Friday, August 22, 2014

Worth a Thousand Words: Wood Sandpiper

Wood Sandpiper
taken by Remo Savisaar
We don't often get the chance to see an inquisitive little fellow like this eye-to-eye as we do in this photograph. I feel incomparably fortunate to have discovered Remo Savisaar's photography and that he allows me to share it. He takes me into nature in a special way.

Well Said: Authors' personal opinions and their writing

Readers, never tell yourselves you can determine an author’s personal opinions from his writing, unless he is, like C.S. Lewis or his warped antimatter image Phillip Pullman, someone who declares his partisan loyalty from the outset.

I wrote stories with nakedly religious endings of pure hope when I was an atheist because the story logic required such an ending. Likewise, I wrote stories with a nakedly atheist ending of pure despair when I was a Christian because the story logic required such an ending.
This makes me think of our priest who once said, "I never judge a book by an author's personal life."

I've got to honor an author who is able to serve the story honestly instead of letting it become their bully pulpit while pretending to be completely neutral. A favorite author of mine who does this is Ted Chiang who is an atheist but whose stories often look at faith and humanity in extremely thought provoking and original ways which are always true to the needs the story dictates. Sometimes religion wins, sometimes it doesn't but both believers and atheists are given excellent food for thought.

If you go and read John C. Wright's original article, his example of reactions to what he wrote when an atheist versus what he wrote as a Christian, both in the same book, is both amusing and instructive.

Happy Birthday Hannah!

Cake by Cake Couture by Tina
Do you live near Cebu City? That's where Tina is. Get one of her cakes!
It either had to be a Pit Bull cake for Kif or a German Shepherd cake for Zapp since those are Hannah's two dogs. (Or Futurama now that I think of it since her dog names are both characters from that show.) This was just so adorable that it won.

I wasn't Catholic when she was born but now I feel very lucky that she chose to come on the Feast Day for the Queenship of Mary. So when Hannah's birthday is on a Friday, as it is today, we can feast with meat!

Hannah's chosen, not surprisingly, a favorite Chinese restaurant where she can get duck. As well as delicious juicy steamed dumplings and many other treats. She's requested Spicy Ginger Cake with Chocolate Frosting. Mmmmm, mmmmm ... this is going to be one scrumptious feast!

The best, of course, is the gift of Hannah herself to our family. Our tree loving, animal loving, sweet girl who is smart as a whip, funny, and thoughtful. No wonder we love her so much. We just can't help ourselves!

Mary, Queen of Heaven

Coronation of Virgin, Giacomo di Mino, 1340-1350
From the earliest ages of the Catholic Church a Christian people, whether in time of triumph or more especially in time of crisis, has addressed prayers of petition and hymns of praise and veneration to the Queen of Heaven. And never has that hope wavered which they placed in the Mother of the Divine King, Jesus Christ; nor has that faith ever failed by which we are taught that Mary, the Virgin Mother of God, reigns with a mother's solicitude over the entire world, just as she is crowned in heavenly blessedness with the glory of a Queen.

His Holiness Pope Pius XII
Encyclical on Proclaiming the Queenship of Mary
Promulgated October 11, 1954
I remember the thing that made this feast day come into focus for me was learning about King Solomon's Queen Mother who brought cases before him for special attention. I tell you, typology really helps you get a mental grip on things.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Well Said: A little cloud all around your head

I've never listened to an audiobook before, and I have to say it's a totally different experience. When you read a book, the story definitely takes place in your head. When you listen, it seems to happen in a little cloud all around it, like a fuzzy knit cap pulled a down over your eyes.
This was such an entertaining, light read with all sorts of observations that resonated. Just like this one about audiobooks.

Worth a Thousand Words: The Red Horses

Franz Marc, The Red Horses, 1911
I came across this painting and loved it immediately. Then I thought maybe I'd featured it before. It certainly seemed familiar.

Of course it did. I hadn't featured it but a kissin' cousin by the same artist back in January. Obviously this is a look that grabs me!

Blogging Around: More Randomness

Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison

My review is at Meanwhile, Back in the Kitchen.


"When the Game Stands Tall" is Not About the Game

Pia de Solenni agrees with me that When the Game Stands Tall is an unusual football movie and one that you need to see in the theater. Unlike me, she isn't a football fan so now you know it's got something special going on.


