Friday, April 24, 2015

Well Said: Your Enemy

Remember that your enemy is never a villain in his own eyes. This may leave you an opening to become his friend.
Robert A. Heinlein

Blogging Around: Grab Bag

Daredevil, Catholicism, and the Marvel Moral Universe

The Netflix series has chosen to make religion a foundational aspect of Matt’s character, expressing his struggles with his faith through his actions, and weaving that inner turmoil with outer drama to build him into a hero. Because the show is infused with Catholicism—and actually enacts a certain type of theology, as opposed to simply utilizing imagery and shallow references—it’s able to create an interplay between the fictional world of the show and the real world of Catholic faith in a way that I haven’t seen on television…well, ever?
This piece at is an in-depth look at all the things I love to find in entertainment. Unfortunately their description of the violence made me sure that it's not something I want to watch. At least not right now. I've got enough stuff going on that I am in my happy-watching mode. But that did leave me free to read the entire piece which has spoilers for the first season. And it left me really wanting to see it.

Bad Christian Art

I’m convinced that bad art derives, like bad literary theory, from bad theology. To know God falsely is to write and paint and sculpt and cook and dance Him falsely. Perhaps it’s not poor artistic skill that yields bad Christian art, in other words, but poor Christianity.


In short, if Christian novels and movies and blogs and speeches must be stripped of profanity and sensuality and critical questions, all for the sake of sparing us scandal, then we have to wonder what has happened that such a wide swath of Christendom has failed to graduate from milk to meat.
An insightful piece from Tony Woodlief at Image. I concur. Read it all.

Mental Illness: The Cold Reboot of the Soul

Thomas L. McDonald shares his personal story and reminds us that everything has a purpose, even mental illness. It is moving, inspiring, and informative all in one. Here's a bit. Then go read it all.
The interesting part of all this, and the reason I’m sharing it now when I very rarely write personal things, is that while it’s put pressure on my faith observations, it hasn’t damaged my actual faith at all. I don’t blame God for this and I accept it as my cross even though I’d really like to stop carrying it for a while any time now God.

Maintaining a regular prayer schedule is nearly impossible in this condition. I visited with some friends last night and spent some in their parish prayer chapel where the Eucharist was exposed. I was able to pray the 22nd Psalm and that was it. The rest of the time, I had hardly a single word in my head, not even the Jesus prayer which is usually my go-to meditation. I just sat silently staring at the sacrament.

And you know something? It was enough. My faith is always too much in my head. There’s a useful side effect to that: it’s very rarely shaken. Even when I don’t “feel” it I know that, intellectually, it’s still a rock to stand on. A faith that is too much in the head grows arid, but one that is too much in the heart is easily buffeted by emotional trauma.

Three Methods of Prayer That Will Change Your Life

From my inbox: Philip Kosloski has a good piece on methods of prayer.

How to Help Persecuted Catholics in Middle East

CNEWA’s mandate is to support the Eastern churches in Catholicism, meaning the Catholic communities scattered across the Middle East, Northeast Africa, India, and Eastern Europe that draw on Eastern Orthodox traditions. In recent years, that’s made CNEWA a prime mover in delivering aid to persecuted Christians in some of the world’s leading hot spots.

Today, CNEWA is among the largest providers of aid to Middle Eastern Christians anywhere in the world. Though it’s a Catholic organization, it helps Christians of all sorts.
This is from John Allen's piece which is quite good. I came to it via The Deacon's Bench where there are more links because Deacon Greg Kandra works for them! CNEWA looks like a wonderful way to support our persecuted brothers and sisters in the Middle East.

Julie and Scott fight over the Twinkies. Who gets the miracles and who gets the afflictions?

We discuss Valley of Bones by Michael Gruber in Episode 106 of A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Worth a Thousand Words: Lahmacun

taken by Eating Asia
Whatever you do, don't call it Turkish pizza!

Why? Find out at Eating Asia.

Well Said: Shaming and Public Disapproval

In this day of New Victorians and Neo Puritans, shaming and public disapproval have again become the weapon of choice for society at large. And it is a very effective weapon.

Because it hurts.
I have to say that back in the day when political correctness became the new way to do things, I never saw this coming. I felt it was nice to consider other people's feelings and refer to them using respectful terms and so forth.

