Follow by Email

Monday, December 24, 2018

An Empty House

Photo credit Jody Miller 

Some things are foolish and wrong but you have to do them anyway.

Yesterday I drove past what was the house I grew up in. The house my brother Joe lived in until April, 2018.

Whoever owns it now tore out every living thing from the yard.

The yard was always tiny but it always felt vast. My mother and we jam packed it with life.

Lavender, roses, peach trees, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, mimosa, spruce, maple, rose of sharon, mountain laurel, rhododendron, forsythia, lamb's ear, bergamot, plantain, mint, pumpkins, bleeding heart, lilacs, irises, watermelons.

Moist, tangled, healing, fragrant, storied, delicious. A tiny trip to the Old Country.

You had to snake around all these plants when walking through the yard.

Surrounded by a metal fence my father made; fertilized by Tramp, Artie, and Benjie.

All gone. Yanked out by the roots. surprised they did not pull out every blade of grass.

No curtains in the windows. You can see inside straight through to the far wall of what was once the room where Antoinette, Gregory, and I slept three to a bed. Naked. Exposed, Unloved. Alone. Indecent.

It's just a house, a house where I was hurt a lot, but this hurts almost as much as a death.

A kind person reminded me that another family will move in, and create memories, and enjoy a first kiss, and sing "Silver Bells" with her sister while baking Christmas cookies in that kitchen, and sit, with her brother, in a lilac bush, and look up at the purple flowers beyond to blue sky and realize that life will never offer any better bliss, and ride, in the backyard, on a picnic table, from New Jersey to the Pacific Ocean.

Friday, December 21, 2018

"Green Book": Race Hustlers Want You to Hate This Movie. Audiences Love It.

Why Race Hustlers Want You to Hate Green Book.
And Why Audiences Love It

I had a big smile on my face during the first five minutes of Green Book. Director Peter Farrelly is famous for gross-out comedies like Dumb and Dumber. Green Book is about black-white interaction during Jim Crow. I didn't think the fart-joke king could pull off a serious film. I feared that any artistic merit would sink under preachy political correctness. But Green Book is a fun movie and a worthy work of art.

It's 1962. Frank "Tony Lip" Vallelonga, an Italian-American living in the Bronx, is a bouncer at New York's Copacabana nightclub. He's hired to drive Dr. Don Shirley, a black, Jamaican-American pianist, on a concert tour of the South. Shirley needs, not just a driver, but muscle. Frank will serve as bodyguard as well as chauffeur. The eponymous green book is The Negro Motorist's Green Book, an annual published by Victor Hugo Green from 1936-1966. It informed blacks about where they could shop, eat, and spend the night. Green Book is based on real people and real events. The script was co-written by Peter Farrelly, Brian Hayes Curie, and Nick Vallelonga, Frank's son. Nick has said that his script is based on conversations with his father and Shirley. Shirley knew that a film was in the works, and wanted the full story told, but for Nick to wait until after he was dead.

Viggo Mortensen, a Danish American, is Frank. I grew up with Italians in New Jersey, and to me it's a crime against nature for a man whose last name ends in the Nordic suffix "sen" to play an Italian. Again, those first minutes of the film laid my fears to rest. Mortensen's performance is a dance. The way he fingers his lapels, bounces on his heels, leads with his chest, thrusts forward his lower jaw, puffs out his cheeks when pronouncing the Bs in "break my balls," all are completely convincing. Yes, Mortensen's Tony Lip is a bit of a caricature, but I suspect that the real life Tony Lip, back in 1962, like many Italian-American men, was himself giving a performance.

While Mortensen's Frank is dancing a mambo, Mahershala Ali is a ballet dancer. Dr. Shirley is an aloof, affected, snob. The exact angle at which Ali carries his chin in relation to the earth was clearly carefully calibrated. In one searing scene, shot in the shower of a YMCA, when Ali finally lowers his head, you feel as if he had dropped a lead suitcase filled with graveyard dirt.

Tony has a wife (Linda Cardellini), and Dr. Shirley a manservant, Amit (Iqbal Theba), and an accompanist, Oleg (Dimiter D. Marinov), but perhaps the most important supporting characters in the film are a turquoise 1962 Cadillac Sedan DeVille, and the American road itself.

Frank is a tough guy with a heart of gold, surrounded by a big Italian family, and low level hoods who offer him work doing "things" that no one dare name. When two black men repair his kitchen floor and drink lemonade his wife offers them, Frank throws out the glasses. His wife retrieves them from the trash.

Don Shirley, notwithstanding his prodigious musical talent, is a bit of a lost soul. All former child prodigies must struggle to fit in; Shirley began playing piano before he was three years old. At eighteen, he played Tchaikovsky with the Boston Pops. The real Don Shirley lived, for fifty years, in an ornately decorated "artists' quarters" above Carnegie Hall. There he played a Steinway beneath a crystal chandelier. Shirley was fastidious. In 1982, he criticized jazz pianists to the New York Times. They "smoke while they're playing, and they'll put the glass of whisky on the piano, and then they'll get mad when they're not respected like Arthur Rubinstein. You don't see Arthur Rubinstein smoking and putting a glass on the piano … I don't want anybody to know me well enough to slap me on the back and say, 'Hey, baby.' The black experience through music, with a sense of dignity, that's all I have ever tried to do." One can admire such high standards while readily recognizing how such high standards might contribute to a lonely life. In the film, the cinematic Shirley soothes his loneliness with a nightly, post-performance bottle of Cutty Sark, downed in solitude.

