The old Durham Cemetery

The town of Durham, California, was founded by Robert W. Durham of Virginia, who inherited 240 acres of Rancho Esquon from his business partner, Samuel Neal. The town was planned by Robert Durham and his nephew, William W. Durham, in 1870 when the railroad came through, as a transportation and supply center for local farming operations. The Durham family and the town’s early pioneers are buried in an old cemetery just a few miles outside of town. I lived about a mile away from the cemetery in my boyhood and remember the place as being overgrown, neglected, and abandoned. According to a group of concerned citizens who restored the cemetery:

“In 1978, the defunct Christian Service Society deeded the cemetery to a private family. Over the years, weeds, brush and huge bushes of poison oak were rampant throughout the gravesites, and it became impossible for families to place flowers or visit the final resting place of their loved ones. When building materials appeared on top of the gravesites, the community of Durham became outraged. Residents banded together in a joint effort to protect and defend this sacred and historic site. In 1994, after many years of conflict and legal proceedings, the Butte County Board of Supervisors initiated eminent domain proceedings and subsequently approved an agreement designating the newly formed ‘Durham Cemetery Preservation Association, Inc.’ as caretakers. The non-profit Association was given the responsibility for restoration, repair and maintenance of the cemetery.

The monumental task of cleaning up years of neglect and disrepair was started immediately. The cleanup has revealed beautiful marble and granite grave markers which have not seen the light of day for decades. Other stones were repaired, and families contributed toward obtaining new stones for those missing or destroyed. Records of burials at Durham Cemetery had long since disappeared, so research was conducted to document evidence of those buried there.”

I had about 30 minutes to kill this afternoon and stopped by the old cemetery to take a few photographs. The place is now properly cared for and is obviously being used again by local families. The large monuments of the Durham family are the most most prominent graves in the cemetery, as they should be. Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon them. And may the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.






R.I.P., Boy Scouts of America

Scout taking oath

The final promise of the Scout oath is the most important: “to keep myself … morally straight”. And that promise has now been broken by the leadership of the Boy Scouts of America in a spectacular way.

The new membership policy states that “No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone.” Some Catholic commentators, including bishops, note that the bare words of this policy do not violate Catholic teaching. And that is quite true in the strictest sense of “orientation” and “preference”. I have all kinds of orientations and preferences that are opposed to the virtues of Scouting, and even opposed to the commandments of God. Living a “morally straight” life means striving to overcome sinful or disordered “orientations”. A literal reading of the new policy is therefore not a problem for Catholics.

In fact, the Scout’s previous policy doesn’t even violate the new policy. The old policy asserted “… we do not grant membership to individuals who are open or avowed homosexuals or who engage in behavior that would become a distraction to the mission of the BSA.”  Sexual orientation or preference wasn’t the issue. Same-sex attraction, by itself, was never enough to be excluded from membership. The problem was the openness and the self-identification with homosexuality. The policy referred to “avowed homosexuals”, avowed meaning “to declare openly, boldly, and unashamedly”. The issue has always been the open and public identification with homosexuality and the implied approval of homosexual acts

What, then, has changed?

The Boy Scouts of America did not simply tack a new explanatory note onto the old policy. If they had, the clarification would have been unremarkable. Rather, the Boy Scouts of America repealed the old policy and replaced it with a new one. Taken at face value, the mild language about “sexual orientation or preference” in the new policy is a red herring. It’s not the real story. The big news is that the former policy excluding “open or avowed homosexuals” has been formally rejected.

Now that we’ve examined the plain words, let us confront the plain message behind the words. The fact that the exclusion of “open or avowed homosexuals” was replaced with a prohibition of exclusion based on “sexual orientation or preference” indicates that, in the minds of BSA leadership, “sexual orientation or preference” is expected to be “open or avowed”. The unmistakable message is that open or avowed homosexuals are no longer excluded from membership.