I  didn't foresee how far the pendulum would swing so that majority rule would conduct public shaming campaigns in the name of "tolerance." (They keep using that word. I don't think they understand what it means.)

In one sense it's fascinating because we're now seeing what happens when liberals get caught up in their own version of that famous conservative example which culminated in the Communist-hunting investigations.

In another sense, it hurts. Lamplighter speaks whereof she knows because her husband is John C. Wright who's one of the targets of the Hugo Awards public shaming debacle that's going on right now.

The Power of Vulnerability by Brené Brown

The Power of Vulnerability: Teachings of Authenticity, Connections and CourageThe Power of Vulnerability: Teachings of Authenticity, Connections and Courage by Brené Brown
“In my research,” Dr. Brown says, “the word I use to describe people who can live from a place of vulnerability is wholehearted.” Being wholehearted is a practice—one that we can choose to cultivate through empathy, gratitude, and awareness. Join this engaging and heartfelt teacher on The Power of Vulnerability as she offers profound insights on leaning into the full spectrum of emotions—so we can show up, let ourselves be seen, and truly be all in.
The best way to get an idea of this book is to watch Brené Brown's TED Talk on vulnerability. It was a real eye-opener for me and it went viral so I wasn't alone in loving it.

I was delighted to find this 6-talk series on Audible that I could use as a refresher.  Brown pulls together all her research to continue the vulnerability conversation on a deeper level.

Brown herself is so engaging and genuine that the sessions are easy to listen to. She freely shares personal stories as examples so you know you're not alone when you recognize some behavior being discussed. And she's funny. I will never forget her story about the three-dozen cookies.

Brown's work is like a secular look at the human condition and how to live as our most honest, fulfilled selves. She doesn't ignore spirituality. Indeed, her research found that is a key component of whole-hearted peoples' lives. I was fascinated when I realized how often  Brown's findings echoed personal discoveries I've made in 15 years of Catholicism. I look back at how far I've come and I see someone who has come into the light after spending much of my life in darkness.

One of the things I loved was when Brown said that if you feel shame then she can guarantee there are other people who feel that same shame. Again, a very Catholic teaching. As someone said to me the other day about the value of belonging to our parish, "I learned we're all broken. It's not just me. I'm not alone."

I didn't always agree with every single thing Brown said (and I bet she's ok with that imperfection!). However, those were usually the instances where she was making her own points instead of using research based information. My disagreement didn't come on many points and they didn't matter to the overall work.

Am I done? Of course not. We're never done, as Brown points out and as the Church also tells us. But Brown's work comes together wonderfully well for anyone who is striving for a more authentic life. (That's all of us, by the way.) I learned things that help me understand why I act the way I do. Over-functioning when stressed — right here! Will that change things? Not sure but it can't hurt to know it.

And it meshes wonderfully well with the Catholic faith which just validates both even more to me.

I'll probably be revisiting these talks occasionally for a refresher. Highly recommended for ... everyone.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Well Said: Christianity and ordinary life

Before I became a Christian I do not think I fully realized that one's life after conversion would inevitably consist in doing most of the same things one had been doing before. One hopes in a new spirit, but still the same things.
C.S. Lewis, Weight of Glory
I never thought about that at all, but yeah. Life goes on, but in a new spirit.

Worth a Thousand Words: Hepatica Flower

Hepatica Flower
taken by the incomparable Remo Savisaar

A Movie You Might Have Missed #46: Intouchables

Sometimes you have to reach into someone else's world to find out what's missing in your own.

46. Intouchables

Wealthy quadriplegic Philippe needs an assistant to help him with all the functions of daily life.

Immigrant, ex-con Driss needs a signature on his application to fulfill unemployment requirements.

Philippe hires Driss because the regular applicants are missing one important quality and the lives of both men are changed.

This sounds like a predictable enough plot except it is played as a sympathetic comedy. Philipe doesn't want pity. Driss has irrepressible honesty and humor that changes the dynamic of many scenes from what we expect to see. They make each other laugh. They enrich each other's lives. They broaden each other's worlds.

It is based on a true story. The original Philippe turned down several movie offers until these filmmakers presented him with this comedic script. After watching the movie I can see why. There are moments of both pathos and comedy for both men. Neither is perfect and each is untouchable in his own way. It shows that no matter our handicaps, life goes on. We choose how to live it.

