Tuesday, August 31, 2004

The Sadducees' Question, Part II

LUKE 20:27-40
So now that we know that the Sadducees believed that Mosaic law says nothing about resurrection, it is easy to see that they hoped to make a fool of Jesus with their question of the wife who married the seven brother in turn. The Ignatius Study Bible states Jesus' response in a nutshell.
Jesus deals with his objectors on their own terms: first, by denying that marriage exists in the next life and, second, by deliberately citing the Mosaic law against them. The burning bush episode shows that Yaweh identified himself with the patriarchs long after their death (Ex 3:6). If Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are still with God, then life must endure beyond death and a future resurrection is implied in the Pentateuch.

William Barclay makes an important point about what we learn about Jesus in this session.
It may well be that we find this an arid passage. It deals with burning questions of the time by means of arguments which a rabbi would find completely convincing but which are not convincing to the modern mind. But out of this very aridity there emerges a great truth for anyone who teaches or who wishes to commend Christianity to his fellows. Jesus used arguments that the people he was arguing with could understand. He talked to them in their own language; he met them on their own ground; and that is precisely why the common people heard him gladly.

It occurred to me that this also is why when God speaks to someone individually it is often in a way that only that person can understand. It might not seem significant to anyone else but that is because God's message is tailored specifically for each person.

Monday, August 30, 2004

Thoughts After a Funeral

Tom and I went to a funeral on Friday. It was an especially sad occasion. One of Rose's friends had her mother die suddenly the weekend before. She left behind her husband and their four children, of whom Rose's friend is the oldest at 14. This is the third funeral I have attended in my life. My parents are not religious and three of my grandparents were in their charge when they died, so no observance was made of their passing. One funeral was that of my mother's mother and was really a memorial service more than anything. The second funeral was that of Tom's father and it was glorious in the fullness of tradition with a rosary the night before, visitation, and an open casket funeral. I have rarely found anything so satisfying on so many levels. It doesn't sound proper but you probably know what I mean when I say that it was a wonderful funeral. The funeral on Friday had no rosary or open casket but was also wonderful as a celebration of this mother's life. I was left with two new "funeral observations" afterward.

First, understandably, the Gospel reading was about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. Both our priest and the guest speaker mentioned something that had never occurred to me as a lesson from this passage. When Lazarus comes forth from the tomb he is covered with the winding cloths. Jesus tells Mary and Martha to unbind him, to set him free, and to feed him. This is an illustration of what happens after we die. Jesus meets us and we are set free from all that bound us in our earthly life. So simple but I just never looked at it this way. It was particularly apt in this mother's case but there is no one who would not enjoy such a welcome.

Second, as I sang "On Eagles Wings" I started thinking about Tom's mother. She had me pick the readings and songs for his father's funeral, "Nothing from after Vatican II" (no "On Eagles Wings" for him). Ok, I converted only 4 years ago but I knew what she meant. Then she told me to keep the notes and use them for her funeral whenever it should be.

I began contemplating what I would want to happen during my funeral. First of all, no songs later than the 1900's. Have everyone recite the St. Michael prayer before the final benediction (Rose's idea, she was thinking these sorts of thoughts also). Sing the "Ode to Joy" as everyone leaves. Definitely have everyone go to the house for an old fashioned wake, or is that held the night before? Then who would I have speak? Not a family member, that is too hard for them. I thought maybe my best friend, Joan, would be good. She knows me like no other in many ways.

I told Tom about all these ideas on the way to work afterward. He didn't like thinking about it. I think it was because he strongly identified with the plight of the widowed father who now would have to carry on, "One day at a time," as he told us, raising his children alone. For me it was a more academic idea. I found I wasn't the only one like that. When I told Joan my idea, it started a flurry of back and forth emails that detailed what we'd like and what we'd say in tribute of each other. Then she told me about a great PBS special she'd seen recently about dying at home. She's going to rent it and we'll watch it together.

I thought it was interesting that we got pulled into the details so easily. Maybe its because we are both planners. Maybe its a girl thing. Maybe its because we both have seen the power of a good funeral. I'm not sure. But it is interesting.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Attitude is Everything ... Again

I know I'm starting to sound like a broken record, but Bishop Lynch High School continues to impress. A friend of Rose's had her mother die last weekend. It is a very sad situation and everyone is much shocked. However, it is during this time when BL's care and support of their students really shines.

Hannah had a friend in the same tragic circumstances last year. That was when we discovered that whenever there is such a tragedy the school goes all out to make sure that student is supported.

The funeral is announced on BL Live a few days in advance; a bus is provided to transport students; extra time is given on homework to anyone who attends so they have time to make it up; the head of the school, administration, and many teachers always go. In this instance, as Rose's friend is a freshman and school just began last week, the school also had a couple of teachers go to every freshman class and explain the procedure so the students wouldn't hesitate to attend. Rose said her French teacher asked who would be gone on Friday (Rose and her friend are in the same class) and then said she'd be gone as well to support her. What a caring and supportive environment.

I shouldn't be surprised but this extra effort is not the sort of thing I have been led to expect by our society in general. This is why we pay the tuition for this particular private school. Yes, the academics are wonderful, but its the culture that we value. This school actively supports a living Catholic culture of caring for each other ... and by living it they reinforce it for their students. Our children will not always be in such a supportive environment but what a blessing that they have it now.

Magic. It can get a guy killed.

Harry Dresden--Wizard
Lost items found. Paranormal investigations.
Consulting. Advice. Reasonable rates.
No Love Potions, Endless Purses, Parties, or Other Entertainment.

Harry Dresden is the best at what he does. Well, technically, he's the only at what he does. So when the Chicago P.D. has a case that transcends mortal creativity or capability, they come to him for answers. For the "everyday" world is actually full of strange and magical things--and most of them don't play too well with humans. That's where Harry comes in. Takes a wizard to catch a--well, whatever.

