Mike Aquilina

Lend Me Your Irritation

Saturday January 02nd 2010, 10:17 am

O wad some Power the giftie gie us.
To see oursels as ithers see us!
Robert Burns

At Christmas, my beloved niece Melissa notified me that I had achieved my little bit of fame and could now retire. She explained that I’d been featured — with photo and a resume of sorts — on the website Am I Annoying or Not?

I just got around to checking it out, and she’s right!

If you’ve read my blog for more than a week (Hi Mom!), you already know that I’m annoying — though you probably could come up with better reasons than you’ll find in my brief for nomination. Tom Jefford, the guy who posted it, never mentioned my punning, snoring, stammering, or foot odor, to cite just a few examples.

Mercifully, Tom the Nominator noted just a few obvious deficiencies. He also said some very kind things about me and my work.

I would, however, like to take issue with a few details in his brief for my canonical status in the Hall of Annoyance.

First: my degree is in English, not Journalism (as he stated). We English majors like to make that annoying distinction. The degree is from Penn State, and that in itself is annoying to many people. I received the university’s Oswald Award “for achievement in journalism and mass media” — probably the source of Tom’s confusion — but that recognizes work in the field, not in the classroom.

Second: Tom is needlessly annoyed by what he perceives as my authoritative status. Rest easy, good man. No one outside the state asylums considers me an authority on anything. I don’t claim to be a scholar. I don’t try to hide my lack of advanced degrees. I’m a reporter covering a certain beat. Yes, it helps if a journalist covering the field of oncology happens to hold a degree in medicine — but very few do. Then again, few oncologists can write about their field in a way that ordinary people can understand. I believe that the Fathers belong to everyone, not just scholars. I also believe that Christians outside the academy should be made aware of what the good scholars are doing. Unless someone volunteers for the job of patristic journalist and publicist, it ain’t gonna happen.

I’d like to plead “not guilty” to Tom’s charge that my works are “cut-and-paste.” I do begin with Lightfoot and the old ANF and NPNF translations, which I acknowledge everywhere, but I perform major surgery on them before I include them in my books, and I do consult the originals when I can and when I need to. I can’t say I “know” the original languages the way native speakers did, or the way a doctoral candidate should, but I did well enough way back when to get A’s from Sister M. Herberta Burns, IHM, who was no easy grader. Like most journalists who have a beat, I know my limitations, and I rely on good interpreters, including a luminous one named Jefford.

In making his case, Tom observed that “Many, if not most Christians, don’t know or care who the Church Fathers were,” and I’m afraid he’s right. Alas.

But enough. As I said, Tom found some extremely kind things to say about me. And he placed me on his lists with some remarkable people, like Justin Martyr. And, so far at least, less than half the people who voted found me annoying. That could change, now that my kids know the voting is still open. In any event, the results show me to be twice as annoying as Justin Martyr.

So I’ll be grateful for the gift the Giftie gave me for Christmas: to see myself as others see me!

I hate to look a gift horse in the mouth, but … I am deeply — deeply — disappointed that Tom never mentioned my punning.