Before the Disney Mary Poppins, there were the delightful books

Here's a sampler of one of my favorite chapters, read for you at Forgotten Classics podcast.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Well Said: Did you grieve to hear of the afflictions he suffered?

"May I say," said Florence, " that you grieved to hear of the afflictions he has suffered?"

"Not," she replied, "if they have taught him that his daughter is very dear to him. He will not grieve for them himself, one day, if they have brought that lesson, Florence."
Charles Dickens, Dombey and Son
I may never have seen a clearer or more succinct summary of the Mystery of the Cross.

Worth a Thousand Words: Portrait of Mlle Brissac

Portrait of Mlle Brissac (1863). William-Adolphe Bouguereau (French, 1825-1905)
via Books and Art
I love Bouguereau anyway but this really stands out for me. It's as good as photograph. Better, in fact! Look at it close up (click the portrait) to see just how realistic everything is.

Remember Goliad! Remember the Alamo!

Thank goodness that my friend Don never forgets ... he's the one always reminding me it is San Jacinto Day He has told me many a time:
I try to remember all of these good Texas holidays. They really bring home how unique the state –and future Republic?—truly is. This one is a real holiday, not like Cinco de Mayo. I mean, if you have a holiday to celebrate beating the French, then every day would be a holiday!
Ha! No kidding!

Let's all go get a few margaritas and lift them high to the Texian heroes of the decisive battle of the Texas revolution!

Review: Art: A New History by Paul Johnson

Art: A New HistoryArt: A New History by Paul Johnson

In Art: A New History, Paul Johnson turns his great gifts as a world historian to a subject that has enthralled him all his life: the history of art. This narrative account, from the earliest cave paintings up to the present day, has new things to say about almost every period of art. Taking account of changing scholarship and shifting opinions, he draws our attention to a number of neglected artists and styles, especially in Scandinavia, Germany, Russia and the Americas.

Paul Johnson puts the creative originality of the individual at the heart of his story. He pays particular attention to key periods: the emergence of the artistic personality in the Renaissance, the new realism of the early seventeenth century, the discovery of landscape painting as a separate art form, and the rise of ideological art. He notes the division of 'fashion art' and fine art at the beginning of the twentieth century, and how it has now widened.
I love the way that Johnson is able to make everything so clear in terms of how various civilizations' art mirrors their governing styles. He also made me really respect early man (you know, the ones who filled those caves with all that fantastic art) by explaining things I didn't know about both the art and what the artists went through for their accomplishments.

This took me a couple of years to leisurely work my way through. Now that I'm done I'm going to miss Paul Johnson's voice looking at history and art and the fascinating, creative people who are artists.

This is simply superb. Johnson has his prejudices but they are few and fairly discussed. It probably helps that I share many of Johnson's opinions but just never had the wherewithal to understand why. And now I do!

My only wish is for a companion volume that shows all the images that Johnson mentions. There simply wasn't room in this book for enough of the actual art.

I'll be putting this in my rereading stack.

Monday, April 20, 2015

John C. Wright's Grocery List

This is too funny. Here's a bit. Then go read it all...
A fan remarks:
“I would rather read Wright’s grocery list than any of the “literary” stuff in the genre now.”
How funny you should mention that! I happen to have my grocery list right here.
Items to pick up:

A pound of Apples, despite that this mortal fruit is the one whose taste brought all our woe in paradise;

A sack of flour, child of an unworthy grain, those firstfruits offered by the first murderer and his first victim, his brother, which horrid fratricide to this day we repeat;

Well Said: Ah, Miss Harriet ...

Ah Miss Harriet, it would do us no harm to remember oftener than we do, that vices are sometimes only virtues carried to excess.
Charles Dickens, Dombey and Son
That can be a path from pure justice to including mercy.

Worth a Thousand Words: Kindred Spirits

Asher Brown Durand, Kindred Spirits, 1849
Kindred Spirits was commissioned by the merchant-collector Jonathan Sturges as a gift for William Cullen Bryant in gratitude for the nature poet's moving eulogy to Thomas Cole, who had died suddenly in early 1848. It shows Cole, who had been Jonathan Sturges mentor, standing in a gorge in Catskills in company of a mutual friend William Cullen Bryant.

