Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Introducing The Coma Award


And to think that I thought The Station Agent was slow.

This movie had such gaps in what little story was communicated about the retired German salt miner who grew to love zydeco and went to America ... that Tom spent what seemed to me to be a remarkable amount of time trying to track down whether or not a German audience would have picked up on cultural markers better and liked it more. Nope. He found countless movie reviewers who didn't even understand the details of the story that was told. He found that the German audiences didn't like it nearly as well as Americans did.

Just which Americans I am at a loss to say. Perhaps those that felt The Station Agent needed to slow down and lose about 3/4 of its story line.

Not to mention that we were generous in allowing "movie magic" to let Schultze pilot his boat along the Guadalupe to the Louisiana bayou country. That question and whether he actually stole the boat occupied a great deal of time in our DVD watching conversation ... but, as I say, it wasn't being taken up with anything like a story line, so no problem.

I don't mind a slow movie that takes its time and doesn't have a big story to tell. Some of those movies that come to mind include Lost in Translation, Mostly Martha, The Story of the Weeping Camel, Bigger Than the Sky, Danny Deckchair or that really charming little movie about the young monks (Indian?) who want to watch the World Cup games. (If anyone knows the name of that movie I'd be most grateful. We'd like to watch it with the girls but can't track it down.)

This movie earns The Coma Award for two distinctions. The aforementioned severe lack of story line and the fact that the director evidently favored setting up a tripod and leaving the camera at one angle for extended periods of time ... such as every scene. Wonder who Schultze is talking to for several minutes when his boat is broken down? Well, keep wondering because the sheriff's boat isn't going to come into the frame for several more minutes and we wouldn't want to ruin the suspense by panning the camera at all.

If you want to see a thoughtful, charming German movie, rent Mostly Martha. Leave Schultze Gets the Blues strictly alone.

HC Rating: * Worse than Godfather III.

Religion, Government, and de Tocqueville

What makes de Tocqueville's account memorable is the way in which he grasped the moral content of America. Coming from a country where the abuse of power by the clergy had made the anticlericalism endemic, he was amazed to find a country where it was virtually unknown. He saw, for the first time, Christianity presented not as a totalitarian society but as an unlimited society, a competitive society, intimately wedded to the freedom and market system of the secular world. "In France I had almost always seen the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom pursuing courses diametrically opposed to each other," he wrote, "but in America I found that they were intimately united, and that they reigned in common over the same country." He added: "Religion ... must be regarded as the foremost of the political institutions of the country for if it does not impart a taste for freedom, it facilitates the use of free institutions." In fact, he concluded, most Americans held religion "to be indispensable to the maintenance of republican institutions." And de Tocqueville noted on an unpublished scrap of paper that, while religion underpinned republican government, the fact that the government was minimal was a great source of moral strength:
One of the happiest consequences of the absence of government (when a people is fortunate enough to be able to do without it, which is rare) is the development of individual strength that inevitably follows from it. Each man learns to think, to act for himself, without counting on the support of an outside force which, however vigilant one supposes it to be, can never answer all social needs. Man, thus accustomed to seek his well-being only through his own efforts, raises himself in his own opinion as he does in the opinion of others; his soul becomes larger and stronger at the same time.
This strikes me as something we all would do well to remember these days.

Make Disciples of All Nations, Part IV

To read from the beginning ... Part I.
Fourth, Jesus does not ask the impossible. If he tells us to teach all nations, it is because it can be done. Nothing is impossible with God. When Paul began his work, conversion of the Roman world seemed impossible. But it happened. When Mother Teresa began her work in Calcutta, no one had any idea she would touch people of all nations with her example of Christ's love. But it happened. Do not worry about the odds. They do not concern us. Never be afraid to speak up for the truth. God will do the rest.
Archbishop Charles Chaput
from the introduction to
How Not to Share Your Faith:
The Seven Deadly Sins of Apologetics
by Mark Brumley

To be continued ...

Monday, November 28, 2005

Pillars of the Earth

Having gotten to page 400 I would say that I have given this book a really fair trial ... and am putting it down with a sigh of relief at not making myself go the full 1,000 pages. I started out liking it fine but as I went on really became dissatisfied with the writing style and picking it up became a chore for which I had to steel myself. Perhaps a little too much of "The Day of the Jackal" remained with Follett on this one for me to like it. There was a tendency for modernism to creep into the way that characters were portrayed. For example, the malicious peeping Tom had thoughts racing through his head that just struck me as too much "here and now" versus the way they would have been framed back in the day. I understand that he may have been motivated in those ways from our point of view but, although human nature remains the same now as it did then, the way that humans understood their own nature and that of others ... and framed that understanding to themselves and others is quite different.

 I know that this book has a lot of fans and that's ok ... but it isn't for me.

For the moment, anyway, I'll have to stick with Kenneth Roberts and Samuel Shellabarger for my historical fiction.

Make Disciples of All Nations, Part III

To read from the beginning ... Part I.
Third, if Jesus speaks to each of us personally, it is because each of us personally makes a difference. God did not create us by accident. He made us to help him sanctify this world, and to share his joy in the next. The biggest lie of our century is that mass culture is so big and so complicated that an individual cannot make a difference.

This is false. This is the Enemy's propaganda, and we should never believe it. We are not powerless. Twelve uneducated Jews turned the Roman world on its head. One Francis Xavier brought tens of thousands of souls to Jesus Christ in the Far East. One Peter Canisius brought tens of thousands of fallen-away Catholics back to the Church.

