Thursday, March 29, 2012

un uomo novo

You are hereby ordered to buy, browse, download, or otherwise obtain the April 2012 issue of GQ, which, besides having a wonderful grey-on-grey pictorial of that guy from Mad Men, has an article, called "Un Uomo Nuovo," in which the author goes to visit an Italian clothier, and discovers an entire philosophy of craftsmanship, manhood, making the world a better place, dressing well, being a gentleman in today's world.


The man he visits, Brunello Cucinelli, has built a small empire in his small village, now employing 700 people, giving them not only employment in today's uncertain economy, but also giving them the great gift of valuing their individual crafts and contribution to the garments he sells, bestowing them, and their wearer, with dignity — a word that this man could singlehandedly revive in our culture if he's not careful.
Because in a world of mass production and a fair amount of random chaos, it's intoxicating to believe that the individual human being still matters — and that someone is bearing down on these details.

Absolutely a must-read. Its combination of soaring humanism, deep spirituality, interested-in-everything inquiry, confident manhood, and how it all fits together captures perfectly why we subscribe to GQ. Do them the favor of your patronage.

Monday, March 26, 2012

fragrance tour, part 3

Completing the tour of my colognes and eau de toilettes, in the order they're lined up on my shelf.


Estée Lauder for Aramis
JHL

It's hard to adequately express my feelings about JHL. A lifetime of special occasions, great outfits, and extraordinary ordinary days have distilled themselves into this fragrance, and flood me every time I wear it. It's perfect for black tie, perfect for a slamming suit, perfect for exuding sumptuous splendor. It's also a triumph of marketing. When I was in high school I noticed immediately that it smelled exactly like Cinnabar, a perfume marketed for women. All they did was change the label and sell it to a whole new customer. But labels, though they most certainly mattered to the men and women who bought them, don't matter to me as much as this great scent: bergamot, cinnamon, orange, and sandalwood smells combine into something immediately recognizable and unlike anything else I have.
WORN SINCE: 1983


Hugo Boss
Boss

Unbelievably pungent when you first put it on, but elegant and confident and broad-smiled. It mellows to a still-sharp but distinctly honeyish and tobaccoey smell. Perfect for those giant Italian suits we all wore in the mid-90s, and still perfect for a slamming outfit and an evening out.
WORN SINCE: 1993


Yves Saint Laurent
Kouros

This is the lyrical, flawless big hitter. I liked this on other guys, but it always smelled like sweat on me, until one fine day in about 1988 when it didn't. Bought it immediately and have loved it ever since. Mossy and incensy, with some sort of powdery spice in there that lifts it a bit, it's clean and sporty enough to wear on an active day, but it absolutely shines with a black tie. Sophisticated, manly, modern, and utterly sexy.
WORN SINCE: 1988


Fabergé
Cellini

One of my first cologne enthusiasms. With an extremely well-balanced blend of wood and herbs and amber and spices, surrounded by a resinous warmth, it's a perfect fit for brisk fall weather and its fashions. They discontinued it in the late 80s; I parsimoniously stretched and stretched my last bottle; just a few years ago I found a rare bottle and snatched it up. So thrilled to be wearing it again regularly.
WORN SINCE: 1981


Looking over what I've had to say about each of these colognes, I realize that, although I don't go for the same type of scent every time as some guys do, going instead for a broad variety, there is indeed something in common: each of these is distinctive. Although I've occasionally worn Drakkar Noir and Obsession and Cool Water and Nautica, those scents that overtook and overtake the college dorms every Friday night, the typical citrus guy cologne never really did it for me. I've always enjoyed things that are warmer, or spicier, or crisper: things that are -er, things that are just a bit offbeat. Certainly none of the above are all that hard to find, or horribly expensive, or even less than popular. They just each have a distinctive personality to bring to a situation.

***

Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5 - Part 6

Friday, March 23, 2012

fragrance tour, part 2

Continuing the tour of my colognes and eau de toilettes, in the order they're lined up on my shelf.


