Author Archives: Ed Pluchar

Yes, permaculture.

Last time I introduced the concept of permaculture (assuming some might not already know) and offered a sampling of Catholic teaching which fits neatly – some would say plainly – with the practice of permaculture.  Then I said some hopelessly optimistic things about living with Mother Nature.

This time, a start at implementation.

Most of the resources I’ve encountered seem to agree on the principles of permaculture, which are summarized here.

As the Permaculture Association has it, the first principle is “Observe and Interact.”  Other permaculture resources say likewise, and some recommend an observation period of at least a year, if not longer.

Ain’t nobody got time for that!  No, but seriously, I’m a 21st century American – who thinks I’m going to wait around after I’ve just publicly committed to starting into permaculture?  I’ll observe, alright – then immediately act!  What, am I supposed to be patient, and restrain my desires?

Almost took up an inverted soapbox there.

Fortunately, I have been observing, and for longer than a year.  Every time I’ve mowed the lawn, I thought how I would like to incorporate more garden beds, and how to arrange them.  Once we started a garden in the backyard, I noticed how the sun moved across it, how the wind blew, and where things would have room to grow or climb or drain.

According to my foray into permaculture, it was observation by accident; but according to purposes I already had in mind, it was sustained observation.

For example:  One technique suggested for implementing permaculture is an herb spiral.  There are even videos guiding the curious to herbal glory.

We Pluchars like herbs at the ready, and so I thought of two locations, and Marcy picked one – the more reasonable one, of course.  This is just outside our back door:

Foundation for our herb-phitheater.

Now, as to observation:  This particular location is on the south side of our property.  That white vinyl fence is on the south side of the frame.  That particular area – next to the heat pump, with a short concrete sidewalk and two pebbled areas – has always seemed hot to me.  This struck me immediately, from before we bought the house, and has been verified repeatedly.

I believe this is because our house and the neighbor’s (relatively close by – maybe 40′, with a fence in the middle) act as a wind block, the heat pump generates heat in the summer, and the sidewalk and pebbles absorb heat on top of that.  Even when the “weather” is breezy and tolerable elsewhere on our property, it is stifling in this area.

Furthermore, I believe we will modify the herb spiral, in favor of an herb amphitheater…or and herb-phitheater, if you please.

Weep at my raw talent.
Weep at my raw talent.

The reason for this is that any herbs on the north side of a spiral would have precious few hours of sunlight – given the house sandwich.  Another drawing?

Site Map - Herb garden

Therefore – I presume, at any rate – an amphitheater design will be more advantageous.

But where to find the building materials?

Why every day cannot be Christmas Day

I write this at peak Christmas.

Peak Christmas does not happen on Christmas Day – it happens the night before.

All of the preparation, the carols, the extra coins in the red bucket at the grocery store, the stories of good will toward perfect strangers, the re-focusing on just what Christmas is all about, the magic of the nighttime, the anxious awaiting of dawn…

It reaches a head just before bedtime on Christmas Eve.  You could stride along, atop the sheer anticipation.

There are those universal moments – the story of a stranger pulling over to help someone stranded on the side of the road, or a famous person discreetly providing toys to poor children, or a church getting together to feed the homeless a hot meal – which elicit the lament, “Why can’t every day be like this?”  Or you sometimes hear it declared, ambitiously – “Make every day Christmas day!”

It would be nice, wouldn’t it?  A universal disposition toward concern for others, finding satisfaction in bringing joy to others, making impossible things happen – even the gaiety of spirit one experiences, alone, driving along a dark road with Christmas lights shining brightly.

Why can the people in darkness not see a great light, every night?

In the classic carol, “Little Drummer Boy,” there are two lines which go:

Little Baby, pa rum pum pum pum 

I am a poor boy too, pa rum pum pum pum 

This verse presents the Incarnation in a striking way.  A boy who is weathered by the elements, who knows hunger, who is always only days away from wasting away – this boy empathizes with the King of Kings, because the King has so completely relinquished His power.

