa Anna, the largest of the monastery's five bells, calling the brothers to vespers. As he changed course and made his way slowly toward the choir, Brother Lawrence wondered whether the world had finally seen the last of Friar Tuck.