If Christians were powerless, the world would not feel the need to turn them into martyrs. The gospel has the power to shake the foundations of the world. It has done so many times. It continues to do so today. But it cannot do anything, unless it is lived and preached, taught, explained, and defended. This is why the simplest Christian is the truest and most effective revolutionary. The Christian changes the world by changing one heart at a time.
Archbishop Charles Chaput
from the introduction to
How Not to Share Your Faith:
The Seven Deadly Sins of Apologetics
by Mark Brumley

To be continued ...

Sunday, November 27, 2005


I have been looking around for something to put up that expresses my feelings about Advent. It is a time of penitence and a time of hope, a time of reflection and a time of looking forward. Additionally, in America, we have to balance the secular frenzy that Christmas engenders while we still prepare for Christmas ourselves. Quite a balancing act sometimes, especially if you have children.

Imagine my surprise when I found what seemed to be the perfect introduction to the season in a cookbook ... A Continual Feast: A Cookbook to Celebrate the Joys of Family and Faith Throughout the Christian Year. (By the way Barbara I remember that I owe you a review of this book and fear it never may happen ... that's what happens when I have no specific deadline...perhaps this excerpt will help a little.)
The season of Advent carries a double meaning. On the one hand, people feel a desire to prepare themselves for the coming of Christ into the world, into their lives. And, looking ahead to the Second Coming, the Last Judgment, they attempt to examine their consciences, to repent. Advent, then, has always been, like Lent, a period of prayer and fasting.

But Christians everywhere have felt that there was a great difference between Lent and Advent. Lent is a very somber period, leading to the Cross. Advent is intrinsically more joyful: after all, what it leads up to is Christ's birth. So if Advent is a period of spiritual preparation, of prayer, works of mercy, frequent visits to church, it is nonetheless suffused with Christmas joy.

How are we to observe this season of happy yet prayer-filled anticipation? How can we keep Advent from being swallowed in the worldly Christmas season? Many people find that abstaining from meat, wine, sweets, or other food that they care about for two or three (or more) days a week is most helpful in reminding them that it isn't Christmas yet, that this is a time to prepare the heart. Some focus on the needs of the poor, even greater at this season than usual: not only is it cold out there (just think of the Holy Family, seeking shelter, so long ago), but poor families need money in order to have a Christmas dinner and to give their children gifts. Thinking about poor children can be very important for our children, most of them so amply endowed with possessions. Try letting each child pick out a toy, perhaps even contribute something from his or her allowance, for someone who has no toys. Such an experience can be a great builder of compassion.

Advent has its authentic pleasures. These are anticipatory joys, such as the setting up of a creche, one figure at a time perhaps. Day by day open the windows of an Advent calendar. Play and sing the music of Advent: "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel."
Catholic Culture has some Advent activities listed that you may find enhance the anticipation while helping keep our eyes firmly on the real reason for the season.

Here are two other particularly good Advent reflections:

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Now If Only More Americans Felt This Way

From A History of the American People by Paul Johnson

This book is dedicated to the people of America -- strong, outspoken, intense in their convictions, sometimes wrong-headed but always generous and brave, with a passion for justice no nation has ever matched.

I have not bowed to current academic nostrums about nomenclature or accepted the fly-blow philacteries of Political Correctness. So I do not acknowledge the existence of hyphenated Americans, or Native Americans or any other qualified kind. They are all Americans to me: black, white, red, brown, yellow, thrown together by fate in that swirling maelstrom of history which has produced the most remarkable people the world has ever seen. I love them and salute them, and this is this is their story.
From the Preface
Kind of makes you want to stand up and sing The Star Spangled Banner doesn't it? Or seek out Paul Johnson and shake him by the hand? How refreshing.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Make Disciples of All Nations, Part II

To read from the beginning ... Part I.
Second, Jesus is not talking to somebody else. He is talking to you and me. "Go and make disciples of all nations" could not be more personal. Jesus wants you. The work of evangelizing -- and its sibling, apologetics -- is not just a job for "professionals." We are the professionals by virtue of our baptism. If the responsibilities of your life prevent you from going to china or Africa, then witness to and defend your faith where you are -- to your neighbors, you coworkers, your friends. Find ways to talk about your faith with the people you know. Work to conform your life to the things you say you believe. Make your actions support your words, and your words, your actions.
Archbishop Charles Chaput
from the introduction to
How Not to Share Your Faith:
The Seven Deadly Sins of Apologetics
by Mark Brumley

To be continued ...

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Make Disciples of All Nations, Part I

Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age (Matt. 28:18-20).

Simple, direct, no-nonsense. These words of Jesus are the greatest mission statement ever written. But in hearing this Scripture so many times in daily life, we can easily become dull to its power. So let's examine it.

First, it is not a suggestion or a request. It is a command. If we say we believe in Jesus Christ, we must preach the gospel. We must teach the faith, and we must also explain and defend it. There is no Option B. Jesus does not need our polite approval. He does not want our support from the sidelines. He wants us -- our love, our zeal, our whole being -- because through us he completes the work of salvation, which has never been more urgent for the world than right now.
Archbishop Charles Chaput
from the introduction to
How Not to Share Your Faith:
The Seven Deadly Sins of Apologetics
by Mark Brumley

To be continued ...

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Fatherhood, Laughter and Miracles

In The Beginning...There Were No Diapers* by Tim Bete

When I was in kindergarten, I prayed for proof that God existed. I wasn't looking for God to reveal himself through the biggest miracle. I was only five so I was practical. I wanted God to place some graham crackers in a plastic bag in my coat pocket. Every day when I went into the coatroom, I dug my hands down deep into my pockets -- but they were always empty. When I graduated to first grade, I gave up asking God for graham crackers because I was convinced he wasn't going to produce.