He has arrived utterly powerless, utterly impoverished, an infant lying among beasts.  Of course a shepherd boy could relate.

What’s more, a few lines later – “Then He smiled at me.”

This can be our Lord’s simple pleasure at a shepherd boy’s humble song.  Then again, if you hold in mind the shared poverty, something else emerges:  It is a blessing.

The baby to the boy:  Your humble station, your poverty, are not the shackles you think they are.  You are here before the Almighty, aren’t you?  Did you not see the heavens open up, and angels arrayed like a mighty army, singing my praises?  And with Me, what will be impossible for you?

Of course, on the one hand, we cannot have our own birthdays every day.  Even if you tried to celebrate every day this way, it would – very quickly – exhaust your body’s ability to feel pleasure and your mind’s ability to call it happiness.

So that is the first answer:  Celebrations stand out from ordinary time, and require the experience of ordinary time in order to create the contrast, the novelty, the superlative atmosphere for which they are known.

See it another way – our ordinary experience in the modern world is Christmas-like for those from another place or time.  That the ordinary is no longer special is not only tautological, but part of the human condition.

The second answer rides aloft upon the first:  We are not home yet.

The Incarnation was a rescue mission, an invasion by God Himself to save His children when nothing else would work.

That He arrived as a baby was a profound stratagem, one that brought Him deftly behind enemy lines.  He evaded the princes and principalities, and He softened the guard each of us keeps on our hearts.

That the Almighty became frighteningly vulnerable; that the all-knowing became ignorant of His own name; that He who is Holy, Holy, Holy was tempted to sin…

All of this was done, to save you.

Nothing could be more extraordinary.  “Christmas every day” could never capture it, and it is undesirable in any case – because it would be a fraud.

What Christmas gives us is a flickering light through a dark glass.  It is nostalgic, like the memory of a long-deceased father who loved us very much.  It is one frame per second of the memory we wish could play over and over again.

It is, in short, a reminder of our true home.  Not even Christmas – not the best, most magnanimous, most inclusive, most abundant moment of Christmas – can truly accomplish what is longed for when we ask for Christmas every day.

That is achieved when God remakes the heavens and the earth – this world, the darkness, will pass away.

Everything else is a paltry imitation, and even the holy day itself merely points to this.  You will know it is really Christmas when you hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”



I’m late to the The Newsroom party, but not as late as I was to The West Wing.  The West Wing was quite a show, and among other things, I was highly titillated by the walk and talks, the snappy dialogue, the impossible-to-be-real witticisms.  I was one of those about whom Thomas Schlamme said, “They say they hate our politics, but love the show.”

Actually, I didn’t hate the politics.  I just disagreed with some of them.  Where some people agreed with the politics, they seemed not to like the dialogue.  They thought it just wasn’t realistic, and that it was turn-off, and that became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

But I thought that the dialogues were realistic – we just don’t often operate at that level, though perhaps we should.  I think that’s one of Aaron Sorkin’s morals in the series.  Do better (better angels).

Anyway, they were entertaining to this viewer.

We (my wife and I, and our housemate) just watched the “Bullies” episode of The Newsroom, which comes to a head when Will McAvoy berates a black, gay man, Sutton Walls, on primetime television for advising the campaign of Rick Santorum.  Santorum, of course, is against gay marriage in real life …and on the show.  (I think this point is not as obvious as it seems).

The line of McAvoy’s questioning suggests that Walls has failed an implicit ethic that he should never support or work for a candidate who opposes gay rights.  Doing so makes him a traitor to the cause.

Finally, Walls dispenses with his canned responses and forbearance and turns on McAvoy with a fury.  How dare McAvoy, Walls wants to know, decide for him what is important to his life and what is not?  How dare McAvoy make him nothing more than “black” and “gay”?  And he throws back the charge that McAvoy assumed he was immune to – stop being so narrow-minded.

One can almost feel Walls’ breath, his unconscious perturbations in space and time, coming through the screen.