Look – I know you know exactly how this movie plays out. Green Book is a classic road film, where two people who are very different are trapped together in a small, confined space moving across a big, expansive country. They irk each other, teach each other, fight, rely on, and come, grudgingly, to love each other. Road movies have been playing out this plot at least since Frank Capra's 1934 It Happened One Night. Clark Gable is the gruff newspaperman; Claudette Colbert is the snobby, sheltered heiress. He teaches her how to hitchhike and dunk donuts; she teaches him how to be vulnerable and talk about his dreams. Just so Frank teaches Don how to eat fried chicken, even though it's greasy and must be eaten with the hands. Don teaches Frank how to expose his feelings to his wife in his letters home, and how to solve problems without punching someone in the nose. Frank and Don are a variation on Neil Simon's Odd Couple, Oscar Madison and Felix Unger. Opposite pairs like this have been intriguing audiences since Apollo and Dionysus.

Though they are very dissimilar in plot, Green Book also reminds me of a low-budget, 1963, black-and-white film, Lilies of the Field. In that film, Sidney Poitier stars as Homer, a vagabond who builds a chapel for Maria, (Lilia Skala,) mother superior of poor, immigrant nuns living in remote Arizona. Homer is the Frank character here, the effusive, carefree foil to the more uptight Mother Maria. Both films have predictable plots composed of small incidents that, by the end, surprise you by how much they move you.

Though Green Book is relentlessly popular, Farrelly's artistry gives us two fully human characters. Frank is no saint, and neither is Don. Don is a superb pianist, but he lacks interpersonal charm. At one blacks-only motel, another lodger invites him to a game of horseshoes. He stiffens up; he can't bring himself to kick back and relax. Frank is a petty thief, pocketing a lucky jade stone from a poorly guarded roadside stand in the rural South. When Don was arrested, naked, and handcuffed in a YMCA shower for illegal contact with another man, I feared that Frank might severe the fragile bond he and Don were forging. I was impressed when Frank calmly said, "I've been working in nightclubs for a long time. The world is a complicated place." When the film finished, the audience burst into applause, a rare event. We were not alone. At the International Movie Database, amateur reviewers repeatedly use the word "love" when urging others to see Green Book.

Green Book, in addition to being a virtuosic piece of popular entertainment, conveys a timeless lesson. Again, its lesson isn't anything innovative or surprising. The manmade barriers between members of different tribes, though appearing permanent and formidable, collapse like the walls of Jericho given the right trumpet blast. What unites us is more important than what separates us. With a little humility and charity, we can overcome our differences and contribute to each other's lives. Get two members of warring factions alone together, give them a task to complete, and external opponents, and they will form an alliance. Don and Frank are alone together in that Cadillac. Frank receives a bonus if he gets Don to his concerts on time. He wants that money, and thus Jim Crow is his enemy, as much as it is Don's.

This next part won't surprise you, either. Even as I was relishing Green Book, I was ticking off all the items on a list that would cause race hustlers to hate the film. And race hustlers insist that you hate it, too.

Green Book has an 82% positive score at Rotten Tomatoes. That's good, but reviewers often seem to be fighting their own impulses in their reviews. A. O. Scott, writing in the New York Times, calls Green Book "corny," "misguided," "sentimental," "middle-of-the-road," "not subtle," "crude, obvious and borderline offensive, even as it tries to be uplifting and affirmative." At the end of his review, Scott's reserve collapses. "There is also something about this movie … These men are good company," Scott must acknowledge.

K. Austin Collins, an African American reviewer writing in Vanity Fair , called the film "boneheaded," "sickening," and myopic." "Eating the chicken to overcome racial friction in that teal Cadillac makes for a good story, but it severely undercuts the politics of respectability that Shirley otherwise, and much more interestingly, goes out of his way to embody," he writes. I'll be honest – I don't know what this sentence means. Perhaps Collins writes this way because he is affiliated with the English Department at Princeton. Collins blames white privilege. "To think, as a white filmmaker, that questions of this sort are things you can blithely make up or change outright." The film is "historical malpractice." The film pays attention to a working class Italian with no claim to fame. This outrages Collins. "Dr. Shirley has a substantially larger claim to true historical significance … Dr. Shirley was a virtuoso recording artist … He's the guy with Robert F. Kennedy's phone number. His is the story here that has history, writ large, to contend with – he's here because he was exceptional … Tony Lip is the historical footnote." Collins expresses, shamelessly, in neon lettering, the prototypical liberal's snobbism against working class white ethnics. And Collins reveals zero awareness of his own racism against poor whites, his own privilege as a Princeton man, his own elitist contempt. The film's purpose, Collins insists, is for whites to be "wiped clean of guilt."

Jourdain Searles, an African American who contributes to "Bitch Media," accuses Green Book of being from the "School of Simplistic History and Sentimentality" and asks, "Why do movies like this keep happening?" Searles calls the film "shameless," "degrading," "shallow," "self-important," "desperate," and "manipulative." Searles rages, "It's a comforting vision for the white viewer, reminding them of the 'progress' the country has made regarding racism. It also positions them as the direct source of that progress. Yes, white people are the real heroes for occasionally setting their privilege aside to recognize black people as human beings. The assumption that racism can end through friendship allows white people to be credited both with the beginning and end of the oppression of black people in the U.S. … At least Farrelly was able to make racists comfortable for Christmas." Note Searles' scare quotes around "progress." No doubt Searles, in addition to being a blogger, is also a sharecropper who cannot vote. Perhaps Searles' oddest complaint against Green Book, "Sex is never depicted."

Jenni Miller, the white "sex editor" at Bust, confessed to succumbing to Green Book's appeal, but assessed herself as suffering from "Stockholm Syndrome." Miller liked the movie, she said, because of "my own thoughtlessness, laziness and socialization." There you have it. Miller has an internalized Committee to Ensure Ideological Purity inside her head who accuse her of thought crimes. And she's a sex editor at a publication called "Bust." Someone who, it would seem, would be pro-guiltless pleasure. Green Book is evil because it makes "white people feel smug and self-congratulatory about race relations." Even just choosing to see Green Book identifies one as a thought criminal. "The white people who go see Green Book think of themselves as socially open-minded people who like seeing other white folks overcome their prejudices and become friends." When Soviet Russians invaded Poland to usher Poles onto cattle cars to Siberia, they made it a point to focus on stamp collectors. The Khmer Rouge focused on anyone wearing glasses. When Miller takes over, she'll select for deportation the fans of Green Book. Green Book is bad because "this movie was written, directed and produced by white people." Yes, she really said that.