Rivendell and Lothlórien’s competing bed and breakfasts

Just one of the many topics under discussion in SFFaudio's discussion of The Ring Goes South (a.k.a. the second half of The Fellowship of the Ring). Join Jesse, Seth, Maissa, and me!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Blogging Around: The Media Edition

A New "Wrinkle" in Time

I was fascinated to see that Madeleine L'Engle's granddaughter has discovered a three-page section that was cut from the original classic, A Wrinkle in Time. I didn't know that people looked at Camazotz as a commentary on communism. That never occurred to me. This sheds light on what L'Engle had in mind.
In it, Meg has just made a narrow escape from Camazotz. As Meg’s father massages her limbs, which are frozen from a jarring trip through space and time, she asks: “But Father, how did the Black Thing—how did it capture Camazotz?” Her father proceeds to lay out the political philosophy behind the book in much starker terms than are apparent in the final version.

He says that yes, totalitarianism can lead to this kind of evil. (The author calls out examples by name, including Hitler, Mussolini and Khrushchev.) But it can also happen in a democracy that places too much value on security, Mr. Murry says. “Security is a most seductive thing,” he tells his daughter. “I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s the greatest evil there is.”

Ms. Voiklis said she wanted readers to know the book wasn’t a simple allegory of communism. Instead, it’s about the risk of any country—including a democracy—placing too much value on security. The tension between safety and personal freedom is an idea that resonates in today’s politics.
Read the whole article at the Wall Street Journal. There's a link in the article to a pdf of the omitted pages. I can see how they would have slowed the story down, yet the point L'Engle was making really resonates with me. We're living right now with that same problem of too much prosperity leading to too great a desire for security.

Pope Francis and the CNN Anchor's Renewed Faith

Deacon Greg Kandra is in Jordan right now and you really should take a look at his posts which are fascinating.

I don't know how he has time to also keep track of other news but this one grabbed my attention. Not only does it give a wonderful story of CNN anchor Carol Costello's return to faith, but it shows how Pope Francis is drawing people's attention to Church teachings in a way that lets them see the mercy underlying it.

In an interview with newly appointed Cardinal Lacroix, she pursues her questions about a statement from Pope Francis that surprised her. This is just part so do go read the whole piece for yourself.
But isn't homosexuality a sin in the eyes of the church?

"There is room for everyone. The door is open," Cardinal Lacroix insisted. "Of course you know that the Catholic Church will never promote same sex marriage, but do we respect homosexual persons? Do we welcome them? Do we accompany them? Of course. But to respect the Church and its teaching, which is based on a long tradition and also the word of God, we will not go so far as to bless. But that doesn't mean we reject."

That last sentiment -- "that doesn't mean we reject." -- did it for me.
And that's what I liked. What the cardinal tells her is basic Catholic teaching but in a way that allows her to really hear the whole message. And that's Francis's gift, it seems to me.

Plastic Bags

Like a lot of places Dallas has put a tax on plastic bags from stores. Their heart is in the right place but I never saw any statistics to justify it. Just the same old "everyone knows" argument about helping the environment. So I was really interested when Skeptoid podcast did an episode on that very issue.
Researching this episode was the most difficult time I've had yet doing Skeptoid. Not surprisingly, it's hard to find any information on this topic that isn't advocacy one way or another. There are plausible, reasonable claims that plastic bags aren't that bad - thoughtfully provided by the plastic bag industry. There are horrific tales of disaster - dished up by environmental advocacy groups with their hands out. But actual science? That seems to be pretty rare, and it's hard to dig much up.
But you do get what science there is on the topic which yielded surprising results. You can listen to the Skeptoid episode or read the transcript here which also has links.

Russian Movie Censorship — It's Back!

The Kremlin says upcoming movie "Child 44" distorts historical facts about Soviet Union and presents Russia as a dark land. Consequently the Russian release has been canceled. Well, it is a movie so that's probably true. Hollywood never lets the truth get in the way of a great story. However, the Russians seem pretty paranoid about Stalin's legacy and, let's face it, that legacy isn't one I'd want to hold up to a bright light.
Mr. Medinsky criticized the film not just for its take on the country’s war effort but also for its negative portrayal of life under Stalin in general. He encouraged local viewers to rid themselves of what he termed as “these endless schizophrenic reflections” on Russian history.

“It is time to finally form our own idea about ourselves as the heirs of a great, unique Russian civilization,” he wrote. “Without that, they will crush us.”
For anyone who was around for the Cold War, and I was, this all sounds disturbingly familiar. If the truth hurts, just don't let anyone know it. This one's all around the internet but I read it in the Wall Street Journal.