And this is something like what I mean by being wholesome.

Or, as the poet Marc Barnes has said elsewhere, you are not a walking erection.  You are not your genitalia.

The best demonstration of wholesomeness I have seen – that I have the privilege of seeing – is in young children.  They are not yet left-handed or right-handed, not yet defined by sexuality, not yet even defined by religion or lack thereof.  (Ours are baptized, as fits children of Catholic parents, but none of them would tell you that he or she is Catholic)*.  They are not even defined, not really, by their likes and dislikes (the credit or blame for which probably falls on their parents).  Our eldest does not like tomatoes, but she is not defined as “she-who-does-not-like-tomatoes”.

In fact, none of this makes any sense to them.  I dare to say that when you ask them to think self-reflectively, the thing that comes next in their minds is best described as “essence.”  They can only conceive, vaguely, that they exist, and that they think and do and feel certain things.  They could tell you about their family and friends, their social happenstance.  And then – at least if my memory serves me – the rest is pure potency.

They are whole persons, and not the sum of their parts (which sum always seems to add up to less than a whole person).

But ask many people today, and you’ll get descriptors flattened out and sterilized – political affiliation, race, sexual orientation, gender.  You will hear them listed like height, weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels.  They don’t describe a person, they describe 3/10 of a caricature.  No one brings their biologically significant statistics to a first date or a job interview; nor should they walk around as though their socially “significant” statistics are at all indicative of the kind of person they are, or the kinds of things they would die for, or the true content of beliefs they hold.

You are – in all likelihood – sexual, but you are not only sexual.  Only the fool, or the coward, or worse, the devil, emphasizes it beyond proportion.  Sutton Walls understood this, and I admire him, even if he’s fictional.  He’s at least one person speaking the truth, even if we need to remove him from reality to give him a platform.  (The irony – that he’s actually a caricature, properly defined, doing better at speaking the truth than real persons – is not lost).

And circling back to the fictitious Mr. Walls – why was he supporting Santorum, anyway?  He was crusading against abortion.  He said, with all possible fire and conviction, that he believed as strongly as Santorum did about abortion, and he would fight to protect the rights of the unborn.  What do we make of a gay, black, pro-life man?

Make this of him – he is a whole person.  Even if Walls does not exist, that man does.  You have not, by identifying three characteristics, somehow portrayed the whole man.

I know that particular line – the stance against abortion – merely comes from the pen of Aaron Sorkin; it also comes from the heart of men like me, “white” and “straight,” who try to be complete human beings.  It speaks of recognizing personhood.


*I hope it will not be interpreted that I am wishy-washy about religious education.  Why would I believe what I do, unless I thought it was the truth?  If I think it’s the truth, why wouldn’t I tell my children about it?  But my point is that we do not emphasize beyond proportion that we are Catholic, and that children do not innately gravitate toward a religious identification.  Though…if I may extend the footnote…they may implicitly gravitate toward a catholic – in the sense of universal – religious sensitivity.

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Venerable Antonietta Meo

Venerable Antonietta Meo

Antonietta may become the  youngest (non-martyr) saint ever canonized by the Catholic Church.  At least that’s what Wikipedia tells me.

This is really amazing.  I think this is probably a good example of what Jesus meant by child-like faith.  Thanks to Mike Lloyd for the link.

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It is difficult to capture the miracle of the Resurrection.

On the one hand, we all experience it every day, arising from our sleep.  On the other, none but a small child believes he goes to sleep for the last time when he lays down his head.  (Is it a terror of existential darkness that causes young children to avoid bedtime?)

The finality of death is a cleft in the mind, the pit into which all fall and none recover.  What one makes of this creates a divide, while there is no division about waking up each morning.

What happens after we die?  Many guesses.

Whether death is an end, whether it just is the observed failure of the body to persist, whether it is the excising of a very particular person and presence from the world in the way she was commonly known?  Yes, no one argues this.