I first saw this series mentioned at Scattershot Direct and couldn't resist. I love funny dialogue, mysteries, and good modern/urban fantasy. This covers it all. Harry is the archetypal tough talking, wise cracking PI with a heart of gold that gets him into trouble every time. One of Harry's skills is the ability to alienate almost everyone from his friend on the police force to the Wizard's Council. I especially like the couple of books where Harry works with Michael, a Templar Knight, who not only swings a wicked holy sword but spends most of his time shaking his head over Harry's lack of faith in God.

Most importantly, Jim Butcher has the ability to ratchet the pace up to the point where you just can't quit reading, as I have discovered to my dismay every night for the past two weeks. These books are like popcorn ... light, easy to digest and hard to put down. I'm almost done with the fifth book and then what will I do? Book 6 isn't at the bookstore yet and the library doesn't plan to order it. Being a good Catholic girl, I'll guess I'll just have to offer it up until it does come in.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

The Sadducees' Question, Part I

LUKE 20:27-40
The Sadducees suddenly appear after Jesus has silenced the Sanhedrin. They ask Jesus what seems like a ridiculous question about a woman whose husband dies and is then married in turn to each of his seven brothers as they die one by one. Their question is who the woman will be married to in heaven. William Barclay points out that this question depends on two things. First, it depends on the Mosaic regulations about marriage and, second, it depends on what the Sadducees believe. Really the question only seems silly because we don't know where the Sadducees were coming from. Barclay outlines the differences between the Pharisees and Sadducees so we have a clear frame of reference.
(a) The Pharisees were entirely a religious body. They had no political ambitions and were content with any government which allowed them to carry out the ceremonial law. The Sadducees were few but very wealthy. The priests and the aristocrats were nearly all Sadducees. They were the governing class; and they were largely collaborationist with Rome, being unwilling to risk losing their wealth, their comfort and their place.

(b) the Pharisees accepted the scriptures plus all the thousand detailed regulations and rules of the oral and ceremonial law ... The Sadducees accepted only the written laws of the Old Testament; and in the Old Testament they stressed only the law of Moses and set no store on the prophetic books.

(c) The Pharisees believed in the resurrection from the dead and in angels and spirits. The Sadducees held that there was no resurrection from the dead and that there were no angels or spirits.

(d) the Pharisees believed in fate; and that a man's life was planned and ordered by God. The Sadducees believed in unrestricted free will.

(e) the Pharisees believed in and hoped for the coming of the Messiah; the Sadducees did not. For them the coming of the Messiah would have been a disturbance of their carefully ordered lives.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Two Great Chinese Cookbooks

When I was first out of college and had that heady experience of running the kitchen for myself, I'd never really had any Chinese food. My gourmet parents didn't cotton to all the chopping that they'd have to do for any sort of Asian cooking. All I needed was one time at a fairly authentic Chinese restaurant and I was hooked. Naturally, I turned to books...

Irene Kuo has been called the Julia Child of Chinese cooking and she deserves the title. This is the cookbook I used to teach myself Chinese cooking and it has every technique I have ever seen mentioned in any other Asian cookbook. Kuo writes so clearly that there is not much need for illustration, although there are some when describing cutting techniques and ingredients. More importantly, she has a love for her craft that comes through clearly and makes you understand why various techniques even matter. There is a plethora of recipes, many of which are amazingly simple to yield such authentic results. She rightly points out that there is much more than stir-frying to Chinese food and proceeds to instruct in red-cooking, shallow frying, and much more that adds timing flexibility many may not expect from Chinese cooking. Many of the recipes are very simple but the flavor is authentic. If you've ever been interested in Chinese cooking this is the only cookbook you'll ever need.

This is another favorite that shows how simple and easy Chinese cooking can be. Ken Hom gives some of the recipes that his working mother used to put together 4-course meals in an hour, night after night when he was growing up in Chicago's Chinatown. He worked in his uncle's restaurant and also gives us a lot of recipes for those long-time American favorites ... both the restaurant menu version (for Americans) and the "secret menu" version (for Chinese patrons). Hom has been teaching cooking for a long time and it shows. These are very accessible and will please everyone in your family. Believe me, if Hannah likes these meals, then anyone will!

Monday, August 23, 2004

The Entry of the King

LUKE 19:28-40
In the Gospel of John Bible Study I attended this summer, it was made very clear that Jesus often deliberately provoked confrontation with the Pharisees. Other than a few obvious examples such as driving the moneychangers from the Temple, I never really thought of Jesus in those terms. But time and again Jesus takes it to the Pharisees in ways that they simply cannot ignore.

Here is another such time. Jesus enters Jerusalem on a colt. We so often look at this scene for all the other significance familiar to us, but William Barclay points out just what message this had for the Jews of that time. It was an act of defiance that no one could fail to understand. Even in this moment, however, Jesus was telling everyone something more ... that the Messiah was a king of peace. He gave them chance after chance to get the point but they closed their eyes to it. We must hope that seeing all these examples leaves us with our eyes just a little wider open.
We have to note certain things about this entry into Jerusalem.

(i) It was carefully planned. It was no sudden, impulsive action. Jesus did not leave things until the last moment. He had his arrangement with the owners of the colt. The Lord needs it was a password chosen long ago.

(ii) It was an act of glorious defiance and of superlative courage. By this time there was a price on Jesus' head (John 11:57). It would have been natural that, if he must go into Jerusalem at all, he should have slipped in unseen and hidden away in some secret place in the back streets. But he entered in such a way as to focus the whole lime-light upon himself and to occupy the center of the stage.

(iii) It was a deliberate claim to be king, a deliberate fulfilling of the picture in Zechariah 9:9. But even in this Jesus underlined the kind of kingship which he claimed. The ass in Palestine was not the lowly beast that it is in this country. It was noble. Only in war did kings ride upon a horse; when they came in peace they came upon an ass. So Jesus by this action came as a king of love and peace, and not as the conquering military hero whom the mob expected and awaited.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Happy Birthday, Hannah!