At Shadow and Act, Brooke Obie denounced Green Book as a "white savior film." That Don saves Frank every bit as much as Frank saves Don escaped her notice. Obie says that just because white people associate with blacks doesn't mean that they aren't racist. After all, she says, "Ask Sally Hemmings." Evidently Obie has not asked Sally, because if she did she would know that Sally's last name was spelled "Hemings." In any case, point taken. When blacks and whites interact, every black must be understood as an enslaved person, and every white must be understood as having the same power as the third president of the United States. Green Book exists to "enhance white privilege." Obie rages that Mahershala Ali sits in the back seat of the Cadillac. In fact chauffeured passengers conventionally do sit in backseats. Any given taxi ride demonstrates this. Obie rages that Frank "does nothing to help end structural racism." Yes, but dear, if Frank did that, he'd be even more of a "white savior" and you'd have to hate this movie even more, wouldn't you?

Leon Raymond Mitchell, in the comments section, offered an interesting theory. "Extreme HATRED of Obama and gains by people of color gave us TRUMP. Moonlight & Black Panther gives us GREEN BOOK." Let's break down Mitchell's claim. People hated Obama because he was black, and so they elected Trump. Mitchell forgets that Obama got more votes than Trump, and some voters voted for both Obama and Trump. Further, Black Panther is one of the most financially successful superhero films ever made. In short, neither Trump's election nor Green Book proves that America is racist. But if an internet poster types in all caps, suddenly his claim becomes true. And saying, "What you just said is not true and it does not prove that America is racist" will be heard by many as a racist statement in and of itself.

Monique Judge at The Root declares that "This film spoon-feeds racism to white people." Even so, she is forced to confess, "I actually enjoyed it, despite all of its flaws. It was funny in the right places, touching in the right places."

One of the most depressing denunciations of Green Book is an echo of Princetonian K. Austin Collins' huffing that Green Book dares to include the story of an obscure, working class, white ethnic chauffeur in a film about a wealthy, black concert pianist. Maurice E. Shirley Sr., Don Shirley's brother, has actually protested that "My brother never considered Tony to be his 'friend;' he was an employee." How could anyone say anything so shamelessly snobbish and contemptuous? Maurice continues, "As the only living brother of Dr. Donald W. Shirley, I, Maurice E. Shirley, Sr. am compelled to respond … In agreement with Malcolm X who proffered that 'every White man in America profits directly or indirectly from his position vis-a-vis Negroes, profits from racism even though he does not practice it or believe it.' This movie, 'The Green Book' is NOT about MY brother, but about money, white privilege, assumption, and Tony Lip!"

Maxine C. Leftwich, another Shirley family member, wrote, "Our family is boycotting the film due to the implicit and the explicit affronts we have endured while critics have hailed the film for its artistic brilliance and its timely juxtaposition to the rise in hate crimes, White Nationalism, and neo-Nazism in the contemporary United States."

From these objections, one can deduce a list of requirements.

1.) Whites are essentially evil, including all white scriptwriters, directors, and actors. No matter how benign their work may appear on the surface, it must be interpreted in the worst way possible. Someone makes a film starring a handsome, charismatic black actor like Mahershala Ali playing a sympathetic lead role? Find some way to call that "sickening," "boneheaded" "racism."

2.) If white theater audiences applaud a film starring a black actor, there must be something wrong with that movie. It must be examined until its evil secrets are revealed. Or, one can simply boycott the film in question, and fall back on quotes from Malcolm X.

3.) Whites and blacks are not to feel affection or respect for each other. You can't see why affection and respect between blacks and whites is racist? Keep looking till you find it. You wouldn't want to be a thought criminal, now would you? The punishments are harsh.

Apparently not all blacks feel this way. Monique Judge reports receiving an email from Harry Belafonte. Belafonte was a close friend of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and an active Civil Rights campaigner. In the email Judge posted, Belafonte wrote,

"I am compelled to drop this note to thank the filmmakers for having made this film … I knew Don Shirley, and, in fact, had an office across the street from his at Carnegie Hall, and I experienced much of what he did at the same time. This movie is accurate, it is true, and it's a wonderful movie that everyone should see. The few people who appear to be objecting to the film's depiction of the time and the man are dead wrong, and, if the basis of their resentment stems from it having been written and/or directed by someone who isn't African American, I disagree with them even more … I personally thank the filmmakers for having told this important story from a very different lens, one no less compelling than any other."

Danusha Goska is the author of God through Binoculars

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Bruce Bawer, Author of "Stealing Jesus," Calls "God through Binoculars" "Luminous."

Bruce Bawer, the bestselling author of Stealing Jesus, reviewed God through Binoculars: A Hitchhiker at a Monastery in Front Page Magazine on Monday, December 17. Bawer called God through Binoculars "luminous." 

You can read Bawer's entire review at the Front Page website here, and also below. 

God Through Binoculars: A Hitchhiker At A Monastery
A beautiful mind produces a luminous memoir.
December 17, 2018 Bruce Bawer

Remember when the kid in Catcher in the Rye says something about how, after reading a book he likes, he wishes he could pick up the phone and call the writer? I rarely feel that way. I know better. Yet to read the newly published God through Binoculars: A Hitchhiker at a Monastery is to want not only to phone the author, Danusha Goska, but to give her a big hug and sit up with her late into the night, sipping wine and talking about life, death, and the universe. She writes in a voice – conversational, confiding – that draws you in from the very first sentence. You feel you know her intimately and that she’s talking to you alone.