Put it this way:  Say you believe a loved one lives on, and well he might.  Now you observe him in little signs, a serendipitous word from a stranger, a rare species of flower where one does not ordinarily find it, an annoying thing he always did that comforts you now.  Here is the test:  Would you rather have these little signs for another 10 years, or one more day with him, in his fullness?

Death forces your hand, leaves you the scraps when you crave the feast.  It is a savage compromise, but that is the Universe we are in.

So much for the true and severe loss of death.

Now Good Friday is the collapse, the utter devastation and lifeless plummet into the pit.  It is the heavy-weight fight, the clash of Titans – Life vs. Death.  And Life, as expected (though recklessly hoped against) staggers and falls from unimaginable height to unimaginable depth.

One loses his breath.  Of course he does – he watches the Source of that breath, breathing His last.  He goes under, lost, never to return.


Easter Sunday is the unfathomable resurgence, the great inhale, the impossible gasp.  It is the cure of all depression, it is cause for an old man to leap to his feet and run like a child, it is fire and purpose to accept, stare down, … praise God for a torturous death.

Or become child-like again.  If the night brings terrors, what does the day bring?  What irrepressible joy comes with the dawn of a new sun?  What verve of anticipation passes through your bones just to think of Christmas morning?  (And why Christmas morning, and no other?)

Run, and never grow weary.


Easter is our great Hero finding the bottom of a bottomless pit.  It is saving the souls of the irredeemably lost.

It is slipping into darkness, clawing to stay awake, alive…the sheer terror of all joy, all love, all of everything being ripped away…

…and then you wake up, and there are no more tears, and all you know is love and joy and the thrill of existence.

See – It is death that is impossible.  You will live.

Happy Easter.

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Two Catholic Guys Podcast – Episode 3 – Lectio Divina

The motions

The motions

My daughter Amelia is about to turn 2, and she is such a delightful human being.  She is at an age when she loves to see what Mama and Papa are doing, and she does her best to imitate.  This includes baking, putting on deodorant, nursing babies (she nurses her doll), reading stories (again, she’ll read to her doll), and even exercising.  All of this is taken up with wonder and exuberance.

This will tie in, in a moment.

From the first donation, I have been fascinated with the whole process of giving blood.  Naturally, there are the very good, altruistic reasons for doing it – you can help save or improve the lives of those who are critically injured or ill.  In fact, it is an almost completely altruistic act.  The only thing one concretely gets from it is a snack and some juice.  Less concretely may be a sense of moral superiority, but we’ll leave that aside for now.

The fascination has to do with actually giving away, in a real sense, a part of one’s very life.  It is admittedly a modest part, and one that is not very sacrificial beyond giving up some time and a short list of activities (including heavy lifting) for the remainder of the day.  The feeling of moral superiority may be too great a reward, but then it usually is.

And yet, giving blood is an act which seems to violate our survival instincts.  We don’t usually succumb to needles plunging into our major veins, drawing out the substance that keeps our bodies alive.  Blood-letting is only a step or two behind death.

In fact, I once tried to watch the nurse push the needle into my vein:  It was like the physical manifestation of heresy.  My brain – the very organism of my body – barely kept from fainting.  My mind, I am careful to say, understood what was happening and consented; my body witnessed it and attempted a silent mutiny.

Again, modestly, I say that giving blood is a small death, like those of our Christian tradition.  The Lord has shown us that we must continually die to ourselves, and I have found this to be an effective tactic every 8 weeks or so.

It is, I think, one of my favorite ways of imitating Christ.  Like Amelia, my imitation cannot be confused with the real thing – she has never actually fed a baby, nor has she actually baked a cake.  But she is imitating, and therefore she is learning the motions.

Giving blood is not the same as death by crucifixion, nor in my wildest imagination do I pretend that it is.  (There is a writer’s temptation here to want to stomp the comparison into the ground – to fully articulate how far above my act is Christ’s.  But I daresay it is unnecessary, both for me and for anyone reading).  No, I am not being crucified, and I am not without sin; but, in a very small way, I am learning the motions.  I am giving away a small portion of life, and doing it freely.  I pray that doing so faithfully will help me reach spiritual adulthood.