Teenage boys talk about lots of things. Very often, they talk about girls – even chaste boys who are not sexually active, and who have no intention of being sexually active until marriage, can talk a lot about girls. Presumably scouts who consider themselves homosexuals will be free to talk about other boys in the same way that normal boys talk about girls, and nothing can be done about it (unless, of course, talking about girls is now forbidden.) This will change the entire culture of the organization by introducing a sexual element into the group, permeating every relationship. A certain innocence will be lost, trust will be compromised, needless confusion will be sowed, and social pressure will increase exponentially. Consider the fact that BSA’s magazine for boys, Boy’s Life, runs an advice column that often deals with “girl problems”. Expect this column to begin addressing “boy problems” in the near future. As a recent case here in northern California demonstrates, the unchecked presence of homosexuality within a troop can and does lead to disaster.

Open homosexuality adds still another more insidious, tyrannical element to the problem: that of institutional dishonesty. Everyone must now pretend that homosexual behavior is natural, moral, and healthy. Sexually confused boys, who might otherwise grow up normally, may come to believe it themselves and act accordingly. Worst of all, though, the culture of lies now forced on the Boy Scouts of America will produce a systematic and habitual dishonesty within the organization across the board.

Thus far, to the best of my knowledge, of the Catholic bishops to whom we look for leadership and direction only Bishop Paul Loverde of the Diocese of Arlington, VA, has had the courage to suggest that the new policy “forces us to prayerfully reconsider whether a continued partnership with the BSA will be possible”. Otherwise the response of Catholic bishops has been weak and insipid, to say the least – though not surprising given the dismal state of the Church today. With respect to the new policy the National Catholic Committee on Scouting wants to “study its effects”. Give me a break. I suggest they study the Bible and Catechism.


There is some good news on the horizon. A coalition of former BSA leaders and parents are meeting in Louisville, Kentucky next month to plan for a new organization that will be true to the traditional virtues of Scouting.

“I am pleased to announce that OnMyHonor.Net along with other likeminded organizations, parents and BSA members, are announcing a coalition meeting that will take place next month in Louisville, Kentucky. There we will discuss the creation of a new character development organization for boys. While the meeting will be private, your voice is very important to us and will be represented there.  We will host and facilitate a national coalition meeting of former BSA parents and other youth leaders who wish to return to truly timeless values that once made the BSA great.  We welcome your comments as we develop our plans. Please share your thoughts with us at Contact@OnMyHonor.Net.”

There is a growing movement of Catholic scouting called the Federation of North American Explorers. This group has a lot of promise and organizational support is already in place. Also – Dr. Taylor Marshall of Fisher-More College is launching the Catholic Scouts of St. George, which seems to have gained considerable traction in a short time.

As for scouting in Chico, I am not optimistic. Our scoutmaster, God bless him, is furious and disgusted at the BSA’s decision and is soul-searching about what to do. Yet he feels “obligated to carry on the tradition”, and I can’t help but sympathize. The troop has been a blessing for these boys, many of whom have formed great friendships and worked hard to achieve their rank. Conservative troops like ours will probably try to carry on as usual, hoping the subject never comes up. Alternative scouting organizations are not likely to find much support around here.

Scouting families need to understand something. The Boy Scouts of America isn’t going to let troops ignore the homosexual agenda. A memo from the Golden Empire Council hints at “new safety trainings, camp dynamics, and other incremental changes” on the way. The BSA today isn’t the same organization it was last week. The uniform today stands for something different.

Anthony Esolen: “So Where’s the Social?”

Although we moved from 20 acres in the country to a house on a city lot, I’m doing a lot more walking here in town. This seems counter-intuitive, but not when you consider that a healthy neighborhood really serves as everyone’s “front yard”.  Like much of Chico, our new neighborhood is supremely walkable. Chico prides itself on being pedestrian and bicycle friendly, and not without justice, although the reality can be a mixed bag. Here on the east side we have quiet, shady, tree-lined streets with cracked sidewalks, gardens peeking through and crawling over old fences, children playing on their lawns and riding bicycles, and a decent variety of modest landscapes all of which make for pleasant and interesting walks. A few days ago my older boys and a friend asked to walk in Bidwell Park after nightfall, because the park is spooky-looking and it was a full moon, and off they went for over an hour, loving every minute. I kept my daughters at home, over-protective dad that I am, but perhaps I’ll relent if we go in a larger group.