Thirty-five years passed. Then one day, I put my hand in my pocket and felt a plastic bag. I pulled it out and there in the bottom of the bag where three graham crackers. Sure, they belonged to one of my kids, but who's to say God didn't just take the slow fulfillment route -- using my daughter as the delivery girl -- to grant my kindergarten prayer?

But that wasn't all. As I dug my hand deeper into my coat pocket, I discovered two rubber bands, a dandelion, some pebbles, and a Happy Meal prize. When God answers prayers, he does it in abundance. I showed these treasures to a friend, who showed me the contents of his pocket -- two licorice sticks, three pennies, and a feather. I didn't have to ask him what he prayed for in kindergarten.
Tim Bete writes a la Erma Bombeck ... if Erma had been a Catholic father. He looks at his life with his family of small children through a lens of laughter and the appreciation of small everyday miracles. Covering such subjects as fending off questions about impending additions to their large family, what happens when the caterpillars from a butterfly garden escape captivity into your household, and watching your five year old's T-ball game, Bete looks for the humor in every side of every situation.
Help wanted: Mother

Seven-day workweek with twenty-four hour shifts. Some vacation time accrues after first eighteen years. Must be able to cook at least ten dishes none of the kids will eat. Ability to tune out crying a must. Should be able to carry infant and three bags of groceries at same time. Must have chauffeur's license and advanced degrees in nursing, veterinary medicine, and education while not too proud to be a seamstress and maid. Must be able to juggle schedules while balancing a checkbook as well as be willing to be spit-up upon. Requires willingness to change dirty diapers, flat tires, and plans at the last minute. No previous experience necessary because no previous experience can prepare you for this job. Children willing to break in new recruits.
I will say that I never could appreciate Erma Bombeck so this is not really my sort of book. Bete seems determined to milk every bit of laughter he can and sometimes went over the top. However, so did Bombeck from my point of view so one must take that into account. I appreciated the fact that he always connected details of his family life with the big picture of God working our lives everyday. I did find some parts of the book quite funny and so did my husband, who got a big laugh from the excerpts featured here.

Bottom line, if you like Erma Bombeck and appreciate having your faith as part of everyday life, then you probably will like this book. I know that I have several friends who will like this book and will be giving this as a Christmas gift to them.
If you imagine yourself on the hillside when Jesus multiplied the five loaves and two fish to feed more than 5,000, I think you'll see my point. There must have been a thousand children present. By my calculation, immediately after the miracle, 400 kids would have said they "didn't like fish." three hundred and fifty children would have complained that their "bread was touching their fish," and therefore they couldn't eat it. One hundred and fifty kids would have whines that the fish was "inedible without tartar sauce." Seventy-five would have asked for "fish sticks instead of the whole fish." Finally, twenty-five children must have dropped their fish on the ground and cried because it was dirty, even though they never would have eaten it in the first place.

I could be wrong, but that's what would have happened if my kids were on that hillside. Because Jesus was in charge, however, two miracles occurred. First, he multiplied the loaves and fish. Second, all the kids ate it. You decide which was the greater miracle.

Simple Ideas

When I read the story about IVF babies possibly developing health problems in later years specifically because of the IVF process, I thought of this passage from Jurassic Park. It is lengthy but I love it and think it speaks to the scientific attitude about many things today so I'm putting the entire thing up.
Hammond sighed, and sat down heavily. "Damn it all," he said, shaking his head. "It must surely not have escaped your notice that at heart what we are attempting here is an extremely simple idea. My colleagues and I determined, several years ago, that it was possible to clone the DNA of an extinct animal, and to grow it. That seemed to us a wonderful idea, it was a kind of time travel -- the only time travel in the world. Bring them back alive, so to speak. And since it was so exciting, and since it was possible to do it, we diced to go forward. We got this island, and we proceeded. It was all very simple."

"Simple?" Malcolm said. Somehow he found the energy to sit up in the bed. "Simple? You're a bigger fool than I thought you were. And I thought you were a very substantial fool."

Ellie said, "Dr. Malcolm," and tried to ease him back down. But Malcolm would have none of it. He pointed toward the radio, the shouts and the cries.

"What is that, going on down there?" He said. "That's your simple idea. Simple. You create new life-forms about which you know nothing at all. Your Dr. Wu does not even know the names of the things he is creating. He cannot be bothered with such details as what the thing is called, let alone what it is. You create many of them in a very short time, you never learn anything about them yet you expect them to do your bidding, because you made them and you therefore think you own them; you forget that they are alive, they have an intelligence of their own, and they may not do your bidding, and your forget how little you know about them, how incompetent to do the things that you so frivolously call simple ... Dear God ..."

He sank back coughing.

"You know what's wrong with scientific power?"Malcolm said. "It's a form of inherited wealth. And you know what assholes congenitally rich people are. It never fails."

Hammond said, "What is he talking about?"

Harding made a sign, indicating delirium. Malcolm cocked his eye.

"I will tell you what I am talking about," he said. "Most kinds of power require a substantial sacrifice by whoever wants the power. There is an apprenticeship, a discipline lasting many years. Whatever kind of power you want. President of the company. Black belt in karate. Spiritual guru. Whatever it is you seek, you have to put in the time, the practice, the effort. You must give up a lot to get it. It has to be very important to you. And once you have attained it, it is your power. It can't be given away: it resides in you. It is literally the result of your discipline.