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“The more things change,…”

“The more things change,…”

There was a feature in the Chicago Tribune this past Sunday which was simply uncanny, though not surprising.  Headlines and political cartoons were reprinted from as long as 140 years ago, with the too-blunt-to-be-implicit point that we haven’t really conquered many of our big problems.  A few were:

“OIL SPILL THREATENS GULF” from a spill in 1980 of 4,000 barrels.  There were concerns about how and where the oil would disperse.

“REVOLT MAY BE NEARING,” leading with “Taxes are becoming so burdensome…” and more or less describing what the tea parties are about.  It was 1949, and a quoted expert said, “the politicians, apparently, are not aware of the situation.”

There were two about the CTA’s financial problems, from 1950 and 1967.  And there’s one about how Cubs fans are long-suffering.  The date on that one is 1968.

In this context, I would like to share some quotes from GK Chesterton, which have a similar effect.

“Do not look at the faces in the illustrated papers. Look at the faces in the street.”

“Progress should mean that we are always changing the world to fit the vision, instead we are always changing the vision.”

“I still hold. . . that the suburbs ought to be either glorified by romance and religion or else destroyed by fire from heaven, or even by firebrands from the earth.”

“This is the age in which thin and theoretic minorities can cover and conquer unconscious and untheoretic majorities.”

“There is a corollary to the conception of being too proud to fight. It is that the humble have to do most of the fighting.”

“If you attempt an actual argument with a modern paper of opposite politics, you will have no answer except slanging or silence.”

“When a politician is in opposition he is an expert on the means to some end; and when he is in office he is an expert on the obstacles to it.”

Bear in mind, if you don’t know, that he lived from 1874-1936.

One thought on ““The more things change,…”

  1. I think this might become the motto of my priesthood if I end up in a suburban diocese “I still hold. . . that the suburbs ought to be either glorified by romance and religion or else destroyed by fire from heaven, or even by firebrands from the earth.”

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The Moral Case to Defund Planned Parenthood

The Moral Case to Defund Planned Parenthood

(Even if you are pro-choice)

I speak from the uncountable number of arguments and apologies I have encountered from pro-choice people.  If I am somehow neglecting your argument, feel free to introduce it.

I doubt, however, that any pro-choice argument can be reduced past this:  You are pro-choice because you believe in a woman’s right to choose.  That is, you believe in rights.

Bear in mind, first of all, that “rights” in general must be more basic than “the right to choose.”  The set of all rights bestowed on human beings includes such things – in the pro-choice rendering – as the “right to choose,” but it also includes – in the general American rendering – the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Very well.

Now, the right to life is pre-eminent.  Without the right to life, you could not have a right to liberty.  Enjoying liberty entails being alive.  Likewise with the pursuit of happiness, or equal treatment under the law, or whatever.

(Be patient with me.  I am not sneaking in a pro-life argument.  We are simply understanding that upon which we already agree.)

So one who is human and alive has a right to life; and we agree, at least, that a human is alive when she is born.  Thus, even when the child is born prematurely, we make every effort to help her survive.


The first moral case is that Planned Parenthood allegedly permitted fetuses to be born alive – which makes them infants, for whom we agree the right to life is secure.

Then, they harvested organs.

Now, let me throw out the first offer, and make myself vulnerable in this discussion:  If this story is false, then the claim is invalid.  The story rests on the testimony of an eyewitness.  Eyewitnesses are notoriously imperfect.

And yet, their testimony is still accepted as evidence.  (Or do you not accept the testimony of rape victims?)  It is reliable enough that we consider it true, unless there is reason to believe it is false.

It is valid enough that an investigation is warranted, as it would be in a case of rape, or even a case of petty theft.

But if the testimony is true, what do you say?