She radiates candor and self-knowledge. Her book falls into the category of memoir/spirituality, but she’s no self-conscious spinner of lofty abstractions. Particulars preoccupy her. She is, among other things, a keen birdwatcher, binoculars ever at the ready – hence the title. She’s a devout Catholic, but she doesn’t reflexively embrace any theological tenet or heed any clerical authority.

At the center of her book is an account of her brief visit, several years ago, to a rural Catholic monastery. But she is skeptical about some aspects about the monastic life, and questions its value as a long-term lifestyle choice. She even acknowledges that she’s “no fan of Thomas Merton, America’s most famous monk,” an Ivy League Protestant who converted to Catholicism, moved to a remote monastery, congratulated himself for choosing a life of self-abnegation when in fact he was still doing better than most folks on the planet, and churned out self-celebratory bestsellers that were neatly tailored to the spirituality marketplace.

No, I don’t like Merton either. I also share Goska’s lack of enthusiasm for Henri Nouwen, another writer of precious little volumes packed with lofty abstractions but lacking in so much as a single glimpse of his own actual daily life.

But I love Goska’s book. She’s the real deal. Born to cruelly abusive immigrants from Eastern Europe, she joined the Peace Corps, studied at Berkeley and the University of Indiana, earned a Ph.D. but, unable to secure a decent teaching job, endured years of poverty, loneliness, ill health, and bad luck.

Her experiences might have turned her into a cynical misanthrope, but instead they have contributed to her development of a tough, brave, mature, and deeply reflective personal faith that rejects mindless credulity and seeks God throughout His creation. Jesus, she reminds us, “defied our anxiety about our physicality by becoming God-in-the-flesh. Jesus ate meat. Jesus drank wine. Jesus almost certainly farted.” If, she suggests, these thoughts make us uneasy – if we react uncomfortably to the idea of God-made-flesh – it’s “because we have trouble loving ourselves.”

Goska is ever alert to phoniness and pusillanimity. On the faculties of the colleges at which she studies and teaches, she meets professors who are scared to voice politically incorrect views. At the monastery, she meets a monk who, when she observes that Catharine of Siena, the subject of a book sold at its gift shop, behaved in a way that “contradicts what the church demands of women today,” timidly replies, “I can’t comment on that.”

Even Merton was enough of a wimp to tell a think-tank audience that he’d like to write an honest book about Trappist monasteries but that he wouldn’t “be able to get away with it.” As Goska comments: “He’s saying right here that he doesn’t say, in his writing, what he really thinks. Isn’t telling one’s truth a writer’s number one job? Write the things themselves? Isn’t that how Jesus lived his whole life?”

Nor is Goska thrilled by Merton’s tendency to criticize “America, the West, and Christianity” for their supposed evils while indulging far more barbaric non-Western cultures. In one memorable passage, she describes her effort to explain to a classroom full of college kids that, despite their personal lack of religious faith and unfamiliarity with the Bible, they are the products of Judeo-Christian culture, and that, notwithstanding the multicultural mush they’ve been spoon-fed, that is objectively better than being the product of, say, Aztec or Spartan culture.

But none of this is what’s central to Goska’s book. What’s central is her visit to the monastery, which comes at a point in her life when she is a soul in desperate need. At first the retreat feels like a scam, a waste. The people she meets seem petty and inconsiderate. Is the monastery, she wonders, just one more institution, like the academy, that doesn’t live up to its proclaimed principles – and that, in this case, is all the worse given the exalted nature of its claims for itself?

Then she meets an Episcopal theologian, takes a walk with him, discovers a rare and remarkable shared interest, and finds something, yes, holy in their interaction. This is a woman for whom a key scriptural passage is the one in which Elijah discovers that the Lord is not in the wind, or in the earthquake, or in the fire, but in the “still small voice” that follows. Yet hearing that voice isn’t a matter of going to monasteries or churches but of encountering other people, giving them a chance, and paying attention.

This is a woman who cherishes Judeo-Christian civilization because of things like Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, a painting of “a girl, just a girl,” who “could be a nun or a streetwalker, a queen or the youngest daughter of low-status parents….All we have of her is her face and the soul shining through it. She appears to be lost in her own thoughts. The artist deems her worth seeing.”

Yes, let experts spend their lives studying and collecting the art of the pre-Columbian era, and let the likes of Merton eulogize “Zapotec culture as Shangri La” (he did!): but, she asks, “[i]n 2,500 years of Mesoamerican art, did any artist find one random, daydreaming girl to be worthy of his time? Did any tribe see that work of art and say, ‘this, this anonymous girl, this we must cherish’?” Goska has yet to see any proof that they did. That’s part of the reason why she’s a Christian and an enthusiast for the Judeo-Christian tradition – to which her book is a quirky, luminous, and altogether beautiful contribution.

Bruce Bawer is the bestselling author of The Alhambra, Stealing Jesus, and A Place at the Table

Friday, November 30, 2018

"God through Binoculars" is "Witty," "Engaging," "Tragic," "Gripping" ... and Available at Amazon!

God through Binoculars: A Hitchhiker at a Monastery is available now. You can order the book through the publisher here or from Amazon here.

What readers are saying about "God through Binoculars":

"God Through Binoculars blew me away. Danusha Goska has written a truly unique and remarkable work - gripping, tragic, eclectic, powerful, and empowering."

Rabbi Dr. Natan Slifkin, Director, The Biblical Museum of Natural History, author, "The Torah Encyclopedia of the Animal Kingdom"

"A witty, provocative, and thoroughly engaging memoir about the difficulties of faith, the complexities of love, and the consolations often found in nature. Whether she's writing about hyenas or jihad, hitchhiking or the perils of political correctness, Goska is always interesting. I loved this book!"