And now we end our month-long celebration of Hannah's 16th birthday (trip to San Francisco, etc.) with the actual event itself. I know she'll appreciate the sidebar quote that was chosen specially for her. Happy birthday, Hannah!

Friday, August 20, 2004

Back to School ... for the Whole Family

Hannah and Rose sure are taking some interesting classes this year and we're hearing all about them. I'd forgotten that not only do we wind up discussing teachers and classmates but the actual subjects being studied. Quelle surprise! Well, my French is rusty but it won't be for long because Rose is coming home and practicing her one or two sentences with me after every class. We were treated to the story of one teacher's attempts to get his students to think for themselves and question the status quo (World History). This fell on unappreciative ears as Rose is schooled in that daily at home and didn't necessarily agree with the teacher's bent. However, she can look on it as an interesting sociology experiment happening in front of her eyes.

Hannah and I discussed an alternative theory for the disappearance of Roanoke colony this morning (AP American History). Last night, she gave Tom and I a short review of Socrates and his encounter with the Delphi Oracle. Socrates was then contrasted and compared to excerpts of a bestseller named Sophie's World which the teacher said was horribly written but accurately represented some philosophical ideas. Hannah approved neither of the writing nor whichever idea was being presented in the excerpt. Her Ancient Philosophy teacher is going to be pleased if Hannah's name gets drawn out of the hat to be one of the four students discussing the readings for the day.

There's certainly going to be a high level of conversation going on around here for a while!

Ingredient Alert

Don't you hate it when you read about some wonderful new food, try it, and then love it? You'd think that I'd quit trying these new, usually expensive treats but nooooooo, I fall for it every time ... and then I'm hooked. Here are the latest "must tries" I've found at the Central Market.

Fage is a brand of authentic Greek yogurt that comes in 0%, 2% and full fat. The Dallas Morning News food section highlighted Fage's packaging of yogurt with Greek honey that you can drizzle on top. Well, I was at least smart enough to buy the yogurt separately and drizzle it with my own honey. Fage's package has a very small amount of yogurt for the same price as their regular 7 ounce package ($1.99 - ouch!). I got the full fat yogurt (in for a penny, in for a pound) and what a treat it was. It is as thick as sour cream with a slight tang. Drizzled with honey it is luscious. I can't afford the price ... or the fat ... very often but, believe me, I'm gonna get this as often as I can. Next up is to try the lower fat versions.

All birds are raised on a 100% natural diet and cooled individually with purified, cold air. This process also preserves the quality of the meat. That's the technical mumbo jumbo. What I noticed was less fat, intense flavor, and firm texture that retained moistness. This is one great chicken. Naturally, you don't get this without a price but I used to pay a lot for organic chickens that didn't come up to these standards. I was sucked into trying it by a woman who practically forced it on me, swearing by the quality. Now I'm pushing it just like that woman at the store. It is habit forming. You have been warned!

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Satan's Subtlety Versus Jesus' Liberation

Two Standards: A Prayerful Meditation clearly points out the two ways that Satan and Jesus use to enter our hearts.
Satan lures us so subtly that we don't realize what is happening to us, until we wake up one day, shocked at how far we have drifted from our noble starting point.

Not only that, Satan uses our success to create in us a gradual attraction to worldly recognition and honors.

...The strategy of Jesus is diametrically opposed to the strategy of Satan. Instead of leading us to attachments to worldly possessions, pleasures, and honors, Jesus seeks to liberate us from these attachments.

Moreover, he seeks to liberate us from them to the point that -- with the help of God's grace -- we are ready to choose or accept suffering and humiliations, rather than comfort and honor, providing they lead us closer to God and to greater service to God's Kingdom.

This simplicity of this two page meditation belies the importance of the message. It is just the sort of thing that I need to be reminded of over and over again. Via Catholicism, holiness and spirituality.

Can't Get It Out of My Head

BULLY by Sugarbomb

I never would have heard of this band except that Kelly and Jennifer, the bass player and his wife, are great friends of ours. Well, we're lucky on two counts because this is a great CD even without the friendship factor.

Bully is a great, hard-driving pop album with intelligent, tongue-in-cheek lyrics (that quality put me strongly in mind of Astro Lounge by Smash Mouth). You can pick out bits that sound like other bands (most notably the Beatles and Queen) but they are woven together to make Sugarbomb's own unique, infinitely listenable sound. The songs have great hooks and won't leave your head for days ... which must be why I have been listening to it at work, in the car, and, well, everywhere.

Sugarbomb never made another CD because the album release, which was poised to make them the darlings of the rock world including MTV features, was set for the day which we all know now as September 11. Needless to say, that threw a crimp in the works, and the band members went on to other projects.

As Rose said, "I'm glad that it didn't work out for the band because otherwise we wouldn't know Kelly and Jennifer but on the other hand ... I really wish they'd made another CD." Precisely.

A Familiar View of Divorce

LUKE 16:14-18
Jesus tells the Pharisees about the unchangeable nature of the law, "it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the law to become invalid." As an example, he then tells them that anyone who divorces their spouse and marries another is committing adultery. The historical perspective on this is especially interesting because I never realized that divorce back then was so easy ... at least for the man ... and that it was endangering family life altogether. Sound familiar? William Barclay explains.
As an illustration of law that would never pass away Jesus took the law of chastity. This very definite statement of Jesus must be read against the contemporary background of Jewish life. The Jew glorified fidelity and chastity ... A Jew must surrender his life rather than commit idolatry, murder or adultery.

But the tragedy was that at this time the marriage bond was on the way to being destroyed. In the eyes of Jewish law a woman was a thing. She could divorce her husband only if he became a leper or an apostate or if he ravished a virgin ...