"Now what is interesting about this process is that, by the time someone has acquired the ability to kill with his bare hands, he has also matured to the point where he won't use it unwisely. So that kind of power has a built-in control. The discipline of getting the power changes you so that you won't abuse it.

"But scientific power is like inherited wealth: attained without discipline. You read what others have done, and you take the next step. You can do it very young. You can make progress very fast. There is no discipline lasting many decades. There is no mastery; old scientists are ignored. There is no humility before nature. There is only a get-rich-quick, make-a-name-for-yourself-fast philosophy. Cheat, lie, falsify -- it doesn't matter. Not to you, or to your colleagues. No one will criticize you. No one has any standards. They are all trying to do the same thing: to do something big, and do it fast.

"And because you can stand on the shoulders of giants, you can accomplish something very quickly. You don't even know exactly what you have done, but already you have reported it, patented it, and sold it. And the buyer will have even less discipline than you. The buyer simply purchases power, like any commodity. The buyer doesn't even conceive that any discipline might be necessary."

Hammond said, "Do you know what he is talking about?"

Ellie nodded

"I haven't a clue," Hammond said.

"I'll make it simple," said Malcolm. "A karate master does not kill people with his bare hands. He does not lose his temper and kill his wife. The person who kills is the person who has no discipline, no restraint, and who has purchased his power in the form of a Saturday night special. And that is the kind of power that science fosters, and permits. And that is why you think that to build a place like this is simple."

"It was simple," Hammond insisted.

"Then why did it go wrong?"

Monday, November 21, 2005

Review: The Right to Be Wrong

One side (dubbed "Pilgrims" in the book) wants to legally coerce any religious conscience with which they disagree while the other side (called "Park Rangers") thinks that all religion must be purely private. Both seem prepared to battle to the death over these issues. The rest of us, that vast majority in the middle, duck and cover as best we can while wondering why we must always fight every detail of anything to do with religion. After all, it didn't used to be this way. Did it?
My latest for Spero News is a review of The Right to Be Wrong: Ending the Culture War Over Religion in America* which, though surprisingly short at 147 pages, packs a powerful punch. Highly recommended reading.

* Shamelessly stealing a page from Disputation's book, I will point out that my copy was sent to me by the author. Will I write about your book if you send me a free copy? Try me!

Don't Give Up

And let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart.
Galatians 6:9

In "The Screwtape Letters," C. S. Lewis' senior demon, Screwtape, explains to a junior demon, Wormwood, why God sends us "dry times:"

He will set them off with communications of His presence which, though faint, seem great to them, with emotional sweetness, and easy conquest over temptation. But He never allows this state of affairs to last long. Sooner or later He withdraws, if not in fact, at least from their conscious experience, all those supports and incentives. He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs--to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish. It is during such periods, much more than during the peak periods, that it is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be. Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best. We can drag our patients along by continual temptation, because we design them for the table, and the more their will is interfered with the better. He cannot "tempt" them to virtue as we do to vice. He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there, He is pleased even with their stumbles. Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending to do our Enemy's will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.
If you haven't read The Screwtape Letters (and I'm always suprised by just how many people haven't) then it is hard to appreciate just how much good advice we get from C.S. Lewis in living a Christian life on a day-to-day basis. This gives a little sample.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Humor and the Habit

Monks are quick to seize on the humor of their situation with regard to the rest of the world. Their habits, while they symbolize the serious matter of a religious vocation, do have a comical side. I once witnessed monks using their scapulars in an impromptu fly-swatting contest. And the long skirt can be quite a look on a man. Once, when I happened to compliment a monk on his choice of attire -- he'd put a heavy sweater on over his habit -- he struck a model's pose, hand on hip, and said, "Yes ... classic, yet casual." I once witnessed several teenage girls staring moon-eyed at a handsome young monk they'd developed a crush on when they were counselors at a camp for the handicapped. The monk, being kind, had stopped by their table to visit during lunch on the last day at camp. As he walked away, one girl sighed and said, dreamily, "Oh -- he looks so good in black." The monk, overhearing her, said to me, "That's fine, because I'm going to have to wear an awful lot of it."

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Diverting Divine Gifts

The tragedy of sin is that it diverts divine gifts. The person who has a genuine capacity for loving becomes promiscuous, maybe sexually, or maybe by becoming frivolous and fickle, afraid to make a commitment to anyone or anything. The person with a gift for passionate intensity squanders it in angry tirades and, given power, becomes a demagogue.... The goal of the monks was to know themselves as they truly were, warts and all, and to be able to call it "good," not in order to excuse bad behavior but to accept the self without delusions. The point was to know the material you were working with, in order to give a firmer foundation to your hope for change.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Our Lady of Guadalupe and Symbolism

TSO mentions Our Lady of Guadalupe and says:
One of the interesting things about the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is its teaching potential. Though she looks glorified, with stars and rays of sun coming from her as was predicted in Rev. 12, she is no goddess. Her hands are folded in supplication, her posture indicating that she is interceding for us at the throne of the God.
Indeed, he is right. There is so much in that image that speaks to Catholic hearts through symbolism.

However, there is much more to Our Lady of Guadalupe's image than that. As with all good Catholic images there is abundant symbolism that was specifically designed to speak to the hearts of the people to whom she brought her message ... the Aztecs. I remember when our priest put out a flyer about this and I was just knocked out at how meaningful every single thing in the image is. I really like this explanation.
The miraculous image produced on the apron or tilma of Blessed Juan Diego is rich in symbolism. The aureole or luminous light surrounding the Lady is reminiscent of the "woman clothed with the sun" of Rev. 12:1. The light is also a sign of the power of God who has sanctified and blessed the one who appears. The rays of the sun would also be recognized by the native people as a symbol of their highest god, Huitzilopochtli. Thus, the lady comes forth hiding but not extinguishing the power of the sun. She is now going to announce the God who is greater than their sun god.