Daiva Markelis, author of "White Field, Black Sheep"

"As unsparing as it is tender, this book is a high-octane lyric meditation by a larger-than-life soul. Amid a multitude of coincidences, controversies, and calamities, the reader is invited to laugh, grieve, ponder, take exception, and especially, take heart."

Claire Bateman, author "Locals: A Collection of Prose Poems" NEA grant recipient

"The great books about spiritual journeys never give you easy answers. They don't say 'Do these 10 things and you will find peace or faith or salvation.'  Goska knows this truth. She has lived this truth. As you read her beautifully written, witty, and inspiring book, you will find yourself not only following her journey, you will find yourself living your own journey."

John Guzlowski, author of "Echoes of Tattered Tongues" Montaigne Medal recipient

"An effortlessly wise voyage, not only into the human soul but also into some fundamentals of the Western tradition. Goska is a formidable writer, who combines sensitivity and kindness with extraordinary toughness, and her vigorous prose reflects this unusual combination. Her prose grabs you and does not let you go."

Dario Fernández-Morera, author, "The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise"

Associate Professor of Spanish and Portuguese and Comparative Literature, Northwestern University

"This is a moving, inspiring, heartfelt expression of love, pain, and healing, skillfully written with equal amounts of grace and compassion."

Larry Dossey, MD, author "One Mind"

"Impossible to put down.  Goska is a true original, a gifted writer and an even more gifted spiritual explorer. Her previous book 'Save, Send, Delete,' like this one, displays a remarkable range of philosophical and religious knowledge, accompanied by profound insights that will stay with a reader long after they are encountered. Goska has packed more experience into each one of her years on this earth than most of us will in a lifetime. I urge you to give a look at this irresistible journey of faith in search of answers."

David Horowitz, "Radical Son: A Generational Odyssey"

Charles Ades Fishman, winner, 2012 New Millenium Award for Poetry

"Goska reminds every birder and nature lover that they are connected spiritually to the birds they see and the experiences they have outdoors. Our souls and hearts are refreshed and renewed by allowing ourselves to understand in some small way that we are connected to something in nature that is ancient and forever."

Don Torino, Naturalist for Wild Birds Unlimited and President, Bergen County Audubon Society

"I read 'God through Binoculars' the way I read everything that I am enjoying or that interests me, at increasingly breakneck speed. I finished it this morning and plan to begin again, reading more slowly and thoroughly for the subtler bits. The two writers this book reminded me of most were Thomas Merton and Henri Nouwen. They also have an edginess and a sense of putting themselves out there without giving a damn what others think."

Julie Davis, author of "The Happy Catholic"

"Danusha Goska is a walker, an observer, a thinker. This pilgrimage-in-a-book reminds me of Paolo Coelho in its thrust and scope. But Coelho merely walked the camino – Goska walks the byways of the world, from rural Virginia to the wildernesses of Asia. Always questioning, always seeking, Goska shows us the profound in every living being, from hyenas to humans. If you are willing to accompany her on this journey, you will be changed yourself."

Brian Ó Broin, author of Thógamar le Gaeilge Iad, Professor of Linguistics and Medieval Literature, WPUNJ

"'God through Binoculars' is … complicated, just like the natural world Goska so compellingly describes; just like the spiritual insights she gleans from her own well-traveled life, marked by random encounters that may not be all that random. She is a committed monotheist who believes in evolution, but expresses annoyance with Darwinist absolutes. She is awed by Mother Nature, but recognizes the random cruelties that play out within the wilderness. Through her binoculars, she observes a world constantly in flux – shaped and reshaped by variables that somehow work together in unbelievable complexity. Because of that complexity, she is skeptical about any 'straight-line' redemption of life's disappointments by an all-loving God. Yet she believes that God is indeed all-loving, that her own burdens might not be lifted, but can be transmuted into blessings. If she can believe that, maybe even the greatest skeptics among us can, too."

Melanie Forde, author of "Hillwilla" and "On the Hillwilla Road"

"An inspiring and inspired read by one who has long since heard the music."

Kevin Di Camillo, author of "Now Chiefly Poetical," columnist at National Catholic Register

"Goska is brilliant with words, painting highly evocative pictures. She's unafraid to explore emotional, spiritual, and philosophical frontiers. She's been all over the world, learning about cultures from the inside. This book brings these gifts and experiences to bear on a personal journey to a place few readers know."

Karen A. Wyle, author, "Twin Bred"

Edward "Rusty" Walker, author of "Transparent Watercolor: How to Use the Direct Method to Achieve Radiantly Clear Color and Translucency in Your Paintings"

"Amazing. Ordinary situations brought to life. Observant, with a real wit. A pleasure to read!"

Brian Koral, blog reader

"A masterpiece. I couldn't put it down. Goska has an incisive mind, an insatiable curiosity, and a captivating writing style. As a veterinarian, I particularly appreciated her colorful and informative writing about the animals she has encountered in her adventurous life."

Dr. Morton A. Goldberg, Veterinarian and Project Gutenberg volunteer

"C.S. Lewis wrote in his great novel 'Perelandra' that though 'there seemed to be, and indeed were, a thousand roads by which a man could walk through the world, there was not a single one which did not lead sooner or later either to the Beatific or the Miserific Vision.' Goska is a pilgrim walking the roads of this world and trying her best to follow the Spirit as he leads her at each fork in the road toward that 'one Face above all worlds which merely to see is irrevocable joy.'"

Mark P. Shea, Author, "By What Authority?: An Evangelical Discovers Catholic Tradition"

"Goska is a true wordsmith, a writer you enjoy reading for the prose as well as the imagination and education. Moving from thought to thought and scene to scene in no obvious order, you later realize the grand plan underneath it all, the coherent worldview that shapes how she appraises her fascinating experiences. And unlike secular writers of similar works, she is able not only to be romantic about life's rich variety, but to ground it in the good God of revelation. That combination of orthodox faith, humorous observations of eccentric people and moments, and practical philosophy is rare in contemporary writing."