The matter turned on the interpretation of the phrase some indecency [the qualifier in Mosaic law that allowed a man to divorce his wife] in the Mosaic regulation. The school of Shammai said that meant adultery and adultery alone. The school of Hillel said it could mean "if she spoiled a dish of food; if she spun in the street; if she talked to a strange man"... Human nature being what it is, it was the school of Hillel which prevailed, so that, in the time of Jesus things were so bad that women were refusing to marry at all and family life was in danger.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

What Can Stop Six Lanes of Traffic on Northwest Highway?

A dignified mother duck waddling across with her 10 tiny balls of fluff in a straight line behind her, that's what. Adorable and heartwarming. It brightened my whole day so much that I didn't even mind when I discovered the screw stuck in my back tire (thanks to the nice mother behind me in the car park line who pointed it out).

Stepping Into a Fantasy World

The Secret Country
The Hidden Land
The Whim of the Dragon
For the past nine years, cousins Patrick, Ruth, Ellen, Ted, and Laura have played at "The Secret" -- a game full of witches, unicorns, a magic ring and court intrigue. In The Secret, they can imagine anything into reality, and shape destiny. Then the unbelievable happens: by trick or by chance, they find themselves in the Secret Country, their made-up identities now real. They have arrived at the start of their game, with the Country on the edge of war. What was once exciting and wonderful now looms threateningly before them, and no one is sure how to stop it . . . or if they will ever get back home.

This reprinted trilogy is one of the best fantasies ever written. Not only is the story believably written, but Pamela Dean assumes the reader is intelligent enough to handle a complex plot and varied literary allusions. You are kept on your toes along with the main characters who are just barely keeping up as events and people keep changing in ways they never acted out in their "secret."

I have read these time and again and they never fail to please. These may be found in the science fiction/fantasy section although I see they are classified in the "Young Adult" category. Believe me, they are not simple and I really think these were written for adults. The three volumes are really just one long story, with cliffhanger endings, so be sure to read them in order. I was really happy to see they recently have been reprinted. This is my chance to replace my yellowed, brittle copies.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Getting in Touch with the Vatican

ALL THE POPE'S MEN: The Inside Story of How the Vatican Really Thinks by John L. Allen Jr.
Thus when I cover the Vatican, I do not start with the assumption that Church officials are guilty until proven innocent and that the Vatican's motives for any given decision can be assumed to revolve around power and self-interest unless it is shown otherwise. To tell the truth, my experience is that most of the time Vatican officials are trying to make the best calls they can for the common good of the church, based on the information available to them and the political and theological convictions they hold. Once can debate the wisdom of those judgment calls, and I hope this book will provide the tools to do that, but the debate will suffer from fatal confusion unless the challengers appreciate the values Vatican officials are seeking to defend and the logic that led them to particular decisions.

This book is exactly what it says it is, an even-handed attempt to explain how the Vatican's culture: how it thinks, why it reacts as it does, and what typical patterns of behavior can be expected. This is the result of John Allen being on the Vatican beat for years and watching Americans and the Vatican misunderstand each other time and again. Each judges the other from their own cultural vantage point and then jumps to the worst possible conclusion. Allen opens up Vatican thinking by first explaining how the Vatican is set up and then takes us through their psychology, sociology, theology, and the top five myths about the Vatican. He also has special chapters dealing with the Vatican-American misunderstandings over the sexual abuse crisis and the war in Iraq. I skipped all except the summaries for these chapters as by that time I had a good enough understanding that I didn't need to go through everything blow-by-blow.

This may sound dry and boring but Allen provides ample anecdotes and examples to flesh out the details understandably. I found it fascinating and fairly easy to read. If we keep in mind what is explained here about Vatican thinking, there is a much better chance of real communication and understanding ... which will help us all.

The Prodigal Son

LUKE 15:11-32
The parable of the Prodigal Son is probably one of the best known stories in the world. It is easy to see why. Every time I read it I get some new insight, usually about myself. In one short story we get the point of view of the repentant sinner, the self righteous man who scorns the sinner and, most of all to my mind, the loving father who understands each all too well and loves them anyway ... God, the Father. Here are some of William Barclay's insights that enriched the meaning further for me.
He came home; and, according to the best Greek text, his father never gave him the chance to ask to be a servant. He broke in before that. The robe stands for honor; the ring for authority, for if a man gave to another his signet ring it was the same as giving him the power of attorney; the shoes for a son as opposed to a slave, for children of the family were shod and slaves were not.

This is not from Barclay as far as I know but from something I read and for which I can't remember the source. No man of dignity ever ran anywhere, certainly not an important man like the father in this parable. This father, however, not only was watching and waiting for his son but actually ran to him, abandoning all dignity in his joy. To me this is one of the greatest moments in the Gospels, picturing God's overwhelming eagerness to bring us home again.
He stands for the self-righteous Pharisees who would rather see a sinner destroyed than saved. Certain things stand out about him.

(i)His attitude shows that his years of obedience to his father had been years of grim duty and not of loving service.

(ii)His attitude is one of utter lack of sympathy. He refers to the prodigal, not as my brother but as your son. ...

(iii)He had a peculiarly nasty mind. There is no mention of harlots until he mentions them. He, no doubt, suspected his brother of the sins he himself would have liked to commit.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

Julia and Me

When I heard that Julia Child had died I only had a mild interest. True, I love to cook (and eat!) and the only cookbook of hers that I own, The Way to Cook, is fabulous. However, she's not one of the personalities in which I ever took any interest, she was able to enjoy her life to a grand age, and she died in her sleep. So, good on her, but none of it really mattered to me.

Thinking about it later, though, I realized that I owe more than I knew to Julia. She had tremendous influence over my parents. They were gourmet cooks who delighted in experimenting with new recipes and eagerly read all that was written by Julia Child, James Beard, Craig Claiborne, and other food mavens of the time. In fact, they threw themselves into the gourmet movement with such gusto that we never ate such "common" things as Meat Loaf, Macaroni and Cheese, or Tuna Noodle Casserole. For that, we had to go to my grandparents' house. At home we consumed exotica such as curry, squid or Mexican food. It was a given that my brother would request Chiles Rellenos for his birthday. This was not your typical Kansas kitchen of the 1960s. I grew up with a respect for authentic ingredients and food of all sorts that was engendered by pioneers like Julia Child.