All the Mass Readings for 2015 in One Book

Jennifer Fitz at Sticking the Corners has a great group of resources ranging from free to pricey, and takes you through them so you know what you're getting.


We Are Living in Historical Times

I've been reading Catholic history books lately. We're going to discuss one at A Good Story is Hard to Find in November as our book selection. I wanted a one-volume history so we're reading The Catholic Church Through The Ages: A History by John Vidmar, OP. I've just begun but thus far it is an excellent overview.

As I go, I've been dipping into other Catholic histories I happen to have at hand. Reading through the tempestuous time of the Church Fathers, the Council of Nicea, the attack of the barbarians on civilization, and the many heresies reminds me that the Church was born into a world of chaos from which She has never escaped. She has always needed defending, explaining, and God's grace given to those who take Her into the world.

There never really were any of those "good old days" in the way our memory likes to paint with a golden glow, blue sky, and sweet background music. It was always like it is now: chaotic, confusing, tempestuous, and unsure. Some were luckier and more secure than others, to be sure. Just as we are now as we watch with agonized impotence while the innocent are herded and slaughtered like sheep because they are different. Because they are Christian.

I've already talked about what we can do in these terrible times. Here are some good pieces by others who are pondering the same question:
  • What are we willing to die for? Pope Francis asked that question at the beatification of Paul Yun Ji--Chung and 123 martyr companions in Korea. It's a question I've been asking myself, to be honest. His homily is here and it's a good one to ponder.

  • The use of force can be justified to stop "unjust aggressors" such as Islamic State militants in northeastern Iraq. Pope Francis again on his way back from Seoul as he answered reporters' questions. Again, as I read that St. Augustine developed his just war theory when the barbarians were literally at the gates, leaving no one living in their wake, I understood it better than ever as I saw photos of people slaughtered by ISIS for being the wrong religion. By the way some publication jumped on the chance for a catchy headline about the Pope calling for a new Crusade. Aaargh. Just go read the story and see what he actually said.

  • "Prayer is the glue that enabled my freedom, my inner freedom first ..." These are the words of James Foley, the American journalist who was beheaded by barbarians. He'd been captured in the line of duty before and his testimony to the power of prayer is one that The Anchoress has been pondering. Like me, she is being turned back to the essentials. I like her comment about praying The Apostle's Creed line by line. I have written about praying St. Patrick's Breastplate and St. John XXIII's Daily Decalogue daily. It is the same effect that she describes. I am taken into the prayer and come out the other side changed somehow.

  • Who will stand up for Christians? The head of the World Jewish Congress asked this in an op-ed piece at The New York Times. And I appreciate it. It didn't escape our household that Christians were being slaughtered with very few comments from our government or media but when Yazidis came under attack then the bombs started falling. There's a subtle attitude toward Christians from a lot of public quarters that this exemplifies. So it comes as a welcome relief to have someone from the "outside" pointing it out. I picked this story up via The Deacon's Bench.

Just to Remind Us That the Media are People Too

Check out this 1 minute video at The Deacon's Bench. Shocking? Maybe. Heart warming? Definitely.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Well Said: Christ and a Pinch of Salt

To become new men means losing what we now call ‘ourselves’. Out of our selves, into Christ, we must go. His will is to become ours and we are to think His thoughts, to ‘have the mind of Christ’ as the Bible says. And if Christ is one, and if He is thus to be ‘in’ us all, shall we not be exactly the same? It certainly sounds like it; but in fact it is not so.

... suppose a person who knew nothing about salt. You give him a pinch to taste and he experiences a particular strong, sharp taste. You then tell him that in your country people use salt in all their cookery. Might he not reply ‘In that case I suppose all your dishes taste exactly the same: because the taste of that stuff you have just given me is so strong that it will kill the taste of everything else.’ But you and I know that the real effect of salt is exactly the opposite. So far from killing the taste of the egg and the tripe and the cabbage, it actually brings it out. They do not show their real taste till you have added the salt.
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
This seems to me to be the perfect analogy. I myself, while living as a Christian, still sometimes have trouble visualizing things like "putting on Christ." This idea of "salt" has really sunk in and I think of it often.