The Lady is standing upon the moon. Again, the symbolism is that of the woman of Rev. 12:1 who has the "moon under her feet". The moon for the Meso-Americans was the god of the night. By standing on the moon, she shows that she is more powerful than the god of darkness. However, in Christian iconography the crescent moon under the Madonna's feet is usually a symbol of her perpetual virginity, and sometimes it can refer to her Immaculate Conception or Assumption.

The eyes of Our lady of Guadalupe are looking down with humility and compassion. This was a sign to the native people that she was not a god since in their iconography the gods stare straight ahead with their eyes wide open. We can only imagine how tenderly her eyes looked upon Blessed Juan Diego when she said: " Do not be troubled or weighed down with grief -- Am I not here who am your Mother?"

The angel supporting the Lady testifies to her royalty. To the Meso-American Indians only kings, queens and other dignitaries would be carried on the shoulders of someone. The angel is transporting the Lady to the people as a sign that a new age has come.

The mantle of the Lady is blue-green or turquoise. To the native people, this was the color of the gods and of royalty. It was also the color of the natural forces of life and fecundity. In Christian art, blue is symbolic of eternity and immortality. In Judaism, it was the color of the robe of the high priest. The limbus or gold border of her mantle is another sign of nobility.

The stars on the Lady's mantle shows that she comes from heaven. She comes as the Queen of Heaven but with the eyes of a humble and loving mother. The stars also are a sign of the supernatural character of the image. The research of Fr. Mario Rojas Sanchez and Dr. Juan Homero Hernandez Illescas of Mexico (published in 1983) shows that the stars on the Lady's mantle in the image are exactly as the stars of the winter solstice appeared before dawn on the morning of December 12, 1531.

The color of the Madonna's dress is rose or pale-red. Some have interpreted this as the color of dawn symbolizing the beginning of a new era. Others point to the red as a sign of martyrdom for the faith and divine love.

The gold-encircled cross brooch under the neck of the Lady's robe is a symbol of sanctity.

The girdle or bow around her waist is a sign of her virginity, but it also has several other meanings. The bow appears as a four-petaled flower. To the native Indians this was the nahui ollin, the flower of the sun, a symbol of plenitude. The cross-shaped flower was also connected with the cross-sticks which produce fire. For them, this was the symbol of fecundity and new life. The high position of the bow and the slight swelling of the abdomen show that the Lady is "with child". According to Dr. Carlos Fernandez Del Castillo, a leading Mexican obstetrician, the Lady appears almost ready to give birth with the infant head down resting vertically. This would further solidify her identification with the woman of Rev. 12 who is about to give birth.

Book 110 Finished

Enchantment by Orson Scott Card
I honestly had no idea I read so many books ... but there you have it. And this doesn't take into account the number of times I've read about one-third of a book, disliked it, and quit reading.

This is a time-travel twist to Sleeping Beauty, placed in Russia. The first third of the book, where Ivan is back in Sleeping Beauty's day, I found to be more of the usual. However, once the couple comes forward to modern times with Baba Yaga trailing them it gets much more interesting. Enjoyable entertainment, though not the equal of Magic Streetwhich is what prompted me to try this book (thanks for the recommendation y'all!).

Good Old Sin

Considering "good old sin," in the sense that the ancient monks understood it, exposes the vast difference between their worldview and our own. These days, when someone commits an atrocity, we tend to sigh and say, "That's human nature." But our attitude would seem wrong headed to the desert monks, who understood human beings to be part of the creation that God called good, special in that they are made in the image of God. Sin, then, is an aberration, not natural to us at all. This is why Gregory of Nyssa speaks so often of "[returning] to the grace of that image which was established in you from the beginning." Gregory, in fact, saw it as our lifelong task to find out what part of the divine image God has chosen to reveal in us. Like the other early monks, he suggest that we can best do this by realistically determining how God has made us -- what our primary faults and temptations are, as well as our gifts -- not that we may better "know ourselves" or in modern parlance, "feel good about ourselves," but in order that we might become instruments of divine grace for other people and eventually return to God.
This actually ties in quite well with Steven Riddle's post Self-Knowledge and Christ's Knowledge which starts out considering what he has learned about himself and ends with a love letter to St. Blog's. A quite remarkable read and highly recommended (as is practically everything Steven writes ... yes, I'm a fan).
So meddling in things that are beyond me has taught me a great deal about the masks I wear and the image I would like to project. It has also taught me not to be ashamed of the fact that I am ultimately driven more by feeling than by intellect. There are those who would have one feel bad about such an arrangement, but so long as the feelings are as informed as one possibly can do, it seems that they may provide a solution when the intellect alone cannot resolve the perceived difficulty.

This dismantling of self is very painful, but also very productive. I discovered in it abilities that I had long thought were beyond me. I found ways of listening and ways around some of my own obstacles. I found in this dismantling a hint of who I am in Christ.