Although my siblings and I all have found our own definite cooking styles, we all share a love for good food and are not afraid of the exotic. My brother can throw together Dolmas with the practiced speed of a Greek housewife. My sister thinks nothing of throwing a party for over a hundred of her husband's co-workers and makes everything by hand. I, myself, have raised children that routinely request Pesto Pizza (with home made crust and pesto) for birthday parties. They then carry on the legacy by pushing it on their friends who will ask if we're having "green pizza" when they come over.

Of course, we are a bit more ecumenical than my parents. Basic American standards like Macaroni and Cheese or Tuna Noodle Casserole do appear in our households. When I think about it, I realize that this too is true to Julia's legacy. When she came to Dallas, one of her favorite restaurants served Tex-Mex and basic Texan food. She told the owner that she always got taken to fancy places when really she enjoyed every kind of food. As long as it was delicious, she never shunned any sort of food ... even Meat Loaf.

More than that, she enjoyed living life to the fullest and she didn't sweat the small stuff, as in the famous incident during the live TV show when she dropped the chicken on the floor, picked it up, and kept on going ... and that is the most important legacy of all. It is one I hope to pass on to my children. So, thank you, Julia. I pray that you are enjoying a heavenly feast now that puts all your earthly ones to shame.

Friday, August 13, 2004

And On The Eighth Day She Rested

We've done a final count and since last Saturday, Rose has churned out 18 ... count 'em -- 18 ... kinds of cookies! That's got to be several hundred cookies I have in my freezer. As the weekend approaches I'm going to do my best to redirect all that creative energy into something that I can use ... main dishes. Tomorrow we're making Brunswick Stew. Some for us and plenty for the freezer.

Truth? What Does That Have To Do With It?

The stem cell debate illustrates just how political, ideological, and religious science has become says William Saletan in an article for Slate. The article shows just how scientists are willing to shade the truth to get funding. In this case the DNC is only too willing to play along because it gives them a big emotional pull especially when it is linked with Alzheimer's as they have been doing repeatedly.
The trouble is, the Alzheimer's hype isn't true. On June 10, the Post's Rick Weiss reported that "given the lack of any serious suggestion that stem cells themselves have practical potential to treat Alzheimer's, the Reagan-inspired tidal wave of enthusiasm [for stem cell research] stands as an example of how easily a modest line of scientific inquiry can grow in the public mind to mythological proportions. It is a distortion that some admit is not being aggressively corrected by scientists." Why don't scientists dispel the myth? "People need a fairy tale," NIH researcher Ronald McKay told Weiss. "Maybe that's unfair, but they need a story line that's relatively simple to understand."

Via Catholic Analysis.

The Little Team That Could

This movie was a universal favorite when it was released and I can see why. Chronicling the 1980 US Olympic hockey team's road to their surprise gold medal win, it captures both the feel of those times and the best of a sports movie. We never get to know any of the players well as individuals which is just as it should be. The coach insists that they will meet success only by functioning as a team so that is how we are shown them.

Kurt Russell is excellent as the tough coach who feels deeply but doesn't let his emotions out. Another touch that I really liked was the use of the actual sports casters' original coverage during the hockey games. It helped me connect with the fact that this really was how it happened. I remember watching these hockey games and the excitement our whole family felt when the US won. That no doubt added to my particular enjoyment but the whole family liked it even without those memories.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Living History

In the last week I have gradually come to realize that Tom and I are at the age where we have lived the history that our kids are learning. I suppose this is only to be expected at our ages (either at that half-century mark or close to it). We have long been used to the wonder that Hannah and Rose expressed in their younger years at finding we didn't grow up with at least one computer at home, VCRs, or (horror of horrors) color TV. *flashback* I remember when every time our family walked my dad to his gate for one of his frequent business trips, he would stop at every TV along the concourse. It was football season. "We've got to get one of those!"

What we're running into now goes way past being able to remember what we were doing when Kennedy was shot or the space shuttle blew up. Those also are fairly stock memories in our house now. This is stuff like watching "Miracle" and having to explain that if the Soviet Union (no, not Russia) had boycotted the Olympic Games in Lake Placid, then none of the Eastern Bloc would have come either (Eastern what?). Listening to Rose explain that flawed blood filtering techniques wound up infecting people with AIDS reminded Tom of when people would stockpile their own blood or refuse to get transfusions. A discussion of graphite led to an explanation of Chernobyl, which Rose had never heard of. (Listen, that's just the kind of household this is. Tom has a subscription to Invention & Technology and reads it cover to cover. We were being treated to a short lesson on the history of the wooden pencil. Yes, pity our children. Their friends often are amazed at our dinner conversation, although we try to tone it down for the sake of not being the geekiest family they know. On the up-side, Hannah never had to study much for her World History class.)

Being a living history book doesn't make me feel old or bother me. Actually I find it interesting to be jolted back to a different mindset by these memories ... remembering when we operated under a whole different set of assumptions about how the world works.

Of course, I can see this overlapping generations. I look at our children and think of the fact that our family remembers what year September 11 happened because that was the summer we went to Europe. Hannah and Rose will tell their children stories of a time when you could meet arrivals right at the airline gate, when no one dreamed of worrying about terrorists on United States' soil, and when movies featured two buildings on the New York skyline that are gone now ... when we operated under a whole different set of assumptions about how the world works.

The Lost Coin

LUKE 15:8-10
Jesus follows up the parable about the lost sheep with one comparing God's joy at recovering a lost sinner to that of a woman who has recovered a lost silver coin. William Barclay describes the environment and urgency of the woman's search.
The coin in question in this parable was a silver drachma ... It would not be difficult to lose a coin in a Palestinian peasant's house and it might take a long search to find it. The window was not much more than about 18 inches across. The floor was beaten earth covered with dried reeds and rushes; and to look for a coin on a floor like that was very much like looking for a needle in a haystack ...