This afternoon I met some of our neighbors at a garage sale across the street, a retired couple who has lived there for 25 years. The old gentleman makes birdhouses and sells them to raise money for his grandchildren. We’ve only met a few neighbors thus far: most keep to themselves and seem to like it that way. Is there an invisible community here? My guess is that there does exist a community of sorts, especially among the parents of children attending the neighborhood elementary school, and perhaps among the older residents as well. But I suspect that most of our neighbors are people like us, with the majority of their social network existing well beyond the neighborhood.

Anthony Esolen, with his usual eloquence, refers to the demise of neighborhoods in his latest essay “So Where’s the Social? – Recovering Words and Culture in the Unsociety”. After reviewing an editorial in the September 1955 issue of Town Journal, Esolen reminds us of a few things – assumed by the magazine’s readers and editors in 1955 – that we can no longer take for granted in the “unsociety” of America 2012:

“His editorial presumes that there is such a thing as a town, full of people who know one another and who take pride in where they live.  For the same issue presents a forty question test to see whether you live in a healthy town, with thirty ‘yes’ answers being the standard to shoot for.  The first criterion?  ‘Most high school graduates stay in town.’  Also telling: ‘More than half the church congregations [sic] are under 40.’  Are the streets lined with shade trees?  Is there a recreation center where young people dance?  The Ike-liking editors aren’t laissez-faire economists.  They aren’t the sort of pseudo-conservatives who see devotion to the family as an obstacle to ‘progress,’ whatever that is.  They want the money to stay nearby, so that it will be spent nearby – even taxed nearby.

In other words, these are deeply civic-minded conservatives.  I doubt one could find more than the thinness of a dime between what they assume about civic duty and Catholic social teaching.  For both assume the existence of a society: people who are socii, companions, fellow travelers, neighbors.  Behold another telling criterion for the good town: ‘There’s as much interest in local as national elections.’  That can only be so, if local elections matter, and local elections can matter only if local people feel they actually have some influence upon their common life – and if there is a common life to begin with.

And here we arrive at the great fact staring us in the face.  Romano Guardini, shortly after the war, had already asserted that the people of western Europe no longer possessed a culture.  Such words as culture remain like wraiths, long after the reality they once described has passed away.  Alasdair MacIntyre, indeed, says that that fate has befallen our entire language of morality.  The word society is, I believe, in that same category.  So the riddle we must now solve is how to apply Catholic social teaching to the whatever-it-is we have, the mass of habits inculcated by bad education and worse entertainment–the Unsociety.

It will require a great deal of hard thinking, a deep knowledge of history and of human nature, and patient prayer–just the things that our electoral politics makes nearly impossible.  But it must be done, for the sake of humanity itself, threatened by the collusive interests of technocrats, bureaucrats, mediacrats, and all the other crats who burden us with their wisdom and their insufferably benignant lust for power.

I won’t recommend any particular program here.  I have an innate loathing of programs, anyway.  But any solution must provide people with the wherewithal – economic, political, and moral – to rebuild the social ties we have lost.  Consider, for the sake of argument, a young couple moving to Freemanville, with its thousand or so subscriptions to magazines like Town Journal.  They are, of course, married; notably absent from Town Journal’s questionnaire is any reference to crime or to out-of-wedlock births.  They have, then, already engaged in that most social of all actions, without the corrosive shacking-up beforehand.

The lady down the street, a member of the town’s Welcome Wagon, shows up that week with a couple of apple pies, and asks if they need anything of a practical nature – because when you move into a house there’s always something you forget to bring along, like soap or shaving cream or a broom or a dustpan.  Within two weeks you’ve met a good dozen of your neighbors, and you’ve been invited to church, or to the block party, or to the fireworks display on the Glorious Fourth.  I am not sentimentalizing here.  This is how people lived; or rather, this is how people live, if they but have the opportunity, just as dogs outdoors will run about and sniff things, and cats outdoors will sleep in the shade and hunt mice.