The Rev. Evan McClanahan

Sin Boldly Podcast

"You catch a monkey, they say, with trinkets in a wide-bottomed, narrow-necked vase. The monkey inserts his paw, and opens it up to capture his treasure. When he tries to withdraw his fist, he can either hold on to the trinkets or let them go and free himself.

Jesus invited, 'Leave everything you have, and follow me!' That might seem fairly easy for a pilgrim who can't afford her own car. But even the poor must surrender.

Goska's monastery journey is a meditation on the deliberate opening of hands. With the slow freeing of each finger, another trinket is jettisoned and a new perspective is revealed. Nature provides her window to the divine: indigenous fruit, a hawk's soar, and being arrested by an unlikely savior. This hero's journey ends where she began, but as a new person, with a new vision.

Goska is a bold spirit who has fine-tuned her soul to encounter grace in unlikely places. In the spirit of Flannery O'Connor, as well as the Beats, she is wonderfully refreshing. Her sensitivity to God's possibilities is awe-inspiring. Step beyond predictability and embrace one heck of a ride!"

Deacon Kevin McCormack, host, WABC radio, "Religion on the Line," Xavier High School principal, adjunct professor of theology at Molly College

"'God Through Binoculars' is a mesmerizing book. The primary narrative concerns the author's visit to a monastery, but this is interspersed with reflections on the habits of hyenas, the spiritual defects of Meso-American art (Goska seems to like the hyenas better), the Holocaust, and a host of other subjects. The satirical account of her visit to the monastery makes the book worth reading all by itself. Fierce, hard-won, deep-rooted piety breathes through the snark. In an age of cutesy, feel-good memoirs with easy answers, this is the real thing – a book that brings you in touch with the restless, passionate intelligence of its author and forces you to think in a fresh way about every one of the many subjects it addresses."

Edwin Woodruff Tait, writer, farmer, and consulting editor for Christian History magazine.

"Goska dares to ask the universally elusive questions: will any deity or doctrine fully suffice in this life? Is the duel beauty and brutality of nature and human interaction alone enough to fill our spiritual reservoirs? In examining the mysterious trifecta of God, the natural world and human industry, Goska illustrates how a truly benevolent God would want us to experience the brutality of life along with the transcendence of beauty. Time and again her words illuminate the agony AND the ecstasy of this life that ultimately inspire us towards love, awe and wonder. Goska's intellectual inquisition proves that the very acts of motion and inquiry are a kind of devotion all their own. "

Tina Schumann, "Two-Countries. U.S. Daughters and Sons of Immigrant Parents"

"Goska finds goodness and moments of beauty and synchronicity amidst a world of hurt and oppression. Kindness and serendipity give to her, and give to the reader as well, hope for the future and a sense of religious wonder and faith. Her passion for birds and the avian encounters – some downright magical – which occur at just the right moments in her experience offer tantalizing evidence of greater forces at work than can be explained by pure science or reason. Goska's book is provocative, in-your-face, and uncompromising – all the trademarks of the author herself. It is bracing to read strongly-held opinions backed up by facts and evidence instead of feel-good but unsubstantiated politically correct writing. "

Marc J. Chelemer, New Jersey birder

"All that Goska has done here is to give us a simple, straightforward account of a brief episode in her life. And yet she has captured something about the mystery of life and human interaction that is at once deep, moving, and universal."

Bruce Bawer, author, "Stealing Jesus"

"Goska takes the reader on a remarkable journey, first encountering the personal and political corruption of academia in the soul-crushing age of political correctness, and then finding escape and finally restoration of spirit. This is no harangue or political manifesto, but rather a compelling tale of exploration and growth from a natural storyteller that just happens to illuminate the intellectual and moral issues of our age."

Thomas Lifson, Founder and Editor, American Thinker, former Harvard professor of East Asian Studies

Is Open-Borders the Biblical Stance?

Please imagine this: You are a parent, and a homeowner. Your home is modest. You worked ceaselessly, at a job full of frustrations, humiliations and disappointments, frittering away the best years of your life, to put this home together. You love the color scheme. You love the carpets. You love the couch, even though you bought it at the Salvation Army. You like your neighbors. After years of walking on eggshells and negotiations, you've hammered out a modus vivendi with the folks next door and in back. You love your pets. You've got a walk schedule worked out where you take them to the park at the right times.

Your kid is chronically ill. Your kid needs expensive medication every day. Because of some fluke in the insurance, you have to pay for those meds out of pocket.

One night, you hear a rasping noise. Someone is using a file to jimmy your lock and penetrate your home. You hear more voices. There's a whole bunch out there. They're coming in.

Home invasion. You've heard about this in the news. Gangs are breaking into homes. Stealing whatever drugs are on the premises. Eating all the food. Throwing trash around. Disrupting lives.

Your child, your offspring, the person for whom you are responsible, needs drugs every day. These home invaders might steal the drugs, leaving your kid without necessary medication.

You have a gun in your nightstand. Do you use it?

Me? I'd use the gun.

This imaginary scenario helps me to understand why some can disagree so violently about borders.

On Sunday, November 25, 2018, US border agents used tear gas to hold back an onrush of protesting asylum seekers from Central America. NPR called this event a Rorschach test. Some see the border guards as protecting the US and the rule of law, and using non-lethal methods to do so.

On my Facebook page, I am seeing other responses. One Facebook poster said that anyone who doesn't support open borders has no conscience and is unaware of the Bible. Another accused me of being an "evil virus" because I don't support open borders. A third, an influential Catholic author, is accusing anyone who doesn't support open borders of being satanic. A fourth shared a popular meme declaring, "Real Christians would be waiting for the caravan with food, water, clothing, and offering any help needed."