C.O. Bigelow Apothecary
Elixir Red

Very very very herbal, with a peppery fruitiness that lasts well, leaving you smelling zippy and fresh, even on an active day. Manly in an old-fashioned way, and businesslike enough for work, but goes casual, goes to church, goes just about anywhere.
WORN SINCE: 2010


Chanel
Platinum Égoïste

A favorite. This one is light and piercing, with a nice strong lavender smell but with enough muskiness to make it distinctive. There's also a strong jasminy flavor that comes out after a while. It dresses up very nicely, giving crispness to a suit and tie, but I more often wear it in casual settings. Plenty sexy.
WORN SINCE: 1995


Ralph Lauren
Polo

That's right, folks. Polo. The jockiest of jock colognes, worn by jocks and frat boys and scorned by hipsters since the Eighties. There were several guys at our high school who must have dipped their hats in it. You could smell them when they entered the building. Nonetheless, it's a simply gorgeous smell that can be described by looking at the color of the bottle: It smells like that shade of green. I wear it very very rarely; I bought it half-used from a friend who was tired of it (as we all were), and still haven't finished the bottle. But man, when I'm in the mood, nothing else will do. Like a Journey song, it's a pleasure.
WORN SINCE: 1988
***

Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5 - Part 6

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

fragrance tour, part 1

A tour of my colognes and eau de toilettes, in the order they're lined up on my shelf.


CA Trading Co.
Dominica Bay Rum

Bay Rum is the granddaddy of fragrances, in every possible sense of the term. For generations, it's been one of the great pleasures of being a man. My uncle Howard smelled of it. I never knew what it was till he was older and couldn't shop and we had to pick up some for him. Ah, that's what that fragrance is! When I moved into his house many years later, I put my Bay Rum where he had put his. Last year I shattered the wonderful old bottle my friend Jeff Walker had given me (from the J. Peterman era, with the cork and the cool old label). This new one is different, but holds the same beguiling stuff, made from bay leaf oil and smelling mildly clovy and spicy. Always fresh, always civilized, never overbearing.
WORN SINCE: 1992


Givenchy
Pi

Dark and woody. Starts off very basily and sandalwoody, and then it mellows out into something much sweeter and thicker. The first time I tried it I simply loved it, and bought some on the spot. It's typically manly, but more distinctive than the usual scents marketed toward men. Great for wearing with suits, sweaters, and casualwear. Of the more contemporary proper colognes, this is probably Catherine's favorite, I think because I wore it a lot when we were first dating.
WORN SINCE: 2001


Yves Saint Laurent
YSL

Simply divine. Lemon and herb with a weird touch of sweetness, and an unmistakable dose of mint right up front that may sound weird but fits right in. After a couple of hours it smells almost like some lost kind of wine. The fragrance that lingers for hours and hours is pleasant and luxurious: it's always reminded me of something The Saint would have worn. I've loved it for years, but it doesn't always go with everything. Use it for a dressy day occasion in the spring, though, and you can't go wrong.
WORN SINCE: 1982

***

Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5 - Part 6

Friday, March 16, 2012

a milestone, and a 700-day conversation

I've been working behind the scenes at a church for some years now, attempting to get the church to address the issue of accountability. What happens when something goes wrong? What happens when I'm angry at you for something?

If you ever want to get a glimpse of what a church is like, bypass the questions about musical style and whether there are small groups, and ask, "Who wins an argument at this church? How are conflicts resolved?"

Actually, this works for other organizations as well.

Meanwhile, my behind-the-scenes work comprised conversations with staffers, lay leaders, committee leaders, pastors, interim pastors, and all over again: a representative sample of every rank and file of church life. I truly believe that it was my mission, my last ministry at a church where I'd been ministering many years, to bring the issues of Biblical accountability to the table. Naturally, I was under no illusions about whether people are likely to change if they don't want to. I understood from the outset that I was strictly to be the one who brought it up.

Though I didn't explore every single possible avenue, I may have explored enough to come to some tentative conclusions: far from being one of those situations in which the will of a group of people can be known and has a definitive direction but is being blocked by a few gatekeepers, this is a case in which we can say that the will of the group is being carried out by nearly everyone. Every single person I talked to, whether paid or unpaid, whether super-involved or casually involved, whether a decisions person or an influence person or an action person, every person, unanimously, expressed great enthusiasm at the thought that this church could finally begin mending a flaw, great relief that someone was pushing to get things done, great support for whatever plan (a sermon series, a 40-day study, an official change of policy) was in their sphere.