"Controversial" or "Historic?'

Get Religion asks: Why does Washington Post label one religious freedom law 'controversial' and another 'historic?'
In the media storm over a religious freedom law passed in Indiana, the Washington Post repeatedly used the term "controversial" to describe the measure (examples here, here and here).

However, the Post prefers other words to characterize a gay rights bill passed in Utah, including "landmark" and "historic."
Words matter. Read it all.


NOTE: if you can't read an entire WSJ article, try going to Google or Bing and searching for the article. Often if you come in that "door" the whole article is available.

Worth a Thousand Words: Irises

Vincent van Gogh, Irises, 1889
via Arts Everyday Living
What would spring be without a look at Van Gogh's Irises? Much poorer.

Check the link above for more information about Van Gogh and his painting.

Well Said: The Utter Reliabililty of God's Love

Christ's death discloses the utter reliability of God's love above all in the light of his resurrection. As the risen one, Christ is the trustworthy witness, deserving of faith (cf. Rev. 1:5, Heb. 2:17), and a solid support for our faith ... Had the Father's love not causes Jesus to rise from the dead, had it not been able to restore his body to life, then it would not be a completely reliable love, capable of illuminating also the gloom of death.
Pope Francis, Lumen Fidei

I reread this recently and found so much enlightenment and inspiration within. It is well worth revisiting regularly.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Well Said: Chesterton and American Idealism

There is one thing, at any rate, that must strike all Englishmen who have the good fortune to have American friends; that is, that while there is no materialism so crude or material as American materialism, there is also no idealism so crude or so ideal as American idealism.
G.K. Chesterton, Charles Dickens
Well, he hit that nail squarely on the head!

Worth a Thousand Words: White Stork

White Stork
taken by Remo Savisaar
Doesn't this look like a coy, runway walk?

My Continuing Dickens Exploration: Dombey and Son

Dombey and SonDombey and Son by Charles Dickens

(Writing this without spoilers probably will lead to misdirection, but I feel there are too many people who probably haven't read this book. And I DO want to say some things.)

*big sigh* Oh, that was good.

It is interesting to me that I began reading Dickens with his later books. Going backwards to his earlier creations, one can see the training wheels on in some places. There are some very predictable plot developments that the reader sees as soon as the seeds are introduced. However, Dickens (that genius) still managed to surprise me again and again with unexpected twists that made the story lively and interesting.

One thing that doesn't change from book to book is the creation of eccentric characters who begin by seeming odd and funny but wind up stealing your heart. I'd never have thought that I'd care passionately about Susan Nipper, Cap'n Cuttle, Miss Tox, or Mr. Toots but I really did.

I also appreciated the way that Florence, the character with the least development in many ways (one motivation and one only) was used to show us so much about other characters. Mr. Dombey, Edith, and little Paul all showed surprising depth as they came into contact with Florence whose only desire was love. I was especially impressed with what we were shown of Mr. Dombey's internal character using this technique.

There were times also when the power of Dickens' writing washed over me and left me bereft of my own words. Most notably in Mr. Dombey and Edith's argument in her bedroom, in Mr. Carker's conversation with Edith discussing Mr. Dombey's character, and in the chapter Rob the Grinder Loses His Place where I felt as tired and mentally confused as the fleeing fugitive whose thoughts we read. Here Dickens worked the seemingly impossible feat of making me sorry for someone who I'd been longing to see punished.

On a personal note, I was astounded by in the chapter After a Lapse when Harriet is advancing a proposition to the fellow who plays the violoncello. This book suddenly became a reflection of how many times we stubbornly think we know best and refuse God's love, only to find that his forgiveness and mercy are boundless ... especially when we've fallen the very lowest and don't deserve it ... and yet it is freely and lovingly given. I don't know if that is what Dickens intended, but it is certainly what struck me hard. It was a revelatory moment that left me turning off the audiobook to simply think about the implications of that interpretation when applied to the other stories woven into the novel.

It isn't the perfect Dickens novel. It sagged in the middle when there was a transition from emphasis on Paul to introducing Edith, and there were those predictable plot points I mentioned. It probably won't ever be my favorite (right now those honors are shared by The Pickwick Papers, Bleak House, and Little Dorrit), but it is a great book and very rewarding on a lot of levels.