I've been trying to talk to those calling me "satanic" and a "virus." I try to communicate the following.

Some of us see America as our home. We assess America as valuable. We realize how very much hard work went into creating the country we've been blessed with. America, the America we cherish, didn't just spring up overnight. America took long, hard work, and constant maintenance. We don't take America for granted. We realize that like any human creation, America could be destroyed by human hands.

We aren't xenophobes. We value immigrants who come legally, learn English, and respect and support American institutions before attempting to benefit from those institutions.

We see a national border as a necessity. We support a porous border. We want people, commerce, and ideas to flow in and out. We support laws to regulate this flow. We appreciate border patrol as serving that regulation. We assess persons attempting to violate our laws, not as heroes, but as criminals, and we support border patrol doing what is necessary to enforce the very same laws we ourselves have had to adhere to when we have crossed international borders.   

We know that there are people in the world much worse off than we are. That's why we donate to charities and aid agencies active in poor countries. Our donations, a dollar here and a dollar there, contribute to the tens of billions of dollars Americans send to other countries every year, through both taxes and charitable donations. At least one source claims that "Americans give around three percent of our collective income to charity – more than the citizens of any other country."

We recognize the concept of "limited good." We get it that scamming and milking the American system leaves less for everyone. There are poor, chronically ill, and homeless people in this country right now. I know because I am low-income, and I am chronically ill. I face many a steeple-chase in accessing adequate health care. The simple fact is that even in a rich country like the United States, resources are limited.

We recognize the need for triage. We calculate what we can do. We can't do everything, so we ration our resources and our time. If Cause A gets the ten dollars we can spend that week on charity, Cause B will get nothing. We can't change that, any more than we can change gravity.

Many of us are Jews and Christians, and our scripture tells us that we will never be able to solve every problem. "The poor you will always have with you," Jesus taught. Deuteronomy 15:11, in the Old Testament, teaches the same. In both cases, the verse is placed in the context of triage, of making choices as to how to handle resources. In the New Testament, we read that a follower has purchased expensive perfume to honor Jesus. One of Jesus' disciples protests. "Should we really be spending money on perfume when we could sell it and feed the poor?" Jesus condones the splurge. Yes, help the poor, he advises, but when it comes time to spend extra for a special occasion, do so. You will never eliminate poverty, even by devoting every penny to charity. Deuteronomy tells us to take care of our poor relations and neighbors. And we do. But Deuteronomy reminds us that we will never end poverty. We can't. We do what we can.

The Bible, and real morality, teach that "charity begins at home." In 1 Timothy 5:4, Paul writes, "But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God."

This verse does not absolve believers from their duty to care for others outside the home. Jesus taught that even the Samaritan, that is, even the person most foreign to ourselves, is our neighbor. Rather, there is deep wisdom and insight into human psychology in this teaching. For humans, "the grass is always greener." The do-gooder dilettante will find it much easier to champion victims who are only images on a TV screen, and who demand only that we bash America in a Facebook post, in order to feel righteous.

If those bashing America now for her border policies were to rise from their comfortable perches in front of their ramparts from which they shoot salvos, that is if they were to take a break from their keyboards, they would discover that real needy people, the bum on the street corner of their nearest slum, say, are difficult. TV images don't smell bad. TV images don't try to pick your pocket. TV images don't return to drugs after you've invested time, money, and heartache in getting them clean. TV images don't make choices that sabotage their would-be saviors' best intentions. Yes. Charity begins at home. The person a truly caring person will focus on helping is nearby, and is difficult. If you can't help the person next to you, chances are you can't help the person behind that TV image.

I would love it if every open-borders supporter in this country now would take a day off from bashing America and Americans on Facebook and report to their local low-income area to devote their salvific efforts to American populations. I live in a low-income city. Mere feet away from where I sit, typing this document, there are men camped in a public park. It's 42 degrees Fahrenheit right now. Those men have nothing but ragged jackets between themselves and the cold. Many of them are alcoholics, drug addicts, and mentally ill. Many are African Americans, descendants of histories of injustice. 

Their tragic exposure and pathetic appearances are not the whole story. These men live mere feet away from a Salvation Army rescue facility. Why do they sleep in the park? Because the Salvation Army demands that before they receive three hots and a cot, the homeless men renounce drugs and weapons. They must also receive treatment for any mental illnesses. These men want their booze and their weapons more than they want an inside bed. They want to refuse treatment for their schizophrenia more than they want a warmth and nourishment. That's what it's like helping real people, rather than TV images. You face the impasses erected by real human beings' own bad choices.

Interestingly, many of my Facebook friends agitating for open borders don't live in neighborhoods anything like mine. When I google their hometowns, I find that they live in towns with above-average incomes, and below-average minority populations. If their photos are any guide, I can conclude that they live in comfortable suburban homes surrounded by large yards and colorful gardens.

Is it any wonder that they and I see America differently? I don't live in a rich enclave where illegal immigrants are the landscaper or the nanny. I and my neighbors don't have landscapers and we don't have nannies. We know how disruptive mass illegal immigration can be.

Over ten years ago, a local Democratic politician acknowledged to me that a much-needed, century-old hospital in my city would have to go under because it could no longer handle the burden of offering healthcare to immigrants. Why? Immigrants can claim that they have no income. They are often paid under the table. There is no record of their income. They send their salaries to their native countries, so they have no US bank accounts. Their health care tab shifts to the taxpayer. I witnessed such transactions first hand. I saw recent arrivals to the US claim to have no income and no assets and go out to the parking lot and enter brand new SUVs.