And every person, unanimously, then found some way of saying that they couldn't really follow through. I heard "it's too soon," a mere 30 days before hearing "it's too late." I heard "Man, I'm really on board with this but I just have too much on my plate right now." I heard "you're hurting" (so therefore this isn't an issue? Well of course it is, but "you're obviously still feeling much pain." The implications of that are disturbing enough to be outside the scope of this post). I heard "I understand some Deacons, and perhaps some staff, may prefer not to emphasize the problem, so I, of course, do not want to be divisive."

Listen to the conversations behind that last statement.

Of course, the best way to divide a church is to avoid a discussion about conflict and confrontation and accountability and problem-solving.

So my last ministry there is finished, with the result I'd predicted but not desired. One sign it was done was when a thread of my effort finally came to its conclusion last September. I offer you, expunged of personal details, 18 emails that took place over 700 days.




Tue, Oct 13, 2009 at 6:55 AM
From: Barry Brake
To: H__________

[How about if you] propose the following:

No action will be taken on any complaint against a staff member or lay leader until that person has heard that complaint from the complainant.


I know that, at least as far as how things actually turn out, it's tilting at windmills, but there can be no pretext under which anyone could criticize this rule: it's merely an official recognition of scripture in Matthew 18:15 and Ephesians 4.

--
barry




Tue, Oct 13, 2009 at 9:42 AM
From: H__________
To: Barry Brake

That's probably a good idea — not for the [x committee] — but for the [y committee]. I’ll pass along the suggestion.




Wed, Nov 4, 2009 at 3:38 PM
From: Barry Brake
To: H__________

What has come of this, if anything? Have you talked to anyone?

--
barry




Wed, Nov 4, 2009 at 3:58 PM
From: H__________
To: Barry Brake

Our committee has had only an organizational meeting and probably won't meet again until after the first of the year. But I still have this in my notes and will bring it up.




Tue, Jan 5, 2010 at 5:14 PM
From: Barry Brake
To: H__________

OK -- what's the word on this? Will you all be having a meeting soon?

--
barry




Tue, Jan 5, 2010 at 5:47 PM
From: H__________
To: Barry Brake

No meeting yet scheduled. I'll let you know.




Thu, Feb 11, 2010 at 5:51 PM
From: Barry Brake
To: H__________

Any progress on this?

--
barry




Thu, Feb 11, 2010 at 11:24 PM
From: H__________
To: Barry Brake

Not yet. We're focusing now on getting a few stragglers [...] to actually complete their policies for approval. When it comes time for the annual review of those documents, I’ll make sure the [x committee] takes this up.




Fri, Feb 12, 2010 at 12:32 AM
From: Barry Brake
To: H__________

> When it comes time for the annual review of those documents, I’ll make sure
> the [x committee] takes this up.

So would that be a church-wide rule, then, or would it only apply to the [x committee]? That committee hasn't even been part of the process in some of the things that such a church-wide rule would correct.

--
barry




Fri, Feb 12, 2010 at 11:08 AM
From: H__________
To: Barry Brake

Well, that's an interesting question. My sense was that it would be an issue for the [x] policy. I don't know where it would be stated elsewhere, unless it would be in the area of the bylaws that deals with membership. We'll chew on the possibilities. I can assure you that nothing will happen overnight!




Thu, Aug 26, 2010 at 4:24 AM
From: Barry Brake
To: H__________

Whatever came of this? Has it been taken up by the [x committee]? How did people respond?

--
barry




Thu, Aug 26, 2010 at 8:54 AM
From: H__________
To: Barry Brake

Nothing has come of it. I'll try to see if anyone on the [x committee] has seriously considered it and encourage them to do something. Thanks for reminding me.




Sun, Mar 6, 2011 at 4:24 AM
From: Barry Brake
To: H__________

Whatever came of this? Has it been taken up by the [x committee]? How did people respond?