Monday, November 14, 2005


... the monk Evagrius, the first to write down and attempt to codify the beliefs and practices of the desert monks with regard to sin (which they called "demons" or "bad thoughts"), not only provides me with a means of understanding my own "bad thoughts" but also with the tools to confront them. His view of anger is typically sensible. Anger, he wrote, is given to us by God to help us confront true evil. We err when we use it casually, against other people, to gratify our own desires for power or control.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Welcome to My Soap Box

As my long-suffering husband well knows, from the fact that when he gave a handful of change to an Australian man sitting outside a London tube station years ago ... the man shouted after our family, "God bless you mate! Thank you!" My husband muttered, under his breath, "Don't thank me, thank her; I had nothing to do with it" as I gave him a thank you hug. This does not even compare to when he is driving and we come upon a corner with a homeless person ... now he has three people in the car all urging him to roll down the window and hand out granola bars.

I am reminded by smockmama at Summa Mamas that there is an ongoing debate among Christians about whether it is right to give to the poor. Please do go read her post and the link she provides to get a frame of reference for why I am dragging everyone back into my corner of Hyde Park.

Winter is coming and "'Tis the Season" so this question will arise even more. Therefore, I am going to repost this explanation of how I feel which originally saw light of day last November. If you don't want to read the whole thing, just look for St. John Vianney's quote which says it all.

The first time I ever saw a beggar was in Paris, 18 years ago. She was across the street and Tom said, "Don't look at her." Of course, I did and she began screaming invective and shaking her fist at me. It's a good thing my French wasn't very fluent or I'm sure my ears would have burned. Everywhere we went there were beggars. It was deeply troubling for someone like me who had never seen such a thing before. Tom, whose family lived in London for several years, was more blasé. He taught me to ignore them and that they were making plenty of money off of the population at large. I did make him give to a couple of WWII veterans who were playing music for their coins but at least they had sacrificed something for their country ... they had done something to deserve our charity.

I wasn't Christian then; I wasn't even sure if God existed. Nothing other than popular thought occurred to me in those situations. That was saved for 15 years later in 2001 when we went back to Paris and London with the girls. I had converted by then, we attended Mass weekly, and they went to Catholic school with religion lessons every day. It was fairly common to see the homeless on street corners but we were insulated by the car and traffic flow. These up close encounters with beggars in Europe were different. Tom and I gave the standard "making money off the crowd" explanation but it didn't sit very well, especially with the Christian precepts that had taken hold by then.

Then, one evening, I read this quote.
There are those who say to the poor that they seem to look to be in such good health: "You are so lazy! You could work. You are young. You have strong arms."

You don't know that it is God's pleasure for this poor person to go to you and ask for a handout. You show yourself as speaking against the will of God.

There are some who say: "Oh, how badly he uses it!" May he do whatever he wants with it! The poor will be judged on the use they have made of their alms, and you will be judged on the very alms that you could have given but haven't.
St. John Vianney
You certainly couldn't get much clearer than those words. St. John Vianney covered pretty much every objection I ever thought of for giving to the poor. That was my wake-up call and the end of ignoring beggars. We were supplied with handfuls of coins that were distributed at large as we went through the subway stations. When I got home I stocked the car with granola bars and bottles of water. I passed them out at every street corner we stopped at. I never have any cash on me and they almost always had signs saying "Will work for food" so it seemed a good match.

Then Dallas passed a law against any panhandling on street corners and, for the most part, the homeless disappeared from sight. I had gotten used to being on the lookout for people to give my granola bars to and now the corners seemed very empty.

About that time, I was the leader of a Catholic women's group that met weekly. One evening our discussion became a debate over two strategies of giving to the homeless. One group believed in giving to people as they were encountered. The other countered with stories of scam artists and believed in giving to organizations who would distribute goods and cash in the most beneficial way to the needy. Two things stuck with me after that meeting though. The first was that my friend, Rita, said she was troubled by those who didn't want to give face to face because "they don't know what blessings they may be depriving themselves of." Once again I remembered St. John Vianney's quote.

The second thing occurred to me as I listened to the debate. Jesus never said anything about helping the poor by giving to the local temple or soup kitchen. He said:
"For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me."

Then the righteous will answer him and say, "Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?"

And the king will say to them in reply, "Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me."
Matthew 25: 35-40

Tom and I do support organized charities and I know they reach farther than I ever could personally. This is not an argument against those organizations. However, I think that we cannot rest with those contributions. I believe that if we have a personal encounter with the needy it is because they have been sent to us for their good and our own. If we turn them away, then we are turning Christ Himself away and what blessings are we sending away with Him?

This was reinforced for me during a retreat I attended a few weeks ago. Somehow the debate over how to give to the homeless came up along those old familiar lines, not just once but twice. Each time I trotted out my St. John Vianney quote. Then my friend, Mauri, said that when she looked at those unfortunates she saw people she knew. For instance, she has a schizophrenic nephew who doesn't want to take his meds so he has been found wandering only in his boxers in a Chicago suburb. A confused old lady at the bank reminded her of her mother and Mauri found a discreet way to help her while preserving her dignity. She reminded me of the worth and dignity of each of these people. She later sent me this story which is the perfect example of looking past the surface to the real person that is there in front of us.
Today at the post office I saw this man going through the garbage -- I think looking for food as he was going through a discarded fast food bag and picked out left over bun from the bag, emptied the bag of the other garbage, and then used the bag to neatly wrap up the left over bun and then placed it in his satchel. You could tell that he still had his pride as he looked well kept, although worn and a bit "dusty". He was not begging in any way. Just walking through the strip center where the post office was.

I wanted to help as I sensed that he was hungry, but he was not asking for help and he did not approach me in anyway. I was so worried to bruise his pride, but could not stand the thought of him only having the leftover bun for food. I got out of my car with $5 and asked him if he was hungry. He said he was fine but hesitantly. I gave him the money and told him that I had many of times when I was hungry but didn't have the cash on me to go through McDonalds or grab a sandwich. I told him to take it for when he might need it. I don't think I hurt his pride. His eyes were so kind.