All of these human connections are founded upon, and imply, moral expectations … The teacher, the neighbor, the clergyman, and you might disagree on which road to pave, or which senator is the less dishonest, but your wide moral agreement will make you socii even when you do not like one another.”

That takes us to the heart of the problem: morality. Authentic community depends upon a shared moral consensus. Most Americans can no longer assume that such a consensus exists in their neighborhood, or even in their own families, and so whatever can be had of “community” is necessarily outsourced.

Chico’s Summer Music Academy

Last week our fair city of Chico hosted the annual Summer Music Academy sponsored by the Music Teacher’s Association of California – Butte County Branch. The event was held in the classrooms and sanctuary of Chico’s historic Bidwell Presbyterian Church. Dozens of rising young musicians received specialized instruction from master teachers in violin, viola, cello, piano, and harpsichord. In return, they performed three concerts for the community on Friday and Saturday featuring the works of Bach, Mozart, Hayden, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, and other renowned composers.

We had the great pleasure of hosting Dr. Ljubomir Velickovic and his son, along with another music student, which made for some lively musical gatherings in our living room!

I have to tell you, as a non-musician, the joy and enthusiasm that real music brings into the lives of these young people is something to envy. One of my favorite pastimes has become simply watching musicians when they get together. It doesn’t take long before the small talk is out of the way and they start making music somehow. What a gift it must be to have that instant musical bond with strangers!  This is our third year of participation, and it’s been nice turning strangers into friends as we get to know some of the other families.

As for the music itself, we are fortunate in that MTAC-Butte has thus far been committed to the great “canon” of the western tradition. Now and then, sure, the teachers introduce something different just for fun, but there is no egotistical thirst for radical experimentation among the teachers here, no chasing after showtunes and pop culture. The students learn the highest and best music that our civilization has produced, and they learn it well. First things first.

Robin Hood was a Catholic

Dear Chicoans,

When the natural beauty of our backyard Sherwood turns your thoughts to the story of Robin Hood, don’t think of a communist or a bandit – Robin Hood was the loyal subject of a lawful Christian monarch.

Think instead of this:

From a fine new blog titled “Longbows and Rosary Beads“:

Robin Hood was always portrayed in the old tales as being a pious Catholic, in spite of the fact that he was not above robbing and making fun of pompous clergymen. He is shown as risking capture in order to attend mass and recruiting Friar Tuck to be the outlaw band’s chaplain. He also refused to be disturbed in prayer, even when danger was imminent. During the Reformation, the cult of Robin Hood also came under fire, and recusant Catholics were branded as “Robin Hoods”. It was only the people’s refusal to let the old legends die that kept the stories of King Arthur and Robin Hood alive. 

There is a nursery rhyme that depicts Robin praying the Rosary to Our Lady who, in the early ballads, was the only woman in his life: 

“Robin Hood, Robin Hood, 
Is in the mickle wood!
Little John, Little John, 
He to town is gone.

Robin Hood, Robin Hood,
Telling his beads,
All in the greenwood
Among the green weeds.

Little John, Little John,
If he comes no more,
Robin Hood, Robin Hood,
We shall fret full soar!”

This is the little poem that gave me the idea for the name of the blog. Robin Hood fought with his longbow, the symbol of British pride and resistence, and prayed with his Rosary Beads, the symbol of the faith of the people and the refusal to let it die. Indeed, it was the sacrifice of the Catholic “Robin Hood” Recusants that kept the spark of Catholicism from being completely smothered by the turbulent winds of the times.  To this day, there are Catholic men and women from the Northern England who can trace back their lineage back in an unbroken line of faithful Catholics. It is their story that best exeplifies the spirit of Robin Hood, and it is to the Catholic Recusants that I have dedicated this blog. 