If you are a person of integrity, you will say that Planned Parenthood has therefore committed an atrocity, murdering an infant in cold blood for the purpose of harvesting its organs.  Indeed – as we saw with the first two videos – for the purpose of making a profit.

You do not need to be pro-life to find this morally reprehensible.  You can be pro-choice and be every bit as disgusted and outraged (not petty outrage – real outrage) as anyone else.  You do not need to compromise on a woman’s right to choose in this instance.

If you are morally and logically consistent, you will want criminals to be held accountable.  There is a legal and moral law prohibiting the killing of infants, and it should be enforced.

We can stand together on infanticide.  If they are guilty, Planned Parenthood should be defunded and prosecuted.


NB – A possible objection is that, even so, the baby delivered in this instance was clinically dead, and one cannot kill what is already dead.  The beating of the heart is something like stored electrical energy, which was released, but this is not the same thing as being alive.

I answer that,

  1. This is in the context of the accusation that Planned Parenthood makes efforts to deliver fetuses “fully in tact,” which is essentially the definition of partial-birth abortion (illegal) and sounds perilously close to delivering born alive infants (resulting in infanticide).
  2. Even so, as my wife the PICU nurse said, every effort would be made to preserve and resuscitate the infant if it showed signs of life.  This certainly would have been true at the moment of delivery, even if, minutes later, the signs of life were incidental at best.  (She also notes that the rate of survival is not good in these cases, though neither is it zero).

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The great balcony in the sky

The great balcony in the sky

I, like many Americans, was very saddened to hear of the passing of Roger Ebert today. No matter what my feelings were with the quality of his reviews (I feel like, later in his life, he could often be very inaccurate on basic plot tenants when providing a summary) I still felt like his reviews MEANT something. As a kid, when a movie had TWO THUMBS UP that was always a sign that the movie was going to be good. What I think I admired most about Ebert was his ability to appreciate movies as art, but to keep his reviews in line with his midwestern sensibilities, which could be counted on by the mainstream movie goer. He loved great films, high concept films, indie films and the like, but also did not punish films that were meant to be popcorn fare and would still give them the approval of the worlds most famous and influential thumb since the Roman empire.

Many of the comments on social media speak of Mr. Ebert going to that great balcony in the sky, where he will pick his argument back up with his long time sparring partner Gene Siskel , who passed away in 1999.

But to talk like that would be to blatantly disrespect Mr. Ebert. Mr. Ebert did not believe he would be going to any such place. Nor did he believe his friend would be there waiting for him. Because, to Mr. Ebert, no such place exists. Mr. Ebert understood our need to believe such a place existed; he respected that need, but found it completely improbable.

Today, when Roger Ebert smiled at his wife of 20 years and breathed his last he ceased to exist. Maybe not totally. In his own words, today he “live[s] on indefinitely in [his] constituent atoms, which will be recombined in dust, flowers, trees, the wind, other living beings, and eventually in cosmic stardust.”

In a country that wants to become completely tolerant of all views, and to allow every man and woman to make their own choice in the privacy of their own hearts, minds, and homes we must not disrespect his choice. We must not insist, contrary to his desire and will, that he lives on in a great balcony in the sky.

The balcony is closed.

I wish Mr. Ebert would’ve examined why it is we all need to believe he is with Mr. Siskel somewhere. Why we desire for two men we never have met to rekindle their friendship so they could go back to doing what they loved in this life. Why it gives us great hope and joy that the balcony somehow, someway, IS OPEN.

This innate feeling of ours – to believe in that reality of the afterlife – was just simply a premise not worth examining much* on his way to the conclusion that his atoms are now becoming cosmic dust.

So Mr. Ebert grants us these feelings, but thinks they are not founded in any form of truth. And we must respect his wishes – and in doing so we must confront the very real question – where IS Mr. Ebert now? We can comfort ourselves with our own hopes for Mr. Ebert, but we must then ask ourselves an even more important question – what do I believe about what will happen when I die?

*At least never in his public musings on the matter.

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