Worth a Thousand Words: Una Muchacha

Tom Roberts, Una Muchacha, 1883
via Wikipedia
I'd never heard of Australian artist Tom Roberts but when Lines and Colors featured his work I knew that I liked what I saw. In this case I especially liked this girl's portrait with the bright colors and the serious, doubtful expression that is in the shade of the broad-brimmed hat. Go take a look and take the time to browse in some of the linked areas.

New Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko

New Watch (Night Watch, #5)New Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Scored a copy from Amazon Prime! Huzzah!

I've been waiting for this for a long time. And now here we are:
This is a dubious text for the cause of Light. - The Night Watch

This is a dubious text for the cause of Darkness. - The Day Watch
After Last Watch, which was the 4th book in the Night Watch series, I didn't know what else Sergei Lukyanenko had to tell us.

Oh wait, what about an element of this world that is so pervasive and so unusual while remaining completely unknown?

The Twilight.

This book begins with Anton walking into an airport and hearing a 10 year old boy predict that a plane will crash. That sets a train of actions into motion which lead us to London, Taiwan, and to Baba Yaga's hut. We also ponder the nature of prophecy, humanity versus Others, and what we will do for love.

The book itself was not the strongest of the series but was satisfying and it was a really superb concept ending.

What an accomplishment. A series of 5 books, all of which make good reading and all of which have deeper underlying thoughts about human nature for us to ponder. Highly recommended.

Scott Danielson and I discussed Night Watch on A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast.

Other books in the series: Night Watch, Day Watch, Twilight Watch, Last Watch

Search Marketing Explained: Reviewing "Marketing in the Age of Google"

Getting ahead in search marketing requires many people to reverse their thinking at levels they have never considered. This book is particularly good at helping you understand that.
Tom's review is at General Glyphic's blog. Tom's fascinated by marketing via search engines and knows whereof he speaks when he praises this book. So much so that he's been able to help two small customers move up in rank without charging the tens of thousands that the big companies tell you is absolutely necessary.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Well Said: Nothing is really work ...

Nothing is really work unless you'd rather be doing something else.
James Barrie, Peter Pan
Profoundly simple, when you think about it.

Worth a Thousand Words: Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror

Parmigianino, Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror, 1524
Via Arts Everyday Living where there are many other self portraits in mirrors to enjoy. I especially enjoyed this one as I thought about the challenge to the artist's skill and creativity in making that image come out correctly, posing himself, etc. So clever!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Movie Review: When the Game Stands Tall

Coach Bob Ladouceur: Winning a lot of football games is doable. Teaching kids there’s more to life? That’s hard.
Most sports movies show us the underdog team fighting their way to the top by the end.

When the Game Stands Tall, however, begins with an unusual premise.

It poses the question of what happens to the team who breaks their school's incredible 151-game winning streak. How do they cope with failing the community, not to mention their teammates and themselves? And how do they view not only themselves but the game of football afterward?

Coach Bob Ladouceur (Jim Caviezel) built the winning De La Salle Catholic high school football team by emphasizing personal excellence and team brotherhood. That worldview informs all aspects of this film.

Ladouceur's personal journey winds through the story as he faces the challenge of being a father, husband, and coach. Bookending his story are those of two football players, one poor, one wealthy, one with no father, one with a father he can never please, one who feels cursed, one who seems to have everything. Taken together, all three stories weave a much more layered tale than I have come to expect from sports movies in the past.

When the Game Stands Tall has its fair share of cliches, as do most football movies, but it also has some welcome surprises. We know most coaches have to teach classes but I was surprised at Coach Ladouceur's area of expertise. We know there will be a big game, a "Super Bowl moment" if you will, against the powerful nemesis but I didn't expect what came afterward. We know there will be a special training moment that helps bond the team into brothers but I definitely did not expect the unconventional method we saw. We know there are often boys without fathers or those whose fathers fail them but I didn't expect to have the Book of Job repeatedly come to mind with modern resonance.

I also liked the fact that this movie doesn't hit you over the head with a hammer most of the time. It is not afraid to leave some questions unanswered so that viewers may mull them over. It is not afraid to show characters who are lost and then not give an easy fix for their problem.