Getting to know Chico

Having lived in the orbit of Chico since I was a child, it’s a place I always took for granted. Many people I knew sang the praises of Chico, as though it were someplace really special, but I experienced too much of the city’s darker side to share the sentiment.  Truthfully, I never wanted to live here. It never felt like home to me. And yet Chico is probably the one place in the world that has most shaped my personality, where I can honestly lay claim to “roots”. Four of my closest relatives are buried here, and most of the rest are living here. Moving to Chico was not a choice, but a surrender to reality. I sincerely hope this move will be our last, but am making no plans or promises.

Chico is an ecclectic place, a university town with multiple personalities. Around one corner there is a car plastered with liberal bumper stickers; just two blocks away is a garage with a large Confederate flag; and downtown you will find a veritable circus of tattoos and body piercings. The progressivist element is prominent, ’tis true, but it is not dominant. Despite Chico’s visible extremes, the city is surprisingly full of salt-of-the-earth, ordinary people with traditional sensibilities. I’ve been so impressed with the quality of clean-cut, hard-working young men employed by the contractors we’ve hired that I almost find it surreal. We live in an old, quiet neighborhood full of real families, many of whom parade in front of our house pushing strollers or riding bicycles in the evenings. The pastor of the Lutheran church (LCMS) across the street made a call within days of our moving in, and delivered a quilt for us made by some of the ladies of the church. Chico has to be one of the friendliest cities on earth. I have to say that Chicoans wave every bit as often as do the people in the surrounding countryside.

Chico’s crown jewel has always been Bidwell Park – the third largest city park in the country at over 3,600 acres – which served as the Sherwood Forest during the 1938 filming of “The Adventures of Robin Hood”. We live just three blocks from the park which has retained its stunning Eden-like character.

According the U.S. Census, Chico boasts the largest percentage of native Californians  – 70.3 percent – of all California cities surveyed. That speaks well for a university town.

For me, the most interesting thing about Chico is the legacy of the city’s founder, General John Bidwell, and his wife Annie. Chico’s elevated cultural reputation stems directly from the legacy of this brilliant and energetic pioneer. Bidwell was a convert to his wife’s austere form of Presbyterianism. His broad Christian sensibility prompted him to donate one city block to every Christian denomination represented in the city, including the Catholic Church. During part of his journey west, Bidwell travelled with the legendary Fr. Pierre-Jean DeSmet, whom he praised in his memoirs and called “the saintliest man I have ever known”.  Bidwell’s grant of land for a teacher’s college set the stage for conversion to a state university campus. Bidwell was, by all accounts, a principled and upright man who defended the Indians and the Chinese when it was a political kiss of death in California to do so. His biographers have said that they tried desperately, as journalists, to find some “dirt” on the man, but came up with nothing.

The Tuscan Aquifer


Ever hear of the Tuscan Aquifer? That’s the underground reservoir that supplies much of the water for Butte, Glenn, and Tehama counties. The massive “lower” level of this aquifer remains largely untapped because of its depth. A local blogger has a beginner’s course here and here:

“The saturated area of underground substrate (a substrate can be rock, gravel, sand, silt, clay etc.) from which water can be extracted is called an aquifer. The aquifer beneath Chico (and beyond) is called the Tuscan Aquifer. It is named for the ‘Tuscan Formation,’ which are layers of deposits (rock, soil, sand) from ancient streams and volcanic mudflows. (I don’t know who named it the ‘Tuscan,’ though perhaps there is a similar geological formation in the Tuscany area of Italy).

The Tuscan Aquifer is big, though it is hard to be precise regarding its size and shape. Imagine a massive blob of saturated substrate beneath Butte, Tehama, and Glenn Counties, extending to depths of over 1000 feet, containing an estimated 10 times the amount of water as the capacity of Lake Oroville …People move to Chico to go to college, escape the Bay Area, or perhaps to take a job. Other folks might make a list of all the things they are looking for in a town, such as bikeability, sunny weather, a vibrant downtown, attractive city parks, and easy access to mountains and wild areas, and realize that Chico might be the place they want to be. But there are a few folks that move here because of the Tuscan Aquifer …”