I only wish I had asked his name ... He looked like he might have been mid 60s. I should have given him more money. I can't get him out of my mind. He could have been someone's grandfather, father, etc.

I am so grateful to Mauri for bringing me to this phase in my awareness of the homeless. Each of them was some mother's baby, a tiny toddler learning to walk, a laughing boy or girl at school. We must remember that when we are looking at these people who can seem so frightening or strange or manipulative. I pray that someday I can look at these people and find my vision is perfect ... I hope that someday I can look at a homeless person and see Jesus Himself. In this quest I think we can not do better than to take the advice of someone who achieved perfect vision and sought out her beloved Jesus in the homeless.
Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.
Blessed Teresa of Calcutta

Under the Overpass is an excellent book to read about the homeless. It is about two young men who took Jesus at his word and went to live as homeless in different American cities for a six month period. If you have any questions at all about the homeless I highly recommend this book. It will open your eyes. They have specific advice about giving to the homeless which seems to support my granola bar and water hand out policy. However, I will add that I still do give cash if I am out of those. (reread St. John Vianney's quote for my reasoning in this)

Listening to my soapbox ranting around the house this morning, Tom said, "What is 'Under the Overpass'? Because there's this song..." This Under the Overpass is by Dallas Wayne and will bring a tear to your country song lovin' eye. (For those who have never heard of Dallas Wayne, Tom compares him to Hoyt Axton ... unknown but good at both true country songs as well as those that poke fun at the genre. As one reviewer said, "If you don't understand Dallas Wayne, you don't understand country music.)

FINAL UPDATE (I think...)
How could I have forgotten my encounter with this homeless man?

Friday, November 11, 2005


Pride is a denial of God, an invention of the devil, contempt for men. It is the mother of condemnation, the offspring of praise, a sign of barrenness. It is a flight from God's help, the harbinger of madness, the author of downfall. It is the cause of diabolical possession, the source of anger, the gateway of hypocrisy. It is the fortress of demons, the custodian of sins, the source of hardheartedness. It is the denial of compassion, a bitter pharisee, a cruel judge. It is the foe of God. It is the root of blasphemy.
John Climacus (7th century monk)
quoted in
The Cloister Walk

Thursday, November 10, 2005

In Communion

Why did Jesus say two or three -- why not just one? It seems as though Jesus never intended for us to pray alone, and the practice of asking others to pray with us, even of invoking the followers of Christ who have fallen asleep (but are alive in Christ) to pray for us is a way for us to always pray with others even when we are physically alone.

Jesus revealed God as a communion of divine persons -- the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. He invited his followers to be a part of that communion. He told them, "I will not leave you desolate; I will come to you. Yet a little while, and the world will see me no more, but you will see me; because I live, you will live also. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you" (John 14:18-20).

Entering into this communion with Jesus "where two or three are gathered in his name" is never a solitary act. It is especially difficult in a society that is as individualistic as our is for some of us to understand this. We like to think of our faith as a private affair, something between God and the individual, but this is an illusion...

Before the fall there was harmony; since the fall there has been separation and division -- dare we say it, individuality. Jesus has come to restore the kingdom, to bring unity. Our individuality dies in the waters of baptism. The followers of Christ make the words of St. Paul their own: "With Christ I am nailed to the cross. And I live, now not I; but Christ live in me" (Galatians 2:19, 20); adapted fro Douay-Rheims).

Wednesday, November 9, 2005

Quick Book Reviews

MAGIC STREET by Orson Scott Card
Before this the only other book I had read by Card was Ender's Game. Hated it. So I never tried another one, thinking that all he wrote was books in that series. I am so glad that I picked up this book to try.

It is an amazing mixture of Shakespeare, magic, wishes, and love all brewed up in a middle class black neighborhood in Los Angeles. Card said that he wrote the book for a friend who complained that no books ever had black heroes. This one really has three. I truly am not sure how to describe it except to say that it put me in mind of Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman ... and that is high praise indeed. I am definitely going to look for other Orson Scott Card books ... that are not in the Ender's Game series.

The BEST KITCHEN QUICK TIPS by the Editors of Cook's Illustrated
I thought that I knew all the kitchen tips around. How many can there be, after all? Wrong. This compendium of the best of the tips submitted to Cook's Illustrated over the years has some truly ingenious ideas. You'll be surprised at the practicality and simplicity of the ways people conquer some very annoying kitchen problems.

FEAST by Nigella Lawson
I'm a Nigella fan. Let's just say that now. Until now I would have said her finest book was her first one, How to Eat. This one matches it by using "feast food" as a theme. Feasts are anything from Christmas dinner to birthday parties to supper for two in bed. This allows her to gather a wide variety of delicious sounding food under one umbrella. The book also serves as a sort of "best of Nigella" compilation as many of the recipes were originally published in others of her books. Don't let that stop you. There are new recipes here and they all look mouthwatering.

After The Anchoress put out a public question for the value of "Fly Lady's" techniques, I requested this book from the library. The bad news is that the entire style of this book is as haphazard seeming as her website. This is maddening for someone like me who does not care about all the cooing and love exuding from FL and just wants to get to the point. It is full of self esteem boosts and reassurances that a sloppy household does not mean you are not a worthy person.