This movie is about brotherhood, fatherhood, and finding our way in a difficult world. It is about forming our souls through decisions made in times of trouble and hardship. It is about the intentions behind our actions and living for others more than we live for ourselves.

It is about football but it is for everyone.

For me it was head and shoulders above The Blind Side or Remember the Titans. It even gives Friday Night Lights a run for its money. Not in technical know how, though the movie is well enough made, but in heart. Extraordinarily, this movie is based on a real story and many of the coach's lines in the movie come from real life. That just gives it more emotional heft.

Go see it.

Well Said: Love and marriage and the right room

It seems like people make the mistake of thinking love is about the bedroom. It's not. It's about the emergency room. Love and marriage are about who will sit there and wait.
Stephen Tobolowsky
Truer words were never spoken.

Worth a Thousand Words: St. Mark

Donatello, St. Mark (1411-13)
via Wikipedia
... it also remains true that Italian sculptors, like those north of the Alps, were moving relentlessly in the same direction: the discovery and representation of the individual human being, with truth and dignity. It was a move away from mere human symbols and archetypes toward actual flesh-and-blood men and women. For the Christian faith taught that humans were not types. Each had an immortal soul, and the carvers began to look for it in the faces and bodies they saw. But whereas the northern sculptor had no theory and worked by instinct—and his instinct for realism, as we have seen, was overwhelmingly strong—the Italian sculptors were beginning to learn about humanism, the knowledge from the past which directed fierce attention on the human body and psyche, created in God's image and the potential master of the universe and all it contained. The human being was all-important and sacrosanct, and to portray him accurately and vividly was a God-like act, worthy of the utmost pains and the highest genius.
Paul Johnson, Art: A New History

I really, really like it when historians are not afraid to acknowledge all sorts of influences on people, including their faith. And to go to the trouble to understand the faith enough that they can see how it influences the people.

Blogging Around: The Random Edition

Why the Public Library Beats Amazon — For Now
A growing stack of companies would like you to pay a monthly fee to read e-books, just like you subscribe to Netflix NFLX +1.46% to binge on movies and TV shows.

Don't bother. Go sign up for a public library card instead.

Really, the public library? AMZN +2.69% recently launched Kindle Unlimited, a $10-per-month service offering loans of 600,000 e-books. Startups called Oyster and Scribd offer something similar. It isn't very often that a musty old institution can hold its own against tech disrupters.

But it turns out librarians haven't just been sitting around shushing people while the Internet drove them into irrelevance. More than 90% of American public libraries have amassed e-book collections you can read on your iPad, and often even on a Kindle. You don't have to walk into a branch or risk an overdue fine. And they're totally free.
When I saw the Kindle Unlimited plan, I instantly thought of the young ladies in Georgette Heyer's Regency novels. The bookish ones were often lucky enough to have a relative paying for a library subscription. Amazon's plan simultaneously turned the clock back and forward. A neat trick. And one that could cost a lot of money every year.

So naturally I enjoyed reading this Wall Street Journal story pointing out that many libraries offer free access to e-books, many of which aren't available free on subscription services.

I'll go him one better though. Take some time to look at all the books being offered, not just e-books. I've been really happy to find audiobooks widely available also. And, then, there are the plain old vanilla print books. (My favorite actually.) They've got lots of them too.


Sean Bean Death Scene
If you love Sean Bean the way we do in our family, you'll appreciate this Funny or Die bit which riffs off of how many times Bean's characters are killed off in movies.


Ratting Out Landmines
From DarwinCatholic comes this story of African Giant Pouch Rats trained to find land mines with their exceptional sense of smell. And, bonus, they're light enough that they don't set off the mines when they step on them.

If this doesn't put a smile on your face, nothing will!


Praying for Your Conversion
I’ve seen this attitude before. If I say, “I wish you were a Christian,” a certain type of mind hears, “I want to force you to be a Christian. I want to take over the government, and use the coercive power of the state to make you act the way I think you should.” But I’m not saying that. I’m simply saying, “I want you to be a Christian.”

And I do want that. I want you to be a Christian.