This financial drain is not the only price we pay for our flawed immigration system. In a 2007 article in City Journal, John Leo summarized then-recent research conclusions about the impact of diversity. Leo was summarizing the research of Robert Putnam, a superstar Harvard scholar. Leo reported that Putnam's "five-year study shows that immigration and ethnic diversity have a devastating short- and medium-term influence on the social capital, fabric of associations, trust, and neighborliness that create and sustain communities."

In my minority-majority city, I live the truth Putnam discovered. Inside the borders of this diverse city, people are ruder. They throw their garbage on the street rather than in a handy trash receptacle. They play music loudly. They get into fistfights. I have witnessed dozens, maybe over a hundred, street fistfights just from my own window. Blacks against Hispanics. Men against women. Teens against the homeless. In local stores, middleman minority Muslim shopkeepers hire Haitian strongmen to menace black and Hispanic shoppers.

When I cross the border, store security guards don't follow me. I am not asked to surrender my backpack before I shop. Bank personnel are courteous and eager to please and treat me less like a potential felon. Drivers follow basic traffic rules. All this happens the moment I cross the border. I am the same person. The only difference is where I am standing. Inside a more diverse environment, or inside a less diverse one.

There's another interesting occurrence every time I cross the border into my city. If I am given a ride, even by liberal friends, as soon as we cross the border into my city, I hear that loud, obtrusive CLICK. My driver, even among my most liberal friends, has just locked all the doors in the car.

George Borjas is himself an Hispanic immigrant. He was born in Cuba. He has shown through his research that poor, less well-educated Americans, including African Americans, suffer economically from immigration. If Jose will take that job for less than minimum wage, Joe, who must be paid on the books and be paid minimum wage, is screwed.

I think my Facebook friends who call us opponents of open borders "evil viruses" and "satanic" see America very differently. I think these people see America as guilty. As needing to be punished. As a big, fat, ATM machine that should be milked for all its got, and then milked some more. I think they see America not as their home at all. Not as something that they worked on. Not as something that they hold dear. I think they see America as something outside themselves, just a big, bad bank whose vaults should be emptied out and then burned.

Team open borders calls us xenophobes, bigots, haters, Nazis, and accuse us of lacking compassion. They insist that they have a monopoly on compassion and Biblical values.

I always find it rather ironic when people who have more money than I do, and whose exercise of compassion is limited to insulting me on Facebook, accuse me of being a xenophobic bigot. My first job after receiving my BA was as a teacher in a tiny, remote village in an impoverished, war-torn African country. After that I taught in a small village in Asia. I lived for years without electricity or running water, and I risked deadly disease, a few of which I managed to contract and, luckily, survive.

It is not compassionate or empathetic or Christian or Biblical to urge desperate people to leave their homes and walk over a thousand miles to a border that will inevitably frustrate them. It isn't compassionate or empathetic or Christian or Biblical to rage against one's own nation and one's own neighbors as "diabolical" "evil viruses." In Leviticus, in the Old Testament, and in Jesus' words in the New Testament, we are commanded to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. 

To love our neighbors, we have to start with loving ourselves. Opening the borders is not a loving thing to do, not to others, and not to ourselves. A rational border policy is about appropriate self-care. There's a reason parents must put on their own oxygen masks before they put on their child's. A parent who allows himself to suffocate is not going to be able to rescue his child. A nation that invites chaos by abandoning the most basic of security can do nothing for escapees from another chaos-torn country. We help Honduras, and the world best when we maintain our own integrity.

I invite open-borders supporters to act on their publicly announced compassion. Catholic Relief Services and numerous other aid agencies are active in Honduras and welcome donations. There are many opportunities to volunteer in Honduras. Inevitably, successful Americans who have achieved the American dream will have the most to contribute to others. That basic fact should be enough to cause open borders supporters to rethink their policy. When we have done well for ourselves, we are better able to do well for others.

Danusha Goska is the author of God through Binoculars

Monday, November 5, 2018

God Through Binoculars: A Hitchhiker at a Monastery. The Cover Decision

I like the first one better. The book is more focused on the woman than the binos or the monastery. I posted both on Facebook and most voted for the second one. So, as of right now, the second one it is, unless the publisher has second thoughts. 

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Matthew Shepard, Twenty Years Later, Rest in Peace

When I was as little girl in Catholic school, I was taught how important martyrs and martyrdom are to our understanding of our faith.

I found the idea unappealing. Why did there have to be such suffering? Why couldn't our moral universe encompass only sweetness and light?

As I grew older, I pondered another question: how could the average decent person, people like my friends, like myself, have supported systems like slavery and Jim Crow?

The martyrs of the Civil Rights movement, like the four little girls murdered in a bomb blast in a Birmingham church, may have taught me something about both questions.

Maybe ugly injustice is not exclusively the product of fanatics. Maybe ugly injustice is a product we all create. There are the fanatics leading the parade, of course, but the rest of us just go along. We say nothing, after someone tells a joke that offends us, we do nothing when the institutions we work for deny equal benefits to selected groups of our fellow employees, we hear nothing when our religious leaders preach a discrimination that Jesus never practiced.

I again ponder martyrdom and the education of the average, decent person in the wake of the murder of Matthew Shepard, a college student, around five foot tall, around a hundred pounds, who was tricked into a pick up truck, beaten, burned, and tied to a fence in a position typical of crucifixion. Later, his funeral was picketed by church members carrying signs reading, "Fag Matt in Hell."

We are shocked. Shocked. After the shock wears off, I hope Matthew's death can teach us as only martyrdom can, what the true face of homophobia is.


Twenty years ago, my short essays were occasionally broadcast via WFIU in Bloomington, Indiana. This was one of them.

On October 26, 2018, Matthew Shepard's ashes were laid to rest in the National Cathedral. Matt's parents had feared that placing them in any marked place would result in vandalism. They hope that, in the cathedral, Matt's ashes will be safe.