Ok, maybe part of my problem with all this is that I don't have a self esteem problem...at least in terms of "my house=me." I'm naturally tidy and have trained others in our household to do likewise. However, what I do not have is the leisure of time for actual cleaning. More importantly, I do not have the slightest inclination to do any real cleaning. It is boring and I am lazy. So. There we have it.

Once past the lovey dovey stuff, however, FL gives some very interesting and useful techniques for daily cleaning that just might make it tolerable. Using 15-minute power bursts of cleaning focused on one thing it does seem possible that one might be able to stand cleaning part of the house. Dividing the house into zones for cleaning that goes beyond the everyday surface vacuuming and dusting makes it seem as if my house might actually be cleaned again ... before I die. Whether it will work is up to me but at least I have the grip on a technique that could help me achieve it.

As to whether you have the stamina to wade through the "love" to get to the guts of the book ... well, that's up to you.

Monday, November 7, 2005

Approaching God as a Child

But the important part of prayer is to continue despite the swarm of gnats we call thoughts or stream of consciousness. These gnats are who you are and where you are right here and now. They are integral to what you are as a person and God loves them as He loves the entire person. When we share those we are sharing a part of ourselves. We should not be ashamed we do not have the strength to throw them off. Think of small children. For example, my conversations with Sam follow some alien trajectory that always ends up somewhere in Sponge-Bob land or roller coasters no matter where they start. I cherish this deeply because it is so much who he is. So God is with us, cherishing us for our childlike babbling and sharing of so many unrelated things. He will enter in and organize as He sees fit, so long as we continue to approach Him in love.
I read that. Then one of my very best friends sent me this.


I smiled, laughed, and was touched by those innocent letters to God.
And then I thought of how God might feel the same way about us.
And I love Him even more.

Thanks Steven. Thanks Cyndie.

Those of Jesus' Time

We are apt to think that it would have been easier to reverence the Lord if we had lived when he walked on the face of the earth. Yet open the gospels and you will see that the people of Jesus' time had it no better than we. They found fault with his carpenter's background, with the fact that he was from Galilee, and with the fact that his Aramaic wasn't perfect. Their ideas of who they thought the Messiah should be kept them from recognizing him when he was in their midst.

We risk missing Jesus time and time again if we look for the manifestation of God in all of his glory. Because God is merciful and knows we couldn't handle it, he comes to us in the imperfection of the present moment. Don't let him pass you by; invite him to come and stay with you.

Friday, November 4, 2005

Tom Can Find the Very Best Jokes

A preacher wanted to raise money for his church and on being told that there was a fortune in horse racing, decided to purchase one and enter it in the races. However at the local auction, the going price for horses was so high that he ended up buying a donkey instead. He figured that since he had it, he might as well go ahead and enter it in the races. To his surprise, the donkey came in third! The next day the local paper carried this headline:


The preacher was so pleased with the donkey that he entered it in the race again, and this time it won. The paper read:


The Bishop was so upset with this kind of publicity that he ordered the preacher not to enter the donkey in another race. The paper headline read:


This was too much for the Bishop, so he ordered the preacher to get rid of the donkey. The preacher decided to give it to a nun in a nearby convent. The paper headline the next day read:


The Bishop fainted. He informed the nun that she would have to get rid of the donkey, so she sold it to a farmer for $10. Next day the headline read:


This was too much for the Bishop, so he ordered the nun to buy back the donkey, lead it to the plains where it could run wild and free. Next day, the headline in the paper read:


For a news story that seems all too timely and related to this joke ... read this. Via Rick Lugari.

Early Morning Snippet of Conversation

Rose said that they used to have a Honors Theology class at BL. "I wish they still did. This one is so booooring. The teacher's ok but how can these kids not get some of this stuff? It's so simple!"

I gently reminded her that perhaps these other students were not blessed as she was with a mother who sits down at the dinner table and says, "YES! The natural world as proof of free will! Brilliant!" And then goes on to discuss further subtleties of that argument.

"Blessed?" responded Rose with an eloquent eye roll.

Punny Business

Two cannibals are eating a clown. One says to the other:

"Does this taste funny to you?"

"Doc, I can't stop singing 'The Green, Green Grass of Home.'"

"That sounds like Tom Jones Syndrome."

"Is it common?"

Well, "It's Not Unusual."

Two cows are standing next to each other in a field.

Daisy says to Dolly, "I was artificially inseminated this morning."

"I don't believe you,"says Dolly.

"It's true, no bull!" exclaims Daisy.

An invisible man marries an invisible woman.

The kids were nothing to look at either.

Deja Moo: The feeling that you've heard this bull before.

Fast in Anticipation

We live in an age where we are bombarded with advertisements. They assault us at every turn on the city street, in what we hear on the airwaves, in pop-up ads on the Internet. They all promise to save us from some unsightly end, and while some can offer some relief, all of them can do so for only a time. It is the Bridegroom, Jesus, who can truly save us, and that is why fasting is so necessarily a part of the Christian life. Without it we lose sight of the fact that the real thing that we hunger and thirst for is not a thing at all, it is not some fruit hanging from a tree that is "a delight to the eyes" (Genesis 3:6), but rather the Son of God offering us salvation from the tree of the Cross.

Thursday, November 3, 2005

So Very Punny

Two antennas met on a roof, fell in love and got married.

The ceremony wasn't much, but the reception was excellent.

A jumper cable walks into a bar.

The bartender says, "I'll serve you, but don't start anything."

Two peanuts walk into a bar, and one was a salted.

A dyslexic man walks into a bra.

A man walks into a bar with a slab of asphalt under his arm and says:

"A beer please, and one for the road."