There are two reasons why the woman may have been eager to find the coin.

(i) It may have been a matter of sheer necessity. It was more than a whole day's wage for a working man in Palestine. These people lived always on the edge of things and very little stood between them and real hunger. This woman may well have searched with intensity because, if she did not find, the family would not eat.

(ii)there may have been a much more romantic reason. The mark of a married woman was a head-dress made of ten silver coins linked together by a silver chain. For years maybe a girl would scrape and save to amass her ten coins, for the headdress was almost the equivalent of her wedding ring. When she had it, it was so inalienably hers that it could not even be taken from her for debt. It may well be that it was one of these coins that the woman had lost, and so she searched for it as any woman would search if she lost her marriage ring.

This parable illustrates the sinner lost through no fault of his own such as those who are unknowingly led astray by others. When we are lost and innocent of blame, we are still lost nonetheless. The road to God can be a hard and long one no matter what the reason. I love the fact that He is anxiously urging us toward him just as the woman is frantically searching for her coin. We never make that journey alone. In fact, in such circumstances, we are just like the silver coin ... not knowing that we even are lost until He picks us up.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

The Clues that Lead Us Home

FINDING HEAVEN: Stories of Coming Home by Christopher de Vinck
When his son asked for proof of heaven, Christopher de Vinck began looking around him for the clues that God leaves in everyday life. The result was this book of 30 reflections about those clues and how de Vinck became aware of them. I like to read this book when the world is too hard and I need reminders of how simple faith really is. It is simply written but that does not make it any less true. Highly recommended.
I have come to my faith in a simpler way. I came to my own faith long before I could read, long before I attended Catholic school or Mass. I believe in the existence of heaven and in God because my mother told me it was true. It was as simple as that.

My mother would not lie to me. When I was a child, she pointed out the moon to me. She held kittens in her hands and had me listen to the extraordinary sound of hearts beating. She was right about those things, so I believed her when she told me about Jesus. Jesus promised us that there was a heaven, and my mother told me about that promise. So I believed.

But when that early certitude of faith began to wane, I trusted in companions and signs to bring me back. I'm like Hansel and Gretel, who dropped stones along the way into the forest so they could find the way home. I'm like an old sailor, looking to the stars for guidance across the great seas. God places little stones for us to follow through the dark woods of life. God places certain stars in our hearts so that we can take a measured reading and determine where we are when we feel lost.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

A Really Good Prayer

Here is a prayer that never fails. It is excellent for those times when someone is crunching popcorn in your ear while you are watching "The Passion", when the choir won't stop practicing even though they did not reserve the room that you need to use, or when you find yourself in the situation I did yesterday ... talking to a very angry man who treats you contemptuously as a simple fool. In other words, it is perfect for helping deal with the irritations and stress of daily life.
Lord, have mercy on me and bless them.
This simple prayer is proof that you do not have to "feel" the prayer. You simply must be willing to say it, however grudgingly. Considering the circumstances that lead up to it, I always am upset and irritated whenever I say it. Do I actually want those annoying people to be blessed? Hmph, I should say not! (At least I don't feel as if I do, although I am going to the effort of saying the prayer...) In fact, yesterday I was shaking with anger when I suddenly realized that prayer was running over and over in my head. But it is the classic case of "ask and you shall receive." Whenever I say it, I never fail to be reminded of my many imperfections, my pride, and that we are all sinners together. Often that is just what I need to calm down and let my anger go.

In fact, yesterday I was given much more than that. I actually was able to walk away without getting sucked into further argument. I let him "win." So he thinks I'm an idiot? OK, fine. Believe me, that's not my way. No matter how hard I have fought with myself, I never have been able to do that before. It was all grace, an amazing triumph over my worst instincts, an answer to prayer for which I am very grateful.

I realized that angry man actually was the answer to a prayer for humility. That's another prayer that usually is fairly grudging. I know I need it. I know its good for me. But I know it hurts. Why is it that those prayers always are answered so quickly? Maybe its because that is the path that takes us closest to where we should be ... death to self, doing everything for the glory of God.

I was left with peace in my heart, an ability to pray for the man to truly be blessed, and an appreciation of humility (again). This morning's prayer for humility was much more sincere. What a great ending to that encounter. Thanks be to God for that simple prayer and for His quick answers.

Monday, August 9, 2004

It Ain't Shogun, But It Ain't Bad

I can see why some people called this "Dances with Samurai" but let's be fair. "The Last Samurai" is so much more than that movie was and, certainly, Tom Cruise is head and shoulders above Kevin Costner as an actor. Basically this is the story of a Civil war era soldier drinking to escape his demons (too many flashbacks of killing Indian children, by the way) while training the Japanese army to use modern arms and tactics against a samurai warlord. He's captured by the samurai, learns to respect their ancient ways, fight their fight, blah, blah, blah ... yeah, its just a touch predictable.

Hannah and Rose recently watched Shogun, which we like so much we have it on video. By contrast, this movie seemed really Americanized in the way the Japanese acted and lived. It seemed all right as far as it went but it just didn't go far enough. I mean, what self-respecting Japanese woman is going to bath under a trickling waterfall when you know any real Japanese village wouldn't be without a proper bath house for a good hot soak? Although I have to say the samurais' armor was first rate ... very fierce and macho. I guess the real thing already was so good it didn't have to be "fixed up".

That said, we enjoyed this movie. The first half was slow and predictable (with many opportunities for mocking the "Hollywood" Japanese ways) but then the action took off and was very satisfying. It was worth watching just to see the samurai's response when Tom Cruise answered his question about Thermopylae. Critics didn't like the ending but I didn't have a problem with it. For one thing, I like happy endings and I see no reason why this soldier who'd suffered so much shouldn't finally have some peace and happiness.