Let me lay it out for you.
  • I believe that eternal life with Jesus Christ is the ultimate good for any human being.
  • I believe the alternative is considerably less pleasant.
  • I am commanded, as a Christian, to love those around me.
  • If I love someone, I seek their good.
  • Their ultimate good is eternal life with Jesus Christ.
  • Therefore I seek that.
I know someone out there is sputtering, “How dare you! Who are you to decide what my ultimate good is?”
Somehow I feel as if most of us have been on one side or other of this issue in one way or the other. Go read all of Will Duquette's logical and moving piece.


Who Among Us is Thirsty?
Last night, as I drove home from work, I listened to the NPR tribute to Robin William’s legacy, and there were tears on my face. They were genuine tears. I love what Williams gave the world.

When I arrived at home, I sat on the couch and shared the news with Anne, who was shocked and saddened like most of us.

And in those moments of sorrow, there was a knock at our front door.


I am not making any of this up. And what’s more — at the time, I was completely blind to the stark contrast between my distress over Robin Williams’ loneliness and despair and my attitude toward the man who had knocked on my door.

Now, it seems like the farthest thing from coincidental timing.
Jeffrey Overstreet's moving reflection on real life, faith, and the loss of Robin Williams.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Modern Science and the Assumption of Mary

Each year on the Assumption of Mary I like to revisit this from The Anchoress. Because it blows my mind. And the Assumption is a good time for mind-blowing.

Holy ... uh ... Moly, I never heard of this before. The Anchoress sez:
When studying Anatomy and Physiology in college, the lesson that briefly discussed fetomaternal microchimerism, became instructive to me on a different level. Learning that every child leaves within his mother a microscopic bit of himself — and that it remains within her forever — the dogma of the Immaculate Conception instantly became both crystal clear and brilliant to me.

Mary, then, was indeed a tabernacle within which the Divinity did reside — not for a limited time, but for all of her life. Understanding this (and considering how the churches seemed to get it ‘way before microscopes told us anything) the Immaculate Conception made and makes perfect sense: God, who is All-Good is also completely Pure; the vessel in which He resides, then, must be pure, too, or it would not be able to sustain all of that “light in which we see light itself.”

Microchimerism also relates to the dogma of the Assumption of Mary, as well. In the psalms we read “you will not suffer your beloved to undergo corruption.” Christ’s divine body did not undergo corruption. It follows that his mother’s body, which contained a cellular component of the Divinity — and a particle of God is God, entire — would not be allowed to become corrupt, either.
I believed it anyway, but that made sense on several levels. Incredible.

The Assumption of the Virgin Mary

El Greco, The Assumption of the Virgin, 1577
via Wikipedia
On November 1, 1950, Pius XII defined the dogma of the Assumption. Thus he solemnly proclaimed that the belief whereby the Blessed Virgin Mary, at the close of her earthly life, was taken up, body and soul, into the glory of heaven, definitively forms part of the deposit of faith, received from the Apostles. To avoid all that is uncertain the Pope did not state either the manner or the circumstances of time and place in which the Assumption took place — only the fact of the Assumption of Mary, body and soul, into the glory of heaven, is the matter of the definition.
You also will find quite a lot of interesting information and art about this feast day at Idle Speculations.

It is a Holy Day of Obligation.

AND it's a Feast Day. Those of us who go without meat as our Friday penance (#22) are set free! Let's go get some fried chicken!

What Can We Do in These Terrible Times?

These are chaotic, sad times in the world and I am encountering a lot of people who are beat down by it.

I myself would be beat down by it too but I have had to deliberately distance myself from the things I can't do to help people in the Ukrainian fight to keep their freedom, in Israel's fight against Hamas terrorists, in the path of ISIS terrorists, who are victims of terrorist Boko Haram. Equally distressing is how each new atrocity seems to push the others out of public consciousness. The suffering continues even when the news forgets to mention it.

Then, of course, we've got people without jobs and with the sorts of problems of which Robin Williams' sad end is all too emblematic.

I have to remind myself that I was put here, in this place, in this time, by God to make the world better in the things I can influence. I've got to depend on leaders like Pope Francis to move the larger world to better actions as he has been doing.

So what can I do? What can we do so far removed from all the anguish we see?