--
barry




Sun, Mar 6, 2011 at 9:46 PM
From: H__________
To: Barry Brake

I don't know what the [x committee] has ever done with this, but I'll put it on our agenda for discussion. This time we were dealing with amendments which needed to be made to smooth day-to-day administrative stuff.




Thu, Sep 22, 2011 at 12:31 PM
From: Barry Brake
To: H__________

How did the discussion go?

--
barry




Thu, Sep 22, 2011 at 1:43 PM
From: H__________
To: Barry Brake

I thought I'd given you the report on this. We determined that any statement like this did not belong in the [x committee] and referred it to the [y committee]. The committee leader of that committee told me several weeks ago that they had discussed it and decided not to include it in their [new policy] since they believe [it] already adequately address the manner in which complaints are handled.




Thu, Sep 22, 2011 at 2:23 PM
From: Barry Brake
To: H__________

Wow, I hadn't heard that.

Do *you* think that the [new policy] adequately addresses the manner in which complaints are handled?

--
barry




Thu, Sep 22, 2011 at 5:29 PM
From: H__________
To: Barry Brake

I doubt it. But I was told that "we must rely on our members to handle things biblically." I answered that that hasn't been the case on many occasions. A shrug, a nod and a change of subject.




There you have it. Merely a symbol of the many many conversations I've had over 5 years, that all turned out just about like this one.

There is, though, one thing that can be done, and it's something you can do: adopt this rule in your own life. Take no action on any complaint against anyone until that person has heard that complaint, from the person who made it.

There's a corollary: Accept no action on any complaint against yourself until you have heard that complaint, from the person who made it.

Sure, there are business situations where it couldn't apply, but in interpersonal ones it most certainly does. At times it will take everything you've got to stick with it. You will be amazed at how strongly people will insist that this (entirely reasonable and fair) policy must not be followed. They'll give all sorts of reasons that sound right for a moment, but you can stand strong. It can change your life, and it can transform your family, your office, your school, every group you're part of.

Whadaya say? Promise?

Saturday, March 10, 2012

freedom, religion, and freedom of religion

Obama's re-election campaign should really send Rush Limbaugh a thank-you note and a 5 percent commission. The bottom line is that, being good at politics, which has less to do with reality than with perception, they parlayed the whole incident into an effective motivator for a notoriously unmotivated bunch of voters.

And, no matter what you think about the actual issue, you have to say that Limbaugh's remarks were ill-considered. I truly believe he didn't mean them the way they were eventually interpreted, but nonetheless it's been obvious for years that he has a mean streak. It's part of why so many listen to him.

But let's not get distracted from the actual issue, which probably isn't going to go away: can the government force religious institutions (hospitals, universities) to pay for services that go against their beliefs? There's a lot to say on both sides of the issue. I think I could be very persuasive in defending either position. But as the conversation continues over the next while, and as people claim that this isn't really about contraception or women's health as much as it is about religious liberty, you might keep in mind that this is indeed about religious liberty, but it's about religious liberty concerning contraception and women's health — as opposed to, for instance, war.

Some 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women in the United States have used contraceptive methods banned by the church; only 2 percent of Catholic women, even those who regularly attend church, rely on natural family planning. A far higher number than that are opposed, for religious reasons, to warfare. Along with conscientious-objector Catholics, and Quakers, Mennonites, Amish, Seventh-Day Adventists, and Jehovah's Witnesses, you can also add the millions of people who would allow for an active defense of our country's borders but, in the tradition of St. Magnus, are categorically against the actions we take, with dispiriting regularity, as the world's policeman.

And yet these people's taxes, and many billions more, paid for our folly in Iraq.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

what's on greta's mind

You can't always tell what's on someone's mind just from what they're saying. On the other hand, with Greta, it might be close. She stands in her crib, saying, "Da-da. Abendstern. Choo-choo."

We go on walks through the park together; she mostly goes with Cate, but when she's with me I always point out the Evening Star, and sing a few bars of "O du, mein holder Abendstern," from Tannhäuser. And she's always fascinated by the train in the park.

So, is she imagining she's on a walk with us? Dream, my girl. I will love you forever.