The Shepherd's Joy

LUKE 15:1-7
In response to Pharisees who are whispering about him eating with sinners, Jesus tells the famous parable about leaving 99 sheep to hunt for one lost sheep and the joy over finding that sheep. He then underlines the point for them by directly saying that the joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents will be much more than over the 99 just people who do not need repentance. This seems pretty straight forward until William Barclay tells why this story would have a special sting for the Pharisees.
We will understand these parables more fully if we remember that the strict Jews said ... "There will be joy in heaven over one sinner who is obliterated before God." They looked sadistically forward not to the saving but to the destruction of the sinner.

Barclay also points out just how important the shepherd was and the extreme joy of the entire village when a sheep was found ... kind of humbling to think of heaven showing that level of joy over one of us, isn't it?
The shepherd in Judaea had a hard and dangerous task. Pasturage was scarce. The narrow central plateau was only a few miles wide, and then it plunged down to the wild cliffs and the terrible devastation of the desert. There were no restraining walls and the sheep would wander ...

The shepherd was personally responsible for the sheep. If a sheep was lost the shepherd must at least bring home the fleece to show how it had died. These shepherds were experts at tracking and could follow the straying sheep's footprints for miles across the hills. There was not a shepherd for whom it was not all in the day's work to risk his life for his sheep.

Many of the flocks were communal flocks, belonging, not to individuals, but to villages. There would be two or three shepherds in charge. Those whose flocks were safe would arrive home on time and bring news that one shepherd was still out on the mountain side searching for a sheep which was lost. The whole village would be upon the watch, and when, in the distance, they saw the shepherd striding home with the lost sheep across his shoulders, there would rise from the whole community a shout of joy and thanksgiving.

This is the first of three parables in a row where Jesus illustrates sinners gone astray and recovered by God. This one shows the sinner who was lost because he didn't think. How many of us would avoid sin if we just stopped to think first?

Friday, August 6, 2004

A Glorious Summer Evening

Last night it was too hot to take a walk, even by 8:30. So we did something radical ... all four of us wound up in the living room, playing with the dogs and talking! It almost was like our own little cocktail party as conversations between the four of us wound together and split off depending on the subjects. Sometimes, we'd have to stop just to laugh at the dogs' antics playing with Tom and Hannah. All this was after a rousing game of Clue in which Rose trumped us all with an educated guess, based on Tom's wrong accusation.

Yes, we're still facing the dreariness of preparing for the school year ... skirts wait to be hemmed, supplies must be bought, that last missing school book must be found ... and there is fun planned for the future (Hannah's actual birthday party ... taking carloads of friends to see "Noises Off" in a couple of weeks). However, this was about the "here and now." It reminds us of why summer vacation is so long. Sometimes it takes months to relax and be able to enjoy the moment.

What Will We Do in Heaven? Part II

Peter Kreeft has an interesting answer to yesterday's question. It is one of intertwined goals. Not only does it make sense, but he even makes it sound like something I'd look forward to; like a giant house party where everyone is having the most fascinating conversations. This is heavily edited to make a readable length for the blog but I highly recommend reading the whole thing for yourself in Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Heaven, but Never Dreamed of Asking.
... First we review our past life with divine understanding and appreciation of our past life with divine understanding and appreciation of every single experience, good and evil: we milk all our meaning dry. Then we do the same to others' lives from within. We know them more intimately and completely than we could ever know our most intimate friend on earth because we share God's knowledge of each one. When these two preliminary lessons are complete - when we know, love, understand, and appreciate completely by inner experience everything we and everyone else have ever experienced - only then we are spiritually mature enough to begin the endless and endlessly fascinating task of exploring, learning, and loving the facets of infinity, the inexhaustible nature of God.

The idea is not new, for it corresponds to three traditional doctrines: Purgatory, the Communion of Saints, and the Beatific Vision. But each is given new life by being related to the others in this sequence. Purgatory turns out be part of Heaven rather than a distinct place, and consists of moral reeducation rather than mere punishment, rehabilitation rather than retribution. The communion of Saints is rescued from a vague, philanthropic goodwill and made as interesting as human love and communion on earth; getting to know people is in one way or another the only thing we find inexhaustible here as well as there. Finally, the contemplation of God is not boring because it is done with souls matured by the first two tasks. The difference this maturing makes is as great as the difference between a dying saint and a newborn baby...

Thursday, August 5, 2004

What Will We Do in Heaven? Part I

Here's a common question. First of all, why do we care? Isn't it supposed to be perfect? Secondly, there's never a really satisfying sounding answer. Peter Kreeft tackles this in Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Heaven, but Never Dreamed of Asking.
Nevertheless, though the question "What do you do?" is not primary, it is important: first, because what we do flows from and reveals what we are; second, because what we do also flows into what we are, helps construct our selves. Third, creative work is a primary human need, and our conventional pictures of heaven are boring partly because they do not fulfill that need. Playing harps and polishing halos is an obviously bad answer to a good question. A second answer, the more philosophical alternative of an eternity of abstract contemplation of changeless truth, moves only philosophers (and even among them only the minority). The third, biblical answer, the enjoyment of God (Psalm 27:4), is true but must be fleshed out by the imagination. The mere words "the enjoyment of God" make sense only to those who already enjoy God; the vast majority of us seem to enjoy the vast majority of things vastly more than we enjoy God. (In fact, it is only God in these things that we enjoy, but we do not recognize that.)

We may even fear Heaven, consciously or unconsciously, because we fear boredom. Then death is truly terrible, for it offers only the two hellish alternatives of boredom or agony. Earth seems much more interesting than Heaven because there seems to be nothing to do in Heaven. What work needs to be done in a world of eternal perfection? Yet how can we be happy without creative work?

The answer to what we'll do coming in Part II.