Let's not forget that we've got the most advanced "internet" in the world. Instantaneous communication from our hearts to God's ear. Remember those victims and even the perpetrators in your prayers. You can change the world right from your church, living room, or office desk.
  • The U.S. Bishops have called for Catholic parishes nationwide to join in prayer for peace in Iraq on August 17.
  • Diana von Glahn has a piece on pilgrimage at Dappled Things which discusses this topic (she hits this part about halfway down the piece).
  • Jennifer Fitz at Sticking the Corners talks about praying for a secret prayer partner, very much in the style of a Secret Santa gift exchange. I like it. It works both ways you know ... on them but also on you.

Look at it not only as supporting those who need the cash but as an opportunity to fast financially and offer that sacrifice as a prayer also. Speaking of which, you can also fast as well as pray for those who are suffering. It's not just for Lent.

We don't have to look far in our own homes, workplaces, and community to find people who need help from circumstances that hurt them personally. Mother Teresa said it best:
I never look at the masses as my responsibility; I look at the individual. I can only love one person at a time—just one, one, one. So you begin. I began—I picked up one person. Maybe if I didn't pick up that one person, I wouldn't have picked up forty-two thousand. ... The same thing goes for you, the same thing in your family, the same thing in your church, your community. Just begin—one, one, one.*
After all, that's how Jesus did it.Collecting disciples one, one, one; healing people one, one, one; loving each of us one, one, one. Let's follow in those footsteps.

It can seem frightening because it is personal. We are putting ourselves out there. But, speaking as a very imperfect practitioner of this action plan, it works. It is rewarding to both involved. It can change the world.

How do you get started? Help a neighbor, ask your parish office, read the bulletin. Cook for a sick friend or bereaved family (My Catholic Kitchen has a lovely piece on Funeral Ham and Cheese Biscuits that shows the difference a small effort makes.) Sometimes it just takes looking at the world around us with newly opened eyes.

And you can, once again, pray. If you ask God to send you someone to help, He will answer in a jiffy.

* I came across this quote in Brandon Vogt's excellent book Saints and Social Justice which not only contains many examples of people stepping up personally in love of Christ, but has very solid suggestions in how to do this in your own life. Don't wait to read it though. While you're looking for the book, pick something close to your heart (or your home ... how about that lonely neighbor who you see getting her paper every morning?) and begin today.

All images are public domain from Wikipedia.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Worth a Thousand Words: The Garden of Earthly Delights

(Center panel) The Garden of Earthly Delights (1503-1504) by Hieronymus Bosch,
the best of his forty works that survive, uniquely combines medieval and renaissance,
horror and humour, religious and secular values, and figures and landscape. (Paul Johnson)
I read an entire large art book on Bosch and wound up with a real appreciation for his work, as bizarre as it often looks. The author's premise was partly based on disproving what Paul Johnson mentions in his Art: A New History, that Bosch was a member of a quasi-heretical congregation. This was the first time, to be honest, that it occurred to me that these large art books could be written to prove or dispute others' scholarship. Silly of me, I know, since that goes on in every other field so why wouldn't that be the case for art?

At any rate, the point I enjoy the point Johnson makes about how "reading art" was a popular pastime. Popular or not, it's something we've lost in our age and which I appreciate learning a bit about under Johnson's tutelage.
Yet there was laughter in art, even if double-faced. It is a common modern view that Hieronymus Bosch (c. 1450-1516) painted the horrors of life and death, and aimed to terrify and to enforce repentance, by his alarming compositions. ... But he also aimed to excite, to thrill, to fascinate and to amuse. There is literary evidence, unearthed by the sharp reader of texts as well as pictures Ernst Gombrich, that collectors bought Bosch for that reason. He made them laugh at folly and its consequences, as Hogarth was to do 250 years later. The minute events of his gruesome tales were fantasies and obviously so. Yet by painting them in the Flemish tradition of realism and attention to detail, he made them seem credible at a certain level, and because credible hilarious. So the men laughed uproariously when, alone with their wine, they collectively considered a Bosch work, and put on straight faces and didactic expressions when their women fold appeared and asked to have the painting "explained."

Scott wants a semaphore tower and Julie never wants to hear of steam engine valves again.

We're discussing Pavane by Keith Roberts, an alternate history from the times when that genre was new — way back in 1966. With lots and lots of Catholic stuff to talk about! Join us at A Good Story is Hard to Find.