Wednesday, August 4, 2004

Bounty Hunting Was Never So Fun

Stephanie Plum, a laid-off lingerie buyer in Trenton, becomes a bounty hunter for her cousin Vinny. She always is in the wrong place at the right time. This makes her one of the luckiest and funniest characters to come along in a long time. Evanovich has a definite formula for these books, a mixture of serious crime fighting and 30's screwball comedy, but somehow she keeps each book fresh and funny. These books have enough suspense to keep me reading past bedtime while making me actually laugh out loud.

You know that each book will have Stephanie stubbornly pursuing a very serious criminal while filling in time tracking down a host of quirky small-time criminals. She'll be stopping by her long-suffering parents' house at least once a week for Sunday dinner ("They're hiring at the button factory, Stephanie") and taking Grandma Mazur to a viewing at Stiva's Funeral Home. Lula, an errant file clerk, has become her gun-toting side kick as the series has developed. Watching them try to take down a criminal is something like watching Abbott and Costello. One of the main suspenseful elements is watching Stephanie trying to decide between Italian cop, Joe Morelli, and exotic bounty hunter, Ranger. I have been somewhat tired by Stephanie's indecision recently. However, Evanovich seems to have put some of that to rest in the latest installment, Ten Big Ones.

If you haven't read these, you are in for a treat. Pick up One for the Money and get ready for a wild and hilarious ride.

Tuesday, August 3, 2004

Slavery and Abortion: Two Sides of the Same Coin

We're starting to see the comparison of abortion to slavery become more common. It makes sense. Slavery is another moral issue that only Christians cared about at first, divided families and friends, was legal until enough people put their feet down, and destroyed people in the name of "ownership." Recently I have seen it specifically mentioned in two places.

Patrick Madrid at Envoy magazine's blog, Envoy Encore briefly discusses Biblical principles against abortion and opens the article with this reminder.
NOT SINCE THE CIVIL WAR crisis over slavery has a controversial moral issue so divided Americans and roiled society as has abortion. The deliberate killing of an unborn child through an abortion, though currently enjoying the "legitimacy" of legality in this country (just as slavery was once also legal), is, nonetheless, a grave evil that must be opposed.

The Mighty Barrister dissects a recent interview of John Kerry by Peter Jennings with his usual style and pointedly makes us aware of the parallels.
There was a period of time in the life of this country when another group of human beings were not considered persons. See, for example, Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. 393 U.S., 1856, where the Supreme Court announced that slaves were not "men" as defined in the Declaration of Independence, and were not "people" as declared in the Constitution, stating, "When the Constitution was adopted, they (blacks) were not regarded in any of the States as members of the community which constituted the State, and were not numbered among its 'people or citizens.' Consequently, the special rights and immunities guarantied to citizens do not apply to them."

You can't ignore the obvious parallels between the way the unborn are treated today, and the way Americans of African lineage were treated 150 years ago. And you can't ignore the fact that John Kerry uses practically the same language to describe the unborn as white racists used to describe blacks -- they're not "people."

This may be the startling idea that is needed to shock sense back into pro-abortion people. The same sorts of arguments were used to support slavery as to support abortion. If nothing else, these comparisons should give renewed energy to pro-life supporters. Slavery was big business and entrenched in Western civilization at one time. It was only by tenacity and sticking to what they knew was true in the face of any other arguments that Christians got the ball rolling for stopping slavery. We can do the same.

An excellent resource for finding out about the role of Christians in ending slavery (and other positive impacts of Christianity on our society) is Christianity on Trial: Arguments Against Anti-Religious Bigotry by Vincent Carroll and David Shiflett.

UPDATE: I can't believe I missed this as I am a dedicated Catholic Analysis fan but Oswald Sobrino wrote a fabulous article about this just yesterday. He points out all the parallels between the struggles faced by Abraham Lincoln and George Bush. Thanks to Jeff Miller for pointing this out.

Feasts and Banquets, Part II

LUKE 14:15-24
The common way that people were invited to banquets in Jesus' time would be hard to handle today. It required the person to hold themselves in constant readiness on the day of the party. That in itself is an interesting commentary on how we are expected to hold ourselves ready for God.
In Palestine, when a man made a feast, the day was announced long beforehand and the invitations were sent out and accepted; but the hour was not announced; and when the day came and all things were ready, servants were sent out to summon the already invited guests. To accept the invitation beforehand and then to refuse it when the day came was a grave insult.

Something that never occurred to me is the type of excuse that the invited guests are offering for skipping the party. They can be viewed as broad categories and then it is easy to see that they are exactly the sort of reasons we give today for not leaving any time for God. In fact, one is a totally legitimate excuse but still not good enough. Nothing must get in the way of God. We have to keep the proper perspective and not let the things of the world crowd God from our lives.
The first man said that he had bought a field and was going to see it. He allowed the claims of business to usurp the claims of God. It is still possible for a man to be so immersed in this world that he has no time to worship, and even no time to pray.

The second man said that he had bought five yoke of oxen and that he was going to try them out. He let the claims of novelty usurp the claims of Christ. It often happens that when people enter into new possessions they become so taken up with them that the claims of worship and of God get crowded out ...

The third man said, with even more finality than the others, "I have married a wife and I cannot come." One of the wonderful merciful laws of the Old Testament laid it down, "when a man is newly married, he shall not go out with the army o be charged with any business; he shall be free at home one year, to be happy with his wife whom he has taken." No doubt that very law was in this man's mind. It is one of the tragedies of life when good things crowd out the claims of God. There is no lovelier thing than a home and yet a home was never meant to be used selfishly.

Monday, August 2, 2004

Ingredient Alert

Let me just say that if anyone has a chance to try a Flavor Burst Pluot they should grab it. They are well named ... the closest thing to a Sweet Tart in a crisp, fruit form that I've ever had. Ours came from the Central Market but I'd bet they can be found at places like Whole Foods also.

UPDATE: I just remembered these actually are called Flavor Grenade Pluots ... all the more reason to try one, eh?